I’m shocked to realise that I wrote my last blog post over a month ago (2 June). Advice to bloggers: if you want people to visit your blog, post often – in other words, have something for punters to read. The truth is, Dear Reader, that I have been overloaded with work. Again, DR asks, rolling eyebrows and groaning. Yes, again. For the whole of this term, and particularly during June, I marked students’ work, chased students to finish work and internally verified (checked somebody else’s marking), not just throughout the working day but in the evenings and weekends as well. No time for anything else at all. Our sample of students’ work went to Edexcel on the last day of term and, suddenly, I no longer had three difficult things to do at once, with at least four people needing them urgently. However, this will never happen again. 31 August and my retirement from teaching edges closer every day.
Book Reviews: Spike Sanguinetti Mysteries
During my small windows of free time, generally late in the evening, I read. Too exhausted to tackle anything literary and worthy, I chanced upon Thomas Mogford’s Sleeping Dogs, fourth in the Spike Sanguinetti series, about a tax lawyer, practising in Gibraltar . More crime, I’m afraid, but it was just ticket. In Sleeping Dogs, Spike takes himself off for a holiday in Corfu, and from there on to Albania, both of which are described in detail and with the authority of someone who has visited both countries. The author is clearly fascinated by Albania, its people and way of life. Although it takes a long time for the main storyline to get going, and for the reveal to be sufficient for the reader to make connections, once it starts, the plot has pace, lots of tension and excitement, majoring on cannabis production in a southern Albanian village called Lazarat (50% of Albania’s GNP). At the time of writing, this was all true, btw, because I checked it on Wikipedia, although Wikipedia has been updated to report that – last month, June 2015 – the government used military force to demolish this illegal industry.
Interwoven with the main storyline were well-drawn characters – Spike, his father, his legal partner Peter Galliano, their landlady and her family – together with a family of wealthy villains, one of whom has a passionate interest in Greek antiquity. Thomas Mogford managed to bring the reader into a comfort zone with congenial characters, eating good food and wine and enjoying themselves – balm to the exhausted and hassled. Readers don’t always need to be challenged and have their minds (or other parts) broadened.
On finishing Sleeping Dogs, I hastened back to Amazon and downloaded the first three books in the Spike Sanguinetti series, all of them about 99p each. (The reader in me is whooping for joy, crying ‘Bargain’. The writer feels she ought to disapprove of such low prices for books, but can’t quite get round to it, having earned approximately £50 for her own efforts). I then opened Shadow of the Rock, the first in the Spike Sanguinetti series, preparing to relax again. This time, Spike rushes off to Morocco, visiting medinas and souks and also a Beduoin village in the desert, again all convincingly researched, and with great atmosphere, including a particularly nasty latrine in the desert and wide-eyed lambs being transported in lorries to be butchered for Eid. However, some mistakes were evident: for instance, the author refers to Spike’s client, a Sephardic Jew, eating halal food, when he meant kosher. Although this novel contained some distinctive characters, such as Jean-Baptiste, who replicates DVDS – loudly – in his hotel room, Spike’s elderly father, Rufus (an asset in Sleeping Dogs), hardly features and the female lead, Zahra, is undeveloped. Spike himself seems rougher around the edges, blundering into situations without finesse, including having sex (improbably) in a railway compartment a few hours after having been beaten up. The storyline of Shadow of the Rock is very complicated, with twist after twist, and a football stadium of characters and, for much of the story, it was difficult to understand where Spike was going and why, and, when he got there, the significance of what he found out.
Theatre Review: To Kill a Mockingbird, at the Barbican Theatre, London
In the middle of all this, I also saw the staged version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Barbican Theatre, last Saturday. This was a birthday treat, shared with close friends and family, and what a good choice it was. Everyone knows Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m sure, not least because it has, apparently, featured on more school syllabuses than any other book. I always tend to shy away from books ‘done at school’ and, as a result, I read To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult and was wowed by it. I believe that, by reading it when older, I appreciated layers of meaning I wouldn’t have picked up as a teenager, but, in the staged performance last weekend, I picked up on many many more.
This performance is not so much a play but a play-reading, with a chorus reading from the text every few minutes, a good device for moving the story from scene to scene. The three (out of the nine) child actors we saw, playing Scout, Jem and Gil, had the largest roles and are totally amazing, every bit as professional as the adults around them. If you live near London, do and see it.