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Sample Sunday: On Class And Conflict

Sample Sunday is an opportunity to check all the books on my shelves and decide what to keep

A big discovery today: a heatwave is not conducive to review writing. So instead of sharing my thoughts on Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, I’m taking the path requiring less effort and doing another episode of Sample Sunday.

From my owned-but-unread books I’m choosing three whose titles begin with the letter H. Let’s see whether you agree with my decision on which to keep and which to let go to a more appreciative home.

The Heel of Achilles by E M Delafield

Published in 1921 this predates Delafield’s best known work: The Diary of A Provincial Lady. It’s drawn from her experience of working as a voluntary nurse during World War 1 which brought her into contact with people from social classes other than her own. The novel follows a lower middle-class girl who marries ‘above herself’.

The Verdict: Let Go. The storyline seems rather thin.

The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Ghosh’s sixth novel is set in mangrove-covered islands in the estuary of the Ganges River where settlers live in fear of drowning tides and man-eating tigers. A young American marine biologist of Indian descent, arrives in this lush, treacherous landscape in search of a rare species of river dolphin and enlists the aid of a local fisherman and a translator. Together the three of them launch into the elaborate backwaters, drawn unawares into the powerful political undercurrents of this part of the world.

The setting is appealing but I’ve seen a few comments along the lines that this is a rambling story that tries to cover too much ground: love, class-difference, political conflict, natural and man-made catastrophes.

The Verdict: I’m tempted to keep. I’ve read one other novel by Ghosh – The Glass Palace – and it was the setting and evocation of a culture that I enjoyed most, both of which appear to be key to The Hungry Tide.

The House of The Deaf Man by Peter Kristufek

Peter Kristufek is an enigmatic figure. All I know about him is that he hails from Bratislava in Slovakia and this is his debut novel, published in 2015 by the Welsh independent press, Parthian Books. He doesn’t appear to have written anything since and Parthian don’t mention him on their website. I suspect I bought this purely because it was written by a Slovakian author and I was trying to read books from a broader range of geographies.

It focuses on a doctor in western Slovakia who has spent his whole life pretending to be radiantly happy and contented. But his son discovers that in reality this genial man had turned a deaf ear to his conscience through key historical events: the Holocaust, the political trials of the 1950s, the secret police before and after the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

So this is clearly going to be a novel that takes us through the country’s history which would certainly fill in some gaps in my knowledge. But the few extracts I’ve seen on Goodreads give me the impression this could be a ponderous read.

Here’s an example:

I salute you, wonderful blue glow of living rooms at night! I salute you, the opium electric that befuddles mankind. I salute you, television, for preventing your viewers from getting up to mischief because they’re bored and have nothing better to do. I salute you, the sweet trance to which criminals, layabouts and violent people succumb, that switches off the brain, dampens dangerous passions and offers distraction. I salute you, oh television, I salute you!

The Verdict: Let Go. I think the writing style would be a major turn-off.

Sample Sunday is when I take a look at all the unread books on my shelves and decide which to keep and which to let free. The goal isn’t to shrink the TBR as such, but rather it’s about making sure my shelves have only books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached? If you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.

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