Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

If someone dies and those around discover a secret which the deceased had kept closely hidden all their life, how best to tell the tale?
Jackie Kay offers each of those concerned their own voice. The deceased's spouse knew, well she couldn't not. But the deceased's son, the mother, the best friend? What of them? Kay throws in an investigative journalist for good measure and shows how the prospect of payment loosens or tightens tongues. It is tour de force in point of view.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Crunch by Alex Brummer

The interested reader of the financial pages will almost certainly have some idea of the causes of the woes that have hit the world economy. We all knew that borrowing had hit crazy levels; we all knew that house prices were defying gravity.

Words like toxic debt and sub-prime have been the stuff of bar room chat, but Alex Brummer has drawn the strands together and produced a coherent narrative. It is deeply depressing. It makes the calmest of men don the witch hunt uniform.

What is probably the worst of all, though, is that the cream of a generation, the very best brains, have been engaged in what is really the most enormous fraud. It is breathtaking stuff.

Notes on a Scandal

This is a beautiful book, but as an exercise in point of view it is a masterpiece.

There is a first person narrator, but one who has such a strong agenda. You just know that each of her observations is going to be coloured.

I do believe that, at last, I can see the narrative as distinct from the story, and oh how it adds to the pleasure.

Who is the protagonist?

The story is about Sheba, the account of her downfall; this is how it seems, but then doubts begin to creep in. The narrator, Barbara, is, like any narrator, in control of how the story is heard. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin to see her hand digging deeper than the narrative into the story itself, then deeper than the story into being the trigger for events (taking the three tiers expounded by Bal amongst others). The is much more than an unreliable narrator; this is a narrator who is affecting the characters so much so that Sheba, who began by ignoring Barabara, ends under her power.

There is perhaps an echo from Hotel de Dream where Emma Tennant paints a picture of an author finding her characters in open rebellion.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

First person pov

I have been sifting through, trying to find a first person voice for Icarus.

John Banville writes The Sea as first person, but as a recollection of something that happened some time before. He is in the present and recalls the past and move from present to past tense accordingly.

Graham Swift writes The Light of Day in first person present tense, but again slips into past tense for recollections.

Engleby is first person past tense, but then this makes sense when at the end the first person narrator explains that the account is his diary. Sebastian Faulks cleverly keeps this secret so that the account feels more like the action as it happens.

In Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively moves between first person present tense and third person past tense as she switches between the narrative of the story teller and flash back.

Graham Green, in The Quiet American, has his narrator write about his friend Pyle in the first person past tense. You don't get any real sense of it being an account of something that happened previously; there is no nagging imperative to imagine just where and when the narrator is recounting his tale.

Friday, 20 March 2009

John Grisham, The King of Torts

I was advised to read a John Grisham thriller to gain a sense of the tension needed in The Icarus Bond.

I am half way through. Grisham is sticking close to Campbell's twelve parts and it works. There are places where, without pace, the reader might pause too long and dig up little flaws with some of the detail of the plot, but Grisham keeps you at it.

I miss the more fully fleshed characters of Richard Yates, but it is quite relaxing to have a more staightforward plot to read.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tax Avoidance

The dust is settling a little after the Guardian's crusade against the evil tax avoiders. There are to me two points which need to be made.

In the UK, Public companies owe a duty to their shareholders. In exercising this duty it is generally considered reasonable that they should minimise costs and maximise revenue. If taxation, which is a cost, is not to be minimised then they would be failing in their duty. So the answer is not to wring hands, but to open a debate over the duties of directors of public companies. If, however, taxation is a distribution of profits in the same way as dividend then the tax needs to be maximised. But what then about employee remuneration; is it a cost or a distribution? What about local taxes? This subject needs proper debate.

The second point is banal, tax avoidance is as old as the hills. I spent most of my career advising clients on how legally to minimise their tax bill. But the question is the same; is tax a cost or a distribution?