Review and (Spoiler-filled) Over-analysis: The Lamplighters

Come for the review – stay for the over-analysis

Okay first up – I always enjoy myself stories abut Lighthouses, and clearly I can’t be the only one. Secondly Stonex is a very cool surname!

As to the book – I must confess I’ve been mostly nostalgia reading fiction lately so I’m probably a bit positively biased to pick up a more recent book. The story of Lamplighters is divided up between 1972 when the three men disappeared and 1992 when a curious author investigates the event, largely told by the three wives left behind.

The narrative I would describe as a little strange, the perspective of the three women tends towards ‘stream of consciousness’ where we get a mix of history, opinion and perception drip-fed to us the reader to generate the mystery. In these moments there isn’t a lot of grounding prose, dialogue is rarely captioned, and descriptions are heavily in the POV of the character.

When back in 1972 we get 1st person POV from one of the men and we tend to get more visceral ‘lighthouse’ type imagery and experience. The overall experience is quite odd, sometimes disorientating but useful to keeping the mystery alive.

Obviously the main plot thread is the question of what happened to the 3 men, but Stonex does a good job exploring the many inner workings of the character’s lives – diving into themes about family, the past, guilt and truth. So on the one hand while I said the story’s main plot was obvious it actually kinda isn’t, in many ways this book as about everything except the exact reason the men disappeared.

While there are a couple of nail-biting and tense moments, I would say overall the story is more of a character study than a thriller, I see some other reviewers deducted points for this not being a more classic story structure.

Really I only have one beef with this story, and that is at times between the 6 characters across 2 times periods perspectives, it was sometimes hard to retain who was who and how all the characters interlinked. I think part of this was intentional to create a bit of a sense of being adrift, but in my opinion just a few clearer markers for each character could have been ideal – also it was almost impossible to keep track of minor characters properly as they’d often just be mentioned in passing and kinda up to the reader to be aware of their significance (or not).

Overall – happy with this one! Read on if you don’t mind spoilers and want a bit of over-analysis

SPOILER TERRITORY

Summary

So I won’t probably capture the whole book here, but just a quick summary to set the scene.

The story begins with a brief segment introducing the Main Character: The Maiden Lighthouse – a ‘tower’ lighthouse, one of those ones that literally sticks out of the rocks, with little more than a ‘donut’ railing around the base, no separate cabins, or storage, the keepers have to sleep on bent bunk-beds.

Sorry, as to human characters we are introduced briefly to Vincent, Bill, and Arthur the 3 lighthouse keeper who we are told mysteriously disappeared that year details unknown.

Fast-forward to 1992 (8 years ago right??) and we are introduced to the wives of the men, Helen, Jenny, and Michelle. (as mentioned in the review at times its hard to keep track of the matches and mismatches so if I get something wrong please forgive). The Women’s stories are kickstarted by the appearance of “Dan Sharp” an author who wants to investigate the disappearance and write a story about it.

While the obvious plot thread would be information about the disappearance the actual story here is about the past, and the characters responses and ways of dealing with past loss and trauma. As the story progresses we learn that Helen and Arthur lost a son at sea, Arthur filled with guilt and depression buries himself in his work and the Lighthouse. Bill’s mother died in childbirth and his father blamed and abused him for it, Bill’s perspective appears to be one of delusion and cynicism and he has an ‘affair’ of sorts with Helen. Vincent’s mother was an addict and he grew up on the wrong side of the law, prior to working at the Lighthouse he engaged in some particularly disturbing animal cruelty to punish a rival, and after leaving prison is both on the run from his own guilt and potential retaliation.

For the most part the women’s stories are about the impact of the loss of their husbands, but also their reactions to the above events.

From a literally perspective its an interesting juxtaposition of gender, having a thread about 3 men and another thread about 3 women – I don’t think its meant to be that explicit but there is a sense of contrast, the men in the story retreat into isolation and fall apart (more on that later) while the women attempt to move on with their lives.

In terms of the main mystery there are a number of red herrings, the official line is that Vincent a criminal must have killed the others, however we also have a mysterious visitor that may have been associated with Vincent’s rival, penultimately we are told that driven mad by grief Arthur killed the men and himself. The final reveal is in fact Bill did the deed, after half-heartedly not-rescuing Vince from accidently falling into the sea, Bill decides its OK to continue on this path and clubs Arthur, in Bill’s deluded mind still entertaining a life with Helen. Unfortunately for his plans Bill is (possibly) killed by the ghost of Arthur’s child.

However the final scene of the story which sees Dan Sharp’s manuscript thrown to the wind tells us that the mystery of the men’s disappearance its the relevant ending, its the resolution of trauma that we see the characters go through.

One of the more disappointing aspects of the story is we learn the author uses a pen name and their real identity is relevant. It turns out he is the son of the main boatman for the Lighthouse a minor character named Jory who barely features in the story. It’s a bit of a letdown because it doesn’t really add too much to the tale other than to just pummel the theme of past trauma.

Through the Women’s stories we find out about their own responses to the past of the men, but also how they’ve coped with the loss. Helen tells us that she didn’t really have an affair with Bill, other than a stray kiss but then she struggled to distance herself while he kept pursuing the affair. Jenny was very aware of the whole thing and suffering terribly poisoned some chocolates that she sent with Bill – unfortunately Vince ate the chocolates resulting in an illness that may have contributed to him falling into the sea. Michelle lives a complicated life, having remarried but still considers Vince the love of her life, and also fears losing the financial support of the company if she speaks up against their assessment that Vince likely killed the others.

The women are estranged from each other at the beginning of the book, but as they tell their stories they finally reconcile. All struggling with the past they each must get to a place where they tell the truth and accept their losses to do this.

In my opinion the story speaks to the effects of loss and trauma, how you can isolate and bury the past, or be open and reconnect. The men and the Lighthouse represent problematic ways of dealing with a dark past. Vincent tries to evade his history and it catches up with him, Bill is so deluded in his perspective he thinks he can murder his friend and be with his wife. Arthur is so torn up with guilt and grief he literally deteriorates mentally and physically.

The Women on the other hand, attempt to overcome their past through telling the truth and connecting with people. While not perfect, Jenny for example attempts to poison Bill rather than confronting him and ends up hurting Vince (a comment on spreading pain in revenge) she confesses all to her daughter who is both understanding and forgiving.

The destruction of Dan Sharp’s manuscript, after he allows Helen to decide the ending – its a slightly cheesy “it’s not about the ending but about the journey” type statement, but its a deeper comment on not necessarily being empowered to fabricate your own through, but to take hold of one’s own story and the relevance thereof. In some respects saying the important part was not how the men disappeared but that they did and what the women did after.

While some might have been disappointed that this story didn’t have a thrilling conclusion its an intriguing end nonetheless.

Has anyone else read the book? Would be intrigued to hear your take on it…

Review (Non-Fiction): This is Going to Hurt

Didn’t hurt me at all!

This is Going to Hurt is basically a serialized book of Dr Adam Kay’s experience as a Junior Doctor working for the NHS. The emphasis is on laughs, and there’s no doubt of Kay’s comedy chops / ability to awkwardly destroy the sanctity of a Doctor Consult.

Dark humour is a central theme of the book, both between Kay’s struggles of being overworked and the various difficult and at times mortal moments of his patients. I’m not a doctor but as a Psychologist who has also worked on-call hours in a social service I completely understand the struggles of ethical obligation while lack of sleep and an oddly careless system grind you down.

The writing style of This is Going to Hurt is very more-ish and easy to read despite the weight of some of the topics. Since this was published in 2017 and refers to the decade early its set long before Covid-19 hits and one can’t help but wonder about what the experience of Doctors nowadays is.

Review (Non-Fiction): The Dictator’s Handbook

How am I not a Dictator yet??

So continuing my journey to become a cult-leader and/or dictator I stumbled across this handbook while picking up some other pieces and gave a look – pretty happy that I did so, while I am not in fact an autocratic tyrant yet due to some pesky morals (or perhaps just opportunity) its actually a pretty dense educational book on the topic of politics and well worth a read.

I’m actually going to get my only criticism out of the way first – its more of a drawback type complaint, but the amount of detail and knowledge in this book is encyclopaedic, like right from page one there is thorough information on everypoint, and throughout the book often many examples to back up each point. From an academic point of view obviously this is very good, but I did just feel at times overwhelmed with facts and details that my poor working memory could not maintain (maybe that’s why I’m not a dictator yet).

Depending on your reading preferences that above point might not even be a criticism! I just think its worth noting that this probably isn’t a fun/light-hearted personal touch type work on non-fiction, despite the funny title its pretty serious and precise.

Onto the actual material, the title is possibly a little misleading as the book isn’t so much about how powerful unethical politics is, it’s more of an overall examination of political power, corruption, and how it all interacts. For example there is just as much analysis of democracies as dictatorships, and even a brief dive into Public Companies which was an unexpected but very useful tangent!

The chapters of the Handbook are fairly intuitive for the subject – covering how people gain power, maintain power, lose it, the effects of warfare, foreign aid and capping the whole thing with some ideas for improvement.

Probably my favourite insights were some unusual factoids:

  • The more autocratic/unequal in power a country is the straighter the roads tend to be between the capital and the airport, and/or other centres that the leader travels. (this is because dictators would put resources towards roads that help themselves and are more likely to force individuals to move. Democracies have winding roads!)
  • Many of history’s revolutions have succeed because the leadership ran out of money to pay their army, so the army didn’t bother to defend them (or did the revolution themselves)
  • Dictators often encourage corruption through underfunding and then use threats of exposure to control institutions (e.g. police force) this allows ‘cheap’ services and a mechanism of control.
  • CEOs are likely overpaid due to their interconnections and power dynamic with the boards they are supposed to be accountable to (e.g. CEOs often select board–members or manage changes, and/or have external connections – plus there is often little incentive for a board to ethically set the CEO wages as there is no direct benefit to them)

All in all this book was super interesting in terms of understanding politics from a more global perspective, I appreciated the author’s neutral tone and well explained and documented information, they even addressed the challenge of not being about to do randomized control trials in politics!

While the depth of detail did make the reading a little slow and at times overwhelming it was a vital read!

Review: Eric (Discworld)

Shortish, Funnish, Rincewindyish

Eric is a strange Discworld instalment. It feels a lot like after the last couple of Discworld’s being a little heavier and longer maybe Sir Terry just wanted to blow off a bit of steam with a humorous jaunt (man I really wish Terry Pratchett was still alive and did some sort of book-by-book retrospective).

Rincewind returns in Eric in quite epic fashion, and the main plot of the story is an interesting subversion of Faust – where ‘Eric’ makes three wishes of Rincewind and we see Pratchett’s take on these. It’s hard to say much more without big spoilers but basically we see a lot of puns and literal twists on Eric’s wishes, all the while a Demon-King attempts to catch up to the duo.

At just over 100 pages long Eric is closer to a Novella than a novel, but I didn’t mind this I think the style of story lent itself to something shorter, I suspect that sustaining a whole novel on jokes would have gotten old quick.

Something a little funny to note is I feel like this book was somewhat edgier in humour than other books, which is partly why I wonder if Pratchett was blowing off steam or something. There’s a lot of innuendo which is of course not absent from other books but just seemed a bit more in Eric.

Not much else to say about this instalment, I wonder if it was largely written as an explanation to get Rincewind back as while I have no sauce for this it seems at the time Rincewind was a bit of a fan favourite and was essentially left for dead in his last book – and fans were bothered.

Review (Non-Fiction): Don’t Think of an Elephant

I’d seen this book mentioned I think on the same Contrapoints video that mentioned Conflict is not Abuse. Its an unashamed lefty book, essentially pointing out that the Right Wing of politics are frankly much better at persuasive argument than the Left, and much better organized.

Lakoff’s main point is talking about framing, and basically how setting the context for the argument IS half the argument. Lakoff argues that the Left often falls for the trap of trying to engage with politics using facts and figures and tends to see reframing as some sort of unethical action. The book explores examples of ethical and unethical framing and how to make it work for Lefty politics.

For an example – let’s say I’m caught out stealing my workmates lunch. When caught I lament: “I didn’t realize it was Ross’ sandwich.” This puts the frame of the argument into my knowledge of the sandwich ownership being important. Now, assuming the desired outcome is an apology, the facts approach would be to say “It’s got Ross’ name on it”. But this is where it gets interesting from a Framing point of view. That’s a valid point but is kind of a distraction, e.g. trying to ascertain how obvious Ross’ sandwich was.

A Reframing would be someone saying to my greedy self “surely a grown man would recognize a lunch that wasn’t his” that changes the argument to what would be an appropriate action of a grown-a** man.

Slightly more serious – Framing is a common tactic in politic debate where an issue is guided towards a distraction or sub-element of the whole thing which isn’t as relevant. Take for example the common assertion that welfare creates ‘doll-bludgers’ which Frames the debate morally about people’s character but its a bit of dead end trying to explain that human behaviour is more complex than that – instead you can reframe the concept as “welfare is good for economic growth as it supports consumerism”

Oddly this book was published mid 2000s so has a lot of references to George W Bush, and 9/11, I mean not irrelevant topics but its odd to read about that time politically, and most of Lakoff’s points are still totally relevant.

Review (Non-Fiction): Conflict is not Abuse

Conflict is not Abuse is an interesting read – I was originally put in the direction of the book by a video by ContraPoints and I was intrigued by a comparison between supremist ideology and trauma.

But to summarize the book, Sarah Schulman is an author of fiction and non-fiction and teaches creative writing at a university level. In her own words the word is “undisciplined” its a personal expression of a collection of ideas that is not intended to be empirical nor completely anecdotal either. Schulman actually does pretty well with this – without having a central non-fiction frame to structure it, a non-fiction book can often fall to rambling, (for the most part) this book is fine.

So about the central thesis Schulman begins with personal relationships, and discusses the challenge of separating Abuse from Conflict. Now I have to say I have actually disagreed this this perspective up until now as I’ve interpreted strict definitions as a way that victims may get underserved if their experiences don’t meet the criteria for ‘abuse.’

But Schulman does a great job explaining aspects of power dynamics, abuse, punishment/retribution and actually convinced me that there is merit in being a little protective of the term abuse. Its interesting because I feel this topic could easily be interpreted as under-protective of victims, however its quite clear in the book that Schulman is not minimizing the challenge of conflict but emphasizing that the best outcome of conflict is communication and de-escalation.

Schulman is particularly scathing of practices such as ‘ghosting’ or shunning, intentionally ignoring and in some cases false or exaggerated accusations. Just to be a bit cheeky its pretty obvious that Schulman is not the biggest fan of email or online communication from this book!

So the main thesis of the first part of this book is straightforward in idea, but complex in consideration – basically pointing out that yes people can do all sorts of diabolical things to each other in conflict – but the solution is still to communicate and resolve UNLESS there is a power-over abuse happening.

The next sections I think are much more challenging but definitely worth a treat.

Section 2 Schulman explores and advocates for HIV positive people who may be prosecuted for certain actions such as failure to disclose their viral status to a sexual partner. I imagine for many this would be a challenging read as HIV/AIDS is obviously a very emotive topic and my assumption is that most people won’t be specifically familiar with legislation or advocacy in this area.

It might seem like a jump in topic but the thesis is that concerns around HIV status in a relationship is usually ‘conflict’ not ‘abuse’ so the criminalization of the situation is problematic.

The final section focusses on the Israeli / Palestine situation and Schulman expands her thesis to political action, where conflicts can be escalated to claims of abuse and thusly prompt overreaction. While the metaphor doesn’t hold perfectly in my opinion I will say its definitely a deft political analysis in that many powerful groups will frame the actions of vulnerable groups as intensely dangerous and use this framing to justify their own over-reactions.

This section was quite powerful, and I would have enjoyed more political analysis about different conflicts or even some historical examples.

So I really enjoyed the read – I will say its a little hard to recommend because its kind of very niche, its probably good for people who have some interest in the area and want to hear a different perspective, or perhaps those who are very entrenched in the topic and want a challenging read.

(Spoiler-Filled) Review/Analysis: Ozark

For anyone interested, the final half of Ozark is now on Netflix and I’m assuming if you were interested you’ve already binged it, OR simply reading this post to see the ‘whats what’

If I have my facts correct Ozark is actually one of the seminal ‘Netflix’ series by which I mean one of the first ongoing series actually produced by Netflix, although in saying that its not exactly held as a flagship or anything so its just an interesting factoid as this stage.

Enough rambling – I’m just going to do a brief spoiler filled summary, to be honest I can’t remember every details and twist and turn but the show is interesting enough to warrant some over-analysis so here goes:

Bumbling Beginngins

Ozark is interesting is that its obviously heavily inspired from Breaking Bad, in a good way, it kinda watches a bit like a ‘what if’ or kinda takes some key elements and tropes from the Breaking Bad story and spins them its own way. Generally the tone the concept are very similar.

So Ozark starts by introducing Marty Bryde, a sort of depressed middle-aged financial guy who seems to have it ‘all’ but also have ‘nothing’ – by which I mean he has a good job, friends a family however seems joyless and trapped and as we soon learn his wife is cheating on him his colleagues seem to be full of joy and ambitious and Marty just frowns.

Anyways – very quickly we learn that Marty’s firm is not only laundering money for a cartel but his colleagues and friends have been skimming. Abruptly Marty sees his lifelong friends murdered in front of him, and only through some desperate quick thinking Marty convinces the Cartel guy to spare his life as he has a great idea to launder money in said ‘Ozarks.’ Marty is challenged to launder an inordinate amount of millions in a ridiculously short space of time to spare his and his family’s life.

Just a quick symbolic aside just before Marty is almost killed he flashes back to a scene where he plays with his younger children and wife an idyllic scene. I mention this moment as this perspective doesn’t really appear again in the show which I will mention in discussing the end.

So the rest of Season 1 is a darkly almost slapstick crime drama where Marty tries to build his laundering scheme and finds himself embroiled in the local crime scene, both street-level AND massive heroin dealers already operating. I say slapstick as there is a lot of humour but my gosh some of the events of this show are dark AF. Marty also of course tries to balance keeping his family around and safe, informed to some extent – another thematic thread is his son Jonah appears to have some sort of psychopathic tendencies developing.

The Season comes to a surprise climax where Marty against all odds manages to broker a deal between the Mexican Cartel and the local dealers, only for the locals to kill several cartel members over perceived rudeness.

Seasons 2-3 carry on the story and the theme shifts a little. As Wendy Bryde gets more involved with the business a political angle comes to forefront and Wendy begins to show a ruthless streak and more aptitude than Marty at illegal activity. By now the FBI are involved and almost everyone is plotting against everyone else. One climatic point is that Wendy’s brother Ben is introduced, he’s almost universally liked however has Bipolar disorder, and struggles to manage his impulses. As he learns more about the illegal activities Wendy makes the decision that he needs to die to protect everyone’s interests.

As Season 4 begins the Bryde’s are tasked with getting the head of their cartel ‘out’ and against all odds the first half of the season deals with the Bryde’s successfully negotiating a deal to make this happen, however this is highjacked by an ambitious and annoyed FBI agent who arrests the Cartel Leader despite the plan.

By the time the 2nd half of Season 4 comes about the Bryde’s have become or are becoming considerably wealth and politically powerful as their cartel connections make them rich, like their political playing builds their power. The tension of the last part of the season is really about lining up all their pieces to finally get the “Bryde Foundation” running, the drug dealers docile, the FBI non-litigious, but the major tension ends up being Wendy’s father arriving and deciding to leave with the children. This affront creates a bizarre sequence within Wendy where she pulls an awful lot of moves to prevent this happening either cementing herself as a complete manipulator OR highlighting just how bad her father really is.

I have to admit I found this sequence fascinating in story-telling – we know that Wendy is pretty ruthless but a major theme of the last season is that her ambitious appear to be getting out of control. So when Grandad plans to take the kids (with their agreement mind) the initial though is fair enough, after all. This thought only accelerates as we see Wendy go to extremes to manipulate the children into staying. However as the story progresses we start to see the real character of her father, a mean drunk, misogynist, cheat, who physically beat Wendy severely in her childhood. The only reason he wants to take the grandchildren is to punish and humiliate Wendy.

The reason I say this part of the story was deft, is its pretty hard to justify how Wendy is the ‘good-guy’ here yet somehow through revelation of Grandad’s character we feel empathetic.

As the story progresses we see the Bryde’s get almost everything they want, the ‘legit’ foundation takes off, the cartel are relatively satisfied however still slaughter a few more characters before the end, a consequence the Bryde’s simply decide to weather.

Finally the show ends on a surprise twist. After spending the season unhappy with his parents and estranged, Jonah comes to their rescue blowing away one final obstacle, a PI who tries to threaten the Bryde’s with exposure. Just to back-track a little the significance of this is that Jonah had been shown to be developing tendencies but up until that point not engaged in any violence.

So to summarize that – the Bryde’s start off desperate and mostly broke, and emerge ridiculously rich and powerful, almost everyone around them has been killed or had their lives ruined, they are likely to get away with it all and it looks like their formerly innocent children are going to head in the same direction.

So what does it all mean?

Hmmm, so I have to confess the first thing that this was kinda what ran through my head when this series ended. Most endings have at least on some level a basic theme to their ending, for example Breaking Bad ended with Walt dying among the apparatus which had both given his life meaning but also ruined its and other’s. Son’s of Anarchy ending with inevitable Shakespearean tragedy.

Ozark’s ending actually has a lot going on other than just contrived plot threads being shoved into an ending. For example, the Bryde’s decision to simply bear their friends death, Wendy’s decision to oust a corrupt politician from their circle (this is depicted as a bizarre moral line at election fraud but I think is more about similarities of the politician to Wendy’s father). The fact that Jonah is the one that stands in to make the final murder.

My point is – what is the point :D. Flicking through online there are quite a few ideas, some are saying that the Bryde’s represent “real life” in that corrupt evil sometimes wins, others have suggested that underneath the carnage their are messages about sticking with family, being driven and single minded.

But I have a stranger take. Ozark is about good and evil across generations, and what Marty does or doesn’t do about it. Obviously good and bad choices are a massive part of the context, particularly every episode is about characters making choices and the implications of them. However if we examine the characters we see almost all characters enmeshed in generation harm. Wendy and Ruth become the most obvious examples – Ruth pretty much the entire series, but as mentioned Wendy becomes intensely an example of this with her father being more revealed.

To explain further, in the beginning we see Marty thinking of the love he has for his family and reactively dealing with the cartel to save himself. At first the plot has the sense of a man doing what he has to, to survive and protect his family, and as mentioned this shifts to ambition. Another telling scene is where the cartel boss tells Marty that he sees Marty “wants to win” this tells us that Marty doesn’t just want to protect himself and family (which partially explains how he fell into laundering in the first place).

So while the plot appears to be Wendy taking over and becoming the more ‘evil’ Bryde and Marty just kinda gets side-lined I see the story as more like a “two wolves” analogy where Marty lets his ambitious wolf take over (it just so happens his ambitious wolf is represented by IRL Wendy). He makes half-ass attempts to do ‘good’ but ultimately goes along with the ‘evil.’

It’s odd to me that most of the other characters get a lot of family development whereas Marty is somewhat of a blank slate, it does kinda make the message that the strength of intergenerational abuse is almost invincible, especially ending on the note of Jonah shooting the final obstacle. Both Wendy and Marty look immensely proud of their son as he does this, Jonah himself closes both eyes before pulling the trigger which speaks to themes of darkness, giving up on goodness and so forth.

In conclusion I think the theme of Ozark is a bit of a bait and switch, we’re introduced to a story about a relatable, but in a terrible spot character, who keeps having to do Wrong to get Right and where will this lead? But I think as the tale evolves this struggle is bit of a red herring. Over and over again we are presented with messages about family, and impact of parent’s evil deeds on their children. I don’t think the ending is nihilistic because the Bryde’s become successful, I think its nihilistic because the ‘Good’ in Marty is powerless against the tide of evil entrenched in the generations of families we meet. The cartel is endlessly violent with little regard for family bonds, the Langborn family is sadly hopeless in the face of poverty and petty crime, Wendy is damaged by her Father’s abusive treatment. Even a relatively minor character introduced in the last season – the head of a pharmaceutical company whose name escapes me – is in her position as CEO of the family company due to some sort of familial scandal. My points is that the story isn’t really about a singular decision of a flawed man and then what happens, its about family. The final message does feel pretty darn nihilistic though.

I say nihilistic as well because unlike similar tales one feels there isn’t that much opportunity for a better outcome or escape. Yes there were a few parts where Marty or the Bryde’s were offered deals from the FBI, one had the sense that these would not have been particularly safe and would still have left many many people’s lives in a total mess.

We also have the general ‘no good people’ style of story, where very few people in Ozark were classically ‘good’, the FBI are presented as mercantile, ambitious and callously unreliable, local law enforcement both na├»ve and corrupt. Characters with moral traits are often presented as doofy and foolish, or hypocrites. Our most sympathetic characters were flawed but with some redeeming code such as Ruth.

The ending in my opinion is very unusual in terms of storytelling – as usually doing ‘nothing’ for MCs is a deal-breaker, yet Marty’s decision to do nothing is the face of Wendy’s ambition, Ruth’s death, and finally as his son shoots a man in cold blood sends a more interpretably and interesting message than a more clear-cut storybook ending.

Over-analysis done!

Have you seen the Ozark series – comment your thought’s I’ve be keen to hear them!

Review: Guards Guards!

Vimes! Vimes!

I’ve had a bit of an enforced break from my Discworld readthrough due to Library availability, but finally got my hands on Guards Guards!

For me personally this one is a bit of a classic, while not the first Discworld I’ve read, it is probably the first Discworld I read that I found myself really getting sucked into the world and the characters, I loved Carrot and while my young self didn’t 100% get Vimes I enjoyed his growth too. I have to confess (spoilers sort of) my younger self also didn’t realize that Pratchett was going to subvert many expectations and fully expected Carrot to finish the story king of AnkhMorpork!

Guards Guards is the first ‘Night Watch’ or ‘Vimes’ book one of the recurring characters which in my opinion is the most popular of all the Discworld series, I think there is just so much character within these stories that its hard not to get attached and drawn into the tale. Guards Guards is also set entirely within Ankh-Morpork and its very fun getting to know the city and the world a bit better.

Something which hits a bit harder nowadays is the interplay of politics in Discworld. In my youth I largely took the world as a joke, but now much of Pratchett’s writing seems like a scathing critique of the world. That said I was intrigued by interactions with Vimes and the Patrician. As I’ve mentioned earlier the Patrician is actually in many of the early Discworld novels but is somewhat less developed, he is initially presented as a haughty placeholder ruler, however in Guard’s Guards we get a bit more development. And to be honest its quite strange. On the one hand the Patrician is depicted as fairly cold and more than willing to do evil (perhaps for good ends?) and also a master 4D chess manipulator, yet he also obviously has some sort of good or honorable streak in that his ends seem to be relative peace.

There is a highly unusual speech at the end of Guards Guards, much in the same format of dystopian novels where the ruler/authority explains the ethos of the dystopian world. The Patrician explains that humanity is basically a wave of evil, with islands of idealistic goodness among it. He sees his role as keeping the population organized enough to prevent chaos.

I would love to pick Pratchett’s brain about what his thoughts were behind this interaction. Obviously Vimes is our MC and thusly would be the favoured point of view (e.g. gritty honour) although through sheer competence and control its not clear whether Pratchett thinks the Patrician is a monster, necessary monster, or ultimately good. I do feel as the series continues that the Patrician largely is portrayed as ‘good’ but that doesn’t mean that his speech is the be all end of.

Probably my favourite thing about rereading Guards Guards is the anticipation of some of the upcoming amazing Guards books. Feet of Clay has always been a favourite, and Men at Arms is great too.

Review (Non-Fiction): Corruptible

The basic of Klaas’ work is to explore the adage of absolute power corrupting. Of all the non-fiction I’ve been reading regardless of topic this has to be one of the best balanced in terms of historic anecdotes, interviews, data and evidence and explanation I’ve read. It’s one of those books that I just got absorbed in and then suddenly was like ‘wait, its almost done?’

With an interesting non-judgemental but not so open minded their head falls out approach, the book explores many angles of power, ranging from local (e.g. police forces) to presidential and corporate. The main themes of the book are what sorts of people are attracted to power, what sorts of systems encourage or discourage corruption and finally how to encourage more legitimately competent people to power.

There is no particular stand out parts (because its all good) but I guess what stood out to me is some of the bizarre and horrific things people have done in positions of power whether tyrannical Home Owner Association presidents or Tyrannical genocidal presidents the book basically speaks for itself in terms of relevant.

Probably the final note is that this book felt quite positive, the strategies for reducing corruption didn’t feel as out of reach as some worldly solutions feel right now, which was nice!

Review (Non-Fiction): The Displaced

So I have to confess something that I realized when I picked up this book. Hopefully I can explain this without sounding too terrible, but I noticed that I had a kind of “refugee trope” in my head, where I expected a sort of 3-act structure for stories about refugee’s, e.g. Act 1. suffering in country of origin, Act. 2 perilous journey Act 3. Struggle to fit in and find acceptance in new country.

Now that is nothing like the tales presented here. In fact this book almost acted as s debunking of the stereotyped experience I had in my head. For example the first story examined the author’s experience of changing their name to suit their new country and some of the weird and difficult moments this caused.

Similarly confronting many of the authors described the odd and unusual experiences they’ve had that don’t necessarily fit molds – one devastating story of a family separated by immigration explained wounds that never healed while their parents still lived. Some authors had moved with their parents before conscious memory and thusly had strained identities, one author earnestly explained the experience of returning to their country of origin and finding themselves out of place there as well.

So in summary this was a very useful read on many levels. It wasn’t tropey or exploitative of people’s suffering it was hugely insightful and helped me confront ideas about countryhood and refugee status in a way that made me think more deeply. The stories are all digestible in size and while I wouldn’t claim such a heavy topic was good for regular easy reading, the format does mean you can pick up and put down this book over a long period without losing anything.

Given where the world is at in 2022 and what might be heading our way with climate and inequality crisis this is a pretty important and relevant read, highly recommended and commended