Monday, 30 March 2020

No Time for Complacency

No Time for Complacency

Martin Luther King, in one of his speeches states; 'This is no time for apathy or complacency'.  I believe this may be the origin of the currently in favour phrase 'This is no time for complacency'.

 Our current political and medical experts leaders have repeated this phrase, along with the constantly recurring advice to stay at home in this unprecedented Coronovirus pandemic.

 It is not so commonly paired with apathy, perhaps because accusing people of complacency is less inflammatory than describing them as apathetic. It is a phrase that appears to add gravitas to rhetoric with undertones of evangelism.

But what does complacency actually mean?  Various dictionaries describe it as ' a feeling of smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements', ' a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, especially when coupled with an unawareness of danger, trouble or controversy',' a feeling of  being satisfied with how things are and not wanting to try to make them better'. In our present culture, it also seems to signify an unwillingness to become involved in political opinion.

We are exhorted to not be complacent about a multitude of topics. In the past few years alone, ‘there is no time for complacency’ about equality ,drugs used in competitive sport, trade developments in the EU, varroa treatment of bee populations, the medicalisation of e-cigs and cannabis and last but not least, climate change. 

As if all that were not enough, turn on the television over the Christmas period especially and you are bombarded with heart tugging advertisements to save the tiger, whale, dolphins, donkeys and pets of all types. Then there are the starving children throughout the world, water contamination, deaf/mute children, those who are alone at Christmas, the homeless, refugees, war torn devastation and other distressing human conditions to consider. 

To take into consideration all these demands for our attention places an impossible burden on the average person. In order to avoid complacency, we must also factor in present dangers and future risks. We must consider the heightened security status of the world today, be aware of terrorist threats, consider health and safety issues in the workplace, and remain vigilant for any abnormal or threatening behaviour in those around us. And now the present threat of the Coronavirus pandemic overwhelms us all.

Vladimir Nabokov stated: 'Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective; it has to be shattered before being ascertained’. It is true that we do not set out to become complacent. When accused of complacency we can either acknowledge that it might be true, or emphatically deny it (thus proving our complacency). We must all be complacent to a degree, as it is surely impossible to achieve a status of self-satisfaction without ignoring some aspects of concern about humanity and the environment. So is the theory proposed by Robert Bruce Raup in 1925 (then Professor in the Philosophy of Education at Columbia University) in his publication entitled 'Complacency: the Foundation of Human Behaviour', a continuing reality in today's society?

The NHS has introduced multitudes of protocols and performance management targets. Undoubtedly some areas of poor performance have improved as a result, but the end point becomes satisfaction at achieving a target without looking at potential further improvements. A 'good enough' culture is now established. This, in my opinion, simply affirms a base line of complacency.

Is it possible to exclude complacency from our lives? I very much doubt it. We almost need it as a fallback option when life gets too tough and the present dangers mushroom around us. A degree of self satisfaction is mandatory in order to experience contentment, and to be constantly battling with inadequacy, human distress, and environmental destruction creates paranoia and fearfulness. 

I suggest that, occasionally, we need to find time for complacency: a short relief from the exigencies of this media heavy environment we live in, a place of  simplification, a brief  but welcome comfort zone before taking on the world again. So, use your complacency with care. A little in times of mental distress goes a long way. For the rest of the time, vigilance and self-distancing will work well along with frequent hand washing.  

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Book Review Independent People

Independent people by Halldor Laxness

This Icelandic novel in translation tells the story of Bjartur and his struggles to survive as a crofter in a hostile environment. Fiercely independent, he refuses help and overcomes numerous setbacks to maintain his status after living many years in servitude.
The landscape is bleak and there is a similarly bleak emotional response from the characters in this story. Ironically the First World War is greeted with enthusiasm, because for the first time, Icelandic products sell for inflated prices and provide a unique opportunity for the poverty stricken crofters to better themselves.
Sheep feature in abundance, both in good health or otherwise, and the conversation of the crofters is centred largely on their flocks. Legends and sagas are always present in the background influencing the choices  made by the crofters, and the ability to compose and recite poetry is a skill which is greatly admired.
The sparsity of good food, lack of opportunities for education, disease and premature death, and the interminable heavy work load drive this novel and the reader cannot help being moved by the desperate state of these people.
Though I found the novel hard going at times, it is peppered with beautiful passages of description which lift the reader out of the gloom.
I would certainly recommend this to anyone interested in historic Iceland . I have a much greater understanding of the stoicism of these people as a result of reading this novel.
The author won the Nobel Prize for Literature for this work in 1955 and he is one of Iceland’s most revered authors. He died in 1998.

Monday, 10 February 2020

The Visible World. Book review

Book Review
The Visible World by Mark Slouka

This book, written in two quite distinct parts, documents a child’s immigrant life in New York in the first section, and imagines his mother’s wartime life in the second.

 I particularly enjoyed the childhood memoir in which there were memorable descriptive passages.
‘She had calves as big and smooth as bowling pins, and she always sat on the sofa with her legs to one side as if glued at the knees, and smelled sweet and sad, like a dusty pastry.’
‘He had a square block of a head silvered by stubble and ears like miniature lettuces’.

The author has a masterly way with words and a melodic style.

The second part I found more problematic. A son writing about his mother’s sexual encounters did not sit easy with me, though I fully understand his need to try to find the cause of her deep unhappiness with life. Despite these misgivings, my interest was held to the end.

I think the most fascinating aspect of this book is the description of the life and experiences of the Czech refugees in New York in the late 1940’s. The author skillfully draws us into his childhood. We find ourselves in a somewhat alien environment which is of course normality for the child.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Book Review. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

Book Review

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

by Liz Jensen

This is a strange and intriguing book which explores the paranormal and toxic relationships. Set in France, the story revolves around an extraordinary child who appears to be extremely accident prone. At first, the reader believes that his mother is in a high state of anxiety due to the constant struggle of trying to keep her child safe. Little Louis is impulsive and angry, a misfit in society, unlikeable and unsettling. 

‘I’m not most kids, I’m Louis Drax. Stuff happens to me that shouldn’t happen, like going on a picnic where you drown.’

The opening of the book is compelling and shocking. The reader is hooked from the very first sentences.

This is a mystery, a dark crime novel and a supernatural story. 

The characters are well delineated. The setting in France is believable, though I was uncertain of the era. At times it felt like it was set in the1950’s but the medical science suggested later.

I did not like the characters much, but they intrigued me and the story was gripping.

I would advise readers to approach this book with caution if you have an accident-prone child.

A film has been made of this novel in 2016 which I cannot comment on as I have not seen it.


Sunday, 13 October 2019

Book Review The Missing Sister

Book Review

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies

This is the story of Belle Hatton who travelled to Rangoon in the 1930s to work as a nightclub singer. She was born and lived the first years of her life in this city, and was drawn to go back to revisit a childhood she barely remembered. After her father’s death, she discovered papers relating to a missing child. To her horror and consternation, Belle realised that the child was her younger sister, who she had known nothing about. She determines to discover the truth.

The author’s descriptive narrative leads the reader through the colourful and exciting times of colonial Burma. The authenticity of the place and the complexity of society in those times before the Second World War are enthralling.   The heroine, a feisty young woman, pursues her investigation into the missing child, teaming up with an American journalist with whom she becomes romantically involved. The mystery leads her into dangerous situations and proceeds at a pace which captivates the reader up until the surprising and satisfying ending.

This book paints a vivid picture of a society that is long gone and weaves a romantic and thrilling element through it. The story is somewhat contrived but that does not take away from the readability and flow of the narrative. It is a book that provides a great escape from urban normality, researched in impeccable detail, grounding the reader into a world of glamour and intrigue.

This is the first book by Dinah Jeffries that I have read and I would certainly be interested in delving into her other novels. She will join the list of authors whose works I would be happy to take away on holiday. This is a book to relax with and enjoy and be transported back to a different lifestyle and era. I have no hesitation in recommending it. 

Friday, 27 September 2019

Book Review Awakening

Book review

Awakening by David Munro

This book is the third in a series of time-traveling novels. The concept of a magical mirror that can transport a person to another time zone is almost familiar and definitely not unique. It provides a reliable physical point of contact between the different time eras.

Much of the story is related through conversation. Descriptive passages are short and the social context of the era in question is identified by discussion between characters about music, news, and football, for example. At times, this device appears stilted and the conversation does not flow authentically.

The plot meanders somewhat and the characterization is superficial.  The synopsis suggests an interesting storyline, but the novel fails to deliver its potential to the reader. There are shifts in tense and repetitive passages. Many of the characters appear to have a cough and when in an emotional situation develop raspy voices. There is much pondering throughout the book and clumsy sentence construction.

Sadly, I found many instances of grammatical and contextual errors that should have been picked up in the editing process.

For example;

‘She took position in front of a board, which encompassed her body.’

‘This vibrant individual has a stylish red top and tight black trousers, therefore, pleasing on the eye.’

‘I spotted and empty chair, where a woman wearing a nurse’s uniform underneath a jacket sat.’

‘A door banged to and fro, therefore, I hadn’t secured it’.

‘Her blond hair in a ponytail added to a pleasant appearance.’

‘Where to begin the story still ponders, however, I’ve gone for an ideal location’.

David Munro spoke eloquently about his book in a talk I attended. I looked forward to reading it and have been greatly disappointed. During his talk, he mentioned that he watched films and seldom read books. It is clear from his writing that he is greatly influenced by screen drama and unfortunately his lack of literary awareness impacts negatively on his novel.

I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this. 

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