Baswoods books

KeskusteluClub Read 2020

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Baswoods books

1baswood
joulukuu 31, 2019, 10:38am

Something of a continuation of my reading last year.

3 categories of planned reading.

Tudor Literature 1591/2
I can't be sure of the timeline here because many of the works are Elizabethan plays; many of which were printed some years after they were performed on stage and I have gone with the stage productions.

There will be plays by
John Lyly
William Shakespeare
Christopher Marlowe
Robert Greene
George Peele

This feels a bit like the end of an era because by 1594 Lyly, Marlowe, and Robert Greene had disappeared from the scene and it was left to Shakespeare to carry the torch forward until a new bunch of playwrights arrived.

Science Fiction
I will be reading as many books as I can get hold of that were published in 1951 as well as continuing with some proto science fiction and some titles from the masterwork series.

Books From my Shelf.
Still got plenty of books to read left over from last year as follows:

Anthony Burgess - The Malayan Trilogy

William Boyd - A Good man in Africa

Julian Barnes - Flauberts Parrot

Michael Baker - Vox

Iain Banks - The Bridge

Saul Bellow - The Victim

A S Byatt - Angels and Insects

Iain Banks - Against a dark black

Alain De Botton - The art of Travel

Anthony Burgess - The Doctor is sick

Frederick Barthelme - Moon De-luxe

William Boyd - The Blue Afternoon

Simone de Beauvoir - The Mandarins

T C Boyle - Water Music

John Baxter - A pound of Paper

John Buchan - The Island of sheep

Balzac - Old Goriot

John Berendt - Midnight in the garden of good and evil

Julian Barnes - A history of the world in 10 and a half chapters

Anthony Burgess - The Devils Mode

Malcolm Bradbury - Who do you think you are

Iain Banks - Dead Air

Saul Bellow - Herzog

Arnold Bennet - Clayhanger

Marjorie Bowen - The Bishop of hell and other stories

A S Byatt - The Childrens Book

William Boyd - Armadillo

Julian Barnes - Arthur and George

Saul Bellow - Humbolt's gift

Anthony Burgess -1985

Balzac - Lost Illusions

Iain Banks - The steep approach to Goobade

William Boyd - Ordinary Thunderstorms

Anthony Burgess - The Kingdom of the wicked

2OscarWilde87
tammikuu 2, 2020, 4:13am

Happ New (Reading) Year! Just letting you know I dropped a star and will be lurking around here.

3SassyLassy
tammikuu 2, 2020, 3:49pm

Looking forward to following along with your reading again this year. There are so many great books on your "B" list, and I always learn something new with the Tudor era. Who knows, I may even creep over into SF.

4mabith
tammikuu 2, 2020, 3:52pm

I like the 1591 v 1951 joint goals. Looking forward to following your reading again.

5baswood
tammikuu 3, 2020, 11:26am

Shakespeare & the Drama of his Time.
Martin Wiggins

This is in the Oxford Shakespeare Topics series which aims to provide students and teachers with short books on important aspects of of Shakespeares criticism and scholarship.

Wiggins brief here is to look at the relationship between Shakespeare and other Elizabethan dramatists during the period of the English theatrical renaissance. Wiggins point is that it was not only Shakespeare that was shaping the early modern drama of the period and he provides a contextual background to his work with reference to those playwrights and their plays that formed the bulk of the material; for example Christopher Marlowe , Thomas Kyd , George Chapman, Ben Johnson, John Marston and John Fletcher. He does this for the most part by providing a linear history of Elizabethan drama from the 1570’s to Shakespeare’s Jacobean period.

The book is too short to be a history of criticism and rather the summary that is provided Wiggins owns for himself.

In his first chapter Wiggins asks where did Elizabethan drama come from because it seemed to have arrived almost fully formed in the 1580’s with the arrival of Lily, Kyd. Marlowe Geene and Peele. The answer is that not much survives from the previous decade although we know there must have been plays because of the building of theatres in the 1570’s and the title of plays that have not come down to us. Along with the commercial theatre there were the University plays, those developed to be played at Elizabeth's Court and the rise of the schoolboy/choirboy troupes. He gives a brief summary of the plays that have survived and their origins in classical literature or bawdy tales adapted from the Italian Renaissance. Historical plays started to appear and the allegorical plays with their moral messages from an earlier period continued to be performed. There seemed to have been a twin axis of educational plays and those made for entertainment with many increasingly veering towards the entertainment axis.

The subject of the next chapter is tragedy with Wiggins saying that the earliest to appear using the new style of blank verse was Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy 1586 closely followed by Marlowe’s Tamburlaine. He assumes that the sound of Marlowe’s plays with their mighty line must have had a profound effect on theatre goers who would have heard nothing like it. Wiggins analysis just what was so new in Tamburlaine and the Spanish Tragedy saying that Marlowe and Kyd reinvented tragedy for the English stage. The plays that followed including the early Shakespeare historical dramas are given something like a roll call with only a brief reference, before he moves on to Hamlet, but only briefly using it as a signpost that points to the development of human tragedy and human potential in the theatre.

A Chapter on Comedy’s Metamorphosis takes as its starting point Ben Jonson’s play “Every Man out of His Humour” and looks backwards and forwards; emphasising the point that the new comedy was more character centred, more socially realistic and more concerned with the vagaries of human sexuality. He moves through Shakespeares canon before discussing the influence of Chapman and so we are soon into the late 1590’s.

He has a chapter which he calls an interlude in which he discusses the development of drama from a more general perspective. What made plays successful: Plotting and theming. characterisation etc

A chapter follows on plays written towards the end of the period, the new breed of playwrights with Lyly, Greene, Marlowe, Kyd now all gone and Shakespeare as a sort of link towards Chapman, Fletcher, Marston, Webster, Beaumont etc. There is a final chapter on Shakespeare as The Prodigal Father and how he tended to shape the age of Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre even after his retirement.

I found this book interesting on the period of drama that I am beginning to know through my reading: that is up to 1592. Nothing really new here but a good summary with Wiggins own angle on the period. Wiggins does give titles of plays and their first appearance dates whenever he can and so for a potted history of the development of drama of the time it is very good. Wiggins tries hard not to discuss any one play in too much detail and so this book will appeal to readers wanting a more general view, but it helps if you are familiar with the plays. 4 stars.

6baswood
tammikuu 3, 2020, 12:58pm

>2 OscarWilde87: >3 SassyLassy: >4 mabith: Good to be in your company

7baswood
tammikuu 4, 2020, 8:38am



Novecento : pianiste by Alessandro Baricco
Un monologue
This is a French translation of an Italian novella by Alessandro Baricco originally published in 1994. Barrico is a well known writer and film director in his native Italy and many of his books have been translated into French. Currently his monologue of Novecento is being performed on stage by a famous french actor André Dussollier with the backing of several jazz musicians.

The story is told by a trumpet player Tim Tooney who gets a job on board The Virginian a large ship that criss crosses the Atlantic. The year is 1927 and he has a strange story to tell of the pianist in the ship's band who becomes his best friend. Novecento (the pianist) was born in the year 1900 and he was born on the Virginian and left behind by one of the third class steerage passengers. He was found by a sailor in an empty fruit box with the following stamped on the outside Danny Boodman T.D Lemon Novecento which became his name. The sailor brought up Novecento and when he died Novecento remained on board with no papers to say he existed. The Captain decided he must get Novecento registered the next time the boat docked in Southampton for a refit, but they could not find Novecento, only when the ship was back on the high seas did Novecento reappear and he was found in the ballroom playing the piano. He learnt to play the songs he heard from the immigrants on their way to America and he became a legend being able to improvise and play in the band.

Jelly Roll Morton self styled KIng of Jazz booked a passage so he could challenge Novecento to a cutting competition. Novecento made a fool of him without realising what it was all about. Another part of the legend was that Novecento had never set foot on dry land, he continued to live his life on board the ship, a prodigy of sorts who did not exist through lack of registration. Apart from his music all that he knew came from the people who travelled on the boat, the first class passengers down to those in steerage, his life in some respects was lived through others.

Baricco spins the legend of Novecento to a brief 80 odd pages, but it is full of music with a main theme of the limitations of ones existence. Novecento says why should he leave the boat, he has everything he needs, more of anything would just lead to confusion. Baricco writes in lively style interplaying with the music that serves as a background to this rather sad little tale. 3.5 stars

(I have booked to see André Dussollier performing this monologue at my local theatre next month)

8ELiz_M
tammikuu 4, 2020, 8:55am

>5 baswood: "The book is too short to be a history of criticism and also, that would be the focus of "Shakespeare Criticism in the Twentieth Century".

Thanks for the introduction to the Oxford books, some titles are rather intriguing.

9kidzdoc
tammikuu 4, 2020, 1:37pm

Happy New Year, Barry! Novecento sounds very interesting; I'll have to see if it's available in English or Spanish translation.

10AlisonY
tammikuu 4, 2020, 2:30pm

Dropping off a star. Happy new year - looking forward to your 2020 reviews.

11baswood
tammikuu 4, 2020, 4:39pm

Happy new year >9 kidzdoc:, >10 AlisonY:

12dchaikin
tammikuu 4, 2020, 7:16pm

Happy New Year/New Thread. A lot of Saul Bellow on that list. I'm looking forward to 1592 reconstructing itself here in your perspective. On topic is a excerpt below, an picture of a page from A History of London by Stephen Inwood. Apologies in a way, I feel a little guilty posting a big image here, but...I'm a little too lazy to type it all out and I already had the picture. (You can ignore the circle.)

13baswood
tammikuu 5, 2020, 4:18am

>14 I am relieved that most of those plays claimed by Heywood and Dekker have not survived. I have invested in a copy of English Drama 1586-42 The age of Shakespeare in the Oxford History of English Literature series to provide me with a guide through the morass of plays.

Hope you enjoyed your trip to London

14raton-liseur
tammikuu 5, 2020, 8:20am

Happy new year! I'll be following your thread with interest.
Your reading plans are far from my usual readings, but sound interesting and I might get tempted to borrow a few titles from your reviewed books...

15dchaikin
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 5, 2020, 8:53am

>13 baswood: oye, the London trip. I really did fall in love with the city. It might sound odd to say I had no idea it was so nice. But my daughter caught the flu and spent 5-days (!) stuck in the hotel bed.

16NanaCC
tammikuu 5, 2020, 12:42pm

>5 baswood: I always enjoy your reviews, and get an education too. i may not always comment, but I do spend time lurking.

17baswood
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 2020, 8:13pm



A Good Man in Africa - William Boyd.
That Good Man in Africa is Morgan Leafy; sexist, racist, usually drunk and very British who gets to play the hero in the end, but it's all OK because it's satire. The black Africans are either corrupt or stupid or both, while the white British consulate staff are just as stupid, but know when they need to assert their authority. This book comes from a long line of British satire writers on the lives of their hard pushed countrymen who are trying to make sense or make their way in the Dark Continent. Boyd who was educated at Gordonstoun and Oxford follows in the footsteps of successful authors such as Evelyn Waugh, and Kingsley Amis, but Boyd writing his first novel in the 1980's has no excuse in treading this well worn path.

Satire as I understand it is the use of humour, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose and criticise peoples stupidity or vices. It seems to me that Boyd works very hard to convince his readers that for the most part a small African country that was under imperial rule is just like he says it is. Our hero Morgan Leafy is quite content as long as he has a steady supply of beer and sex and he doesn't have to work too hard or think too hard to keep the supply coming. He is open to corruption, he throws his ever increasing weight around and thinks only of himself. I felt that Boyd wants his readers to have a soft spot for this racist, misogynist. Poor Morgan Leafy with all the weight of the world's troubles on his shoulders largely caused by his own actions is just looking to survive. This is not a bildungsroman or a novel about redemption, the satire does not bite it is just played for the readers amusement, with plenty of sexual titillation.

I suppose you should know what you are getting when British journals like The Times call it "Wickedly funny" or the Spectator 'Splendid rollicking stuff' and the novel won the 1981 Whitbread Literary Award and later the 1982 Somerset Maugham Award. The writing is certainly of a good standard and Boyd furnishes plenty of detail while keeping the story moving along. It is easy to label this novel as just good fun, but good harmless fun I don't think it is, I might have enjoyed this forty years ago, but not now; I almost felt like I needed to take a shower to wash away the underlying sleaze that rises up from this book. 2.5 stars.

18AlisonY
tammikuu 7, 2020, 3:46am

>17 baswood: well, I thoroughly enjoyed your review, and thanks to that will not waste several hours of my life unnecessarily.

I suppose you should know what you are getting when British journals like The Times call it "Wickedly funny" or the Spectator 'Splendid rollicking stuff'?>

I definitely agree with your comment on this. I've been taken in by reviews like this in the past, and generally find post-read that they've been invariably written by some 25 year old egocentric half-formed boy, the laddish type that still takes great hilarity in stripping off every time he gets drunk with his "wickedly funny" friends.

19SassyLassy
tammikuu 7, 2020, 10:46am

>17 baswood: >18 AlisonY: "I suppose you should know what you are getting when British journals like The Times call it "Wickedly funny" or the Spectator 'Splendid rollicking stuff' " Those are certainly books I run from too!

>17 baswood: I hope this wasn't your first Boyd novel, as it is certainly one which would turn you off his writing. He had a similar "wickedly funny" character years later: Logan Mountstuart in Any Human Heart, which got him the chance to write an authorized James Bond novel, so you can guess what kind of a character Mountstuart was.

Boyd seems to write two kinds of novel, serious and the aforementioned "rollicking stuff". However, my first Boyd novel was Brazzaville Beach which was one of the former, and I have read a lot of his work since, despairing at his spoofs/satires, but enjoying his more straightforward works. Lately I have not enjoyed these books as much and have wondered if he is settling into the kind of caricature he too often portrayed.

20OscarWilde87
tammikuu 7, 2020, 1:00pm

>17 baswood: I really enjoyed your review. Especially your comment about The Times and the Spectator had me laughing out loud.

21kidzdoc
tammikuu 7, 2020, 4:17pm

>17 baswood: Yikes. Great review...but that book is a hard pass for me, needless to say.

22AnnieMod
tammikuu 7, 2020, 5:12pm

>17 baswood: Oh dear... I've realized a long time ago that I do not understand contemporary (~ish - this book is as old as I am) humor -- it either sounds juvenile and obnoxious or it just is not funny for me. Sounds like this book fits in the same category... Great review though. :)

23sallypursell
tammikuu 7, 2020, 5:35pm

> I don't know your criteria, but I'm fond of John Barth, who doesn't appear on your list. They makes me very curious.

Secondly, I am already enjoying your thread, and I'll be back for more.

24thorold
tammikuu 7, 2020, 11:26pm

Catching up...

>7 baswood: I’ve enjoyed several of Baricco’s books but seem to have missed that one — on the list it goes!

>17 baswood: I’ve not had much success with Boyd either. Maybe Water music would be a good antidote from your TBR list? A completely different take on Europeans and Africa.

25baswood
tammikuu 8, 2020, 3:52am

I have got two more William Boyd novels on my TBR for this year:

The Blue Afternoon
Armadillo

I am hoping that A Good Man in Africa was just written that way to get a first novel published.

26baswood
tammikuu 9, 2020, 1:07pm



King Henry VI part 2 The Arden Shakespeare
Henry Vi part 2 BBC television film

A Saintly King no Match for Headless Coqs

In the fifteenth century the age of chivalry had long since passed and Shakespeare with his first history play written in the late sixteenth century shows how personal the barbarity had become. Warrior Queens and ambitious wives add to a fatal mix for the Noble families of England.

Lady Eleanor:
Were I a man, a duke and next of blood,
I would remove these tedious stumbling-blocks
And smooth my way upon their headless necks.


Testosterone drives the events forward, which rapidly threaten the king himself with the Duke of York happy to stir up a popular revolt to gain the crown. It was quite simply all or nothing if you didn't get to wear the crown you lost your head. This had always been the case, but the wars of the roses between the houses of York and Lancaster threatened to plunge the country into chaos and Shakespeare shows how close it was for the the Lord of Misrule to triumph. If ever the Elizabethan state needed a history lesson as the queen aged with no heir to the throne then Shakespeare provided it. Reading and watching a performance of the play today shows just how well the play works. It makes for great drama and an interesting interpretation of the history of England.

The majority of the play is centred around the the scheming of the powerful Dukes of England as they break into various factions to secure the crown from a king who has proven to be weak in the art of politics and leadership. However interspersed are scenes and one whole act of the blackest of black comedy involving non noble characters, which are also relevant to the plot. In act one it is Eleanor; wife of the Lord Protector to the king and the most powerful man in the kingdom who hires a sinister group of charlatans to prophesy the fate of the king and his advisers. The scene ends with their arrest and puts in train the events that will lead to the Protectors downfall. In act 2 there is the miracle cure claimed by Simpcox which is foiled in the public domaine by the Lord Protector, then there is the trial by combat of Horner the armourer and Peter his assistant. Peter has accused Horner of uttering treasonable words and the king has ordered a trial by combat. These trials usually took place between men of noble birth and Peter and Horner are provided with long poles and sandbags as weapons (as befits their station). However Peter kills Horner and this turning upside down of the way things should be is a portent of Jack Cades rebellion in act 4. This starts with the execution of Suffolk at the hands of pirates; dark in the extreme before moving onto a tremendous piece of theatre as Jack Cade acts out a real Lord of Misrule, hanging and ordering the death of innocent people on a whim, stirring up a mob and making a mockery of law and justice. Act 5 starts with the ignominious killing of Cade before the play ends in an orgy of death and destruction as York makes his play for the crown aided by Warwick and Salisbury.

The Arden Shakespeare edition contains most of what you would want for a reading of the play. As is usual with this series it pays some attention to the productions of the play on stage since the 1590's. How different productions can emphasise the particular themes that run through the play. For example the carnivalesque aspects which could be toned down and played for a more gentle comedy instead of a more Rabelaisian saga of violence. The relationship between King Henry and his queen Margaret could either be played as a respectful queen towards her saintly husband, or as a strong willed woman contemptuous of a weak and indecisive monarch who is losing his grip on his crown. Ronald Knowles introduction covers many of the themes and he is particularly strong on providentialism: the belief that God controls events on earth and works in mysterious ways and the great chain of being; everybody has and knows their place in society and should stick to it. These ideas are challenged by the machiavellianism of the nobles and the violent challenges from those lower down the order. He is also very good on the burlesque distortion of society occasioned by Jack Cade's rebellion. He also covers issues relating to text and authorship including the quarto publication of The Contention (this is included in a facsimile reproduction as an appendix). There is a section on sources and of course as you would expect there are copious notes which explain where Shakespeare found his history and where he adapted it to fit into a drama that played well on stage.

This is an early play by Shakespeare, perhaps the first where he was the main author, but his skill and artistry is evident. The animal imagery in evidence throughout may appear a little overplayed in places and repetitive, but it does link the actions within the play and hammers home one of the main ideas that the actions of both the nobles in their lust for power and the lower orders in their lust to destroy is hardly better than the primitive natural world. There are interesting parallels between the actions of the nobles and the ordinary people and the death scenes are well handled. The violence both on and off stage is extreme with a central motif of decapitation and defilement. "Yes, Poll!" says the pirate lieutenant; "Pole!" corrects Suffolk (he is William de la Pole) whose head does not end up on a pole as do other characters in this play, his head ends up in the lap of his lover Queen Margaret (unfortunately not attached to his body). Characterisation is pushed up to another level by Shakespeare; the strident assertive females, the essentially good and holy King, The world weary Duke of Gloucester who can hardly believe what is happening to him and who has a tremendous scene with his wife the lady Eleanor who is just finishing a two day ordeal of public penance; the cunning Duke of York and the bravado of the kingmaker Warwick.

The BBC 1983 television production directed by Jane Howell is a must see for anybody that likes this play. It sticks closely to the text that has come down to us and proves how well the play works in the theatre. Peter Bensen as King Henry is portrayed as a weak king in the traditional sense of being out of touch and fearful of what is going on around him. He needs the support of his Protector the good and sensitive Duke of Gloucester. His new Queen: Margaret played by Julia Foster is a feisty woman intent on asserting her authority in love perhaps with Suffolk, but is able to let him go when her position is threatened. The Jack Cade scenes are excellent as is the fighting at the conclusion, many of the themes highlighted by the Arden edition can be followed in this production.

Shakespeare's Henry VI part 2 shows a world that is gripped by greed where violence always lurks just below the surface and rises up with the least provocation. It is a world where pageantry and order can no longer paper over the cracks, it is a world sinking into barbarism where the strongest survive and religion is only for the foolish. A martial society where the ability to bear arms is of the upmost importance. It is all here in Shakespeare's play and the words on the page can come alive on the stage. Brilliant 5 stars.

27baswood
tammikuu 10, 2020, 6:28pm



Leigh Brackett - The Long Tomorrow
Published in 1955 and now part of the science fiction master work series this is a dystopian novel and probably one of the first to consider what the earth would be like after a nuclear war. Brackett imagines a world that has lost perhaps four hundred years of civilisation. A world of few people who now live in fear of science and the big cities and have turned to religion to supply their spiritual needs.

The story takes place in America and from the point of view of two teenage cousins living in the village of Piper's Run. The strict religious based society is agricultural, there are no machines, the cities have been abandoned and with them the provision of electricity. Fear of the civilzation that brought the war of Destruction some 60 years previously is beaten into the younger generation. The Colter cousins have not had their curiosity curtailed by the harsh laws and when Esau steals a radio from the schoolmaster they risk everything in trying to make it work. There is a rumour of a city that has survived the Destruction, but after witnessing the stoning to death of a man rumoured to have been there, the cousins realise they would be risking their lives to find Bartorstown.

The book is in three parts the cousins lives in the village of their birth and their escape to a slightly larger riverside town is part one. Following its conflagration they travel across America to the fabled Bartorstown which takes up part two and their experiences in Bartorstown is handled in the final part. The point of view resting with one of the two teenage boys makes it feel like young adult fiction and Brackett writes well in telling the adventurous journey across a post apocalyptic America. The violence is kept within bounds as she is more concerned with their development into young men. The mystery of the city of Bartorstown becomes the raison d'etre of the novel and the hook to keep the reader turning the pages. The book reflects the more innocent, uncomplicated times of the nineteen fifties, but with the fear of progress and the bomb.

There are no super hero or heroic deeds as the story has a realistic setting, however the society that Brackett describes is strictly patriarchal and moving further in that direction after the destruction of the cities. There is no racism or overt jingoism as it would appear that all the world has suffered the same fate. Todays science fiction readers may find the story a little tame, but its limited world building and air of mystery might be enough to keep them entertained. I enjoyed it and so 3.5 stars.

28dchaikin
tammikuu 10, 2020, 10:39pm

Excited to read another Shakespeare review here. I didn’t know anything about H6P2 other than the title and that it’s an early work. Curious how many heads a stage performance might require.

Enjoyed your review of The Long Tomorrow as well.

29baswood
tammikuu 11, 2020, 4:23am

>28 dchaikin:
The Body count of characters in the play is quite high 16 I think, murdered or executed. Five of them lose their heads.

Jack Cade orders the heads of Lord Saye and his son in law be stuck upon poles and paraded through the streets and at each corner they should be made to kiss each other

30nohrt4me2
tammikuu 11, 2020, 6:42pm

>7 baswood: Novecento sounds like an interesting addition to my novella project!

31dchaikin
tammikuu 11, 2020, 6:55pm

>29 baswood: lovely... (theme repeats, of course, albeit with less beheading. Hamlet, Lear...)

32lisapeet
tammikuu 12, 2020, 5:59pm

I loved William Boyd's Any Human Heart, though it's been years since I read it. I have Brazzaville Beach on my shelves and I've probably read an unmemorable thriller or two by him... and I think I may stop there.

33AnnieMod
tammikuu 13, 2020, 9:00pm

>27 baswood: Interesting review. Leigh Brackett had been on my to-read list for a very long time - I probably should get around to her...

34baswood
tammikuu 15, 2020, 11:33am

Complaints - Edmund Spenser
This is a collection of nine poems published in 1591 by Spenser, following the publication of the first three books of his magnum opus The Faerie Queene. Complaints is certainly the right word for this collection as the impression one gets from reading these pieces is that Edmund Spenser was not a happy man. Everything is tarnished everything turns to dust: this might be true, but as a continuing theme through all these poems they make for a depressing read.

The Ruines of Time
This poem of nearly 100 seven line stanzas starts cheerfully enough with the speaker strolling along beside the river Thames, but it soon turns to sorrowful thoughts as he sees:

"A Woman sitting sorrowfully wailing,
Rending her yellow Locks, like wiry Gold,
About her Shoulders carelesly down trailing,
And Streams of Tears from her fair Eyes forth railing:"


The woman is the embodiment of a Roman Town that has now completely disappeared and she tells of its past glories and its inevitable decay. The vanity of powerful people: races and individuals who think that they can control their fate becomes a theme running through the majority of this collection:

"O vile World's Trust, that with such vain Illusion,
Hath so wise Men bewitcht, and overkest,
That they see not the way of their Confusion!
O Vainness to be added to the rest,
That doth my Soul with inward Grief infest!
Let them behold the piteous Fall of me,
And in my case their own ensample see."


The poem ends with the only comforting thought that the lady will be better off in heaven away from "this dross of sinful World's desire"

The Tears of the Muses
The Speaker imagines the nine muses of the Greek world looking down at the state of art and learning in the world at the time of Spenser and lamenting at what they see. Each of the muses gets a few stanzas to bewail the state of the world

Virgil's Gnat
This is a free form translation of a poem by Virgil: Dedicated to the earl of Leicester - its thought Spenser was out of favour at this time. Spenser is the Gnat?
We are back in the land of shepherds.
A shepherd in the paradise like Arcadia lays down to sleep. A snake appears and threatens to strike. but the shepherd is awoken by the gnat which gets squashed. The shepherd goes home and reflects on his cruelty to the gnat.
Meanwhile the gnat tells of the sights he sees in hell.
The shepherd grieving for the gnat makes for him a little tomb.

Prosopopoia: or Mother Hubberd's Tale
This is a beast fable in rhyming couplets. Spenser says it the story told by Mother Hubberd is 'base in Style, and Matter mean withall. The story is about an ape and a fox who disguise themselves in order to make their way in the world. They become shepherds, but eat all the flock, they become ministers in the church, but are chased out of town by their parishioners who discover them cheating. They become courtiers where they find that their cheating ways are no match for the other courtiers and finally they try and snatch the mace and crown from the lion king. This is the longest of the poems and it's simple style and more light hearted satire makes it an enjoyable read.

The Ruins of Rome
This is a translation of a poem by the frenchman Joachim du Bellay and reads well. It fits very much into the dominant theme of this collection.

Muiopotomos or the Fate of the Butterfly
This is probably the most mature of the poems in the collection and tells the story of a butterfly who comes to grief at the hands of a a spider in a garden of paradise. The butterfly is vain and only concerned with pleasure and imbibes far too much of the beautiful flowers in the garden. Spenser interweaves this story with the myth of Cupid and Psyche and the poem can seem a little too complex. The moral seems to be that however well set up you are, it is foolish to challenge the Gods. Hence the violent death of Clarion the butterfly.

The final three poems are all sonnet collections: The Visions of Bellay, The Visions of Petrarch, and Visions of the Worlds Vanity. Nothing much here to detain the reader.

I can't say I enjoyed reading this collection and Spenser is not always an easy poet to read, sometimes he can be impenetrable like in parts of Muiopotomos. 2.5 stars.

35dchaikin
tammikuu 15, 2020, 9:35pm

I wasn’t aware of this curious group of poems. Enjoyed your reviews, but I’m certainly not anxious to get to these.

36sallypursell
tammikuu 15, 2020, 9:46pm

>34 baswood: >35 dchaikin: Ditto, dchaikin.

37dukedom_enough
tammikuu 16, 2020, 9:08am

>27 baswood: I read The Long Tomorrow in the 1960s. Good to hear it holds up.

38avaland
tammikuu 18, 2020, 6:46am

>1 baswood: Why 1951? Just curious. I may have missed the reasoning somewhere....

39baswood
tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:19pm

>38 avaland: Not quite a palindrome of 1591 the other year I am reading

40baswood
tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:21pm

41baswood
tammikuu 18, 2020, 5:22pm

Anthony Burgess - The Malayan trilogy
Consists of Burgess first three novels: Time for a Tiger 1956, The Enemy in the Blanket 1958 and Beds in the East 1959. I read them as one longer novel and found that it held my interest all the way through. One of the characters the Englishman Victor Crabbe is present in all three novels; a resident teacher in the first, a headmaster in the second and then an Education officer in the third, however the novels do stand alone, I just happened to have them in one single volume on my bookshelf.

In the first novel the British seem to be in control of the Malayan Peninsula and and the book focuses on two British officials trying to come to terms with life in the colony. Burgess introduces his readers to the vibrant nationalities who are struggling to make their mark, there are the Sikhs, The Tamils, the indigenous Malays and the Chinese. Burgess writes on all these differing cultures from a British perspective but it is a perspective from first hand knowledge as he spent some time in the colonial service in Malaya as a teacher and education officer. The novels are satirical in as much as they "probably" exaggerate racial characteristics and incidents, however the satire does not become nasty or denigrating, so much different from William Boyd's first novel A Good Man in Africa that I read recently and which I found insidiously racist. The difference is that Burgess satire is based on strong characterisation of many of the people in his book, whereas Boyd only really bothers with the English characters.

Each of the books has a main theme or plot thread which is also present in the others, but which does not feature so strongly. The first novel is concerned with alcoholism. Nabby Adams is a police lieutenant in charge of transport and spends all his waking hours trying to get another drink. He is in debt to all the bar owners and so he resorts to petty thieving and some extortion to feed his habit. This has consequences for the muslim Malays who work for and with him and puts his friends and colleagues lives in danger. Victor Crabbe is a resident teacher and his problems relate to his Tamil pupils who may be inciting a revolt, there are guerilla's in the jungle.
The theme of the second book is betrayal, Victor has found a job as headmaster in another town, a town further into the Malayan heartland. There are fewer British administrators and those that are there are thinking of leaving. the theme of betrayal is also twinned with marriage. The struggling British lawyer Rupert Hardman, can only survive by marrying a muslim divorcee who has money, Victor Crabbe is fighting a losing battle to keep his wife from returning to England and he is under attack at his school because the Tamil staff are plotting against him. By the time we get to the third book Victor is about the only British representative still standing, he is another town as an Education officer preparing to hand over the reins to his Malay subordinate. His wife has left him, but Victor is still trying to do his job and he has discovered a Chinese musical prodigy. The main theme of this last novel is the disintegration of British rule and the jockeying for positions of power between the other racial groups.

Burgess describes the difficulties of living in a tropical climate in a way that made me appreciate the rising emotions of some of his characters. Some are on a short fuse especially in the final novel when any attempt at seeing a bigger picture has been reduced to isolated squabbles between the racial groups. The setting of the novels provides the continuity with the movement towards shaking off colonial rule which progresses through each book, but this movement is at a local level and Burgess is good at bringing out the effects on his characters. It is a book where characters are larger than life and they seem to break out of their stereotypes.

Burgess was familiar with how some of the financially challenged British lived in Malaya and he was familiar with local customs, this feeling for the country permeates the book and the atmosphere is set so that when returning to read the final novel I felt at home with the daily living conditions of Burgesses people. I enjoyed the final novel very much, but there is much good reading to be had in them all. There is some word play particularly at start of the first novel and Burgess is able to indulge his passion for classical music in the last book. Amusing certainly, funny in places, but not laugh out loud and so for the enjoyment value 4 stars.


42dchaikin
tammikuu 19, 2020, 11:25pm

Feels like a trilogy I ought to read. Really enjoyed your take, and, at least for me, encouragement.

43markon
tammikuu 22, 2020, 10:15pm

>41 baswood: This sounds up my alley, and my library owns a copy (The long day wanes.) Of course, who knows when I'll get to it?

44thorold
tammikuu 23, 2020, 4:09am

>41 baswood: Looks as though we had similar reactions: knowing the date and Burgess’s fondness for shocking the reader, you come to it expecting it to be prejudiced and politically incorrect, but actually it turns out to be a book about believable, three-dimensional people who come from different communities and have to deal with the historical and cultural baggage that goes with that, but who definitely don’t stand as representatives or stereotypes of those communities.

45baswood
tammikuu 23, 2020, 8:00am

46baswood
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 2020, 4:13am



Christopher Marlowe - Doctor Faustus.
Most people will have heard of Doctor Faustus. There have been plays, novels, films, operas all based on a folk legend of a man who sold his soul to the Devil to enjoy power on earth. Christopher Marlowe is credited with the first play probably written in 1588/9. His play was an adaption of a story in a chapbook "The History of the Damnable Life and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus" which was probably available in an English translation a couple of years before Marlowe wrote his play. The title from the chapbook gives the game away immediately it was a morality story and Doctor John Faustus brought it all on himself. Marlowe's Doctor Faustus pretty much follows the storyline to the extent that some early critics have called it just a theatrical treatment of a popular legend. It is not considered that today to the extent that the ambiguity of Marlowe's treatment of the legend has led it to be considered a cultural work of art. I would also add that that some great lines of poetical drama have ensured it continues to be read today:

"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships
And burned the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss."


The play has come down to us in two main versions: the A text and the B text both published some time after Marlowe's death: the A text in 1604 and the B text in 1616. The A text is quite a short play of 1517 lines while the B text is an extended version running to 2121 lines. It is known that two playwrights were commissioned to write some additions to the play in 1602 which probably were included in the B text, but as playwrights in the Elizabethan theatrical world often collaborated or patched plays there is no real evidence of how much of Marlowe's hand is in either of the texts. However most of the thrilling lines of poetry are contained in both versions. I read the two versions one after another and found the shorter A text much more to my liking. It seemed to me that many of the additions in the B text were aimed at drawing out the comedy which I thought was merely padding. The B text also aims to make the drama more clear in its interpretation and provides more in the way of instructions to actors/producers to aid the flow. I think the extended B text seriously undermines the drama of the A text. Of course producers/directors of a live performance are able to combine the two.

With the existence of the two published texts there have been reams of study by academics and others on the subject of how much of the texts did Christopher Marlowe actually write. It is always going to be an open ended question because we do not know what Marlowe's handwriting looked like and there is no artistic work in existence with his signature. This debate in my opinion is futile, what matters is the text that has come down to us with the knowledge that Marlowe probably wrote some of it. That is enough for me, because obsession with authorial identity can lead to a failure of enjoyment in the work, almost like not seeing the wood for the trees.

The play was an immediate hit. It was performed pretty much continuously (when the theatres were open) from the early 1590's until the closing of the theatres in 1642 and played again after the restoration. With hindsight it is not difficult to account for its popularity with the Elizabethan audiences, because it would have probably pushed some of their buttons: the power of the magician, the threat of the devil and the admonition to repent. The plays opening scene shows Doctor Faustus in his study and a chorus has already informed the audience that:

his waxen wings did mount above his reach
And melting heavens conspired his overthrow.


Faustus tells us that he has achieved all he can by study and he is now going to turn to magic to get more power and change the world, he invites two conjurers Valdes and Cornelius to teach him the art of conjuration. It is not long before Faustus has summoned a devil: Mephistopheles with whom he negotiates a contract for ultimate power on earth in return for his soul on his death. While this may appear far fetched to modern audiences it would not have been to many levels of Elizabethan society. Magic and natural science was of great interest to the intellectual free thinker group led by Sir Walter Raleigh which included John Dee (Queen Elizabeths favourite) and Marlowe. Lower down the pecking order spells, conjuration, black magic was part and parcel of many peoples lives and so the act of summoning devils from hell would have an horrific resonance to theatre goers. The drama in the play is whether Faustus will be able to save his soul: can he have his cake and get to eat it too. Repentance for protestants as well as catholics was a powerful tool of the clergy and playgoers would have this in mind when at various points in the play Faustus wonders how he can get free of his contract. He is visited by a good angel who encourages him to repent, to throw himself on the mercy of God, however along with the good angel appears an evil angel who has no trouble in appealing to Faustus baser instincts. In a powerful final act the clock is ticking down on Faustus contract and when he attempts to turn to God for salvation Mephistopheles says he will rip him to pieces. The appearance of the devils on stage makes for tremendous visual theatre and would no doubt have frightened some play goers.

Todays readers and theatre audiences will know the story, the surprise element would be diminished, but there is still much to enjoy. Crucially some of the text is ambiguous and different interpretations can be placed on it: for example how much free will does Faustus really have, could he have saved himself? For readers at home and directors of the stage play there are plenty of talking points, it is a play that does invite debate; for example assuming that Marlowe wrote a substantial amount of the text how much could it be considered to be autobiographical. How much of Marlowe is in Doctor Faustus.

The play could be considered a cultural milestone in the early modern theatre. It was dramatic, it was popular and it contained some great writing. It has held up through the intervening years and there have been modern successful productions. However it was not completely new, it still shows a debt to the old morality plays, it goes back further by incorporating a Greek style chorus at the beginning of the first four acts and there is still room for pageantry when the severn deadly sins are paraded across the stage. The character of Faustus and his relationship to Mephistopheles holds our interest, but there is nothing much else. There are no female characters to speak of, only the Duchess of Vanholt gets to say a few words; even Helen of Troy is just paraded around the stage. Then there are the comic interludes. In the A text the scenes with Wagner (Faustus servant) serve to provide some light relief by mirroring some of the actions of his master. Wagner steals one of Faustus magic books and sets out to summon some devils. It is however in Act 4 where the comedy comes into its own when an invisible Faustus creates some havoc at a banquet thrown by the Pope. I think the play of the A text just about survives these comic interludes and Faustus dealing with the Pope and the Horse-courser throws some additional light onto his character, however the bulk of the extended B text is a rewriting of the comic scenes and while they might have served a demand for more entertainment at the theatre they do not in my opinion enhance the play.

I read the Norton Critical edition of the play which has all you need as a student or interested reader. It has both the A text and the B text. It has substantial extracts from the chapbook that provided Marlowe with his story. It sketches in the religious context and Marlowe's wranglings with Richard Baines who accused him of atheism. There is some early criticism, some modern criticism, articles on ideas and ideologies and performance. Altogether an excellent book that should enhance your enjoyment of the play and so 5 stars.

47dukedom_enough
tammikuu 23, 2020, 10:56am

48haydninvienna
tammikuu 23, 2020, 11:43am

>47 dukedom_enough: Yes indeed, but I still remember Andreas Teuber as Mephistophilis saying emotionlessly (and all the more effective for it):
Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
OK, so I cheated and copied that from iMDB to save typing it. But I remembered it all the same.

The Australian poet A D Hope wrote The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus: By Christopher Marlowe, purged and amended by A.D. Hope (touchstone just goes to the play), which I have lying around somewhere.

49dchaikin
tammikuu 24, 2020, 11:23pm

Enjoyed your terrific review of Marlowe's Faustus.

50OscarWilde87
tammikuu 25, 2020, 3:57am

Great review of Faustus!

51baswood
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 25, 2020, 9:06am



The Blind Spot - Homer Eon Flint and Austin Hall

And it started so well........

I thought I was reading a science fiction novel written in 1951, but that was the date it was published: this strange concoction was written in 1921; a collaboration by two 'hack' writers. Austin Hall claimed to be the author of over 600 stories mainly westerns and he died in 1933. Homer Eon Flint died in 1924 in suspicious circumstances; he earned his living as a script writer and was found dead in his crashed car after having driven into the country with a known criminal.

The first half of this novel is a mystery story something like Connie Willis might have written. Strange happenings in a building in San Francisco where people have been known to appear and disappear. College friends and their professor each tell their story which centres on a ring discovered in the building. The ring exerts a power that weakens and finally seems to kill male wearers after about six months, but the only hope of discovering it's secret is to keep the ring active. Meanwhile a highly intelligent but strange man named the Rhamada seems to be on some sort of a mission in the city. It is a story of a parallel world which has a gateway (the blind spot) in the building, but why and how it works is all part of the mystery. This first half of the book as a series of memories written by the protagonist before they enter the Blind Spot, promised something a bit out of the ordinary, but once we are told of what happens to them on the other side we are in Edgar Rice Burroughs country. The mysterious atmosphere of the first half dissolves into a story of increasingly poor fantasy writing. An attempt is made to bring it all together at the end, but I was just pleased to have finally got to the end.
2.5 stars.

52sallypursell
tammikuu 25, 2020, 7:53pm

>46 baswood: Since I never read plays, I haven't read this. But your review tempts me.

53tonikat
tammikuu 26, 2020, 7:02am

I've just caught up bas - really enjoyed these reviews. You've given me some possible reading on Shakespeare and enthused me to get back to my reading of him (and watching his beeb productions). I'm a little curious about the Spenser but may be better off with other works first. But I'm keen to read the Marlowe from this context and your comments (and its brevity). I'm always really impressed at your overviews and clarity when I get bogged down in detail and never manage to work through all the criticism in an Arden or even an Oxford Shakespeare or many others, thank you for that, very impressive.

Novocento sounds very interesting and look forward to hearing about the perfomance.

All of the stuff that considers post apocalypse times seem so relevant at the mo, always that has the possibility of millennial type hysteria and overblowness such that overblown politicos can trot out dimissals, but its been theme of the route of our progress that something is missed. And I sometimes wonder if some are prepared to navigate things more than others.

Finally thanks for your comments on the Boyd, I did try (and I think finished) one of his books in the 90s and did not enjoy it at all - back then I'd not have thought such things could be as what you say but now need maybe to read him with that in mind. It puzzled me a lot at the time, my reaction, when he's so lauded, and seeing him interviewed what you say is not obvious, but I'll think on this a lot. And now understand better some sources of review as you say.

Hope that's not all too much.

54baswood
tammikuu 26, 2020, 4:01pm

>53 tonikat: Thank you for your comments. I despair over our politicians at the moment, but reading dystopian nineteen fifties novels takes my mind off them.

55baswood
tammikuu 27, 2020, 4:37pm



François Mauriac - Le Sagouin
François Mauriac was a French novelist, dramatist, poet and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize in literature (1952) 'for the deep spiritual insight and the artistic intensity with which he has in his novels which penetrated the drama of human life" Le Sagouin was published a year earlier in 1951 and is a novella of 140 pages.

Le Sagouin means a dirty slob and poor Guillou the thirteen year old only son of the Baron Galéas de Cernès has earned this title for his appearance and behaviour. Baron Galéas is a representative of the old nobility and lives in a chateau which is falling around his ears. He is married to Paule a woman from the bourgeoise and what might have once been a love match is certainly not now. Paule finds herself in a depressing position, her husband has seen better days and is now little more than an idiotic old man, his mother has to all intents and purposes kept the title of a Baroness and runs the household and Paule cannot stand the sight of her son le Sagouin. The difficult situation for Paule comes to a head when it is time to choose a new school for le Sagouin. The Baroness supported by the head of the serving staff wants le Sagouin educated at home but Paule puts up a spirited fight and drags her unwilling son off to the local school.

The teacher at the small village school has just returned from the first world war with a slight wound and is known in the area for his left wing views. Paule persuades him to take le Sagouin just for a couple of hours to see if he will fit in. The teacher is surprised by Le Sagouin's love of reading, but in the end decides he wants nothing to do with the people from the chateau. His decision leads to some tragic events,

Mauriac was an intelligent and sensitive writer and in this short novel he puts the reader right in amongst the troubled people in the chateau. The contrast between them and the teacher and his wife is well drawn, as is a lack of human feeling on both sides. This 1951 novel does not break any new ground, but it is a sensitive snapshot of a small village in South West France 4 stars.

56dchaikin
tammikuu 29, 2020, 1:29pm

>55 baswood: interesting find.

57baswood
tammikuu 29, 2020, 4:46pm

58baswood
tammikuu 29, 2020, 4:48pm

John Lyly - Endymion
Gallathea
Two plays by John LyLy probably performed a couple of years or so before they were printed in 1591. John Lyly was one of the so-called University wits which included Robert Greene, George Peele, Thomas Lodge, Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe. Shakespeare and Thomas Kyd probably did not go to University, but by 1590 they were all part of the London theatrical scene. John Lyly was different from the rest for a number of reasons and this is reflected in the plays that he wrote. He was different because:
He had a toehold in society and sponsorship by Earl of Oxford
He did not have to offer his plays to the adult acting companies
He had partial control of a troupe of acting boys of the Royal Chapel
He had interest in the Blackfriars theatre which was an indoor venue
He wrote plays for Queen Elizabeth and her court
He was already a published author
Other differences to play-writers of the time were that his plays were mostly written in prose. They were printed reasonably quickly after they were written and he was at the time the best selling Elizabethan playwright. His plays had a unique style and he probably did not collaborate with other playwrights, Writing for the court of Queen Elizabeth and writing for a smaller indoor space and a boy troupe of actors resulted in plays that are now easily recognisable as belonging to Lily. He was therefore a little out of the mainstream, but still exerted influence on other playwrights because he was successful.

Lily's first play was printed in 1584 and he had a head start on his contemporaries, however his plays are rarely performed today and he has come to be seen as somewhat irrelevant to early modern theatre. A sort of blind alley. His plays are conservative, usually based on classical sources and stayed very much in the groove of his first successes. Today of course readers can only imagine what they might have looked like performed on stage indoors under candle light, especially as there are very few opportunities to see a modern production. After reading Endymion and Gallathea after plays by Christopher Marlowe and early Shakespeare they already appear a little old fashioned.

In the prologue to Endymion Lily says:

"We present neither comedie, nor tragedie, nor storie nor anything, but that whoever may say it is. Why here is a tale of the man in the moon"

Actually it is a tale of a woman in the moon; Cynthia. Endymion is in love with Cynthia, but he is also courting Tellus and tries to hide from her his love for Cynthia. There is a concurrent story with the boastful Sir Tophas and the servants of Endymion's household. Tellus discovers Endymion's love for Cynthia and tells him not to reach for the moon, but she wants revenge and persuades the old woman Dipsas to cast a spell on Endymion, The spell puts him to sleep on a moon bank for forty years. Cynthia learns of Endymions plight and sends her servants out in the world to find a cure. She banishes Tellus. A cure is found Cynthia wakes Endymion with a kiss and gives him back his youth, and other love stories are resolved.

If this all sounds like lighthearted froth then that is just what it is. It all depends on the strength of Lily's prose which is of a good standard; in his unique style throughout.

Gallathea is a typical story that probably had a basis in Ovid, but Lyly has adapted it for his own purposes. Neptune the sea god demands a human sacrifice from the shepherds of Lincolnshire every five years. It must be the prettiest maiden in the area. The fathers of the prettiest maidens disguise them and send them into the woods. Meanwhile Cupid is amazed at the chaste Nymphs who hunt with the Goddess Diana and resolves to have some target practice with his arrows of love. Gallathea and Phillida are the two disguised maidens and they meet in the woods and fall in love. Diana catches Cupid and clips his wings. Venus the mother of Cupid appeals to Neptune for help and a deal is done with Diana. There is also another story about servants looking for a new master, they try an Alchemist and an Astrologer. Lyly gets to make plenty of jokes and gives some advice on the perils of love, even same sex love, which Venus allows. He also turns his lighthearted comedy on the perils of alchemy and astrology. In this story the Gods are in control.

This play is somewhat shorter than Endymion with even less of a plot. I enjoyed reading through them both, but would not wish to see a live performance 3 stars.


59baswood
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 31, 2020, 11:59am

60baswood
Muokkaaja: tammikuu 31, 2020, 12:02pm

Julian Barnes - Flaubert's Parrot

Parrot Talk

Admissions first: I have not read anything by Gustave Flaubert and I have not enjoyed anything I have read previously by Julian Barnes (The sense of an Ending and The history of the world in 10 and a half chapters) and so I was not looking forward to taking down Flaubert's Parrot from my TBR shelf. Flaubert's Parrot published in 1984 is an early book in Julian Barnes' career as a writer and it was shortlisted for the Booker prize (Booker prize listings also cut no ice with me). It is a meta-biography of Gustave Flaubert together with many ruminations on the art of writing and the role of the critic.

Poor Gustave Flaubert one might think buried under the musings of one Geoffrey Braithwaite the supposed writer of this biography who confesses himself to be an amateur, an enthusiast even, but this is not the case because Barnes has pulled off something quite remarkable in his book. He has provided a thoughtful, one might say at times whimsical portrait of Flaubert. It is a friendly portrait with enough interest to engage the casual reader and even more importantly to encourage him/her to read something by Flaubert. A quote at the beginning of the book from one of Flaubert's many letters sets the tone:

" When you write the biography of a friend, you must do it as if you were taking revenge for him"
Flaubert, letter to Ernest Feydeau, 1872.

Barnes/Geoffrey Braithwaite sets the scene by describing the various statues of Flaubert in existence in Normandy France, which leads him on to introduce his subject by wondering what he might have thought of the statues, thereby providing an early insight into Flaubert's character. A dated chronology in the following chapter, completes the outline. Then we meet the parrot, the one that Flaubert borrowed from the museum of Rouen and which sat on his desk while he wrote (Un coeur simple) now allegedly at the Hotel-Dieu. Geoffrey Braithwaite then continues his tour of Normandy retracing the steps of Flaubert. Chapter six starts with the sentence: "Let me tell you why I hate critics" and this may not be the good Doctor Geoffrey Braithwaite speaking, although he does go on to tell some stories of his own life. We therefore have Julian Barnes writing about Geoffrey Braithwaite (a fictional character) who is supposedly writing/telling stories about the life and work of Gustave Flaubert.

Barnes then plays with the biographical format still further, by introducing a view of Flaubert from his long term lover Louise Colet. This is followed with a story of Braithwaite's wife and her early demise, but still with references to Flaubert. However in my view Barnes takes the meta-fiction a bit too far by having a chapter with big bold headings that purport to be Braithwaite's Dictionary of Accepted idea and then a chapter of Examination Questions on the life and Work of Flaubert, before finally getting round to say, that of the three stuffed parrots he has seen he has no idea which one was loaned to Flaubert. This really does not matter and this is part of Barnes' point as he questions the value of writing a biography, asking the question, how much do we need to know, isn't the work a writer leaves behind enough for future readers, Braithwaite thinks that Flaubert would have thought that to be the case. The final chapters of the novel feel like padding to me and Barnes starts to repeat himself. I almost felt like saying stop! stop! thats enough.

Barnes has written an entertaining petit biography of Flaubert which he has used to pose questions on the value of some biographies and some criticism. The entertainment sometimes gets a little too light for my taste, but I was never offended by the humour. He can certainly write well and loves France and so for those reasons this is a 4 star read.

61ELiz_M
tammikuu 31, 2020, 1:32pm

>60 baswood: very nice review & I concur with your assessments -- I also enjoyed Flaubert's Parrot much, much more than The Sense of an Ending.

62Dilara86
helmikuu 2, 2020, 2:02am

Ah but the question is, are you more likely to read Flaubert now that you've read Flaubert's Parrot?

63baswood
helmikuu 2, 2020, 8:01am

I suppose I ought to read at least Madame Bovary, but could be tempted by Salammbô

64baswood
helmikuu 4, 2020, 8:37am

Erewhon - Samuel Butler
"My publisher wishes me to say a few words about the genesis of the work, a revised and enlarged edition of which he is herewith laying before the public.Having now, I fear, at too great length done what I was asked to do, I should like to add a few words on my own account. I am still fairly well satisfied with those parts of “Erewhon” that were repeatedly rewritten, but from those that had only a single writing I would gladly cut out some forty or fifty pages if I could."

This is from Butler's preface from the 1901 edition of a book that was originally published in 1872 and I wish he had cut out some of those pages as I found much of the writing quite laboured. It all starts well enough with the narrator (Higgs) describing a journey over a mountain range to discover the hidden world of Erewhon. He travels with a native (Chowbok) but finds himself abandoned when Chowbok heads back to the sheep railhead in fear of his life. The journey across the mountains is exciting and well told as is the initial meeting with the beautiful race of Erewhonians. However the meat of the book is the description of the culture and society that Higgs has discovered. The format of the book is very similar to Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race which had been published a year previously (1871) and like that book the author seems to forget that he is telling a story and launches into a description of an imaginary culture, while leaving his narrator as little more than a fly on the wall role.

The most striking differences in the culture of Erewhon that Higgs finds is their belief in an outward show of beauty and bodily health and an absence of machines. Illness is treated as a crime and so people go to great lengths to hide their illnesses or disabilities. The people as a whole are skilled in the art of sophistry as is the author Samuel Butler who is able to draw out false conclusions from laboured descriptions of events. I found the explanations of the reasons why the Erewhonians do what they do tedious and uninspired. The book has been described as a satire on Victorian society, but for me the satire was neither comic enough nor sharp enough to hit its targets.

A good example of the sophistic nature of Butler's arguments is near the start of his three chapters on the use of machines:

"Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand!"

An interesting thought but from this premise Butler goes on to show why the Erewhonians finally came to the conclusion that machines should be destroyed to stop them from taking over. Back in 1872 when this book was first published this may have been a new line of thought and might have stirred up worries about the future, but Butlers three chapters of overstretched theories would not convince anyone. Before he picks up the narrative of Higgs' escape there is time for two chapters which might seem prophetic when read today: The Rights of animals and the rights of vegetables, but as previously it is difficult to understand whether the satire is directed at the Erewhonians or Victorian England especially when Butler starts his chapters with:

"It will be seen from the foregoing chapters that the Erewhonians are a meek and long-suffering people, easily led by the nose, and quick to offer up common sense at the shrine of logic"

Butler continues to make the point that the Erewhonian society was based on faddism, they had developed dissembling into an art form, but even after the authors many chapters I could not see how it could possibly work. Higgs only interests seems to have been how he could prove that they were one of the 12 lost tribes of Israel and how he could convert them to Christianity. When he finally escaped he launched a scheme where they could be invaded and used for slave labour. He says:

I will guarantee that I convert the Erewhonians not only into good Christians but into a source of considerable profit to the shareholders.

I understand that Butler's targets were religion, use of machinery, appearance, dishonesty and illogicality, even exploitation and colonialism, perhaps capitalism, but the reader has to work very hard wading through Butler's prose to piece together his arguments, which can be contradictory.
Very dry and I couldn't get in tune with Butler's prose and I had this nagging suspicion that I was missing something, but I could not summon up the enthusiasm to go back over and find out what that was. Offensive to the LGTB community? depends if you think it is satire. 3 stars.

65baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 5, 2020, 5:46pm

66baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 5, 2020, 5:47pm

Robert Greene - The Honorable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay
Robert Greene was one of the Elizabethan University wits who needed to write stuff that would sell to put food and drink on his table. He wrote pamphlets, romantic novels, framework stories with a moral theme, social tracts and perhaps best of all a number of plays for the popular London theatres. The Honorable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay written sometime between 1589-92 was perhaps his most successful. It was popular with audiences and it brought in good gate receipts, how much money it made Greene is not known, but he died in poverty in 1592. Although Greene wrote plays to earn a living he was not the only one: Marlowe, George Peele, Thomas Kyd Anthony Munday were all in the same position, but Greene is perhaps best remembered for allegedly referring to the young Shakespeare as an "upstart Crowe, beautified with our feathers' and so unwittingly has set critics to measure his work against that of Shakespeare.

I hope that Greene did make some money from Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay because it is an excellent example of a popular play written for the Elizabethan theatre. Greene seems to have brought together elements of romance, comedy, history, and magical illusions into a winning combination. He may well have borrowed ideas from Marlowe and Kyd and imitated their high flown verse in well put together iambic pentameters, but it has a lighter touch but still carries with it a moral message to the playgoing public: "don't mess with magic"

The play opens with Prince Edward and his male courtier friends returning from a successful Hunting expedition and taking their refreshments. Prince Edward falls in lust with Margaret the fair maid of Fressingfield, but Lacy Earl of Lincoln reminds him that there are many beautiful women at court.

Lacy. I grant, my lord, the damsel is as fair
As simple Suffolk's homely towns can yield;
But in the court be quainter179 dames than she,
Whose faces are enrich'd with honour's taint,
Whose beauties stand upon the stage of fame,
And vaunt their trophies in the courts of love.


The prince will not be denied and sets Lacy the task of spying on Margaret at the Harleston Fair and the kings Fool: Ralph Simnell reminds him that Friar Bacon will be able to assist with his magic. Friar Bacon is hard at work putting the finishing touches to his 'brazen head" a device to summon the very devils from hell and which he says will put a brass ring round all of England to protect it from it's enemies. At the fair Lacy (in disguise) finds Margaret and falls in love with her himself, but Friar Bacon with Ralph Simnell and Prince Edward disguised as each other see Lacy and Margaret through Friar bacon's magic glass. Meanwhile at the Court of King Henry Elinor of Castille has arrived for her arranged marriage with Prince Edward. Lacy has managed to get himself alone with Margaret and says he will marry her (she is the prison keepers daughter). Prince Edward vows to kill Lacy, when he sees Friar Bungay arrive to perform the ceremony. Friar Bacon summons a devil who carries away Friar Bungay on his back. Prince Edward confronts Lacy and says he will kill him , Margaret pleads for Lacy's life and eventually Prince Edward realises that the right thing to do would be to sanction the lovers marriage. The emperor of Germany arrives with his magician Vandermast to challenge Friar Bacon, but Bacon easily defeats him with his power now so great that he commands the very devils from hell. Lacy sends a message to Margaret saying he is betrothed to a court lady and two former suitors fight a duel over Margaret with Friar Bacon unable to stop them: they kill each other. Friar Bacon is worried about the state of the Brazen Head but cannot keep awake and so he instructs his assistant Miles to wake him if there are developments. Miles doesn't wake him when the Brazen Head speaks and is later carried off to Hell. Friar Bacon repents and says he will spend the rest of his life asking for forgiveness - no more magic. Meanwhile Margaret is summoned to the Kings court to marry Lacy and Prince Edward marries Elinor.

Greene's play is loosely based on history with Friar Bacon a representation of Roger Bacon the 13th century monk who some recognised as a wizard. Much of the drama of the play is centred around Friar Bacon and his making of the Brazen Head. The most dramatic scene takes place in Bacon's cell when the Brazen Head speaks out the words Time is, (pause) Time was (pause) Time past and Miles fails to wake up his master in time to stop the destruction of the head.

The Romance is between Earl Lacy and the commoner Margaret with Prince Edward threatening to destroy them both. Edwards speech owes much to Christopher Marlowe; just about keeping on the right side of parody:

P. Edw. I tell thee, Peggy, I will have thy loves:
Edward or none shall conquer Margaret.
In frigates bottom'd with rich Sethin planks,
Topt with the lofty firs of Lebanon,
Stemm'd and encas'd with burnish'd ivory,
And overlaid with plates of Persian wealth,
Like Thetis shalt thou wanton on the waves,
And draw the dolphins to thy lovely eyes,
To dance lavoltas207 in the purple streams:
Sirens, with harps and silver psalteries,
Shall wait with music at thy frigate's stem,
And entertain fair Margaret with their lays.
England and England's wealth shall wait on thee;
Britain shall bend unto her prince's love,
And do due homage to thine excellence,
If thou wilt be but Edward's Margaret.


But Prince Edward relents after Lacy has said he would rather the Prince kill him and Margaret says she will die too.

Conquering thyself, thou gett'st the richest spoil.—
Lacy, rise up. Fair Peggy, here's my hand:
The Prince of Wales hath conquer'd all his thoughts,


This part of the play generates some real tension as the Prince battles with himself over Margaret, but she is not out of the woods as she is tested again by Lacy later in the play when the audience realises that he would be sacrificing much by marrying a commoner.

Magic: black magic gives the play an abundance of spectacle with the conjuring competition between Friar Bacon and Vandermast when the spirit of Hercules is summoned and then the destruction of the Brazen Head and the appearance of the devils in the street carrying away Miles and transporting Friar Bungay. While Greene writes these scenes with a comedic element they may well have frightened an Elizabethan audience. Greene was one of the better writers of comedy and he has plenty of opportunities in the play to put his art to good use. Ralph Simnell the kings fool disguised as Prince Edward creates havoc wherever he goes as does Friar Bacon's assistant Miles.

The play might not have the depth of Shakespeares and Marlowe's plays of the same period and the verse might be inferior or not quite reaching the heights of those other two playwrights. The structure is a little simple with most of the action taking place as a direct result of what has happened in the previous scene and after Act 3 many of the issues appeared to be resolved and the play needs to spring back into life for the final two acts. I get the feeling it does this because Greene had a message to deliver that would hit home with his audience and give them something to think about after they had enjoyed the comedy and the romance and the spectacle. He wanted to play on their fears of witches and devils and some of the humour would be black with the audience laughing but being a little scared at the same time: the moral was do not play with magic or other forces that you do not understand. A play then very much of it's time which also has things to say about 'the great chain of being' for example people marrying outside of their allotted rank and people disguised as their betters or their servants; the audience would be well aware of the Elizabethan sumptuary laws.

I enjoyed this play it has many bright moments even for the modern reader and so anybody with an interest in the Elizabethan theatre and it's plays might well enjoy this: 4 stars.

67OscarWilde87
helmikuu 7, 2020, 12:11pm

Great reviews, Bas. I was especially interested in your thoughts about Erewhon as it has been on my wish list for several years and I never really got round to reading it. Your review helped brush off the cobwebs.

68baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 7, 2020, 12:35pm



Robert A. Heinlein - The Green Hills of Earth
This is a collection of science fiction short stories that first saw the light of day in American magazines of the late 1940's, although one of the story's 'And we also walk dogs' has a 1941 vintage. Heinlein's stories in this collection concern themselves mainly with human nature and how this copes with new science and space travel, Heinlein never ventures outside the solar system with the majority of the stories centred around a base/colony on the moon. These were stories written for magazines that would have probably had a young male readership base and to criticise them for their lack of literary merit or for their racism and sexism is perhaps missing the point. The fact that Heinlein told stories that examined aspects of human nature rather than concentrating on adventure and fantasy makes these stories worth reading, however attitudes have changed and one would do well to imagine what they might have said to you in the 1940's.

What they do say is an expanding American nation full of confidence and looking to push liberalism to it's furthest limits. The dollar is king and nearly all the stories contain elements of making money. "Delilah and the Space Rigger" is a story about a female worker who gets a job on an all male space station and has to battle the fiercely chauvinistic manager who want to send her back to earth. "Space Jockey" concerns a man who cannot give up the challenge of piloting space craft even at the expense of his marriage. In "the Long Watch' a young atomic bomb engineer tries to thwart a military takeover at an atomic moon base. 'Gentlemen be Seated' is another moon based story about surviving a leaky air-lock. We are still on the moon in "the Black Pits of Luna" which is a rather dramatic title for young boy playing a deadly game of hiding seek on the surface of the moon. The next three stories are the best in my opinion. "It's great to be back" tells of a couple who have spent many years on the moon and can no longer cope with the attitudes of earth people or of it's gravitational pull. "We also Walk Dogs" describes a company called General Services who have grown enormous by servicing rich people who are too old, too stupid or cannot be bothered to do things for themselves and "Ordeal in Space" tells of a space pilot suffering from acrophobia desperately trying to pass his psychological exam to be allowed back into space. 'The Green Hills of Earth' is a curiosity telling a story of a man suffering from radioactive sickness who writes popular songs about his life in space. "Logic of Empire" is the longest story and tells of an indentured slave colony exploiting natural resources on Venus. It's all perfectly fine as one character says because it has always been the case:

" It’s nothing new; it happened in the Old South, it happened again in California, in Mexico, in Australia, in South Africa. Why? Because in any expanding free-enterprise economy which does not have a money system designed to fit its requirements the use of mother-country capital to develop the colony inevitably results in subsistence-level wages at home and slave labor in it's colonies"

In these stories exploitation is the norm, it's the way to get ahead it's the way to make money and space is very much the new frontier. The attitudes to women and people of a different race expressed by the characters in the stories are mostly typical of what you might expect at the time and are not necessarily those of the author, however the future as seen by the author is still a man's world: perhaps a white man's world with 1940's American values and for that he can be criticised. I would imagine that President Trump and his cohorts would feel right at home. The prose is terse with much outdated slang from the late 1940's sounding quite strange and the science part of the fiction is wrapped up pretty quickly so as to not get in the way of the stories. 3.5 stars.

69raton-liseur
helmikuu 8, 2020, 4:11am

What a leap between >66 baswood: and >68 baswood:! I am always intrigued when I see such a change of set-up, tone, etc between two consecutive reads!

70baswood
helmikuu 8, 2020, 7:38pm



Robert A. Heinlein - The Puppet Masters
Published in 1951 this is a science fiction novel which was originally serialised in Galaxy Science Fiction magazine. It is an alien invasion story where slug like creatures attach themselves to the spine of humans and other animals and take control of their actions; it predated the Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers by some five years. It could best be described as a science fiction thriller story and is set in the year 2007. The Head of the National Security Agency (referred to as The Old Man) recognises that earth is under attack from the slug like aliens and he recruits his two best agents Sam and Mary Nivens to first of all gather evidence and then to form a plan to defeat the invasion. The first two thirds of the book is a running battle with the aliens and in the final third the plot develops further to enable the humans to come up with a strategy that has some chance of success.

This is a fast paced story that packs in plenty of action scenes that will be familiar to thriller readers; car chases, gun battles, abduction and problem solving, with the three main characters seemingly unstoppable as they fight back against impossible odds. There is also a romantic interest as a love affair develops between Sam and Mary. What makes this novel different from the usual thriller story is of course the aliens and these are suitably nasty with an insidious power that is hard to fight against and most people will cringe at the idea of a giant slug-like creature taking control through attaching themselves to the spinal column. Heinlein has fun with his alien invention, not only do they evoke an intense squeamishness, but also they can only be seen when the human captive takes off his or her clothes. People must strip to prove that they are not infected by the slugs: even the President of the United Staes must stand naked.

The plot is well thought out and there is a mystery to solve, but the all action sequences make it feel more like an adventure story. The thriller story tropes may be over familiar now, with the three heroes ploughing a path through all conventions, laws and red tape to battle the aliens, but it did have enough originality to keep me entertained. Sexism and racism is no more than one would expect from a science fiction novel of this era and it does have a formidable female lead character, with Heinlein making equal play of both sexes when they have to strip. Apparently Heinlein's original manuscript was a third longer than the 1951 novel, but was cut to avoid controversy. Good Schlock 3.5 stars.

71AlisonY
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 9, 2020, 4:05am

Great reviews. I was very disappointed by The Sense of an Ending, but you've given me cause not to write off Julian Barnes completely just yet with your Flaubert's Parrot review.

72dchaikin
helmikuu 10, 2020, 1:44pm

Nice to read about a Robert Greene play.

Enjoyed catching up. Interesting that Barnes finally won you over a bit. I’ll leave Heinlein to you, but great reviews.

73baswood
helmikuu 15, 2020, 8:02am

74baswood
helmikuu 15, 2020, 8:03am

Shakespeare - King Henry VI part 3 (Arden Shakespeare)
BBC television Shakespeare directed by Jane Howell 1982
The Wars of the Roses in 15th century England saw the end of chivalry. It was a prolonged, bitter and nasty war among the nobility who were intent in securing the kingship of the country. With the crown came power. prestige and the wherewithal to enrich their families. In the century before particularly in the wars with France it was the ordinary foot soldiers who paid the price with their lives: the nobility could reasonably be assured that capture on the battlefield would mean the payment of a ransom and return to their family. This was not the case during the reign of Henry VI where the prize was the elimination of all family representatives, the foot soldiers still paid with their lives but now the nobility could expect no mercy from the victors, they would be sought out and murdered perhaps with their decapitated heads displayed on the city gates. Shakespeare in his play Henry VI part 3 captures the savagery and intensity of perhaps the most barbaric struggle for power in Englands history.

The play opens on the battlefield with the House of York the victors at the battle of St Albans. The Duke of York and his three sons Edward, George and Richard rush to the throne room in London and the Duke lays claim to the crown supported by the kingmaker the Earl of Warwick and his soldiers. King Henry VI (house of Lancaster) enters and is forced to accept that he can only keep his crown during his lifetime as it will then pass to the House of York. The kings wife Margaret of Anjou is incensed by the agreement that will disinherit her son and gives her husband the full invective:

Enforc't thee? Art thou King, and wilt be forc't?
I shame to heare thee speake: ah timorous Wretch,
Thou hast undone thy selfe, thy Sonne, and me,...........
What is it, but to make thy Sepulcher,
And creepe into it farre before thy time?.................
And seeing thou do'st, I here divorce my selfe,
Both from thy Table Henry, and thy Bed,.............


Margaret takes charge of the King's soldiers and declares war on the House of York supported by Clifford who is out for revenge for the death of his father. Margaret Attacks York's castle and Clifford murders Yorks 12 year old son Rutland. York is captured and Margaret mocks him about the murder of his son before she and Clifford both stab York to death and display his head above the city gates. The house of Lancaster are triumphant and Henry VI is restored as king. The three York brothers regroup and with Warwicks support take on the Lancastrians at the battle of Towton. The savagery continues Clifford is found by the York brothers on the battlefield and he is dying from his wounds, they mock his dead body and will display his head on the city gates. The Yorkists are victorious and Edward is crowned king, but brother Richard is already scheming to murder all those people ahead of him in his path to the throne

And yet I know not how to get the Crowne,
For many Lives stand betweene me and home:
And I, like one lost in a Thornie Wood,
That rents the Thornes, and is rent with the Thornes,
Seeking a way, and straying from the way,
Not knowing how to finde the open Ayre,
But toyling desperately to finde it out,
Torment my selfe, to catch the English Crowne:
And from that torment I will free my selfe,
Or hew my way out with a bloody Axe.
Why I can smile, and murther whiles I smile,
And cry, Content, to that which grieves my Heart,
And wet my Cheekes with artificiall Teares,
And frame my Face to all occasions.


Warwick suggests that Edward should seal his crown by an alliance with Lewis King of France and goes to France to to make a match with Lewis's sister Lady Bona. However the lustful Edward has married Lady Jane Grey in the meantime and Warwick feels dishonoured as the news comes while he is negotiating with the king of France. He changes sides and supports Margaret who is trying to raise another army, and Edwards second brother George also swops sides. Warwick with french reinforcements captures King Edward, however he later escapes and when his brother George changes sides again the York brothers are victorious. Margaret is brought before the brothers and after her teenage son goads the brothers they all stab him in turn in front of his mother. Richard slips away to confront and finally kill Henry so putting in place his scheme to be king.

Shakespeare conflates the history and the many battles of the wars of the Roses to make his play work as one continuous narrative. In doing this he creates an all action performance on stage with hardly a breathe between one battle starting and another finishing, however he does make some contrasting quieter interludes with the saint-like king Henry trying to act as a peacemaker and then just wanting to be left in peace himself. There is no time for much comedy.

The play is notable for Shakespeares creation of two contrasting male characters the mild peacemaker King Henry VI and the Machiavellian crooked backed Richard who is hacking his way to become King Richard III. Both make fine speeches throughout, but both are in danger of being eclipsed by the warlike female character of Queen Margaret. In this play all the female characters are strong: Lady Jane Grey negotiates with the haughty King Edward the price of her marriage bed will be no less than being made Queen and Lady Bona is suitably dismissive when she realises she has been jilted by Edward.

Themes explored by Shakespeare are undoubtably revenge and power. Clifford is the epitome of a man out for revenge at any cost, his barbarism is made to look like it ups the anti on all the action that follows. His cold blooded murder of Rutland despite the boy pleading for his life means that there is no longer any chance of a reconciliation between the two houses.

Clifford:
The sight of any of the House of Yorke,
Is as a furie to torment my Soule:
And till I root out their accursed Line,
And leave not one alive, I live in Hell.


The language is full of hate and Margarets cruel taunting of the wounded Duke of York brings from him a speech that typifies the animal imagery in use throughout the play

Shee-Wolfe of France,
But worse then Wolves of France,
Whose Tongue more poysons then the Adders Tooth:
How ill-beseeming is it in thy Sex,
To triumph like an Amazonian Trull,
Vpon their Woes, whom Fortune captivates?
But that thy Face is Vizard-like, unchanging,
Made impudent with use of evill deedes.
I would assay, prowd Queene, to make thee blush.
To tell thee whence thou cam'st, of whom deriv'd,
Were shame enough, to shame thee,
Wert thou not shamelesse.,


Family loyalty is another theme, but it is under threat in this play. Richard's scheming, George's changing sides and then back again. Margaret's strong denouncement of her husband king and finally wind-changing Warwick who dies in the mayhem along with his brother who he has recruited for the wars. Another feature of the play is the power of words and the power of speech making. Characters are allowed to rail against each other, but it can end in their death, for example the goading of the York brothers by young prince Edward. However there are instances in the play where characters are not allowed to speak, not allowed to plea for mercy and in Henry's case not allowed to make a case for peace.

The BBC television production directed by Howell is excellent in bringing out the narrative drive of the story. She uses the same actors as in part 2 and this helps to show their development through the story. King Henry is still the same mild mannered slightly effeminate king, but in part 3 there is not the same religious fervour as the earlier play. Margaret of course comes into her own as the warrior queen and Edward becomes the haughty monarch and Richard the malevolent schemer. The production also brings out other aspects of the play; the drama in the French court when Margaret and Warwick are pleading for support and then the tables are turned by a messenger who arrives with the news of Edwards marriage. Also the court of the newly crowned King Edward that looks like a rough tavern where the brothers celebrate their victory and the arrival of Lady Jane Grey who enters the loins den and leaves as a queen.

An early play by Shakespeare that I thoroughly enjoyed. Full of admiration of the way he picked out a narrative from the confusion of the events and battle scenes that were the Wars of the Roses that he found in his source documents. The play also features perhaps his strongest and certainly his most war-like female character in Margaret. It has a different atmosphere to the preceding part two which was full of magic and dark scheming; in part 3 it is naked aggression, the survival of the fittest and the descent into barbarism. 5 stars.

75NanaCC
helmikuu 15, 2020, 5:55pm

I enjoyed your review of Flaubert’s Parrot. I’ve only read one book by Barnes, England, England, and it didn’t have me running out to find more. I just might try this one, based upon your comments.

76sallypursell
helmikuu 15, 2020, 7:38pm

>58 baswood: I'm sorry, I didn't understand why you wouldn't want to see a live performance of the plays by Lyly. I would think froth was especially enjoyable to watch.

77sallypursell
helmikuu 15, 2020, 8:28pm

>60 baswood: I'm not familiar with the term "petit biography". Do you mean "little" as in "not too scholarly", or does it mean something else to you? I see that it means "modest" in the masculine, and that makes some sense, but is there some implication I am not getting?

78sallypursell
helmikuu 15, 2020, 9:46pm

>63 baswood: Ooh. Salammbô sounds intriguing. I have read Madame Bovary three times, and never found it worth the time. It goes right past me somehow

79baswood
helmikuu 16, 2020, 3:01am

>77 sallypursell: exactly I meant little.

80dchaikin
helmikuu 16, 2020, 5:21pm

>74 baswood: enjoyed this. I'll likely have King Lear in mind when I read it, with all the calculated ambition...although the two plays come at opposite sides of his career.

81tungsten_peerts
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 8, 2020, 1:14pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

82thorold
helmikuu 17, 2020, 3:53pm

>81 tungsten_peerts: Buchan actually was a lawyer, and Balzac also studied law for a while, but never finished. I don’t think the other two had any contact with the law, though. :-)

83baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 2020, 10:49am



The Making of Jazz: A Comprehensive History by James Lincoln Collier
This book has been on my bookshelves a long time, since 1984 in fact. Most of my books are second hand and this one looks second hand and so as usual I turned to the front-piece to see if anybody had written anything in it. They had, but I was amazed to find it was a dedication to me and so the book would have been bought new, it had been bought by my girlfriend at the time. I don't know what has happened to her, but I have finally got round to reading the book she bought me and what an excellent book it is.

Originally published in 1981, Collier in his final chapter looks forward to the future of jazz music. He says that the future of jazz is in the past:

"Jazz needs, at the moment, a respite from experiments. It needs time to consolidate it's gains, to go back and re-examine what is there. There is enough work undone to last many lifetimes."

How prophetic, because this is exactly what has happened. Back in 1981 the avant-garde or free jazz movement had run it's course and critics and commentators were wondering where the music was heading next due to it's history of seismic shifts. The answer has been an examination of the past with lines now becoming increasingly blurred between rock, classical, experimental and jazz music. This blurring of lines however may upset Collier a little because in his book he is clear to make a distinction between jazz and other music, he would find it more difficult today.

A comprehensive history of a musical form covering a period of some 80 years in 500 pages is a tall order, but Collier gets it all down with ease. His theme is the development of the music and the important musicians who have made this possible, but he goes further and relates this to the social context in America. Jazz is an American music phenomenon and essentially it was a black man's music and the struggles for civil rights since the second world war have been part of that music. I refrained from finding out about Mr Collier until I had finished the book, but my conclusions that he is a white professional musician proved to be correct.

Collier has written a chronological history and he starts with the roots of jazz; African rhythms and blues field hollers and how this influenced the first period of classic jazz that originated from New Orleans. The legendary cornet player Buddy Bolden is represented by a photograph from 1895, but that is all we have, because he was too early to be recorded. The first jazz recording was made in 1917 (by five white musicians from New Orleans) this was no way representative of the music at the time, but it just happened by chance that the Original Dixieland Jass Band got to make the first record. The book from this moment gets into its stride with Collier providing pen pictures of the real movers and shakers amongst the musicians that made up this first explosion of the music. Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith along with many others who followed in their wake. There is a chapter on the white influx, because bands were segregated in those days and so the music developed in a sort of parallel world: some space is therefore given to Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Benny Goodman and Bix Beiderbecke.

The first of those seismic shifts came with the evolution into swing music and the introduction of the big jazz bands, but Collier is also careful not to lose sight of other developments particularly in piano music and in the splinter groups that formed out of the big bands. The period before the second world war saw the gradual integration of black and white musicians, but it was a relatively slow process and presented difficulties for those involved. At the end of the war the first Bebop groups started making records and the music loving public had to learn almost a whole new language to appreciate what the new younger musicians were doing. Collier explains why this was so from a musical point of view and also puts it in a social context. A drugs culture that had always been present in Jazz music seemed to become a veritable plague amongst the Beboppers with heroin the drug of choice. There are many stories of musicians succumbing to addiction and Collier mentions these without straying too far away from the music that was being made. In the early fifties there was a reaction against the bebop from the traditional jazz revivalists and the cool jazz practitioners from the west coast. Collier charts the progress of these various musical strands highlighting those musicians that were comfortable in moving across the musical boundaries. The late fifties early sixties was the time for the free jazz practitioners to take the music in another direction again and the final chapter of the book features John Coltrane with Collier wondering if the musician was going to be considered the new jazz messiah, by future generations.

Throughout the book the musicians that impress Collier most are those that have the ability to move away from what he terms as the ground beat; the true practitioners of jazz in his opinion and he goes into some detail explaining how this effect is achieved. Collier describes the music they played and points out in his opinion the best examples of their work. He also attempts a musical analysis of some of the main trends which might not be easily understood by non musicians, but it is not in too much detail and would still give a flavour of what was happening with the music. He is of course impressed by musical expertise, but is quite clear that a limited technical ability has not been a hindrance to many jazz musicians. I think he treads this difficult line with real insight. The limited space available makes it difficult to chart the progress of jazz music around the world and during the period of recorded music that Collier covers 1917 to the late 1960's most of the innovations happened in America. There is a perfunctory chapter on European jazz, which might concern some readers, but is probably appropriate.

Collier provides a discography of over 300 recordings covering the period that he critiques in his book and would serve as an excellent guide for those people wanting to hear just what he is talking about. I have been listening to jazz since the late 1960's and have a fairly good knowledge of the music since the second world war and so based on what I know I am happy to let Collier guide me through the gaps in my knowledge of the earlier period of jazz. He also provides a decent bibliography, but I have a feeling it may be a little white author centred, for example there is only one book listed by Leroi Jones.

This really is a comprehensive book on the making of jazz and quite an achievement in itself. I have a couple of criticisms which did not get in the way of my enjoyment of the book. Collier spends some time in a search for the holy grail; that is the perfect improvised jazz solo and his analysis of some musicians efforts can feel a little academic. My other criticism is that the book is obviously written by a white author and his subject is an essentially black music (historically at least): now I am not saying that white people cannot write about black music which is almost as stupid as saying white musicians can't play jazz, but maybe Collier places undue emphasis on some white musicians role in the history of the music. He acknowledges that some black musicians also took the civil rights movement into the concert halls and jazz clubs and while there is no overt criticism of this stance I get the feeling that he would rather they just get on and play the music.

There is no doubting Colliers love and feeling for the music and this shines through his text. It is a considered and carefully thought through love, that is not without criticism of some of the music. It is going to be an expensive book for me as I have made a list of recordings that I want to hear: fortunately these days, jazz reissues of earlier music can be had for little money. A five star read that comes with an unqualified recommendation.

84dukedom_enough
helmikuu 20, 2020, 10:31am

"...bought by my girlfriend at the time." Now, there's a book with a history, in two senses of the word.

One can never know too much about jazz, so thanks for this review. If you want suggestions for more, I really liked Kansas City Lightning by Stanley Crouch, about Charlie Parker's early life but also a short history of black people's music in America.

Spelling nitpick: Bix Beiderbecke with an e at the end. Also, maybe that's not the cover image you wanted to put here?

85baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 2020, 11:00am

Thanks for the spelling tip. >83 baswood: That is a picture of James Lincoln Collier I hope. How Charlie Parker developed into such a player is fascinating. I have read the Ross Russell biography which is also good.

We found two kittens abandoned in our garden and we called them Charlie (female) and Parker. We still have Parker but Charlie went walkabout.

86dukedom_enough
helmikuu 20, 2020, 11:01am

>85 baswood: Was just thinking, you're reviewing a book by Collier but displaying an image of a book about Collier. Fine if that was your intent.

87baswood
helmikuu 22, 2020, 4:53am

88baswood
helmikuu 22, 2020, 4:54am

Peter Handke - La Femme Gauchère
Peter Handke an Austrian by birth won the 2019 Nobel prize for literature. It was a controversial choice because of the Authors pro-Serbian attitudes particularly his support for Slobodan Milošević. Die linkshädige Frau (The Left Handed Woman) was published in 1977. It is a novella with a style very much it's own, perhaps this is because it started out life as a movie script for a film Handke directed in 1978 and he adapted the script for his book.

It has a flat style of storytelling with the author keeping his characters at arms length. They say things and they do things and it is left to the reader to fill in the the thoughts of the inner person. The themes of the book are isolation and loneliness which Handke emphasises by his descriptions of the environment in which they live. The central character is Marianne whom the author refers to throughout as "the woman" who has a small son Stephan referred to as "the child". She is married to Bruno who spends some time away from home travelling because of his work. He returns from a longish trip to say that he will not be travelling much more for his job and suggests they go out to celebrate in a restaurant. They eat and drink and decide to spend the night in a hotel, they return home the next day and "the woman" tells Bruno that she wants him to leave. She is aware of a relationship with a female friend of theirs and he moves in with this other woman (Franziska) Marianne settles down to life on her own with her son, she takes up her old career as a translator a job that allows her to work from home. She has visits from the editor of the publishing house who always brings a bottle of champagne, but she does not enter into any sort of relationship with him.

Marianne's life settles into a new pattern of working or not working, talking to her son and watching the world go by from her picture window at the front of the house. She lives on a housing estate where many of the houses look alike, it is winter and often there are flakes of snow falling from the cold air. She occasionally sees Bruno and Franziska in the commercial centre of the town, but apart from Franziska suggesting she joins a local women's group for support, their conversations are perfunctory. Marian's thoughts and moods are more in tune with the winter landscape; the forest that almost intrudes into her back garden. She takes Stephan for a walk in the snow up onto a forested hill behind their house, they are alone, they collect some kindling and make a fire, then return to the house. However much a person wishes to be alone it is not always possible, there must be some human contact and Marianne cannot avoid all of the life that passes around her and her son.

The omnipresent author tells his story of the small group of people living their lives almost in isolation. The landscape, the housing estate seems to put a distance between them that is captured well by Handke. The book is all about an atmosphere, a cold way of living, almost alien in its coldness. It is a short book that strikes me as a commentary on life in the new towns that were a feature in Europe after the second world war. It does all it needs to do in it's short length. It was originally published in German and I read a French translation. In my opinion its worth a look if you are in the right mood and so 3.5 stars.

89baswood
helmikuu 23, 2020, 6:15am

BLBera's thread has an example of a sonnet from Terrance Hayes collection of American Sonnets. https://www.librarything.com/topic/314856

Sonnets are easy to write but of course good sonnets are on another level, but it's fun to try - really it is. All you need is fourteen lines, perhaps making each line ten syllables for the classic form and a rhyming scheme if you wish.

So without more ado let me be the first to venture into deep water with my sonnet for the new year:

Happy new year to all you tight arses
The emperor is wearing some new clothes.
Smarten up for the year quickly passes
Left behind facing a future that knows
politicians will always look down their nose,
while we keep our heads down studying our books;
our albums our games our sport and our foes.
Spenserian almost this rhyming scheme,
Buried in the Tudors is my new theme
As I party tonight up on the hill
A new year dawns with a climate extreme:
that shouts and hollers till i've had my fill.
No one tonight will have anything to say
Which makes me look forward to New years day.

90dukedom_enough
helmikuu 23, 2020, 8:06am

>89 baswood: Nice. Spenser didn't have to think about climate change, lucky he.

91baswood
helmikuu 25, 2020, 8:33am

92baswood
Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2020, 8:48am

La Colmena (The Hive) by Camilo Jose Cela:

Street benches - an anthology of troubled times
(with apologies to the author)

Black market trader warily reclines
An old man seeking to ease his asthma
The priest reading his breviary lines
The printer lunches with his wife Alma.
A young girl worn out in her deep loves moan
The musician rests his horn on his knee
Reading a romance grossly overblown
While the little girl likes to watch men pee.
A blind woman waits for the hours to pass
A woman with cancer fighting the pain
As the typist gulps lunch coarse bread crass
The morons mouth gaping dribbles again
Broad bottomed girls fat sardines in excess
Impregnate the planks with stale smells of flesh

Fragments or vignettes of prose are set down in generally non chronological order to capture life in Madrid during a few days in 1942. The second world war rages in the distance and many people are hungry, some in fear of retribution following the Victory of Franco that ended the Spanish Civil war. Life goes on but life in hard times is a struggle which rarely brings out the best in people. The reader concentrates on these fragments which radiate out from the cafe culture at Dona Rosa's cafe. Chapter one contains pen picture of some of the characters who will appear and reappear in the book and from the very start a picture of selfishness and greed emerges. Dona Rosa is the first to be described:

Dona Rosa comes and goes between the cafe tables, bumping into customers with her enormous backside. Dona Rosa often says "damn it to hell" and "what a pain"..... for Dona Rosa her cafe is the world and everything revolves around the cafe.......
Dona Rosa's face is covered with blotches, it always looks as if she were changing her skin like a lizard. When she is deep in thought, she forgets herself and picks strips off her face, sometimes as lons as paper streamers. Then she snaps out of it, begins to walk up and down again, and smiles at the customers, whom at heart she loaths, showing her blackened little teeth encased in filth.


It is a large cafe with a team of waiters, a manager, a shoeshine boy and a cigarette boy, but many of the customers are poor and spend their days in the cafe counting their pesetas. It is estimated that 10% of the customers are suffering from tuberculosis.

The impressionistic writing in chapter one continues through the book although some of the stories around the characters develop further. The girls and women struggle in a world dominated by men, and by the time the book is into its stride much of the content is stories of girls forced into one kind of prostitution or another. There are instances of kindness and even love in evidence, but when life for many of the people is a struggle to get enough food to eat then the streets of Madrid in winter can be cold and lonely.

The novel was published in Spain in 1951 and translated into English in 1953 and has been celebrated for its stylistic innovations and its sometimes candid description of life in a catholic country (although religion does not play a major part in the majority of the stories). The short interludes gives the book it's unquestionable dynamism and the impression of a city teeming with life with the reader peeping into just a small fraction of what is going on. However it is that 'what is going on' that serves to provide an almost historical document of life at that moment in time in Madrid.

With so many characters having their brief moment of fame as it were by appearing in the vignettes it is difficult to keep track of them all, but as we are not getting the full story in many instances this does not seem to matter. It is the overall impression that left it's mark on me.

Much of the book consists of dialogue and so the reader also has to become familiar with the patterns of speech and the cultural background of the characters. I read a translation by J M Cohen (in consultation with Arturo Barea) and so I might have missed something of those patterns of speech.
However I understood enough to know that I had read a very fine experimental novel whose stye leaves a lasting impression. 4 stars.

93baswood
helmikuu 28, 2020, 11:12am



Playgoing in Shakespeare's London - Andrew Gurr (second edition)
There were no theatre critics in the period 1580-1642 and so what happened at the theatres has to be pieced together from, letters, epigrams, poems, chronicles, pamphlets and legal documents. Anthony Gurr has identified 195 people identified as having attended a theatre of some sort between 1567 and 1642 (he lists their names with a brief reference in an appendix). Of those 195 only three of them provided eye witness accounts. In a further appendix there are 210 entries that mention the theatre in one context or another: Here is an example from a letter by Sir John Davies.

Fuscus is free, and hath the world at will;
Yet in the course of life that he doth lead,
He's like a horse which, turning round a mill,
Doth always in the self-same circle tread:
First, he doth rise at ten; and at eleuen
He goes to Gyls, where he doth eate till one;
Then sees a Play till sixe, and sups at seven;
And after supper, straight to bed is gone;
And there till ten next day he doth remaine,
And then he dines, and sees a Comedy;
And then he suppes, and goes to bed againe:
Thus round he runs without variety,
Saue that sometimes he comes not to the Play,
But falls into a whore-house by the way.


If there is so little contemporary information about the plays themselves there is even less about the public that would count as theatregoers. Gurr estimates that there were 50 million visitors to the theatre during the period and so what has come down to us is a small sample of information. It is inevitable that a book such as this would soon exhaust the topic of the theatregoers and move onto a survey of the types of plays produced.

After an introduction Gurr describes the physical conditions that people had to endure to see the plays. There is more information here with sketches and plans of the theatre that were either built or converted. There is a very good chapter on the social composition of London and so he is able to give the reader a description of the likely theatregoers and how they would be accommodated at the theatres. A chapter on the mental composition of theatregoers surmises the levels of education that would be required to understand many of the references in the words of the plays themselves. He makes an interesting point that the theatre may have been many peoples only connection with literature and the artistic world, because if they were not skilled readers there was nothing else. The theatre bought comedy, history and current events in a live format straight to the paying public.

The longest chapter is entitled the evolution of taste and this is where Gurr moves further away from the theatregoing public and surmises what they would have been able to see at the theatre and how this changed during the period. Certainly from the 1580's the morality plays were being replaced by something that we might understand as modern theatre; increasingly plays were designed to entertain and inform. Christopher Marlowe's plays and Thomas Kyd's 'The Spanish Tragedy' paved the way, becoming perennial classics being performed throughout the whole period. Gurr thinks that these popular plays with their spectacular effects would have entertained people from all levels of society. John Lyly's plays harked back to classical theatre and were performed by boys theatre groups in closed theatres and would have been patronised by those connected with the court of the Queen. As the period progressed the nature of the plays changed and it was Gurr's survey of the productions that I found most interesting. Some new theatres were built and others converted from building of different use, but this did not have such an effect on the plays as the changing tastes of some of the public.

This is a well researched book that would appeal to anybody interested in early English (London) theatre. It is written for the general public, but the appendices contain more than enough information for further research. A four star read.

94baswood
maaliskuu 2, 2020, 4:26pm

John LyLy - Midas
A play by John Lyly. The published version has a front piece that says "played before the queen Majesty Upon Twelfth At Night By The Children Of Pauls" The queen majesty was Elizabeth I and the performance was probably either in 1589 or 1590. In many ways this is a typical entertainment written for the court of Queen Elizabeth which would have been performed by the boy actors at the School of St Pauls in London. It is a short play that dramatises stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses. It would probably have lasted just over an hour and would have been performed indoors under candlelight.

The story of King Midas who was granted a special power by the Gods: that everything he touched turned to gold; would have been familiar to the educated courtiers that were the audience. The play also combines with it another famous legend of King Midas: that he was cursed with the ears of a donkey, by Apollo after he chose the music of Pan's pipes over the harp music of Apollo. Lyly wrote his play as an adult entertainment that would draw on the knowledge of the audience and entertain by his use of words and particular writing style. Most of the action takes place off stage and the only clowning is from the witty repartee of the servants at the court of King Midas. There is no attempt at characterisation: the people and the Gods in the play act out the story sometimes at second hand. There are some songs, but the play itself is printed in prose format rather than verse. It reads like light entertainment today and it would have amused the Elizabethans who got to see the performance. It would not have been suitable for the large outdoor theatres that were open to the general public. I think that a reading of John Lyly's plays can still be enjoyed today and this is an example which will not call upon any great knowledge, especially if read in a version where spelling has been modernised. It might appeal to some and so 3 stars.

95baswood
maaliskuu 5, 2020, 7:42am

96baswood
maaliskuu 5, 2020, 7:43am

The Bridge, Iain Banks
Two novels for the price of one in this early book by Iain Banks published in 1986. It preceded the first of his science fiction novels which was published the following year. After the Bridge, Banks' literary career diverged into writing science fiction novels and mainstream fiction novels, but today The Bridge reads like a combination of the two. If you enjoy reading about the Scottish socialist, rock music loving heroes struggling to come to terms with the vicissitudes of life in some of Banks' mainstream fiction and also enjoy his flights of fantasy in his alter ego as Iain M Banks the science fiction writer then this might be just the novel for you.

The novel starts with a short chapter entitled Coma where we are told of a near fatal car crash from a first person point of view. The next chapter plunges the reader into the mysterious world of the bridge where the unnamed hero who is suffering from amnesia is in consultation with a psychoanalyst (Dr Joyce) who is intent on exploring his dreams. The first time reader may be intrigued by the significance of this as the world that our hero (referred to as John Orr) inhabits is a sort of bridge to nowhere. John Orr becomes increasingly suspicious of the treatment he is receiving and seems to want to explore further the curious world that he inhabits. It is a world that has a resemblance to the Forth bridge in Scotland but takes the form of a city on a bridge. It is a Kafka-esque world where actions are taken for seemingly bureaucratic reasons which are accepted without question by the inhabitants. Orr challenges the treatment he is receiving and finds his privileges in the city summarily removed and decides to escape.

Much later in the novel we are told the story of Alex growing up in Scotland, falling in love with Andrea and becoming a successful businessman. This is typical of Bank's mainstream writing at this period of his career. Andrea and Alex grow together, but with Andrea wanting to keep her independence, there is more in her life than Alex and she moves to Paris for a four year period in pursuit of her own career and ambitions. Bank's skilfully builds in links between Alex and John Orrs story and indulges in a third story of a Barbarian who seems to be a participant in a video game. This story is told with a thick Glaswegian accent which takes a little deciphering. The three strands of the story progress towards a final denouement leaving the reader to wonder how they are connected in good mystery writing fashion.

The world building of the city on the bridge which is the dominant story in the first two thirds of the novel is handled with panache and Banks creates the atmosphere and feel of a credible alternative world, which has sufficient reference points to make it seem credible. A world of engineers and metalwork and of course trains that should appeal to railway enthusiasts. This contrasts nicely with Alex and Andreas story which has all the realism of growing up in the authors known environment of 1980's Scotland. I found the video game story with its exploration of classical myths the least convincing element to the book, and certainly the most difficult to read, but it works on a certain level even if the novel would not have been any the lesser without it. In my opinion John Orrs escape from the Bridge was the least convincing element to the book.

An element of Bank's mainstream novel writing that appeals to me is his use of contemporary cultural references; particularly to music. His characters emphasise their moods and feelings by their choice of music and if the reader has a similar amount of knowledge of popular music; of artists and their songs as does Banks then you can be even more tune with his writing. I am not aware of a writer that uses these seemingly casual references as well as Banks did, it works for me as I can hear the music in the background as I am reading the words on the page.

I have not read all of Banks; novels, but I have read many of his science fiction books and some of his mainstream fiction. I particularly enjoy his left wing, music loving heroes, out of step with Thatcher's 1980's Britain and I enjoy the hedonistic atmosphere of his science fiction culture novels. This is not quite a combination of the two, but it does have elements of both. It bursts with ideas and references that may be a bit over ambitious at times, but on the whole it works and is an absorbing read. I rate it as 4 stars.

97baswood
maaliskuu 7, 2020, 6:35am

The Massacre at Paris - Christopher Marlowe
The Massacre at Paris is indeed a massacre, but it is probably Christopher Marlowe's play that has been massacred. Written probably in 1592 there is evidence that it was performed ten times in the Elizabethan playhouses and so was a popular play with the audiences at the open air theatres. The version that has come down to us looks to be a short representation of the play possibly from the memories of those that took part in the performance.

It is a depiction of the St Bartholomew's day massacre of the protestants in Paris in 1572 and the part played in it by the Duke of Guise and the royal family of King Charles. Tacked onto this is a story of the crowning of King Henry III and the revenge of the protestant leader the Duke of Navarre who leads a protestant force against the catholics. As the play stands there is so much murder and mayhem depicted on stage that there is barely little time for anything else. There are claims that as far as it goes it is historically accurate, but as a piece of theatre it barely hold up. For completists only and so 2 stars.

98mabith
maaliskuu 8, 2020, 2:20pm

Iain Banks hasn't really been on my radar to read, though I'm plugged into the book world enough (and did work in a bookstore) to know the name. You've certainly put him on my list with that review. Do you have a particular favorite book of the left wing, music loving hero sort?

99baswood
maaliskuu 8, 2020, 4:40pm

100dukedom_enough
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 9, 2020, 12:14pm

>96 baswood: The Bridge is one of Banks's books I haven't got to yet.

101baswood
maaliskuu 10, 2020, 6:12pm



Caxton's Book - W H Rhodes
Reading books cited as having an influence on early science fiction before the genre was invented can lead to some interesting curiosities and some good writing; it can also lead the reader to wonder just why he bothered to unearth the book in the first place . W H Rhodes collection of short stories, poems sketches and essays published in 1876 does not quite fall into the second category, but his poetry comes mighty close.

W H Rhodes was an American lawyer based in Galveston and wrote stories and essays some of which were published in the newspaper under the name of Caxton. His 'The Case of Summerfield' was his most talked about story and it appears in this posthumous collection. Summerfield had invented a chemical based on potassium which he demonstrated could burn water by separating hydrogen and oxygen. He threatened to set fire to the ocean unless he was paid a huge ransom. It is a rather pedestrian story and far better is 'Phases in the Life of John Pollexfen' which is genuinely macabre. Pollexfen wanted to push the boundaries of science by the invention of a process to make colour photographs. He became convinced that the living eye of his attractive assistant would enable him to discover the secret and he offered her a substantial sum of money to allow him to cut out her eye. The adventure story entitled The Aztec Princess also has it's moments with ideas of overcoming gravity and of creating a language based on musical notes, however the story fizzles out after an interesting beginning. The tenor of these stories is that nothing should stand in the way of science, which may well have been a popular theme when Rhodes was writing in the 1870's

This collection was published by Rhode's admirers after his death and they would have done him more of a service if they had not included his poetry. As for the three or four stories that have attracted the attention of the science fiction community: they are mildly curious at best and tainted with too much of the spirit of onwards and upwards in the cause of science. 2 stars.

102baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 13, 2020, 8:16am



David and Bethsabe or to give it its full title:
The love of King David and Fair Bethsabe with the Tragedy of Absolon - George Peele
In the 1590's there are known to be 13 plays produced that were based on events from the Bible, but only two of them have survived. George Peele's David and Bethsabe tells of some of the well known events in the life of king David from the second book of Samuel. The Bible was Peele's only source and although he drew much inspiration from the text of the Bible he truncated many of the events to provide a drama that would be playable on the stage. The text of Peele's play that has come down to us is an uneven affair, with purple patches of poetry and song mixed with some uncomfortable plot and character twists that may be due to missing or corrupted material, but as in many cases of plays from this period we can only read and enjoy what we have in front of us.

After a prologue the play opens with with David sitting on the Palace roof watching Bethsabe bathing over a spring and he hears her singing:

Come, gentle Zephyr, tricked with those perfumes
That erst in Eden sweetened Adam's love,
And stroke my bosom with thy silken fan:
This shade, sun-proof, is yet no proof for thee;
Thy body, smoother than this waveless spring,
And purer than the substance of the same,
Can creep through that his lances cannot pierce:
Thou, and thy sister, soft and sacred Air,
Goddess of life, and governess of health,
Keep every fountain fresh and arbour sweet;
No brazen gate her passage can repulse,
Nor bushly thicket bar thy subtle breath:
Then deck thee with thy loose delightsome robes,
And on thy wings bring delicate perfumes,
To play the wantons with us through the leaves.


Peele's sensuous language conjures up the scene of King David being entranced by the beauty of the woman bathing and he is soon telling himself (and the audience) that "My soul, incensed with a sudden fire.". He discovers that Bethseba is married to one of his fighting men away at the wars and loses no time in arranging/commanding that she should sleep with him. Meanwhile David's son Amnon has lured his half sister Thamar into his bed, where he rapes her and throws her out when he has finished with her. Thamar runs to her brother Absolom who swears revenge on Amnon. A story of love, lust and betrayal takes up the early running in this play, before turning into the story of the revolt of Absolom against his father King David.

The relationship between King David and his son Absolom becomes the centrepiece of the play and the final quarter of it hones in on Davids reaction to the news that Absolom has been killed. The theme of the play has been building towards the question of the divine right of kings and finally David must decide what is more important, his love for his family or the state of Israel, albeit his commanders threatened desertion shapes the decision making and makes the point that the King cannot rule in isolation.

The overall shape of the play is uneven with the dramatic death of Absolom (stabbed while caught by his hair and hanging from tree branches) coming with some quarter of the play still to go. This turns out to be the end of any significant dramatic action, which had been fast moving up to that point. The final speeches which explore the nature of kingship and family are lively enough in themselves but the play seems to have come to a premature end as far as spectacle is concerned, but the dialogue continue with images of love and sensual beauty. Here is David after naming Soloman as the future king of Israel:

Salomon, my love, is David's lord;
Our God hath named him lord of Israel:
In him (for that, and since he is thy son,)
Must David needs be pleasèd at the heart;
And he shall surely sit upon my throne.
But Absalon, the beauty of my bones,
Fair Absalon, the counterfeit of love,
Sweet Absalon, the image of content,
Must claim a portion in his father's care,
And be in life and death King David's son.


King David bestrides this play just as Tamburlaine did in Christopher Marlowe's play and Peele imitates Marlowe's powerful lines with his own poetry laid out in strict iambic pentameters. However Peele is not only interested in power, he brings to his play the love of beauty. He celebrates David's prowess as a musician, his love for the beauty of Bethsabe, his love for his beautiful boy Absolom and does this with a softening of the more martial language that Marlowe might have used. Peele was a playwright that seems to straddle the line across the indoor smaller theatres of the boys theatre troupes and the large popular outdoor amphitheatres used by the adult players and David and Beshabe is a case in point. It certainly has some drama to entertain the London Theatre going public, but it has no recourse to comedy of any kind and the action seems to suddenly stop. Peele seems more intent to portray a visual/verbal sense of delight; conjured up by his poetry which also points to a moral dilemma. His source of material from the bible works against this in some respects because imagery from there can be violent in the extreme.

The play is ultimately concerned with David's soul. It asks the question can a man who is so easily seduced by the beauty that he finds all around him and which leads him to sin, be forgiven. Today we read the play for the assault on the senses contained in Peel's verse, perhaps we marvel at the hyperbole, at images that leap from the page, in some ways it is an astonishing piece of literature, but there are reasons why there are few attempts to realise it on a modern stage. I think this deserves a special place in the Elizabethan canon; I have not read anything quite like it, even if it cannot be made to work as a play I found myself enjoying passages of fine poetic drama and so 4 stars.

There was a film released in 1951 titled David and Bathsheba starring Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, but that is another story.

103baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 18, 2020, 10:45am



The Devil in Velvet - John Dickson Carr
Reading thematically has piqued my interest over the last few years, but it can lead to a lack of reading variety. Several themes on the go at one time can solve this problem and one of my favourite themes is to pick a year and read a selection of books from that year. My selections depend on availability and cost and this is important if the year selected still has copyright restrictions. My year this year for general novel reading is 1951 and it has already thrown up some surprises like The Devil in Velvet by John Dickson Carr. Carr was famous for his detective stories and is acknowledged as one of the most influential writers in the Golden Age mysteries genre, however in this book he ventures into the genre of historical fiction with surprisingly good results, so good in fact that I could have been reading a novel by C J Sansom my current favourite author in the genre.

The book starts with Nicholas Fenton a 58 year old professor of history who wants to solve a murder allegedly carried out by one of his ancestors. He makes a pact with the devil to sell his soul for the privilege of being transported back in time. After this rather preposterous framework the book settles down to being an excellent historical mystery. Professor Fenton is transported to the house in London of his ancestor in 1675. He inhabits the body of Sir Nick Fenton a youthful 33 year old and must adapt quickly to the pace of life of a prosperous young nobleman in the reign of Charles II. The murder in question is that of Sir Nick's' wife with whom the professor soon finds himself falling in love. He knows the date of the murder and works hard to prevent it happening, but he has the problem of keeping the character of Sir Nick reasserting itself in the body that he inhabits.

While the tale is fanciful the atmosphere and world building of London in 1675 is the star of this novel. From the moment that professor Fenton wakes up Carr manages to create a believable world that the reader sees through Fentons eyes. The large house that backs onto the lane that is Pall Mall, the household of servants that work to the wishes of Sir Nick in their own fashion and the dangers and dirt of crowded London streets. There is sword play and a pitched battle in the streets as Sir Nick a supporter of the royalist cause battles against the Country Part led by Lord Shaftesbury. Carr paces the mystery well and there are some memorable moments like the assignation in the London Pleasure gardens and Sir Nicks interview with Charles II, but most of the pleasure is derived by Carr's evocation of the sights, sounds and smells of London just after the Restoration.

I know the descriptions and atmosphere created are a little superficial, but they are convincing enough for me to believe that I was reading about life in 17th century London and that together with an unsolved mystery and an adventure story leads me to rate this at 3.5 stars.

104baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 2020, 8:15pm

105baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 20, 2020, 8:16pm

The Day of the Triffids - John Wyndham
Locked down in my house today and for the foreseeable future because of coronavirus I gazed out my window on a bright sunny day, no cars on the road no people walking; thinking about my next dash to the shops for food; the only thing missing was the Triffids. Reading a post apocalyptic novel especially one as good as this during the start of a world wide pandemic is in some ways a surreal or should that be a real experience. OK I have to admit that the vast majority of the worlds population has not gone blind and there are no killer carnivorous plants lurking in the hedgerows, but there is a killer disease out there, which is spreading rapidly and cannot be controlled.

The Day of the Triffids was published in 1951 and has suffered some criticism because of books like it being labelled 'cosy catastrophes'. This was because they were seen as a sub-genre where after an apocalyptic event a handful of survivors were able to lead relatively comfortable lives. This is certainly not the case with John Wyndham's book, it may lack the graphic violence of some more recent literature, but horrific scenes are never far away from the story line, which is a fight for survival tinged with a love story. The story opens with Bill Masen a biologist in hospital with wounds to his eyes caused by the Triffid plants in which he specialises and which are being grown for their rich oily products. His eyes are bandaged and so he does not see the spectacular celestial lights and explosions in the sky that nearly everyone else sees. When he peels off his bandages he discovers a world where everyone has been blinded. His explorations around London reveal that there are a very few people who have kept their sight and they soon coalesce into small groups, who have different ideas about how to survive. The big question is should they try and care for the blind population or should they abandon them and strike out on their own. The cities rapidly become uninhabitable piled high with corpses of the blind population who cannot survive alone. To add to the problems the Triffid plants are roaming the countryside killing indiscriminately and many groups who choose to hold-up in buildings for defence become ravaged by disease. Bill Masen falls in love with one of the sighted survivors; a woman more worldly than himself, but they become separated and Bill risks everything searching for her.

A good story that offers many opportunities for action and adventure as well as mystery and suspense, in what we might now label a road movie, however in my opinion it offers much more than that. Bill and the characters around him have to come to terms with a situation that is suddenly totally different. The golden years of prosperity and peacetime have been snatched away and although Bill is an intelligent man he does not have the capacity to lead and plan for the future and must listen to other peoples opinions as to a way forward. Adapt to survive becomes a framework for the future, but how to avoid the mistakes of the past. Arguments are bandied around in lively conversations and confrontations, that Wyndham dovetails into his story line. The book bristles with themes and moral dilemmas, not least Bills search for the woman he loves. The setting of the story is 1950's England, but it is not parochial in a way that H G Wells science fiction novels often seem. Wyndham's concerns are still very much with us today. The apocalypse in the story seems to have been man made, as characters refer to the star-wars like satellites of destruction that are rumoured to be circulating earth and the triffids have been harvested almost in secret despite their ability to maim and to kill. Questions are mooted as to how far civilised man must go backwards before he can start to make progress again, can he avoid a descent into savagery. How quickly can people adapt to a world that is fast becoming unrecognisable, how to deal with the vast majority of the population who cannot function or survive by themselves, how to offset the loneliness felt by such a sudden change and how to raise the spirits of a group faced with an impossible task.

There are no fancy literary devices on show here; Wyndham is content to focus the point of view on Bill Mansell, with some backstories filled in by other character. Bill tells his own story as a sort of personal record in chapter 2 and the book progresses lineally from then on. The story is always engaging even if the character of Bill is a little wooden. Men emerge as natural leaders with one group led by a woman failing spectacularly in its failure to adapt, there are however some strong female characters, with Wyndham's 1950's sexism not becoming offensive (in my opinion). What is now a little outdated is the belief by many of the protagonists that civilisation would be saved by the Americans, a view continually expressed was that people would only have to survive long enough before the American's would arrive to put things right, even though the evidence pointed to it being a world wide phenomenon. I am not so sure so many people would feel like that today, but it must have been more prevalent in the early1950s still less than a decade after the second world war.

A view expressed by one of the female characters thinking of the coming generation:

‘If I were a child now,’ she said, reflectively, ‘I think I should want a reason of some kind. Unless I was given it – that is, if I were allowed to think that I had been born into a world which had been quite pointlessly destroyed, I should find living quite pointless, too. That does make it awfully difficult because it seems to be just what has happened …’

There is much agonising as to what sort of a world the new generation would inherit, with an undeniable feeling that the previous generation has stripped it bare. In some respects I found The Day of the Triffids, particularly pertinent to todays events, it is not too difficult to imagine that the world around us in the 2020's will be quite different from what the previous couple of generations have enjoyed: thoughts and emotions that some parents must be aware of today. Perhaps there is not an apocalyptic event on the horizon, but something that might be recognisably close. I rate the book as a five star read.

106baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 23, 2020, 5:55pm

La Petite Bijou
My Folio edition of La Petite Bijou has an atmospheric black and white photograph of an old fashioned Tabac/café at night, lit from inside and with a large lamp in the half enclosed terrace. The book was published in 2001, but it has the feel of Paris a few decades earlier, a Paris tucked away from the touristy zing of the commercial world that is more familiar today. This was the second novel I have read by Modiano (the first was Dora Bruder) and again one of the main characters of this book was the streets of Paris and its banlieues. I felt as though having a street plan of the city on my desk would enhance the reading experience.

La Petite Bijou is Thérèse, a nineteen year old girl living in one of the Parisian suburbs as a casual worker not having passed any of her school exams. One afternoon when travelling on the metro she sees an older woman wearing a yellow coat: scruffy and worn, who looks just like her, she is fascinated and stays on the train until the end of the line and when the woman gets off, she follows her home. Thérèse thinks about her mother who she has not seen for twelve years and is half convinced that it is her. Modiano tells Thérèse's story mainly in the first person and so we are witnesses to the scattered thoughts of this nineteen year old woman who tries to piece together her childhood memories. She has a box of memento's in her bedsit and searches it for clues of her mothers identity. She knows that her mother sent her away to a relation in the country as she was going to Morocco in search of work. Thérèse has an image of herself with a label tied round her neck being put on a train and from other pieces of paper in the box she finds names of men her mother knew.

She believed her mother had died in Morocco, but the sighting of the woman in the yellow coat causes memories of her childhood to resurface and she follows trails set off by the threads of information in the memento box. Thérèse finds a job looking after a young girl who is referred to as La petite, her parents seem to be involved in some sort of criminal activity and La petite clings to Thérèse in a kinship that echoes her own childhood. Thérèse suffering from ill health befriends a female chemist after visiting the shop one evening and the chemist becomes something like a maternal figure and so there are more echoes of a mother and child relationship. All this is set against the mystery of Thérèse's early life as events in her current life trigger other thoughts and emotions. These themes are typical of Modiano's oeuvre, the search for identity, perhaps a shameful history that is never fully recovered; an obsession that leaves characters on a seemingly endless journey through the streets of Paris searching for clues that may kick start more memories. Scraps of paper containing information, shadowy characters from the past with something to hide.

In this short novel Thérèse's search for her own identity endangers her current identity as her character seems at times perilously close to merging with the people she meets. A mysterious atmosphere enhanced by wintry Parisian evenings permeates the book as Thérèse moves towards some sort of crisis caused partly by her obsession with her own past. Modiano is noted for returning again and again to characters haunted by a half forgotten memories and this novel fits very well into his oeuvre. It works for me and 4 stars.

107sallypursell
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 23, 2020, 6:41pm

>105 baswood: I read The Day of the Triffids when I was ten or eleven years old, and I can't say that at that time I "liked" it. But the horror of it has stayed with me for (lo) these 57 years.

108lilisin
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 3:40am

>105 baswood:

Excellent review. I was impressed with how much Wyndham was able to discuss considering the very short length of the book. Everything form mass production, man made disasters, chemical warfare, individual vs society, able-bodies vs. not, etc... There is so much packed into one book but it remains entertaining and suspenseful.

I think it's a perfect book to recommend to non-scifi readers (like me although I love scifi movies).

109thorold
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 6:48am

>106 baswood: Nice review — and a fantastic cover. I hope it really was a proper photograph and not someone applying clever filters to a digital image...

I think that’s my favourite of the Modiano books I’ve read to date.

110rocketjk
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 2:41pm

>103 baswood: I love this sort of historical novel and try to read one or two a year, though I don't always fulfill that goal. They are just fun and sometime surprise you with the quality of the reading experience.

111lisapeet
maaliskuu 24, 2020, 6:07pm

>106 baswood: Modiano is one of those super prolific authors that I've been meaning to read. I have a few of his books here and there on the shelves, too—but not that one and it sounds like a good one.

112baswood
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 26, 2020, 6:11pm



The Chrysalids - John Wyndham
The message that some people take from this 1955 science fiction classic is 'don't be frightened of change, always look forward and never look backwards. Change is not always for the best especially when a human made apocalypse seems to have wrecked half the planet. In Wyndham's novel the benefits are a new breed of humans with telepathic skills and so better, faster communications might on the surface seem be a boon to society, however faster communication comes with it's own problems and when super telepathic users start to sense the emotions behind the transmitted thoughts then I can see problems. Wyndham doesn't get to examine those issues in this book whose main theme is a small mutant group fighting for their survival.

In Wyndham's novel the apocalypse on earth happened three hundred years ago and the novel opens with a society that has looked backwards instead of forwards. They have blamed the destruction on humanity moving too far away from God's image. Of course they know exactly what God's image is from the bible (God made man in his own image) and so in a post atomic world anything that is deemed as mutant is destroyed. The novel is set is the village of Waknuk (or it could be Nuk(e)wak) where one of the younger generation (David) starts to understand that he can read other peoples minds through thought pictures. He discovers there are eight others within a ten mile radius, who have similar gifts, but knowing that his father is one of the most strict enforcers of the law against mutants he lives in fear that his mutant abilities will be discovered. He grows up as quietly as he can, but when his younger sister also develops the gift and is unable to control her much more powerful transmissions it is only a matter of time before the group of telepaths are discovered. David has dreams of a society that are something like the ones that destroyed their civilisation, but the inhabitants of Waknuk have become so insular that David can find out nothing about the people that lived on the earth over 300 years ago. The Waknukians are a farming community who live by the teachings of the bible, they are back in the age of horsepower with only one large ancient steam engine to do the heavy work. They are fighting a battle against mutant crops and mutant livestock as well as mutant people some of whom live in the Fringes where mutations have run wild.

Olaf Stapledon's novel Odd John published in1935 explored similar themes to Wyndham's novel and in my opinion delved more deeply into issues facing a mutant group who come to see themselves as an improvement on those around them. Wyndham however keeps his story moving along tightening up on the tensions for a group of people fighting for their freedom to exist and it is told from David's perspective and so there is little space given for reflection on wider issues. The story works well and Wyndham avoids most of the racism and sexism of much science fiction written at this time. In my opinion this is nowhere near as ambitious as Day of the Triffids but one could argue it is more tightly written 4 stars.

113baswood
maaliskuu 28, 2020, 6:57pm

The Pleasant and Conceited comedy of George-a-Greene: The Pinner of Wakefield
Sometimes attributed to Robert Greene this play was seemingly written for the popular London Theatres between 1588-93. Five public performances are noted and it's survival as a print copy probably attests to its relative popularity. It is a play written to entertain: there is history, there is fighting, there is comedy, a love story and if this was not enough the legendary Robin Hood and his merry men are bolted on near the end.

The story is set in the 14th century probably in the time of Edward III and his wars with Scotland. Lord Kendal has defeated the Scots in battle, but has his eye on the English crown. He orders the town of Wakefield to supply his hungry army, but George-a-Greene refuses on behalf of the town and stands up to and then tricks the Lords into revealing their plots; finally he bests three of them in combat. His fame spreads down to London and king Edward travels in disguise to meet with the hero, meanwhile Robin Hood also not to be outdone travels to Wakefield to take on George-a-Greene in combat.

It is one of the few plays of it's time to feature a yeoman as it's hero, but the depiction of George-a-Greene would not have offended anybody at the time. George-a-Greene is loyal to his king and his country and knows his place, even when he is offered a knighthood for his services in foiling a plot against the crown, he rejects it on the grounds that his family have always been of yeoman stock and he wishes to remain a yeoman. There are plenty of opportunities for the aristocracy to disguise themselves as common folk and there are plenty of comic interludes. Nobody gets killed and it is pretty much light entertainment all the way through.

The version that has come down to us would provide a short play of something like an hour and a half. The writing is adequate and the story moves along quickly. I can't pretend it has any literary merit and there have been few attempts to play it to modern audiences. I found it quite fun to read but only rate it at 2 stars.

114thorold
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 1:48am

>113 baswood: Fun! — I didn’t know about that. It looks as though, unlike the Vicar, he is actually associated with (or at least claimed by) Wakefield in the West Riding. Is he a Pinner in the sense of “pin-maker” or someone whose job is to round up stray animals? I suppose the second is more obviously compatible with being a yeoman.

115kidzdoc
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 2:40am

Fabulous review of The Making of Jazz, Bas. I'll be on the lookout for it.

116baswood
maaliskuu 29, 2020, 4:59am

114> Yes his occupation was something like rounding up stray animals and protecting the crops. There is a scene in the play where Lord Kendal deliberately lets loose some horses in a corn field to entice George-a-Greene to meet with him.

117rocketjk
Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 29, 2020, 9:42am

>83 baswood: & >115 kidzdoc:

I haven't read the Collier. A similar book that I enjoyed and found very valuable as a reference for my own jazz journalism was The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia. Quite readable and very comprehensive. Also, Visions of Jazz: The First Century by Gary Giddins.

118baswood
huhtikuu 1, 2020, 6:13pm

>117 rocketjk: Thanks I will look out for those recommendations. Meanwhile I am immersing myself in the recordings of Sidney Bechet, early Louis Armstrong, Henry Red Allen and some of those early boogie woogie pianists.

119baswood
huhtikuu 1, 2020, 6:14pm

120baswood
huhtikuu 1, 2020, 6:16pm

Arthur C Clarke - The City and The Stars
Published in 1956 this is another entry from Clarke in the Masterworks Science fiction series. Clarke concerns himself with the big picture in fact the biggest of pictures, a search for a superior intelligence that will oversee the cosmos: a guiding hand perhaps for humanity. In his 1953 novel Childhoods End it was the seemingly benevolent overlords who took human life to a further stage in their development. In the 1948 short story the Sentinel that was later opened out into 2001 A Space Odyssey in 1968: Clarke was again looking forward to man's relationship to the universe and searching perhaps for that all powerful being. The City and the Stars takes place much further in the future when man had conquered the galaxy, but his empire had collapsed and his descendants have taken refuge back on their home planet earth. Perhaps they never did find that omnipresent intelligence that was the subject of so many of their dreams, instead they came across the invaders who beat them back to earth where they have fabricated a city (Diaspar) controlled by machines and are content to live and revel in their immortality, but frightened to look up to the stars.

Clarke's search for that all knowing intelligence has nothing to do with religion. It is nothing that can be invented internally, one of his characters sums up what might be in Clarke's mind

“he (man) suffered from an incurable malady which, it seemed attacked only homo sapiens amongst all the intelligent races of the universe. That disease was religious mania. Throughout the earlier part of its history the human race had brought forth an endless succession of prophets, seers, sages, and evangelists who convinced themselves and their followers that to them alone were the secrets of the universe revealed."

Diaspar has not had a human newborn for ten million years, then along comes Alvin a unique event. There have been a few other "uniques" recorded in the history bank memories of the machines, but they have all disappeared. As Alvin approaches adulthood he feels the confines of the city and starts to look outside. His escape fuels the story and once again homo sapiens are reaching for the stars. Like other Clarke novels this is a story of a search for something else and readers have to go with the flow and allow themselves to be swept along by Clarke's vision, however opaque that maybe.

Arthur C Clarke was a fine writer and storyteller, he was able to put flesh onto the skeletons of his visions and so in this novel the futuristic city of Diaspar is lavishly described. He is able to place his readers into a world that he invents without resorting to pages of background material. He is largely free from the sexism and racism that can mar other writers of this period. One can still pick up his novels and feel the wonder even if the world of science fiction writing has now moved on from the sometimes naive writing of the period. I was hooked from the start and stayed with it till the end 4 stars.

121baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 2, 2020, 11:51am



John Lyly - Mother Bombie, John Lyly
Probably written around 1590 this play was at "sundrie times" acted by the Children of Pauls. It is quite different from the other plays that Lyly wrote as entertainment for Queen Elizabeths court, in that its characters are not the aristocracy or nobles attending the court of a foreign king: they are English townspeople although Lyly could not dispense with giving them latin names.
It comes across today as a light frothy entertainment stuffed full of Lyly's wit and word play.

The subject matter is marriage and although arranged marriages were not quite as proscribed as those of the court: townsfolk would have still wanted to marry their children as well as possible. In this case the two wealthiest parents both have idiots (in their view) for children and would be quite content to marry them off to each other, however the young adults show no desire to carry out their fathers wishes. Two other fathers less well off want their children to marry one of the rich mens idiots, however these two young adults are in love with each other with Livia being forthright in her views about her father:

"The care is taken. I'le ask him blessing as a father, but never take counsel for an husband; there is as much odds between my golden thoughts, and his leaden advice, as between his silver hairs and my amber locks; I know he will cough for anger that I yeald not, but he shall not cough me a fool for his labour."

The parents all entrust their servants to resolve the issues of their children and so a coterie of the four servants plan together to achieve their masters wishes in the hope of a reward. The servants hatch their plans in a local tavern; while their masters do likewise at another establishment. Lyly has fun with contrasting the witty conversations of the two groups.

Mother Bombie is the wise woman of Rochester, she describes herself as a cunning woman who sees herself doing good for the community and everyone goes to seek her advice, which she dispenses in poetic rhymes. She deals equally well with the coarse language of the servants as she does with the wealthy young adults who knock on her door. Everything is resolved to everyones satisfaction by the end of the play, there is no tension, no hurt feelings and no real action: the whole of the entertainment is in the witty dialogue of Lyly and the unravelling of the plot. He would have also used the whole of the small stage by contrasting the two groups of characters on opposite sides of the stage area. This is light frothy entertainment which I found a delight to read. This may have been the last play that Lyly wrote and it's more relaxed feel and tighter plot may have made this a success. It is my favourite of his and so 3.5 stars.

122sallypursell
huhtikuu 3, 2020, 12:23am

>121 baswood: A "cunning woman" is interesting. Was that phrase used? It sometimes means a beneficent witch, an herbalist, not someone who cavorts with the devil.

123markon
huhtikuu 3, 2020, 6:50pm

Also noting the recommendations for books on jazz. I have a fantasy of reading one of these books while listening to the music - maybe a project for retirement.

124baswood
huhtikuu 4, 2020, 3:07am

>122 sallypursell: Yes. In the play Mother Bombie calls herself a cunning woman. no suggestion of which craft or anything like that. She is more of an Oracle.

125sallypursell
huhtikuu 4, 2020, 6:36pm

>124 baswood: Baswood, think of Circe, and the virgins at Delphi. I would submit that Oracle is an excellent definition of one kind of witch. Still, if she doesn't think of herself that way, I had better not pin in on her. And weren't they using some narcotic vapor through the crack to assist the oraculeurs?

126auntmarge64
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 4, 2020, 7:39pm

Catching up on your thread was quite enjoyable today because, now don't laugh, I just watched "The Upstart Crow" on BritBox. Have you seen it? As a Shakespearean layperson, I loved it. For yourself, it might be amusing, heretical, or just stupid. For anyone who hasn't seen it, it covers the early years of Shakespeare's career and is REALLY bawdy and very funny. I don't know where the censors were at when the series was made, but the show's writer seems to have gotten away with just about anything as long as he added various suffixes to the words. For instance, there are boobingtons, bitchingtons, and so on (not to mention multiple ways of referring to codpieces and their, ahem, contents). The dialogue is very fast. Main characters include Robert Greene, presented as a preening peacock obsessed with destroying Shakespeare's career; Marlowe, written as a vain womanizer (and proud of it) who is endlessly begging plays off his good friend Shakespeare to present as his own; and the London landlady's daughter: brilliant, self-educated, and wanting so badly to play the female lead in Shakespeare's new teen romance (he, meanwhile, is searching for an ending that won't be what everyone expects). Pretty much all the characters are winners: Shakespeare's wife, kids, and parents, his servant Bottom, the company of actors, and the wonderful Miss Lucy, a historical character who escaped slavery and opened a pub in London. Just brilliant, I thought (I have no idea if any of it is close to the truth).

And I wanted to add that I love John Wyndham! Have fun with that while in isolation.

127baswood
huhtikuu 6, 2020, 4:57pm

I have not seen 'The Upstart Crow' but I am sure I would enjoy it.

128thorold
huhtikuu 7, 2020, 6:31am

>127 baswood: You probably won't approve of the depiction of Greene :-)

But it is very clever. Do have a look if you get the chance.

129baswood
huhtikuu 7, 2020, 6:12pm

Poor Robert Greene famous (only) for a quip that must go down in literary criticism as one of the worst ever made.

130auntmarge64
huhtikuu 9, 2020, 3:24pm

>128 thorold:

Yes, Greene is definitely the bad guy in the show, in which he starts rumors that Shakespeare couldn't possibly have written his plays because he didn't have sufficient schooling.

131baswood
huhtikuu 11, 2020, 8:56am

132baswood
huhtikuu 11, 2020, 8:58am

Bestiary: Selected Stories, Julio Cortazar
Bestiario was published in 1951 and was the first collection of short stories by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar. I don't read in Spanish and so I ordered an English translation and the book that arrived was somewhat bigger than I expected: Bestiario is a slim volume of 160 odd pages. Bestiary turned out to be selected short stories from most of the collections published throughout Cortazar's life (which happened to include six of the eight stories in Bestiario). At first being something of a completist I was disappointed at not having all the stories originally published in Bestiario, but as I read on through the book I realised what a privileged piece of good fortune it was to read not only some wonderful stories but also to follow the development of Julio Cortazar the writer.

Julio Cortazar was born in Brussels, Belgium to Argentinian parents in 1914, but moved to Buenos Aires when he was five years old, where he spent his formative years. He emigrated to France in 1951 the year of the publication of his first collection of stories and was based in Paris, although he had a second home in the South of France. He worked as a translator. Not surprisingly in subsequent collections of stories after Bestiario they seem to be set more or less equally in France or Argentina. He became politically involved late in the 1960's and his stories came to reflect this more obviously, although I would argue that most of the stories I have read in this collection show an intense political awareness of one kind or another.

There are 35 stories in this collection with an average of ten pages for each one. Typically the stories start with a rush of information, ideas and startling imagery which set this readers head spinning. They soon settle down allowing you to catch up a little and also to appreciate what a fine teller of stories Cortazar was in this medium, because he places his readers inside the story: first of all there is that immediate grabbing of attention before the tale unravels. Take one of his most famous stories from his first collection: "Letter to a Young Lady in Paris" where the speaker has a curious condition of vomiting up live rabbits, it starts:

"Andrea, I didn't want to live in your apartment on Suipacha. Not so much because of the bunnies, but rather that it offends me to intrude on a compact order, built even to the finest nets of air, networks that in your environment conserve the music in the lavender, the heavy fluff of the powder puff in the talcum, the play between the violin and the viola in Ravels quartet. It hurts me to come into an ambience where someone who lives beautifully has arranged everything like a visible affirmation of her soul............."

The speaker from time to time vomits up tiny rabbits, he keeps them in a pen allowing them to grow and he spends time gathering clover on which to feed them. This surrealist image like the best surreal images becomes an accepted fact of the speakers existence; he vomits up rabbits, it doesn't happen all that often and he deals with the consequences. When he takes over the occupancy of Andrea's apartment he finds that he is vomiting rabbits on almost a daily basis. The early stories are shot through with these surrealist images, but they become so much part of the story that the allegory is not difficult to grasp and Cortazar usually provides an ending that is not only satisfying, but reflects back on the story that you have just read.
The stories from the first selection are stunning indeed, varied, finely crafted and involving. In the Gates of Heaven a grieving lover becomes convinced he seas his dead wife in a sleazy nightclub, in 'Circe' a young man gets involved with a girl who it is rumoured has killed two of her previous boyfriends, In "Omnibus" a young woman becomes aware of all the other passengers on the bus staring at her because she is not carrying a bunch of flowers for a graveyard on route, in "House taken Over" a reclusive brother and sister shut off portions of their large family home when they hear mysterious noises.

The tales selected from the second collection "Final del juego" (End of the game) are shorter and contain more elements of magic realism, but again there are some unforgettable stories: in 'The Night Face Up' a motorcyclist has an accident and in hospital with a fever he dreams he has been selected for a human sacrifice by the Aztecs, it becomes all too real, in 'In the Afternoon' a young boy is charged with taking his idiotic younger brother for a walk in town, 'End of the Game' itself is an arresting story of three girls who play at making a tableau of themselves beside the railway tracks at a certain time each day when the train carrying the commuters comes along, one day a passenger gets off the train and walks back along the track to meet the girls. The selections from "Todos Los Fuegos El Fuego ( All fires the fire) are set in Paris and contains "The Southern Thruway" which was adapted for a Jean Luc Godard film 'Weekend" Cortazar imagines an endless traffic jam approaching Paris where immobilised travellers have to survive for days in a hostile environment. In this selection there is also 'Instructions for John Howard' where a casual theatre goer at an intermission to a play is selected to go backstage where he finds the actors want him to improvise his way through the rest of the play with them, there are strange undercurrents......

Selections from the 1974 collection Octaedro are once again based largely in South America, there is less magical realism in these stories as the author is telling stories of love and relationships, but once again full of atmosphere and mystery. The 1977 collection 'Alguien que anda por ahl' continues these themes, but against a more cosmopolitan European background for example 'The Faces of the Medal tells of a romance set against the headquarters of CERN: The Organisation for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. Press Clipping from Quaremos Tantoa Glenda tells of missing people and torture in Argentina and is much more of a political statement, but is juxtaposed with a newspaper story of a woman being tortured by her lover in Marseilles (France). Their are four stories from Deshoras published in 1982 two years before the authors death that show that Cortazar never lost his mastery of the short story format. No loss of the power of the story teller here and the final story Nightmare provides the perfect bookend to the very first story in the collection.

Having read this selection of short stories I am sorry not to have a complete collection in translation, buI can console my self with the prospect of reading most of these again without the need of rushing toward the denouement (always a temptation in short stories for me). I am certainly going to get a copy of Cortazar's celebrated novel Rayuela (Hopscotch). This was a major discovery for me and a five star read.

133lisapeet
huhtikuu 11, 2020, 9:16am

>132 baswood: Oh cool, I didn't know anything about Cortázar's short stories. Hopscotch was a big book for me when I was in my late teens, radical both in terms of the structure (you can read straight through or jump among chapters according to his instructions) and, to my very young eyes, the plot—I was so hungry for other worlds at that age, but I'm guessing it might still be a really evocative portrait of a time and place that are gone now. I still have my old, tattered, waterlogged copy, and whether or not I decide to revisit it I'd definitely like to check out Bestiary.

134baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 18, 2020, 9:08am

135baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 18, 2020, 9:08am

En Attendant Bojangles - Olivier Bourdeut
This is a first novel by french writer Olivier Bourdeaut, which won a 'Prix du Roman Des Étudiants and so could be considered a novel for young adults. It also won the Grand Prix RTL-Lire (2016) which is an award for a French language novel chosen by a jury of readers and so it has wide appeal. It is the story of a family of three: the two parents and their young son, who act out a fairly bizarre life style. It is told from the POV of the son, but also from notes for an unpublished novel written by his father.

It starts with the son describing a typical day in the life of the family. His father has retired early from a position in the French Government and his wife and he seem to be acting out a sort of fantasy life. Every day his father invents a new name for his wife to whom he is devoted. She loves the attention and plays along, she is addicted to the dance and to a lesser extent to alcohol. Every day the couple dance to the NIna Simone recording of Mr Bojangles which is a focal point of their day. The father is spending his free time writing a novel and their son fits himself into their life which is also shared with a large African bird of the parrot family. They have a chateau across the border in Spain where they spend some holiday time and a senator from the fathers old working life attaches himself to the crazy family life style. The son of course is doing badly in school, but the parents are so wrapped up in themselves they hardly notice. They seem oblivious to the world outside and although they have a circle of oddball friends we realise that things are not quite right: they hardly ever open any post and leave their mail in a heap in their hall, their alcohol consumption is on the increase and they are starting to alienate some of their friends with their behaviour. The tax man arrives with an enormous bill that they cannot pay.........,

The bizarre behaviour points to some sort of mental illness and it is no surprise when this becomes an issue. However it is a romance first and foremost: a mad love affair that takes two people and their son (and a parrot) down a road that is never going to end well. There is nothing new here in the story telling, the novel starts off as a comedy and then becomes more of a bizarre fantasy acted out by a family seemingly bent on destruction. The tone of the novel is melancholic rather than tragic and a suspension of belief is required from the reader. By having the son tell the majority of the story enhances the mystery through his naive approach to his family. The notes of his father's unpublished writing are cleverly interwoven to provide some background. The comedy, the romance all tinged with a certain melancholy as the novel progresses, supplies the charm and probably the popularity of this first novel. 3 stars.

136kidzdoc
huhtikuu 18, 2020, 3:15pm

Great review of Bestiary: Selected Stories. I'm a fan of Cortázar's work, so I'll certainly get this book sometime this year.

137baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 19, 2020, 9:03am

138baswood
huhtikuu 19, 2020, 9:01am

Christopher Marlowe: The Complete Poems and Translations, Edited by Stephen Orgel
It is good to have all Christopher Marlowe's poetry in one place in modern English spelling, but the books title is misleading for the casual reader. The majority of the poetry on show here are translations and not all of it by Marlowe. Of course it cannot be helped that there is not that much orignal poetry available by Marlowe but it would have not extended the editor too much to provide a more fuller introduction. Carping aside I am glad to have this book if only for the wonderful Hero and Leander and perhaps for a few of the translations of Ovid's elegies.

Hero and Leander is an original poem in epic style sourced from the Greek legend of the same name. Hero and Leander were young lovers living on either side of the Hellespont (a narrow stretch of water which separates Europe from Asia. Hero has made a vow of chastity to the Gods, but is seduced by Leander who lives across the water, Hero lives in a tower and lights a lamp to guide Leander who swims the Hellespont. On his first journey he is almost drowned by the sea god Neptune who seems to be in love with the handsome youth, but in the end offers him protection. Leander breaks down Hero's defences and the lovers enjoy a night of bliss. At this point Marlowe's poem ends but the legend goes on to present a rather different moral. Leander swims the Hellespont many times during the summer months, but one night is caught in a storm and drowns, Hero discovers his body and throws herself off the tower to be at one with her lover.

Marlowe was the bad boy of Elizabethan literature accused of being an atheist, and sodomite, suspected of spying as a double agent and certainly in trouble for street brawling. No surprise then that he should choose a pagan legend at a time when Puritan tracts and the movement against the Libertines was well underway. The poem was published in 1598 with the second part of the legend completed by George Chapman, but it is not certain when Marlowe wrote the first part or when it was circulated in manuscript form. It obviously must have been before his murder in 1593 and could have been as early as 1587. At a time when poets were publishing carefully controlled sonnet sequences, Marlowe's semi heroic epic in rhyming couplets in iambic pentameters and with an erotic charge would have once again pointed to his rebellious nature. The fact that he stopped his poem at the point of the celebration of carnal love rather than carry on through to the death of the lovers shows where his interest lay. George Chapmans continuation of the poem is included in the book: Here is Marlowe nearing the end of his poem:

She trembling strove; this strife of hers (like that
Which made the world) another world begat
Of unknown joy. Treason was in her thought,
And cunningly to yield herself she sought.
Seeming not won, yet won she was at length,
In such wars women use but half their strength.
Leander now, like Theban Hercules,
Entered the orchard of th’ Hesperides,
Whose fruit none rightly can describe but he
That pulls or shakes it from the golden tree.
And now she wished this night were never done,.............


It is generally thought that Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Amores (Elegies) was completed at a much earlier date, probably while he was still studying at University. The subject again is love, but this time more in line with contemporary sonnet sequences. Ovid's Amores celebrates his love for Corinne, but she was no chaste young woman faithful to her husband and Marlowe seems to be at home with his translation of the poets complaint and then final acceptance of a woman like Corinne. There are nearly fifty poems condensed into three books, but the quality of the poetry is variable.

Included also is Marlowe's line by line translation of book one of Lucan's Pharsalla and the short poem/song 'The Passionate Shepherd To His Love;

A mixed bag then, but fairly essential to anyone who wants to get a fuller picture of the wordsmith who was Christopher Marlowe. 3.5 stars.

139baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 21, 2020, 8:47am

140baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 21, 2020, 8:48am

Nicholson Baker - Vox
Well this was a little different to what I usually read. A novel that relates a telephone conversation between a couple of strangers; a man and a women who are interested in mutual masturbation. It starts with that well worn question "What are you wearing? and ends with the possibility of exchanging telephone numbers. One of them has answered an add in a personal column of a sex magazine and they both enjoy the way their telephone conversation is going. They tell stories to each other, ask personal questions and when they feel comfortable with each other, get down to the business of masturbating. The novel was published in 1992 before the advent of video messaging and so Baker's intimate descriptions have to serve a purpose.

Whatever turns you on! and this telephone call certainly turned on Jim and Abby and it could have a similar effect on the reader who is privileged to eavesdrop on their conversation. Baker writes well and the stories that are told are quirky and titillating rather than nasty and dirty. The two characters are careful not to spoil the bond that they have created and act sensitively to each others feelings. Its the sort of book that might lead you afterwards to take a warm bath rather than a cold shower. The joys of masturbation are thoroughly explored and if you find this subject best left in the hands of the beholder then the book might not be for you. I lapped it up and blame it on the confinement. 3.5 stars.

141thorold
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 21, 2020, 10:26am

>140 baswood: ...if you find this subject best left in the hands of the beholder

In your defence, it should be said that there’s no way anyone can write that kind of a review without ending on some sort of double-entendre! :-)

142lisapeet
huhtikuu 21, 2020, 7:08pm

>140 baswood: I enjoyed Vox—it was very of its time, for sure. Is that the cover of the edition you have? It's kind of awful, isn't it?

143baswood
huhtikuu 22, 2020, 3:12am

>142 lisapeet: No my book's cover looks like this, I am not sure I would have bought a book with the cover I used at >139 baswood:, but its so bad I couldn't resist.

144lisapeet
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 22, 2020, 10:53am

>143 baswood: You have to wonder what the designers were thinking. Or not, actually—that's pretty obvious. Yours above is on an interesting "sex it up" continuum between the salacious one and the one I have, which may have been the original:

145baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 26, 2020, 5:40am



Clifford D Simak - Time and again
Science fiction from 1951 and an early work from this prolific author. What you get with Simak is a thinking person's science fiction, a little similar in some ways to Arthur C Clarke, although in this novel he does not exhibit the same level of skills as a writer. The first quarter of this novel is confusing, difficult for the reader to grasp what is going on and one has to be patient to allow Simak to get into story telling mode.

Ash Sutton returns to earth from a long distance space mission only to find that his employers had given him up for dead and there seems to be a plot to kill him. It is only when he discovers an unopened letter of his that he has some idea what is happening. He will write a book which has become a sort of bible in the future and has instigated a war between the revisionist and the faithful followers of the book that Sutton has written. People from the future have been sent back in time in an attempt to subtly alter the contents of the book, which Sutton has not yet written. After Sutton's experience on the forbidden world of Cygni 1, he will write about the destiny of mankind, unfortunately this diverges considerably from the prognostications of those in power: Simak tells us:

For Man had flown too fast, had driven far beyond his physical capacity. Not by strength did he hold his starry outposts, but by something else … by depth of human character, by his colossal conceit, by his ferocious conviction that Man was the greatest living thing the galaxy had spawned. All this in spite of many evidences that he was not … evidence that he took and evaluated and cast aside, scornful of any greatness that was not ruthless and aggressive.

Sutton sees a future where the androids, robots and alien races have an equal status to human beings. This is a direct challenge to human kinds wish to dominate and control their galaxy and even to move onto dominating the universe. Sutton has brought something back with him from Cygni 1 that will potentially make him a force that cannot be ignored and his alliance with the androids makes him a public enemy.

After a confused start to the novel the pace changes to a homespun interlude on a Wisconsin farm, where Sutton's ancestors experience some strange dealings with time travellers and where Sutton himself recovers and hides from currents that are swirling around the publication of his book some time in the future. It is a novel of ideas that becomes more lucid as the book progresses. Unfortunately it's changes of pace only serve to point to a disjointed feel. Characterisation is perfunctory, but the novel avoids the sexism and racism that could be prevalent at the time: I kept having to tell myself this novel was written in 1951. Not wholly successful, even the title is confusing, but an interesting read 3.5 stars.

146baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 28, 2020, 7:05am



John Lyly - Loves Metamorphosis, John Lyly
This completes my reading of John Lyly's plays and with it's pared down style, which does not sacrifice the wit of the playwright it was for me the most enjoyable to read. It is a difficult play to date as there are no records of a performance during Lyly's most productive years in writing for the theatre (1584 - 1592). His concerns were to write amusing and provocative drama for a sophisticated court audience. His use of allegory is open to interpretation and he seems to have been careful never to let it get in the way of providing an entertainment.

The play is set in Arcadia. Three foresters are in love with three completely unkind nymphs of the God Ceres, who embody three unpleasant traits: indifference, inconstancy, and pride. The foresters pray that Cupid will punish the nymphs by metamorphosing them to the natural objects that they most resemble; a rock, a bird, and a rose. However the foresters cannot live without the Nymphs and beg Cupid to change them back, however the three nymphs are even more determined not to have the foresters as husbands. It is only with the intervention of Ceres herself they reluctantly accept the men who are by now under no allusions about the difficulties of marriage. At the same time Erisicthon, a wealthy farmer, cuts down a tree sacred to Ceres which houses the nymph Fidelia who is killed, Ceres in revenge sends famine to gnaw at his vitals and Erisicthon is forced to sell his daughter Protea to pay for more food. Protea seeks the help of the sea God Neptune in saving her lover Petulius from the grip of a siren, she is successful and they appear before Ceres and beg her to call off famine from torturing Erisicthon.

It is all neatly worked through by Lyly in his delightful prose style, happy endings but not happy ever after endings, with only Lyly's description of famine to mar the lightness of the mood:

"Shee lyeth gasping, and swalloweth nothing but air, her face pale, and so leane, as easily thou maiest through the very skin as in a glass thy shadow; her hair long, black and shaggie, her eyes sunk so far in her head that she lloketh out the nape of her neck, her lips white and rough, her teeth hollow and red with rustiness; her skin so thin, that thou maiest as lively make an anatomie of her body as she were cut up with chiurgions (surgeons), her maw like a drie bladder; her heart swollen big with wind; and all her bowels like snakes working in her bodie."

The three nymphs enjoy flouting love, they stir up the amorous foresters, but they want to remain chaste, for their part the foresters question their need for love and are content to admit that they cannot fight against the desires of their blood. Lyly is intent on providing a commentary on the parallels of spotless virginity, chastity and constancy in love. Cupid seems to have the most power amongst the gods with his idea that love conquers all, even though he is derided because of his blindness and his nakedness. There is so much to read into Lyly's prose that the play can be read on a number of levels; the simple working out of a complicated plot, the parallels between the two strands of storytelling and an admiration as to how Lyly brings them together, an interesting rhetoric on the need for love, and an allegorical overlay that does not intrude but gives plenty of food for thought. I would like to think that this short play was the last that Lyly wrote because for me it encapsulates all that made his plays so vital and so different from the plays that were performed before the general public in the grand open air theatres. As a piece of drama it lacks dramatic appeal, but the delightful conversations that always point to a much deeper level of ideas do bear out a careful reading. If you want to get a flavour of the master of providing entertainment to Elizabeth's courtiers then this delightful fluff will do the job.
4 stars.

147sallypursell
huhtikuu 29, 2020, 9:08pm

>146 baswood: Making the nymphs to marry their swains is like the old legal practice of making a rapist marry his victim. A nonsensical plan to my mind. But I have a lot of respect for Ceres, so there must have been sense in it. I named my favorite doll Proserpina, once upon a time.

148baswood
Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 30, 2020, 5:33pm



Saul Bellow - The Victim

"Its bad to be less than human and it's bad to be more than human"

Says Shlossberg the oldest of a group of Jewish men who have been talking about the merits of current actresses (1947), but it could equally be applied to Asa Leventhal the hero of this story. Asa has come across this group of friends and acquaintances in a cafeteria and has gotten involved in the conversation while looking for an opportunity to "do something" for his unwelcome house guest Kirby Albee.

The novel is based in New York City it's hot and muggy and Asa Leventhal is alone in his apartment while his wife is visiting her parents in the South to help with a family problem. He works as a copy editor for a trade magazine: a job that he doesn't particularly like but is glad to have. The oppressive weather lies heavy on his big frame and his nerves come under pressure from two events with which throw him into turmoil. His bothers wife telephones, panicking about her sick child (his brother is away looking for work) and he is accosted by Kirby Albee in the street who bears him some sort of grudge. Asa is struggling a little without his wife and is now plunged into issues with which he is ill-equipped to solve, being a touchy individual who can rub people up the wrong way.

The centre of the story is his relationship with Kirby Albee an acquaintance from his past who blames Asa for an incident that led to the loss of his job and subsequently the loss of his wife. Albee has sunk low in the world, but is clever and manipulative and is now drinking heavily. His persistence causes Asa to question his role in the incident and when he seeks advice from a couple of his friends they also add doubt to Asa's own views that he was not to blame. One thing is clear Asa dislikes Albee and fears he is being used, but cannot shrug off a feeling that he may have behaved badly. Few people go through their lives certain that they have always acted for the best, most of us have worries that our actions have caused distress or worse to others and the Victim plays on those fears, what happens if an incident from the past rears up to threaten the future, what happens if we are held to account. The answer mostly is that things are not black or white, but the fear and anxiety caused by a recurring incident can destroy our well being and Asa in this novel is particularly vulnerable.

Asa knows that Albee is anti-Semitic from a previous argument, but now suspects that others that know him may also be suspicious of him, because he is a Jew. He cannot understand why they are not more sympathetic to his plight, similarly he believes he is not being helped by his Jewish circle of friends, there is talk of black lists and his paranoia threatens to tip him over the edge particularly when he is brow beaten into letting Albee stay in his apartment. Bellow is particularly good at creating a hot-house atmosphere that swirls claustrophobically around Asa and his descriptions of an overheated New York City bear down on his unfortunate central character.

The relationship between Asa and Albee crackles with tension and often leads to verbal and physical violence. Asa's sense of family duty, where he does not always understand the undercurrents that make up relationships can make him seem unsympathetic at times, but he is a man who does his best while trying to keep several balls in the air at the same time. Bellow's dialogue is tough and gritty. without resorting to wisecracks or the language of the street. A chapter where the Jewish circle of friends discuss the merits of various showgirls with the knowledge of impresarios is a tour de force and when a joke is made as they are planning to leave the cafeteria, it is Leventhal who thinks it is aimed at him. Bellow ends the chapter with an arresting image of the friends going up to pay:

'The musical crash of the check machine filled their ears as they waited their turn at the cashier's dazzling cage'

Business in New York City just after the second world war, called for men to work hard and sweat to keep their jobs and there were casualties. Knowing how to bend with the boss was how many people kept their head above water, Leventhal struggles with this concept his natural pride and idea of how he should be doing things gets in his way and setbacks lead to a certain amount of paranoia. Bellow captures this strikingly. This is an absorbing read, encapsulating a time and a place to great effect. 4 stars.



149kidzdoc
toukokuu 3, 2020, 4:49am

Fabulous review of The Victim, Barry.

150lisapeet
toukokuu 3, 2020, 8:08am

>148 baswood: That Bellow was completely off my radar, but now I'm going to check it out. Thanks, Barry—great review.

151baswood
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2020, 5:56pm

152baswood
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2020, 5:57pm

Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers - Jules Verne
The french equivalent of the great American novel Moby-Dick? There are some striking similarities and reading through 20,000 leagues under the sea it was hard to get the idea of Moby-Dick out of my head. Moby-Dick was published in 1851 and 20,000 leagues appeared in serial form in 1869 and there is evidence that Verne had read Moby-Dick by his reference to the whale ship Essex and it's destruction which inspired Melville's novel. For French language readers 20,000 leagues had always been a literary masterpiece, but English readers had to wait until 1962 for a translation that did Verne's novel any justice. The original translation and the one that you are likely to read free on the internet, cut out over a quarter of Verne's novel and bowdlerised other sections and so for English readers Vernes novel had some catching up to do.

First of all the similarities: like Moby-Dick there are pages and sometimes chapters that read more like scientific research than an adventure novel, which has lead to shortened versions and films that leave out the boring stuff. Captain Nemo like Captain Ahab is a driven man that no one understands; exercising control by force of character as well as a knowledge that other people do not posses, also like Ahab he starts off by being mildly crazy, but ends up being completely insane. Most of the action takes place on the high seas or under the high seas. All of the protagonists are men, not a woman or love story anywhere. There are references to literature, to history and mythology strewn throughout the book. Verne like Melville as an author seems to be on a quest for knowledge. The protagonists are on a ship/submarine an enclosed space and are actual prisoners on the Nuatilus very similar to the crew signed up to serve on the Pequod. However it is the way the story is told that made this reader think he was reading such a similar book: interspersed with an adventure story are pages and sometimes chapters that focus on zoological or technical aspects of life in and under the oceans and on board the submarine. Much of this has little direct relevance to the storyline.

The big difference is that Jules Verne's is a science fiction story which has things to say about the future, whereas Melvilles book is mainly concerned with the here and now, (1850's) but also could be said to be looking backwards at an industry, the whaling industry which was looking at an uncertain future. A simple outline to the story in 20,000 leagues... is that Professor Arronax and his domestic servant (Conseil) are on board a frigate that has been sent to search out a mysterious animal that is believed to be doing damage to shipping. The frigate attacks what it believes to be a monster and in the battle Arronax, Conseil and the harpooner Ned Land are swept overboard. they manage to swim to what turns out to be the submarine Nautilus and reluctantly captain Nemo takes them on board. The terms of their rescue is that they must remain as captives of the captain because they become party to some of the secrets of the Nautilus and Nemo is interested in Professor Arronax knowledge of marine life. The Nautilus travels around the oceans of the world with a purpose that remains obscure, and on the voyages there are some notable events, which have become famous through more popular extracts from the novel. There are fights with various sea monsters, giant sharks, giant sea spiders and a kraken (giant octopus). The battle with the savages near an island in the south seas when the Nautilus is grounded. The discovery of the underground passage linking the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. The rescue of a pearl diver off the coast of India, the visit to the lost world of Atlantis beneath the waves. Nemo and Arronax reaching the South Pole and the Nautilus stuck below the ice. The journeys on the ocean beds in full metal diving gear and oxygen equipment are some of my favourite sections of the book, because of Vernes descriptions of the world beneath the waves.

The tension in the story apart from the life threatening adventures is the relationship between the four men, Nemo remains a mystery, but Arronax is full of admiration for the man he recognises as a genius and is perfectly happy to carry out his own exploratory work as a marine biologist. Ned Land is hell bent on escape but realises he jeopardises the safety of the other two and Conseils hovers between his loyalty to Arronax and his friendship with Ned Land. Opportunities for escape are rare as Nemo has a hatred for landfall, preferring to have nothing to do with the race of men that inhabit the land. His crew remain a mystery speaking in a language that is foreign to Arronax and there are few clues as to where they come from and how they got to be part of Nemo's loyal entourage.

Science fiction in my opinion is all about a sense of wonder, and there is much of this in the novel, but there is also plenty of what could be termed as hard science fiction and then again there is much that is just plain descriptions of fauna and flora, perhaps the best parts of the book are when Verne manages to combine all three. His love and respect for the natural world is evident throughout his book, however a total lack of anything approaching a sense of humour is a drawback.

Embarking on a reading of either of these two classics calls for some determination to get to the end, there are highs and lows in both novels, perhaps the highs in Verne's book outweighs those of Melvilles, but the lows are certainly lower; the descriptions of marine life, the outlines of historical events can be little more than list making and some of them seem to be repeated. Some of Melvilles best writing is contained in the more technical chapters, but this is not always the case with Verne, although there is evidence of scholarly work to put it all together. His knowledge of geography, meteorology and chemistry is impressive, but this reader wonders if some of it is little more than a demonstration of knowledge, I do not get the same feeling with Moby-Dick. The fact that I am able to compare both books in the same review says much for their value as important books in the literary canon. If I was a member of the crew of the Pequod or the crew of the Nautilus and was given an ultimatum by their respective captains of re-reading one of the books or else! I know which one I would choose, but I also know which one I would prefer to read again. 5 stars of course.

153lilisin
toukokuu 4, 2020, 9:35pm

>152 baswood:

Congratulations on reading 20000 Leagues! It really is a great book isn't it? I love entering Verne's fantasy worlds.

With this book I loved when he would go into describing all the species floating past him at the moment as you could feel the wonder at and the devoted respect he had to nature but even so I would read the first few pages of these parts then start skimming over the latin names until I would reach the next break in thought or paragraph. For me it's kind of like going to large museums. The first few paintings in an exhibit I really spend time poring over the details of the painting but as I go on, my time spent with each painting is less and less as there is only so much that can remain in your head at a time when introduced to so much information. But just because I walk past the last few paintings with only a glimpse in the museum, doesn't make the experience of the images any less.

This was one of his darker books in tone I felt which led to a great amount of suspense. Anyway, congratulations again.

154sallypursell
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 2020, 9:47pm

>152 baswood: I love both those books.

I meant to say that I read this to my first-born son when he was about 9 or 10, I think. He loved it too.

155thorold
toukokuu 5, 2020, 6:03am

>152 baswood: Oh dear, another long book you've made me want to re-read! (I've only ever read it in the bad old English translation, when I was about 12...).

156baswood
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 6, 2020, 5:49pm



George Peele - The Old Wives' Tale, George peele
A play, a comedy written in the early 1590's, probably for the court of Queen Elizabeth, but would also have worked on the popular London outdoor theatres. Peele was a playwright who from the evidence available was able to dip into the melting pot of previous drama and come up with something that would provide entertainment across the social spectrum. In the Old Wive's tale he probably felt secure enough in his abilities to distance himself from the classics of antiquity and produce a play that works well enough on it's own terms. Previously in his earlier 'The Arraignment of Paris' he had used a mixture of gods from antiquity and the well worn trope of shepherds from pastoral settings. In the Old Wives Tale he is content to find his inspiration from the English folk-lore tradition and with his use of a play within a play able to combine people attached to Queen Elizabeth's court with village people, there is not a god or a shepherd in site.

The play was printed in 1595 describing itself as a "pleasant conceited comedy" but the version we have today is unusually short when compared to other plays from this era and that together with some obvious misalignments in the text points to this as being a cut down version of Peel's original play. However what we have is still something quite original for the time it was written. A fast moving comedy romance that seems to be an amalgam of at least four different stories that come together more or less in a light hearted fantasy.

The play features a play within a play with the old woman Madge passing the night away by telling a "Winter's Tale" to a couple of servants to a courtier who have become lost in the woods. There are in fact three servants Antic, Frolic and Fantastic who become lost and are found by a village blacksmith (Clunch) who takes them home out of pity for their situation. Madge his wife is left to entertain two of them while Clunch shares the only bed with Antic. Madge starts to spin her tale which comes to life and they all witness the tale acted out in front of them. Two brothers of a Princess are searching for their sister who has been kidnapped by the magician Sacrapant. Meanwhile the Spaniard Huanebango is looking for adventure as a knight errant and he teams up with Corebus, a clown. Eumanides another knight errant is also looking to do good and they all meet up with Erestus who is labouring under a spell cast by Sacrapant and speaks in riddles that foretell the future. Eumanides comes across Wiggen who is arguing with some church officials who are charging too much money to bury his friend Jack, Eumanides gives nearly all of his money for the burial and is rewarded by the ghost of Jack who helps him in his quest. Two daughters of the poor man Lampriscus are looking for husbands and they are assisted by the "heads in the stream". A Friar puts in appearance, Harvest Men appear at intervals to sing and play and the Spaniard Huanebango is mocked, for being a braggart, but really because he is Spanish and a Catholic.

It is an Old Wives Tale told and played for its comedy value, it does not need to have a logical plot and in fact what we are left with is a series of sketches that all come together with the defeat of the evil magician Sacrapant. There is no characterisation, but plenty of satire and fantasy, with Peels bubbling text driving it all on in a thoroughly modern way. No moralising, although most of the characters get what they are looking for and the evil magician dies. The play may have been appreciated for it's protestant standpoint that mocks the catholics and there are allusions to other literary figures active at the time, but these would not be easily picked up by the modern reader without the aid of notes. So what we have is a comedy romance that is started by Madge by the immortal words "Once upon a time......" (first recorded use?) and Huanebango boasts to the daughter of Lampriscus (Zantippa) that he will:

True sweetheart, and will royalize thy progeny with my Pedigree:

while earlier Zantippa is not phased by the bodiless heads that appear in the stream:

what am I, then? a woman without a tongue is as a soldier without his weapon: but I'll have my water, and be gone.

Evil Magician, a kidnapped Princesses, a Spanish braggart, a clown, a couple of desperate daughters, the grateful dead (Jack), a mad woman that appears but says nothing, floating heads, a minstrel troupe, knight errants and some officious churchmen all combine to entertain. I enjoyed the version that is free on line from the ElizabethanDrama.org; modern spelling and annotated. 4 stars.

157SassyLassy
toukokuu 8, 2020, 3:39pm

>152 baswood: Every year I say I will read Moby Dick, and somehow never do. Recently I bought a new copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea for a reread, the first read, like >155 thorold:, when I was about 12.

Love the way you have linked them together. It is a great encouragement to me to get them out.

>151 baswood: Great image.

158baswood
toukokuu 11, 2020, 11:22am

Edward Page Mitchell - The Crystal Man
The Crystal man is a short story written in 1881 and forms the title of Mitchell's collection of short stories. Mitchell was a journalist and later the editor of the Sun Newspaper in New York City, where most of his stories were published. The collection published in 1973 contains many of his stories, but there is an opportunity to read seven of them free online at Project Gutenberg Australia. The Tachypomp, The Soul Spectroscope, The Man without a Body, The Ablest Man in the World, The Senators Daughter, The Crystal Man and The Clock That Went Backwards. I took the free option.

You would expect to find that a journalist and editor would know how to write a good short story and this is indeed the case. Mitchell's stories are clear and concisely written and well structured, but my reason for reading was the elements of science fiction that places him outside of the run of the mill short story writers of this period. The Crystal Man is an invisible man story that works well from the beginning until the end and is a good example of Page's work. He does not let his imagination run away with him, but produces thoughtful stories that have a satisfying conclusion. I felt I could easily have been reading a story from the comics produced in the late 1940's. Stories that are curious rather than weird, but the ones I read did not lead me to search out more. A comfortable 3 stars.

159dukedom_enough
toukokuu 11, 2020, 5:11pm

>152 baswood: There's an English translation that is, I think, still more recent, one from the US Naval Institute Press, that's been recommended to me.

160baswood
toukokuu 15, 2020, 7:33pm

161baswood
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 15, 2020, 7:36pm

The Comedy of Errors (Arden Shakespeare)
The Comedy of Errors BBC teleproduction 1983

WHEN IS A FARCE NOT A FARCE

The answer to this question could be when it is written by Shakespeare. People who read and enjoy Shakespeare do so for many reasons, not the least of them are the language, the imagery and the poetry. There are also the wonderful stories the subtle plotting and the resolutions that always seem to make perfect sense of what has gone before. Shakespeare is read also for his his commentary on the human condition, his is a voice that can leap across 420 odd years of time and still make sense to many of his readers in the 21 century. The problems with this aspect is that many readers expect too much from him and worry about those aspects of life in Elizabethan times that are frankly abhorrent to many of us today. Because in my view the value of Shakespeare is also in his acute observations of Elizabethan life and his ability to write plays that were entertaining to the audience that watched them. They would have been able to relate to the events on the stage and recognise issues that impacted on their lives and those of the social spheres above or below them, but there are some aspects that make the modern viewer/reader uneasy, squirming perhaps in their seats. The Comedy of Errors can be one of those plays: slavery, marriage and mercantilism all seem to hold us back from laughing out loud at the farce of the mistaken identities that form the central structure of the play.

The play is set in the mercantile port of Ephesus at some period in classical history: Aegeon a merchant from Syracuse has been arrested and sentenced to death as a result of a trade war between the two city's. He tells a story of how he has landed in search of his identical twin sons and their twin slaves who he has not seen for a number of years as they were separated as a result of a shipwreck. Unbeknown to him one of the twins is a prosperous merchant in Ephesus and the other twin has just landed in search of his brother and family. Both are called Antipholus and both of the slaves are called Dromio and they are so alike that they cannot be told apart. The Syracusan Antipholus is mistaken for the Ephesusian Antipholus and the twin brothers cannot even tell the Dromio brothers apart. The brothers do not get to meet until the end of the story and so in the meantime confusion reigns with even Adriana the wife of Antipholus of Ephesus mistaking his twin for her husband. All the action takes place during one eventful day that is to end with the execution of the hapless Aegeon.

There is a long speech at the very start of the play where Aegon tells the story of his lost family, it is a kind of info-dump that sets the scene, but also hints at possible misfortunes or misadventures. The comedy gets going as soon as Dromio from Ephesus sees Antipholus from Syracuse and mistakes him for his master and urges him to return home to his mistress Adriana; who is impatiently waiting to eat lunch. Antipholus is more concerned with the result of an errand that he has sent his Dromio on involving a hefty sum of money. From this moment on Shakespeare keeps the two sets of twins apart with the result that no one seems to be making any sense, but it usually ends with one of the Dromios getting a beating. The stuff of a knockabout farce and when jewellery, sums of money, unpaid debts, a courtesan and a schoolmaster and conjuror become involved then the humour goes into some sort of overdrive. The Dromio twins have an uneasy relationship with their masters who value them for their wit and service, but do not suffer their foolishness gladly. The repartee between master and slave sparkles with wit and invention as each of the Antipholuses who are touchy at best become mad with rage at the confusion and their inability to understand what is going on. Complications follow on hard on the heels of each other until both sets of brothers find themselves under restraint for disturbing the peace. The misadventures are all to do with the mistaken identity, there are no conniving servants or malicious traders involved, no plots to relieve the brothers of their money, but Antipholus of Syracuse soon becomes convinced witchcraft is involved and Antipholus from Ephesus becomes paranoid.

Shakespeare ramps up the comedy as the play progresses, but there are deeper issues involved. Antipholus of Ephesus relationship with his wife Adriana comes under scrutiny, she is not just impatient for his lateness in returning for lunch but sees this incident as a reflection of the state of her marriage. This is not helped when after persuading the wrong Antipholus home to dinner she effectively locks her husband out in the street while her guest makes eyes at her sister Luciana. Adriana complains to Luciana that husbands have too much freedom:

ADRIANA. Why should their liberty than ours be more?

Luciana puts her straight in a speech which is of it's time:

Why, headstrong liberty is lash'd with woe.
There's nothing situate under heaven's eye
But hath his bound, in earth, in sea, in sky.
The beasts, the fishes, and the winged fowls,
Are their males' subjects, and at their controls.
Man, more divine, the master of all these,
Lord of the wide world and wild wat'ry seas,
Indu'd with intellectual sense and souls,
Of more pre-eminence than fish and fowls,
Are masters to their females, and their lords;
Then let your will attend on their accords.
ADRIANA. This servitude makes you to keep unwed.
LUCIANA. Not this, but troubles of the marriage-bed.


The outrageous beatings suffered by the Dromio twins at the hands of masters and mistresses are stock in trade for Elizabethan comedy, but this feels overdone. The treatment of servants which in many instances were little more than slaves during the period were known to be harsh, but the Antipholus twins seem to want it both ways, in one instance they are encouraging their Dromios to be friendly and engage in witty conversation while in the next instance they become annoyed, which soon results in physical abuse. The Dromios are the the most impressionistic and sympathetic characters in the play and contrast with the more aloof and cold personalities of the Antipholus twins.

The city of Ephesus is a proto-capitalist credit dependent economy. Stability and credit worthiness are everything; as soon as a suspicion of indebtedness is cast then a victim is identified. Everyman has his price. The poor unfortunate Aegeon who is bound to be executed could buy off his execution if he could raise 100 ducats, but no one in the city deems him credit worthy. Antipholus of Ephesus is a product of the city his scheme to repair his relationship with Adriana is to have a gold chain made for her and he knows this will be accepted, but when this chain gets caught up in the confusion of the mistaken identities he is in trouble. Antipholus is almost reduced to apoplexy, he becomes incandescent with rage.

The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeares earliest plays, perhaps the first comedy that he wrote, probably dating from mid 1594, but could have been a couple of years earlier. It has remained a popular play although in the nineteenth century stripped down and rewritten as a farce imbued with sentimentality. The Boys from Syracuse is a 1940's musical based on the play, but there have been plenty of modern productions that have used much of the original text of the play to make a comedy with added depth. I watched the 1983 BBC production starring Michael Kitchen as the Antipholus twins and an excellent Roger Daltry as the Dromio twins. Directed by James Cellan Jones this production not only made me laugh out loud, but also enabled me to appreciate the structure of the play. This is a comedy first and foremost but it also has other things to say and it all bubbles up to a climax and then a denouement that works particularly well. This production is particularly strong in focusing on the troubled relationship between Antipholus and Adriana, but never loses the fun of the comedy: the witchcraft is treated as a bit of a sideshow but is ever present and the intervention of Doctor Pinch is impressive.

The Arden Shakespeare dates from 2017 and is edited by Kent Cartwright. As usual the background information and notes are extensive with all you need to know to enjoy the play. There is no shortage of information on the internet if you find yourself struggling with the introduction that can be a little over intellectualised. The text however is clear and the notes on the same page as the text work well. This play is superbly entertaining and Shakespeare packed much into what is his shortest play. I loved it and so 5 stars.

162thorold
toukokuu 16, 2020, 6:37am

>161 baswood: Yes, that BBC production was fun. Despite the plastic lemons in the market-place...

163baswood
toukokuu 19, 2020, 5:48am



My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
A gothic Romance might be the best description of Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel. Published in 1951 it has the feel of an early nineteenth century romantic novel of manners, written in the 20th century, but with good attention to detail. Not quite the Bronte sisters, as it has a more modern mystery element that fuels the story and the writing has a more flowing contemporary style.

The gothic element is there right from the opening scene where young Philip is shown the decaying body of a hanged man at a crossroads by his protector and uncle Ambrose. This is Philips story told in the first person, the heir to the Ashley estate somewhere deep in Cornwall near the coast. He grows up in an all male household becoming a friend and companion to Ambrose, who is advised to travel to the continent for health reasons. He goes to Italy and at the ripe age of 43 falls in love and marries Rachel a divorcee. He never returns to his beloved Cornwall being pronounced dead a few months after his marriage. His widow suddenly arrives at the Ashley Estate and Phillip is suspicious of her motives, but his inexperience and awkwardness around women allows her to charm the household and Philip himself. Philip is in receipt of two letters from Ambrose shortly before his death in which he claims that his wife Rachel has done for him; perhaps poisoned him. Cousin Rachel's legal adviser the Italian Rainaldi arrives and Philip is immediately jealous of his easy relationship with Rachel.

The mystery is centred around Rachel's motives and the suspicions invoked by Ambrose's final communications with Philip. The Romance is Philips growing infatuation with cousin Rachel and the gothic elements are the wild landscape, the suspicious, perhaps malevolent Italian Rainaldi and the feeling of impending tragedy set in motion by the hanged corpse at the beginning of the novel. Philip nearing his age of majority (25 years old) with his inexperience of women and his cultural xenophobia is an unreliable narrator in that his views of events are stultified by his naivety and inability to seek help. The novel slowly builds to it's climax and kept me turning the pages. There is no secondary plotting the story is Philips story and Du Maurier creates an atmospheric reading experience that marches on to its inevitable conclusion 4 stars.

164baswood
toukokuu 24, 2020, 5:18pm



André Malraux - La Voie Royale
Described on publication in 1930 as an adventure novel set in the romantic landscape of the temples of Angkor Watt. It must have been a puzzle to many readers at the time to have in their hands an existential tract written in feverish french with an overlay of erotisme. It was not an immediate success. Sure the main bones of the novel are that a young frenchman hooks up with an older more experienced explorer (Perken) in a search for a hidden temple on the royal way leading into the forest from Angkor Wat. Perken is also looking for another white man lost in the jungle and he has connections with hostile insurgents. They become trapped in a hostile village deep in the forest and are deserted by their guides. Death, disease and degradation dog their footsteps throughout their journey and these are the real subjects of the novel.

André Malraux had visited the temples of Angkor Wat in 1923 and in fact was charged by the French Colonial authorities for unlawfully removing bas-reliefs from one of the temples. He recovered from this early set back to become a successful author, a figure in the French resistance during the second world war, a recipient of the Croix de guerre and Minister of Information in General De Gaul's post war government. He was highly respected by the succeeding generation of french writers and philosophers with two major novels written either side of La Voie Royale; Les Conquerants in 1928 and La Condition humaine in 1933. La Voie Royale seems to be the less well thought of book in the trilogy of books set in Asia.

There is nothing uplifting in this soul destroying trudge through the scarcely explored forests on the edge of Cambodia. The Young Claude Vannec is driven by desire to find his fortune by robbing treasure from temples hidden in the forests. Perken is in league with insurgents and is looking to raise money to buy military hardware. The french legation while allowing Vannec to prospect in the forest warn him about Perken. Vannec seizes on the opportunities that come his way with prostitutes on the journey out to meet up with Perken and their initial conversations are full of allusions to local native women. Their trek through the jungle is hard, laborious, and full of biting insects, but a bond develops between the two men who talk about their fear of death. They find a temple deep in the forest, but they struggle to prise away three of the bas-reliefs and then have problems in loading them on to carriers, meanwhile Perken tells Vannec of his wish to follow any leads to find Grabot a white adventurer who has never reappeared after an expedition deep in the forests. There is much more talk about the meaning of life and the possibilities of dying in the forests as the insects become a constant pest and they are deserted by their guides. They stumble into a poor tribal village where they find Grabot as a slave in a pitiful condition. Perken negotiates a way out but becomes injured in the process; His knee gets infected and gangrene is a result. A local doctor says he must prepare himself to die a painful death as the only cure is amputation and there are no reachable facilities. Perken becomes feverish as the pain comes upon him in waves during an agonising final two weeks, his plans to help the insurgents have melted away and his search for Grabot has ended in his own death and the discovery of an emasculated wreck of a man who had been something of a hero to him.

There is nothing romantic about life in the Cambodian forests, it is a place where white men enter at their peril: the climate, the insects, the threat of injury is with them every step of the way. They are intruders in a hostile environment. Malraux emphasises this aspect of the story and then goes on to describe an experience that is degrading in every way. The feeling of being trapped becomes a living nightmare for the two men and their conversations and fears become disjointed in prose that effectively relates their overwhelming feeling that there is no escape. One can have little sympathy for the men who have gotten themselves into this situation and really by the end of the book I just wanted the forest to swallow them up.

This is not a particularly long novel, but reading is a little bit of an endurance test, I admired the atmosphere and setting that Malraux had created to rehearse some existential ideas, but it was a setting that had a morbid fascination that I was happy enough to put down at the end. 4 stars.

165RidgewayGirl
toukokuu 24, 2020, 5:44pm

>164 baswood: Thank you for writing such an exciting review for a book I'll probably never read (not the least because ...reading is a little bit of an endurance test...).

166baswood
toukokuu 25, 2020, 11:37am



Robert A Heinlein - Double Star
This 1956 Hugo award winning novel is included in the science fiction masterwork series and either has not aged well or was a lack lustre rip-off from the start. It takes as a basis for its story the plot mechanics from the Prisoner of Zenda, dresses them up in a pointless science fiction setting and trots it out in a fairly brief novel. The story is a good one, but if you know it from the earlier book or the film, then Double Star will hold little attraction. I look for a sense of wonder when going back to read novels from a golden age of science fiction, the only wonder I found here was how Heinlein managed to reinvent a good story in such a tawdry fashion that was convincing enough to win him awards. Nothing wrong with the quality of the writing, which is of a good standard for this genre, but ho-hum 2.5 stars.

167baswood
Muokkaaja: toukokuu 28, 2020, 6:52pm



Edward III - William Shakespeare?
The Shakespeare Apocrypha is the name given to a number of plays that have been attributed to William Shakespeare and have not been printed in quarto or folio editions of his work. Edward III or The reign of King Edward III is one of those plays. It does have better credentials than most others which run to about forty plays, but there has never been a firm agreement amongst Shakespeare scholars about Edward III, although in the 21st century it is more likely than not to appear in a complete works edition of Shakespeare. It was published anonymously in 1596, but was first performed in 1592. Given the date of the first performance: if it was by Shakespeare it would have been one of his earliest plays. It would more likely have been a joint effort with other writers, particularly as the first part of the play has a different feel to the second part. There have been few theatre performances of the play this century and non in the mainstream attributed to Shakespeare, which might give a clue to the perceived quality of the play. I read a version in modern English spelling free on the internet at Project Gutenberg.

It is a history play that features some of the highlights of the Reign of the Plantagenet English king Edward III. It condenses the time scale of the action so as to include The English victories over the French in the early years of the 100 years war. It covers the battles at Cressy, Poitiers. and the siege of Calais, but starts with Edward relieving the siege of Roxborough castle in the Scottish border country. The first two acts of this five act play are centred around Edwards attempts to seduce the Countess of Salisbury who is custodian of Roxborough castle while her husband is fighting in France. The Countess stands firm against the king while trying not to make an enemy of him and is assisted by the arrival of Prince Edward who calls his father to duty in his wars with King John of France. The remainder of the play takes place in France and sketches the English victories and the eventual capture of the French king and moves from one battlefield scene to another, although all of the fighting takes place offstage.

Certainly after the long seduction scenes in the first two acts the play settles down to be a retelling of history, there is no comedy, no romance and no mystery, the playwright is intent on portraying the characters of the warrior king Edward and his brave son the Black Prince. The English are triumphant over vastly superior french forces and Prince Edward is the hero twice over. The story line of the play holds together well and it is the descriptive language which must hold the readers interest and by and large it does. There is some tension when a confident King John boasts of having trapped the Prince with vastly superior forces, but a darkness covering the sun gives rise to a loss of confidence in the french forces allowing the Prince to smash his way through their army. The interest in the second half of the play is the staging of scenes from history for example the Burghers of Calais and the descriptions of the fighting. The playwright does not pull his punches in describing the horrors of warfare particularly for the ordinary people caught up in it. Here is a french citizen advising his fellow countrymen to flee the fighting:

"I might perceive five Cities all on fire,
Corn fields and vineyards, burning like an oven;
And, as the reaking vapour in the wind
Turned but aside, I like wise might discern
The poor inhabitants, escaped the flame,
Fall numberless upon the soldiers' pikes.
Three ways these dreadful ministers of wrath
Do tread the measures of their tragic march:
Upon the right hand comes the conquering King,
Upon the left his hot unbridled son,
And in the midst our nation's glittering host,
All which, though distant yet, conspire in one,
To leave a desolation where they come.
Fly therefore, Citizens, if you be wise,
Seek out some habitation further off:
Here is you stay, your wives will be abused,
Your treasure shared before your weeping eyes;
Shelter you your selves, for now the storm doth rise.
Away, away; me thinks I hear their drums:—
Ah, wretched France, I greatly fear thy fall;
Thy glory shaketh like a tottering wall."


A theme of the play is the giving and taking of oaths. While the scenes of fighting do not show a glorious war steeped in chivalry, the honour of a man's word is stoutly defended. Villiers is a french prisoner who expects to be ransomed, but when Salisbury asks him to seek a safe passage for him to Calais in France instead of a ransom he agrees. He makes the necessary arrangements in Calais and despite being strongly persuaded to remain in the town he insists on travelling back to Salisbury to remain his prisoner. Nobles do not change sides, they keep their word. This is a different world to the treachery depicted in Shakespeares plays of the wars of the Roses.

The character of Prince Edward is depicted as young fearless and brave while his father is a ruthless king skilled in the arts of war, inclined to be severe, but can be swayed to clemency for example when his queen asks him to be merciful to the Burghers of Calais:

Although experience teach us this is true,
That peaceful quietness brings most delight,
When most of all abuses are controlled;
Yet, insomuch it shall be known that we
As well can master our affections
As conquer other by the dint of sword,
Phillip, prevail; we yield to thy request:
These men shall live to boast of clemency,
And, tyranny, strike terror to thy self.


He shows contrition when the Countess in the first part of the play says she will take her own life by stabbing herself in front of him if pursues her further:


Even by that power I swear, that gives me now
The power to be ashamed of my self,
I never mean to part my lips again
In any words that tends to such a suit.
Arise, true English Lady, whom our Isle
May better boast of than ever Roman might
Of her, whose ransacked treasury hath taskt
The vain endeavor of so many pens:
Arise, and be my fault thy honor's fame,
Which after ages shall enrich thee with.
I am awakened from this idle dream.—
Warwick, my Son, Darby, Artois, and Audley!
Brave warriors all, where are you all this while?


If these lines of iambic pentameter sound like something Shakespeare might have written then you will probably be persuaded that it belongs in his collected works., Reading anonymous plays from the Elizabethan era is a very hit and miss affair and so I read them through quickly and decide if it's worth spending any more on them, either to enjoy the language, the situations or things I might have missed. I re-read this play and so 3.5 stars.

168baswood
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 1, 2020, 6:31pm



A S Byatt - Angels and Insects
This was an unread book that has been lurking on my bookshelves for about 25 years. It would have been bought in a charity shop (the pencilled in price on one of the front-piece pages gives the game away) after I had read and enjoyed Byatt's previous book: the much admired Possession published in 1990. This book published two years later is in fact two novellas both classified in the genre historiographic metafiction or in more simple words; in the same style as Possession. The reader is therefore plunged back into a Victorian Britain where Byatt introduces characters who mix with or are inspired by historical figures most commonly from the literary world. I was a little skeptical as to whether I would enjoy the reading experience of books written in such a similar fashion, but I needn't have worried both Morpho Eugenia and The Conjugial Angel work their magic despite their "Hollywood Endings."

Morpho Eugenia is the most straightforward of the two novellas in that the completely fictionalised characters operate amongst a background of historical figures. William Adamson has returned from a ten year exploratory trip to the Amazon basin and survived a shipwreck where most of his worldly goods have been destroyed. He had managed to save a couple of extremely rare mounted butterflies and had been welcomed into the rich family of the Alabasters, where Harald as the head of the family invites him to stay to teach his children about the natural world and help him with a book he is in the process of writing. William Adamson falls in love with Eugenia: Alabasters eldest daughter, but dare not approach her because of his lowly social rank and lack of money. Adamson begins a study of the local ant population in an attempt to fine tune his skill as a naturalist, he is encouraged by Matty Crompton who sees the publication of a book as a way out of their financial dependency on the Alabasters. The story takes shape as a romance with many allusions to the workings of the ant colonies that exist in parallel to the numerous staff employed in looking after the Alabaster family. Byatt skilfully draws the reader into the life of the Alabaster household and gives a lecture on the social life of ants at the same time.

While I was entertained by Morpho Eugenia I found the second novella; The Conjugial Angel much more interesting. Here Byatt successfully introduces her characters into the lives of the poet Alfred Tennyson and his family, while also seamlessly providing a mini critique of the poetry. We are in the world of the Victorians enthusiasm for seances as a means of contacting the dead. A medium Sophy Sheekhy and her friend Lilias Papagay arrive at the house of Captain Jess for an arranged seance. Captain Jess's wife Emily is the sister of Alfred Tennyson and she was engaged previously to Arthur Hallam who was also a very close friend of the poet. Arthur died young at 22 and Alfred mourned his death for a number of years and wrote one of his most successful poems "In Memoriam" to the young man who had made such an impression on him. Mrs Emily Jess is hoping that the seance will enable her to communicate with Arthur beyond the grave and Lilias Papagay is also wishing to find out the truth of her husband reported missing at sea some ten years previously. Many prominent Victorians were serious in imagining that they could receive messages from the dead with the aid of a medium and Byatt describes the seance with due reverence to her subject. The seance also allows her to read between the lines of Tennyson famous poem and imagine the relationship between the poet his sister and the handsome young Arthur:

"Alfred had taken Arthur and bound him to himself, blood to blood and bone to bone, leaving no room for her. It was true that late in the poem, reference was made to her love and her loss, but that too was painful, most painful. Alfred had allowed his fantasy to imagine Arthur's future, Arthur's children, Alfreds nephews and nieces , mixing their blood."

Of course there has been speculation about the nature of Alfred and Arthurs relationship: was it a love affair, was it requited? If the example of Byatt's prose sounds a bit like something D H Lawrence might have written then it gets even more so when she speculates about a homosexual relationship.

So from reading theses two novels I have learned more that I need to about ants and have become interested in the thoughts and feelings that inspired one of Tennyson's famous poems. Byatt just about stops short of giving a lecture on either subject and I can forgive her this because of her brilliant evocations of life in Victorian Britain. She tells good stories, romantic stories that fit well with the lives of the characters both historical and imaginary and if she does sound a bit like D H Lawrence in places; well there is nothing wrong with that. When I take down a long unread book from my shelves to read then at the end the decision is: either to put it back on the shelves or put it in the charity book box. This one went back on the shelves and so 4 stars.

169janemarieprice
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 11:14am

>168 baswood: I read this some years ago and sadly never reviewed it. I remember greatly enjoying it at the time, but find that now I remember next to nothing about it! It's still on the shelves so maybe will re-read one day.

170lisapeet
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 11:30am

>169 janemarieprice: Ditto—I think I read it after seeing the film. I'll have to go back into my notes and see if I ever put down any thoughts about it, because otherwise I draw a blank (though I don't remember disliking it, which means I probably liked it on some level).

171thorold
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 11:47am

>168 baswood: I really enjoyed that one as well. It came out about the time I was doing an OU course on mid-Victorian Britain, so I remember being a bit nervous that it was just going to be ticking all the same boxes, but it actually worked very well when I had In Memoriam and the rest fresh in my mind.

172dchaikin
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 1:00pm

Lots of fascinating stuff here, I’m just catching up from February. >161 baswood: caught my, especially, as I read
Comedy of Errors in March. It’s safe to say you took more from it than I did, but I did appreciate Shakespeare’s quick light touch with creating humor.

>164 baswood: Not sure I’ve ever read a review of Malraux.

173AlisonY
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 1:25pm

>168 baswood: Sounds great. I really loved The Children's Book (I think it was my book of the year a few years back), so I need to try another Byatt book.

174baswood
kesäkuu 2, 2020, 4:37pm

>173 AlisonY: The Children's Book is another Byatt lurking on my bookshelves, I am looking forward to reading it later in the year.

175baswood
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 4, 2020, 5:50pm



Hammond Innes - Air Bridge
Innes was a British author who wrote 35 novels as well as some non fiction and children's books between 1937-96. Air Bridge is his fifteenth adventure novel and he was well into the swing of producing a book every year during this period. Typically he would spend six months research and then six months writing. For Air Bridge he hitched a lift with the RAF into blockaded Berlin at the height of the airlift.

Neil Fraser tells his story in the first person. He had been a pilot during the second world war and now down on his luck was on the run from the police hiding under a false identity. He stumbles onto a deserted airfield with the vague idea of stealing an aeroplane. He escapes the authorities but is knocked unconscious by Bill Seaton, who blackmails him into helping him and his colleague rebuild engines for a plane that they hope will make them a fortune shuttling goods into Berlin at the start of the airlift in June 1948. The new engines are being built to a new fuel saving specification that Seaton may have stolen during the war and it is a race against time to get them completed. Lack of finance and the possibility of a German family stealing back the blueprint causes Seaton to take reckless and ruthless action to achieve his ends. Fraser and the talented engineer Tubby Carter find themselves driven by Seaton's ambition and the second half of the novel moves into an adventure in blockaded Berlin where crash landings, stolen airplanes and murder set the three men against each other.

Innes' reputation for diligent research before writing his novels certainly pays off with Air Bridge. The three main scenarios: building and testing the new engines, woking conditions of the airlift and the zones of the blockaded city of Berlin all feel authentic. Innes is also very good at setting the scene with taught descriptions of weather, landscapes and places and his pacing of the adventure story builds to a good climax. His characters are not heroic although they sometimes act heroically, they are men and women who struggle to get, or even to know what they want. Typically in this novel strong motivated characters take advantage of their abilities to influence the decisions of their colleagues. Seaton, Fraser and Carter all come across as believable; taking action thrust on them through limitations in choice: soul searching is not the order of the day, but conscience and behavioural patterns certainly are. The two main female characters Diana and Else are not to well drawn and their attitudes and ambitions seem more typical of what one expects them to be in the 1950's although both have moments when they fight against their situation. Tubby Carter the well liked, friendly, more morally adept person is of course the one who suffers most. The plot is well worked and there are surprises along the way and when the action needs picking up Innes is able to provide atmosphere and tension. Innes dialogue can appear a bit stilted at times reflecting what people might say in the films of the period rather than in real life situations.

I think it was the atmosphere of deserted airfields, desolate countryside and the shattered city of Berlin along with the striving to make something material after the war years that made this post war adventure novel such a good read. I also learnt something about a period in history that was new to me. 1951 is the year I have chosen to absorb as much of its literature as I can and I also want to dip into the more popular novels of the period and this was a good start. I don't think I am going to embark on reading all 35 of Innes adventure novels, but would not hesitate to pick up another one if I was in the mood for a good well told story book. 3.5 stars

176thorold
kesäkuu 5, 2020, 3:04am

>175 baswood: I've got a copy of that, with a ridiculous cover photo showing someone implausibly pretending to be hanging from a parachute harness — rather Ascension Day-ish. I can scarcely remember the plot. Innes was good at what he did, but it's not something there's much call for these days.

177baswood
Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 7, 2020, 6:53pm



Robert Greene - Greens Groats-Worth of Wit.
A Disputation between a Hee Conny Catcher, and a she
Conny-Catcher.
The Blacke bookes messenger laying open the life and
death of Ned Browne.
The Tragical reign of Selimus

Four more items by Robert Greene who died in 1592: three pamphlets and a play. Greene tried his hand at anything that might sell starting off with novels that owed much to John Lyly then moving onto romances. He wrote many framework stories based on ideas from the Italian renaissance, usually with a moral theme and published in pamphlet form. He turned to ‘prodigal son’ stories with a religious bent when he saw a gap in the market and then hit a vein of bestsellers with his social pamphlets such as ‘A noteable discovery of coosenage’ and ‘Conny catching’ these were exposures of confidence tricks used by vagabonds and sturdy beggars. He wrote poetry most of which was secreted in his romantic novels and towards the end of his life he wrote plays, at least four of which survive.

Greens Groats-Worth of wit bought with a million of Repentance is a mixed bag starting off with a moral story describing the folly of youth, the false hoods of makeshift flatterers, the misery of the negligent and the mischief of deceiving courtesans. Gorinius is a money lender with two sons and coming to the end of his life he leaves all his wealth to Luciano; to Roberto he leaves an old groat with which he can buy a groats worth of wit. Roberto takes the more naive Luciano to visit the courtesan Laimilia who soon seduces Luciano and within two years she has run through all his money and now both boys are destitute. Greene ends his story by saying that his life is similar to the boys, he is now looking death in the face and sets out his groats worth of wit in a poem:

Greene's mood turns blacker "Blacke is the remembrance of my blacke works, blacker than night, blacker than death, blacker than hell." and he says that his readers should learn wit by his repentance and gives a list of ten rules that should be followed. There follows a rant which takes him to his famous reference to Shakespeare after he has castigated the theatre people for turning their backs on him:

Yes, trust them not: for there is an vpstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Iohannes fac totum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.

He then tells a story of a grasshopper (carelessly skipping) and the ant (industriously working) Finally it ends with a letter written to his wife (found with this book after his death.) It is a letter in which Greene confesses his sins, asks for the appropriate punishments and asks his wife to forgive him. This is a good sample of Greene's work : the man who could turn his hand to all things literary if he thought there was money to be made.

A Disputation between a Hee Conny Catcher, and a she Conny-catcher is one of six pamphlets that Greene produced on the art of swindlers (Conny-catchers} He tells us stories about: nips (cutpurses), foists (pickpockets), cross-biters (men who extort money from a prostitute's clients by pretending to be her husband), lifts (shoplifters, and stealers of other unguarded goods), priggers (horse thieves), and courbers (thieves who drag goods out through the window with a long hooked pole). Based on close observation, and illustrated with stories of notable strokes, they give a great insight into the underside of Shakespeare's London. In this pamphlet the male conny-catcher Laurence vies with Nan the female conny-catcher to tell the best story. The winner buys dinner that night. Nan with her tales wins easily. The pamphlets were the tabloids of their day and were popular enough for Greene to keep churning them out. They were decked out as warnings to naive gentlemen with instructions on how to avoid being swindled, but they read like romantic tales. On the one hand the ethics of the conny-catchers are demonised and yet their social acumen is celebrated. The moral ambiguity is typical of Robert Greene.

The Blacke book messenger laying open the life and death of Ned Browne one of the most notable cutpurses, crosbiters, that ever lived in England is another example of the conny-catching pamphlets. In this one Ned Browne is allowed to tell his own story and finally he is caught on the continent, but remains unrepentant saying:

"But what should I stand heere preaching? I liued wantonly, and therefore let me end merrily, and tel you two or thrée of my mad prauks and so bid you farewell."

Greene tells us he was hung from a church window in France and his grave was torn open by wolves who ate his body.

The Tragical reign of Selimus is a play written mainly in iambic pentameters which has been credited to Greene. The play is a good example of Greene's efficiency. The story moves along at a cracking pace, there is plenty of action I counted twelve murders taking place on stage. The verse works well with some good imagery and as usual with Greene he manages to tell a coherent story. The play is based on the historical figure of Selimus I emperor of Ottoman Turkey and his rise to power. He gains power by murdering the rest of his family having no qualms about committing parricide. Greene is intent in portraying the savagery of the Turks where it is kill or be killed. Selimus is one of three sons of Bajazet a warrior by trade and fights his way to the throne by defeating the pompous Acomat and then strangling to death the remaining son Corcut. Greene makes Corcut by reputation a philosopher who has met with Christians and has been converted and therefore he faces death knowing that he will be saved. At the end of the play Selimus reigns supreme with Greene hinting there will be a second part. The play follows a similar trajectory to Marlowe's Tamburlaine but without Marlowe's more accomplished versification. Greene speeches are longer with the characters having to tell the story in an expository fashion with very little interaction with other characters. The acting company Queen Elizabeth's men performed the play in 1592, but there is no record of its reception or subsequent performances.

This completes my reading of the work of Robert Greene. He was prolific for his time and although I have not read everything I have read most of his available work. The first thing to say about Greene is that he wrote well in that he was a story teller and could put together a decent plot. He could be entertaining and his works are not too difficult to read. His romances are largely forgettable, but do contain some witty songs and poems, his prodigal son framework stories are good examples of the moral pamphlets being printed at the time. His Conny-catching pamphlets do provide a peephole into the criminal fraternity of Elizabethan London, but they are hardly essential. When he turned to play writing he managed to put together two very decent plays: Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay and also The Scottish history of James IV which I think is his best work. He has also left us with the extraordinary Greene's Groats worth of Wit.

178dchaikin
kesäkuu 15, 2020, 4:19pm

Greene sounds like quite a character. I enjoyed the one sample i read by him (was it the source for A Winter’s Tale? I’ve forgotten) and enjoyed your review and summary.

179AnnieMod
kesäkuu 15, 2020, 4:24pm

>175 baswood: >177 baswood:

Your reviews are like the ones in LRB/NYRB/LR and the longer ones in NYTRB/TLS -- they do count as reviews because they do talk about the book but they are a lot more than that and teach you things you did not know you wanted to know. Always a pleasure to read them (and in a lot of cases, they are better than the book -- or at least they are good enough to tell me all I really need to know about the book) :)