Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel…

Description: An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

This was going well until meeting up with the prophet, whose cant drove me up the wall (all cants do that). It was not long after that I realised this has a magical-realism twinge rather than a straight forward dystopian novel. Not a bad thing per se.

Whilst reading this I felt an incredibly strong wish to be re-reading Morality Play instead.

With a nod to my other January lit-richer (get ’em off TBR for gawd’s sake) selections I shall qualify where they stand in relation to each other:

Well below Hugh Walpole but a slice of joy higher than A Little Life, however Station Eleven is not even worth a blood spatter pattern on King Duncan’s bedroom wall when compared to Macbeth, although funnily enough, it is waay more enjoyable than Houellebecq’s Submission.

The Fortress by Hugh Walpole


My cover

Description: It had been the wish of her whole life to flee from all the Herries, but Walter Herries had challenged her, and she had taken up the challenge’. Judith Paris, now middle aged returns to the Lakes to deal with the bitter feud between the two branches of the family. A feud culminating in the construction by one branch of a huge house known as The Fortress, which will dominate the land of the others. But within this conflict the children of the two families have important roles to play.

Keswick from Latrigg

Opening: ‘ALL IS WELL,’ Judith said quietly, coming forward and stroking the red apples of the sofa. ‘I shall not leave you, Jennifer. It is better I remain.’

He wanted the place to look like a castle. It was to have battlements and towers, towers from whose summit a flag could fly. That was the moment of Romanticism, of the Waveley novels, of Weltschmerz, of Pelham and (a little late) Chile Harold and Werther. There was no Weltschmerz in Walter but he would have his battlements and a flag flying.’

For those who know well, Sundays are scrambled eggs and great debates, so the Sunday where this was on ‘currently reading’ it was realised that a great many strands were knitting together, in the words of Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now there is a problem with where a house is situated in relation to others:

* This book with the fortress being purposefully built on a hill to intimidate those in a house lower down – altitude used as weapon
* the main man having a problem at work with a home-owner railing against a building ticket for a piece of land further up the hill – getting too used to seclusion in these crowded world days
* the neighbour habouring vitriol because a house is higher than his – altitude as reason for paranoia even though both neighbours bought into, didn’t build, the existing properties

hmm, not hard to see that there is something to be said, both primordially and psychologically about those who occupy the highground.

Yet ‘La, La La’ – there is way more to this fabulous all sweeping family saga than the title of this third novel will suggest, most of all it is about life in the Lake District and the achingly beautiful landscape and the love and resilience of those who really care.

Hugh Walpole’s gravestone in the churchyard of St John’s Church Keswick

AT THE END- for the moment, I am not sure if I shall ever continue with this series – it has wrung me out, and also, the conclusion of this third book seems like a natural finish and to venture forward may seem forced and reduce the quality.

5* Rogue Herries
5* Judith Paris
4.5* The Fortress

5 15.0% ‘The fireworks were a great success, and when they had watched them they walked slowly up the hill to the meadow. Adam went with Judith. They were of a size now. Adam was as tall as his mother.’
01/24 page 116 23.0%
01/24 page 148 29.0% ‘There was a new young Queen on the throne; all the debauchery, mismanagement, selfishness of those fat old men who had pretended to rule England had passed away.'”
01/24 page 263 53.0% The Chartist Uprising”
01/25 page 304 61.0% The Great Exhibition”
01/26 page 372 75.0% Sayers v Heenan 1860″
01/26 page 400 80.0% The tomb of Tom Sayers at Highgate Cemetery” 2 comments

Ancestral Voices: Diaries, 1942-1943 by James Lees-Milne

Description: Once described as ‘the man who saved England’, James Lees-Milne’s work for the National Trust in the 1930s and 40s was instrumental in securing innumerable architectural gems for the nation. His waspish and witty diaries, which have inspired these three linked plays, chart the decline and fall of the English country house.

Episode 1/3: Sometimes Into The Arms Of God: It’s 1942 and Lees-Milne is billeted with the National Trust at West Wycombe Park – a world away from Blitz-ridden London. Lees-Milne is a rising star of the Trust. Invalided out of the army, he’s looking for his own battles to fight and is determined to save the house and preserve it for the nation. But times are hard and the Trust is reliant on a considerable endowment before they can acquire a property – an endowment which the incumbent inhabitants, Johnnie and Helen Dashwood, can ill-afford to pay. Helen is an imperious host, but is desperate for paying guests – so when Nancy Mitford comes to stay, she’s welcomed with open arms. Lees-Milne is delighted for the distraction, but it’s difficult for guests to throw themselves into the house party spirit in sub-zero conditions. Fortunately, Nancy is obsessed with the Antarctic explorers and Captain Scott, even nicknaming the upstairs lavatory ‘The Beardmore’ (after the glacier of the same name), much to Helen’s chagrin. But it’s a brittle peace, as cloistered together, all the guests attempt to block out the war for as long as possible.

Episode 2: The Unending Battle: It’s 1944 and James Lees-Milne – and the National Trust – have returned to London. Comfortably accommodated in a flat in Cheyne Walk, Lees-Milne is attempting to secure a nearby property to house the musical collection of Boer War veteran, Major Benton Fletcher. Late one night, whilst trying to telephone a friend, Lees-Milne has a crossed line and makes the acquaintance of an anonymous woman. A friendship grows over the telephone wires, but at the woman’s insistence they both keep their identities secret. When Lees-Milnes’s childhood friend Tom Mitford returns unexpectedly from the continent, a sexual attraction is reawakened. Tom, however, has been a committed red-blooded male since Eton and is now determined to settle down after the war and raise a family – expecting James to help him sift through a list of potential wives. Tom is now a realist in love, but Lees-Milne is still an idealist. When disaster strikes, Lees-Milne is rely on the mysterious woman at the end of the telephone more than ever before.

The God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza

bookshelves: radio-4, play-dramatisation, winter-20152016, published-2007

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 18 to 25, 2016

Description: What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behaviour of their children? A calm and rational debate between grown-ups about the need to teach children how to behave properly? Or does it turn into a night of name-calling, tantrums and tears?

Lenny Henry stars in Yasmina Reza’s play, translated by Christopher Hampton, which won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy with its London West End Production and Tony for Best Play on Broadway.

The author, Yasmina Reza, is a French playwright and novelist. Her plays Conversations after a Burial, The Passage of Winter, Art, The Unexpected Man, Life x 3 and A Spanish Play have been produced worldwide and translated into thirty-five languages.

Christopher Hampton’s work for the theatre includes The Philanthropist, Savages, Treats, Tales from Hollywood. He is also known for his translations of Ibsen, Horvath, Moliere and Chekhov Movies: A Dangerous Method, Dangerous Liaisons, Atonement, Total Eclipse, The Quiet American, Carrington, The Secret Agent and Imagining Argentina.

A Little Life: A Novel by Hanya Yanagihara


Giftee from Brazilliant – tack så mycket

Description: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Opening: Lispenard Street: THE ELEVENTH APARTMENT had only one closet, but it did have a sliding glass door that opened onto a small balcony, from which he could see a man sitting across the way, outdoors in only a T-shirt and shorts even though it was October, smoking.

Malcolm – a struggling architect from a wealthy family of biracial parentage
Willem – an actor and orphan, whose parents were Danish and Swedish
JB – a painter of Haitian descent
Jude – a lawyer and orphan, of ambiguous origin

Thomas Hardy also wrote a pot-boiler about a Dude named Jude which was slit-wrist gloomy. Jude the Dude by Hanagihara is self-hurt gloomy, and the end result is the same. I must say though, I much prefer Hardy.

August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

bookshelves: winter-20152016, nobel-laureate, published-1971, translation, wwi, lit-richer, lit-richer-jan-2016, play-dramatisation

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Isca Silurum
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from January 24 to 25, 2016

Description: A new adaptation for radio of Nobel Prize-winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s epic story of the first battle of the Eastern Front in 1914 – which was a disaster for Russia. Solzhenitsyn’s book was published in the West one year after he won the prize – with sections about Lenin omitted. It was only after his expulsion from the USSR that the complete book was available. This new production is narrated by Fiona Shaw.

In August 1914, Colonel Vorotyntsev advances into East Prussia in search of the elusive front line. As he encounters the truth about the German war-machine his military ideals rapidly tarnish and he must decide whether to volunteer his men for certain death or retreat. At the outbreak of the First World War, the Russian advance met with catastrophic results. Bungled orders, poor and insufficient supplies, out-dated equipment and tactics, and deliberate misinformation resulted in chaos and the near-annihiliation of the army at the hands of the Germans. Three years later the tsarist regime fell as Lenin led the October Revolution.

Your average Russian ‘Boris’ is still being fed daily doses of misinformation, and hazard to guess that should a war footing be declared, they would fare no better next time around. For that very reason, this book is still relevent today. Current misinformation comes no fouler than out of the mouth of a certain Vladimir Medinsky:

Medinsky is so keen to demonstrate Russia’s superiority to other nations that he has even said that Russia’s perseverance in the face of all twentieth-century catastrophes, indicates that “our people have an extra chromosome.”.Source

I cannot believe that the Russian population is blanket Down’s Syndrome

Take a moment to think about those who have lost their lives so senselessly.

Narrator Fiona Shaw
Vorotyntsev Alex Waldmann
Samsonov Michael Bertenshaw
Arseni Sion Pritchard
Sasha Lenartovich Mark Edel-Hunt
Yaroslav Kharitonov Will Howard
Lenin Clive Hayward
Grokholets Robert Pugh
Filimonov Sam Dale
Krymov Simon Armstrong
Ofrosimov Matthew Watson
Artamonov David Cann
Tanya Melangell Dolma
Kramchatkin Chris Gordon
Luntsov Sion Ifan
Agafon Alex Hope

5* The First Circle
3* One Day
The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: Left unrated for a reason
3* Cancer Ward
3* August 1914
4* We Never Make Mistakes: Two Short Novels

Utopia by Thomas More

bookshelves: published-1516, summer-2014, essays, nonfiction, gutenberg-project, e-book, play-dramatisation, radio-4, tudor, re-visit-2016, winter-20152016, philosophy, utopian

Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Literature of the English Country House
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from June 08, 2014 to January 25, 2016

Description: 2016 is the 500th Anniversary of Thomas More’s classic work of speculative fiction, which has entered the culture so deeply that the name of his fictional island is the accepted term for our hopes and dreams of a better society. Poet Michael Symmons Roberts dramatisation brings More’s strange and enchanting island to life, told through the memoirs of Raphael Hythloday.
More goes on a diplomatic trip to Antwerp, to sort out a dispute in the commercial wool trade between Britain and the Netherlands. While he is there he meets an old man who is clearly widely travelled.

More complains about the petty politics of the trade dispute, and the old stranger bemoans the state of contemporary society. There is a better way, he says, and I have seen it. The stranger introduces himself as the explorer and adventurer Raphael Hythloday, who at the height of his career of was sent out from Antwerp to explore an unmapped and remote part of the ocean. After months of sailing, he chanced upon an island society unlike any he had seen before. The island was called ‘Utopia’.

Utopia fleshes out the story of Raphael’s visit to the island, giving us vivid descriptions of the place and its society, its laws and social patterns and customs. All the bearings for this new drama are be taken from the rules and descriptions of the island in More’s book, and the clues he gives about Raphael’s visit.


Raphael Hythloday Raad Rawi
Young Raphael Nacho Aldeguer
Thomas More Michael Peavoy
Achorian Michael Peavoy
Peter Giles Cameron Blakeley
Abraxa Emily Pithon
Barzanes Jonathan Keeble
Macaria Fiona Clarke

Bettie’s Books

Headlong Hall by Thomas Love Peacock


RE-VISIT 2016 via R4x HUZZAH!

Description: Winter, 1815: Harry Headlong, like all Welsh squires, is fond of shooting, hunting and drinking. But he becomes seized with a passion to form the acquaintance of philosophers and dilettanti.

Narrated by Sir Michael Hordern. Starring Daniel Massey as Escot, Ronald Lacey as Foster, John Grillo as Jenkison, John Horsley as Cranium and William Simons as Headlong.

Opening: The ambiguous light of a December morning, peeping through the windows of the Holyhead mail, dispelled the soft visions of the four insides, who had slept, or seemed to sleep, through the first seventy miles of the road, with as much comfort as may be supposed consistent with the jolting of the vehicle, and an occasional admonition to remember the coachman, thundered through the open door, accompanied by the gentle breath of Boreas, into the ears of the drowsy traveller.

What a long opening sentence that is, and look out for long words too:



Okay – I’m halfway through and can tell you that the foundation and corner stones of premise and plot are strong and funny. I love the name of Headlong ap Headlong and the waterforce reasons behind adopting it. Like Nightmare Abbey there is a meeting of unlike minds, opposing agendas and quaffables available in abundance. There are some outrageously funny moments and this should be a straight through pleasure but there is an underlying starkness and an awkwardness of prose that is jarring so if you have not yet encountered the satirical Peacock and are fancying a dive in then start with the skit on the Romantics that is Nightmare Abbey

CR Headlong Hall
4* Crotchet Castle
4* Nightmare Abbey
2* Maid Marian
TR Gryll Grange

Macbeth by William Shakespeare


HAH – I can’t believe I haven’t been back to fill at least a little of something in this here thought-box seeing as I have spent the last xx years with a man who happens to think this is the best play written, ever. (My personal choice is the existential ponderings of Hamlet, and by extension, that most modern of fantastic stagecraft fanfics: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead)

Anyways, RE-VISIT 2016, a re-visit that takes this well into double figures, is a soiree starring a certain person named Fassbender. Will it shape up? We shall see, I have ultra-conservative tastes when it comes to messing around with the Bard.

LATER – this film version got a resounding BOO from us hardtopleasers

David Tennant is to host a live TV celebration of William Shakespeare to mark the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. The former Doctor Who star will be joined in Stratford-upon-Avon by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen.(Source)

Never Go Back (Harry Barnett #3) by Robert Goddard


11 hours 40 mins, read by Joe Dunlop.

Description: For a group of ex-comrades, it is to be the reunion to end all reunions: a weekend in the Scottish castle where they were guinea pigs in a psychological experiment many years before. They haven’t seen each other since. But the convivial atmosphere on the journey north is quickly shattered by the apparent suicide of one of their party.

When a second death occurs, a sense of forboding descends on the group. It appears that the past is coming back to haunt them, a past that none of them have ever spoken about. Their recollections are all frighteningly different. So what really happened?

Then when one of them uncovers an extraordinary secret, he becomes convinced that they will never leave the castle alive…

The elephant in the corner is the change of narrator for this last book, it was not a good move for my shell-likes, especially when there was so much conversation calling for accent interpretation. Okay moving on, let’s talk about the book:

You could be forgiven for thinking this reminiscent of And Then There Were None, and it becomes clear just how important it was to read this trilogy in order – if the previous books have not been read the main two characters will seem a little 2 dimensional here as Goddard doesn’t spent time describing them all over again (thank goodness!). Winding up at a point where we all need to know about something called MRQS, we realise just how dangerous that quest was and still is.

Let The Good Times Roll- Ray Charles

Harry and Barry, that rhyming couplet.

4* Into The Blue (Harry Barnett #1) (1990) – re-visit 2016
4* Out of the Sun (Harry Barnett #2) (1996) – re-visit 2016
3* Never Go Back (Harry Barnett #3) (2006) – re-visit 2016

5* Past Caring (1986)
5* In Pale Battalions (1988)
3* Play To the End (1988)
4* Painting the Darkness (1989)
4* Take No Farewell (1991)
3* Hand in Glove (1992)
2* Closed Circle (1993)
3* Borrowed Time (1995)
TR Beyond Recall (1997)
4* Caught in the Light (1998)
4* Set in Stone (1999)
3* Sea Change (2000)
1* Dying to Tell (2001)
3* Days Without Number (2003)
3* Sight Unseen (2005)
2* Name to a Face (2007)
1* Found Wanting (2008)
TR Long Time Coming (2009)
TR Blood Count (2010)
WL Fault Line (2012)

3* The Ways of the World (The Wide World Trilogy #1) (2013)
WL Intersection: Paris, 1919 (2013)
TR The Corners of the Globe (The Wide World Trilogy #2) (2014)
WL The Ends of the Earth (The Wide World Trilogy, #3) (2015)