Friday, December 09, 2011

Eoin McNamee and Theodor Mommsen

I can't tell you how good it is to be back in Philadelphia. But I can tell you that the arrival of a package of four novels by Eoin McNamee that I'd ordered helped mitigate the despondence.

The four books are Resurrection Man, The Blue Tango, The Ultras, and Orchid Blue, and the only trouble I had was deciding which to read first. Each looks to be beautifully written, putting me right into the heads of characters living through tense circumstances. At least one blurber called McNamee's writing dreamlike, and the adjective makes sense. His descriptions are somehow immediate and detached at the same time.

I'm just a few pages into The Ultras, my first McNamee novel, and I have a feeling he may be about the best of the highly talented group that has made Northern Ireland home of some of the world's best crime writing.
***
On the non-crime side, having just returned from Portugal and long having been awed by impressive Roman remains from Israel to Iberia and from Tunisia to Fishbourne, I dug out The Provinces of the Roman Empire from Caesar to Diocletian (1885) by Theodor Mommsen (right) and read the chapter on Spain and Portugal.

Mommsen's outlook is surprisingly fresh for a nineteenth-century author, giving due credit to the outskirts of the Roman Empire for cultural, political, and social achievements without, however, slipping into cultural relativism or sentimental boosting of the periphery over the center.

Here's a bit from the book's introduction:
"It is in the agricultural towns of Africa, in the homes of the vine-dressers of the Moselle, in the flourishing townships of the Lycian mountains and on the margin of the Syrian desert that the work of the imperial period is to be found."
In the meat of the book, Mommsen forswears rhetorical sweep and gets down to the impressive work of explaining the whats and, in detail, the hows of one of history's most awesome achievements.
© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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4 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Hmm, two things to add to my reading list.

December 10, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mommsen won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1903, an odd thing for a historian to do.

December 10, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Another new writer to sink our teeth into...

19th century writers are often very modern and lively with an engaging style. In fact, many novelists these days can be quite old fashioned and staid in comparison.

December 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Mommsen's attitude toward the provinces seemed modern even more than his literary style. A quick glance at the first chapter of his History of Rome, of which the book on the provinces was a part but which was written thirty years earlier, suggested to me that his style may have grown closer over the years to what we regard as fresh.

December 13, 2011  

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