15 January 2016

Library Limelights 99

Alistair Moffat. The Highland Clans. UK: Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Off the beaten fiction track, you say? (I do read other things too.) Gifted by a kind friend while on holiday, the book is definitely worth mentioning here since I learned new things ... that clachan is the Gaelic name for a cluster or township of black houses. That towns were strategically planted in the highlands as early as 1597 in an attempt to civilize the barbarians. That tanistry was the name for the "ancient Celtic law" whereby a clan chief could designate his successor from a wide choice of kin, as opposed to primogeniture. That the notorious fiery cross of the Ku Klux Klan originated with the old Highland call to arms. And much more.

It's a long time since I read John Prebble's classic trilogy of Highland history. Moffat is an easier read, but doesn't miss a beat holding your attention as the pages slide by. One of the most lasting impressions is the inherent tie of a Highlander to his birthplace ― land of the ancestors, land of the clan. Another is the possibly under-appreciated beauty and power of Gaelic, thankfully being revived. Moffat succinctly covers the evolution of the language; the strong oral and music tradition; religious loyalties; their battles with each other and the sassenachs; the proscription and decline of the age-old system; and the nineteenth-century revival of largely romantic notions. It must be a good thing that their fierce ability in warfare was best employed in the British Army!

A Mackenzie Bard on the Clearances: (translated)
I see the bands departing
On the white-sailed ships.
I see the Gael rising from his door.
I see the people going,
And there is no love for them in the north. (114)

Tami Hoag. The 9th Girl. New York: Signet/Penguin, 2014.
Catchy cover, catchy review blurbs. That must be why I forced my way through this mediocre mystery. Why was I expecting topnotch calibre? The occasional incident of shock value merely emphasizes how pedestrian the writing and language are in general. Serial killings have stonewalled detectives Kovac and Liska to whom I could not relate. The cover does not tell you the story is full of SULLEN, THOUGHTLESS TEENAGERS (I am so not there). And clichéd conversations. It could have been written for the "Young Adult" genre but said teenagers are likely smarter than that. It's wading through slow motion, tempting to skip to the last page even though you can see the climax coming a mile away. Nothing new or clever said about a working mother's conflicts. No psychological insights into a despicable killer. The review blurbs must have been written about some other book I've not found yet. How jaded am I?

One-liner: The girl is collateral damage from both sides. (253)

Psych 101?:
"She in no way indicated she had been attacked," Iverson said.
Liska nodded and rose, picking up the envelope with the X-rays back off the table. "Victims don't want to be victims, Doctor―especially victims of abuse. They often see it as ... embarrassing ... shameful ... They blame themselves. They don't want to admit that someone in their life values them so little or hates them so much. Or think they won't be believed because maybe their abuser seems above reproach. Which is why we have mandatory reporting laws. I'd be expecting a phone call about that if I were you." (297)

Another non-revelation:
"What's the matter with women like that?" Sonya asked. "It's not the nineteen fifties anymore. Women need to believe each other and stand up for each other in the face of sexist oppression. Men suck! Present company excluded, of course," she added, smiling sweetly at Elwood.
"I understand your sentiment," Elwood said. "Most violence committed against women is perpetrated by men. I once read a quote that the thing a man fears most from a woman is that she'll laugh at him, and the thing a woman most fears from a man is that he'll kill her." (368)

Seán Haldane. The Devil's Making. New York: Minotaur Books/Thomas Dunne, 2013.
A magnificent slice of Canadian history, slightly reminiscent of The Luminaries. A less than captivating start almost turned me off ― Englishman on a slow boat to British Columbia in 1869 ― but as Chad Hobbes, student of Natural Law, explores his new west coast world, the characters and setting come alive. The book was a winner of the Arthur Ellis Award which tells you it's also a cracking good crime novel. Hobbes is co-opted into Victoria's tiny police force as a detective when American con man McCrory is found murdered in a ghastly way. As narrator, Hobbes has fresh observations of the colonial town in its variety of class distinctions, hypocrisy, and racial attitudes. At first he keeps his personal thoughts in a separate journal but before long integrates them into the narrative.
luminaries: blogspot.com/2014/10/library-limelights-70.html

The cautious hunt for the killer immediately connects Hobbes with the band of visiting Tsimshian natives, connecting in a way he could never have predicted. Each suspect he uncovers, during interviews, has contrasting "civilized" and "natural" elements ― real savages and hypocrites come in all shapes and sizes. Aside from the fictional main characters, minor ones are authentic historical figures. Let me not forget the tender love story within the rich, sprawling portrait of historical BC. Haldane's grasp of Chinook pidgin language, details of native customs, the wilderness geography, and Victorian morals is nothing less than amazing (as impressive as his career credentials). Like The Orenda, this should be regarded as a Canadian classic.

(Archaic) Word(s):
pathic - a catamite
catamite - a young man in a sexual relationship with a man
berdash - also berdache; what natives call a two-spirited person

A gentleman may fall very rapidly in a Colony. (25)
The colonies needed soldiers and Marines, not Oxford men. (84)

First impressions:
In the square, executions are held, although none is in the offing. In the jail are a hard core of seven prisoners (a year or two for robbery or assault) and an extra one or two a night, though more at weekends, drunk and disorderly. The hard core are mostly American, including a Negro. The one-nighters are white, black, occasionally Indian. Almost never Chinamen. The 'Celestials' police themselves. The occasional corpse is found, throat slashed, butcher's knife in hand to indicate suicide, at dawn in Cormorant Street or Fan Tan Alley. Fan Tan is a Chinese gambling game. The gambling dens are also opium dens. We leave them alone. (27)

A naval surgeon recalls McCrory:
"He explained that he was a qualified 'alienist' ‒ you know, it's a French term for a doctor whose patients are "aliénés", that is alienated by mental disorders. And he proposed that I send him any officers whom seemed afflicted by nervous or mental disease. Very forward of him. I told him politely that there was no question of any officer in Her Majesty's navy being treated by any doctor other than a naval surgeon. Surprisingly insensitive man. He actually pressed me to make an exception. Went on about the Hippocratic oath. What a nerve! At last I got rid of him, but not before he had subjected me to a veritable quizzing, which I answered in words of one syllable, about where the Ariadne had been surveying, what was her compliment of men and guns, and so on. So much so that when I saw him off down the ladder I said to myself: 'That damned Yankee is a spy.'" (219)

Les belles du jour:
At Orchard Farm we were met by the three Somerville sisters, all fluffy and filmy in their summer dresses over crinolines, who had been waiting for us in the sun. They maintained a certain poise, like flamingos in a park, on the rough grassy patch in front of the house. But they were excited, in a breathless, girlish way, about the project of going for a walk up Mount Douglas. At least the youngest two were excited, above all Cordelia who called out gaily: "Mama has a headache so she's staying ... ." And in her voice was the thrill of the other perfect thing: that there were three girls and three young men. (234)

Wild ambivalence:
Then I stood shivering by the edge of the stream, shaking the drops of water from my body, and came to my senses, only to lose them again in the opposite direction: I swore at myself for having seduced a married woman, for inviting her to meet me in the dark in the forest, for using the authority of my uniform and the power I had over her – and her imprisoned husband! – to intimidate her into giving herself. Then I clutched the stone mirror hanging around my neck and raised it to my lips murmuring her name. (150)

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