Sunday, 28 July 2019

READING BINGE, JUDITH KERR and SOME THOUGHTS ON CRUELTY by Enid Richemont

I don't usually read one book after another, because I'm a slow reader, and I usually prefer to digest and contemplate one book at a time. However, I am currently emerging from a mini Reading Binge. This has come about because, like a lot of people, I buy far more e-books than I can actually read at that moment, assuming they'd always be there in a period of book famine which rarely happens as I live in a house very amply stocked with real print books. However, I've been doing Early-to-Bed-with-a-Kindle stuff in the last few months of extended convalescence from ankle surgery, and Kindles are so much easier to manage physically, although irritating in other ways.

And so it was that I discovered books I'd never read, among them one by friend and fellow author, Adele Geras. I'd first met Adele at a Scattered Authors conference aeons ago, and found her rather terrifyingly impressive, but in all the intervening years, I'd never read her work, until lo! there it was, upon my Kindle: "HIDE YOUR EYES", a purchased, but so far unread novel by Adele Geras, so I set to and read it. It's a wonderfully complex story with one of those subtle, shock surprises towards the end that only writers as good as Adele can dream up.

I loved it, and so, being still in touch email-wise, I told her so, whereupon this generous woman sent me a print copy of her much more recent and much more lighthearted novel, "LOVE, OR NEAREST OFFER", featuring a female estate agent I'd really love to do business with as she seems to have a talent not just for buying and selling houses, but also affairs of the heart. It's glorious, uplifting (NB I want Lisa's details asap, Adele, please.) Do seek it out.

These two books were swiftly followed by a classic children's novel which I'd always meant to read, but never did - Judith Kerr's "WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT". Set in the mid-1930s when Hitler was in power, it tells the story of one family's escape from Nazi Germany from the point of view of a ten (I think, but may be wrong) year old girl, Anna, whose father is a very well-known anti-Nazi journalist, and her older brother, Max. It is, of course, autobiographical, and Kerr's very detailed memory of her childhood is amazing - mostly about the excitement of having to move from Germany to Switzerland, and from there to Paris where she had to learn a new language, and eventually London. It's about play, and friendships, all happening against a background of a developing horror she only hints at (they lose their house and possessions, among them Pink Rabbit, her comforter since babyhood, and there's 'a price on her father's head' which phrase she can't quite grasp the exact meaning of - how can you put a price on someone's head? It's so subtle, and so delicate, and quite unforgettable, from the writer/illustrator who eventually gave us "THE TIGER WHO CAME TO TEA", and the Mog stories. She died quite recently, but what a legacy she's left us.

A rumour Anna has picked up is the only direct reference to the appalling cruelty of the Nazi regime, and there's no indication that it's true, although we know now how much worse things were going to get. The story was that a respected professor (Jewish, of course) had been put on a leash at the gateway of one of the camps and forced to bark like a dog. Ugh!

So what is it with humans and cruelty? As long as the victim can be labelled as 'not one of us', it seems that cruelty has no limits - but why? What exactly is it that people get out of cruelty? And no one is blameless - from the extremes of nastiness to people who whip out their phones and film a disaster, the more explicit the injuries the better, or who slow down to savour in the results of a road accident.

Most of us enjoy crime novels, many of us really enjoy horror movies - the cruelty isn't 'real' because it's on print or a screen, but we do still want it to be convincing, don't we? Cruelty was big entertainment in Roman times - go with a flagon of wine and a bowlful of olives and revel in the bloodshed. And for centuries, we've been brutally destructive about people in public life whose policies or lifestyles we disagree with, often converting our dislike into deadly humour (I'm pleading guilty to that one, and yes, I do laugh, especially at Trump/Boris etc jokes) but humour and cruelty are uncomfortably close mates. There was once a time when people with disabilities were routinely laughed at, and it was great fun for lads about town to get an old lady into a barrel and roll it down a hill. I know a great deal has been written about sadism (and also sado-masachism) but I don't have the energy or inclination to plough through it. Your comments on the subject, though, might well be interesting.


http:www.enidrichemont.org.uk   

3 comments:

Enid Richemont said...

Not sure whether it's permissable to comment on one's own post, but as no ne else has, and as I can't be bothered to edit, I'd like to add the quite extraordinary book I've been reading for two days, and which I've now finished: "MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND", by Matthew Green. I defy anyone to put this book down before reaching its breathtaking climax!

Sandra Horn said...

This thing about laughter/cruelty - I think it might be to do with what frightens us and what we don't understand or think we can't deal with (Trump, Johnson, etc) so we take recourse to ridiculw. Not a very deep insight, I'm afraid, but the best I can do.
Thanks for a thought-stirring post!

Umberto Tosi said...

I confess to being a Kindle book hoarder and sporadic binger myself. As for human cruelty, it's predictable, but I can never fathom it when it rears its ugly head - all the time, again and again, when we least expect it, but should (eg.-the Trump-Putin regime's calculated, corrupt, gleeful cruelty to thousands of refugee children as a 'deterrent' to asylum seekers, say his apologists. Their deliberate incitement of fear and hate for political and financial gain, cheered by his followers will live in infamy (if we survive it.) No surprise given our long history of slavery, slaughter of native peoples, and so forth, but some of us naively thought times had changed. Cracking "mean" jokes about Hair Hitler and Bonking Boris can't compare with the real-life evil consequences of their misrule - not in the same league. One can't even compare BDSM kinksters with these official thugs, being as the leather crowd is indulging in consentual sex play, not the mindless brutality of officially sanctioned camp guards and the like who are "only taking orders." It's like trying to compare someone who writes murder mysteries - no matter how gory - with real murders. Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking, readable post.