End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites and the Path of Political Disintegration by Peter Turchin
By some estimates, 49% of the world’s adult population is due to vote in elections in 2024 and what better way to begin the year than with Turchin’s brilliant book about how much trouble some of these same societies are in.
“ Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me”
So begins this dark, suspenseful novel. From the beginning we are drawn through the iron gates of Manderley and down the drive towards this great house. We accompany the young heroine who is never given a name other than the second Mrs De Winter. Through her eyes we see the world of the first Mrs De Winter, the beautiful and accomplished Rebecca.
Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her own prejudices and contempt if she is understand her captor, and so gain her freedom.The Collector is a 1963 thriller novel by English author John Fowles, in his literary debut. Its plot follows a lonely, psychotic young man who kidnaps a female art student in London and holds her captive in the cellar of his rural farmhouse. Divided in two sections, the novel contains both the perspective of the captor, Frederick, as well as that of Miranda, the captive.A dozen different schools of thought in literary criticism are chloroformed and bundled into the back of a van. The van is driven to a remote cottage and the literary theories are put into a room in the cellar. They are told to argue the meaning of The Collector by John Fowles with the last man standing given their freedom whilst the other theories must stay captive.After a week the cellar door is opened, a fog of cigar smoke immediately cascades through the door; Freudian literary theory stands alone triumphant.‘Alles klar. The author’s hatred of his Mutti and Papa is well documented. Herr Fowles saw his parents as philistines, he voz disgusted by their lack of taste and horrified by zer suburban crassness.'‘The hatred for die Eltern manifests itself in the dull, dangerous and uncultured Frederick Clegg who is obsessed with possessing the beautiful, caring and cultivated Miranda. However, when he achieves this ambition he realises that he does not understand the subject of his obsession which leads to Fredrick’s anger, confusion and unhappiness.'Freudian literary theory leaves the cellar, walks up the stairs but when trying to open the front door finds that it is locked. He is told that whilst the other literary theories have been set free he must stay prisoner. He returns to the cellar room where eleven different literary theories are being held against their will. They are told to argue the meaning of The Collector by John Fowles with the last man standing given their freedom whilst the other theories must stay captive.Again, Freudian literary theory triumphs but as he tries to open the front door it is again locked. The other theories are set free whilst the Freudian literary theory returns to the cellar where another group of different literary theories are being kept. Freudian literary theory deduces that he must fail in his argument to be set free. Yet a week later he finds himself triumphant in his arguments and finds himself unable to open the front door. The other theories are set free whilst he returns to the cellar: ad infinitum, ad absurdum.The Collector by John Fowles is available to download on Borrowbox. Access eBooks/eAudiobooks on your phone, tablet or reader. Once you have installed the app, search for Dublin in the ‘Library’ field provided and then sign in using your library membership card number and PIN. Watch our how to video on Borrowbox. Members of other library authorities will need to log in using a different link.Submitted by Tom in Drumcondra Library.
Welcome to the thirteenth entry of our blog series 'Lost in the Stacks' - with recommendations by Dublin City Libraries staff. This one was submitted by Brian from the Relief Panel/Home Delivery Service for Cocooners. In his introduction to Donald Barthelme’s ˈSixty Storiesˈ, David Gates reports that Barthelme once described the typical short story as being ‘constructed mousetrap-like to supply, at the finish, a tiny insight typically having to do with innocence violated’.I feel my gobsmackedness at the twist in many stories I have so enjoyed being mocked by this comment but maybe having written the most audaciously brilliant and hilarious short story ever - ˈSome Of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colbyˈ (from ˈForty Storiesˈ) – Barthelme could feel entitled to have a pot-shot at whatever and whoever he likes.This gets me thinking about what (along with an insightful twist ?!!) makes for a good short story and as soon as I do this I’m sorry I started. On re-reading ˈThe Penthouse Apartmentˈ, my favourite story by William Trevor, I note a twist of sorts triumphally heralded by the line ‘“You had trouble with the pipes,” said Mr Morgan’. The said Morgan is a hammy storyteller when compared to the deft and subtle Trevor. We realise, in retrospect, that a throw-away early comment – ‘…animals, within reason, were permitted’ – contains such portent. Truth eludes Miss Winton’s ‘…great mound of words…’. Her reasonableness, with the rally cry ‘“I am trying to promote understanding”’ is dashed on the twin rocks of Morgan’s resentment and the Runcas’ philosophy ‘…that efficiency and a stern outlook were good weapons in the business of accumulating wealth’. This little ˈslice of lifeˈ contains a microcosm of societal strata and stresses but perhaps more striking and Trevoresque is the start-to-finish, slow-burn ˈsinister of the ordinaryˈ (also funny, in the drollest and darkest senses of course). A special ingredient of this is Trevor’s purveyance of drunken conversation, entwining and descending into nonsense but perhaps more scary for its retention of some sense. For me with William Trevor to adore the writing is to adore the man.On re-reading ˈThe Love Of A Good Womanˈ, my favourite story by Alice Munro, let’s agree for starters to forget about twists. This story is about strange goings-on in a town called Walley (ok, I’m out of my depth here). It is perhaps more ˈslices of lifeˈ than ˈslice of lifeˈ and yet the slices are linked and more to the point it has that element of encapsulation essential to a short story, albeit a long one. We begin with an elegiac depiction of a vanishing world where each role is precisely, unambiguously and unsparingly delineated, typified by the following:- ‘Most members of that company were between nine and twelve years old, too old to be bound by yards and neighborhoods but too young to have jobs – even jobs sweeping the sidewalk in front of stores or delivering groceries by bicycle’. How from here do we descend (down we go again) incrementally into a miasma of ambivalence? Go figure why Enid gives up her nurse’s training and still ends up nursing. Then consider the likes of the following:- ‘Lies…could be waiting around in the corners of a person’s mind, hanging like bats in the corners, waiting to take advantage of any kind of darkness. You can never say, Nobody could make that up. Look how elaborate dreams are, layer over layer in them, so that the part you can remember and put into words is just the bit you can scratch off the top’. And as Munroesque as ambivalence, behold that most intangible and terrifying of feminine qualities – emotional intelligence. This story is divided into four sections, each one sub-titled for the readers’ convenience. The first is my favourite, where Munro uncannily inhabits the hearts and minds of a trio of boys in the aforementioned 9 to 12-yr-old bracket, but in truth this whole story is a miracle of the uncanny. In the extremely unlikely event that, at this late stage of my efforts, I attain adulthood, perhaps I might even earn the right to bathe fully in the balming (if roiling) waters of Alice Munro’s stories.
In the strictest academic terms, a romance is a narrative genre in literature that involves a mysterious, adventurous, or spiritual story line where the focus is on a quest that involves bravery and strong values, not always a love interest. Here’s the thing: sometimes, you just want to read a good love story. Or at least, something with a few dramatic swoons. But a romance novel, per se? Nothing so gaudy or slapdash for you! You need real literature. Well, here’s the answer: a selection of romantic books that will rev your motor (emotional or otherwise) but don’t fall into that taboo category of cheap paper and cheaper storylines.An Unsuitable MatchWhy on earth, after all you’ve been through, all you’ve survived, all you’ve achieved, why do you want to get married?’ Rose Woodrowe has just got engaged to Tyler Masson – a wonderful, sensitive man who is head-over-heels in love with her. The only problem? This isn’t the first time for either of them, and their five grown-up children have strong opinions on the matter. Like Rose’s daughter, Laura, who remembers her parents’ painful divorce and doesn’t want to see her mother hurt again. Or the twins, Emmy and Nat, who simply don’t trust the man their mother has fallen for. Then there’s Tyler’s children: Seth, too busy with his San Francisco sourdough bakery to get to know his father’s new partner; and Mallory, the aspiring actress, who is still wrestling with the issues of her own childhood. Who to listen to? Who to please? Rose and Tyler are determined to get it right this time, but in trying to make everyone happy, can they ever be happy themselves?Heartbreak HotelWhen retired actor Buffy decides to up sticks from London and move to rural Wales, he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. In possession of a run-down B&B that leans more towards the shabby than the chic and is miles from nowhere, he realises he needs to fill the beds – and fast. Enter a motley collection of guests: Harold, whose wife has run off with a younger woman; Amy, who’s been unexpectedly dumped by her (not-so) weedy boyfriend and Andy, the hypochondriac postman whose girlfriend is much too much for him to handle. But under Buffy’s watchful eye, this disparate group of strangers find they have more in common than perhaps they first thought.The Beekeeper of AleppoNarrated by Art Malik, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.In the midst of war, he found loveIn the midst of darkness, he found courageIn the midst of tragedy, he found hopeNuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. Afra has lost her sight, and so they embark on a periluos journey towards an uncertain future in Britain. As they travel, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is his beekeeper cousin Mustafa, who is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees. Nuri and Afra set off through a broken world, on a dangerous journey in which they will confront the pain of their unfathomable loss, and in doing so find a way back to each other again.Access eBooks/eAudiobooks on your phone, tablet or reader. Once you have installed the app, search for Dublin in the ‘Library’ field provided and then sign in using your library membership card number and PIN. Watch our how to video on Borrowbox. Members of other library authorities will need to log in using a different link.
Liz Buckley here reviews If Walls Could Talk; An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley, available as an eBook from Borrowbox. If on loan, you can reserve a copy.I read this book at the start of the Corona virus pandemic in Ireland. I was really fascinated to learn of the dire consequences that ignorance, myth and misinformation had on world health down through the ages. Poor sanitation in the home and at local level was behind several pandemics throughout history and the spread of germs from person to person or animal to person is an ongoing battle and often misunderstood.If Walls Could Talk; An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley reflects how the basic practices of hygiene good or bad have always meant life or death for the individual. The saddest place and most rife of germs and disease was at local level and the author’s portrayal of the birthing bed proves the risky business of childbirth and accounts for the outrageous death rate of mother and child over time.The author demonstrates the dark subject of infection and disease very well throughout her book. Worsley is an outstanding historian with an eye for detail and a gifted storyteller who can draw the reader in. The book is colourful with many excellent illustrations and her wry sense of humour make what is essentially a history lesson, uniquely entertaining.Some may think the subject matter “heavy duty” but the book is successful in that it manages to prevail as a light-hearted and humorous look at the history of the home, comparing Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, and homes of the present day. She captivates life from both ends of the spectrum describing the homes of the rich and the lives of the people who worked in them. She explores societal changes in behaviour through the prism view of a functioning household and she often chooses the Big House to begin with, and then introduces the reader to the lives of the servants.The history of the bedroom and bathroom or privy is explored with hilarious revelations as lots of people pass through for all kind of reasons other than sleep, sex or simply to do one’s business and compares public forwardness to today’s great and urgent call for privacy. Toilets and toilet roll, nickers and drawers, house fashions and utensils are examined to give the reader a real feel of the era and you can share some of the bygone practices with younger members of your family who will be astounded and unbelieving. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if you have seen the BBC series of the same title you will hear the quirky voice of the author as you read and appreciate her wry yet factual account of how we lived in times gone by.
I picked up a copy of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie after I saw it on the shortlist for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2014. I had been lacking cultural diversity in my literary diet, and thought after reading the premise of the novel that it might provide the perfect dose for my deficiency. The novel takes place in Lagos, Nigeria, and as the author herself is also Nigerian, the book holds a certain familiarity that is unmistakable when a writer is crafting a tale about their own place of origin. Before opening its pages, I had an embarrassing, chasmic lack of knowledge about anything Nigerian. After 477 pages however, the novel has given me 100x the information that I knew before regarding Nigeria and its people, as well as a keen interest in learning more. And now, onto the story itself. A quick summary...Americanah tells the tale of two star-crossed lovers from Lagos: they meet and fall in love in secondary school, but are torn apart by military, political, and economic troubles in their home country. Their time at university is interrupted by professor strikes and other woes due to the military dictatorship, and every other day it seems that another one of their acquaintances flees Nigeria in search of a fair wage and safety in another place. Eventually they are each forced to leave as well, but while Ifemelu heads to America, Obinze is unable to join her and ends up in London.Unlike the majority of literary lovers scorned by circumstance, they are given a second chance at a future together when they both end up back in Lagos years later. Unfortunately, a whole new set of obstacles has been placed in their way. I'm not a spoiler, so you'll have to pick up a copy of the novel yourself if you want to find out how things turn out for the couple.I have to say that I immensely enjoyed the book. It is a longer one, and does take a little while to get through. However, you won't ever be bored. The book flip flops between Obinze and Ifemelu's tales, so you can see both ends of the relationship. Ifemelu's portions are also intermittently punctuated by excerpts from her popular blog about race in America. As I'm from the United States myself, I found these blog posts to be quite interesting and eye-opening. They caused me to stop and pause repeatedly to re-examine my own thoughts and beliefs about the treatment of race in my home country.Whether you agree with Ifemelu's and Chimamanda's assessment of race and discrimination or not, you can't argue that she does make you stop and think. Although this is a novel about true love and family and hardship, I would say that it is primarily about cultural differences and race and the difficulties that arise because of these, even in these 'modern' and 'colour-blind' times. Chimamanda finds an ideal balance between the heavier issues of her novel and the romance. There's even a surprising dose of humour found within the pages as well, which keeps the novel from sinking into a sort of despair. The central characters are relatable and dynamic, and everything else that main characters should be. They have a heavy load to carry, but they bear it well. A strong cast of secondary figures supports them as well. In the end, I felt as if I could step off the plane in Nigeria and expect one of them to be waiting for me at the airport, ready to drive me through the chaotic streets of Lagos and back to their home where I could enjoy a hot meal of jollof rice and fried plantains. If nothing else, the novel provides an entertaining love story, and the tale of two migrants that have to struggle with leaving their homes, adapting to the new unfamiliar cultures, and then returning to their place of origin and reacclimating, because of course it has changed in the decade that they were away. However, if you're like me, it will do much more than that. It will make you turn inward, look twice at your own perspectives, and question everything you thought before about race and the treatment of it. No matter where you're from, this subject is relevant and important. I would most definitely recommend this novel. I promise that it will stick with you for long after you put it down. It may also give you a craving to try some Nigerian recipes and travel the world, forewarning. I plan on checking out some of the other novels by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as well, and if you want to do the same, they can be found in the library catalogue. If you've read Americanah, feel free to comment below about whether you agree or not with my review!
The first I heard of Dermot Healy was in June 2014. A friend of mine was asked to read through poems to be considered for selection in the Dermot Healy International Poetry Competition. The next day, it was reported on the national news that he had passed away. It had been remarked by another one of my of friends that his work never got the recognition and success it deserved, that he was a much more “interesting” writer than his peers. Interesting can sometimes mean, “you’re not going to understand this…. You thickie!”. I began reading Long Time, No See. Immediately, I got a jolt: the words on the page were formatted like poetry and none of the dialogue was in inverted commas. I was reluctant to continue as my eyes and brain were in for a different exercise regime. However, my desire to be a know-it-all won through and I’m so glad I persevered. This is one of the best books I have ever read. Set in an Irish coastal rural community,it starts slowly with a young man visiting his grand uncle. Nothing happens for about six pages but I was enjoying the unusual format and the peculiar habits of the locals. Then something small happens and the story has you gripped. His descriptions of the landscape are beautifully minute and familiar. The language of the characters is real and humorous. The main character is a young man dealing with a tragedy that is intermittently revealed. It is about life, death and relationships’, each is given its weight from the cosmic to the banal and leaves you not wanting to leave these people or the place they live. Ten out of ten for Dermot Healy. I’m really sorry he is gone. I would have liked to have written to him to tell him how much I enjoyed his book. His earlier books are out of print but Dublin City Public Libraries do have copies to lend.
Review by Pembroke Library Reading Group is set in Canada – the narrator has grown up in remote rural East Ontario, and has studied in Toronto, where she is now a lecturer.The story looks at how four children cope in the year after the sudden death of their parents. The oldest, Luke, 19, has given up teacher training to bring up his sisters, aged 7 and 1½. At the end of the year Matt, 18, has secured a scholarship, but has to take responsibility for the pregnancy of Marie Pye, the orphaned girl next door, and exchanges an academic career for fatherhood and running a farm.The narrator, Kate, is 7 at the time of their parents’ death and very attached to Matt. Members of their community step in to help and the boys work for Mr. Pye next door after school. The Pyes have a multi-generational dysfunctional history of fathers bullying their children. Tragic circumstances bring Matt and Marie Pye together.Kate looks back on her childhood at an important point in her life – she is in her mid-twenties, at the beginning of a promising academic career and in love. She understands that if she continues to keep her man away from her family she will lose him. Contact with her family is diminished after leaving. For years she didn’t have the funds to return home for holidays. But we learn there is a bigger divide – as the only child in academia, she feels a mixture of guilt and embarrassment. She believes that Matt has been robbed of the university career that was rightfully his, and feels embarrassed that she now knows more of the subject he introduced her to as a child. She fears that bringing her boyfriend (who is a professor) to her family home will widen the gap between her past rural family life and promising academic life further. There is a strong family belief in education as the road to leading a fulfilled life and has been the cornerstone of the family’s goals.At the end of the book Marie Pye, her sister in law, has helped Kate to open her eyes to the fact that Matt’s life is fulfilled too and Kate is able to revise her child’s eye version of her family’s history. After the trauma of the sudden loss of her parents, followed by what she sees as Matt’s betrayal of his prospects (and a bit of jealousy for having to share him), and living away from her family for so many years as a young adult, she had not yet been in a position to appreciate the love and commitment of her brothers, who kept the family together under very difficult circumstances. This was the other, equally important cornerstone of her family heritage, and had also been told as part of the family story around the education goal: their father’s older brothers had worked so he could study and once he was earning he supported them when their farms were in trouble.The story of the family and life in East Ontario is well told. The description of Kate as a young adult and her dilemma followed by her reviewing her belief system is a bit thin and not helped by the extreme contrast of her life compared to her boyfriend’s. Parallels to Kate’s family life are drawn in the research done by Kate, in which she reduces the surface tension of the water a pond skater inhabits, to examine to what level and for how long it can stay. A student giving up her course because she is afraid she is becoming too different from her rural family provides a contrast. Another contrast is provided by Kate’s boyfriend, who seems considerate and balanced despite having had a childhood with very little emotional input by his parents, in privileged circumstances which were the reverse of Kate’s.Pembroke Library Book ClubPembroke Library has two book clubs that each meet once a month.Are you interested in joining a Book Club? We have plenty of options for book lovers to get together and talk about books in Dublin City Public Libraries!Writers Mary Lawson (middle) and David Parks (right) in conversation with Vanessa O'Loughlin at Dublin Writers' Festival Event, Pearse Street Library on Tuesday 20 May 2014. See more photos of this event on flickr.