'The Tesseract' by Alex Garland
This is one of those books that I really felt I wasted my time bothering to read. After the success of 'The Beach' (novel 1996; movie 2000), Garland was highly renowned. However, like many authors who are suddenly incredibly successful, he appeared to lose touch with any reality or even really what makes a good novel. Garland's book is incredibly fragmented. It features a range of characters in the Philippines spread over decades. The stories are non-linear and even trying to keep track of who is related to whom in this short novel, is very difficult. In the end all that stands out is pettiness and violence. It is a very unsatisfactory book, destroyed by its pretentiousness to try to produce a novel in the form of a tesseract and show that the characters are unaware of the context in which they live and act as if that is news. I am not surprised there is little coverage of this book online and I had never even heard of the 2003 movie. Fortunately Garland has produced only one more novel, 'The Coma' (2004) which pretty much does what it says on the label and was turned into a stage play. Magic realism is fine, but it needs to be grounded in some kind of practicality because the reader cannot get inside the author's mind and so his/her wonderful plan comes over simply as incoherent.
'War in Italy 1943-1945' by Richard Lamb
This is an excellent account of a corner of the Second World War which often gets overlooked. It shows how angered the Germans were by the Italians' defection and that they turned on them more viciously than in other parts of western Europe. It also shows the range of missed opportunities at the time of Italian armistice which certainly could have shortened the war on the peninsula if they had been taken. It is also very interesting on what happened on the Greek islands the Italians held where there was vicious fighting between the Italians and Germans which again could have been resolved in a better way for the Allies, though ironically pinned down tens of thousands of German troops from fighting on more important fronts. Most alarming is the sweep of Jews from Italy following the armistice and the massacres of them and resistance fighters during the increasingly desperate battle to hold Italy. At times Lamb is overly-sympathetic to the Church and overly-critical of the Allies, especially the Americans. This is likely to stem from the fact that he was involved in many of the events he chronicles. Overall, however, this is an interesting, engaging books with seeds for a number of counter-factual discussions too.