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Ashenden, or, The British Agent

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On Sunday 22nd of December, the 4th Sunday of Advent, Dr Ashenden was received into the Roman Catholic Church by + Mark Davies at Shrewsbury Cathedral. The psalmist certainly thought so:- “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. He spent the next ten years as a parish priest; as a curate at St James’, Bermondsey, and subsequently as a Vicar of a Church on a housing estate on the edge of South London. Virtually ALL of the novellas at one time have appeared since 1928 in either films (eg: Hitchcock) or TV espionage. In The Coldest Case: A Black Book Audio Drama, homicide detective Billy Harney sends his new partner, Kate, deep undercover in a notorious Chicago drug ring.

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. The story is bracketed by its inheritance to a sister and brother who must decide what to do with it. The author starts the book with two siblings inheriting this house, which is quite run down, and then going back to its inception and following those who lives there or were connected with it in a series of chapters stretching from the eighteenth century up to the present day. To spend time in the company of his writing is always a delight and this is a wonderful, charming set of stories – told with typical British reserve – but perhaps even more moving because of the understatement. There was one odd story in which a British ambassador tells Ashenden the story of a youthful love affair, which seemed to have nothing to do with the rest of the novel.In the absolutely packed Act II, the dark fantasy resumes and the Sandman expands into the French Revolution, ancient Rome, 19th-century San Francisco, eighth-century Baghdad, and beyond.

Normally with short stories, it is best for me to read one or two at time, but some of the stories were interlinked, so I don't think my memory would cope with that.How Maugham managed to publish these, is a mystery – they are so thinly veiled from Maugham’s actual experiences, right down to the code name for the Head – R. A collection of stories rooted in Maugham's own experiences as an agent, reflecting the ruthlessness and brutality of espionage, its intrigue and treachery, as well as its absurdity. Maugham spent time with Ian and Ann Fleming (as one of Ann’s circle, not Ian’s) and I can well imagine him needling Ian about the fantastical qualities of James Bond’s espionage.

Although Ashenden is described more than once I didn't feel the affection for it that I needed for it to become a major character in its own right. The stories are based on Maugham’s own experiences as an intelligence agent stationed in Switzerland working for the Allies during the First World War and then in St. A much-used word, karma is loosely understood as a system of checks and balances in our lives, of good actions and bad deeds, of good thoughts and bad intentions. Maugham wrote at a time when experimental modernist literature such as that of William Faulkner, Thomas Mann, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In the course of these stories, Maugham's protagonist Ashenden (a self portrait) gets to travel throughout Europe and Asia on missions where he meets a diverse cast of characters.He had planned on marrying her once, but after a week spent in Paris with her, after eating only scrambled eggs every morning, her favourite, Ashenden fled to America. I enjoyed Ashenden immensely -- the characters, all of them, including the house itself, came alive for me and I even teared up just a bit at the end.

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