"A story of bereavement and a story of healing. This is a well-written and flowing story and the poetry included is elegant… beautiful. The narrative drew me in… a heart-warming tale."
LoveReading, chosen for Indie Books We Love
"I was not prepared for how this beautiful and poignant story completely captured my heart and stirred my senses. After being moved like never before from reading the evocative narrative I really struggled to read the last page as the tears in my eyes were distorting my vision. In my opinion, A Man of Understanding should be classed as a modern literary classic. It is stunning."
"I tell no lie when I say that I shed a tear at the end…for the beauty this work entails and encompasses, and brings together so seamlessly. A melding of word art, emotional turmoil and entwining it with such a firm grasp on existential thoughts and fears. I adored it. I love the art of poetry, and questions of philosophy that burn to be dissected. This is such a wonderful combination of the two, which is only enhanced by the presence of Blue and Horatio. The stripping of persona and relationships to the core of inner essence – soul…Then using core emotions of grief, abandonment, the need to belong and be loved to drive this powerful story to a conclusion, which is in itself once more a beginning or end…Beautiful work."
Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog, 5 Stars
"A novel that is multi layered and created the space for me to mull over the meaning of grief, love and guilt in friendship, and within a family. I have not read a book as philosophical as this for quite some time. Such a poetic novel in every way. I could say I felt almost honoured to read A Man of Understanding, I felt like I shared their journey and even became a little more aware from the feelings and thoughts it brought up. I could say I may have blinked a little tear away too."
Sharon Rimmelzwaan, Beyond The Books
"A witty and heartwarming coming-of-age tale, centered on the inter-generational relationship between a grandfather and the grandson he had never met…Poetic in both content and style…a layered meaning that’ll make you reflect on the meaning of life."
"I loved the interaction between grandfather and grandson as they slowly got to know each other. Each helping the other to heal without realising. I loved the small little injection of humour throughout too…The poetry element in this story so beautifully written…Emotional, thought-provoking and a beautiful story of two people bonding slowly and finding their way in life after their loss."
Book Reviews for u
"Granga talks, philosophises, teaches Blue about poetry, good food and Aristotle and the Golden Mean. My favourite part of the book apart from the poems which alone deserve 5 stars, is the part where Blue meets twelve sheep in a field. This book could have been pretentious, snobby and aimed at a reader with an MA in philosophy at least to understand it, let alone appreciate its beauty. But it isn’t. You don’t need to like poetry (though I do) or have read Aristotle or Kant (I haven’t) to love it. It’s just beautiful and it made me cry."
Veronika Jordan, Bookchatter@Cookiebiscuit, 5 Stars, Amazon Vine
"The characters (even minor) are rich, the settings are vivid and the story is riveting "
W.D. Hart, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University of Illinois, Chicago
"It is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The words just flow so naturally but there is so much substance behind them. The relationship between Rufus/Blue and his grandfather (Granga) is something truly special and you really feel like you are reading about real people. The story is interspersed with poems written by Granga and Blue and whilst I am really not one for poetry even I could appreciate the beauty and poignancy of these poems. I finished reading the book with tears in my eyes…It’s something really special. "
Kelly Holland, bookwormblogss
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Praise for previous work
Praise for The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose
"Reading this really well-written book, I genuinely felt I was living Harriet’s life with her"
Independent on Sunday
"...a rather brilliant and beautifully-written story ... This really is a rather special book, that is hard to do justice to on paper"
"This book itself is a meditation, an invitation to readers who do not conform, to ask and seek answers less obvious than usual, whatever the question"
El Mundo (Spain)
"A wickedly funny, tender-hearted novel ... a book that is a joy from beginning to end"
Australian Women’s Weekly
"Harriet is a great character – fantastically clever, arrogant, socially inept and likely to refer to Kant at innopportune moments. There should be more books ... with heroines who idolise Marcus Aurelius"
"This is a beautifully-written book and the author Diana Janney’s background in philosophy really shows through in the writing ... the meditations were inspirational and the book kept me hooked till the end"
Scoop (New Zealand)
"Diana Janney delivers in this wonderfully original novel"
Page One (Singapore)
"Diana Janney creates in Harriet Rose a young heroine who is beautiful, confident, clever, successful and much loved as well as loving ... providing more than a few laughs ... refreshing"
"Believe me: this book makes you happy! It is extremely inspiring and written in an intelligent way"
"This is a novel we can all learn from, whether it is to laugh at ourselves or to learn how to prioritise things in life"
You (South Africa)
Atomic theory may be beautiful in itself, yes, but the essence of blue for me, its purpose in the heavens, its influence on artists, poets, writers, philosophers, must surely be beyond reduction to something we might be able to create for ourselves one day in a science laboratory or a jam jar.
A Man of Understanding was Runner Up in the Fiction Category of the People’s Book Prize 2023.
Click here for extract
There was only one book I wanted to read right then – had Hannah guessed that as well? I took out Granga’s book of verses from my suitcase and carried it to my bed. The fly was still pressed between the last two pages as if to highlight the poem “The End”. I read it again. Then I took out the pen that I always kept now in my pocket and wrote the following on a notepad by the bed:
It seems we’ve reached an end, our last verse over,
Yet there is one thing more I’d like to say:
If you are right about ends and beginnings,
Then you’re the yesterday in my today.
I gave it a title, “The Beginning”, and placed it in Granga’s book beside “The End”. Hannah knocked at the door before she came in with my milkshake. “I’ve made it with vanilla ice cream,” she said handing it to me. “What’s this?” picking up Granga’s book. “Verses of a Solitary Fellow – your Granga’s poems, how lovely!”
She sat next to me on the bed and flicked through the book, reading one or two. “He’s a talented man, your grandfather,” she said. “I had no idea he was such a fine poet.”
“We wrote poetry together,” I told her. “He taught me. We composed our first one by my grandmother Sophia’s grave. And he taught me all sorts of things – about the thoughts of different great philosophers and about art and how to appreciate good food and use your senses. I even learnt how to dance while he played my mother’s favourite song on his mouth organ in front of a whole crowd in France.”
I would have carried on, but Hannah had found the poem I’d just written and asked, “Who wrote this?”
“I did,” I replied nervously, unsure what she would think of it, “just now, while you were making my milkshake.”
“It’s beautiful, Rufus. It’s so . . .”
She didn’t get to finish telling me what she thought of my poem because we were interrupted by the telephone ringing in the hall.
“Rufus, answer that, would you?” she asked with a smile.
I ran downstairs, while she carried on reading Granga’s poems.
“Hello?” I panted into the receiver.
“What kind of day is this?” came the booming reply. “Describe the blue to me.”
My hands and voice shook just a little as I said, “Right now, it’s like Miró’s blue.”
“Aha!” he exclaimed. “Miró’s This is the colour of my dreams. An unreality, then? A sense of the magical realm of the unknown?”
I hesitated. “It’s just that I didn’t expect to hear your voice again, that’s all.”
He was silent after that and I worried that he might have hung up. “Granga?” I whispered. “Are you still there?”
“I am here,” he replied quietly, as if he was distracted by other thoughts in his great big brain, thoughts too deep for someone like me to understand. “But my question is where do we go from here?”
Was he asking for my opinion or asking himself? If the latter, then why now, why . . . “Hannah rang you, didn’t she? That’s why you called now. You didn’t really want to speak to me, you just felt sorry for me because I told her I missed you!”
My voice was too loud again, like in the restaurant in Morocco. But I couldn’t help it. I was angry, with him, with Hannah, with the world.
“Lower your voice, will you? Your temper is a trait in your character that I do not admire. You need to work on restraining it. But you’re young and the young are prone to extremes, as Aristotle would have told you. Too angry, too emotional, love too much, hate too much, everything to excess. Aim at finding that Golden Mean we discussed.”
“Sorry, Granga,” I muttered, which didn’t make me feel any better at all, but at least my voice was quieter.
“No need for apologies, Blue,” he replied. “It’s yourself you let down, not me. We all do it from time to time. It’s how we know which areas we should be working on. Take mine, for instance. A man of a mountain of years, my weaknesses, extremes, are those of the old. Aristotle was swift to assess those too. He thought that the old were prone to cowardice through their fears, distrustful as a result of experience, and small-minded because they’ve been humbled by life. Unlike the young, who have a long future ahead of them, the old know that their future is short. The young have exalted notions – life hasn’t yet humbled that out of them – they are joyfully hopeful that they will achieve great things. Read Aristotle’s Rhetoric when you have a moment. He spells it out in Book two, Chapters twelve and thirteen.”
“I found some books on him in the school library,” I told him enthusiastically. “I didn’t know that he’d been orphaned too, when he was about my age.”
“Indeed,” Granga replied, “and it might interest you to know that he was also brought up by a guardian, Proxemus, his uncle, who encouraged him towards poetry, amongst other things, before Aristotle went off to study at Plato’s academy.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed, which didn’t sound very philosophical, so I added, “We have even more in common than I realised.”
“But to return to our main topic of conversation, you see, Blue, that I recognise my own weaknesses as well as yours. The difference between us is that I was young myself once so I understand you better than you, who have never been old, understand me. One minute you think you love me, the next you think you hate me, and Hannah for having contacted me. You probably even blame your parents from time to time for having left you. No need, boy. We’re all in this together, this world of which we know so very little. You and I just happen to be at opposite extremes of age’s Golden Mean, that’s all.”
It seemed to make sense, what he said, at least the bits that described me. I wasn’t so convinced by his description of himself, though.
“I don’t think you’re distrustful,” I said, “or small-minded . . . even if you may have seemed cowardly once or twice.”
He laughed and replied, “I must hide my weaknesses better than I thought. But they’re there, nonetheless, deep within my chest, fed by the duplicitous air that I breathe.”
I didn’t understand the last part, so I didn’t say anything and let him carry on. I knew he would – he was on a roll. The right foot of his crossed leg would be swinging backwards and forwards in the duplicitous air.
“You know, Blue, it feels good conversing with you again. You encourage me to reflect far more than I would have thought possible for one so young. Never underestimate the value of applying the mind to worthwhile ideas – Aristotle put it well when he described thinking in his Metaphysics as
the most divine of things in our experience – Book twelve, Chapter nine if my memory serves me well.”
“You taught me how to think,” I said, “it’s what you do.”
“A task that helps me, boy, as much as you.”
I was sure that he’d made his reply rhyme on purpose – he still wanted to share poetry with me.
“I miss being Blue,” I felt ready to confess, “even the Blue who’s a miserable little fellow singing the blues. I’d rather be him than a grey cloud.”
“A cloud, you say? Come, come, I suspect a hue of youthful exaggeration once again. You have your schooldays, do you not, fine opportunities to learn, and you have all your friends.”
“I thought I wasn’t to trust a fellow with too many friends,” I reminded him. “Isn’t that what you taught me when we were in France?”
He laughed and replied, “You remember your lessons too well!”
This time I was on a roll rather than Granga, so I felt confident enough to say, “Granga, how you just described my extremes wasn’t quite correct. I never really thought I hated you . . . or my parents. I was angry, but I didn’t ever hate you.”
“Well said!” he exclaimed. “I stand corrected. And perhaps you also had a right at times to be angry with me. It is so easy to be angry, is it not? Any fool can be angry. But to be angry with the right person, and to the right extent, and at the right time, with the right motive, in the right way, as The Greek explained in his Nicomachean Ethics, Book two, Chapter nine, is not possible for everyone, nor is it easy – that’s why goodness is so rare and worthy of praise and noble. In your case, it is perhaps the degree of anger that is faulty. Whereas, in my case, it is perhaps that my anger has been aimed sometimes at the wrong person.”
“You mean by blaming my mother for Sophia having died?”
“I mean that very sin. And not dissimilar to your own of being angry with me on occasion for no reason, and with poor Hannah, perhaps even with your parents for a departure that was not in any way of their making. Our anger would be better aimed at ourselves for having been so very foolish, would it not? But to experience is to learn.”
“I’m not angry with my parents any more,” I thought I should tell him, “or with you or Hannah.”
“Nor I with dear Grace,” he thought he should tell me. “In fact I applaud her for having reared a child as wise and loving as you.”
I didn’t often receive praise from Granga like I had from my parents, so it came as a bit of a shock and I didn’t know what to say.
Fortunately, Granga spoke first: “The gentle breeze called Hannah will be awaiting your presence. She’s a good woman, don’t forget that, nor take it for granted.”
It felt like the drop in temperature when the sun is disappearing and I knew our conversation was coming to an end.
“And to answer your question, boy, yes, Hannah did telephone me earlier and mentioned in our conversation that you missed me – you were correct in that part of your vociferous assumption. As to your subsequent suggestion, that I didn’t really want to speak to you and that I only called you because I felt sorry for you, I can only presume that an absence of sunlight and Maria’s paella has caused you some form of cerebral deficiency.”