The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis (2014). As a Brit of a certain age Martin Amis is one of those authors with whom you feel that you have grown up with: from Dead Babies, Success, Money, Einstein’s Monsters, London Fields, Time’s Arrow, Koba the Dread, House of Meeting, The Second Plane, Lionel Asbo … it’s a great body of work, some more successful than others. But in comparison, and the standard is high, this is a dud – and a tired topic, to which Amis adds nothing for me. Two reviews: The Guardian and the LRB.
Ten Cities that Made an Empire by Tristan Hunt (2014). This is an interesting approach to examine the rise and fall of British colonialism. With a chapter for each city, Hunt starts in pre-independence Boston and passes through Bridgetown, Dublin, Cape Town, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Bombay, Melbourne, New Delhi and finally post-war Liverpool. The book is prefaced with an introduction which looks at changing attitudes to colonialism and the effects of globalisation on city states that dominant trade and our increasingly urbanised world.
The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (1973). Greene is quoted saying that this was his favourite novel (with Heart of the Matter as his best). My own favourite is Monsignor Quixote. This is a re-read. But all the elements of his writing are here: his Catholicism, the father-figure, his evocation of abroad (here Latin America) and the idea of humanity and disloyalty and the other spaces or borders within which we cope with life.
The Bees by Laline Paull (2014). This was an unexpected find (thanks to R who is a member of the Muthaiga Club library) and it is a simply terrific novel. The hive is an industrial caste-system par excellence, and like all caste systems the hive is inherently racist and sexist within which variation is simply not tenable for either an individual or a particular group. Likewise the insect world is one of fatalism. Yet Flora who starts life as a lower caste sanitation worker has the ability to think and talk i.e. she has a conscious, and to produce royal jelly (and eggs). A misfit saved at birth (a chosen one but chosen by whom? and why?) her destiny is to ensure that the hive’s life-cycle continues, nature’s own creative destruction. There is an understated spiritual element: Flora like the other bees has a (chemically) thought-controlled hard-wired devotion to Queen (the abiding commandment of the hive is to “Accept, Obey and Serve”) , but Flora is also an individual, a brave and spirited soul who saves the hive from predators and pests – wasps and spiders – but is defenseless against man whose pesticides threaten the whole system of life.
Different Colours, Ng’ang’a Mbugua (2011). This novel has been on my shelves for a while – the sticker on the back shows that I bought it in Savanis bookshop in Westgate (now happily reopened). The novel shows Mbugua’s empathy with community and environment, and the efforts of individuals to make the most of their lives in spite of their circumstances. Its a good read and well-written; the problem is that his earlier novella Terrorists of the Aberdare is so good that for me everything else will inevitably fall short. But kudos for not only writing but also self-publishing (Big Books Ltd).