Saturday, July 02, 2011


Holiday reading

We are on our way home at last.

We’ve been in Corsica for a month, and apart from reading Corse Matin most days, we took a few English books with us to read while we were here.

Our reading ranged from Judith Herrin’s Byzantium and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall to the biographies of Michael Foot and Keith Richards. Amongst this eclectic mixture you’ll also find Phillippa Gregory’s The Red Queen, Bernard Cornwell’s The Fort and Ian Rankin’s valedictory Rebus novel Exit Music.

There aren’t any references to Corsica in any of these books, but it’s interesting to consider what was happening in Corsica when the action in each of these volumes took place.

Justinian’s Byzantine army probably visited Corsica in the mid sixth century, led by Constantinople’s most successful general, Belisarius. In the year that Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire, 1453, Corsica was placed (by the island’s Genoese overlords) in the hands of a financial institution, the bank of St George – a body responsible for building many of the so-called “Genoese Towers” that are still such a feature of the island’s skyline today. Coincidentally, The Red Queen, the story of Margaret Beaufort, heiress to the House of Lancaster, also starts in 1453.

By 1500, when Hilary Mantell’s Booker-winning tome Wolf Hall opens, Corsica is back firmly in Genoese hands. Over two centuries later(1779), when the forces of England’s George III were successfully defending a corner of Massachusetts against an incompetent American attack (Bernard Cornwell’s brilliant The Fort), Corsica’s hero Pascal Paoli was kicking his heels in London, hoping to get back to his native land, which he did in 1795.

Going forward another 150 years, Corsica was liberated by the Allies from the Axis powers in 1943, the year in which Keith Richards was born, and former Labour Party Leader Michael Foot was working as a journalist for London’s Evening Standard. And by 2002, when we decided to buy our little flat in Corsica, Michael Foot was (perhaps thankfully) no longer Party Leader – a time when I suspect Ian Rankin’s hero John Rebus was already beginning to think, with dread, about retirement.

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