05 March 2017

Library Limelights 128

Ian Rankin. Blood Hunt. (1995) UK: Orion Paperback, 2002, 2012.
Wowser ... Rebus fans would hardly believe this is the same author. Gordon Reeve is an ex-SAS Brit commando teaching survival courses in Scotland. He has a penchant for reading Nietzsche. His journalist brother James dies mysteriously in La Jolla, California so Gordon unhesitatingly goes to probe why. A rogue employee of a huge chemical company hired a private investigation firm to help cover up damning product information. People are being killed to protect agribusiness secrets ― people who want to speak the truth. The combined resources of powerful companies are more than intimidating but a determined Reeve pits his ingenuity to connect the dots in his brother's last movements.

Not only that, an erstwhile SAS colleague appears in the mix. Jay was a fellow commando during the Falklands War, serving with Reeve on an expendable two-man mission. Their mutual hostility culminates in a manhunt for Reeve; their showdown on the Isle of Uist brings a breathtaking climax. The frequent action is very detailed and sometimes gory as befits specialized military training. Rankin wrote the book more than twenty years ago, yet the story's undercurrents still haunt us with BSE (mad cow disease) and GMOs (genetically modified foods).

He'd been taught well in Special Forces, taught lessons for a lifetime; and as old Nietszche said, if you remained a pupil, you served your teacher badly. (88)
"Well, the good old British public has another inalienable right: the right not to know, not to worry." (120)
The freeway system around Los Angeles was like a joke God was playing on the human brain. (296)

Wake up & smell the print:
She grabbed the newspaper and opened it to a full-page advertisement, placed by C-World Chemicals. "Don't bother reading it," she said, "it'll put you back to sleep. It's just one of those feelgood ads big corporations make up when they want to spend some money." 
Reeve glanced at the ad. "Or when their consciences are bothering them?" 
Fliss wrinkled her nose. "Grow up. Those people don't have consciences. They've had them surgically removed to make room for the cash-flow implants." She tapped the paper. "But as long as Co-World and companies like them are throwing money at advertising departments, publishers will love them, and the publishers will see to it that their editors never print anything that might upset Sugar Daddy. That's all I'm saying." 
"Thanks for the warning." (124-5)

Reeve's nickname, "the Philosopher":
He could feel defences inside him, barricades he'd hastily erected. They tottered for a moment, but held. He thought of Bakunin and Wagner again, side by side on the barricades of Dresden. The anarchist Bakunin, and Wagner – the friend of Nietzsche. Nietzsche: the self-proclaimed "first amoralist." When necessary, when events dictated, they had fought alongside one another. The anarchists would call that proof of the theory of mutual aid. They would say it repudiated Nietzsche's own theory, that the will to power was everything. Opposites reconciled, yes, but momentarily. (302)

Discoveries to haunt him:
That evening he ate at a roadside diner, his waitress not believing him when he asked for soup, a salad and some orange juice. 
"That all you want, sweetheart?" 
"That's all." 
Even then, he wondered about additives in the juice, chemicals in the soup stock, residues in the salad vegetables. He wondered if he'd ever enjoy a meal again. (326-7)

Peter C. Newman. Hostages to Fortune, The United Empire Loyalists and the Making of Canada. Toronto: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016.
In the panoply of books on the United Empire Loyalists, one might say Newman's contribution is akin to a Historica Canada Heritage Minute. Covering ground familiar to Loyalist descendants, the veteran storyteller hangs his centrepiece on the extended Jarvis family of Connecticut, New Brunswick, and Upper Canada. Peter C. Newman is not an academic historian, he is a "popular" historian. His treatments of history are frequently infused with dramatic and verbose flourishes; this one lacks the footnote references of a more academic historian, relying largely on other authors as sources. Yet he succeeds again, in my opinion ... in a lightweight way.

How will Loyalist family researchers view his new book? Newman includes little on Aboriginal resettlement apart from the oft-told Brant family references. And curiously, in a very large bibliography, how could merely one of Gavin Watt's books be present? Newman is successful because as a good storyteller he knows how to stir sentiment and appreciation for his subject. He gets the job done, the tale told, in an easily digestible manner to capture popular imagination.

A few one-liners:
As a young man of nineteen in1775, all Stephen Jarvis desired was to marry his love, the tempting, tempestuous Amelia. (13)
The Loyalists meshed British traditions with American republicanism and were forced to live with this unholy contradiction between authority and liberty wherever they settled. (18)
Against all odds, the lacklustre American army eventually turned itself into a stormy river of determined men―proving that fighting for a cause, rather than defending the rights of an aristocracy, will always win the day. (69)
Having been evicted by political dictate from a society in ascendancy where they had enjoyed a certain standing, they now found themselves pushed to the margins, relegated to the vagrant status of refugees. (173)

Newman's take:
The firestorm of change ignited by the Revolutionary War was profound and unnatural. There was no middle ground. Either you were a daring revolutionary thug or a gutless bottle-washer for the foppish King of England. Both caricatures were accurate. (41)

And what does this really mean?
Canadians, then as now, were marked by an ability to endure―to survive a lousy climate and worse politicians. That ability to hang on with minimum complaints has always been our burden. Concentrating too much on survival too often deterred the application of imagination and creativity. It robbed the national will of following those intuitive leaps that allow individuals to reach for originality that creates a buzz. (172)

Joseph O'Neill. The Dog. USA: Pantheon Books/Random House, 2014.
An odd book: semi-existential crisis of an unnamed narrator who doesn't like his given name and goes by "X" among friends and colleagues. The man flees a claustrophobic relationship with Jenn in New York to take an opportunistic job in Dubai―a city always under construction. In between vignettes of daily managing the wealthy Batros family conglomerate, he ruminates on the downward spiral of his life with Jenn. In fact he habitually over-thinks much of the trivial minutiae of his life in streams of verbal diarrhea. Sometimes it's amusing; sometimes it's boring. No mystery here, really. The disappearance of a fellow scuba diver merely serves to broaden an outsider's paranoia in a restrictive world. This all takes place within the very recent past.

Borrowing the book was aimed at seeing a different viewpoint of living abroad. Ex-pat life in Dubai is predictably close-quarters and rather luxurious for the professional class. The only other ex-pat class is the huge pool of third world-imported manual and domestic labour, segregated and indigently paid. At times cynical or suspicious in his artificial surroundings, "X" veers from one tangent to another trying to be fair in his dealings. Who knows how accurate his approaching fate is? The book has its charms; among them, O'Neill is the winner of the longest sentence competition time and again (see examples below).

Words: timeous = timely. oneiric = dream-like

I had very few lamps in my luxury rental and very few items of furniture, and what with the long shadows and the darkness it was as if I had contrived to place us in one of those grim, I want to say Swedish, movies my poor parents often co-watched, duplicating in the arrangement of their respective chairs the arrangement of silence, gloom, and human separateness offered by the television. (23)
Normally I'm tolerant of my lot, but sometimes I am gloomy and cannot bear it and I question the rationality and desirability of personally sticking around for a further (all things being equal) three or four decades, and I find it calming that I have no dependents of any kind and am always at liberty to hang myself. (82)
They're a family of messenger shooters and cat kickers, the Batroses. (148)

Dubai vs. Mother Earth:
The city could not have more resembled a fata morgana―and that was the whole idea. If I might psychologize, the reliance on the mirage/wonder equation, which of course has an etymological basis, is not just a marketing ploy; it is a secret revenge on the mirage itself, and only one facet of the Dubaian counterattack on the natural. The crimes of nature against man, in this part of the world, are not restricted to the immemorial mockery of the visual sense. The slightest effort of reflection must yield an awareness of the suffering and lowliness that these barren and desolate sands have without cease inflicted on their human inhabitants, and it cannot be a surprise, now that the shoe is on the other foot, that the transformation of this place is characterized by attempts at domination directed not only against the heat and dust, but as is evident from the natives' somewhat irrational hostility to solar energy and their unusual dedication to the artificial settlement of marine areas, against the very sun and the very sea. This is what happens when you fuck with people for a long time. They fuck with you back. (77-8)

Typical X reactions:
"A man fell down from the building into the water," Ali explains. 
"What?" I say. "Fell down? When?" 
"Before I arrived. Maybe half an hour before. They were getting him out of the water." 
"What do you mean, getting him out? He died?" 
"I believe he was dead," Ali reports. He says, "He jumped. It happens a lot. Every week it happens. Every week, always one or two of the men jump from the buildings." 
I saw the jumper from my apartment. The dropping thing I saw out of the corner of my eye at lunchtime―that was the jumper. Or was not. I did not really catch sight of that which was dropping. I glimpsed, I should say I think I glimpsed, a shadow-like movement, and whatever it was was gone as soon as I turned to look. It could have been anything. It could have been a bird; it could have been something inanimate. That cannot be ruled out. Nor can it be ruled out that it was nothing. Nothing can be ruled out. (147)

Jenn's meltdown:
Later still, in tears, she said, "You can't do this to me. I want a baby―you give me a baby! You owe me. You owe me my baby!" At some other point she said, "You can't back out now. It's not right. What am I supposed to do? Start dating? Find someone else? I'm thirty-five years old!" She made further statements, including the statement that I was the murderer of our marriage. She said, "OK, look, just give me the sperm. I'll have the baby myself. I'll take care of the baby. I don't need you. I can do this. I'm strong." And, "I'm going to be a laughingstock." And, "You wait until I'm having fertility treatment, and then you quit? Oh, boy. It's like you've done this on purpose. Is that it? I'm right, aren't I? You've done this on purpose." And, "My God. You're a monster. A monster. A narcissistic psychopath. My God. That's it. That explains everything." (167-8)

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