Monday, 30 August 2010

A Winning Streak!

Hi all, I thought I would provide you with a few highlights of my August bank
holiday. Sadly, for all those ladies out there who read Mark’s last post the ‘winning
streak’ I refer to does not involve Mark taking to the pitch at the rugby. Fuelled by
alcohol and the excitement of the Woman’s Rugby World Cup there was a certain
amount of banter but we managed to keep a cap on any patriotic nudity! Wales v
New Zealand proved an exciting game with Mark handling Wales’ defeat with dignity
and a few well chosen expletives! The speed, skill and strength of some of those girls
playing was amazing. A stunning win to England against the USA finished off the
day. We left for home mostly happy, Mark carefully tucking his Welsh flag back in
his bag.

Sunday led to a win of a different sort. The local pub quiz beckoned with its £100
prize for the winning team. Armed with a few friends we strode to victory. Imagine
our jubilation when ten of the questions involved naming the five characters in Enid
Blyton’s Famous Five and naming the first five Harry Potter books. Knowledge of
children’s books had never been so important. It really does pay to read. Thank the
Lord for literary rounds!

Speaking of reading Mark and I have begun Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty so
keep watching for our next review.

Hope you all had a good bank holiday and that a little winning streak enters your
week ahead!


Thursday, 26 August 2010

Ladies with Balls

Debauched Haka
This weekend I'm off with Lauren and a couple of friends to go and see the Women's Rugby World Cup games at the Surrey Sports Park , Guildford (come along it should be fun).

I'm looking forward to the Wales vs. New Zealand game. Being a Welsh supporter it is a bit disappointing to see them at the bottom of their group but hopefully they'll be able to put on a game in the final group match.

I'm also looking forward to the haka, though I'll be surprised if it is like the one in the picture (though not disappointed).

The men's world cup usually spawns a bunch of autobiographies so I'm wondering if the women's will be the same. It will be interesting to see if the same happens with the women as it would give an interesting insight into culture of the game.

If you want to learn a bit more about rugby you could buy Rugby union for Dummies or find me in a pub when a game is on and I'll talk to you about it at great length.

I just hope I don't have too much to drink and streak the pitch.



P.S. If I do I'm sure Lauren will tell you all about it on Monday.

Monday, 23 August 2010

An Object of Beauty, Steve Martin: Our Next Book Review with Some Bonus Canoe Related Stuff

Steve Martin - genius
Yes, that's right! Our next book review is by the comic genius who portrayed Ruprecht in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It is only as I grow older that I truly appreciate the puerile silliness of that character.

An Object of Beauty is some kind of intriguing tale revolving around New York's art scene. And it has pictures! My kind of book. So we should have the review done in about 3 or 4 weeks.

After that we'll have something a little different. Then you'll realise all this has been a cunning plan so I have an excuse to read a certain book. Bwahahahaha! But you'll have to wait a bit to find out what that is...

An Object of Beauty is scheduled to be published in November

Bonus Canoe Related Content
Roughing it.
On the weekend I went on an exciting canoeing adventure. 30 miles down the river Wye through the wilds of Wales into the haunted grasslands of Herefordshire. Our thoughts turned to higher things as we moved further from civilisation. We came to various conclusion that I won't bore you with but a few of us had read The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ. Now if you don't like anyone messing with the story of Jesus this book isn't for you. Otherwise you'll find an interesting and thought provoking re-imagining (just like Battle Star Galactica) of the life of Jesus*.

but if you can't handle that don't read it.

As for the Canoeing we went from Glasbury to Hereford over two days, camped at Bycross Farm site which was great.



*I mean that the life of Jesus has been 're-imagined' by Philip Pullman not that Battle Star Galactica was a re-imagining of the life of Jesus.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: (Lauren's Review)

Leila Aboulela uses the social and religious customs and day to day living of the wealthy Abuzeid family in Lyrics Alley to provide a privileged glimpse into Sudanese and Egyptian culture in the twentieth century. Sudan, governed by the British is on the brink of change and potential modernity as a union with Egypt looks set to take place. Amidst this political uncertainty Lyrics Alley explores the relationships between the stalwart patriarch Mahmoud, his two wives, their children and his brother and his family. As a foil for the wealthy Abuzeid’s, the novel also focuses on the children’s tutor, Badr, who struggles to make a living, only dreaming of earning enough to own a flat.  Each chapter skilfully describes events from a specific character’s point of view, allowing the reader to experience and empathise with each character in turn.  The main event of the novel sees Mahmoud’s brilliant son, Nur, cruelly crippled in an unfortunate accident and unable to continue his studies or marry his cousin Soraya. Nur and his family have to individually come to terms with Nur’s accident, determining its subsequent impact on their lives.  

Aboulela portrays the strong, patriarchal society of 1950s Sudan through Mahmoud, ‘...head of the family.’ It is he who dictates the destiny of his female relatives, marrying his niece Fatma to his son, moving Nabilah, his second wife, from her hometown of Egypt to Sudan and forcing each of his wives to tolerate the other.  Badr contemplates it is a husband’s duty to ‘discipline’ his wife rather than adhere to her or indeed treat her as an equal. Hence, Aboulela skilfully unites the modern day reader with Soraya who dares to dream of a life outside the traditional confines of patriarchal society.  She is criticised for both wearing spectacles and reading akin to a man.  Each of her subsequent victories in being allowed to wear the said spectacles, in continuing her education and in becoming a doctor are felt keenly by the reader who cheers her on.  It is poignant that Fatma is keen to imagine something different for Soraya as she looks ‘...into the future, a possibility...’ of Soraya breaking with tradition and perhaps having opportunities that she herself never had.

As the ‘backwards’ Sudan teeters on the brink of modernity with the potential of a union with Egypt Aboulela cleverly depicts the tension between the customs and cultures of the two countries through Mahmoud’s Sudanese and Egyptian wife.  The Egyptian Nabilah despairs of Sudan’s ‘dust, squalor, stupidity’ compared to the ‘...metropolitan centre...civilised life...’ of Egypt. Nabilah follows European fashions and has formal manners. She does not conform to the traditional semi outdoors life of the hoash or believe in witchcraft and female circumcision like Hajjah Waheeba who is described as ‘...African in features...’ with ‘...tribal scars.’  Whilst Mahmoud views Hajja Waheeba as ‘crude’ compared to the ‘sophistication’ and ‘glitter’ of Nabilah it is evident to the reader that Nabilah lacks warmth and tolerance.  ‘Too conscious’ of her status to mix with her husband’s other family, she feels her own children are ‘contaminated’ by their Sudanese blood. Nabilah later learns that her ‘prejudice’ prohibited her from any real influence on those around her.  Aboulela suggests that whilst progress and ‘modernity’ can be desirable they become superficial and hence superfluous if there are no values of worth behind them.

In contrast Mahmoud is shown to ‘...glide gracefully between these two worlds’ of Sudanese and Egyptian culture.   The reader warms to this man who encourages Soraya’s father to allow Soraya to wear spectacles, finish school and study to become a doctor. Nabilah acknowledges that her husband is ‘...magnanimous and fair despite the backward pull of tradition and blow of fate’ suggesting that he does his best within the social, political and religious climate he has been shaped by. It is unfair for Nabilah to demand he leaves Sudan when it is a part of him.  Ironically, perhaps Soraya would have found the same shortcomings in Nur who fostered by his traditional upbringing would have subjected Soraya to similarly traditional expectations had they married.

Aboulela portrays the social struggle for upward mobility and wealth through her characters.  Badr leaves Egypt to better himself as he can make significant savings in Sudan.  Similarly, Mahmoud’s family is shown to have risen in society as his grandfather was a merchant, his father the head of an agency and now he is a director of the family firm, Abuzeid Trading.  Aware of the sacrifices his family have made, he does not want their legacy to be diminished.   He urges his sponging son to think of the family’s‘ and reputation. His voice almost broke...sentiments...from core.’ Mahmoud’s protectiveness of his family and their legacy is touching.  The reader is allowed to feel the sense of responsibility he places on himself and to witness the lengths he will go to act in what he sees as his family’s best interests. It is these reasons that make Mahmoud an extremely sympathetic character. He is the glue that holds the family together.

Aboulela employs beautiful, poetic language and vivid imagery to emphasise the importance of words and their meaning.  For instance, ‘their glittering future was here, here in the southern land where the potential was as huge and mysterious as the darkness of its nights.’  It is no wonder that Soraya finds words on the page ‘seductive’ and recalls the ‘thick enchantment’ of books. Similarly, Nur is obsessed with lyrics and the desire to create beautiful poetry.  It is his inability to hold a pen or turn the pages of a book that hurts him the most after his accident. He is joyful when he realises he can still read and create poetry.    ‘...people didn’t know Nur was an invalid.  For them all that mattered were his words.’  Nur’s hoash down the alley becomes a pulsating centre of literature as Nur creates and expounds his lyrics hence the title Lyrics Alley (Ohhhhhh, right - Mark).

Whilst Nur’s accident reveals the fragility of life, it also charts his journey from hope of a cure, to sadness and rage that this won’t happen, to acceptance and a form of hopefulness within the confines of his new reality.  Perhaps if he had not had his accident he would have currently been working for the family business unable to concentrate on his lyrics.  Instead he is the poet of ‘hope and love.’  This is extremely poignant as despite his lyrics of hope and love he has no hope of experiencing love with Soraya.  I cannot help but feel that the reader is left dissatisfied by this turn of events.  Soraya sacrifices her love of Nur for a husband who can actively provide her with the modernity she seeks.  Hence, whilst both achieve what they sought it is at the price of their love, leading Soraya to acknowledge that it is only within Nur’s lyrics that they can be ‘intimate.’  ‘These songs would be their story and these lyrics their homes.’

Lyrics Alley is out in December and currently available for preorder.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Lyrics Alley, Leila Aboulela: A Bit like Eastenders. But in Sudan

Lyrics Alley follows the tragedies of the Abuzeid family and slightly randomly the tutor of their kids. So now I know that Abuzeid is just a family name and feel a bit daft after my post down there. But on with the review!

It's set in the 1950s offering plenty of background tension with the political situation between Sudan, Egypt and Britain. But these events stays in the background throughout the book, never having an influence on the characters.

The book weaves the stories of four* main characters, Mahmoud Abuzeid the patriarch of the family and business, his middle son Nur, Nur's cousin Soraya and Nur's tutor Ustaz Badr. At the beginning of the story they're all living the dream. Nur and Soraya are in love and destined to get married, Ustaz Badr has lots of private tutorial work as well as his job at the school and Mahmoud Abuzeid has built a tower block. Ok, Mahmoud isn't living the dream but he seems pretty chuffed with himself and the tower block.

Yay! Everyone is happy.

But no. I have read the back of the book. I know something bad happens.

Nur takes a dive off a cliff into the sea and ends up breaking his back. This ruins pretty much the lives of everyone. After this it seems to be tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. At the end of each chapter I sang the Eastenders cliffhanger music (DUH! Duh du-du dododo!). Some of the misfortunes seem really random.

For instance Ustaz Badr's cousin turns up. Ustaz doesn't like or trust him. So he gets him a job with his most prized client Mahmoud Abuzied. Ustaz's cousin robs one of Mahmoud's wives of her gold. The cousin disappears, but first he takes the gold back to Ustaz's house which consists of one room and an outside porchy bit. He smuggles the gold past Ustaz's wife and children and hides it in the single room. How does he do this with out getting noticed?! Why does he hide the gold somewhere that will obviously be searched?! All this leads to someone getting arrested, guess who? The whole situation seems to be forced so that Ustaz ends up in a tough spot.

Then things get better for everyone! Ustaz is released (if you didn't guess that he was arrested shame on you!). Mahmoud's tower block is great, Soroya gets to cut her hair! Nur realises that his accident has given him a chance to lead a life he wouldn't have been able to before.


Well not really as I just don't feel that the characters drive the events. Things happen and they think and talk about the events and then other things happen which they think and talk about. No one acts! Ustaz's release from prison isn't down to his cousin handing himself in. It isn't down to Nur or Mahmoud  intervening on his behalf. He's just let go and it annoys me that it happens like that.

All this isn't to say the book isn't enjoyable to read. It is. But if someone had stolen it off me halfway through reading it I wouldn't have rushed out to buy another copy. It does offer some interesting insight into the difference between Sudanese and Egyptian life, prejudices of the time and now I have a better idea of what female circumcision is (Bonus!).

The story just seems to be a bit vague. I think this probably means it's a girl's book. Hopefully Lauren will confirm this or point out all the bits I didn't understand.

I've got no idea why it's called Lyrics Alley.



Lyrics Alley is out in December and currently available for preorder.

*All right, there are up to 10 main characters but I can't be bothered to tell you about the rest. Most of them are dull.