Saturday, January 30, 2016

Book Review: Coffin Road

In his new novel Coffin Road (published 14 January, 2016), Peter May returns to the setting of the Outer Hebrides. The story is not linked to his Lewis trilogy, though (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen); except through the landscape, and also the re-appearance of detective sergeant George Gunn from that series. However, the main focus of solving the mysteries involved this book does not really lie with him,  even if he plays a part in it, and some chapters are also told from his point of view.

The book starts with a man being washed up on an empty beach – gradually coming to his senses, but realising that not only does he not have any idea where he is – he does not even know who he is. He seems to have lost all memories to do with his own self.

The first person he meets after getting up on his feet – a woman – seems to know him, though; and he learns that he in fact lives quite close, and she is a neighbour. Guided by her, he manages to get back home to his cottage, without revealing the extent of his own confusion. He hopes of course that familiar surroundings will help him retrieve his memories of who he is, and what happened to him. This, however, turns out to be a lot more complicated (and his home a lot less familiar) than expected, as the house too seems to be completely void of any personal documents or other memorabilia, and even his computer appears to be blank when it comes to giving a clue to his identity or previous activities.

Finding the lost pieces of the puzzle and putting them together again turns out to be slow and tricky process. Some things seem familiar, and yet he does not know how to interpret them and make it all fit. He also has to deal with a hovering fear at the back of his mind that he may have done something terrible that he should not have; and that he does not even know himself what he might be capable of.

The title, Coffin Road, refers to a route used in the past to carry the dead from the rocky east coast of the Isle of Harris over to the west side for burial in the deeper soil there.

The book also has a somewhat unusal dedication: For the bees. This of course gives a clue that bees are somehow involved in the story; but I am not going to reveal how.

[Some of the information about bees weaved into this book evoked memories for me personally though – of a book that I read back in my childhood. Actually, it was one that belonged to my dad back in his childhood; a Swedish children’s book from the early 1930’s, not famous and probably never translated into any other language, so I don’t expect any of my readers here to have read it. Nor Peter May! But it was about a boy who got stung by a bee and thereby got transformed into a bee himself, and so got to live like one for a while, and see the beehive from inside etc.]

As usual, Peter May’s descriptions of the landscape are superb. He really has a unique skill when it comes to creating verbal images of physical surroundings, and dramatic weather conditons.

It might be of extra help to me though, that I have also for years been following a blog from this part of the world. Some of you will know that I’m referring to Eagleton Notes. So when the man with no memory wakes up on that beach, I can see it...

Behind me, the sea retreats, shallow, a deep greenish-blue, across yet more acres of sand towards the distant, dark shapes of mountains that rise into a bruised and brooding sky. A sky broken by splinters of sunlight that dazzle on the ocean and dapple the hills. Glimpses of sailor-suit blue seem startling and unreal.

And when the author describes the Church of St Clements at Rodel, even though I did not remember it by name, I know I have seen that too quite recently: details coming to mind immediately almost as if I’d been there myself – from pictures on GB’s blog, and also on Pauline’s.

Sun reflects on the wet stone path as we follow it up through the graveyard to the door. Inside, it is completely empty, ancient Lewisian gneiss green in places with the damp. Cruciform in design, there are tiny chapels in each of the transepts, and three walled tombs. We climb narrow stone steps leading to the chamber at the top of the tower…

The setting of the novel also involves the Flannan Isles, a group of smaller islands west of the Isle of Lewis, and a story of an old mystery that occurred there in 1900, when all three lighthouse keepers vanished without trace.

And of course, with this setting, you will inevitably also get a fair share of raging storms and quickly changing weather before the story comes to an end and the mysteries get sorted out.

All in all, I found the book keeping my attention throughout, and hard to put down. I can’t say I know enough about temporary loss of memory to be able to judge the credibility of every detail; but the author certainly makes it seem very real – and does a good job not only of describing the landscape etc, but also the frustration of the man who can’t remember who he is.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Symbolic Goat

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I woke up this morning (or so I thought), suddenly realizing that I had no idea what to feed the goat I had tied to the rail out on my balcony. Somewhere at the back of my head I seemed to remember being told that goats will eat anything. But do they really? And what on earth had I been thinking, buying that goat in the first place??

Then, slowly, it began to dawn on me that I might not be quite awake yet after all; and by the time I finally was, there was of course (to my great relief) no goat waiting on the balcony; and the only one I had to feed was myself. (Which was not a problem.)

I lead quite an interesting life at nights, sometimes!

I’ve also often (through the years) found it worth while having a go at trying to figure out why I dreamt as I did. I can’t say I bother about it every time, so of course most dreams just fade away without leaving lasting memories. This one was of the kind that kept on bugging me, though – like it wanted to be interpreted. Why on earth a goat?? I’m not even much of a pet person; and I’ve never taken any special interest in goats…

But then, while I was washing up the dishes after breakfast, I did suddenly become aware of the other “links in the chain” that must have led to the goat appearing in my dream… 

Yesterday, I received a thank you card from a friend who turned 70 about a month ago. At the time, I could not think of any sensible gift to send - nor anything properly whimsical and personal. So instead, I ended up visiting one of those charity websites through which you can send symbolical gifts, which in reality go to a charity project in some other part of the world. For example a goat to a poor family in Africa.

The site offered other options than goats as well, though – so I did not actually buy a goat; but chose to give my friend (who used to be a teacher) “a school year” instead.

But I do think that’s probably how the goat found its way through my labyrinth of dreams this morning (because I was reminded of it all when I received the thank you note).

Purely for fun, and already having written the major part of this blog post, I decided to also look up ‘goat’ in The Wordsworth Dictionary of Dreams (first published in 1909):

“To dream of goats wandering around a farm, is significant of seasonable weather and a fine yield of crops. To see them otherwise, denotes cautious dealings and a steady increase of wealth.”  

Surely “otherwise” must include balconies? Anyway I think I’ll go with that. Caution and a steady increase of wealth suits me fine!

(There were a few other suggestions as well, but as I was neither butted by the goat nor rode upon it nor milked it, I’ll skip those!)

The photo is my own, from a visit to the zoo a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Here Be Dragons

I’m beginning to wonder if according to some ancient calendar the year 2016 is perhaps the Year of Dragons? Anyway I seem to have stirred a few of them during this month of January!

The first week after New Year, I (re)watched (on DVD) the three movies based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit.


I copied this image from Google search but it is the same cover as on my own paperback copy from the mid 1970s sitting in my bookcase.

I also (re)watched the last of the Harry Potter films, where there’s a dragon playing a part too.

A week ago I received this postcard from South Africa – with photos from Drakensberg = Dragon Mountains.

ZA 160113-160120 from ilzeb

Yesterday, on the charming blog The Postal Adventures of Morris Mouse there was an interesting new blog-postcard throwing light on the world-wide phenomenon of dragons and ... let’s say, creatures of related kind.

And today, further evidence of dragon activity reached me by mail, in the form of a Postcrossing card from Russia:

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“Winter dragon” by Anna Loch

"Here be dragons" means dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of a supposed medieval practice of putting dragons, sea serpents and other mythological creatures in uncharted areas of maps. [Wikipedia]

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow and Thaw

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We’re back to thaw, rain and fog again; before I’ve even had a chance to post all my snowy photos. Like these (from Saturday):

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Through My Lens

Macro Monday

Our World Tuesday

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Book Review: A Dangerous Place

(Maisie Dobbs #11)

A Dangerous Place (2015) is the 11th novel in Jacqueline Winspear’s series about private investigator Maisie Dobbs; the Kindle version just now available at reduced price. (Probably to do with No 12 to be released in March 2016…)
Previously on this blog I have reviewed:

#7. The Mapping of Love and Death (2010)
#8. A Lesson in Secrets (2011)
#9. Elegy for Eddie (2012)
#10. Leaving Everything Most Loved (2013)

Because of the previous books being closely connected in time, it was a bit of a surprise to pick up A Dangerous Place and find it skipping ahead no less than four years in one swift move; only giving the reader short “rear mirrow” glimpses of dramatic events in Maisie’s life during those years. (Actually after reading the first chapter or two, I felt I had to check and make sure that I hadn’t missed a book or two in between! But no, I had not.)

It is 1937, and Maisie, on her way back to England after four eventful years abroad with memories of both love and loss and grief, decides that she’s still not ready to go back home. So she gets off the ship in Gibraltar, in spite of being warned that this is a dangerous place to be at the moment. Civil war is raging in Spain, and many people are fleeing from there to Gibraltar. A few days after Maisie’s arrival, a photographer and member of Gibraltar’s Jewis community is murdered, and Maisie becomes entangled in this case, which also draws the attention of the British Secret Service.

Just as Maise seems to once again be at a crossroads in her life in this book, as reader I feel a bit “in two minds” as well. On the one hand, congrats to the author for avoiding getting stuck in the same kind of time-trap as for example Elizabeth George with her Lynley series; but on the other hand, I can’t help feeling that Winspear wrote her character into too much of a cosy corner, and eventually found that she had to “cheat” to get Maise out of there and back to being more of a tragic heroine again…

So I’m not really sure whether to wholeheartedly applaud this bold move by the author or not. But no doubt it does set Maisie more free to go off on future dangerous missions set in WWII environment in books to come. (The title of the next novel, to be released in March, is Journey to Munich.) And I guess this may also be as good a place as any for new readers to get aboard and get to know Maisie, even if they’re not sure they want to go back to the very beginning and read all the previous ten books.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Winter Reflections

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Thursday was the coldest day we’ve had here so far this winter.
In the morning it was around - 16°C, and ‘typically’ this was a morning I had to get up and out rather early (for me). Brrr! These photos were taken with my mobile phone on my way back from town, around 11 am.

The name of the sculpture in the river is ‘Bodhi’, made in the image of its creator, artist Fredrik Wretman. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while have seen him before. He does not always wear a white cap and shawl, though!

Weekend Reflections

Friday My Town (Open Theme)

Skywatch Friday

Shadow Shot Sunday 2

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Winter Wednesday

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Outdoor Wednesday & Wordless Wednesday

[One thing that happens when there is a lot of snow like this, is that you get a strangely “hushed” feeling outdoors…]

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

More Snow

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No sooner had I turned my mind back to last summer (previous post), than I woke up to these views this morning… About 20 cm of new snow had fallen during the night, on top of what was there yesterday.

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The snowfall stopped later in the morning, and  I ventured out for a short walk to take some photos. No need to go far… Snow does have a magic quality of changing the most ordinary view.

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“Snow is … socially and conversationally a special and awkward case, as it is aesthetically pleasing, but practically inconvenient. It is always simultaneously exciting and worrying. Snow is thus always excellent conversation-fodder, but it is only universally welcomed if it falls at Christmas, which it almost never does.”

Kate Fox, Watching the English
(A book I got from a friend in England for Christmas).

The quote refers to English weather conversations; but I’d say it applies rather well to the southern parts of Sweden as well. We may in general get a bit more snow than England – but we do share much of the same uncertainty about the weather, never knowing for sure what to expect.  

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Linking to: Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday

 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Back to July (Vänersborg / Brinkebergskulle)

As there is not a lot happening in my winter world at the moment, this might be a good opportunity to skip back in time to last summer… I blogged about the first part of my holiday trip with my brother in July and August (you’ll find the posts in my blog archive in the sidebar); but then other things happened in September and onwards that took priority.

So I’ve been saving a bit of summer to look back upon…  Winking smile

After a very watery July 21st in Trollhättan – with heavy rain pouring down from above all day while we were visiting the canal and locks and waterfalls! – we had better luck with the weather the next day when we set out to continue our trip ‘down Memory Lane’, following (more or less) the south coast of lake Vänern: with a first stop at Vänersborg, and from there on to Lidköping and the peninusula/island Kållandsö.

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At Vänersborg, we visited the last lock connecting the Göta Canal to Lake Vänern: Brinkebergskulle. There we were in luck and got to see a whole bunch of leisure boats going down through the lock; to be met by a single very small one waiting to go up.

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Linking to Skywatch Friday

Friday, January 15, 2016

Miniature Winter Landscapes

 

 






All of the above are macro photos from the top of this stone wall running along the cemetery:


Temperature around -12°C (10°F)... 


... and loooooong shadows...


Linking to
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