A(nother) Review: You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

I finished this book a little while ago and it’s been hanging around the edges of my mind ever since. Maybe, partly because Jacob Rees-Mogg was waxing lyrical about the Boer War the other day on Question Time

You Will Be Safe Hereby Damian Barr is a novel set in South Africa. It starts – after a brief prologue – at the turn of the twentieth century following Sarah van der Waat’s diary entries from her time in a concentration camp. 

While very well written, it seems to bear little relation to the character of Willem, a young boy who appears in the prologue based in 2010.

As part one gives way to part two, we jumped forward to 1976, and we meet a new character, a young woman named Rayna. Again, very well written, very engaging, but her story of her family life and her marriage has seemingly no connection with Willem. 

I was enjoying it, but there was a niggling voice at the back of my head that was asking ‘where is this going?’ – which actually made the read more enjoyable. 

I read hundreds of books and with most of them I have a fair idea of where it is going, I’m pretty good at spotting twists, but this is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. 

And that’s because this isn’t a book about Willem, or Sarah or Rayna. This is a book about war and nationalism. 

The effects of the Boer War – fondly looked back on by the likes of Rees-Mogg as the last gentleman’s war – had and continue to have a lasting impact on South Africa. 

There’s a quote on the back of the copy I read from Diana Athill that says‘You come out of reading it a different person from when you went in’, while another, from Alex Preston reads ‘A book that will change the way you see the world’.

I highlight these two particular quotes because they manage to sum up exactly how I feel, in perhaps a more eloquent way than I ever could. I knew nothing about the Boer war – apart from Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army who claimed that ‘they do not like it up ‘em, sir’.

I didn’t know a huge amount about South Africa. I didn’t realise it was the British who basically invented concentration camps – perhaps not the gas chambers of Hitler’s war – but the British army was responsible for a huge amount of deaths in that country.

I’m angry that I didn’t know about this. It’s because history is written by the victors and the Empire as it was saw it a great victory. It’s not, it’s a shameful period of our country’s history and should be recognised as such. It should be taught in schools, alongside both World Wars. We should grow up knowing that we’re not always the heroes. 

I did know that. Of course I knew that. But this is perhaps the first time I truly know what that means. 

One last word before I go, and it’s another quote from the back cover – this time, from Patrick Gale: ‘Astonishing’. 

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr will by published by Bloomsbury on the 4thApril.

Three Queens and a Dame (And JK Rowling of course)

The idea of who you would invite round for your dream dinner party is not a new one, so today’s blog post is not going to revolutionise the bloggersphere, however like a university student spending a night in A&E there are rites of passage that we must all go through.

So, here’s mine.

 

The Food

Arguably the most important part of any dinner party. My only suggestion would be, keep it simple.

The chances are you’re going to have a fairly mixed crowd, so you’ve more chance of people being happy by picking something basic.

But basic doesn’t have to mean nasty or bland. It just means something you enjoy and know that you can make really, really well and easily.

For starters, Leek and Potato soup with bacon lard-ons (love that word), then my specialty – it has to be bangers and mash. Seriously, I could eat it all day.

For pudding, I’m not sure. I’m not great at puddings, so I think I might just steal my sister’s recipe for cheesecake.

 

The Entertainment

Really? There has to be entertainment?

This is what’s always bothered me about Come Dine With Me. If the food is right and the guests are right and the wine is flowing, there is no need for any planned activity.

The entertainment will come from the conversation. It may end up in an impromptu display of line dancing, or a game of strip poker. But you don’t need to structure fun.

 

The Guests

Well, here’s the biggie.

I think I’d probably have to have a few different dinner parties in order to entertain everyone I’d like to.

I’m gonna take four guests here. The first one would be Dame Julie Andrews. I’ve got a bit of a thing about her at the moment as she’s over here doing a bit of publicity for her ‘Evening with…’ tour.

She’s a fascinating woman who starred in what is probably the best film ever made. But ultimately, I don’t care what she has to say, as long as she’s saying it. Her speaking voice is beautiful.

Having seen Will Young on Question Time previously, he’s very educated, and eloquent man. He’s also a beautiful singer (perhaps he could be the entertainment?) as well as a beautiful man. If the party gets out of hand and we all get a bit raucous and drunk and Will wants to stay over for the night, well then, that’s fine too.

The next one is a bit of an obvious one if you’ve read my blog before – JK Rowling. I love her. I think she’s a brilliant writer and a real inspiration to me. I just want to ask her and talk to her about everything about the writing process.

Queen Elizabeth II.

I mean, how amazing would that be, right? She’s such a familiar face, but we know next to nothing about her.

I’d love the opportunity to interview her and hear candidly just what exactly makes her tick. What she likes and what she doesn’t.

 

So, that’s it. That’s my dinner party. A singer, a writer, an actress and a monarch. A fascinating (to me) mix, and now I’m a bit disappointed that it’s not actually going to happen.

 

I’m also surprised that I didn’t pick anyone from EastEnders. Is Pam St Clement free?

 

Prompt: Channel 4 invite you to do Come Dine With Me. Who’s invited and what’s your entertainment?