Archive for the ‘books’ Category

A story from Villa Amalia by Pascal Quignard

December 8, 2016

The photo


Written on the back of the photo



Inscription in front of book

The copy of ‘Villa Amalia’ I got second-hand from Amazon had this photo in it and this inscription in the front.

So what does the inscription say?  It looks like: J’adore cette photo première d’un bonheur retrouvé. 26 janvier 2013 But surely the première should be in front of the photo–unless it’s in apposition, in which case there’s a comma missing?

The birthday boy seems to be well over 30 if you count the candles on the cake, so bonheur may have been missing for some time…

If it’s really première then [she] has formed the p differently there and in photo. If you look at janvier [her] v extends below the line, which increases the number of possibilities for the suspect word. [She] and [her] are my supposition from j’adore and an inscription in the front of the book. Restoring the omissions there gives us La souffrance [,l’amour, la musique, la faim] avai[en]t fait d’elle une femme intense–which looks like a case of adapting the sentence to refer to oneself.

There are no shes in the photo, which would be strange for a family gathering, so this she might have taken the picture.  Let”s call her Ann Hidden, since she’s behind the camera.  The man on the left of the picture seems to have the same shaped face as the candle-blower-out, which lends credence to the family gathering idea.

My conclusion for the time being is that it’s not a birthday party–there aren’t enough people–but a family celebration of the lad overcoming some mishap and the candles (say) represent the number of [periods] he was in hospital/prison/rehab/married to that woman, though he looks a bit young for some of those. If it was hospital/rehab, that would explain why he is warmly dressed while the bloke behind him is in shirtsleeves.

It’s much easier to leave out punctuation–note that there’s no full stop at the end of the sentence–than put an adjective in the wrong place, so première is a noun in apposition to photo, with some meaning like Première épreuve tirée pour la correction. ‘Galley-proof of happiness’ is quite good really.

Then  the inscription La souffrance…avait fait d’elle une femme intense would fit in well with [Ann Hidden’s] [son] returning from [rehab] [or from death’s door].

There is another and perhaps better idea. When I first looked I thought it had to be pleine or remplie, just by context but could find no way of making that fit what appear to be the letters. The second “l” in elle above doesn’t extend above the line, so you might be OK with pl- plénière [plenary] could fit the bill. I think that in French ‘plenary photo’ would be OK.   Plenary photo from a recovered happiness.  That would indeed imply that [she] took the photo–it would be plenary from her point of view but not the others’.  Which leaves the putative ‘l’ that doesn’t extend above the line–which may not be a problem at all–and the absence of one accent to deal with…A missing accent is better than a missing comma…

Tsvetochniy krest/The cross of flowers

September 7, 2016



This book by Elena Kolyadina hardly received great support when this blog did a survey of contemporary Russian novels for translation, and it was also being remaindered during my recent trip to Ukraine.

It appears to start in December 1674, when our heroine Feodosia is 15 and ready to be married off and to end in October 1673, when she is 17 and her son born half-way through the book is able to run around and beg for money.

There are many things it might be, but none of them for very long. The shadow of Thomas Mann’s Holy Sinner grows now lighter, now darker, and at times Kolyadina seems to engaged in a yacht race with Vodolzakins’s Laurus.  A yacht race because the leader ixs supposed to imitate the follower’s manoeuvrings.

At times it seems to be one of those books where a modern miss is plonked down with her insatiable curiosity in ancient times and at others it’s one of those books with detailed retro-porn description of life in Old Russia.  Indeed, we get a detailed description of the old-time salt industry, just like in Perm.  The contrast between carefree pagan sexuality and the strictures of the church might have been going somewhere and then wasn’t. Similarly the un-modern way Feodosia related to her family members just disappeared, leaving behind the usual YA heroine.  And then in a reference to Jan Potocki or perhaps Tolkien we have an entire community living under the ground brought into being.

A plot summary with SPOILER ALERT makes it sound as though the traditional saint’s life is being referenced.  It is 1673 in Tot’ma.  Feodosia is the intelligent beautiful etc etc daughter of wealthy salt-manufacturer Izvara due to be married off to another salt-manufacturer Yuda.  The priest Father Loggin feels himself tormented by her youth beauty intelligence needlework etc.

A company of travelling players comes to town under the leadership of one Istoma, who is not much like a salt manufacturer. The climax of their show is a puppetry version of the Crucifixion, except that Feodosia rescues Jesus from the cross, and Father Loggin takes exception.

Istoma and Feodosia enjoy a night of secret love in Feodosia’s bedroom, then Istoma’s troupe gets into a fight with the followers of her brother Putila as he returns from dealings in Moscow.  Revealed to be a confederate of Stenka Razin, Istoma is burned alive.  Feodosia marries the salt-manufacturer and devotes herself to her son by Istoma.

Influenced by Father Loggin, she practises more and more severe self-denial, including clitoridectomy and saying that like Abraham she would give up her son for God.  The son disappears and Feodosia takes up the lifestyle of a yurodivaya, eventually quitting town for the other side of the river.  There she discovers a community of underground pagans who can speak Russian when necessary and tries to convert them to Orthodoxy, planting a cross of flowers for this purpose.  She also entertains Death in a scene that owes much to Monty Python.

Father Loggin crosses the river to inspect this miraculous and has her burned as a witch so as to further his ambitions for preferment.

But Death does not have Feodosia on her list.

Well, well…




















DHL Express UK waste my time, with different excuses

March 18, 2016
I saw this a few times

I saw this a few times


I order a book from at 277 roubles plus 925 roubles for delivery via DHL.  So delivery costs more than three times the thing itself. But it’s 100 roubles to the pound, so whatever…


DHL send a text saying they will deliver on the 16th, and giving a link to follow on the Internet.


I stay in and wait for the delivery.

No delivery.  No notification.  The link gives the results above.

Evening:  I ring.  They say the thing is being held for payment of VAT and duty.  I say that there is no VAT or anything else to pay on a book costing less than £ 3-00.  They say I can ring tomorrow.  I say that I will not be at home tomorrow.


Morning (1):  I ring.  After consulting the depot, they say that the duty thing has been sorted.  I say that I am not at home.  They say I can arrange delivery on the Internet.  That gives the same results as before.

Morning (2):  I ring to arrange delivery. They say that it is being held because of VAT and duty.  I explain the difference in value between roubles and pounds sterling. They take my phone number and say they will ring back.  I point out that I am not at home today.

Afternoon(1):  I have a text to say that the thing is out for delivery.

Afternoon(2): I ring to enquire.  They say the thing is out for delivery.

Afternoon(3):  The website says that I have signed for the thing at home when I thought I was in the office and I took the first initial from my surname and used my first name as surname as well.  Gosh, I must have been confused…

Evening:  The package has arrived–it was easy enough to put it through the letterbox–with the value clearly marked as 277 RUB.

Grigory Ryzhakov at Muzio Clementi House, 28 November

December 6, 2015

A picture I swiped from Facebook

So last week my cold and I went to hear Grigory Ryzhakov talk about his new book under the auspices of the Anglo-Russian culture club.  While I wasn’t at my most alert or coherent I will try to record some of the interesting points that emerged.

Since Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize was still on people’s minds, Grigory suggested that the most likely candidates for the next Russian winner were Ludmila Ulitskaya, Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Sorokin. The writers most  likely to make an international breakthrough in the near future were Zakhar Prilepin, Maksim Kantor and Mikhail Shishkin, together with somebody else whose name I didn’t write down.  There was some feeling that it was in the field of sci-fi/fantasy (Lukyanenko, Glukhovsky….Pelevin!) that contemporary Russian literature was most internationally competitive, though Grigory may not have said so in as many words.

There was some question as to whether contemporary Russian literature was just too Russia-specific to appeal to outsiders, but Grigory felt that Maksim Kantor was an international writer, while Evgeny Vodolazkin’s newly-translated Laurus was both outward-looking and positive.  Grigory’s own candidate for the book most deserving of translation was Pozor i chistota by Tatyana Moskvina.  Contrariwise, he had taken against Dmitri Bykov after reading his production in bulk, and there was indeed some spontaneous commentary from the audience regarding the low level of Bykov’s public lectures in London.

We had some discussion about various sources of information on contemporary Russian literature.  Grigory felt that his specific contribution lay in classifying the specimens, in the manner of a true biologist.  Among other things, I found out about a film called Russia’s Open Book:  Writing In The Age Of Putin on YouTube.

Afterwards there was discussion and wine.  Somebody put forward the idea that the average income in the UK is about £25,000, the average amount you make out of writing a book is £ 8,000, so you chug along on £ 33,000 writing a book a year instead of going down the pub until your number comes up and you turn into J K Rowling…optimism is a fine thing, especially for the young…


Aesthetic theory and the book group

July 9, 2015


Book group members are not infrequently confronted by the question, How does our practice measure up against the thought of Kant, Heidegger, Gadamer, Adorno, Bourdieu and Gell?

As we have seen, Kant wanted to see whether such a thing as aesthetic judgment, where we demand that others share what appears to be our purely subjective reaction, could in principle be justified.

His problem therefore can be seen as the solution to why book groups exist–why one would want to debate reactions to artistic literature and indeed convince others.  However, Kant’s contention that aesthetic pleasure is disinterested does not really seem to apply to novels in the same way as other forms of art, since they are normally thought to confer some benefit in terms of understanding what people are like and how they relate to each other or at least how to write decent English.

Kant’s insistence that there are no rules that will make something beautiful may at first sight seem to be contradicted by the practice of publishers, who seem to believe there are very definite rules for producing a book that will sell.

But selling many copies is hardly the same as being ‘beautiful’ or as one might say in this case ‘aesthetically valuable’.  That rather fits in with the thought of Adorno, who thought of the cultural product of the era of late capitalism as being something to be consumed, whereas in better times the aesthetic experience was produced by the participant.  So the book club members who seek distinctions, indeed distinctions that are not differences, in the products of the publishing industry, may be compared to his famous hobbyist listener who has an encyclopaedic recall of available recorded performances but with little understanding of the music that can be heard.

Heidegger of course  thought that art worked by selectively focusing an historical community’s tacit sense of what is and what matters and reflecting it back to that community, which thereby comes implicitly to understand itself in the light of this artwork. Artworks thus functioned as ontological paradigms, serving their communities both as “models of” and “models for” reality, which meant that artworks could variously “manifest,” “articulate,” or even “reconfigure” the historical ontologies undergirding their cultural worlds.  Or a rose is a rose is a rose, talking about its rose-ness is infantile self-indulgence and making an institution of talking about it is even worse.

On the other hand, Gadamer‘s hermeneutic approach, whereby the art-ness of the work of art resides in the dialectical transformation of our interpretations as they enter into contact and indeed conflict with the artwork does sound rather positive for the book club.  Indeed, if one thinks (as Adorno probably would) that the readers were initially only consuming or confirming prefabricated commonplaces, then it is only in the book club setting that the real aesthetic experience might arise.  On the other hand, Gadamer would not have approved of the antiquarian tenor of much book group discourse–Is it a true story?  Was the author ever married? and so on.

This seems rather reminiscent of Bourdieu, who saw this kind of naive view of the artwork as a window whose function was to admit sweetness and light as characteristic of the dominated sections of society, since nothing more rigorously distinguishes the different classes than the disposition objectively demanded by the legitimate consumption of legitimate works, the aptitude for taking a specifically aesthetic point of view on objects already constituted aesthetically.  He would certainly have been interested in the petit-bourgeois aspirationalism of the book group, showing as it does an anxiety with regard to the assimilation of high culture together with a desire to assimilate it to the comfortable and the homely.

Gell’s treatment of the artwork as a social actor amongst other social actors at first sight seems like a comfortable fit for the book group, but here as in many other cases we find that his art nexus resists facile application.

Gell's Art Nexus

Gell’s Art Nexus

First of all, we note that the ‘recipient’ here seems to be conceptualised as an individual, which is a strange kind of thing for an anthropologist to do.  If we ignore this consideration, the book group experience seems to be one of struggle between Index and Recipient as to which will be master, where victory for the Recipient is equivalent to the Index being supplanted by the Prototype.

Try Books! read in 2014

February 20, 2015
Stoner 9 8 0
The Road 8.5 3 0
We Need New Names 8 0 0
This Boy 8 2 1
Under The Skin 8 1 1
Gone Girl 7 1 1
Old Filth 7 1 0
A Winter in the Hills 7 0 2
The Children Act 7 0 0
Telling Liddy 6.5 0 0
Almost English 6 0 3
Seizure 5 0 5

The table shows the books read by Try Books! in 2014 and their median scores, along with the number of times someone gave it their highest or lowest rating for the year (remember ties!)


John Williams and Stoner are the clear winners here, while Erica Wagner and Seizure were rather less successful.  But it was A Winter in the Hills  that caused the real excitement, of course.

Seizure Other
Stoner Howard, Jo Aruni, Christine, Dick, Heather, Judy, Linda
Other Jocelyn, Stephanie, Suzannah Vicky

The table above classifies people according to whether Stoner and Seizure were indeed their best and worst books respectively. As ever, this was complicated by not everyone having read (scored) every book, but Howard and Jo seem to be representing the mainstream with Vicky as the rebel.

Warwick University Ltd, 45 years on…

February 1, 2015


On a recent visit to Warwick University, I was told that it was now beholden to large employers in financial services and the students came from independent schools. And indeed, on the bus to Leamington Spa they were talking of Credit Suisse in reverential terms.

All of that reminded me of Warwick University Ltd by E P Thompson, which I pictured as condemning the domination of the university by the local motor industry.  A 2014 reissue has allowed me to check my impressions against the original, and it turns out I was broadly right.  Of course, nowadays something that provided large-scale employment for locals and non-graduates would be hailed as miraculous.  Thompson never really manages to overcome his patrician disdain for the process of making a living, which he manages to calumniate under the name of profiteering, while his doubts about the academic content of Business Studies would also apply to Medicine and Law for example.

It was interesting to see that the name ‘Warwick’ was chosen to extract funding from Warwickshire County Council and in those far-off days students who received a grant also felt that the world should be organised according to their wishes.

So in the end capitalism triumphed in spite of a couple of sit-ins at Warwick and the world where you had to be white, male, and a smoker disappeared too.

Books on Operational Research: A Practical List

September 27, 2014



The list below is drawn from various sources and organised according to categories that seem to be useful in practice.  The items in bold are ones I feel able to endorse, having used them myself. I think Tools for thinking, Mike Pidd would be a good place to start as an overview of modern practitioners’ OR, and you can an earlier edition for £2-81 on Amazon. The Pleasures of Counting T. W. Körner is an excellent book for background/inspiration, but may be difficult to get hold of cheaply.


The Pleasures of Counting T. W. Körner

The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables Russell L. Ackoff

Tools for thinking, Mike Pidd is a good introduction to modern practitioners’ OR

Books from Geoff Royston


Systems Modelling: Theory and Practice Michael Pidd

Sterman J (2000) Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex

World, McGraw-Hill [from Strathclyde outline]

M. Pidd (1992) Computer Simulation for Management Science, 3rd edition, Wiley.


From Strathclyde outline:

Walkenbach J and Pieterse JK (2007) Excel 2007 VBA Programming For Dummies, ISBN:978-0-470-04674-6

Stephan L, Berenson K (2002) Statistics for Managers: Using Microsoft Excel, Prentice Hall


No idea!


Makridakis, S., Wheelwright, S., and Hyndman (1998) Forecasting: Methods and

Applications (Third Edition), John Wiley. [from Strathclyde outline]

Project Management

Colleague recommendations:

Project Management Pocketbook

Escalation in Decision-making: Tragedy of Taurus Helga Drummond


Colleague recommendations:

Who Moved My Cheese?  S Johnson

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  S R Covey

Organizational Behaviour: An Introductory Text D Buchanan and A Huczynski

Understanding Organizations C Handy


The Visual Display of Quantitative Information Edward R. Tufte

Problem Solving: A Statistician’s Guide (Chapman & Hall Statistics Text… (edition 1988) by Christopher Chatfield

Draper NR and Smith H (1998) Applied Regression Analysis, Wiley Interscience. [believed to be the standard reference; from Strathclyde outline]

Multivariate Data Analysis by Joseph F. Hair, William Black, Rolph E. Anderson, Ronald L. Tatham

Sampling Techniques (Probability & Mathematical Statistics) (original 1977; edition 1977) by William G. Cochran

Introduction to Categorical Data Analysis (Wiley Series in Probability & Statistics: Probability Section) by Alan Agresti

Queuing theory

No idea!

Soft methods

Rational Analysis for a Problematic World: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict Jonathan Rosenhead

Data mining

Credit Scoring and Its Applications (Monographs on Mathematical Modeling & Computation) Lyn C. Thomas

Decision analysis/decision trees

From Strathclyde outline:

R.L. Keeney, H. Raiffa: Decisions with multiple objectives-preferences and value tradeoffs, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, 1993.

Valerie Belton, Theodor J. Stewart, Multiple Criteria Decision Analysis: An Integrated Approach Springer, 2002.

Optimisation/LP etc



The Little SAS Book: A Primer Lora D. Delwiche

A Reading List for Operational Research

August 13, 2014



Geoff Royston has kindly sent us a list of recommended general reading (that is, not about a specific technique) for people at or near the beginning of a career in OR, as follows:

Tools for Thinking, Michael Pidd
Decision and Control, Stafford Beer
The Sciences of the Artificial, Herbert Simon
The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge
Thinking in Systems, Donella Meadows
A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper, John Allen Paulos
Conceptual Blockbusting, James Adams
Rational Analysis for a Problematic World, eds Jonathan Rosenhead and John Mingers
Policy Analysis for the Real World, Brian Hogwood and Lewis Gunn
Pitfalls of Analysis, Giandomenico Majone and Edward Quade
Blackett’s War, Stephen Budiansky

A Winter In The Hills (John Wain)

July 16, 2014



When Try Books! discussed this, we had a marked difference of opinion between those who came to the meeting and those who emailed their views in.  But first of all let’s see what it’s all about…


The storyline concerns Roger Furnivall, a washed-up 40-year-old academic who has been caring for his brother Geoffrey, mentally incapacitated after being caught in a flying bomb attack in World War II.  After Geoffrey dies, Roger decides to go to North Wales so as to learn Welsh and hence get a job in Uppsala, where there will be many tall, compliant blonde girls.  Roger is (quite naturally as he sees it) desperate for sex, and in the course of the book we learn about his attempts with Beverley (a young American tourist), Rhiannon (the beautiful and well-dressed hotel receptionist who must be a kept woman) and Jenny (married with two young children, but love will find a way).  We also learn about his past with Margot, a red-haired green-eyed insatiable lover.

As well as the above, Roger also becomes involved with Gareth Jones, proprietor of a one-man bus concern who is the last survivor holding out against Dic Sharp, the local Mr Big, and Madog an epic Welsh-language poet (working in an estate agency) together with a number of other colourful local characters.

The narration is carried on in the third person, but it might as well be the first since we never see any scene where Roger is not present.  The book was published in 1970; since Jenny drives a Mini (which was popular from the mid-1960s) and there is some reference to the possible nationalisation of the buses (which presumably refers to the Labour government of 1964-70) we can take the action to be set at the same time.

The view by email

On this basis one could say (and people did, by email):

I love a bit of romance and a happy ending so this ticked my boxes.

I enjoyed it as a ‘life-affirming’ anti-corporate yarn.

Loved the sense of place and climate, though the descriptions were a bit overdone sometimes. Really immersive. Nice trajectory from sex-obsessed rotter to sex-obsessed local hero and family man.

However, those who were present at the meeting took a rather more critical view, under a number of headings.

Roger the philologist

Roger is presented as a specialist in ‘philology’, but this is a nineteenth-century term, and in this century it would be called historical linguistics.  He actually gives Jenny a pretty good explanation of what historical linguistics is, but that still leaves some serious problems.  If you want to be a historical linguist you need to know the earliest attested languages from various families–for Celtic languages, you need to know Old Irish as a starting point.  Modern Welsh is of comparatively little use, being both modern and contaminated by English.

As well as Roger learning Welsh with implausible ease (but that was necessary for the plot), he also fails to notice any of the many features of Welsh that would force themselves upon the attention of a real philologist.

Roger and the women

In the past Roger has had a relationship with red-haired Margot, which foundered due to her rejecting the proper woman’s role of caring for his disabled brother Geoffrey.  During the course of the book, he persuades Beverley, an young blonde American, to take him up into the mountains on her scooter and attempts to have sex with her.  She rebuffs him and abandons him on the cold hill’s side.  (Castration may have been more to the point.)  Afterwards Roger thinks of her unkindly as that slab of processed cheese from California.

He also tries to get it on with Rhiannon the kept woman, who is beautiful and mysterious and knows everything that is going on, as well as helping Roger find a new home in a converted chapel.  And always seems to be wearing a green suede coat, together with a short black leather skirt and a coral-red blouse, all of which seems to be rather too tasteless even for 1970.  We are also expected to believe that while she lives with her family and half of her village works like her in the nearby town, nobody has told her mother or her father the deacon about her international career as a rich man’s plaything.  A girl like Rhiannon must affect the lives of many men in a few short years, before her beauty faded.

Then we have Jenny, the typical Movement heroine under the heading Girls are nicer than us who is modest and dark-haired and from Lancashire (later changed to Cheshire but these places are all the same) and has already produced offspring for Roger to dote on–they are of course quite unconcerned by a change of Daddies–and sexually insatiable when she meets the right man in Roger.  We note that she also manages to be both innocent (Gerald caught me so young, before I’d had a go at managing life by myself) and experienced (Don’t forget a woman gets very good at detecting line-shooting.  We have to listen to so much of it between sixteen and twenty-five) at the same time–that’s the Eternal Feminine for you, in decorous provincial form and wearing a damson-coloured woollen dress.

We should also put in a word for another kept woman, Fräulein Inge, whose residence Roger occupies in her absence.   Roger catches sight of her as a young woman with pouting, almost bee-stung lips.  She might have been the girl-friend of one of the foreign poets.  Clearly, being a female she couldn’t be a poet herself–she can only manage the childish art-play of Fräulein Inge–and neither could Jenny, who finds her subaltern feminine fulfilment as administrative assistant to the Celtic Poets’ Colloquium (as well as in Roger’s bed).

Under these circumstances, it seems best to pass rapidly over the sub-Lawrentian Bad Sex:

It used to make me feel I’d give anything, anything at all, to get right inside her, into her innermost fibres, right in where she lived, to find the central core that was Margot and nothing else but Margot, find it and shoot hot sperm into it.

and also over

Roger was just about to formulate the thought that there was, after all, something to be said for sexual assault as a pastime for a man in early middle age when Gareth’s voice recalled him to actuality.

Roger in Wales

In his preface to the reissue, the author’s son states that the novel’s ‘Caerfenai’ is to be identified with Caernarvon, and the original of the village ‘Llancrwys’ was home to the Welsh language writer Kate Roberts, which would make it Rosgadfan.

There are indeed some effective scenes from Welsh life, as of being caught on the mountain when the weather changes or going to visit Gareth’s blind Mam in her cottage and indeed An Englishman’s Christmas In Wales with the roast hare that Gareth has snared himself and the shop-bought pudding with Roger’s whisky burning on it and Gareth’s Mam smelling the snow as violets in the wind.

The question remains as to whether these Welsh characters have any life of their own as opposed to merely furnishing Roger’s solipsistic fantasies.  Gareth as the hunchbacked indomitable son of mountain and slate-mine seems to be meant as some embodiment of Wales, crippled in body as Geoffrey was crippled in mind.  Then we have the colourful inhabitants of Llamcrwys, all surnamed Jones, the colourful hauliers Ivo and Gito, the colourful fat young poet Madog not at all like fat young Dylan Thomas who brings about Jenny’s escape from durance vile through his Colloquium of Celtic Poets.

All of these seem to be merely there as aids in Roger’s path to self-realisation:

he knew at last that Madog’s poem was Gareth’s yellow bus and that he, Roger Furnivall, had ridden up into the mountains now in one, now in the other, and that they had taken him to where he had found himself.

Without Roger, the Welsh characters seem to be unable to do anything for themselves and in particular to stand up to Dic Sharp.  Dic Sharp is allowed to make some good points in his confrontations with Roger–that Roger has not the slightest idea of how to run a business, that having had his fun he’ll be on his way leaving the locals to sort out the mess, even the Brechtian idea that morals are only for rich folk–and he might indeed have become something independent of Roger if he had been further developed.

Among the many plot holes, the main ones concern Dic Sharp’s attempts to force Gareth out of business.  The thing about loosening the nuts on the wheel of Roger’s hire car is complete nonsense, since it could easily have killed him and brought the police swarming all over the place.  Similarly for the device of the evil twin bus taking away Gareth’s passengers, when all they needed to do was to put Gareth’s bus out of action for a few weeks and he would have gone bust.

There seems to be some attempt at symbolic realism in the bus doppelganger, together with Roger’s progress from the Palace Hotel to Mrs Pylon Jones’s holiday flatlet to the converted chapel and then back to the Palace Hotel, and the parallelism between Geoffrey and Gareth, but none of it worked or if it did I didn’t notice.


As it stands this is all Roger’s solipsistic half-drunken fantasy lying alone in his hotel room.  But in that case it’s like the weak wish-fulfilment story that Roger spins Gareth and his Mam about having recently been at the marriage between Geoffrey and Margot, and maybe here the author is indicating that he understands what kind (and quality) of thing his book is, even if we don’t.

The critic who commented wales and middle aged men don’t feature high on my interests was certainly being very sensible.

Symbolic postscript

I think the symbolic dualism is meant to look something like the table below, but unfortunately it’s just not done well enough.

I also very much fear that since it’s Wales we’re in the realms of Arthurian romance:  Geoffrey/Roger have been symbolically castrated by the flying bomb and it is only by journeying to Chapel Perilous [where the sorceress Hellawes unsuccessfully attempted to seduce Sir Lancelot]  that Roger can be restored to potency and the land can be freed from Dic Sharp’s evil [succu]bus.  (So Rhiannon is a sorceress, which explains why she knows everything and wears striking clothes.)   So we identify Roger with Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, who has to travel in a cart driven by a dwarf in order to rescue Queen Guinevere.

‘Jenny Grayfair’  is a transparent pseudonym for Guinevere–‘Jennifer’ is the same name as ‘Guinevere’ in origin, while ‘Grayfair’ sounds like ‘Guinevere’.   And Margot sounds like Morgan le Fay, while Beverley has adopted the standard operating procedure of female spirits in enticing the hero to a remote spot and abandoning him there.  Apart from Jenny the English characters seem to bear the first names of Arthurian authors:  Geoffrey (of Monmouth); Gerald (of Wales); Roger (Lancelyn Green).






North Wales

 Among other points, Geoffrey is (mentally) crippled in London and Gareth is (economically, socially) liberated in North Wales.



Because Margot puts out and Beverley doesn’t



Because Rhiannon is a kept woman and Jerry is a wife



Roger is imprisoned through not having been able to save Geoffrey and can only become free by rescuing Gareth

Dic Sharp


As well as the sexual connotations of the names, these are the only male characters who have children–at the end, Roger has two middle-class English children to Dic Sharp’s Welsh nogoodnik one, thus demonstrating that once magically restored his potency is superior

Dic Sharp


Thin Welsh businessman v fat Welsh poet—they are the only characters who can make things happen, apart from Roger

Dic Sharp’s impostor bus

Gareth’s real bus



They both interrupt the action—Iorwerth saves Roger from Dic Sharp’s thugs while Dilwen’s model plane breaks the mood when Roger is about to seduce Rhiannon



The hauliers are inherently paired rather than being good v bad