Sunday, October 13, 2013

Another good bit from John Lawton

John Lawton is so good that I don't want to stop reading his novels long enough to take notes. That makes blog posts a nuisance, but I have found one bit from his debut novel, Black Out, that I think encapsulates some of what makes him special:
"The warden looked from Troy's face to the card and back again. 
"`When I was your age I was in the trenches.' 
"Troy looked into the man's face. He was almost entirely in shadow, but his age seemed clear enough; the clipped mustache, the received pronunciation, the creaking joints all bespoke a man in his fifties — a generation Troy had come to loathe, with their constant justification of what they had done in the war, their jingoistic fervor that their sons should also risk their lives in another German war — a generation of drawing-room drones, League of Nations naïves, chicken-farming chunterers. Troy had long ago ceased to regard the ARP and the Home Guard as anything but a patriotic nuisance."
That passage tells us something about Lawton's series protagonist, Frederick Troy. It gives us, in the person of the officious civil defense worker, a memorable human portrait. It gives a vivid, small-scale picture of life during wartime (London, 1944), and, as Lawton often does, the small-scale anecdote expands into a barbed comment on English character and manners.

As a bonus, we North American readers may learn a bit of English slang and social history from the passage. ARP stands for Air Raid Precautions, a British civil defense organization. A chunterer is someone who grumbles and scolds, and I say it's a fine word.
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John Lawton was part of my "World War II and Sons" panel at Bouchercon 2013.  

© Peter Rozovsky 2013

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11 Comments:

Blogger seana graham said...

Chunterer--nice. I have this book here somewhere--I'll have to endeavor to get to it sometime soon.

October 13, 2013  
Blogger Photographe à Dublin said...

I can't remember if I ever mentioned a book you might like by Andrew McGahan, "The White Earth". Set in Australia, it is very well written and I found it surprisingly engaging.

"http://australianplays.org/script/PL-51"

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Howard Sherman said...

As a fan of historical fiction and all things British this book has got to go on my TBR list. Oh and I'm a WW II junkie besides. A trifecta you might say!

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I think you'd have a field day with Lawton.

I am a semi-chunterer, I suppose. I grumble, but I am less inclined to scold. Such word probably finds its way into writing more often than into speech, since a chunterer would not likely be inclined to acknowledge him or herself as such, and anyone complaining about the countering if another might lay him or herself open to the charge of chuntering.

Have you read Lawton? He is one of the best, able to keep a story going while at the same time engaging in leisurely pauses for decryption and observation. It's a kind of magic.

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

P à D, that link includes quite a description of The White Earth. Did something in my discussion of Lawton call that book to mind, or are you just engaging in the joyous task of spreading the news about a good book?

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Howard, you have to read Lawton, then. His observations about English character are among the sharpest you will read anywhere. Try the internment scene in Second Violin for my favorite example.

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

My reason for posting a book review was simply to express gratitude for all the helpful posts you put up to guide our reading. I've been thinking about reading more fiction recently, but never seem to get round to it.

I know it was a bit off the point, but finding one of your posts about Australian writing and commenting there would have seemed like hard work.

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

Now that I think further about it, it is possible that "chunter" somehow got enmeshed with "chunder" in my brain. The latter, in Strine, means to throw up.

"http://www.australianhistory.org/australian-slang-atod"

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Many thanks. Off-the-point posts are welcome here, especially since, as your follow-up indicated, they often turn out not to be off the point at all.

"Chunder" opens up delicious opportunities for word play: Rolling chunder and chunder road, to name two.

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

"John Lawton is so good that I don't want to stop reading his novels long enough to take notes."

And that is precisely why I write least about the books I love most. That, and I always feel unworthy.

October 14, 2013  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If the book is good enough, it can wash that unworthiness away in a wave of good feeling that one can exist in a world that includes such a book.

October 14, 2013  

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