You are currently browsing the monthly archive for February 2008.
You will have seen from the sidebar that I have been reading Iain M Banks’ Matter for a couple of weeks now (with a slight detour to Michael Palin as discussed a couple of days ago). I am not making much progress with the novel, being about a third of the way through, but this isn’t because I’m not enjoying it; on the contrary I’m really savouring the story and that’s part of the problem. I want to sit down for at least an hour at a time to immerse myself in the world of the Culture, but pressures of work and the daily commute (which means I’m standing most of the time in crowded carriages which makes a book this size difficult to read) mean I just haven’t been able to find that dedicated time. However, today is a rare day off work and although I have the usual errands to run I intend to carve out a slot for Matter, so watch this space.
Michael Palin was my favourite Python (along with Terry Jones with whom he did much of his writing) and I was really looking forward to reading his Diaries, which cover the period of Monty Python TV and films, as well as his own Ripping Yarns series (which was excellent). I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed; this is a really entertaining book which gives an insight into the group dynamic which produced such wonderfully hilarious comedy. But it also shares the more private moments of someone in the public eye, and especially when dealing with the death of Palin’s father from Parkinson’s disease is both tender and sad. Hopefully there will be further volumes as I would like to see how he moved from comedy to the travel series for the BBC which have maintained his popularity with the public.
Saturday night is film night chez Bride of the Book God, and quite often we end up watching an adaptation of something one of us has read, is reading or meant to read before watching the movie but forgot. The Prestige is adapted from the novel by Christopher Priest which I talked about here, and I am pleased to say that, having enjoyed the book, the film version didn’t disappoint. Changes always have to be made to translate something from paper to screen, but I thought Christopher Nolan’s alterations made sense, and his perspective on the story made for an interesting and thought-provoking film about rivalry, obsession and, of course, magic. Plus a Saturday night looking at Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale is never wasted.
I finished this a week or so ago but decided not to post until I had had a chance to think through why I loved this novel so much. PopCo is written by Scarlett Thomas of End of Mr Y fame (you can read my views on that here), and I have gone in search of her other works in the hopes that they are as good as these two – not all of her writing is easy to come by though, which is a shame.
PopCo is ostensibly about a toy company where Alice Butler works designing a particular range of toys which call on her interest and expertise in ciphers and code breaking, which she inherited from her grandfather. There are two mysteries at the heart of this story – one is the exact purpose of the retreat Alice goes on with co-workers, the other is a mystery from her past which is connected to the necklace she always wears. Add to that a romance with a colleague and as you can see there is a lot of plot, but it never felt too heavy or contrived to me, partly because I’m a sucker for stories about codes etc., but also because Alice herself is such a wonderful, believable character with a full selection of neuroses and worries, who spends a large part of the novel in bed self-medicating on homeopathic remedies. Her “constant conundrum: how do you identify yourself as someone who doesn’t fit in when everything you could possibly do demarcates you as someone who does?”
The mysteries are satisfyingly resolved, at least as far as I was concerned, there’s an interesting extra chapter in the paperback version and a short interview with her about the “puzzle” of storytelling. She is also interviewed in Issue 36 of Mslexia, which I haven’t read properly but looks fascinating.
Despite the generous supply of gifts for Christmas and birthdays I still managed to buy some books for myself; you will spot some familiar names, but also some new authors that I am looking forward to exploring.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson – how the battle against the great London cholera epidemic of 1854 was fought
Diaries 1969-1979 by Michael Palin – The Python Years; I’ve already dipped into this and it looks extremely entertaining – I can’t resist reading other people’s diaries!
The Translator and Aegypt by John Crowley – two very different stories by the fantasy author, one about an exiled Russian poet and his American translator set in the early 1960s, the other asking whether there is more than one history of the world
Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch – a biography of the woman who founded Shakespeare & Co Bookshop in Paris, with cameos from many of the great writers who found themselves there in the 1920s and 1930s
Touchstone by Laurie R King – a standalone by the the author of the Mary Russell mysteries, possibly the beginning of a new series?
Duma Key by Stephen King – one to savour!
It took me many years and a lot of persuasion on the part of the Book God to finally get around to reading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. I’m not sure exactly why I was so reluctant; it may be the combination of a very English story with a rural setting didn’t have much appeal for a Scottish townie (ironic given that Grahame was born in Edinburgh), but when I did finally read it I instantly became a fan. One of the joys of the story, apart from the Piper at the Gates of Dawn which must be my favourite chapter, is the way that it has attracted some wonderful illustrators. I already have editions with artwork by Arthur Rackham and Charles van Sandwyck, and now this marvellous version by Robert Ingpen produced to mark the centenary of the original publication, the drawings of Badger being particuarly fine. A real joy.
I decided that to celebrate my birthday I wanted to go on an outing, so the Book God and I headed off to the Dulwich Picture Galleryto see the Age of Enchantment exhibition. I love illustrated books, and it was wonderful to see many of the original pieces for various fairy-tales produced by Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham and others. The biggest thrill for me, though, was the selection of drawings by Aubrey Beardsley. When I was a student in the late 1970s, early 1980s it was common to see posters of the work he did for Oscar Wilde’s Salome on bedsit walls, and I’m sure I have set of postcards somewhere. Anyhow, I can really recommend the exhibition if you are at all interested in the illustrator’s art. I believe it is open until 17th February, but if you can’t make it in person then the catalogue is worth buying – I must admit that I succumbed!
The Bride’s birthday has come and gone for another year, and some wonderful books were supplied as presents, mostly from the Book God, with a contribution from the Stanley Scot. I always feel a little bit guilty that my birthday is so close to Christmas, but not guilty enough to refuse the gifts as it’s really not my fault (I blame the parents)! So what did I get this year?
The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth – my first Roth, but not my first novel on the Austro-Hungarian Empire
Blood Mask by Lauren Kelly – a pseudonym of Joyce Carol Oates so nuff said; I wonder how the woman has time to write all of these books and still maintain the quality, but I’m not complaining
Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead – does what it says on the tin, looking forward to the scandal and hidden tales behind the founding of this fine establishment!
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – as reviewed on a number of other blogs, thought I’d give it go myself
Matter by Iain M Banks – I’ve been so looking forward to getting this, a new Culture novel from the great man.