Friday, February 24, 2006

'Blood Royal' (Harold Robbins)

The premise seemed so bizarre that I couldn’t help myself: a novel, inspired by the tempestuous life of Princess Diana, that relates Di’s story verbatim (stair-case, bulimia, Camilla) and culminates in her shooting Prince Charles? Was this a joke?

Afraid not. Harold Robbins – deceased since 1997 – has collaborated post-humously with Junius Podrug to produce a quasi-true tale of love, infidelity and revenge. Their resulting Blood Royal is sleazy-cheese-meets-royal-bio-meets-legal-thriller, with lots of gratuitous sex.

But here’s a plot synopsis; you decide. The philandering Charles torments Diana until she can take no more. She kills him and, charged with murder, recruits Marlowe James: defense sensation, media firebrand, femme fatale. In the case of Regina v Princess of Wales, Marlowe brings her fail-safe ‘abuse defense’ into battle against the Crown.

Intriguing, yes, but I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to get all the way through it. So let me say this: If you enjoy Jackie Collins and you’re no purist, Blood Royal may just make you salivate.

'The Moonlit Cage' (Linda Holeman)

Chadari-draped Muslims are to current fiction what ornamental geishas were to 90s novels and, in a post-Taliban literary arena, Afghani is the flavour of the moment.

From The Bookseller of Kabul to The Kite Runner, readers are walking Kabul’s streets, exploring Jalalabad’s markets and climbing the Hindu Kush.

In The Moonlit Cage, Linda Holeman gives us Darya, a young Afghani. Too independent for her own good and too ‘wicked’ for her 1850s village, she is cursed by her father’s wife, shunned by her frightened community and locked into a fraudulent, brutal marriage.

But when Darya flees to Victorian London to save her own life, she finds it as unforgiving as the stark landscape of her origin: “I was overcome with deep, painful grief for all of us, for our women’s lives filled with…never-ending loss, a need to be loved and yet having it slide away.”

The Moonlit Cage is not unusual in a genre packed with similar plots, but it is richly textured, magnificently written and filled with imaginative characters. I’d even read it again.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

'Eats Shoots & Leaves' (Lynne Truss)

Lynne Truss’s Eats Shoots & Leaves has sold 3 million copies worldwide. And that’s just the hard-cover version! Which suggests that there are more punctuation sticklers out there than you’d think.

An unrepentant stickler myself, I shrieked when I spotted her new soft-cover version. It has a ‘Punctuation Repair Kit’ made up of bold black stickers: 24 commas, 4 full stops, and a glorious assortment of colons (normal and semi) and marks (exclamation and question).

Truss urges thus: “Sticklers unite, you have nothing to lose but your sense of proportion... Maybe we won’t change the world, but at least we’ll feel better. …at the same time, [don’t get] punched on the nose, or arrested for damage to private property.”

With delicious chapters including ‘The Seventh Sense’; ‘The Tractable Apostrophe’; ‘That’ll Do, Comma’; and ‘Cutting a Dash’, Truss continues (in this usefully handbag-sized edition) to elevate punctuation to the level it deserves: that of life or death. God bless her.