Micro-reviews (September 2020)

September 30, 2020
Kingdom of the Wicked, The Translator and A Woman of No Importance

Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale

This was a really interesting piece of alternative history (so far in 2 volumes).  Its starting point is a set of characters and a story we’re all familiar with – Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, the High Priest Caiaphas and the end of Jesus’ life.  It then transplants them into a world where the Romans have had an industrial revolution, leading them to develop technology quite similar to what we have today (although there’s no internet).  It then asks how those technological developments would’ve changed both Roman and Jewish attitudes and actions in response to events which, in our world, led to Jesus’ crucifixion.  What it does particularly effectively is to make you identify just enough with each side in the conflict to see something of our own attitudes and times in how they behave – whilst being simultaneously repelled by certain aspects of them.  And by imagining how things might have developed if “Jesus hadn’t happened”, it also gives you a fresh insight into the influence of Christianity on Western thought.  That said, if you prefer your fiction to give you a character (or characters) to identify with and root for without misgivings of any kind, this may not be your cup of tea.  It is at times an uncomfortable read and it’s not without its flaws, but the author has succeeded in producing a very thought-provoking series.

The Translator by Nina Schuyler

On reading his novel “The Joke” in French, Milan Kundera was famously horrified to discover that the translator had adopted a pretty free approach, frequently embellishing the author’s prose style for no particularly good reason.  What seems to have annoyed him most was that the translator clearly thought they knew best.   But on some issues – such as what works and doesn’t work in their native language – a good translator probably will know best.  And translation is difficult, demanding work.  So what happens where a translator – acting with the best of intentions – produces something which misinterprets what the author actually intended?   That’s the starting point of this novel, where the central character, Hanne has just finished a translation of a novel by a major Japanese author.   Hanne comes across as an accomplished, highly disciplined person who appears to have everything under control.  But after falling down a flight of stairs, she suddenly finds that she has lost her English – although she can still speak Japanese.  She then accepts an invitation to speak at a conference on translation in Japan, where she is accused by the author of mistranslating his work.  This ultimately triggers a crisis that causes Hanne to reevaluate her approach - not only to the work she has translated but to her life in general, including her relationship with her estranged daughter.  A thoughtful and well-written character study.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell has previously written a biography of Boris Johnson, but her subject here – the World War II spy Virginia Hall – is much more deserving of attention.  In fact, in many ways, Hall is the polar opposite of Johnson, because despite her many notable achievements, she did not crave any recognition at all for her work and exemplifies many of the virtues he conspicuously lacks (loyalty, responsibility, hard work, empathy, modesty, courage, principles etc).  Hall worked as a spy for the British and latterly the Americans in occupied France during World War II.   In the first few years of the war, she was one of the few Allied agents in France who managed to both provide actionable intelligence and lay the foundations of a resistance network.  And she did all this despite the discrimination she faced as a woman in the very male world of intelligence – and despite having a wooden leg (from a hunting accident).   It makes for an astonishing and gripping read, which leaves you wondering why you’ve never heard of her before.


Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 3

July 21, 2020

This is the third and last in a series of posts about my experience of both post-viral and chronic fatigue, prompted by media reports that quite a few people who’ve had Covid-19 seem to be having similar problems.  Click HERE for Part 1 and HERE for Part 2.   In this one, I’m going to focus on treatment – and in particular, whether there is anything other than rest/relaxation, pacing and/or the passage of time which might help.

The main treatment recommended by the NHS is pacing, which i...

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Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 2

July 20, 2020

This is the second in a series of posts about my experience of both post-viral and chronic fatigue, prompted by media reports that quite a few people who’ve had Covid-19 seem to be having similar problems with fatigue and a peculiar range of other ongoing symptoms.  Click HERE for Part 1.  In this one, I’m going to focus on the frustrating lack of a proven medical explanation for what causes post-viral or chronic fatigue (and how, with no clear explanation, it’s difficult to know what m...

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Covid-19, post-viral fatigue and chronic fatigue - Part 1

July 19, 2020

There’s been an increasing amount of media coverage of people taking a very long time to recover from coronavirus/Covid-19 and reporting a wide range of symptoms, but particularly fatigue.  As far as I know, I haven’t had Covid-19– but I have been diagnosed in the past with both post-viral fatigue (on several occasions) and, more recently, with chronic fatigue.  So I thought I would write about those experiences in a series of posts, if only to reassure people suffering with similar pro...

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Micro Reviews (May 2020)

May 31, 2020
Little Eyes, State of Wonder and The Capital

Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin

This has had lots of glowing reviews but I’m afraid I gave up half way through. The premise sounded interesting.  A craze develops for cute-looking 5G gadgets called Kentukis. These are intended as a kind of artificial pet for their owners, but are only active when “inhabited” by other individuals who have signed up to be “Kentuki-dwellers” (they can see and hear through the Kentuki’s camera and mic and ma...

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Micro Reviews (April 2020)

April 29, 2020
What Was Lost, Middle England and The Quantum Spy

What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

I really enjoyed the first section of this novel – which is set in the 1980s and features an eleven year old girl, Kate, who’s obsessed with becoming a detective.  It reminded me a little of an excellent self-published novel by Stephanie Newell called The Third Person, which I reviewed here.  Kate then disappears in mysterious circumstances.  The middle section jumps 20 years ahead and introduces us to Ku...

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LibraryThing in the time of coronavirus

March 30, 2020

At the end of last year, I joined LibraryThing, mainly out of dissatisfaction with the recommendations on Goodreads, which I found to be very hit and miss (more miss than hit, to be frank).  I was going to wait a while before doing a review of my experience to date, but LibraryThing has just announced that it is now free (partly in response to the coronavirus pandemic and everyone being in lockdown), so I decided to put my thoughts down now.

Better at recommendations than Goodreads?

I'm afraid ...
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Micro-reviews (January 2020)

January 29, 2020
Myxocene, The Last and Spaceman of Bohemia

Myxocene by Troy Ernest Hill 

“Myxocene” is a name that some have proposed for where we might end up if we continue to degrade the planet at current rates (the “myx” comes from the Greek “muxa”, meaning slime; adding “-ocene” on the end gets you “age of slime”).  Anyway, that’s the jumping off point for this excellent and thought-provoking speculative thriller (which, by the way, is also self-published).  Freelance journalist Sara...

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The end justifies the means: a bad motto to live by

December 28, 2019

Some thoughts on the UK election

Well, what a massively depressing result – for many reasons, not just the fact that we have to put up with this odious cretin as Prime Minister for 5 years:  

First and foremost amongst them is that (as I feared) the election has not really moved us on from where we were after the EU referendum, 3 years ago.  OK, sure, it has made it clear that Brexit is going to happen – that’s hard to dispute.  But the Conservative Party manifesto did not set out how it ...

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We don't need to talk about Brexit (apparently)

October 30, 2019

It’s October 2019, more than 3 years after the EU referendum and the UK still hasn’t managed to sort out the mess it’s got itself into.  I’ve been on yet another possibly futile Anti-Brexit March (see photo).  Understandably, almost everyone is sick of the whole thing – and there are many calls to just “get it over with”, no matter how it’s resolved.  But I’m going to do a blog post about it anyway.  

Why?  Because it matters how Brexit is resolved.  Unlike electing a governm...

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About Me

Paul Samael Welcome to my blog, "Publishing Waste" which will either (a) chronicle my heroic efforts to self-publish my own fiction; or (b) demonstrate beyond a scintilla of doubt the utter futility of (a). And along the way, I will also be doing some reviews of other people's books and occasionally blogging about other stuff.
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