HALF OF THE HUMAN RACE
BY ANTHONY QUINN
Jonathan Cape, £12.99
BRAVO to Anthony Quinn, proving that men can write a perfectly passionate, convincing novel about women standing up for their rights, in this case kicking off amid the turmoil and violence of the beginning of the suffragette movement. His heroine Connie Callaway is a vividly-rendered evocation of a young woman determined to make her way with independence and facing condemnation and obstacles all round her, not least in the form of the chauvinist cricketer Will Maitland who – in an earlier time – she’d have probably married.
It’s 1911, London. The streets are full of cheers for the new king and also of the cries of suffragist women marching for the vote. Connie – who has been forced to abandon her dream of being a doctor since her family fell on hard times – is facing a tough choice: maintain lawful protest or join the glass smashers?
Holidaying with her family on the South Coast, she’s introduced to Will. They’re attracted to each other but part on unfriendly terms: Will strikes Connie as innately chauvinist while he is appalled by (and attracted to) her quest for self-fulfilment. Despite their differences, the two remain tied together, even as the outbreak of war drives them apart.
Quinn has reminded us that crossing the gender barrier is in no way an obstacle for a good writer – the result is a social drama laced with private tragedy that captures the violent clashes in understanding between men and women at this turning point in history.
WE HAD IT SO GOODE
BY LINDA GRANT
IT’S a bit odd, having just read One Day by David Nicholls, to be confronted with another wise and moving social pastiche about students growing older and wondering where the time has gone. Why reality doesn’t match their student dreams at all and the sadness and banality of realising that, maybe, they’re not so special after all.
One Day looks at the children of baby boomers. This one looks at baby boomers and asks what became of them. It revolves around Stephen, the LA-born son of a Polish-Jewish immigrant and a Cuban mother, whose parents just want him to get an education. A curious, clever boy, he does them proud and ends up with a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford. Luck seems to fall into his lap: despite being sent down for tearing up a library book (he also spends a good deal of his spare time making LSD), he marries a nice English woman, Anthea, and winds up – 30 years later – with successful kids, a great job at the BBC and a £3m house in Islington.
But it’s not all a bed of roses – as the book continues, you realise Stephen just drifts through life without much direction. His every move – especially the unplanned ones – all seem to turn out well. But he is never quite satisfied and by the end we realise that good fortune may not be all it takes to make a life.
Grant is no beginner – her novel is crafted tightly, with just the right amount of humour, satire and emotion. This is a worthwhile study of a generation, though if you’ve recently read One Day – like half the world – don’t expect anything nearly as heart-rending.
THE CRISIS BEHIND
BY ALEXANDER BOOT
St Matthew, £12.95
BOOT’S thesis in this short and thought-provoking book is that there is a spiritual vacuum in the soul of man that, absent God, is being filled up with harmful rubbish, a process that had led to the precipitate decline of our civilisation. Indeed, the title of his book published in 2006 was How the West Was Lost – reading The Crisis Behind our Crisis, it seems that, since then, at the risk of incurring comparisons with ABC’s popular drama, we have become more lost than ever.
Boot writes with verve and wit, and his pithy explanation of the currently much-referenced Great Depression of 1929 is the best I’ve read.
His writing is not only insightful, but fiercely provocative – any leftist who picks up this book will blanch at the sustained comparison of Franklin D Roosevelt’s economic policies with Hitler’s. To put it mildly, he is never afraid of drawing robust conclusions.
Occasionally, one cannot help but feel that Boot has gone a step too far. In the process of expertly filleting modern economics, he writes that the world is now “in danger of collapsing like a house of cards”.
While the financial crisis we have endured (or are continuing to endure) was or is grave, I don’t feel that the world order is actually in danger of collapsing. But one disregards predictions built on such persuasive arguments at one’s peril.