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R M Dashwood is the daughter of E M Delafield who wrote The Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed many years ago. In Provincial Daughter, Rosmund Dashwood has written not exactly a sequel to her mother’s books, but a new take on a similar situation, that of a middle class woman and the trials and tribulations of bringing up a family with not enough money to quite meet the social expectations of her class. Which makes it all sound a bit pompous, but this is a very funny novel.

The story is set in the 1950s and covers three months where the narrator (never named) decides to keep a diary of her goings-on just to demonstrate to herself that she isn’t wasting her fine mind and expensive education. So we find out about her husband the doctor, her three sons, her friends and neighbours, her German au pair and her writing career.

I found it fascinating; I was born in the early 1960s so this world had largely gone by the tme I would have been old enough to recognise it, although I suspect this is a very English take on things and it might have been a bit different where I grew up. I liked the narrator very much, which always helps, and it’s a shame that there don’t seem to be any further adventures; I would have liked to know whether they moved to Scotland as seemed to be on the horizon at the end of the book, and what that might have meant.

This is good fun, and I loved the cover – what a frock! – and the illustrations by Gordon Davies are excellent. Recommended.

Regular readers will know that one of my main interests is history, and so when looking for books to read for the non fiction challenge I picked several that were about the past, and this one, Ubiquity, which is about the science of history, an idea that I have always found intriguing. Mark Buchanan is using this book to describe what the blurb calls a new law of nature which can be applied to anything.

I found this a difficult read largely because it is perhaps inevitably more about the science than the history, but the ideas the author discusses were sufficiently interesting to make me persevere, though I did find it hard going at times. If I have understood the book correctly (and that might be a big if) there is evidence of “ubiquitous patterns of change” that run through everything on earth (and presumably beyond). Things that look very different may actually be extremely similar in the way that they are organised. Buchanan uses earthquakes, forest fires and mass extinctions among others as examples of how this might all work.

There is a lot of discussion about power laws which I think means that the bigger something is the less likely it is to happen – the example that stuck with me was research into wars and the size of each conflict as a fraction of the world’s population at the time, which demonstrates that wars become 2.62 time less frequent every time the number of deaths doubles.

One of the key ideas behind this book is probably best described by the author himself: if

chaos teaches physicists that the truly simple can nevertheless look complicated, the critical state teaches them that the truly complicated can behave in ways that are remarkably simple

Buchanan does deal with how this all applies to human society by facing up to the objection that I suspect would be made by many people, that is what about our free will. He uses a number of examples to show that although we do indeed have free will, we also have tendencies and often follow the line of least resistance, so that though we deal with each other on the basis of our own opinions and decisions, there almost always emerges a regular pattern of behaviour.

I’m sure I haven’t done justice to the complexities of this book, and although it wasn’t quite as I expected I found it thought-provoking.

This is my fourth read for the Non Fiction Five challenge.

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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August 2008