The Testament of Gideon Mack, by James Robertson: Book Review.


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Gideon Mack is a Scottish Minister, a man of the cloth.  Indeed the son of a man of the cloth.  But he doesn’t believe in God.

His Dad of the cloth was an absolute bastard and that probably contributed to his lie of a life.

Awkwardly, he also fancies his best mate’s wife and, more importantly, and centrally to the story, falls into a river near the fictional Scottish village of Monimaskit – where a raging river flows under it.

In trying to save a dog, who wanders too close to the edge of the canyon that carries the torrent into the unknown, Mack slips and falls to his death.  Or so the villagers think.

In fact, he survives the fall and meets, in an underground cavern, that the raging river takes us to, The Devil, with whom he strikes up an agreeable relationship before returning to his kinsfolk three days later, bruised and bloodied, but very much alive.

What follows is Mack’s difficult reconciliation of his shot-to-pieces faith, the retelling of his unlikely story that nobody believes and the death of an old friend.

James Robertson’s tale is a stirring Scottish romp through the double-standards of the Scots’ particularly Calvinist take on Christianity, duty, sanity and illicit love.

It’s a terrific yarn with much to recommend although I think it found its level on the Booker Prize Long List; any further would have been to have exalted it a little above its station.

Nevertheless, a most agreeable read.  Reasonably strongly recommended.

 

13 Minutes to the Moon: Podcast review.


Episode six of this forensically detailed story of the race to deliver JFK’s dictat, in 1961, – that Americans would be first to the moon before the decade was out, consuming at times 4% (YES 4%) of the USA’s GDP and employing 400,000 people – reveals, for me, its greatest and most sage moment.

Jim Lovell is co-piloting the lunar capsule as it orbits the moon and is trying to help his Commander, Frank Borman, badly photograph the earth as it rises above the moon’s horizon.

With Lovell’s help the result is ‘Earthrise’ – one of the most famous photographs ever taken.

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But it’s the commentary from Lovell that stopped me in my stride…

“I’m not a religious kinda guy.  But my perspective is – God has given mankind a stage on which to perform. How the play turns out is up to us.”

A truly frightening thought for this time as Climate Deniers support the ongoing rape of our planet.

The BBC’s World Service is to be congratulated for its attention to detail in pulling together this eight hour marathon, with breathtaking music by Hans Zimmer and a superb narration by Kevin Fong.

It grips from the first moment (the music) to the last – the entire landing, through the recordings of the actual Mission Control tapes, captured in real time.

The eponymous 13 minutes refers to the time it took from firing Eagle’s booster rockets to the Eagle landing on the lunar surface.

In a series of flashbacks, readings, interviews, archive material and Fong enthusiasm (but in a controlled way) we learn of the mission, its predecessors and the lessons and learnings from them, until the actual landing itself.

It’s riveting.

And it’s packed full of facts. (Software was invented thanks to the Apollo missions, you could push a biro through the metallic skin of the Landing Module (the LEM) – to save weight – and the average age of the Mission Control team is 26 or 27, depending on which commentator you believe.)

On more than one occasion I was moved to tears by the sheer human endeavour of it all.  Because it’s presented by British producers the American nationalism is left at the door of the edit suite.  Instead, we have old men and women’s stories brought searingly to life and its monumental scale is, at times, simply overwhelming.

I loved every second of this astonishing documentary and stronly recommend it.

You’ll find it on BBC Sounds.