The fourth volume of the Clifton Chronicles, and since Archer has made it a point to end each book at a very crucial juncture, the book dives straight in. One of the problems I faced was that I had to do some reading up on the web to remember the plot and the characters.
As with the previous book, the original protagonist Harry Clifton has very little role to play. Most of the plot lines are centred around his wife Emma and son Sebastian. Both of them have to fend off various kinds of attacks from their enemy Don Pedro Martinez. Sebastian’s problems on this account seem relatively small compared to that of Emma’s, as Martinez tries every trick outside the book to bring down Barrington Shipping with the help of Major Alex Fisher and Lady Virginia Fenwick. We are also kept aware of Sir Giles’ political career even as he too becomes a target of Martinez. More
The third volume of the Clifton Chronicles, which picks up right at the point where the second one ended – the House of Lords deciding the beneficiary of the Barrington fortune.
This one differs from the earlier volumes by almost ignoring the protagonist – Harry Clifton – altogether. There are plots around Giles, Emma and Sebastian, and they manage to take the story forward very well despite Harry remaining in the background most of the time. More
The second part of The Clifton Chronicles. Harry’s plan to erase his past and start a different life in America has unfortunate side effects, as the last page of the first volume indicated. Emma, the mother of his son, meanwhile, refuses to believe that he is dead, and sets out to find him. Giles, after some hesitation, joins the army and fights the Germans in World War 2. The book also follows a few other characters from ‘Only Time Will Tell’ like Hugo Barrington, Maisie Clifton, and thanks to Emma’s trip to America, and Harry’s own adventures, introduces a few interesting new characters as well. The different-people narrative approach has been used effectively to zoom in/out in this book too.
The pace, as usual, is perfect, and that’s a skill I always admire Archer for. He now reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar actually. Once upon a time, Sachin was known for his aggressive mauling of bowlers, but as he aged, he made changes to his technique. He was still a master, but in a different way. In another era, Archer was famous for those amazing twists in the tale/tail. But after a while, they became predictable. In the last few books, I’ve seen a distinct change in his style. The wit is still there, but more subtle, as are the twists. A different kind of story telling mastery, and I, for one, am enjoying it.
Archer has captured the WWII life in Britain very well. There are interesting references to real life events and people – for instance Harold Macmillan. The US/British differences are also touched upon in a very humorous way. All these are little nuggets which add flavours to the story.
There is an old world charm to the characters, it’s probably because of the time in which the story is set. But Archer does like it this way, as I’ve noticed in other books. They also have everything falling into place for them, ahem, but things aren’t so bad that I can’t ignore. They are clearly good or evil, and there are practically no gray shades. I am curious to see how Archer will carry this on in the later parts, specially when he has characters in the contemporary era. I wonder if he will retain this clear division, and if he does, how he will get us to relate to it.
I enjoyed the book, and massively crossed the self imposed limits of pages/day – that’s a testament to the hooking capability of Archer’s narrative.
The first of the Clifton Chronicles and launched in Bangalore earlier this year. As per wiki, Lord Archer plans to span the series from 1920 to 2020. This first installment covers the years from 1919 ( a year before Harry’s birth) to 1940. The protagonist is Harry Clifton, ostensibly, the son of a war hero, but later years would reveal his true father.
Harry is gifted with a fine voice, and despite financial troubles, manages to learn his way to Oxford. The other principal characters are Maisie Clifton, his mother, Giles Barrington, his best friend, Giles’ father Hugo and his sister Emma Barrington, and Old Jack Tar, a war veteran fighting his own demons, but who discovers Harry’s potential and moulds his life.
The author manages to pace the book very well, and has thankfully stayed away from the drastic twists that he was once good with. Instead he has chosen subtle turns which the reader is able to easily guess beforehand, but finds presented very well.
Archer’s storytelling skills are obviously intact, though one portion reminded me of the climax of ‘As the Crow Flies’, and the art appreciation seems to be taken from his own knowledge of the field. The way he switches the narrative by introducing it from the perspectives of the principal characters works out splendidly.
I am becoming a fan of the subtle Archer style of humour too, and therefore I don’t miss the earlier twisty plot style much.
The good news is that Lord Archer still has that amazing gift of storytelling, the bad news is that the twists seem to have been blunted a bit. Its probably the sheer amount of content that we encounter, or the tendency to predict the author’s twist, or the way reality beats fiction these days, but compared to the author’s earlier works, this one didn’t induce the jaw-dropping.
It’d be tempting to say that since 10 of the 15 works are based on real life, the scope for the twist is limited by facts. Indeed, the way the author unfolds the story, the pace he sets are all vintage Archer. But even the remaining 5, while interesting enough, fall short of the author’s high standards of twists.
My favourites would be “Blind Date” for the sensitivity displayed, “Where there’s a will” for the subtle variation in a done-to-death plot, “Double Cross’, again for a subtle twist well delivered, and “The Undiplomatic Diplomat”, for a strong plot and a superb ending. The India story – “Caste – off”, which I remember him mentioning (that he had got an idea for a story) when he visited Bangalore for ‘The Prisoner of Birth’ tour, is precisely that – typically Indian, and that perhaps, is why, it didn’t appeal much to me.
Having said all of that, the book is still a good read simply because Archer still hasn’t lost his mastery over words.
There are nearly seven billion people on this planet. Each one unique, different. What are the chances of that? And why? Is it simply biology, physiology that determines this diversity? A collection of thoughts, memories, experiences that carve out our own special place? Or is it something more than this? Perhaps there’s a master plan that drives the randomness of creation, something unknowable that dwells in the soul, and presents each one of us with a unique set of challenges, that will help us discover who we really are.
We are all connected, joined together by an invisible thread, infinite in its potential and fragile in its design. Yet while connected, we are also merely individuals, empty vessels to be filled with infinite possibilities, an assortment of thoughts, beliefs, a collection of disjointed memories and experiences… Can I be me without these? Can you be you?
And if this invisible thread that holds us together were to sever, to cease, what then? What would become of billions of lone, disconnected souls? Therein lies the great quest of our lives, to find, to connect, to hold on. For when our hearts are pure, and our thoughts in line, we are all truly one, capable of repairing our fragile world, and creating a universe of infinite possibilities.
Thus spake Mohinder Suresh in”An Invisible Thread”, the season finale of ‘Heroes’.
And as if on cue, a large number of conversations and experiences popped up as conversations inside my head. Yes, those nice voices in the head.
I remembered the conversations that Mo and i keep having on the subject of identity, purpose, character and other stuff that she completely gets. Okay i get too, but muddled up. I remembered how, when I was reading Archer’s ‘Sons of Fortune’..again, I suddenly figured out why he is my favourite author. In addition to that amazing gift of story telling he has got, its his characters, and their character. Good or bad, they seem to have a moral code. They are noble – noble heroes and noble villains. (remember that word, shall come back to it in a while) Even when they come in contact with their character’s grey areas, they have a rationale they can apply to the situation. They make you aspire for such clarity in thought and deed, in being true to themselves and their character.
Meanwhile, I see around me, a lot of young people eager to emulate – even things that I hoped would question and better. And as i keep a watch on that, I sense that they do it to belong, at any cost. They are willing to take their lessons from second hand accounts – not accounts of mistakes, which could be argued as a good thing, but enriching experiences that would shape their character. Of course, not every young person I know is like that. I also come across quite a few who have more character and maturity than many people double their age. But I do see more of the first kind. It is a different kind of conforming than what i was have seen earlier – a need to fit into their peer group’s collective terms.
On twitter and Facebook and all the services which connect us, I see this set, and more coming in every day to add to their number. And in this collective consciousness, I glimpse the desperation in the need to belong at any cost – even at the cost of a character that is still being formed. A shared identity and a strong character, can it co exist? I wonder, if in this age of possibilities, they will be satisfied with this belonging, I also hope that they will not wake up, one day, years later and rue this conformity that they created for themselves.
And then, I remember what a smart young lady from that age group once told me “Manu, this is so archaic. Only you could use the word ‘noble’ in conversation”. So, I wonder whether there is something in this connectedness that I don’t understand, whether the ‘plan’ requires all kinds of characters – with or without a strong character, to maintain the balance, or whether the kind of disconnectedness that I’m feeling now is one that characterises that thing we all do – ageing.
until next time, time for adages?
Every time I start an Archer book, I expect to be entertained and to be made to think, and it always happens so. This one is no different. I simply loved the humour that Archer retains throughout the book.
But it is a bit different in on another front. It is based on a true story, but one as nail biting as the works of fiction that Archer has written in the past.
Set in an age of adventure and explorations, when men had not yet reached the South Pole and the Himalayas, it is the story of George Mallory, a gifted man with an extraordinary dream, and if you were to acknowledge that he fulfilled his dream, another equally great name would be taken off history books. A wonderful tale that is as much about Mallory’s love for Ruth- his wife and the only woman he’s ever loved, as it is about his dream.
After I read this book, I began to wonder how many such Mallory s exist in the annals of history, or just hidden behind the names that actually appear. Must read! Trivia: Mallory’s close associate Finch, who is a prominent character in the book, is the father of Peter Finch, the first actor to win an Academy Award posthumously. The second happens to be Heath Ledger, for The Joker, an all time favourite character.
Speaking of trivia, do read the ‘Post 1924’ section at the end of the book. The last entry is bound to put a smile on your face.
Lord Archer hits the bulls eye.. again. Loosely resembling the classic ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, this book belongs to the league of his earlier works ‘Kane and Abel’, ‘As the Crow Flies’ etc. Watch out for the awesomely written court room scenes in the climax. I really wish this would be made into a film. The character of Nick Moncrieff makes me wonder about its inspiration. Other than the brilliant twists and turns that usually characterises his work, I also liked the showcasing of an old world charm in this book – Mr.Munro, Sir Matthew Redmayne, Mr.Arnold Pearson, characters who believe in fairness, who respect not just the law, but the spirit of the law. An excellent read, and yes, there is a sweet twist in the tail.
Spoiler Alert- Please read only after you’ve finished the book. While i have said ‘loosely resembling The Count of Monte Cristo, notice the subtle reworking of the plot. While the original plot was based on the love for the central female character, in this one the plot is set in motion by Spencer’s lust for Beth. While Edmond Dantes escapes from prison by replacing a dead body, whose secret he uses to find the treasure, in this case Danny uses his physical resemblance with Nick to switch identities and escape, and then uses Nick’s inheritance.
“They’re both oaks, even if they were planted in different forests. But then, m’lord, we all suffer in our different ways from being prisoners of birth.”, thus spoke a wonderful character called Mr. Munro in Jeffrey Archer’s ‘A Prisoner of Birth’. Profundity !
I wonder how many of us are able to grow into oaks, irrespective of which forest we’re planted in. No doubt, a few do manage, but the majority live a life that derives a lot from the forest it grew up in. Getting set into patterns and stereotypes that somehow define us irrespective of what we are and what we attempt to be. From the name that reveals your nationality, religion, to the tags that make you middle class/ cosmopolitan/ south indian and everything in between.
And by the time we pause for breath, and care to reflect on where we have reached, we can only wonder how life might have been different, if the settings chosen had been different. And sometimes we look around and end up thanking the higher power for the setting. The place, the time, the parents, the economic conditions which perhaps make up the where, when, who and what, but leaves us holding the one question that we’d love the answer to – why?
until next time, the path to freedom…