Tag Archives: architecture

#BookReview ‘The Blue Afternoon’ by William Boyd #historical #literary

Having recently read and enjoyed Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, I checked to see how many of his books I have read. I’ve been a fan from the beginning and have read everything from the first, A Good Man in Africa in 1981 to Brazzaville Beach in 1990. Then there’s a gap between Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart in 2002. So, this year I plan to read the books in the intervening years. William Boyd First up is The Blue Afternoon. Published in 1993 and winner of the ‘Sunday Express Book of the Year’ and the ‘Los Angeles Book Prize for Fiction’, I had no idea of its subject. Boyd is like Rose Tremain, no book is like any other. Every one is an adventure.
The first part, set in Los Angeles in 1936,‪ suggests this is the story of a battle between two arguing architects. But it turns into something rather different. When Kay Fischer visits the site of her latest project, a perfectly proportioned house on a sloping site at 2265 Micheltorino, she notices an elderly man. Later at home, the same man pays her a visit and announces that he is her father. He asks for her help, to track down a person called Paton Bobby. He doesn’t explain why.
This is the story of Dr Salvador Carriscant’s life as a surgeon in Manila at the turn of the 20th century, a story also of murder, love, friendship and the building of an early flying machine. In 1902, Carriscant is a celebrated surgeon at the San Jeronimo hospital, a pioneer of the antiseptic methods of Joseph Lister. Meanwhile his anaesthetist, Pantaleon Quiroga, is building a flying machine in his nipa barn. Both are obsessives. When Carriscant falls in love, his obsession turns from surgery to Delphine Sieverance, the married object of his fantasies. This atmosphere of contentment and positivity is shattered when Paton Bobby, the local chief of police, asks Carriscant to attend the body of a murder victim. When the victim is identified as an American soldier, the case becomes political. The country is now ruled by the US after the recent Philippine-American war but guerrilla groups are active in rural areas. There is prejudice against the locals, suspicion of the Americans, poverty, ex-pat aristocracy and exploitation, but this is also a time of dynamic advances at the beginning of a new century.
Not Boyd’s best book but enjoyable none the less. There are slow passages where Boyd’s enthusiasm for the description of tiny details goes too far. In places I could have done with less technical information about architecture, surgery and the aerodynamics of flying. The story really gets going in the second, and largest section, set in Manila. The first and third parts in 1936 are almost irrelevant bookends and some of the final explanations stretch credibility.
But my, Boyd does write beautifully. ‘Inland, continents of dark plum-grey clouds were building, threatening the rain that João had promised, while out west, over the Atlantic, the afternoon sun shone with that silvery flinty brilliance you find over big oceans, light reflecting back from the huge expanse of shifting waters.’ And in an instant, I was sitting there too, a glass of cold, yellow wine in my hand.

My copy of The Blue Afternoon is a used, signed hardback, the Sinclair-Stevenson edition, with a rather lovely cover. William Boyd Here are my reviews of other books by William Boyd:-
… and try the first paragraph of ARMADILLO.

If you like this, try these:-
Islands of Mercy’ by Rose Tremain
Barkskins’ by Annie Proulx
The Gustav Sonata’ by Rose Tremain

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE BLUE AFTERNOON by William Boyd#bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-5rC via @SandraDanby

#Bookreview ‘The Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett @KMFollett #historical

Why have I never discovered this book before? When I mentioned to friends I was reading it I was told ‘oh yes, it’s fantastic’. And fantastic it is. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett holds up a mirror to modern times. It is a historical thriller about the building of a twelfth century cathedral. The politics, governmental and religious, civil war, families torn asunder, romance, loss, courage and hope. It left me with a yearning to walk around a cathedral and study its architecture, better to understand the feat accomplished at Kingsbridge. Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of stonemason Tom Builder and his family, who in 1135 are on the verge of starvation. When they meet Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, so begins a relationship which lasts all their lives. Philip is a pragmatic monk. He knows his poor town must find a way to survive and decides to build a cathedral. Tom becomes his master builder. But there are enemies who want to thwart this ambition, greedy, ruthless men who change political sides with will, who pillage and rape, who store riches while their peasants starve. The differences are not just political and royal, they are between brothers too.

This is a long novel and for not one moment did that matter. If you like novels that create a world for you to lose yourself in, then this will suit you. This is the medieval world; when the crown is disputed by King Stephen and Maud, when a father abandons a baby because he cannot feed it, when outlaws live wild in the forests, when the wealthy and titled can rape and steal and get away with it. Through this morally thin time, there are beacons of light. Prior Philip is quiet, gentle and Machiavellian. Determined not to be beaten by bullies, that his town and citizens shall not lose their livelihoods, he motivates his villagers so they have the belief to stand up for their rights.

Don’t be put off because this book is about a cathedral. The cathedral is the glue that holds the community of Kingsbridge together, it gives the book its narrative drive. Ken Follett packs in so much historical detail and it is all relevant to the plot; despite its 1104 pages, this is a quick read. Highly recommended.

This is the first of the Kingsbridge trilogy, next is World Without End.

If you like this, try:-
‘The Last Hours’ by Minette Walters
‘Gone are the Leaves’ by Anne Donovan
‘The Ashes of London’ by Andrew Taylor

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by @KMFollett #books https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3BF via @SandraDanby