I was pleased when I realised that I could read The Honourable Schoolboy by John le Carre for The 1977 Club as we have all of his books in the overflow bookcases in the garage. Jack read them at that time. But I have only read A Small Town in Germany by le Carre previously. I was even happier when it dawned on me that this book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, I have a bit of a personal project going on to read as many as those prize winners as I can get a hold of.
I loved this book although for me it was essential that I had the time to read it over quite a short period of time, it’s not a 30 pages at bedtime before you fall asleep sort of book. Also as I was reading it 41 years after it was published it has a distinct feeling of nostalgia and historical fiction now.
It begins with the British secret service (the Circus) being under a cloud as far as the American ‘Cousins’ are concerned as Bill Haydon has not long been unmasked by George Smiley as a spy for Russia, recruited when he was a student at Oxford 30 years previously. Haydon had so much influence he had been able to have good members of staff pensioned off or elbowed out, leaving a very much weakened Circus. George Smiley is in charge of putting together a team to investigate money laundering in Hong Kong which was still a British Crown Colony at that time. He manages to bring back some of those that Haydon had ousted. The investigations lead from Hong Kong to Cambodia and Thailand and drug smuggling comes into it too.
That’s all I’m going to say about the story, it’s quite convoluted as you would expect of a spy story, but I really enjoyed this one and the fact that I haven’t read any of the other Smiley books which were written before this one wasn’t a problem at all, although I had watched them on TV years ago. I must say that I think Alec Guinness was the perfect Smiley.
I’m doing quite well with my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list this year although I had meant to do a bit of a half-way roundup before now. I have veered slightly from the list for various reasons, but I’m still hopeful of finding my copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet before September. I did a fatal tidy up before some visitors arrived and now that book is lost in the stacks which is very annoying as before that I knew exactly where it was – on the floor!
Claudius the God by Robert Graves was first published in 1934 and is of course the sequel to I,Claudius. You can read what I thought about that one here.
I think inevitably Claudius the God wasn’t as gripping a read as I, Claudius probably because that one featured so many power crazy emperors, executions, murders and poisonings were constants so it was all go.
The story is of course being told by Claudius and when he reluctantly dons the purple robes of emperor (he wanted to bring back the Roman republic) he tries to put the country on an even keel by melting down all the gold statues that Caligula had had made when he was completely mad. Claudius is very popular amongst soldiers and ordinary people, but the senators aren’t so keen on him and a few of them had already tried to grab power before the army declared him emperor.
This book is Claudius’ account of what he did and why he did it. In some cases he behaved just as badly as previous emperors although he acknowledged his mistakes, the end result was still miscarriages of justice. The worst mistake he made though was to trust his wife Messalina. Despite the fact that he had seen how his grandmother Livia had abused the power given to her by her husband Emperor Augustus, Claudius gave Messalina just as much power as he had, giving her a duplicate of his seal so she could and did do whatever she wanted. As she was just as evil as Livia, she caused mayhem but poor Claudius had no idea of her real character at all.
Herod Agrippa features quite a lot and of course it was Claudius who invaded Britain so that is very interesting although I have no idea how true that account is. Did they use elephants and camels in the invasion terrifying the British who had never seen such animals before?
It seems that Claudius was wise in many ways, or maybe it was just that he was well read and ‘stood on the shoulders of giants’. But in many ways he was completely naive.
You will probably notice that my copy of this book is the 1977 tie in to the BBC dramatisation of I, Claudius. Shockingly it has taken me 40 years to get around to reading it! The book was originally published in 1934.
I really enjoyed reading I, Claudius although I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it so much if I hadn’t watched the BBC drama – twice over the years – as there are so many characters thrown at you. Mind you often they didn’t hang around for very long as so many people were poisoned or otherwise given the chop.
It’s a very readable history of Rome, up to A.D. 41 supposedly written by Claudius, a disabled, stammering, twitching grandson of Augustus who was despised by his entire family, but inside his less than perfect body there was a clever and quick witted brain which helped him to survive when all the rest were being murdered or banished to tiny islands.
This book won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize as did the sequel Claudius the God which was published in the same year. Possibly they were originally published in one volume.
If you want a more in depth review of this book then hop over to She Reads Novels and Helen’s review of I, Claudius.
This is one of my 20 Books of Summer.
For once I think that the TV programme was just as good if not better than the book, Derek Jacobi was brilliant as Claudius and John Hurt as Caligula was unforgettable. Sadly he died earlier this year. Have a look at this excerpt where Caligula who has decided he is the god Jove has taken on his enemy Neptune.
1. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
5. Montaigne Essays
6. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
7. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
9. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting
10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
11. I, Claudius – Claudius, the God by Robert Graves
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Have you read any of these ones? I’ve had most of these book waiting in a queue to be read for years now and this will encourage me to get around to them at last!