You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2016.
Main things to note before we get to the really good stuff is that I finished my second book of the year, The Three-Body Problem, an excellent (and award winning) piece of sci-fi translated from the Chinese. If you like lots of science in your science fiction then this is one for you.
It was so good that one of the three books I bought myself this week was the sequel:
- The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
- The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
- Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh
And now to the pressies!
- The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin – “as inventive as Agatha Christie, as hilarious as PG Wodehouse”
- God’s Traitors by Jessie Childs – terror and faith in Elizabethan England
- In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson – “Berlin 1933, William Dodd is America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany and is about to witness a turning point in history”
- Numero Zero by Umberto Eco – “fuelled by conspiracy theories, Mafiosi, love, corruption, and murder”
- The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness – “not everyone has to be the chosen one”
- Mr Gaunt by John Langan – and other uneasy encounters
So feeling very pleased with myself as you can imagine and hoping to do quite a lot of reading this week 🙂
I have taken quite a while to get round to writing about They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper because it’s really hard to know quite where to start. To help set some context I was going to quote from the blurb on the book’s Amazon page but I got quite cross reading the thing because it makes some claims (especially about the scholarship involved) that I don’t think really hold up. It’s basically a bonkers book.
What’s it all about?
So Bruce Robinson, former actor and most notably director of Withnail and I, has spent at least fifteen years researching the case of Jack the Ripper and this enormous book is the result of his labours. And it really is a huge thing so I’m glad I had the Kindle version (you may have read in one of my Sunday Salon posts that I saw this in a book shop teetering on the edge of a shelf, only just managing not to plummet to the floor due to its sheer size). Robinson has a preferred suspect and his book is all about proving he’s right, why the guy did it and how he managed not to get caught.
Why did I want to read it?
I will put my hand up and admit that I’ve long been fascinated by Jack the Ripper, though I am well aware that it is all petty lurid stuff. I’ve read enough to be clear that a lot of the ‘facts’ out there are just theories, and some of those are fairly crackpot. So I was interested to see what this latest one would reveal. Also it was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction which gave it a certain additional interest.
What did I think of it?
Well. I’ve always been a great believer in the cock-up rather than the conspiracy theory of history. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think plots and conspiracies can happen; they manifestly have, and some of have been very successful. But to my mind those are the exceptions, and so when it became clear right from the very beginning of this book that the identity of Jack the Ripper was protected by a consipracy that is so enormous that it would collapse under its own weight I felt a familiar sinking feeling.
Robinson identifies the Ripper as Michael Maybrick, a surname that may be familiar to some of you because of the Ripper diaries that were floating around some years ago where James Maybrick was outed as (potentially) being Jack, having been (allegedly) murdered by his wife. The diaries were eventually discredited, but the theory here is that Michael was Jack, murdered his brother and set him up to be the Ripper, and because he was that kind of guy, framed his hated sister-in-law Florence for the killing, with the collusion of the police and the judiciary, because *gasp* Freemasonry.
Yes, it’s the Freemasons what done it, or at least covered it all up. Knew who it was all along etc. and sacrificed the truth to protect the establishment.
I don’t think this holds up because it simply doesn’t make sense, and there is a definite air of selecting material to support a theory and ignoring the bits that don’t fit. Perhaps the Ripper sections on their own, though fairly potty, make some sort of case, but the mashing together with the Florence Maybrick case (which was a clear miscarriage of justice and Robinson is right to be angry about it), just doesn’t work IMHO.
The book is exhausting to read because the author is so angry about everything; it felt like the man was writing the whole thing with his CAPS lock on. It was like being shouted at constantly. His obsessions and prejudices shine through and his language is crude and at times inappropriate to my mind, and that really jars. There were a number of “wow – did he really just say that” moments
Having said all that, it’s also quite entertaining – even funny in places – and he makes some very good points about the Ripperology industry. BI certainly never consdered abandoning the book at any point. But having dumped all this information and conspiracy theory stuff on his readers, the whole thing gets a bit rushed and then. Just. Stops. A bit like Jack the Ripper himself.
A real oddity of a book.
Main things to note:
- I finally finished my first book of the year, They All Love Jack: Busting the Ripper by Bruce Robinson. It was enormous and fairly potty and I felt like I’d been reading it for millennia, but it was remarkably entertaining and I’m going to publish my review soon, hopefully tomorrow
- I went to a book launch in London for the publication of The Girl on the Liar’s Throne by Den Patrick who is a lovely person and was accompanied by other authors Edward Cox and Jen Williams, also lovely. There was wine, and good chat and I got my book signed (so I have signed copies of the whole set)
- I have thrown in the towel on the book embargo and I’ll be buying new things as I see them because why suffer? BUT I will be sticking to the TBR Triple Dog Dare and not reading anything bought after midnight on 31 December until April.
So, what have I bought? Because there must be a reason for dumping the no-buy rule, right?
This is what’s come into the Bride’s possession this week:
- Den’s book obvs (as mentioned above)
- Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan, pre-ordered last year
- If This is a Woman by Sarah Helm, because I enjoyed (if that’s the word) her previous book about Vera Atkins which I reviewed here
- Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne because I love vintage crime and it is set in Scotland and was on my wishlist
- Seveneves by Neal Stephenson because I had breakfast with my friend Silvery Dude and he is currently reading it and told me I would enjoy it (and he’s often though not always right about that sort of thing)
- Disclaimer by Renee Knight because it’s the Next Big Thing – or at least it was; as always I’m a bit late to the party on this one
- The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle because I read a review of it on Clothes in Books and it sounded interesting.
I’m going to try to be good over the next few days because it’s my birthday next week and I believe there may be a book or two amongst my presents. And I’m hoping to finish my current read, The Three Body Problem, which I’m really, really enjoying.
Every year I think my blogiversary is 21 January and every year the good folks at WordPress send me a wee message reminding me that it is in fact today, 20 January. My blog is 9 years old. It is only fitting that I managed to finish my first read of the year today; seems a long way into the year but it was a chunkster and one that I think I just might enjoy talking about on here…….
When I was 9 it was 1971, and on my birthday Apollo 14 launched which I didn’t know until I was skimming Wikipedia to look for interesting 1971-related things. I was probably reading lots of Nancy Drew. I took a quick look at the BBC website to see what exciting things are happening on the Bride’s birthday but it was a bit depressing so let’s ignore that. Have some virtual cake instead! Oh and thank you for reading 😀
So here we are, Sunday once again and I still don’t have any finished books to report, but I’m being very relaxed about that because I am still actually reading, and like I mentioned last week significantly more than I was managing at the end of last year.
I’m concentrating on trying to finish Bruce Robinson’s They All Love Jack, which is all about his theory on who Jack the Ripper really was and the (alleged) cover-up which has kept his identity hidden for all these years. I’m about three-quarters of the way through and enjoying it even though in most respects it’s completely mad. I knew it was a long book but it was only when I saw a physical copy (I’m reading it on my Kindle app) that I realised just how enormous it was. I wish I’d taken a photo because stacked face forward on the shelves the copy at the front looked like it was going to plummet to the floor if you so much as glanced at it.
Some of you will have twigged that if I saw Jack in the wild that means I must have been in a bookshop and it’s true; I suspended (I prefer that to broke) my self-imposed book buying embargo on Thursday by going into Waterstones and buying two books. I had a good excuse though; I had just spent an hour in the dentist’s chair having my broken front tooth reconstructed and I reckoned I earned a treat. The treat took the form of:
- The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (one of the Costa book winners I mentioned in my post here)
- Elizabeth: Renaissance Prince by Lisa Hilton because you can never have two many books about your hero 🙂
The trip to the dentist and subsequent need to curl up on the sofa and feel sorry for myself meant I didn’t get to the Horror Book Club which is dat as well as I hadn’t finished the reading.
Other than that I have been good, though I’m going to a book launch this week and it’s usually pretty hard to get a book signed if you haven’t bought it, so I’ll do what has to be done 😀
I am reading significantly more than I have been for ages, and although I haven’t finished any books so far this year I’m feeling very positive about it all. Hoping to finish either the Jack the Ripper book or the Chinese sci-fi novel, and absolutely must finish The Troop as I will hopefully be attending the Horror Book Club to discuss it this coming Thursday. So far so creepy, haven’t got to the gruesome body horror stuff yet. Ideal read for commuting 🙂
The big thing for me this week was deciding to start studying again for my own pleasure and to get my brain working. My great love is 16th century history so that’s where I’m headed, starting with Anne Boleyn and how she has been perceived by succeeding generations. I will be tracking all of this over on my other blog if you are interested.
I’m still sticking to my intention not to buy any books though I had the pleasure of receiving a copy of All the Birds in the Sky from the publisher to read and review, so that will be my next mission. Sounds wonderful so really looking forward to it.
And of course it’s my birthday at the end of the month so I’ve constructed yet another present list for the Book God to choose from. There might be some books involved there, watch this space……
- the winner in the novel category is A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson which I read last year (mostly on a train journey from Edinburgh) and enjoyed very much (though I think I still prefer Life after Life which I just found amazing)
- the first novel winner, The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley which I bought on the recommendation of various people on Twitter and which was already close to the top of Mount TBR; and
- the children’s book winner is The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, lurking around the fringes of my wish list but not yet in my possession, and as I’m not buying at the moment it will have to wait until April. But I have read at least one other of her books (the creepy Cuckoo Song) and have a couple in the stacks
I must admit the smart money is probably on Kate Atkinson but I would love The Loney to win simply because it’s horror 🙂
Happy New Year to everyone that I haven’t said it to already! I hope that everyone is geared up for 2016. I’ve been doing some thinking and planning and hoping to read a lot more than I managed in 2015 (though actually I was only 4 short of my target of 52 books so think what I might have achieved if I hadn’t had that awful reading slump).
So what’s been happening since my last post? Well…
My last read of the year was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which I re-read after many years specifically so I could enjoy the three-part adaptation that was on the BBC over the Christmas weekend. My thoughts on the book and the programme can be found here.
I am now in full challenge mode, reading only stuff I owned at midnight on 31 December whether to help clean up my e-reader or as part of the Triple Dog Dare, both of which I have mentioned before. Although not required by either of those challenges, I have put in place a buying embargo for the full three months, so of course that meant a quick flurry of expenditure in the short window between Christmas and New Year, where I bought the following from my wish list:
- A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
- Sister Noon by Karen Joy Fowler
- Last Days by Adam Nevill
- The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan
- Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Planetfall by Emma Newman
I also bought a couple of short eBooks to help me develop my journalling; I’ve been keeping a daily diary for a few years now but want to get more out of it this year to help me cope with the mental health issues which blew up in 2015.
I’m still steadily working my way through The Three Body Problem and the Jack the Ripper book, and I’m about to start reading The Troop for the first Horror Book Club meeting in 10 days time. These are all eBooks so I’m also in the process of identifying a physical book to have on hand. That iPad has to charge sometime.
So here’s to a good reading year for all of us 😀
I decided to re-read this Agatha Christie novel in advance of the three part TV adaptation which was on the BBC over the Christmas weekend. Although I was familiar with the story I wanted to refresh my memory so that I could see what changes the screenwriter had and hadn’t made. This is in part because of bad experiences with recent Christie adaptations where they have packed the episodes with big name actors even in the smallest parts and have mucked about with the stories so that they are basically unrecognisable.
Though for the avoidance of doubt I should say that Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple and David Suchet’s Poirot are exempt from this criticism.
I have owned a reasonable sized collection of Christies since I was in secondary school so I rummaged in the stacks to find the copy I knew I had, with the aim of reading it on a train trip to and from Manchester. What I had forgotten is that my paperback is from 1975 (22nd impression) and not only has a golliwog on the cover (one of the great Tom Adams illustrations) but also has the original 1939 title which today would be totally unacceptable, so that scuppered that idea. Didn’t want to be glared at on the Pendolino. In the end I read it roughly in parallel with the broadcast.
I was pleased to see that my memory of the story had held up pretty well. 10 people, strangers to each other apart (obviously) from the married couple who are the only servants, are invited to an island off the coast of Devon for a house party. They are a pretty mixed bunch and it becomes clear that they have all been spun a different story to get them there and more importantly they all have something to hide. And then they start being bumped off one after the other.
The tone is very dark, none of the characters are particularly likeable and of course paranoia and hysteria soon settle in and accusations start flying around. The central conceit of the nursery rhyme works well and the only thing I found jarring was the explanation of it all at the end. But still enjoyably twisted. As someone said on Twitter (and sorry, I can’t find it again) Christie invented the slasher movie 🙂
The TV adaptation
Unusually, and in this case pleasingly, the BBC decided to do three one hour episodes which I think worked really well in allowing the story to develop. It didn’t lose any tension at all, and they didn’t tinker with the ending at all. In fact, the dramatised version solved the problem in the novel of how we find out who was behind it all. Even the inevitable jazzing up for modern tastes (more sex, more obvious drug taking, some of which is hinted at on the novel) was sensitively done and didn’t jar at all. An excellent cast and high production values helped deliver the highlight of holiday TV for me (I will deal with The Abominable Bride elsewhere).
This read-along has made me want to revisit the Christie back catalogue, and that can only be a good thing. That includes reading a more modern edition of the novel to see how it’s been changed
I must do this sort of thing more often, but don’t think I’ll start with War and Peace…..
I really really did intend to write proper full reviews for each of the books below (and still will for my actual final read of the year because I will be linking it to something else) but life sort of got in the way and I want to start the new year with a reasonably clean slate so the fact that I have chosen to do mini-reviews for each of these is no reflection on the books themselves; I really enjoyed all three of them.
And when you write a paragraph-long sentence you need to stop and breathe 😀
Bryant & May: London’s Glory by Christopher Fowler
I’m not going to go on again about how much I love these books, but will just say that this short story collection was a real treat and I had only read one of them previously so that was even better. The additional pleasure was to be found in the extras:
- an introduction which gave us CF’s insights into crime fictions, always fascinating
- additional information on each of the stories; and
- a synopsis of each of full-length cases so far (there’s another one coming in a few months)
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Again, brilliant notes from the author and the two stories I had read before really stood up well to a revisit.
I think King’s short works are often overlooked and this had some real goodies. If you haven’t tried them you really should.
Slade House by David Mitchell
The Bone Clocks was one of my favourite reads of 2015 so when I found out that Mitchell was bringing out a short book set in the world of that novel then I know I was going to read it as soon as I could, and I wasn’t disappointed. Apart from the fact that it has one of the most beautiful book covers of the year, it is really very creepy and disorienting and reinforced my feeling that Mitchell will become a regular on my to buy list. Luckily I have a couple of his novels already on the stacks as I am on a buying freeze. This is a goodie and one I intend to re-read. Still thinking about it weeks after I finished reading it.