The Irregulars and Gods in Alabama

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Irregulars
Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington
by Jennet Conant

As a huge Roald Dahl fan, both of his children’s books and adult short stories and memoirs, this nonfiction piece was a no-brainer for me. After being injured during his stint as an RAF pilot Dahl is sent to America to insinuate himself into the political society in Washington D.C. He’s been recruited to work for an obscure British intelligence agency that gathered information in America during World War II. 

Conant tells of Dahl’s liaisons with a gossipy intimacy that makes the book read like a novel. He was a bit of a rake, unfettered by marriage and able to find friends and lovers wherever he went. A wealthy publisher, Charles Marsh, took Dahl under his wing and helped him along in the publishing world, which eventually led to Dahl’s career as an author. Fellow spy and friend Ian Fleming went on to write the James Bond novels.

I love that this book fills in an important gap in Dahl’s life. It picks up where his first two memoirs, Boy and Going Solo, leave off. It explains how he became a writer while also giving the readers fascinating details about his work as a spy.

A must for fans of Dahl, Fleming or spy novels in the style of John le Carré. It’s not an action packed story, but a look at what went on behind-the-scenes during WWII.

Gods in Alabama
by Joshilyn Jackson

For some reason I thought this book was the basis for a Melanie Griffith movie (Crazy in Alabama in think,) so for years I avoided it. It wasn’t until I finally took Sandy’s recommendation and picked it up that I realized the two were completely unrelated. Instead of finding some kooky story about a wannabe actress, I found a thoughtful tale of woman who rebuilt her life after a childhood trauma.

Lena Fleet left her small town home in Alabama after high school and never looked back. After a horrible thing happens to her as a teen, she makes a promise to God and she believes that if she holds up her end of the deal He will too. Lena lives in Chicago and the story of her past is slowly revealed throughout the book as she journeys back to Alabama with her African American fiancée. 

I was so impressed with Jackson’s ability to deal with heavy subject matter; racism, rape, jealousy, abuse, and regret and yet maintain a sense of humor throughout the book. Lena’s relationship with her aunt and her farfetched reasoning behind some of her actions work well because we feel like we know her. We make allowances for people in our lives because we understand that everyone is flawed. Lena is the same, we take her actions with a grain of salt, understanding all the while that there is a bigger story that we don’t understand yet.

Burr, Lena’s boyfriend, is one of my favorite characters in the story. He knows how to push her just far enough without making her shut down. He wants what’s best for her, but he has priorities too and he won’t let me get away with as much as others will. Her Aunt Florence is the same; both individuals are good for Lena because they love her enough to push her.

BOTTOM LINE: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. It’s a great piece of southern fiction, entertaining, with well written characters and a fast-moving plot.  It reminded me quite a bit of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.

“God gave us crying so other folks could see when we needed help, and help us.”


Anonymous said...

I loved the Irregulars, though i can never remember the name of the book. Wasn't Julia Child in it as well? It was a really readable look at a fascinating time.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I am a Joshilyn Jackson apostle, I tell you. I've read them all, and with the exception of Gods in Alabama, Jackson narrates them all. I refuse to read any of her books in print, they are so amazing to listen to.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I love Boy and Going Solo, and this sounds great. Dahl's fiction is brilliant, but ever since reading Going Solo a few years back I have to say that it is my favorite of all of his work I've read to date. Hadn't seen this one, so thanks for putting it on my radar. :)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, The Irregulars is so going on my TBR!

Kailana said...

I have The Irregulars. I just need to READ it!!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

52booksorbust - I don't think so, but maybe I forgot that part!

Sandy - I listened to this one and I think I'll take your advice and only listen to them in the future too!

Carl - I love those too. This one is missing his great voice, but it gives some wonderful insight into who he was and how he became a writer.

abibliophilesstyle - I love good nonfiction.

Kailana - It was really interesting!