Get Into Reading Group Diary #8: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Baines seeks refuge in the diaries of Peter Eames – the Victorian architect who has captivated Baines’ imagination.

After a restless night Baines woke and spotted Eames’ diary, which he felt brought somehow a slight shimmer of life like Miss Havisham’s wedding cake. This remark brought a few chuckles as our group has not long finished Great Expectations and quite often Dickens seems to be following us like a distant shadow!

He picked up the diary and like a trip in Dr Who’s Tardis we were transported back to 1864. Eames was now married with a child on the way, is living in a nice area and thirdly his building Janus House has opened although the press do not speak kindly of it. Although people’s reviews perhaps should not be taken too seriously as it is just one person’s feelings and thoughts – just like with The Rescue Man – you can read it and think something completely different from someone else in the group but thankfully we live in a free country and as the saying says, ‘Everyone is entitled to their opinion.’

There was one admirer though, so one star was shining to provide a touch of light as Eames noticed a young man taking sketches, who introduces himself and pays Eames the compliment of being a ‘Poet of Architecture’. A beautiful building could be compared to a poem by Milton. Art comes in many forms – paintings, words, music. The passages led to a discussion – about how people having different interests is what makes the human race interesting. All my life I have only really been interested in words and anything other than words is frankly incomprehensible to me!

All this praise however luckily did not enlarge Eames’ head as he realised his building only represented ‘a sonnet’ and not a ‘full-blown epic like Paradise Lost.’

Get Into Reading Group Diary #7: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Throughout the book Baines has been haunted by various shadows from his past – one of which involves the suicide of an intimate friend called Alice, who Baines met whilst studying at university. Without wanting to give too much away, Louise reflects upon how Baines reacts when confronted by someone from that past at the photography exhibition.

On to Chapter 6 and the exhibition finally opened and we all started laughing when the comment was made – ‘It is virtually impossible to hold a party in Liverpool without gatecrashers.’ I remember the crush at my brother’s 21st, and afterwards when asked who some of the people were he was clueless, like asking me a maths question and I failed maths miserably!

Arriving at the exhibition Baines got a glimpse of a face he thought he recognised and we had a discussion about how you can see a face and think you know them and give them a whack on the back and say ‘Hiya’, only to realise you have thumped a stranger! Tom’s eyesight had put him in good stead and the person he recognised was Duncan Heathcote from Architectural School. Heathcote showed no signs of recognition but flinched with Baine’s mention of the name Alice, but was still dismissive of Tom. This was the red flag to a bull and suddenly fists were flying. I know from experience someone will say something which makes you explode into a rage of fire and the fists begin to roam. The two were soon surrounded by the other party goers shouting ‘Fight, Fight!’

Afterwards Tom was beginning to wonder why he blew his fuse and shame began to grow inside him and we talked about how when we explode it is not long after that feelings of guilt begin to fester. Tom could not face seeing the crowds again but Bella encouraged him to go for a drink and explain the reasons for his outburst! The two walked in silence and Bella encouraged Tom to talk and Tom knew an explanation of his behaviour was needed. Often I explode, and it is always easier to try and explain my behaviour although it does nothing to erode the guilt away! So Tom began his story.

Get Into Reading Group Diary #6: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

In the book today Tom and Richard both thought it would be a shame to let all the photography work go to waste and that it would be a good idea to set up an exhibition. An argument followed mainly between Bella and Richard about what to show! Richard just wanted to show off the architecture of Liverpool but Bella wanted to show both sides of the coin – the grandeur and the social poverty. Tom could see both sides of the argument but reluctantly sided with Richard.

This still goes on today – the media love to come to Liverpool and concentrate on social deprivation which does exist but they ignore the other side of the coin – the majority of people here are ‘sound’ and you would have to go a long way to beat the architecture. Saying that, 2008 and the year of Capital of Culture tried to give a much more positive view.

David, Bella’s brother, came up with the idea of calling the exhibition ‘city by the sea’, which was reluctantly decided on, by Bella. I look out of my flat window and can see Liverpool cathedrals and the river – whenever I am in a landlocked part of the country, it’s as if I suddenly develop asthma, as I appear to lose the breath of life when I am not by water!

Anyway, the two men considered Bella’s strong views about what should be shown in the photography exhibition. Richard revealed some of Bella’s family history and the fact that her mum was part of the suffrage movement and had actually been to prison for her views.

A person can often have a personality transplant when something they feel strongly about it being discussed and a lighted match is put to their emotions and they erupt.

Get Into Reading Group Diary #5: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

It’s been a few weeks but Louise Jones is back with her diary on reading The Rescue Man.

Falling 1940-41

This section of the book opens with a quote apparently called ‘Fear of Death’ by William Hazlitt,

A lift of action and danger moderates the dread of death

This is certainly true of Baines who in the second half springs into life in more ways than one. The war obviously has a very big effect on his personality – in the reading group we have talked about why he changes so much – as the saying goes live for today because you really don’t know whether you’ll be alive in 20 minutes never mind the next day, so as they say live for the moment.

At first reading the few paragraphs of Chapter 5, you would think they were clearing up from the Blitz, but it became clearer, a bit like fog lifting, that this was only a practice. Baines could not wait for this so called ‘phoney war’ to stop and felt a lot of the time he was just play acting in a theatre – Tom used to watch with jealousy his friend Richard jump about the rubble with no fear like a superhero.

We had a discussion about why people may be more cautious, while others seem to have no fear and why some people seem to have no fear and others perhaps are just very good at hiding it. I used to adore ‘Peter Pan’ and jump off various items of furniture, my friend was perhaps more cautious but I truly believed what Jim Barrie says ‘ All you need to fly is to believe.’ I did believe but still ended on the floor with a thud! Perhaps I just needed a bit more belief in myself.

Tom has become more confident as the threat of actual war inches ever so closer to Britain so when his new work colleague Richard invites him round to his house he quite happily agrees to come and party! He has also become more enthusiastic about taking photographs for his book – perhaps because somewhere deep inside he realised that he had to move quickly before the Germans came, brining not only destruction of human life but also irreplaceable buildings, so it tugged at the heart-strings when funding for the book was halted – all projects not considered essential to the war effort were to be stopped. I could actually feel Tom’s disappointment or maybe I’m just very sentimental.

We talked for a while in the group about the sudden craze people can have about building flats on every available spot, reminding me of the song ‘Little boxes made of Ticky Tacky and they all turn out the same.’ We came to a conclusion that people often do not realise the beauty or importance of buildings till the bulldozers come and demolish it, but by then it’s far too late!

Get Into Reading Group Diary #4: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Baines has a growing obsession with a Peter Eames – an architect in the 1860’s who had a flourishing career until deciding to take on a venture of a rather grand FREE library to be built not in the well to do area of Liverpool but of all things in the poor section! Reading may have been thought of as something only people with money do! What fascinated Baines was Eames’ short tragic life – his body found in Blundell Sands in suspicious circumstances.

Baines being a fellow architect took a great interest in Eames’s thoughts which he obtained from William Brown Street in the form of his diaries – wanting to know more, what a better place to look than a diary which hopefully holds a person’s innermost thoughts? I think you should never judge a person by his outer shell but his inner being (sorry becoming a philosopher now!) The group started thinking about diaries and how personal they can be, and how peculiar it can be to look back at an event from years ago and how it seemed a big upheaval when originally written but now totally insignificant

Eames appeared to have lots of forward thinking about architecture which did not come to fruition – maybe because of lack of money or people who made the final discussions were backward thinking instead of forward. Over the last few years Liverpool has represented a building site – especially running up to the year of culture 08 – at times it seemed like a marathon to get things ready rather than a sprint. It was quite amusing though to realise that things were just as chaotic here in Liverpool in 1861 – Peter Eames also describing the city as a construction site!

In the book the other day Baines met up with a photographer called Tanquerary who he felt an instant bond with – funny in life how we sometimes instantly bond with someone or maybe have an instant dislike for no apparent reason. Strangely, very strangely I was in Slater Street the other day and a shiver went down my spine as there was a photography van there!!! Sleep Well!

Get Into Reading Group Diary #3: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

It’s turning into a Friday regular… here’s Louise Jones’ next installment.

Extract 3

I am definitely learning new words and expressions reading this book and we always ensure we’ve got a dictionary ready. When Baines gave May, his auntie, a piece of jewellery for his 60th birthday she exclaimed she was ‘as gay as a wasp in a window’! This shows the change of use of words over the years. When we are dancing about with emotion, I would never have thought of it being likened to a wasp dancing about but the more you think of it the expression of the wasp somehow fits rather well.

Get Into Reading Group Diary #2: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Here’s the second installment from Louise Jones’ Get Into Reading group diary.

Extract 2

Baines is a historian who has lately found it difficult to get going with the work he knows he should be doing now as he keeps postponing the inevitable – I know exactly how he feels! ‘I’ll just see what is going on in TV world before writing about The Rescue Man!’

Despite being in his mid-30’s there seems to be no major love aspect to his life which makes Baines think that ‘the fault may lay in himself, a hairline flaw in the structure of his personality.’ I found this statement from the book very appealing as it takes a strong man to admit that faults may lie within his own personality! The statement also fits in with his interest in architecture – a building needs to have strong foundations to be able to overcome the elements of the outside world just like a human being also needs strong foundations to be able to stand up to all that life throws at you.

Baines being unmarried and a bit of a loner makes his uncle and aunt perhaps over welcome any friend he may bring to meet them, petrified he would lost his only friend Jack. In life people tend to interfere in people’s social life, not perhaps realising they may need a helping hand, but on the whole may be quite happy.

Get Into Reading Group Diary #1: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

Extracts from Louise Jones’ Reading Diary of The Rescue Man

Louise Jones, a Get Into Reading group member, has been diligently keeping diary entries of her reading experiences of The Rescue Man in our Wednesday morning group over the last few weeks and we are extremely grateful to Louise for letting us share her thoughts with the wider reading community. Thank you Louise and please keep them coming!

Extract 1

I love starting a new book, not knowing what adventures I will go on without leaving the room!

As we live on the Wirral and Liverpool is just a swim away, straight away a common bond began to grow with the book when places such as Church Street and Sefton Park were mentioned. I don’t know though whether the pages would stir the same feelings if reading this in deepest Colchester (nothing against Colchester people!) Actually the way Quinn describes Liverpool and the surrounding areas you could be a Glaswegian and still appreciate the descriptiveness of the city.

The character of Baines himself sometimes worries about his love for old things such as buildings, especially when he seems to love things even more once their doom is certain. This is still happening in 2009 – we often don’t think of a building or historical sites being of importance until all of a sudden a block of flats stand were an impressive building once stood. This can also happen with people when a person passes away. All you hear of is what a fantastic person they were – I often wonder why we wait for a person’s passing to realise what they meant to us.

I will always have a smirk on my face now though whenever I pass the monument of Queen Victorian after finding out from the book that it was actually built over a public toilet – this may not be true of course but it makes me wonder what does actually lie beneath her whenever I go by!

Get Into Reading Group Diary: The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn

By Clare Williams, Get Into Reading Project Worker

We began reading The Rescue Man in June and are currently just over one third of the way into this impressive first novel by Anthony Quinn. Reactions from the group have been mixed although all are agreed that the book is certainly rich in thought provoking material to give plenty of food for thought! The general consensus at present seems to be that group members are very interested in the book in terms of the ideas it offers for discussion, but don’t quite like it as a novel in terms of those fundamental basics of character and plot. This in itself however has generated interesting debates about what we as readers want out of a novel, and especially what we want out of a novel to be read in one of our weekly GIR groups. Whilst one group member has criticised the book for being ‘too slow’, saying that they’d ‘like more to be happening – more characters, like we had in Great Expectations’, others have responded with the caution that ‘it’s no use jumping straight into it – you need to get to know the people’s characters first.’

So far we have been learning about the story of a rambling historian called Tom Baines, who appears somewhat cut adrift from life, unable or unwilling to live in the present and embrace its glorious randomness with all of its human characters and unpredictable events. Baines, an orphan with an unwavering attachment to his native city of Liverpool, is a man who fears commitment, whether that mean commitment to people – in one scene he falls into a self-deprecating fit of anxiety and remorse when a girl called Brenda invites him to a party – or a commitment to his profession. His love of architecture is a clue to his need for solid structures, permanent anchors in life and yet with the onset of the Second World War even this ostensibly stable crutch appears to be disappearing from his grasp. One other thing we have learnt about Baines is that he is a man who is plagued with the guilt of a brooding secret – blaming himself for the suicide of Alice Thorn, a girl who Baines once had a great affection for but who fell under the influence of a careless lover Duncan Heathcote. This past seems to only exacerbate his need for caution and tendency towards indecision.

As a group we have felt that a change needs to happen to Tom Baines for him to make a change within himself and his way of looking at life – indeed, for the story of the book itself to move and grow. That change appears to be being opened up in the novel, firstly in his meeting of two fellow enthusiasts Richard Tanqueray and his socialist wife Bella and secondly with the outbreak of war, which forces him into a position of action rather than what for Baines has become a rather dilapidating cycle of thought. This outlet for action comes in the form of Baines joining The Rescue Men. Maybe now things will begin to change for Baines and also pick up the pace of the novel which is the thing that seems to be wanted be some of our group members. It may also come to him in his reading of the diary of Peter Eames, a Victorian architect – indeed one group member feels that the diary might actually provide Baines with the ‘key’ that he seems to be looking for to make sense of his own life.

The book is set in Liverpool and as local readers we are all in agreement that it is meticulous in its recreation of the architecture and moreover mood of the city during the 1940’s. We have all been fascinated by the author’s descriptions of local buildings and streets and feel that we have gained a greater appreciation into what makes up a history of a building, a city. The book itself is infused throughout with a kind of mystical reverence for the past and the ghosts of lives which once inhabited the familiar buildings which many of us continue to pass each day. The book’s inclusion of Peter Eame’s diary only adds to this sense of mystery, enriching the novel with revolutionary ideas about art and life as forwarded by the likes of John Ruskin. Indeed, the book is rich in all kinds of literary allusions – including ones to Great Expectations – but yet again we are talking about ideas here rather than characters, and while ideas are all very interesting, the group is still waiting to be gripped by the characters in the book and the unfolding of their life stories by which as we readers are still waiting to be gripped. Ironically the author has put its readers perhaps too closely into the mindset of its central character Tom Baines – we are now ourselves waiting to see how the novel will unfold, waiting ourselves for the tide that another Liverpool writer, that other great Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough, referred to as ‘the tide in the love affair of mortals’ which must be taken at full flood if it is to be assuredly taken at all. However, as Clough also recognised and we have seen Tom Baines experiencing, this is easier said than done and it is perhaps the case that Quinn is challenging our desires as readers to make us appreciate and sympathise with Baines or even Peter Eames as another human being by making us vicariously living through the confusions and complications and procrastinations of their lives. We shall see!