Friday, 28 February 2014

The Books I Read in February

'The Hermit of Eyton Forest' by Ellis Peters
This was one of the Brother Cadfael books that was not made into an episode of the television series, thus it was a new story to me.  It follows very much the style of the rest of the series of books.  In this case featuring a boy and two men seeking to escape from something.  One is a rather fey craftsman, Brand, who despite Peters's descriptions falls in love with the daughter of a steward of a landed estate, though he is being hunted by his former overlord.  Another is the eponymous hermit and I will not spoil the story by revealing what his background is.  The third is a boy being compelled by grandmother to marry so that his inheritance is linked to that of another family, much for her game.  The grandmother comes over as malicious but credible and you certainly feel for the boy who at 12 has no interest in marriage, especially having been raised in the monastery.  As with a number of stories in the series, this one features the politics of the Great Anarchy and how it impinges on the region around Shrewsbury.  I liked the portrayal of a number of the characters, the boy and the grandmother and the prospective fiancee were all good.  Brand and to some degree the hermit, I found less credible.  I found there was a little too much chasing around Eyton Forest, though the flight of the boy back to the sanctuary of the monastery was gripping.  Somehow though with elements of interest, I did not feel this one was as well woven as some of the others, perhaps due to the wider geographic spread than usual.

Enemy at the Gates' by William Craig
The edition of this book was strangely packaged.  From the outside it looks like a book of the movie of the same name, 'Enemy at the Gates' (2001) with the movie poster showing two of the lead actors, Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes.  The movie was reasonably good, featuring a true story of a German and a Russian sniper who went up against each other in the ruins of Stalingrad.  Rachel Weisz was badly miscast, looking, unlike Law and Fiennes, too well-fed for the role, but Bob Hoskins played a stand-out part portraying as Nikita Khrushchev.  Beyond this cover you find that in fact there is a history book, first published in 1973 about the Battle of Stalingrad.  As noted two months ago with 'Death's Men', this book really benefited from being written in the 1970s when many people from the incident were still alive.  As with Winter's book, Craig provides the story as a mosaic made up of the experiences of people who were there, many of whom he had interviewed.  This can make the text rather jerky as he leaps from one to another especially in the faster moving phases of the battle.  At times his language is overly dramatic and this jars, I put it down to him being an American author.  It is a very grim story and the discussion of cannibalism near the end is a hard section to get through.  It is a confusing story to tell and the aggregation of these different perspectives does not always improve clarity but one thing that can certainly be said about this book is that it gets across the essence, even the sensation of what the experience of participating in this conflict was like.  I do not think I could stomach reading another book on the battle, but this one might be an interesting counterbalance to Anthony Beevor's 'Stalingrad' (1998).

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