The Towers Of Silence – Paul Scott (Random House, 2005)
This is the third title in the “Raj Quartet” of novels by Paul Scott, which were dramatised by Granada TV as the series “The Jewel in Crown”, and the title refers to the towers used by members of the Parsi religion for so-called “air burials” in which the dead are left on a platform (or “tower”) to be “disposed of” by the vultures.
The story focuses on the last days of the British Raj in India, and on the (sometimes paranoid, sometimes absurd) behaviour of a group of Europeans in the hill station of Pankot, and in the town of Ranpur, down on the plains. They are shackled by duty and tradition, and somewhat disorientated by the sun setting on empire, and by Indian independence looming on the horizon. Scott manages to capture the spirit of the times perfectly, describing the world as seen through the eyes of the various protagonists, each with own their hopes, fears, and (sometimes petty) social agendas. It’s easy for the reader to become immersed in a real “moment in time”.
It actually pays to read the books in order (“The Jewel in the Crown”, “The Day of the Scorpion”, “The Towers Of Silence”, and “A Division of the Spoils”) since the story line continues, and the same characters appear, throughout.
Beyond Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer(Labyrinth Press, Oct 2007)
The Austrian climber and explorer Harrer first made a name for himself as a member of the group which made the first successful ascent of the treacherous north face of the Eiger in 1938. He is, however, better known for his escape from incarceration in British India during World War II, fleeing to Tibet, and spending subsequent years in Lhasa, in the company of the Dalai Lama. His Tibetan exploits, leading up to the invasion of the Chinese in the 1950’s, are told in his famous book, and more recently a film, “Seven Years in Tibet”.
In “Beyond Seven Years in Tibet”, Harrer takes the reader through his whole life story, from his early days as a skier and mountaineer in Austria, the “Nazi” slur that has followed him since the Eiger climb, and his post-war career as a writer, explorer and broadcaster. It’s a fascinating story of an incredibly full life, albeit in a bygone age, before much of the world was opened up to mass tourism.
A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks (Hutchinson 2009)
I like Sebastian Faulks’ novels, they are beautifully written, and this one is especially well-observed. The snapshot of a week of London life provides a superb chronicle of our times – the good and the (mostly) bad. Faulks cleverly illustrates society’s unhealthy obsession with money and celebrity, set in the run-up to the financial crisis in 2008. Highly recommended.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – Stieg Larsson (Quercus 2010)
The third book in the cult Millenium Trilogy, and the story line continues on immediately from the ending of the second (The Girl Who Played With Fire). So you’d better have read it!
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that members of the Swedish government and security forces are implicated in the underhand dealings encountered by Lisbeth and Mikael Blomqvist. Probably the best book in the trilogy…
The Girl Who Played With Fire – Stieg Larsson (Quercus 2009)
The second book in the cult Millenium Trilogy, and much better than the first (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).
In the second book, Stieg Larsson’s reputation as a hard-hitting, political journalist comes much more to the fore. This book delves more into the dark recesses of the Swedish establishment, and is a true political crime thriller.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (Quercus 2008)
The first book in the cult Millenium Trilogy. A classic whodunnit with a modern twist, and an easy read. Well translated into English, but manages to give the reader a sense of the Swedish culture. But I wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was about. And the key characters drink an awful lot of coffee!
The Ascent of Money – Niall Fergusson (Penguin Books, 2009)
A fantastic read, especially relevant in the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. There’s never a better way to get to grips with a subject than to learn about its history – although I would need to read this a few more times to achieve a full understanding! Highly recommended.