Eureka by Anthony Quinn – the summer of 1967 brought to vivid life

Eureka: Quinn, Anthony: 9781910702529: Books

Eureka by Anthony Quinn

It is the summer of 1967, and the sun is beating down on London, complete with the music of the Beatles and relationships being enjoyed to the full. This is the background of Quinn’s novel, overflowing with characters and in settings that are full of the sights, smalls and sounds of a time of change and challenge. Nat Fane, a screenwriter,  had wanted to be an actor, but discovered the thing that made him stand out from the crowd, would fund a glorious lifestyle and kept him in touch with the celebrities of the age is writing the screen versions of novels and stories.This novel is about a film being made of a story by Henry  James, and the challenge of making it relevant. As other people depend on Nat’s words, including young film maker Reiner Werther Kloss, a young actress in need of money and a start, an older actor scarred by experience and notoriety, and a host of others, Freya, an instinctive journalist collides with the project. Freya is a favourite character of Quinn’s, recurring over several of his novels, witnessing many things and wondering about more. 

This is a book which manages to breathe a sense of the time over every page, as social history and living people seem to collide. The large cast of people in this vibrant novel are brilliantly depicted, as much of the interest circulates around making a film, the script of which is threaded through the novel. As the focus flips from Nat and his unusual tastes, Billie and her sad relationship and the dubious film backer and his doubtful motives, this is a novel which moves through London and briefly in the sunlight of a location. From a seedy studio, through expensive restaurants to the streets of Germany, this is a novel which succeeds in being visual yet full of the sounds of a new era.   

The novel opens with the bored Nat getting frustrated about writing  a screenplay for “The Figure in the Carpet”, a report of which leaves his name out, and an unexciting meal in an expensive restaurant. He meets Billie Cantrip, RADA graduate and a young woman who will surprise him with her singular sensitivity. As she returns to her disappointing flat where her older partner is being dissatisfied about everything, she thinks about the lyrics of the new recording “Penny Lane”, which relates so strongly to everyday life. As other characters are introduced, there are connections to Nat, Billie and the reporter Freya. The latter thinks that there is more to the surprisingly young director of the film than is first apparent; she decides to find out more about his carefully contrived image.

There are some surprising things about this book – it is detailed about certain activities, it refers to past hurts and present dangers, it suggests secrets and lies. Some of the characters are given a backstory which if it is revealed is episodic. It has great energy and yet runs along smoothly, revealing hints about each of the main characters in various settings.It offers a glimpse of another time, a mystery and characters who seem to be of their time. I found it a very enjoyable read, with multi-dimensional characters who interact with the others in a very realistic way. I recommend it to anyone who admires good characterisation and novels set in this time of enthusiasms and change. 

Curtain Call – Anthony Quinn

This is a book for many people who are interested in the events and atmosphere of 1936. It also deals with theatre, critics and art. It is a thriller in an historical setting, with a murder mystery thrown in. So far, so reasonable.

But I think that this novel does more. It also deals with the bleak choices for lone women who need to support themselves. It also deals with the problems faced by men in different relationships and situations. There are so many dangers in this book beyond the obvious one of a murderer on the loose; to reputations, to careers and relationships. The characters are sympathetic, maddening and vulnerable, and for the most part, realistic. Yet this is not a huge book that takes weeks to read, it is a compact novel which moves at a swift pace.

I read and enjoyed Quinn’s earlier book, Half of the Human Race, which deals variously with suffragettes, cricket and the First World War. While I thought that it was a really good read, I got frustrated by the fact that Quinn had almost included three novels in one. Curtain Call is a far more cohesive book, where the five main characters inhabit a smaller world, where they meet and interact. Thus I think it is a better book, one that can be recommended to more readers than those willing and able to take on a big read as in Quinn’s earlier book.

Nina is one of the main characters in the novel, who witnesses a crime while she is in a hotel with Stephen, a married man.  The dilemma of what to do dominates the early part of the novel, while other characters emerge with less than positive motives. While the character of Jimmy is a great creation, I also felt strongly for Tom who struggles with life. There are characters who would exasperate in real life, but who are well drawn. It is difficult to enlarge on the plot, as this does novel does in part depend on suspense. It is not just a whodunnit, or even a whydunnit, but more of a discrimination of characters in situations.

This is not a self consciously literary novel, but nevertheless a very well written book. The paperback edition includes some interesting material for discussion and about the process of writing the novel, and points towards Quinn’s next book which takes one of the characters onwards. I think that the title Curtain Call works better than the alternative The Distinguished Thing as it covers the content well in spirit as well as in fact. It is more than a “poignant” read as described on the back cover; it feels more like a slice of life.

One of Many Books- Chadwick, Plaidy and the rest…

Back in my far off youth I could round up and read odd copies of Jean Plaidy’s novels on history. I worked my way through the children’s books, like the Young Elizabeth and the Young Mary (Queen of Scots). Her books also came in handy when I was doing A level history, as I read through various series relating to 1066 and all that.

Looking around bookshops, including the bargain and second hand variety, I noticed a lot of Elizabeth Chadwick novels. So yes, I acquired one or two and they became, in the words of the Stuck in a Book blog, HIU (Have It, Unread) to the extent that I was picking up duplicates – whoops! So I finally actually read The Leopard Unleashed by Elizabeth Chadwick

I can honestly say I enjoyed this book. It’s not great literature, it’s a work of fiction in many ways, and there are not tons of research to weigh it down. Which is why it is essentially an easy read. There are no big historical characters in evidence, though the warring factions of Stephen and Matilda are represented. This is a book based on a family connected with royalty. There is sex and violence, but in context. There are battle accounts, and tragedy, but it does imply truthfulness to the  time. The book is based on one family, related to royalty but still fighting for survival on the Welsh Marches. There is a new wife, an abandoned mistress, subterfuge and suffering. I felt that the action kept going and for me the ending ‘worked’. I think that, like Plaidy, Chadwick does her research, but picks individuals  that either are fictional or relatively obscure, so that she can be generous with the facts. Apparently she tutors historical and romantic fiction, so that is the best clue as to her skills. It’s a romance, I liked it, and will try  to read her other books (of which there are many…) After all, weddings seem to be fashionable at the moment…

Those of you who remember my suffragette studies in the Working Class Movement Library will remember that  I was stuck to find novels relating to the subject and period, apart from the brilliant Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn. Today’s blog tackles this lack, and in the comments there are some suggestions of novels. Tracking them down as we speak, and endangering life, limb and liberty by pulling at piles of books…

Half of the Human Race – a great read!

Before muttering about World Book Night and associated subjects, I’m determined to write about Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn.

This is an exceptionally well written, fascinating, even inspiring book that I would recommend it widely. It does take as its subjects cricket, the World War One and the fight to train in medicine, and was inspired by the fight for votes for women. The most moving element of the book is the sheer humanity of both the main and other characters as they face the challenges of war, marriage, illness and pure loneliness. It is the sort of book that is difficult to read in one sitting, as the writing is so intense. There is the despair of war in the latter part of the book, when the futility of orders given by generals and the sheer loss which results is almost painfully revealed. The last part of the book is an amazing achievement in terms of conveying the horror of the battlefield and the fight to save life and limb fought by women as nurses (and less commonly, doctors). The romantic theme is not overplayed, but love in many guises is presented, both fulfilled and frustrated. This is in many ways a sad book, but it is also a book about the hope of individuals, when even a sister who has made a practical, if not a loving marriage fights back.

The title and main inspiration for the book is the fight for women’s equality. Having looked at the contemporary magazine Votes for Women in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, Manchester (thanks, LC) I got a flavour of the tremendous risk that these women were taking in fighting for the vote and more. It was not possible to ‘have it all’; not all men would accept women who risked their liberty to protest against injustice, and marriage was not an option if all energy had to be devoted to fighting for a career that had long been male preserves. The ending is realistic and rewarding, but there is a sense of loss. I really enjoyed this book and did not want to finish it, but there were equally times when I had to put it down because it was so real. It is like a feminist version of Birdsong, but so much more. I have noticed a lot of reviews and fuss about this book, and it is all deserved. It is not just a war book, not just a book of votes for women. It is a book for anyone who is at all interested in the period and the roles of women and men. And it is just a very, very good read.