Book Review – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières

By the time I post this blog article, I will have posed the raw notes I took as I read the book. I am really enjoying making these notes. Creating them adds depth to the experience of reading and I find it worth taking the time as I read. When I was looking up some of the detail after finishing the book I also found bookdrum.com that provides background information about Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and couple of hundred others that warrant special attention. This is similar to my list, but, like, actually good… Great stuff!

I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin when I started reading it. I had been told by lots of people that it was really good, and I watched the film when it came out, which was long enough ago that I have forgotten everything except that; it’s set in Cephalonia, is about WW2 and has Nick Cage in it. I was disappointed to find that Nick Cage is not in the book Only Kidding 🙂 I guess my illogical trepidation is the reason that I have not read the book, and so many others in my collection. Was it worth committing the time to read it??

YES!

I found the start of the book quite tough going, not in content, but in the way that the text is written. The whole book uses a lot of long, obscure words and I found that were a few too many of them getting in the way of a simple introduction. In general the book is very well written. I would be contradicting a huge number of previous reviews if I were to suggest otherwise. It did however take me a good few pages to decide that I was, actually, enjoying it. Later in the book it is revealed that Greeks like to use the longest words they know whenever possible. I wonder if that is why the book starts the way it does? The story does start with Dr.Iannis who particularly enjoys his words. If not that then it could be the over-enthusiastic “good start” that an author can sometimes produce, or more realistically, just me adjusting to a competent writing style? (I’m currently re-adjusting as I read The Fog, but more on that later…)

As you settle into the book the vocabulary used and the way that different languages are portrayed really draws you in. There are lots of foreign phrases wound into the dialogue and as someone who knows some French, a tiny bit of German and the basics of a couple more languages, it left me understanding enough to give me a wonderfully immersed experience while also invoking that feeling of separation that you experience when you overhear an unfamiliar language spoken. The book takes this still further via a very clever use of accent to portray a person’s mastery of a different language. This is use a few times in the book to great effect, no more so than the British agent (Bunny Warren!) who learnt some Greek at school. His dialogue is written in English, but ye olde English to indicate the difference between the ancient Greek that he learnt and the modern Greek that everyone actually speaks. As the novel progresses and Bunny learns from the locals, his dialogue becomes more and more normal. I have read other books that use accents and Phonetic speech very well, but Captain Corelli’s Mandolin manages to tell a very multilingual tale competently without ever feeling disjointed.

The whole book winds many arcs of story together, and manages to produce and well balanced progression through each that allows evil people to coexist with funny events, to tell a story of actions while allowing the story of someone’s life to grow as it would if you actually knew them. When I think of the emotional attachment I built up for Pelagia I am surprised that I identified with her as a young woman, as effectively a widow, and even as an old lady. I had been on her journey and I knew the depth of her emotions.

There are many ends to the book. The main story ends with the end of the war, but then each story line is ended and the book continues to march on into the lives of Pelagia’s daughter. I initially had a feeling of foreboding that the book might continue on past what could have been a powerful poignant ending. I have to say that my concerns were completely unfounded. In complete defiance of the risks, the book manages to deliver multiple strong endings that fall into line with each other perfectly. The actual finale of the book is relatively quite and understated, but the power of the book really hits home. There is so much story, so many emotions that have gradually built, that although the end is delicately stated the weight of emotion pulls no punches.

So in conclusion, I was going to give this book an 8/10. I appear to be settling on that as the standard rating for books I read for this blog. I suppose that means that so far my hunch was correct. Books I own are easily as good as ones I could be buying. I am very glad that I read Captain Corelli‘s Mandolin. I have proved with the review written that this book deserves more than an 8/10. It surprised me, and definitely in a good way.

Rating 9/10
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin on Good Reads

Not quite the Book Review – Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Here is my quick and dirty list of references from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. They are of limited value without the book, but there is some interesting stuff to go and find out about if you wanted to 🙂
  • 1st page of the book, about Louis de Bernieres – His first novel was called “The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts” Interesting title 🙂
  • P4 Paragraph 2 – Dr. Iannis is having trouble finding the correct voice to use in his writing. I know that feeling.
  • P5 all – This book is full of long words. Helps with descriptions, but can be harder to penetrate. (much later on there is reference to Greeks using the longest words that they can, so this may be a reason. Also the book blossoms in this regard
  • P5 – lots of Greek history:- Demeter was raped by Poseidon disguised as a horse. She gave birth to a horse and a mystical daughter who’s name was lost when Eleusinian Mysterys were suppressed by Christians.
  • P6 top – more greek history that I hadn’t heard before.
  • P9 top 1/2 of page – first use of the word fascism. “…Fascism is not merely a social and political revolution, it’s cultural as well”
  • P9 lower down – “…I want Fascist book-clubseven in the small towns…”
  • P27-29 provides a good insight into the rationalisation of a dictator
  • P40 3/4 way down – “Machian variey of materialism”
  • P44 & 45 – a comparison of communism and capitalism. One can’t exist without the other, communism is supposed to be the end of capitalism, but if the whole world was communist the global economy would grind to a halt!
  • P53 4th Paragraph – “be a good communist” and the page mentions the word “Utopia”
  • P77 Bottom – An Atheist is moved by the remains of a saint healing a mad person.
  • P81 – A description of a funny race.
  • P111 “Stalin cannot be a true communist”
  • P113 just above 1/2 way “stiffened into adamantine inflexibility” isn’t that what wolverine is made of??
  • P127/8 – “… the pleasure of homecoming was more than recompense for the pains of setting out, and that therefore it was always with departing”
  • P169 – half way down “there would be no tyrant, captain, and no wars, if minions did not ignore their conscience.”
  • P185 Persichini Polka is music of the mandolin.
  • P189 1/2 way down – “In Roumeli there was a small British team of enthusiastic amateurs” … “dropping in by parachute, using an innovative type of parachute which had supplies and radios tied into the upper chords…” Interesting
  • P209 book –  what is to be done by Lenin.
  • P210 top – capitalists. Here we go!
  • P217 – “nonetheless he had the moral authority of someone who refuses to compromise an ethical principal in the name of an ideal”
  • P220 “scientific socialism” I think this is a reference to socialism’s use of logic
  • P221 description of Mussolini’s life. Very interesting if true?
  • P222 bottom- the duce gained much notoriety by accusing Jesus Christ of copukating with Mary magdelen and by penning a pamphlet entitled “good does not exist”
  • P223  HWD – ” beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and possibly the duce is astygmatic”
  • P230 out ism’s me by about 3:1
  • The depth of knowledge of so much of how WW2 came about and played through is astounding.
  • P250 pax Romana – the longest period of civilisation known to man.
  • P265 1/3WD- communist description
  • P274 bottom – the British soldier sons like the traveler in the colour of magic
  • P285 hwd – “it’s obvious to me that ethics change with the times as science does.”
  • P289 top – style of planning in different countries
  • Beautifully poignant passages throughout
  • P345 top – “exactly the same thing happened in Italy, they all joined the fascists to see what they could get.”
  • P361 – “the tragedy was that this was yet another steep along the fated path by which communist was growing into the Greatest and Most Humane Ideology Never to Have Been Implemented Even When it Was in Power, or perhaps The Most Noble Cause Ever to Attract the Highest Proportion of Hooligans and Opportunists.” I have no idea why the capitalisation is as it is??
  • P391 – chapter 68. Beautifully poignant part of the book. Very sad and only possible because of the layers of story that came before it. “The earthquake changed lives so profoundly that to this day it is still the single greatest topic of conversation. When other families elsewhere are arguing about whether or not socialism had a future…”
  • P396 – “she discovered that her basic understanding of economic processes was Marxist, but that, paradoxically, she thought that capitalism has the best ways of dealing with the problems.” (added Marxism to the ISMs page)
  • P401 – “…Antonia’s support of Papandreou’s socialist government” must find out more about that and other times where socialist (or other more radical ideas) have been tested???
  • P404 top – talking about Antonia’s shop “handmade rugs that were really made by machines in north Africa”
  • Various pages up to and including 399-405. A description of Alexi moving from socialism that may have become conservative to capitalist.
  • Didnt get a page number, but look up about the Anti-fascist alliance
  • And finally, somwhere hidden in the book is a section about the Albanians: “one of them electrocuted himself in the penis by urinating on a transformer” ’nuff said!

I also found a great website called bookdrum that has commentaries for quite a few books that actually make sense!!

This review by The Guardian highlights that there was some backlash from the book when it first came out. Either a it was a bit to blasé with its use of characterisation, or plain wrong in the portrayal of certain groups, or maybe a bit to close to the truth? 

Book Review – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

Introduction

I chose to read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists because my Mum read it at her book group and recommended it. I also found it as a free eBook on Kobo which helped! Mum didn’t really describe what it was about at all, and for that I am grateful. It was brilliant to discover the book as I read it. That said, this review is going to contain one or two spoilers. If you end up being a regular visitor to this blog, you may be able to allay this problem by reading the books at the same time as I do (or probably considerably faster!)

It appears to be fate that made me choose this as the second book to read for my blog. The book’s purpose is to illustrate the problems with the capitalist system in use in the early 1900’s. The descriptions of the issues, hardships and the socialist idea seen as the solution are the main reason for the book. This therefore pushed me further into asking questions about where we are in 2014, how far we have come and where we now need to go.
I want to keep this book review as just that, a review, so I will be creating various new pages to hold information about the topics listed below that have been highlighted or become part of my post consumer picture due to this book. These pages will not be blog posts as they will grow and be completed over time as I manage to work out what each one really means and how everything fits together. These will be linked from the main menu under the title “The ISMs”:-

  • Communism
  • Fascism
  • Capitalism
  • Consumerism
  • Socialism

The Book review

My edition of the book, as it appears there have been many, starts with a forward describing the way that the book was received and bought into published form. The forward is written by Jessie Pope. A background of where the book came from is neatly described in this Wikipedia article. The story of how the book was created and who Robert Tressell was is a fantastic tale in itself. 
Because the book is at least semi-biographical, I went to see if Google could find me a picture of the real Robert Tressell. I found one on a site containing Robert Tressell’s Biography. I have not read it all yet, but it looks very interesting now that I have read the book, here is a picture of the man himself taken from the biography.


No, really, now it’s the book review…

I was impressed with the quality of the writing in the book. It is succinct and easy to read, but with some astoundingly descriptive paragraphs. I got a real sense that I understood what it was like to be there, some of the character descriptions are amazing. Tressell practically details the length of their eyebrows and the depth of the lines on their face! These are strong descriptions that add to the story, not detracting from it as long descriptive passages sometimes can. I also found that the phonetic speech very well executed.

The book is a beautiful illustration of the way that the British Empire was created and run. We (humans) are not a nice race when we get access to power. You can see how the few oppress the many, and how that was maintained. The startling thing about this book is the way that it manages to articulate the problem. What could have been a very dry subject is given life through its characters. The wikipedia article says that the original manuscript was around 250,000 words. These were judiciously edited down before publication. I can imagine that the original version was slightly less accessible?

At the time the book was written there was already significant change underway. One that jumped at me from the depths of my memory (murky indeed!) was Bourneville. This is a village in England just outside Birmingham. It was created by the Cadbury’s family who were Quakers. They housed and fed their workers in the village, but they also educated them, provided recreational facilities and took the whole workforce on holidays. Bourneville was being built and completed at the same time that Robert Tressell was writing The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. The stark conflict between the way that Cadbury’s were treating their workers and the way workers are treated in the book highlights how perception was changing.

I was surprised that a lot of the issues and how people dealt with them in 1910 have not changed to today. My previous blog post lists the notes I took while reading the book. Even references to how the newspapers work could have been a piece of contemporary writing! In other situations there were obvious and stark differences. I’m glad to say that a lot of the poverty and inequality described in the book has gone, at least in the first world. It is still there, but in a minority. The story of stuff brings back the fact that in a lot of cases we have just ‘off shored’ most of this poverty; out of sight, out of mind. I plan to investigate some of this myself a bit further into my post consumerist odyssey


I am actually going to shy away from diving into the detail of what the book is about, partly as I said at the start, so that the experience is preserved if you do read the book. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a book that I didn’t expect. We know that it has been heavily abridged, but the edition that I read flowed well and gradually built towards a fitting and possibly predictable conclusion. I was taken along with the other Philanthropists as we were educated in how life should be, and how we were not just accepting a very bad deal, but defending the very people who perpetrated our destitution. At times this book does edge towards a magnum opus for socialism and looses some of its charm, but for a work that tackles this subject, and being as it was written by one who lived that life, it is a very readable book. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists provides a slice of life in 1910 while reminding us of how far we have come and how far we still need to go, even if that is not towards the Socialist utopia.

Rating: 7/10
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists on Good Reads

Not quite the Book Review – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell

This is an introductory paragraph to the work in progress that is the ragged trousered philanthropists review. I have posted this because it has taken me a good portion of a day off to get this far and I didn’t want to just bury it until it is finished. Also, if I post this, then the finished article it looks like I have done loads of blogging 🙂

Almost all the notes that I took while read the book listed below, you can get an idea of where it took me. I am planning to add a review of the book and split the notes into separate pages that start the creation of some new static pages that describe, define and catalog my investigation and understanding of some of the big words floating around me at the moment e.g. socialsim, capitalism, communism, etc. Have fun looking through the guff below.

—————————————————————————————-

I have been quoting this as a singular philanthropist when it is plural!

18 highlights and 25 comments

comments

  • Different from today
    • mantle clock stops and it is dark – You forget the little things like watches that are reliable
    • the low ceiling showed the formation of the roof – that is a good thing these days!
    • first mention of religion “But she remembered that Satan often appears as an angel of light. Appearances are deceitful” – Hmm religion.
    • “Owen hesitated: he was wet through : it was a long way to Linden’s place, nearly twenty minutes’ walk. Still, he would like to let him know…” – How the world changes in 100 years. walk 20 minutes to pass on a message!!
    • “so long as the working class was contented to die twenty years before their time he failed to see what it had got to do with other people.” – This is in different from today because today most of these downtrodden, blackmailed people do not live in the first world.
    • “But what gets over me, is this: according to science, the earth turns round on its axle at the rate of about twenty miles a minit. Well, what about when a lark goes up in the sky and stays there about a quarter of an hour? Why, if it was true that the earth was turnin’ round at that rate all the time, when the bird came down it would find itself ‘undreds of miles away from the place where it went up from!”
    • “…reminds me of a conversation I ‘ad with Dr.Weakling the other day. You know, he believes we’re hall descended from monkeys.”

    • Same as today (includes my religious views)
      • “It was not necessary to call in the evidence of science, or to refer tot he supposed inconsistencies, impossibilities, contradictions and absurdities contained in the Bible, in order to prove that there was no truth in the so-called Christian religion. All that was necessary was to look at the conduct of the individuals who were its votaries.”
        • mimics modern sentiments on religion.
      • If, as so many people pretended to believe, there was an infinitely loving god, how was it that this helpless creature that He had made was condemned to suffer? It had never done any harm, and was in no sense responsible for the fact that it existed. Was God unaware of the miseries of His creatures? If so, then he was not all-knowing. Was God aware of their suffering, but unable to help them? Then he was not all powerful. Had He the power but not the will to make His creatures happy? Then he was not good. It was impossible to believe in the existence of an individual infinite God.
        • The book is obviously getting quite deeply philosophical at this point, but I can’t argue with it!
      • “for there had arisen a new generation which cared nothing about craftsmanship or art, and everything for cheapness and profit.”
        • Like today, and we can say something about consumerism and the drive for profit and competitive markets.
      • About scripture “No: he said he didn’t believe there ever was [such a man as in the scriptures], but he told me to just listen to what the teacher said about such things, and then to think about it in my own mind, and wait till I’m grown up and then I can use my own judgement.”
        • This is about an atheist fitting into a religious school.
      • “A general murmur of approval greeted this. It seemed to be the almost unanimous opinion that, whether it were true or not, ‘religion’ what a nice thing to teach children.”
        • This shows a change in culture. When things are taught as fact, they are believed by adults and children. When people just turn up because that is what should be done, they have already made the big leap that this is not fact, just something to be done. The reality of this change is then taught and change is inevitably.
      • I was surprised to find the word “Infidel“. The book uses the word a few times to describe people who do not follow Christianity, or only follow it in part. The comment I made while reading the book was “how the worm turns.” I looked the word up as linked above. It appears that although this word is currently mostly heard from the lips of Muslim radicals, it would be equally appropriate for a Christian to hurl the word back. Both groups could label atheists, agnostics or believers of other faiths with it. It is a rather nasty word in my opinion. There should not be a “You’re not like me” word in common use.
      • “sich a lot of infiddles about who said that we all came from monkeys”
      • During one of Owen’s lectures: “the object of most advertisements being merely to persuade people to buy from one firm rather than another.”
      • “…the serviettes, arranged fanwise in the drinking-glasses”
      • Religion – There are comments in the book that suggest some of the working class, and at least Owen, are not Christian. This is a loose theme, but culminates in a couple of phrases used to describe the upper classes who are exploiting so many people. “Psalm-singing devils” and “the ‘Christian’ wolves”. Is it possible that the masses gradually accepted some of these more extreme ideas along with some of the socialist ones, and it is a watered down, more accepted version of these that has set us on a course towards equality and a reduction of Christianity in the UK (and other first world countries?)?
    • Consumerism is a function of Capitalism
      • “In order to succeed in the world it was necessary to be brutal, selfish and unfeeling: to push others aside and to take advantage of their misfortunes.” – about the traits required to succeed in a capitalist culture.
      • “Well, wot do you reckon is the cause of poverty, then?” … “The present system – competition – capitalism.”
        • While reading the book I found this true. Capitalism drives selfishness and greed for profit. The book clearly illustrates the problems with unchecked capitalism. I was about to argue that in today’s modern world, we have regulations that stop a lot of the bad practice and bad people doing what they want to make money, but I have stopped myself. The story of stuff illustrates perfectly the modern situation. Our Capitalists have just got better at hiding the dirty laundry. So how do we fix this. We become much more ethical, conscious consumers. We take it upon ourselves to understand where our stuff comes from. Buy less better quality stuff that has no relationship with poverty unless it is taking it away. A quote from the book “Everybody knows that good clothes, boots or furniture are really the cheapest in the end.” we need to comment on fashion as a key driver to consumerism. Sometimes the reason for changing a perfectly good item is that it is out of date. This now rings true for technology as well as more traditional things.
      • Later in the book we see that modern capitalism as described in the story of stuff is already in place. The family could not afford the locally hand made toy, but “For sixpence they bought a cardboard box that had come all the way from Japan and contained a whole family of dolls.”
      • “It is the bad employer, the sweating, slave-driving employer, who sets the pace for the others. If any employer today were to resolve to pay his workmen such wages as he would be able to live upon in comfort himself, and if he did not require them to do more work every day that he himself would like to perform, he would be bankrupt in a month.” – This is another story of stuff related point. cost is very important. It is the juxta position between ‘pay for quality’, ‘get what you pay for’ mentality and the exploitation that still occurs while producing that quality product. Lets not talk about the lower quality items.
      • “What they wanted, they said, was not more work, but more grub, more clothes, more leisure, more pleasure and better homes. They wanted to be able to go for country walks or bicycle rides, to go out fishing or to go to the seaside and bathe and lie on the beach. But there were not many so selfish as this. the majority desired nothing but to be allowed to work, and as for their children, why, what was good enough for the, oughter be good enough for the kids.”
      • “‘We’ll give the swines Socialism!’ shouted Crass, who was literally foaming at the mouth. ‘We’ll teach ’em to come ‘ere trying to undermine our bloody morality !’ howled Dick Wantley, as he hurled a lump of granite at one of the cyclists.
    • Other
      • There is a description of one of the rooms in the house that is being decorated throughout most of the book, “The Cave”. It reminded me of a National Trust house in the UK, these are typically old stately homes and country houses. The book makes you think of the ragged trousered philanthropists who decorated the house. It puts a different perspective on the beauty that you see.
      • There is part of the book where a council meeting is occurring at the same time as a meeting of the workers. There is a comparison of the two meetings.  One held in an ordered way, but with every decision corruptly worked out and agreed before hand.  The other honest, but un-prepared and chaotic. 
      • “Slyme was heard to say that Socialism meant Materialism, Atheism and Free Love, and if were ever to come about it would degrade men and women to the level of brute beasts.” – in the eyes of the church?? Interesting that ‘Socialism meant Materialism’ is this the christian stating that a socialist concentration on more leisure and free time would inevitably lead to gluttony? if so, he was probably right.
    • socialism
      • “These people seemed to thing that the children were the property of their parents. They had not sense enough to see that the children are not the property of their parents at all but the property of the community. When they attain to manhood and womanhood they will be, if mentally or physically inefficient, a burden on the community; if they become criminals they will prey upon the community; and if they are healthy, educated and brought up in good surroundings, they will become useful citizens, able to render valuable service…”
        • Consumerism and capitalism are based around “things” but they are always created by and consumed by people.
      • Part of Owen’s utopian socialist future. “… and the establishment of an Industrial Civil Service, a National Army of Industry, for the purpose of producing the necessaries,” – The Civil Service was one of the devices described in the book to allow everyone to work at tasks that contribute to the community and produce for the basic needs of all, while allowing reduced hours, less stress and more comfort for it’s employees.
      • There is a section of Owen’s description of socialism in action where he describes state made items that do not need to factor in the cost of advertisement and profit, and because of the scale of works, raw materials would be bought at very good prices. The result would be the required materials of a comfortable life, provided at a much reduced cost, given that the whole monetary system would also be usurped.
        • This is not far from the way of things that I would like to see, except it is not the government doing it. Socialism and communism both rely on a few good people to run them, to stay true to the ideal without becoming corrupt with all the power. I guess my aim is to find products that are fairly priced and do not exploit people. If I ever make a product and sell it, I would aim to price it fairly against the effort that went into its production. I suppose that this means trading profit for worker’s pay and comfort (a mute point if the worker is me!) but that is the reality of the situation. Fair trade. I wonder if they will be under priced or over priced compared to the competition?? Fair Trade gives workers in other countries better pay and conditions. It would be interesting to see what conditions this allows, what the range of wages is, and to see how much profit the fair trade companies still make?? This would be very interesting, but potentially dangerous. If it turns out that fair trade is still not fair, as it surely isn’t, it is still a damn sight better than the rest!
      • Owen describes a difference between the normal ‘Metal money’ and the new Socialist ‘Paper money’. Paper money was therefore not in common use in 1900’s.
      • Cadbury created Bournville in the late 1800’s. In the 1890’s, Sheffield, an industrial center, saw a great expansion of theaters, music and the arts. It appears that the tide is changing at this time. Although we never saw the socialist dream, the government became involved enough to make sure that people were paid enough to live better lives and have some leisure time. The knock on effect? off shore the pain. Story of stuff…
      • “The shops and stores where these people were formerly employed will be acquired by the state, which will pay the former owners compensation..”
        • Where does socialism end and communism start??
      • “Actors, artists, sculptors, musicians and others will go on working for their own pleaseure and honour. Some will devote their leisure to science, art or literature. Others will prefer to travel on the state steamships to different parts of the world to see for themselves all those things of which most of us have now but a dim and vague conception. This, for the first time in the history of humanity, the benefits and pleasures conferred upon mankind by science and civilsation will be enjoyed equally by all, upon one condition, that they shall do their share of the work in order to make all these things possible.”
        • compare this to the life of stuff video. We have a good chunk of this in the first world , but on the work of others.
      • “‘Even if you no longer believe in working for Socialism, there’s no need to work against it,’ said Owen. ‘ If you don’t want to help to bring about a better state of affairs, there’s no reason why you should help to perpetuate the present system.’ The other man laughed bitterly. ‘Oh, yes there is, and a very good reason too.’ ‘I don’t think you could show me a good reason,’ said Owen. The man with the scar laughed again, the same unpleasant, mirthless laugh, and thrusting his hand into his trouser pocket drew it out again full of silver coins, amongst which one or two gold pieces glittered. ‘That’s my reason…'”
        • This part of the book goes on for some time both before and after this snipped. It describes in detail a huge problem. Money is used to control, and even those who truly believe in something may put that aside to have the chance to be comfy.