Book Review: Rainbow People

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Rainbow People is the third and final book in the late author’s Metamorphosis Trilogy. The title alludes to the term ‘rainbow children’, described in the introduction as:

“a species of children who are different enough to make them distinct from normality by virtue of the intensity of their curiosity for how things work, or should work, in the world around them, combined with a gentleness and even ‘sweetness’ of disposition to others.”

The story explores reactions to the recent migration of refugees from the Middle East to Europe as seen through the eyes of a man, Richard, a woman, Jenny, and a child, Sophie or Sophocles, who observe and discuss the crisis. The narrative structure is detached in style. Conversations are recounted, written down as he said/she said, along with the thoughts of those conversing – their remembrances of previous discussions.

Sparse background details are provided but these are fluid – the child, for example, is at times a boy and then a girl. An older man, Cyril, who is making a film on a beach, could be an acquaintance or Richard’s father. These details are unimportant in the message being relayed.

The first part of the tale is set on the Mediterranean coast near the border between Greece and Macedonia. The man, woman and child are walking towards a film crew. A group of actors are on the beach playing the part of refugees. The child takes off into the sea and is rescued, the performance filmed. The personal reactions of the observers are detailed alongside conversations about the crisis unfolding nearby.

“it may seem customary for people in trouble to be helped […] people who have been categorised as fugitives suddenly become those heading over a rainbow to a new existence – to one that is of a new nature – one which is reached by a recognition that sunlight and raindrops need not be opposites, but can together make something beautiful and the same.”

The reasons for human migration are discussed along with speculation on the preparations made by the migrants, their chances of success and acceptance by those already living in Europe.

The actors have not been fed that they may understand hunger, yet this is regarded as unnecessary, ridiculous, as are many actions surrounding the refugees.

“Even now, we seem to have learnt something of how ridiculous war is. But we are imbued with the idea that something should be done rapidly about a situation in which we find ourselves. And so we bomb people who we think must be causing the troubles”

There is talk of beauty, art and trust, of a need for tenderness as embodied in the actors’ reactions to the child.

The setting shifts to England where the man and woman plan a visit to the camp near Calais known as The Jungle. Richard muses that in a jungle the creatures have found ways to coexist, some living high up in the trees, some at ground level, all finding shelter. Their adaptation to the environment is achieved through instinct, without such planning and discussions as people in positions of power demand.

“the world’s large-scale problems, which were in almost everyone’s interests to solve, were brought to nothing by the strange obsession of humans that all this had to be explicable and validated by words”

Once in The Jungle, the trio observe the packed cars and vans in a traffic jam, all hoping to get to England. The child asks about sex and why her parents wanted children. Her mother answers:

“We wanted to change the world. And we got you.”

The child observes the people in the vehicles looking out their windows and wants to help.

“’What’s wrong with looking out of windows?’ Jenny said, ‘That’s all we do anyway.’ The child said, ‘You mean our eyes are windows.’ Richard said, ‘Or mirrors.’ The child said, ‘I don’t even know what I look like. ‘Jenny said, ‘No. Other people do.’”

As a story I found this a strange little tale although it does offer a window into the reasons behind the refugee crisis and the foolish behaviour of governments.

The book concludes with a postscript, by Shiva Rahbaran, in which she writes of meeting the author and their subsequent discussions. She asks:

“Can humans learn from their mistakes, and evolve into higher beings that can ‘become a rope over the Abyss […] a bridge and not a goal’ and thus save themselves from extinction? This question has been at the heart of Nicholas Mosley’s literary experiment for the past twenty-five years.”

Any Cop?: At around eighty pages in length this is a short work that offers much to consider. The philosophical debates were of interest although the author took as a given the need to save mankind as a species, despite his environmental negligence. In a book seeking to create bridges, to hope that those who come after will evolve into something better, perhaps this is fitting.


Jackie Law


Book Review: Things We Nearly Knew

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Things We Nearly Knew explores the lives of the regular clientele at a bar in a small town in America. The narrator and his wife own and run the establishment. Over time the regulars come and go, people move on, circumstances change. The story told here is set over a nine month period which saw the arrival and departure of one such drinker.

Arlene first showed up in February. She ordered a vodka Martini and asked after a local man named Jack. With no surname to offer it wasn’t much to go on. She demonstrated a marked reluctance to share much about her history saying that she came from many places.

All the customers start out as strangers. The more often they visit the more facts can be gleaned. Still though, the narrator only knows whatever customers are willing to tell, or what others might say about them. How well can anyone know another person anyway?

Davy, for example, may or may not have been married. He has pictures of kids in his wallet but they might not be his, he has never said. More is known about Nelson who has lived in the town for many years, as have the bar owner and his wife, Marcie. They went to school with Mike, another regular but one they would describe as a friend. Later Franky will arrive, much to Marcie’s displeasure. He left under a cloud and she would have preferred if he had stayed away.

The men are drawn to Arlene with her red lips, dark hair and slinky dresses. Davy will become involved with her, as will Franky eventually. And then, after nine months she will leave for good, her tenure at the place a much mulled over memory.

The narrator did not always run a bar. Once he was a teacher. He and Marcie keep no secrets from each other, but no one shares everything about themselves.

There are glimpses of personal histories, teased out by the casual interest of the curious alongside a reluctance to fully engage. The middle aged are survivors of their past – there will always be elements they would prefer not to have to share. This is made harder when others talk freely of events, when they were also there.

The voice of the narrator is anecdotal with an undercurrent of regret. He is recounting the months at his bar which revolved around Arlene but with widening ripples. He and Marcie have been through a great deal together and will be affected by the fallout from these events. Some things may be better left unsaid.

The writing is concise with an almost abrasive view of human interactions. There is a distancing from emotion, a numbing of the senses. The mysteries are solved with an outlook of stoicism for the pain life brings, and leaves in its wake.

Any Cop?: This is a compelling read but a somewhat bleak perspective.


Jackie Law

Book Review: All the Devils Are Here

This review was written for and first published on Bookmunch.

I have read several books recently that intertwine the facts, lore and local gossip about a place with an author’s personal interest and experience. The Stone Tide by Gareth E. Rees explored Hastings; Hollow Shores provided a fictionalised exploration of Kent. All the Devils Are Here is also focused on Kent although the ripples spread further afield – including to London, Europe and the Middle East. The book contains a series of essays that meander around and muse about the licentious and often nefarious escapades of one time residents from such towns as Margate, Rochester, Broadstairs and Deal. The ne’er-do-wells featured are as likely to be from the decadent wealthy classes as from what may be more commonly regarded as the criminal. First published in 2002 the book has recently been rereleased. The essay exploring Fascism seems particularly prescient.

The Prelude sets the scene introducing Kent as the first commercial bathing resort to offer its eighteenth century, genteel visitors from the city clean air and curative sea bathing. By the end of the century the working classes were also descending in large numbers which led William Cowper to remark:

“Margate tho’ full of Company, was generally fill’d with such Company, as People who were Nice in the choice of their Company, were rather fearfull of keeping Company with.”

Certain English, it seems, have long wished to isolate themselves from those they regard as different from them in any way. And worrisome company can exist in the most unassuming of settings – today’s blue plaques will sometimes celebrate this.

Many names feature: T.S Eliot; Charles Dickens; John Buchan; Richard Dadd (an insane but acclaimed artist who murdered his father); Lord Curzon (last Viceroy of India under Queen Victoria, who approved his daughter’s marriage to Sir Oswald Mosley); Arthur Tester (a stage Nazi and father of Audrey Hepburn). There are more – drunks, cranks, chancers and the egoistic – many remembered fondly for the creative work they left. When the artist behaves badly can this discredit the art is, perhaps, a pertinent question.

Within the essays attempts to monetise the famous at the expense of modern tourists are mocked, these sanitised versions compared to the facts gleaned from the author’s research. Each subject has a questionable side which often inspired a following. Many characters are interlinked, and not just by place.

There is domestic discord, grisly murder, sexual abuse of children, decadent lifestyles, and attempts at obfuscation. The final essay explores the world of homosexual pickups, rent boys and the murder of prostitutes. There is little edifying in these expositions but they provide insight into the blinkered thinking of those who believe they can have whatever they wish for, at whatever cost to their victims – and they often get away with it. Families may have tried to sweep such histories under the carpet but our intrepid author hunts his quarry through a detailed bibliography, personal interviews and visits to locations. He brings the reader back to the time and place where the deeds occurred shining his light into dark corners tourist boards may prefer were left hidden.

Any Cop?: The essays wander in directions that can appear random at times, exploring a wide variety of anecdotes and rumours, unpicking speculations. This is an intriguing collection of essays that offers much to mull as they uncover the lesser known activities of many recognisable names. It is sobering to reflect that, when it comes to human activity, little seems to have changed.


Jackie Law

Book Review: Sońka

This post was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Sońka is set in Królowe Stojło, on the Polish-Belarusian border where the author spent his childhood. It opens like a fairy tale – Once upon a time – although its eponymous heroine is a toothless crone. She has lived her long life in the same small homestead with a cat, a dog, a few hens and a cow whose milk provides her meagre income. Although set in contemporary times, Sońka considers her life to have ended with the Second World War. She has a story that she has never told, of a time when she was “still very young, lived and felt so much afterward she didn’t live or feel at all.”

When her urban prince arrives – Igor Grycowski, a theatre director from Warsaw whose car breaks down leaving him stuck in her village where there is no mobile phone coverage – Sońka offers him a mug of fresh milk and decides it is time to tell the story of her life. It has been shaped by her great, unhappy love.

Igor has carefully hidden his background from his peers for reasons of self-preservation. Unbeknown to them he is familiar with this remote area. He spent his childhood with his grandparents in a nearby village, Wysranka, where he was called Ignacy Gryki and was Slavic Orthodox rather than Catholic and Polish as now.

As Sońka recounts her tale Igor shapes in his mind the play he will produce of her trials. He understands the potential power of such a depiction. The Ignacy in him comes to realise that this narration offers Sońka her final catharsis.

In August 1941 Sońka was living with her hated father and two older brothers, her mother having died in childbirth. Although now subjects of Adolph Hitler, their day to day life has continued as before. On the pivotal day, Sońka dons her only good dress and sits on the bench outside her home. From this vantage point she views the passing of numerous army trucks carrying soldiers she regards as “wonderful, dangerous and noble.”

An SS officer, Joachim, travels alongside, on a motorbike, and stops to speak to Sońka in a language she cannot understand. He presents her with a puppy and everything in her world is changed.

Sońka feels happiness when with Joachim that she had not realised could exist in her harsh life. Despite her dreams for the future, it cannot last. Her lies lead to barely imaginable personal tragedy, for her own and a neighbour’s families.

Phrases in Belarusian are included providing insight into a time now past in which Sońka, alone, still lives. For all his plans to appropriate her tale, Igor is sympathetic to her ongoing needs.

The fickle art world is depicted with humour despite the brevity of the subject being played. Igor wishes his production to touch heartstrings, even at a risk of turning tacky. He understands that critical response need not affect a play’s commercial success.

The author has said in a previous interview (with

“A few years ago, I realised that writing an outstanding novel for fifteen people is in fact a simple solution. It is not so difficult. If someone has a sort of a talent and is hard-working, he can easily create such a masterpiece. It is much harder to come up with a book that contains something deeper, and that is written in a reader-friendly language.”

With Sońka we have a novel that has this depth yet throughout remains accessible.

Any Cop?: Multi-layered, nuanced and perspicacious – an impressively satisfying read.


Jackie Law


Book Review: Terms and Conditions

This post was written for, and originally published by, Bookmunch.

As a reader with no tertiary qualifications in language or literature I was, for many years, reluctant to pass comment on poetry. It is a form that requires more than simple reading of words to be appreciated and I feared ridicule for my unscholarly interpretations. These days I read for pleasure making no claim on any ability to knowledgeably parse or critique. Much like music, if it feeds my soul I will rate it.

On this basis, Terms and Conditions is a veritable feast. It offers a literary dégustation to be dipped into and savoured. So many of the offerings left me sated it is a challenge to select just a few for special mention here.

The book opens with ‘Baby’, in which a child is being carried (or are they directing?), gathering data as they travel by train. Baby’s thoughts are on absorbing the now, but they also look forward to what could be with curiosity, hope and anticipation.

In ‘What do we do when the water rises?’, the subject is the behaviour of fire ants, how they survive as a colony – a lesson for humans:

“How do they know

How hard to hold, and when

To let each other go?”

‘Insist on it’ entreats the reader not to give in to the persuasion of others who are older, who believe they know better, perhaps because they still see a child to be schooled. Knowledge and experience require a past. Life is worth exploring in other directions.

As one who eschews pigeonholing I was particularly drawn to ‘No, I do not Tango’. This notes the names people are given by others, labels widely assigned. The narrator will not be owned by such limitations:

“You can call me anything you like. I know my name.”

‘Surplus, 1919’ was inspired by the two million women labelled as such due to the lack of marriageable men after World War I. At the time the women’s worth was often judged by marriage. It was not they who sent the men to die.

“how now to live: alone

Or worse, with parents; how

To earn, with what to occupy

Those hours emptied of expected

Spouse and children.”

‘How to be fully-grown’ explores the stamping out of impropriety in children, the quashing of fun. Adults look on as the adults-in-training enjoy sliding across a brilliantly-shined museum floor on their knees. How long before they cease considering such pleasures as possibilities?

‘Where once Mercury had winged feet’ offers the nostalgia and excitement of a passionate kiss, emotions generated floating above whatever else weighs down the kissed.

Any Cop?: This entire work, the author’s debut poetry collection, pulses emotion, speaking softly, powerfully in the silences after reading. The poems explore existence, love and ‘the uncertain business of our daily lives’. There is nothing difficult to understand, although it takes more than these few words to eloquently convey the depth of sensation. The appreciation is in how the reader is made to feel.


Jackie Law

Book Review: The Squeeze

This post was written for, and originally published by, Bookmunch.

I have long been a fan of Lesley Glaister’s work. Her stories are perceptive, engaging and memorable with just the right degree of humour and originality to lift the difficult subjects she explores. Thus I eagerly awaited this, her latest publication. It is perhaps unwise to approach a book with such high expectations.

The Squeeze revolves around two characters who must each find a way to survive the choices they have made. Neither can become the person they long to be and, whatever befalls, life will only ever move forwards.

Marta grew up in Romania under Ceaușescu. Her father had high hopes for his daughter but was killed just before the regime was overthrown. Instead of preparing for university, Marta works in a chemical factory and helps to care for her little sister. When a well groomed stranger starts to woo the tired and yearning teenager, she ignores the warnings and accepts his attentions. Within weeks Marta has been abducted, trafficked, and forced into prostitution in the UK.

Mats is a businessman in Oslo with a pragmatic wife, Nina, who refuses to have the child he so desires. Mats is offered a transfer to Edinburgh and Nina tells him to accept, but that she will stay where she is. Mats considers himself steady and loyal, always eager to do what is right. If those he loves do not respond in kind he feels let down.

On a drunken night out with a work colleague in Edinburgh, Marta and Mats have sex. To Marta he is just another punter but Mats is wracked by guilt. When their paths cross again Mats is seeking absolution. It will cost him dear.

From this point on I found the development of the story somewhat preposterous. The day to day life and future prospects of the sex workers are achingly evoked but Mats’ reaction to his indiscretion seemed overblown.

Although wishing to be generous and giving, Mats is weak and needy. The women in his life, drawn by his looks and gentle demeanour, become frustrated by his lack of empathy, his expectation of gratitude for unasked for efforts. He wants his new wife to fit an image he has created, becoming disappointed when she strays from this construct. He thinks longingly of Nina, unaware of how she regards him.

The reader views Mats through his wife’s eyes as she records her thoughts – therapy for post-natal depression. There is little communication in their relationship.

Marta’s friendships with the other sex workers are touched on but never fully developed. The woman she travels with, Alis, is given a voice in the narrative but remains elusive. Despite living in the brothel for years little interaction is detailed.

The denouement may be regarded as auspicious, or perhaps just another chance for Mats to set himself up for further disappointment. He appears to have learned little over the years.

A great many social attitudes and issues are packed into this story, all insightfully portrayed yet somehow lacking coherence. It is written as a novel but at times reads as a series of vignettes. Each is effectively crafted and interlinked yet missing a degree of fluidity.

Any Cop?: The tale is easy enough to read and offers layers to unpick but is not as strong as I had expected. The characters are well drawn in their aloneness but action too often felt cumbersome. I am left dissatisfied.


Jackie Law

Book Review: The Illogic of Kassel

This post was written for, and originally published by, Bookmunch.

The Illogic of Kassel presents something of a literary conundrum. It offers what appear to be perceptive insights, nuggets of wisdom, wrapped around a tale that does not always engage. It is mocking, opaque in places, appearing clever but perhaps for clever’s sake.

The protagonist, a Spanish writer who enjoys morning euphoria and then suffers evening depression, is invited to take part in a prodigious, avant-garde artistic endeavour, Documenta, in the German town of Kassel. Despite his antipathy towards the live installation he will be required to be a part of, the writer agrees as he wishes to solve what he describes as the mystery of contemporary art – to ‘seek the aesthetic instant’.

The writer is influenced by all he reads and observes – his life experiences. He plays out scenarios in his imagination which then inform how he acts. Reading this story felt, at times, like playing a game where the rules kept changing, where the premise and coherence shifted as the plot progressed.

On arriving in Kassel the writer finds himself repeatedly drawn to certain exhibits. He is particularly taken by a vast space, first empty and then leading into darkness, pulled along by a current of air. He opines,

“I had proved that solitude was impossible, because it was inhabited by ghosts.”

Whilst this may appear to be profound, a result of his careful deliberations, it is exactly what the artistic space represents.

In walking around Kassel the writer realises that his evening depression has lifted. He is affected by the exhibits he visits and ponders if art appreciation is purely a state of mind. In an attempt to be cultured, are intelligent people looking for inspiration in what is ridiculous? Does the avant-garde exist when, if acknowledged as art, anything can be accepted?

(I ask myself if I, as a reader of this book, am seeking to be impressed because I believe I should appreciate the skill of an acclaimed author.)

The writer is passed between organisers of Documenta and their assistants. Although enjoying their company he does not always understand what they say or mean. He forms ideas of them and is then discomfited when they do not act as he expects.

“how frightening people are who suddenly show a side of themselves we’d never imagined”

The installation of which he is to be a part involves him sitting at a table in a remote Chinese restaurant becoming a Writer in Residence. To cope with the unknown aspects of this, particularly the attention he may receive, he invents a persona for himself and considers how this alter ego would react to observers.

“we are so many million people in the world, and yet communication – real communication – is absolutely impossible between any two of us.”

The writer comments that the contemporary art of Documenta is created without the contamination of the laws of the market. I found this disingenuous, akin to an author claiming not to care whether or not their book sold well.

The story is witty with much play between experimental arts of all kinds but still I am left feeling underwhelmed. This is much the same as when I view modern art, particularly live installations.

Any Cop?: If designed to provide a debatable literary experience the book succeeds. Whether it is one worth seeking – I am not entirely convinced.


Jackie Law