Book Review: You Shall Leave Your Land

leave your land

“what happened in Huánuco two centuries back, when those men and women, who performed actions and took decisions without awareness that they would become our ancestors”

Renato Cisneros comes from a large, wider family with forebears who moved amongst many of the great and the good of their times. As a young man he felt proud of his name, linking him as it did to a past filled with characters celebrated at regular family gatherings. He was therefore perturbed as well as intrigued on discovering that they should all have gone by the name of Cartagena rather than Cisneros. His great-great-grandmother had been the long time lover of a priest, bearing their children out of wedlock and inventing for the offspring a father they never met. The historic affair was rarely mentioned across subsequent generations, a family secret that nevertheless reverberated.

“We all have wounds and that doesn’t mean our lives are nothing but frustration and trauma.”

You Shall Leave Your Land is referred to as a novel rather than biography. It tells the story of those who came to form the author’s paternal lineage from this shadowed beginning. Many of the men featured are serial adulterers, fathering children whose emotional needs are subsequently ignored as carnal appetites are sated elsewhere. The women of the family are referenced but remain mostly two dimensional.

“I can picture now my grandfather bewitched by the young Esperanza, completely outside of himself, forgetting his wife and his children, or perhaps remembering them all too well and for that very reason trying to evade his responsibilities and his role if only for a moment, knowing how unhappy he was in the marriage that Hermelinda Caicedo’s pregnancy had made necessary so many years earlier.”

Much of the tale is set in Peru. The ongoing political changes in this country provide the scaffolding within which the family history is built. As well as trade and diplomacy, there is a legacy of poetic output. It is hard to gauge how impressive this literary strand may have been, especially as a particularly admired bullfighter’s moves are described: ‘that is poetry’.

The author ponders the question of who owns family secrets, and how choices made can affect those living and also still to come. Despite the unsavoury aspects of characters’ lives delved into, the spare prose with which their story is told is rendered beautifully. I did not buy the suggestion that a propensity for infidelity can be inherited. Nevertheless, behaviour detailed here is what happened, offered with thankfully limited moralising.

Money is made and lost throughout the family history. Certain characters travel abroad – some by choice, others forced – to Europe and around South America. There is much name dropping, particularly within the Paris chapters. As this is based on facts the reader may assume the Cisneros enjoyed privileged connections.

An intriguing depiction of generational family dynamics and how, within such an institution, unvarnished truth is so often avoided. An engaging if louche family biography presented with verve and aplomb.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Charco Press.

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Book Review: Mio’s Kingdom

mios kingdom

Mio’s Kingdom, by Astrid Lindgren (translated by Jill Morgan), tells the story of a nine year old Swedish boy who releases a genie from a bottle and is taken to Farawayland. Here he discovers he is the long lost child of the King. He also finds the love and friendship he has always craved. As time passes he comes to realise it is up to him to defeat the evil Sir Kato whose actions cast a shadow over the otherwise perfect kingdom.

The tale is aimed at children but has much to offer the adult reader, not least what becomes clear from the denouement. First published in 1954 (this translation 2003) it is considered a classic of the genre. From my reading I would say it has not suffered through aging and remains relevant and appealing to young readers today.

When the story opens the protagonist, Mio, is living with his foster parents in Stockholm. His name here is Karl Anders Nilsson, known as Andy. His only friend is Ben who he plays with in Tegnérlunden Park. He observes how Ben is treated by his parents, wishing that he could be loved in this way. Andy’s foster parents regularly make clear that they regret taking him from the Children’s Home where he used to live.

“Aunt Hulda found me there. She really wanted a girl, but there weren’t any she could have. So she took me, though Uncle Olaf and Aunt Hulda don’t like boys. At least not when they become eight or nine years old.”

One evening, sent on an errand to buy rolls, Andy is offered an apple by a kindly shopkeeper. He takes it to Tegnérlunden Park where, from the bench he sits on, he observes families through lighted windows sitting down to eat together. Feeling very alone he spots a stoppered bottle on the ground with something moving inside. He knows from a library book he enjoyed reading, A Thousand and One Nights, that he must release the trapped genie – a somewhat scary prospect.

Andy is taken to Farawayland where he is reunited with his father, the King, and learns his real name is Mio. He befriends another young boy, Pompoo, who helps him explore the kingdom and its welcoming inhabitants. Gradually Mio learns about the evil Sir Kato, and that it has been foretold that a boy of royal blood must defeat him in battle.

The adventures Mio and Pompoo enjoy before they travel to the Outer Land on this quest are all relevant to the eventual outcome. The boys must then demonstrate kindness and bravery. Sir Kato’s dark deeds have made the lands he rules over a terrible place – he has spies everywhere. Mio finds help where least expected.

In many ways this is quite a simple fairy tale but it offers young readers the chance to dream of living in a wondrous place that they alone can save. It is structured to retain engagement with plenty of tension. The journey undertaken may be daunting but should not be too nightmare inducing.

A book to inspire daydreams that avoids the saccharine tone of Disney and its ilk. A wholesome tale of good defeating evil, offering a poignant depth to readers who understand what is beneath the surface of the fine adventures and then quest.

Mio’s Kingdom is published by Oxford University Press.

Book Review: Ruth

Ruth

“Are women born or are they made in the process of living as women?”

As a topic, gender transitioning can be a hot potato. Add to this my personal antipathy towards reading graphic descriptions of sexual activity and Ruth, by Guillem Viladot (translated by P. Louise Johnson), may not have been my first choice of book. When it arrived through my door I set it aside, considering whether I wished to risk reading a story I may not enjoy. In the end two things appealed: it is published by a press I respect for putting out works that differ from the cookie cutter mainstream; it is epistolary, a format which, when done well, can be eminently engaging.

The correspondence through which the tale is told is entirely one sided. A short prelude details how the writer met the recipient. There is no indication if the letters that follow are welcomed.

The eponymous Ruth was baptised Raül, the second child of parents wealthy enough to support her through art college and beyond, when she worked as a sculptor. From a young age Ruth preferred the company of girls to boys. She wished to dress like them, something that appalled her mother.

“Because mother’s carry and give birth to their children, they seem to think they have the right to treat them as their property”

In order to become physically what Ruth believes she has always been, medical intervention is desired. When examined she is declared intersex – she has an underdeveloped penis but the smooth, hairless skin of a female. It is her wish to undergo surgery to remove the unwanted appendage and attain a vagina. She takes medication that causes her breasts to grow and seeks out sex as the female she presents as.

“my whole raison d’être is reduced to coitus”

The letters detail her encounters with men and women, describing explicitly their kisses, caresses and penetrations. There is a great deal of sex leading to multiple orgasms. Given the subject being explored this offered a degree of exploration into what it means to be a man or a woman. There is also the emotional difficulty of living in a body that does not fully reflect one’s identity.

Although Ruth’s mother is brutally callous in her reaction to her child’s gender transition, the sister is supportive, as are various friends including lovers. One of these, a young man Ruth enjoys her first sexual relations with, warns her when she falls in love with another.

“your emotional attachment is likely to be more complex because your femininity originates in the rejection of your male nature rather than in the affirmation of a natural femaleness”

Ruth proves quick to anger when challenged yet appears to avoid many of the more hurtful encounters that may, sadly, be expected. When her penis is discovered by potential lovers it is mostly regarded with fascination. The medical professionals who treat her are supportive and admiring of her superficial beauty. Ruth writes in vivid detail of her complex thoughts and experiences, exhibiting and describing body parts that are more often kept private. Her looks and those of others appear to matter to her more than less facile attributes.

A fascinating work of fiction offering much to consider on an issue currently garnering heated debate. Not always a pleasant read given its sexually graphic content but one it would be good to discuss with someone more directly knowledgeable. Whatever one’s views may be this is a poignantly challenging and lingering read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fum d’Estampa

Book Review: Dislocations

Dislocations

“I find myself speaking in a void: there is no longer a home, no longer a before. Only an echo chamber.”

Dislocations, by Sylvia Molloy (translated by Jennifer Croft) is structured in short chapters, many less than a page in length. It documents moments, thoughts on interactions, between two long time friends. On most days the narrator, Molloy, will phone or visit M.L., who is living with dementia. In observing how a mind deteriorates their shared life becomes historical anecdotes that M.L. rarely remembers.

The period covered makes no mention of physical failings that can result from this condition. Neither is there violence or cruelty as sometimes manifests when social filters are lost. M.L. may not always recognise her visitor but retains decorum. The narrator questions why she sometimes attempts to get her friend to acknowledge a person or event – musing if this is for her benefit as she attempts to retain the person she has known for so long. There are still occasional flashes of comprehension but mostly the past is a lacuna to M.L.

There is poignancy in what is being documented but mostly Molloy is examining her personal reaction to this loss of shared memories, the loss of what her friend once was. M.L. is rarely portrayed as being upset by her condition. She functions within this new reality.

“I’m not writing to patch up holes and make people (or myself) think that there’s nothing to see here, but rather to bear witness to unintelligibilities and breaches and silences.”

A story of shared memory of lives lived, and the impact of its loss. Written with precision but also empathy, it offers another window into dementia and how it affects all who harbour affection for the patient.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Charco Press.

Book Review: Punishment

punishment

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Punishment is a collection of a dozen short stories drawn from the author’s long career as a criminal defence lawyer. Unlike many true crime writers – if that is where this book could fit – his prose is written in a factual style that avoids foreshadowing as a device to build tension. The narrative is kept crisp and cool, providing necessary detail but avoiding salacity.

Tales are told from a variety of perspectives including: victim, perpetrator, legal representative. Sometimes the boundaries blur. The justice system is not always just – evidence must be sufficiently strong and procedures adhered to. Punishments for crimes committed are not always meted out by the courts. A ruling that frees a person to commit further harm can come to haunt those working for the judiciary.

Background to characters is provided adding nuance and depth to their subsequent emotional reactions. For many of the protagonists these are coloured by traumas in childhood. Although appearing to move beyond these and make a good life for themselves, they unravel under pressure of the events being recounted.

The collection opens with a case involving a lay judge who is required to preside over an allegation of domestic violence. The evidence she hears affects her badly, putting at risk the required impartiality of the court.

The second story focuses on a successful lawyer whose career is derailed following the acquittal of a father accused of abusing his children. The lawyer falls into addiction before trying to pull himself together to help a client accused of killing her husband. He receives help in this endeavour from a shadowy source.

Many of the cases are both sad and disturbing. All are fascinating under the author’s skilfully rendered discourse. The length of each story varies but all are told succinctly with impressive clarity.

One of the more unusual tales is ‘Lydia, in which a lonely, middle aged man finds comfort in a way many may mock or condemn. The ruling of the court in this case demonstrates an empathy that is rare alongside insight into needs within relationships.

“Falling in love is a very complex process. Initially, we’re not in love with the partner themselves, but with the image we create of them. The critical phase of every relationship begins when reality catches up…”

The Small Man is quite a roller coaster of a story. Its whiplash ending offers a glimpse of the author’s dry wit.

What is clear from these cases is how strangely perturbing some people’s thought processes and behaviour can be beneath a conventional veneer. A previously caring and successful man develops dangerous proclivities after watching his wife give birth to their child. A retiree takes revenge on neighbours when they come to represent change to a place he has worked all his life in order to hold static. There are tales of revenge within unequal marriages. There are children who escape rigid familial environs only to find freedom is not what they dreamed of.

The crimes committed are serious but it is the circumstances that surround them that provide most interest. Facts are presented rather than judgements.

The collection closes with ‘The Friend’, a story written in a much more personal style than previous entries. Narrated in the first person, it is a poignant and powerful appraisal of what little of substance remains after all the effort poured into achieving what may be outwardly regarded as success.

“I thought a new life would be easier, but it never did get easier. It’s just the same, whether we’re pharmacists or carpenters or writers.”

As so many of these stories demonstrate, personal effort can be derailed by unfulfilled desire, and by the actions of others – rarely predictable, and giving rise to emotions it can be a challenge to control.

Any Cop?: Although offering a somewhat negative view of humanity, the stories remain reflective and engaging. A book I devoured eagerly. An impressive page-turner with substance and bite.

Jackie Law

Book Review: Wild Horses

wild horses

“When you’re an addict and you need your drug, you don’t see or consider the peril you’re walking into”

Wild Horses, by Jordi Cussà (translated by Tiago Miller), tells the story of a group of drug addicts and dealers in 1980s Catalonia. It is based largely on the author’s own experiences as a heroin addict and dealer. Written in factual but engaging prose, the madness and euphoria of drug taking are captured without glamorising. Many sexual encounters are mentioned but most avoid the usual gratuitous detail.

The episodic structure is effective in retaining engagement as the rolling cast of characters intermingle across the decade. Timelines shift back and forth, narrators change, but it is the numerous and varied experiences described that take centre stage. Each chapter opens with a few lines from an appropriate song lyric. This really is a story of: sex, drugs, rock and roll.

The book opens at a funeral. Lluïsa is being buried having finally succumbed to AIDS and methadone abuse. Lex, the main although not only narrator, attends with a group of their mutual, drug addicted, lovers and acquaintances. Lluïsa’s brother objects to their presence and a violent altercation ensues. Such violence and death are regular features in the unfolding tale.

The author doesn’t baulk at what happens when drugs fuel daily existence but neither does he push the small details. Things happen and then he moves on to the next thing. There are highs and lows, murders and suicides. Lovers are taken and then abandoned for whoever comes next. It was satisfying to read of the women pleasing themselves despite the jealousies and attempted possessiveness of the men – who thought little of bed hopping themselves.

“Afterwards came her dignified, calm response: her life and her genitals were hers, and it pleased her (or had pleased her) to share them with me. I understood, I even downright defended it on a rational level … I saw suddenly that she’d never be Mine, that she never had been.”

There is a certain amount of sordid, drug fuelled, sexual imagery. I questioned some of the scenes described from a female point of view that appeared, to me, far fetched. That the author is a male is telling here.

Despite the regular injuries and deaths, it is hard to garner sympathy for the characters – although this is not asked for. Risks are recognised and choices made. If addicts are generally thought of badly by society, it is clear to see why in this tale: most driving is undertaken while drunk and high; occasional robberies help fund the various habits; a breast feeding mother takes heroin; children die of inherited complications; money made dealing, to pay off debts, is blown on benders. And yet somehow the story humanises the young men and women featured. It is not just drug addicts who choose suicide.

The writing turns meta at times, implying the author is Lex. His friends know he is writing a book about them and encourage this. They do not encourage his attempts to get clean.

“I was fed up of running up and down like a frantic mosquito, risking my life thrice daily out of the ephemeral excitement of possessing it fully every second.”

Reading is akin to watching a car crash. The drivers know they are dicing with death, have watched others die before their time, but remain drunk on the thrill of the ride.

Although chronicling several interlinked life stories, so many similar episodes were recounted the tale became a tad repetitive towards the end. Highlights were chapters that looked at living from a different angle, although few of these offered happier endings.

A searing and unflinching window into the world of heroin addiction in which alcohol and cocaine abuse appear almost benign in comparison. A very human story of selfishness and risk taking. An impressive if disconcerting literary achievement.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fum d’Estampa Press.

Book Review: The day that didn’t happen

day didn't happen

“deep inside the banality of everyday existence a black orchid was being carefully digested”

The day that didn’t happen, by Gerd Kvanvig (translated by Wendy H. Gabrielsen), is a short novel written in such powerful and evocative prose it could be poetry. The story is narrated by a young woman, Margrete, whose life pivoted on a traumatic event that took place at a funfair near the end of a hot summer when she was twelve years old. She has told no one what happened, burying the memory deep inside herself in an attempt to move on from it.

At the time, Margrete lived with her mother in the small town of Jessheim in Norway. Her mother worked nights as a nurse, leaving Margrete to cope as best she could while her mother was either at work or sleeping. There was little communication between the pair. Margrete was provided with money for essentials but little else. She was often scared when left alone after darkness fell.

“In the empty flat there was nothing, something worse than nothing”

When younger, Margrete would spend holidays with her beloved grandfather who is now dead. He was the only person who paid her attention and showed affection. She has friends but keeps her distance, often pushing them away due to lack of money and Margrete’s need for head space. She cycles around the neighbourhood, the freedom of speed offering her some respite.

The book opens with the first brief snippet of what happened to Margrete during the annual Jessheim Festival. Fuller details are gradually teased out as the story progresses. Her memories are saturated with sensory perceptions – the weight of heat, music, scent. After the event she took to hiding away under a concrete stairway in her block of flats. She is discovered here by a new neighbour, a policeman named Erling. He takes Margrete under his wing, understanding her need for friendship without questions.

The narrative moves back and forward in time, offering glimpses of Margrete’s life before and after. Details are spare yet vivid. Recognising that she has been changed inexorably while all around remained unaware, she harbours a determination not to be defeated.

“What happened doesn’t belong to me. And yet it does. Little Margrete has carried it with her.”

Although shocking, when the extent of incident is revealed, young Margrete’s ability to carry on with so little support demonstrates her strength. Ultimately this is a story that offers hope. Despite the subject matter it is a beautiful, eloquent read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, naked eye.

Book Review: Here Be Icebergs

here-be-icebergs

“we often fail to recognise the brutality of families when observing them from the outside – or even at times from the inside”

Here Be Icebergs, by Katya Adaui (translated by Rosalind Harvey), is a collection of twelve short stories that lay bare many of the often unacknowledged issues that erupt within a diversity of family units. There is little talk of love in these tales although it clearly exists. What is being explored are the resentments that fester alongside feelings of duty and expectation. The scars that form in childhood continue to affect.

Many of the stories adopt a non-linear, episodic structure. The reader is trusted to fill in the gaps in both timeline and reasoning. There is brutal honesty in the recognition of lasting damage inflicted by words thrown in moments of difficulty. The collection should not be rushed as it delves into challenging themes.

“Adaui examines the way we ceaselessly attempt contact despite all the evidence that each of us is an unknowable island”

A favourite story was We, the Shipwrecked in which the narrator is trying to cope with the death of her father. His demise was expected due to diagnosed illness but still she did not feel ready. The remaining family members provide little comfort, making decisions that grate.

Also particularly enjoyed was The Hamberes Twins with its subject of assisted dying. Structured as an interview with the doctor who agreed to help, this short tale offers much to consider.

The complexity of individual reactions to the same experiences alongside the unreliability of shared memories provide grist for the mill in the everyday subjects mined so skilfully. Families need not be dysfunctional to suffer disagreements. It was satisfying to read of subtle shades of acrimony, unadorned with the more usual personal justifications.

Although set in Latin America, the families featured are more everyman than is often acknowledged in fiction set in a place foreign to the reader. Parents and children, partners and siblings, all harbour feelings at odds with how their relations behave.

A taut and engaging collection that presents a wide variety of concerns faced and regretted across generations. Another excellent release from this high quality small press.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Charco Press.

Book Review: Of Saints and Miracles

Of-Saints-and-Miracles

“Everything is happening at this moment and it’s all of equal importance, the only difference being who is telling the story and why.”

Of Saints and Miracles, by Manuel Astur (translated by Claire Wadie), is the first book to be published by the newly rebranded Peirene Press. It tells the story of Marcelino, a farmer who lives alone near the village of Cobre in the Asturias, where he was born and raised. He works the land inherited from his late parents, his younger brother having moved to the city. As a child, Marcelino was regularly beaten by his drunken father. He was abused by the local priest. All his life he has been considered an imbecile, loved only by his mother who was rumoured to be a witch.

The tale opens with a confrontation between the brothers that ends with Marcelino’s brother bleeding into the sawdust outside their farmhouse, which the brother planned to sell to clear his debts. When the body subsequently disappears, Marcelino realises he is in danger. He packs some food and a few belongings before heading into the mountains, seeking refuge at the abandoned village where his mother once lived. The residents of Cobre are galvanised by what has happened and set out to hunt the runaway down that justice may be served.

The timeline of the story moves back and forth between key events in Marcelino’s childhood and his current predicament. There are many disturbing incidents, including wanton abuse and bestiality. There are also sections that offer a view of the wider picture – of the village, its residents, and the area. These provide a reminder that stories can develop along unexpected trajectories. Woven in amongst the myriad challenges faced by Marcelino are local myths and legends. His tale will, in time, be added to these.

“He explained the past, on hearing which she began to miss what never was. He explained the future, at which she began to desire what could never be. And lastly, he explained the present, which made her feel trapped in a tiny space”

Although a well paced and engaging story, what raises the bar of this short novel is the beauty of the language used to construct the narrative. There is an ethereal feel to the sense of place evoked, despite the horror of many of the character’s behaviour. Marcelino seeks an Old World but cannot prevent the New World encroaching on the idyll he has tried to retain, if it ever existed.

The tangential threads add colour and, at times, humour. Marcelino, though, cuts quite a tragic figure. Even when his situation becomes known more widely, with supporters gathering to offer their hero solidarity, it is the cultish figure they revere rather than the reality of a man who has always struggled in the company of his cruel peers.

A beguiling and beautifully written story of a place that is ever changing yet, in many ways, retains its spirit. A reminder that life goes on, even after death.

“Men learn as egoists learn. When they suffer, it’s because they think they could have avoided it.
But there are always women, resisting, holding on, slowly chewing over their grief … Because a woman watches over a dying man knowing, like all women, that the real miracle is the giving of life, and so understands that it should end simply, without any fuss.
Death is never heroic. Life can be, but not death.”

(My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Peirene.)

Book Review: This World Does Not Belong to Us

this world does not

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

“The mind of a child doesn’t solve problems, doesn’t contemplate overcoming obstacles; it simply thinks what it would be like to win.”

This World Does Not Belong to Us tells the story of Lucas Torrente de Valses, the son of a wealthy landowner who ends up being sold into slavery. Told from his perspective, much must be inferred. Lucas was too young when certain pivotal events occurred to fully comprehend cause and effect. He observed but could not change what was happening, any attempt being regarded as unruly behaviour. By the time he returns to the family mansion as a man, having escaped the master he was forced to serve, it has been taken over by two men who befriended his father. Lucas seeks revenge but has learned to act with patience and deference when required.

From a young age Lucas developed a fascination with the world of insects – of botany and biology – encouraged by his mother and then tutor. Lucas’s father was angered by this interest, demanding that his son focus on something more useful.

“I understand now that all fathers have a god inside them and look down upon their sons like clay figurines, always incomplete, wanting to create them over and over in their own image and likeness.”

Lucas was raised by nursemaids while his mother tended her garden. All of their lives started to unravel when the father allowed two strangers to move in with them – a supposedly temporary arrangement to assist in the running of his various enterprises. Lucas instantly despised these interlopers – their dirty beards and unsavoury habits of which they never appeared ashamed.

A chain of events are set in motion when cows the men have recently milked stray into the beautifully kept manor house garden. Lucas’s mother’s reaction to the destruction thereby wreaked draws the attention of a local priest and townswomen. She is given medication to calm her down and openly prayed for. Her subsequent treatment is sadly typical of well to do husbands of the time whose wives behaviour embarrassed them.

“This is what was said in the market lanes by respectable-looking ladies – which is to say, ladies who were horrid but well dressed.”

The timeline jumps between when Lucas was a boy and his return to the home from which he was ejected. We are aware from the start that both his parents are now dead and the great house where they all lived is falling into disrepair. The invasion by nature and its creatures feels apt to Lucas given what precipitated the family downfall. He addresses himself to his late father as the catalyst and facilitator.

“There’s nothing left of us, Father, except for these tiny animals attracted by the warmth surrounding death. More alive than the living who walk and talk.”

To gain his revenge Lucas must once again join the household. He offers himself as a labourer and is housed by the animals kept. His only friend is a poisonous spider but this suits his purpose. The nursemaids, who remained in the house as servants, fear for his safety but Lucas’s plans matter more to him.

As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Lucas sees through a glass darkly, his childish senses unable to comprehend his father’s intentions. The reader must decide on the reliability of Lucas’s narration. Are dubious actions caused by the two strangers or had Lucas some hand in what later occurred? He grew to hate his father alongside the men allowed to infiltrate their lives. They and the church were complicit in how his mother was treated, her eventual death regarded as a release.

The writing is vividly sensuous, feasting on the rot at the heart of man’s selfish behaviour. The state of Lucas’s mind may be pondered, but it remains understandable why he regards the order and useful industry of insects as more worthy of respect.

“The resurrection of our flesh is a miracle. There is no spirit that ascends, only a body that breaks down and descends in spirals through the earth, forming a more perfect and symmetrical existence.”

This is a tale to challenge assumptions of what may be recoiled from as dirty or creepy. Is it the hard working crawling and flying insects or the men who abuse for their own ends? Nature may be temporarily tamed but, given opportunity, will return with a vengeance. We have here an unflinching yet somehow lyrical account of one man harnessing such knowledge to overcome pests.

Any Cop?: Some readers may quail at the imagery. Here it is convincingly depicted as more beneficial and admirable than human behaviour.

Jackie Law