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Snapshots: Belgium (July 2018)

Featuring footage from a lovely, and very moving, daytrip to Ypres.

Music: ’28’ by Wise Children

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Reading the World: Belgium

My Reading the World series brings us to the lovely country Belgium.  I first visited whilst still rather a small child, for the purposes of visiting Centre Parcs, and have been back many times since.  Despite this, whilst scouring my shelves, I realised that I haven’t actually read much fiction or non-fiction set there.  Despite this, I have four books to recommend to you, and will happily take any of your recommendations to the library catalogue with me!

1. Marcel by Erwin Mortier 9781782270188
‘The debut novel by the great Flemish writer Erwin Mortier, Marcel vividly describes the history of a family in a Flemish village, bowed by the weight of history. Written from the point of view of a ten-year-old boy, Marcel is a striking debut novel describing the vivid history of a family in a Flemish village. The mysterious death of Marcel, the family favourite, has always haunted the young boy. With the help of his schoolteacher, he starts to discover the secrets of Marcel’s ‘black’ past. The story of his death on the Eastern Front, fighting with the SS for the sake of Flanders, and the shame this brought upon his family gradually become clear. Erwin Mortier unravels this shameful family tale in wonderfully sensitive and evocative manner.’

2. The Book of Proper Names by Amelie Nothomb
‘From France’s ‘literary lioness’ (Elle), The Book of Proper Names is the story of the hapless orphan girl, Plectrude. Raised by her aunt, and unaware of the dark secret behind her past, she is a troubled but dreamy child who is both blessed and cursed by her intoxicating eyes. Discovered to have enormous gifts as a dancer, she is accepted at Paris’s most prestigious ballet school where she devotes herself to artistic perfection, until her body can take no more. In a brilliantly succinct story of haunted adolescence and lost mothers, Nothomb propels the narrative forward until Plectrude is forced to take command of her own fate.’

97803072682113. The Professor by Charlotte Bronte
The Professor is Charlotte Brontes first novel, in which she audaciously inhabits the voice and consciousness of a man, William Crimsworth. Like Jane Eyre he is parentless; like Lucy Snowe in Villette he leaves the certainties of England to forge a life in Brussels. But as a man, William has freedom of action, and as a writer Bronte is correspondingly liberated, exploring the relationship between power and sexual desire. William’s first person narration reveals his attraction to the dominating directress of the girls’ school where he teaches, played out in the school’s ‘secret garden’. Balanced against this is his more temperate relationship with one of his pupils, Frances Henri, in which mastery and submission interplay. The Professor was published only after Charlotte Bronte’s death; today it gives us a fascinating insight into the first stirrings of her supreme creative imagination.’

4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte
‘Based on Charlotte Bronte’s personal experience as a teacher in Brussels, Villette is a moving tale of repressed feelings and subjection to cruel circumstance and position, borne with heroic fortitude. Rising above the frustrations of confinement within a rigid social order, it is also the story of a woman’s right to love and be loved.’

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Flash Reviews: Non-Fiction (24th May 2014)

Millions Like Us: Women’s Lives in the Second World War by Virginia Nicholson **** (2011)

‘Millions Like Us’ by Virginia Nicholson (Penguin)

1. I adore history, particularly that which deals with women, and Nicholson has presented her information so well in this book.  She states that she ‘wanted to find out not only what the did in the war, but what the war did to them and how it changed their subsequent lives and relationships’.
2. Nicholson has focused upon a wealth of women from so many different walks of life, merging history with biography, and bringing some fascinating characters to the forefront of her work.  We meet, through her words, famous diarists like Nella Last and Mollie Panter-Downes, the privileged in society, and novelists such as Nina Bawden and Barbara Cartland.
3. The chronological structure which Nicholson has adopted works so well, as did the sectioning of information into short chapters, all of which dealt with a different element of wartime life for women – from rationing to conscription.

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In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, His Poem and The Poppy by Herwig Verleyen **** (1995)

‘In Flanders Fields’ by Herwig Verleyen (de Klaproos)

1. My Dad visited Ypres recently with my uncle, and purchased this lovely little book for me.  It was originally written in Flemish, and has been translated so carefully.
2. I am fascinated by John McCrae – he has been one of my favourite poets since I was about twelve – and I oddly knew very little about him.  Verleyen, as well as writing of his subject, sets out McCrae’s fascinating family history, and how the family came to settle in Canada, where John was born.
3. Verleyen writes with such clarity about McCrae’s use of poetry as an outlet for the horrors which he witnessed during the First World War, whilst he was stationed between Boezinge and Ypres.

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Spell It Out: The Singular Story of English Spelling by David Crystal **** (2013)

‘Spell It Out’ by David Crystal (Profile Books)

1. I have never read a David Crystal book in its entirety, but I have read many passages and partial essays of his as part of my English Language module at University.  I thought that it was high time to purchase one of his books at the start of the year, and couldn’t resist this lovely hardback edition.  As I am something of a Grammar Nazi (yes, I have been called this many a time), Spell It Out looked right up my street.
2. Crystal has set out to show the peculiarities of spelling in the English language, and has written about how each came about over time.  The structure which he has adopted is chronological, starting with the Anglo Saxon monks who tasked themselves with writing down the English language, and how the flaws in their system were rectified over time.
3. The whole is very succinctly and skilfully written, and Crystal is such an engaging author.  I presume that this book would make spelling of interest to even the most reluctant learners.

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