The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman – Louis de Bernières

The Troublesome Offspring Of Cardinal Guzman - Louis de Bernieres

The Troublesome Offspring Of Cardinal Guzman – Louis de Bernières

Like the previous two books in this trilogy, most of the action here is set in Cochadebajo de los Gatos and concerns the affectionately portrayed locals.  Whereas the first book (The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts) is concerned primarily with politics and the second (Senor Vivo And The Coca Lord) is centred around the drugs trade, this final instalment in the trilogy focuses on religion.

Following on from the fame of Dionisio in Senor Vivo And the Coca Lord, the Catholic Church and the Cardinal in particular decide they need to root out the heretics and begin a new Inquisition, with Cochadebajo as their ultimate target.  Perhaps this is a backlash to the unstable society or, more likely, it is prompted by Cardinal Guzman’s own guilt.

Guzman isn’t a bad man, but he isn’t a chaste man either.  He has a very loyal and affectionate maid and a surprisingly tender relationship with their illegitimate son, Cristobal.  Guzman is well aware of his hypocrisy, in having this child and his guilt manifests itself physically, causing him great pain, illness and hallucinations.

Guzman is colourful creation, but so are all the characters here.  As a book it can be read by itself, but is much better read as part of the trilogy, favourite characters return and more are introduced as the sub-plots weave themselves through the main narrative.  Following on from the rest of the South American trilogy, there is a lot of magical realism throughout, as well as romance, violence and humour.

Out of all three, this is probably my least favourite book, but that’s not to say I don’t like it, rather that the other two were just stronger, more original and held my interest slightly better.  I still thoroughly enjoyed this though and was sorry the trilogy had to come to an end.  If, like most people I’ve spoken to, you’ve come to de Bernières through Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, then this trilogy will be quite a surprise to you.  It’s still clearly de Bernières, with his wonderful character creations and vivid descriptions of war in one paragraph, romance in the next, but this trilogy is more comedic, perhaps more cartoony if one was being hyper-critical, but equally as entertaining and enthralling.

Sample text:

“His Eminence looked at the desk in his room and saw that it had become a rotten coffin through whose distorted boards there sprouted verminous cascades of ancient hair that waved like the tentacles of an anemone. There was no doubt that the grey wisps were growing apace and were winding about the furniture. A hank of it curled about his ankle and began to constrict it like a boa. He shouted, pulling his leg away, but the force reduced the casket to dust, and on the floor where his desk had been, there was now a cadaver watching him. The skin was shrunk over the bones like an Indian mummy, the hair was growing with the speed of a stream, and the amber teeth of the mouth smiled at him with contemptuous inanity.”

Further Reading:

If you like this author you might like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

If you like the colourful characters you might like The Book With No Name

If you like the theme of illegitimate children within the Church you might like The Scarlet Letter


The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

“...if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom...”

“…if truth were everywhere to be shown, a scarlet letter would blaze forth on many a bosom…”

Written in 1850 but set in 1642, The Scarlet Letter is the story of Hester Prynne, a single mother in puritanical Boston.  Hester was married, but her husband is presumed dead, missing at sea on his voyage over to the USA and so, when she has a child out of wedlock it’s too much for the puritans to accept.  She is punished publicly, forced to stand on public display for several hours and then imprisoned.  Furthermore, for the rest of her life she must wear a red letter A on all her clothes (A for Adulterer).

Whilst on public display Hester spots her ‘dead’ husband in the crowd.  He enquires what her crime is, and, unable to bear the shame, he assumes a new identity, Roger Chillingworth.  Chillingworth poses as a physician and, together with Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, visits Hester in prison in order to question her about the child’s father.  Hester refuses to speak.  In private, Chillingworth then tells her that if she ever reveals his true identity he will find and kill the child’s father. SO, WHO’S THE DADDY?

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale - classic dystopian sci-fi.

The Handmaid’s Tale – classic dystopian sci-fi.

What makes this different from other dystopian novels I’ve read is that it’s protagonist is female.  Set in the near future, a totalitarian Christian government is in power meaning women have no rights anymore.  Our narrator Offred (literally Of Fred) is kept as a handmaid, which mean basically her womb is used to breed.  Her master Fred is married, but his wife is sterile, as are a huge chunk of the population.  This is due to STDs and pollution and is the reason handmaids are kept.  Fred is only supposed to have sex with Offred whilst his wife is present and there is no affection or relationship between them, Offred is a commodity. NICE PEOPLE, EH?

The Book With No Name – Anonymous

The Book With No Name - A Novel (Probably)

The Book With No Name – A Novel (Probably)

Once again, this is a book I bought purely because of the cover.  It intrigued me, the only thing written as the blurb on the back said that anyone who read this book ended up being killed.  Perhaps it’s morbid fascination, but I decided to give it a go.  I’m still here, by the way, so don’t be put off by the death threat!

Ok, so where on earth do I begin explaining the story? *takes deep breath…

It’s set in Santa Mondega – a town populated by gangsters, low-lifes and hit-men.  and the action begins in a bar with a mass shooting by The Bourbon Kid.  He kills everyone except the bartender and a girl, who survives her shooting but in left in a 5 year coma.  A local officer is sent in to investigate and it soon becomes apparent that the root of all the evils in the town in a mysterious stone called The Eye Of The Moon – a stone which has the power to stop the moon in it’s path, thus plunging the world into eternal darkness, creating an ideal world for the undead. SO IT’S ABOUT VAMPIRES THEN?

A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

“Never confuse faith, or belief—of any kind—with something even remotely intellectual.”

Poor little Owen.  If you read this book you’ll know what I mean.  Offbeat and tender, this is the story of Owen Meany and his best friend, the narrator, John Wheelwright.  Owen is a peculiar child, he’s undersized with a squeaky voice and a strange aura about him.  Owen tries hard to fit in, yet he never quite can.

The story is told in two time frames, the first follows John as an adult in self imposed exile in Canada and bookends the second, far more intriguing story, which follows John and Owen as kids in small town New Hampshire.  John is middle class, kind of wimpy, unambitious and pre-occupied with the identity of his errant father.  Owen is working class, very intelligent and determined.  Owen is from a stable family background, but has a curious relationship with his parents, both of whom seems afraid of him. TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS FREAKY KID

The Master And Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

Good cat *strokes his back warily*

Good cat *strokes back warily*

I wanted so much to love this book.  On paper, it should really appeal to me, but something just didn’t click.  I think, as is my problem with a lot of Russian literature, it was just too long.  It feels as if it’s actually two separate books in one.

The first half I loved. It concerns Professor Woland (Satan), a mysterious ‘magician’ who appears on the streets of Moscow alongside his retinue including Koroviev – his grotesque valet and Behemoth – his gun-toting talking cat amongst others.  SO WHAT DOES THIS MOTLEY CREW GET UP TO?

The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

Th Da Vinci Code - I expected to hate it - I actually rather enjoyed it.

The Da Vinci Code – I expected to hate it – I actually rather enjoyed it.

This is one of those books that was so over-hyped at the time of its release, I felt compelled to avoid reading it, thinking it would be too ‘trendy’ and I’d just be jumping on the bandwagon.  However, over the last few years, I’ve been trying to make my way through the BBC Big Read List from 2010 and The Da Vinci Code is on there.  No big deal, there’s plenty of other books on there I’ll never read. But then a friend told me that he’d discovered a love of reading thanks to The Da Vinci Code and I thought what the hell, maybe there’s some merit to it after all.

As it turns out, I quite liked it.  Sure it’s controversial in its subject matter and I can’t really be bothered debating that here.  Conspiracy theories have been rife for the last 2,000 years so I don’t think I’m going to solve anything on this blog.  (For those of you who don’t know – as I didn’t – the conspiracy concerns the nature of the Holy Grail, Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, whether or not they were married, had a kid and Jesus, was in fact a normal bloke.)

It begins with the murder of Jacques Sauniere by an albino monk.  Who this monk is and who he works for is part of the mystery of the book.  What begins the hunt for the grail is the murder scene, with Sauniere being found in the pose of Da Vinci’s ‘Vitruvian Man’ with a cryptic code by his body.  An expert cryptologist, Sophie Neveu is called in, along with Robert Langdon, an academic symbologist(?) with whom Sauniere had scheduled a meeting.  From here, the mystery unfolds, keeping the reader guessing right until the end.

It’s written in a pulp fiction style, reminiscent of earlier detective novels, which in some parts works really well.  In other parts, it feels as if facts and historical information are clumsily shoe-horned into the story with little relevance.  It’s clear that Brown has researched this topic thoroughly, yet lots of his ‘facts’ are apparently wrong. Perhaps because of the religious themes in this book, this somehow seems to matter, but in reality, this is a work of fiction and should be taken as just that – a story.  And as a story I found it enjoyable, well constructed and rather clever.

Sample Text:

“Every faith in the world is based on fabrication… Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school… Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical.”

Further Reading:

If you like a contemporary mystery story you might like The Shadow Of The Wind

If you like pulp fiction literature you might like The Maltese Falcon

If you like the religious element you might like A Prayer For Owen Meany