Baswood's books part 1

KeskusteluClub Read 2023

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Baswood's books part 1

joulukuu 31, 2022, 9:52 am

Another year another thread, anything else would be unthinkable.
Happy New Year to anyone that drops by.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 31, 2022, 12:11 pm

Apologies… too soon.

joulukuu 31, 2022, 10:37 am

I am going to continue with similar reading plans to previous years, I just hope I get a bit further along the way with them this year,

Elizabethan Literature - year 1595
Edmund Spenser - Amoretti & Epithalamion
Anonymous - Locrine
William Shakespeare - King John
William Shakespeare - Richard II
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer's Nights Dream
William Shakespeare - Romeo and Juliet
Gervase Markham - The most honorable tragedy of Sir Richard Grinville
Henry Chettle - Piers Plainnes seven year prenticeship
Emanuel Ford - Ornatus and Artesia
H R Henry Roberts - Pheander the mayden knight
Edmund Spenser - Astrophell, Edmund Spenser
Edmund Spenser - Colin Clouts come home again
Robert Wilson - The Pedler's Prophecy
Thomas Lodge - A fig for Momus
Richard Barnfield - Cynthia
Barnabe Barnes - A Divine Century of Spiritual Sonnets
Thomas campion - Poemata
George Chapman - Ovid's banquet of Sense
Robert Parry - The Adventures of the Black Knight
Gervase Markham - Syon's Muse
Robert Southwell - St Peter's complaint
Samuel Daniel - The Civil Wars
Michael Drayton - Endimion and Phoebe

Science Fiction
Proto science Fiction
1890 - Ignatius Donnelly - Ceasar's Column
1890 - Mary E Bradley Lane - Mizowa a prophecy
1890 - William Morris - News from nowhere
Masterwork Series
1961 Arthur C Clarke - A fall of moondust
1962 Philip K Dick - The man in the high castle
1962 J G Ballard - The drowned world
1963 Kurt Vonnegut jr - Cats cradle
Published in 1967
Flann O'Brien - The Third Policeman
Philip K Dick - Counter Clock World
Harry Harrison - Technicolour time machine
Piers Anthony - Chthon
Nicholas Fisk - Space Hostages
Gordon R Dickson - Soldier, Ask not

Unread Books from my shelves
John Le Carré - The secret Pilgrim
Cervantes - Don Quixote
Colette - Claudine at school
Orson Scott Card - Speaker for the dead
Angela Carter - The Passion of New Eve
John Le Carré - The Russia House
Wilkie Collins - The Woman in White
Michael Collins - The Ressurectionists
Raymond Carver - Where i'm calling from

Books published in 1951
William Faulkner - Collected stories K
E M Forster - Two cheers for democracy
T S Eliot - Poetry and drama
Graham Greene - The end of the affair
Patrick Hamilton - The West Pier (Gorse Trilogy)
Dasheill Hammett - Woman in the Dark
L P Hartley - The Go-between.

joulukuu 31, 2022, 2:55 pm

Happy new year, comrade! Ah, Barry, if you tell people you're a socialist then what follows is just an endless waste of time having to "prove" to them that you're not really a commie. Trust me, I lived this for a decade in the US. And it's all anathema to the capitalists anyway.

Come out of the woods, there's room for two on the bench labelled "village idiot communist". :D

(Watch out for the anarchist under the bench.)

joulukuu 31, 2022, 5:08 pm

>4 LolaWalser: ha ha
It's fairly safe to be labelled a communist in the Gers department of France as some local communes voted solidly for Insoumise at the last general election, however it is a different story with the ex-pats community.

joulukuu 31, 2022, 5:14 pm

Currently reading

Two Cheers for Democracy a collection of essays by E. M. Forster.

The penguin poets - C. Day Lewis A selection by the author

Renaissance, Raymond F Jones science fiction

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 1, 3:51 pm

This review was written a couple of years ago and it was only when I read LolaWalser's answer to Questions for the Avid reader part 1 that I realised that I had never posted it:

Journey with Genius: Recollections and Reflections Concerning the D. H. Lawrences by Witter Bynner

Published in 1951 Bynner's well balanced account of his meeting and travels with the Lawrences in 1922/3 was bit of a find for me. My interest in D. H. Lawrence has led me to read a few biographies and selected letters therefore an account from a contemporary poet and writer whom I had not come across before, piqued my interest.

Witter Bynner was an American poet and translator who was based in Santa Fe New Mexico and the Lawrences had been given his address as somewhere to stay because of his association with other literary figures and his interest in Lawrences work. When the Lawrences arrived outside his house there was some kerfuffle because D. H. in his efforts to get out of the car, trod on the frame of a painting he was carrying, breaking it. He was hot and tired and flew into a temper with Frieda his wife blaming her for wanting him to carry the picture. This first sight of the Lawrences set a pattern for their stay with Witter and his secretary and lover "Spud" Johnson. However in spite of Lawrences quicksilver temper they became friendly enough to go together on a trip to Mexico. Witter's book describes their trip, their friendship with both D. H. and Frieda their subsequent communication by letter and finally Frieda's return to New Mexico after D. H.'s death. Witter also with the benefit of knowing Lawrence personally undertakes an evaluation of his work.

The book could be retitled Journey with a Genius behaving badly. D. H. Lawrence at this time was obviously not a well man and his constant restlessness did not make him an ideal travelling companion. Frieda was the rock on which he leant on, but their stormy relationship, which proved to be rock solid was just something friends and acquaintances had to deal with in entertaining them both. It would seem that Witter certainly had problems and their fairly long vacation at Lake Chapala where the Lawrences rented a house was difficult. The Lawrences wanted Witter to share the house with them, but Witter and Johnson wisely decided to keep a little distance by staying in a local hotel. D. H. Lawrence was certainly a presence and Witter sums up his feelings when thinking about him as:

'Little realizing that the goad of Lawrence's presence was good medicine for my complaisance, I continued fondly pitying Frieda and deploring the lack of love in her husband, deeming him full of fine, fussy, inconsistent theories: stubborn-minded, self willed, and as bloodless as a worm.'

D. H. Lawrence was an iconoclast intent on gouging his own path through life, not worrying at all what others thought of him. Frieda kept him in check to a certain extent, but was beginning to take on the role of nurse to her sick husband. Whatever the feelings were between the two couples they remained on good terms and they enjoyed good times at Lake Chapala.

D. H. Lawrence was busily writing his new novel which was eventually published as "The Plumed Serpent" it is set in Mexico and Lawrence used his experiences that he shared with Witter as events in his book. The bullfight so graphically described in the book and the dances of the native Indians are described by Witter though his own eyes and vouch for Lawrences depictions. Witter saw what Lawrence saw and was a witness to the events in the book, he also became a thinly disguised character in the book which did not please him overmuch. Witter tells of bathing parties in the lake with Frieda taking part, while Lawrence sat under the shade of a tree hunched over his cheap exercise books furiously writing his novel. Their friendship cooled a little, but when Witter got sick it was Lawrence that stepped in to help him.

Following his remembrances and lively description of the vacation, Witter launches into a criticism of The Plumed Serpent a novel which he did not like and then of Lawrences work in general. He proves to be an insightful critic, but like some critics he seems reluctant to separate the man from his work and this was probably even more difficult for Bynner because of his personal knowledge. He sees the author Lawrence and Frieda or a mixture of the two in many of the characters in the novels and blames them for spouting what he calls Lawrences ideological murk, which he sees as blocking up many of the books. He is a critic who becomes exasperated by Lawrences views on humankind and the meaning of life and the muddled theories expressed through his characters, which even the most stalwart admirers of D. H. Lawrence would be hard pressed to dismiss entirely. Despite the criticism; the admiration for Lawrences ability to evoke a sense of place, his originality and his probing of the human psyche is given plenty of space. Bynner published a review of The Plumed Serpent which Lawrence read, but in accordance with Lawrences attitude to adverse criticism it was like water of a ducks back and would not impair a friendship. There was also Frieda on hand to smooth things over and calm ruffled feathers. Frieda takes equal billing in Bynner's biography and remembrances.

A biography of an author and particularly ones that includes an evaluation of the oeuvre will appeal to those people who have read the books and who have some knowledge of the life and times. Bynner's recollections of a short period in the life of the D. H. Lawrences bridges a gap of some twenty eight years. Bynner says in his preface to the book that when he met Lawrence for the first time he had not found him an engaging or coercing writer, although he does admit to finding him magnetic and admires his individual, vigorous and imaginative use of English. Despite all this and the obvious difficulties of the Lawrences as travelling companions Bynner has produced an engaging and even handed portrait of the couple. A genuine affection for them comes across and the account of their time together in Mexico where Bynner was a witness to much of what Lawrence experienced is invaluable. He brings to life both D. H. Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence at Lake Chapala a place that Frieda held dear in her own memories. I rate this at 4.5 stars.

tammikuu 1, 3:52 pm

Excellent review. I can't stand Lawrence but he sure made for good copy. I have (unread so far) reminiscences/analyses of him by Richard Aldington, and --wait for it -- Anais Nin. Bynner (I have this impression he was from a rich Eastern family) didn't leave a great literary reputation, collected works notwithstanding, but he had a knack for falling in with interesting company.

tammikuu 2, 9:50 am

Wish you a great year of reading, Bas.

tammikuu 2, 6:53 pm

>7 baswood: That does sound intriguing. Great review.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 4, 9:54 am

Two Cheers for Democracy - E M Forster
E. M. Forster is one of my favourite novelists and I was happy to find that he had published this collection of essays, broadcasts and articles in 1951 (I have a project of reading books published in 1951). The essays range from 1936 to 1951 and of course many of them are overshadowed by the build up to the second world war and so there is a brooding presence in even the most optimistic essays that are a sign of the times. In my experience many novels published during this period will completely ignore the political situation, but weekly articles do not have this luxury. Perhaps this is why the title of the book is two cheers for democracy rather than the usual three cheers. Actually in the essay "What I Believe" Forster says:

'So two cheers for Democracy: one because it admits variety and two because it permits criticism. Two cheers are quite enough: there is no occasion to give three. Only Love the Beloved Republic deserves that.'

There are over 70 articles ranging from a couple of pages to eight or nine. There are two slightly longer essays "What I believe" and "Virginia Woolf" that are worth the price of the paperback alone: (my penguin reprint cost 50p second hand and was originally sold for 40p new, but my second hand copy comes complete with a note for Alasdair from Neil dated 25/04/74 and a few underlinings in the political essays.) The book is divided into two parts: The Second Darkness and What I believe. The Second Darkness contains the political essays and the authors thoughts on the rise of the Nazis and has titles such as "The Menace to Freedom", "Jew-Consciousness", "Racial Exercise", "Post Munich" and "Tolerance" This last one is a plea as to how the people should act after the war has ended. The second part is subdivided and starts with the essay "What I Believe" originally published in 1939 where Forster gives his views on democracy, force and violence, hero-worship (he distrusts so-called great men); the essay goes on to castigate power leading to corruption with the idea that: "The more highly public life is organised, the lower does its morality sink" and he is thinking about the houses of parliament, where there is no trust of each other. He concludes by saying;

"The above are the reflections of an individualist and a liberal, who has found liberalism crumbling beneath him and at first felt ashamed............Naked I came into this world, naked I shall go out of it! And a very good thing too, for it reminds me that I am naked under my shirt, whatever its colour.

There follows a section called Art in General where he addresses the subject Art for Arts Sake, which was an address delivered before the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York in 1942. There follows the question 'Does Culture Matter?' There are a couple of essays on his love for classical music and The Raison D'être of criticism in the arts. The longest section is Art in Action which contains his excellent essay on the work of Virginia Woolf, but there are essays also on John Skelton, Gibbon, Voltaire, Andre Gide and even D'Annunzio among others. Mostly Eurocentric although he reaches out to India with Mohammed Iqbal and Syed Ross Masood. His love and enthusiasm for literature comes through, sometimes with hints of comparing himself to people that he admires. The final section is called 'Places' and these are places personal to the author. India of course features, but also The United States. In these short essays more of the personality of the author comes through, non more so than Clouds Hill which was where he used to go and stay with his good friend T E Lawrence and friends from the army base.

This is a series of essays that reveals much about the author, he calls himself a Prig when revisiting Cambridge and this comes through, but what also comes through is a liberal minded thinker who cared about his writing and whose company was one that I was loath to leave when I finished the book. He says in one of his essays tackling religion "It is impossible to be fair minded when one has faith - religious creeds have shown this. Faith makes one unkind" and I do not think you could accuse Forster of being unkind in these essays, written at a time, where might seemed as though it would be right, for always during the years of the second world war. A four star read.

tammikuu 4, 10:17 am

>11 baswood: That's fascinating! Also, Happy New Year!

tammikuu 4, 1:45 pm

Terrific first review.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 4, 6:32 am

In 2020 I started a reading project to read as many books possible published in 1951. I decided to continue with the project until my star ratings got below 3 on average and to date this has not happened. I have read well over 60 books and have made plenty of discoveries. The project has introduced me to many authors that I would have never got round to and its thrilling to follow a trail and to hunt the books down. I have a a maximum expenditure of 20 euros for each book and most of the books I buy are second hand. These are the books I have read and reviewed so far:

Books published in 1951 - Read and reviewed.

Morley Callaghan - The Loved and The Lost, Morley Callaghan - 4.5
Rachel Carson - The Sea Around Us - 4.5
Truman Capote - The Grass Harp including a Tree of night - 3.5
Camilo José Cela - La Colmena - 4
John Dickson Carr - The Devil in velvet - 3.5
Daphne du Maurier - My Cousin Rachel - 4
Hammond Innes - Air Bridge - 3.5
John Hawkes - The Beetle Leg - 3.5
Howard Fast - Spartacus - 4.5
Shirley jackson - Hangsaman - 4.5
Jean Giono - Le Hussard sur le toit - 5
James Jones - From Here to Etenity - 4
A M Klein - The Second Scroll - 5
Olivia Manning - School for Love, Olivia Manning - 3.5
Ngaio Marsh - Night At The Vulcan - 3.5
John Masters - Night Runners of Bengal - 3.5
Roger Nimier - Les Enfants Tristes - 3
Nancy Mitford - The Blessing, Nancy Mitford - 3
Nicholas Monserrat - The Cruel Sea - 4
Alberto Moravia - The Conformist - 5
W H Auden - Nones - 5
Anthony Powell - A question of Upbringing - 3
John Roy Carlson - Cairo to Damascus - 4.5
Arthur Koestler - The Age of Longing - 5
Witter Bynner - Journey with Genius - 4.5
Roland Camberton - Rain on the Pavements - 4
Marguerite Yourcenar - Mémoires d'Hadrien - 5
Shohei Ooka - Fires on the Plain - 5
John Steinbeck - The Log from the Sea of Cortez - 4
Rex Stout - Curtains for Three - 3.5
William Styron - Lie Down in Darkness - 4
Elizabeth Taylor - A Game of Hiding Seek - 4.5
T H White - The Goshawk - 3
Herman Wouke - The Caine Mutiny - 3.5
Eric Ambler - Judgement on Deltchev - 3.5
Mulk Raj Anand - Seven Summers - 4
H E Bates - Colonel Julian and Other Stories - 4
Elizabeth Bowen - The Shelbourne - 3
Walter Baxter - Look Down in Mercy - 5
Rhys Davies - Marianne, Rhys Davies - 4
Alfred Duggan - Conscience of the King - 4
James T Farrell - This Man and This Woman - 4
E. M. Forster - Two Cheers for Democracy - 4
Julien Gracq - Le Rivages des Syrtes - 4
Julio Cortázar - Bestiary: Selected stories - 5
Françoise Mauriac - Le Sagouin - 4
Penguin Poets; C. Day Lewis selected by the author - 4

1951 Science Fiction
Philip José farmer - the Lovers - 3
Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint - The Blind Spot - 2.5
Robert A Heinlein - The Green Hills of Earth 3.5
Robert A Heinlein - The Puppet Masters 3.5
John Wyndham - The Day of the Triffids - 5
Clifford D Simak - Time and Again, Clifford Simak 3.5
Philip Wylie - The Disappearance, Philip Wylie - 4
Leigh Brackett - People of the Talisman 3
Fritz Leiber - Gather, Darkness - 3
H. P. Lovecraft - The haunter of the Dark - 5
Isaac Asimov - The Stars like Dust - 2
Robert Spencer Carr - Beyond Infinity, Robert Spencer Carr 3
Lewis Padgett - Tomorrow and Tomorrow, Lewis Padgett - 3.5
William F Temple - The 4-sided Triangle - 4
Stanley Mulle - Kinsmen of the Dragon - 3.5
Jack Williamson - Seetee Ship - 3
L Ron Hubbard - Typewriter in the Sky - 3
Lord Dunsany - The Last Revolution, Lord Dunsany - 2.5

tammikuu 4, 9:10 pm

I read Fires on the Plain this year and was very impressed. I purchased Taken Captive, his memoir about being a prisoner of the Americans, but haven't gotten to it yet.

tammikuu 4, 9:16 pm

It's such an interesting list. Do you think reading 60 (carefully selected) books from 2022 would be as rewarding?

tammikuu 5, 1:45 am

Why 1951?

tammikuu 5, 4:26 am

>17 dianeham: An obvious question. I thought of reading books published in my year of birth 1950, but when I did a little research and looked at the titles there was nothing I really wanted to read, however 1951 was so much better and so I chose that year.

tammikuu 5, 5:05 am

>16 dchaikin: I think your baiting me Dan, knowing my views on contemporary literature and so I will be diplomatic and say I would not really know, not having read any novels publish in 2022
However I have read a few from 2021 mostly french from the local library and these have been good as well as White Skin, Black Fuel: On The Danger Of Fossil fascism by Andreas Malm which was very good.

Choosing a year when time has let the dust settle a bit, arguably allows the cream to come to the surface and so those books that are still in print have stood the test of time. Its rewarding to make some discoveries and to read books in the style of language that I grew up with. The thing that really annoys me about contemporary literature is the propensity to use wisecracks, smart observations, sound bites and cliches as though the authors have one eye on a movie script. This does not happen so often in the 1950's.

tammikuu 5, 1:02 pm

>18 baswood: that’s interesting. I was born in 1950 also.

tammikuu 5, 2:05 pm

Love your review of Forster (he's crossed my mind to look up his and Eliot's views of each other, as in some ways they remind me of each other, very much as thinkers / on a thinking path). And what great research of 1951, inspiring.

tammikuu 5, 3:01 pm

>11 baswood: Sounds like a very interesting book! Thanks for the review.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 6, 3:55 am

The Penguin Poets: C. Day Lewis, a selection by the author
This collection of poems was published in 1951.
C. Day Lewis was an Irish borne poet and Poet laureate (1968-72). He also wrote mystery stories under the Pseudonym Nicholas Blake. As a poet he came under the influence of W H Auden and in 1932 he was part of the tripartite with Auden and Stephen Spender who published New Signatures. He had arrived as a poet, but supported himself with his mystery stories and other publications. He became a member of the communist party in the 1930's and his commitment to Marxism influenced some of his poetry.

Lewis has selected the poems himself and has written a curious self effacing preface; accusing himself of not developing as a poet and saying that his work has deteriorated in recent times. He says that the reader may notice many changes or fresh beginnings from this selection, but no development. this might account for the layout of the selection which starts with section 1 Lyrical and Reflective Poems 1937-47 before moving on to two long narrative poems in section 2 and then finishing with Lyrical and Reflective poems 1929-36. Lewis goes on to say how the reader should approach his poems;

"To approach a new poem, armed with all the latest instruments of criticism, and ask those to tell us whether we ought to admire or dislike it is none the less an imbecility for being rather common practice today. We must be able to enjoy before we learn to discriminate. The chief value of criticism is to deepen his understanding of a poem which already appeals to him."

This is a collection of 55 poems and I had a positive reaction to 26 of them and seven of those I liked very much. There were 5/6 that I could not get into, either because they were obscure or that I had no interest in the subject matter. As for the rest they were poems I would have no interest in re-reading. I think that liking nearly half of the collection is a pretty good ratio. Reading a collection of poems like this can reveal repeated themes. Some of his best poems are about youth and childhood with glimpses into the future and with an air of mystery. He writes about relationships, some of which show a keen sense of humour and others lean towards loneliness and death. There are a couple of excellent love poems. Towards the end of the collection there are a collection of 'political' poems and the theme that emerges is of the sacrifices that need to be made to achieve a better (Marxist) world. Some of these are almost like a call to arms and become a bit monotonous. He is a good observer of nature and it infuses some of his poems about childhood and fond memories.

Many of his poems have a rhyming scheme and they show a poet who has worked hard at making them scan well. I have the feeling that he has worked hard to make his poems, there is not much evidence of spontaneity, I could be wrong about this. I like his use of imagery, for example when talking about mutability in the poem Beauty's end is in sight, he says

"And sprouting seed crack our cemented heart"

In another poem "My Love is a Tower" he has the image of "time mumbling at the base" and eventually the tower will fall and:

"He has no strategy/Unless he suck up the sea/And pull the earth apart"

The poetry avoids allusions to classicism and for the most part there are no difficulties in vocabulary. 4 stars and here is one of the poems I enjoyed:

The album (English)
I see you, a child
In a garden sheltered for buds and playtime,
Listening as if beguiled
By a fancy beyond your years and the flowering maytime.
The print is faded: soon there will be
No trace of that pose enthralling,
Nor visible echo of my voice distantly calling
‘Wait! Wait for me!’

Then I turn the page
To a girl who stands like a questioning iris
By the waterside, at an age
That asks every mirror to tell what the heart’s desire is.
The answer she finds in that oracle stream
Only time could affirm or disprove,
Yet I wish I was there to venture a warning, ‘Love
Is not what you dream.’

Next, you appear
As if garlands of wild felicity crowned you –
Courted, caressed, you wear
Like immortelles the lovers and friends around you.
‘They will not last you, rain or shine,
They are but straws and shadows,’
I cry: ‘Give not to those charming desperadoes
What was made to be mine.’

One picture is missing –
The last. It would show me a tree stripped bare
By intemperate gales, her amazing
Noonday of blossom spoilt which promised so fair.
Yet scanning those scenes at your heyday taken,
I tremble, as one who must view
In the crystal a doom he could never deflect- yes, I too
Am fruitlessly shaken.

I Close the Book;
But the past slides out of its leaves to haunt me
And it seems, wherever I look,
Phantoms of irreclaimable happiness taunt me.
Then I see he, petalled in new-blown hours,
Beside me - 'All you love most there
has blossomed again,' she murmurs, 'all that you missed
Has grown to be yours'

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 5, 8:02 pm

>23 baswood:

Not much remembered, but as it happens I read about him just recently in David Caute's Red List: MI5 and British Intellectuals in the Twentieth Century. He was monitored his whole life, although not among the top few hundreds at that.

goddam touchstone...

tammikuu 6, 12:00 am

>23 baswood: enjoyed your review, and while I don’t think i’ll be hunting Lewis down soon, it also true I know almost nothing of the poetry of his era.

>19 baswood: baiting a little. Sorry. But also there is an unanswerable aspect to the question. A what-is-it-that’s-different thought process. And, also, I was curious for a 1951 vibe you sense.

tammikuu 6, 4:08 am

>25 dchaikin: The biggest vibe is a sense of a need to rebuild after the second world war in Europe. England had been badly affected and in some of the novels there is a down at heel feel. A disappointment that little progress had been made, but it is easy to read too much into this. The second world war, was of course a subject for some of the most popular novels of the period
From here to Eternity
The Cruel Sea
Look Down in Mercy
The Cain Mutiny
Fires on the Plain

tammikuu 6, 4:18 am

>24 LolaWalser: It is a bit of a surprise that he got to be Poet Laureate. perhaps his political poems were misinterpreted as patriotic fervour.

tammikuu 6, 7:16 am

>26 baswood: that rebuilding focus definitely makes sense.

tammikuu 6, 7:54 am

>23 baswood: Reading your reviews of poetry are an education for me, an aspiring nonpoetry reader.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 8:47 am

Raymond F. Jones - Renaissance
A science fiction novel published in 1951. I have never read any of Raymond F. Jones' 16 novels, but If I had done in my teenage years I would have enjoyed this one. The novel was first serialised in the magazine Astounding in 1944 and was later published by Gnome Press in 1951 as a novel, reprinted in 1963 under the title Man of Two Worlds.

It has a fairly complicated plot, but Jones holds it together well, with some atmospheric world building especially the planet Kronweld. Ketan by profession is a seeker after knowledge and spends his time engaged with a massive computer system called the Karildex. He finds that some information has been blocked off and when an old woman accosts him in the great hall, she tells him of a plot by the rulers to keep some knowledge hidden. He is also warned by his female companion Elta not to challenge the ruling triumvirate. The mystery surrounds the temple of birth where some selected young women go to assist with procreation as there has not been a child born outside the temple in living memory. A religious cult has sprung up based on the temple and when Ketan breaks into the temple he discovers a gateway to another world and the world is earth. On Earth there is a war going on between the Statists a high tech group and the Illegitimates a more primitive culture, the Statists are planning an assault on Kronweld in order to seek knowledge to build an atomic bomb. There are also the Restorationists hidden deep in the desert who are attempting to restore the scientific culture that was once the pride of Earth before the cataclysm.

Jones does not hold back on the action and just about manages all the elements before they run out of control. He has time to create mysteries around his characters: as to who they are working for?, are they who they seem variety? and he poses questions about the viability of re-imposing a culture that has previously destroyed itself in a conflagration. It is a page turner to discover how the author can make sense of all the balls he has juggling in the air, but he does a fairly good job. His character development is no worse than much of the writing of this period and he has some strong female personalities and he handles dialogue well enough. There is plenty of subject matter to provide that sense of wonder essential to much science fiction; there is a full scale battle of atomic laser weapons, there are portals to other planets, treks through hostile environments, advanced technology and 3D laser imagery. An absence of sexism and racism is refreshing and so overall a 3.5 star read.

tammikuu 8, 8:36 pm

Several years ago I started a project to read tHe books on my shelf published from the year of my birth forward ("The Books of My Life"). I got through the the years 1950 to 1953, and the project tapered off. I should get back to it.
Looking at your 1951 list, of the several I've read, my ratings would be similar to yours. And though I read them either before or after my project, I really liked the WW II books you reference that I have read (From Here to Eternity, The Cruel Sea, Fires on the Plain, The Caine Mutiny). Books about WW II were among my father's favorite reads, and I often thought of him reading these books.

tammikuu 11, 8:50 am

>11 baswood: That Forster collection looks good. I'm trying to get in a little more mid-century essay reading in, and that definitely fits the bill. I may have to (privately) steal that concept of two cheers being quite enough, since they really are for most things.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 9:28 am

Amoretti & Epithalamion - Edmund Spenser
The Genius of Spenser transforms an Elizabethan love sonnet sequence into something delicate and personal with poems that are sometimes striking in their beauty. Despite Spenser's use of some antiquated words they prove to be relatively easy to read and this is because of Spenser's ear for melody and his skill in making the poems flow. For the most part they follow a logical development and end in a rhyming couplet that brings the poem to a natural end. Spenser developed his own rhyming scheme for his 14 lined sonnets which knits the poems together. In many ways they are more traditional than Shakespeare's sonnets and are less complex and for the most part avoid some of the knotty language that Shakespeare preferred.

Elizabethan love sonnet collections can be dreary things indeed, as by the 1590's they had quickly fallen into a pattern that owed far more to a style of writing than to any emotional content. They were seemingly based on ideas of courtly love, wedded to the example and template set down by the Italian poet Petrarch. They usually take the form of poems addressed to a woman with a fictitious name who is the love of the poets life; usually an unrequited love, hence the standard phrases and images of the love lorn speaker pleading his case to be accepted as a lover. Spenser, while drawing on the Petrarchan form using themes and imagery that would be familiar to readers, subtly changed the raison d'être of his collection.

Firstly he addressed his poems to Elizabeth: Elizabeth Boyle who became his wife in 1594 the year before the poems were published and so they became a tribute to her. This is not a sequence of poems where the love remains unrequited: about three quarters through the collection, there is a change of mood and in sonnet 64 they kiss and it is evident that Elizabeth has given her consent. The poems are sequenced so that the reader can follow the outcome of the poets courtship, this was not the case in other collections: usually the lady was already married or remained an etherial figure and the poets painful love affair continued in keeping them apart. Spenser's Amoretti can be seen as a denigration of the courtly love ideal that was a feature of previous collections, because although his courtship went through the usual pains of thankless striving for acceptance, it ended with a commitment to marriage and then a celebration of his success.

The traditional imagery used by Petrarch and his followers is used by Spenser, however he takes these images and exaggerates them to such an extent that they become almost a parody. This is particularly noticeable in the power of his lovers eyes: the withering looks that the lady gives her suitor alternates with her celestial gaze that has the power to attract everyone and everything:

Sonnet 36
Is there no meanes for me to purchace peace,
Or make agreement with her thrilling eyes;
But that their cruelty doth still increace,
And dayly more augment my miseryes?

Sonnet 16
One day as I unwarily did gaze
On those fayre eyes, my loves immortall light,
The whiles my stonisht hart stood in amaze,
Through sweet illusion of her lookes delight,
I mote perceive how, in her glauncing sight,
Legions of Loves with little wings did fly,
Darting their deadly arrows, fyry bright,
At every rash beholder passing by,

The exaggeration used becomes almost comic. We have no idea how his contemporary Elizabethan readers would have interpreted the sonnets, but reading them today the poet seems to be laughing at himself as well as his intended:

Sonnet 54
Yet she, beholding me with constant eye,
Delights not in my merth, nor rues my smart:
But when I laugh, she mocks; and when I cry,
She laughs, and hardens evermore her hart.
What then can move her? If nor merth, nor mone,
She is no woman, but a sencelesse stone.

Spenser certainly praises the beauty of his beloved in typical male gaze fashion, but he emphasises that it is her wit and mind that he values above all else and that will make for a lasting happy relationship:

Men call you fayre, and you doe credit it,
For that your selfe ye daily such doe see:
But the trew fayre, that is the gentle wit
And vertuous mind, is much more praysd of me.
For all the rest, how ever fayre it be,
Shall turne to nought and lose that glorious hew;

Elizabethan sonneteers tended to link the idea of an unrequited love to somehow making them better men because of the pain that they suffer. They in typical courtier fashion learn go the extra mile in all the things that they do to impress their beloved. Spenser was not a typical courtier although of course he relied on his reputation as a poet and a gentleman to secure positions in government. He found himself almost in exile in Ireland, unable to secure a position at court. His courtship of Elizabeth was in keeping with traditional protestant virtues and therefore successful in leading to matrimony and much has been made of the links between the sonnets and the religious calendar.

There are 89 sonnets in this collection and sonnet 64 acts like a turn in the whole collection because at this point the relationship changes; It starts with "Coming to kiss her lyps, (such grace I found)'', there had been no evidence of physical contact before this point. Now it is the poet who is in control of the situation and his beloved accepts her situation, but not without fears of losing her liberty sonnet 65 addresses this beautifully:

The doubt which ye misdeeme, fayre Love, is vaine,
That fondly feare to lose your liberty,
When, losing one, two liberties ye gayne,
And make him bond that bondage earst did fly.
Sweet be the bands the which true love doth tye,
Without constraynt or dread of any ill:
The gentle birde feeles no captivity
Within her cage, but sings, and feeds her fill.

The poems now are a celebration and a triumph and include the sonnets that appear most in various anthologies, however the last four sonnets end the collection on a downbeat note. Sonnet 86 is an angry poem addressed to a slanderous accusation and the last three sonnets deal with a temporary separation and the pain it brings to both of them. I found great pleasure in reading these poems and because of their musicality and their accessibility I rank them together with Shakespeare and Sir Philip Sidney's collections and a 5 star read. Difficult to choose one of the sonnets to close this appreciation, but I do like sonnet 71:

I ioy to see how, in your drawen work,
Your selfe unto the Bee ye doe compare,
And me unto the Spyder, that doth lurke
In close awayt, to catch her unaware.
Right so your selfe were caught in cunning snare
Of a deare foe, and thralled to his love;
In whose streight bands ye now captived are
So firmely, that ye never may remove.
But as your worke is woven all about
With woodbynd flowers and fragrant eglantine,
So sweet your prison you in time shall prove,
With many deare delights bedecked fyne:
And all thensforth eternall peace shall see
Betweene the Spyder and the gentle Bee.

Linking Amoretti with the bridal poem Epithalamion are several stanzas telling a mildly erotic story of Cupid and a bee. Epithalamion has 24 stanzas one for each hour of the wedding day. They describe the happy couples delight in all of the arrangements for a perfect wedding day. It is a joyous celebration with each stanza averaging 18 lines fitted to a rhyming scheme. The final stanza has 7 lines which forms a conclusion. The poem hopes for the blessing of children, fidelity and all things good in the marriage. Perhaps he envisioned it not only as a celebration of his marriage, but a poem that could be used to celebrate other marriages.

tammikuu 11, 10:42 am

C. S. Lewis, in his volume on 16th-century poetry (Oxford History of English Literature), divides his Table of Contents into the “Golden” and the “Drab.” Thank you so much for your appreciative and discerning comments on some of the most golden poems of the period.

tammikuu 11, 11:52 am

Terrific review. More Spenser love. And apologies, but reading Sonnet 71, I can’t help imagining his wife responding with the No Doubt song Spiderwebs.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 11, 5:09 pm

>34 dianelouise100: The Golden and the Drab: an interesting division and so if I did something similar for Elizabethan sonnet collections that I have read this is what it would look like

Shakespeares Sonnets - 5
Edmond Spenser - Amoretti - 5
Sir Philip Sydney - Astrophil and Stella - 5
Fulke Greville - Caelica - 4
Samuel Daniel - Delia - 4

Henry Constable - Diana - 3.5
Barnaby Barnes - Parthenophil & Parthenophe - 3.5
Anonymous - Zepheria - 3.5
Michael Drayton - Ideas Mirrour - 3
Thomas Lodge - Phillis - 3
Gabriel Harvey - sonnets 3
Giles Fletcher - Licia 2.5
William Percy - Coelia

tammikuu 11, 5:21 pm

I’m betting you’d find Lewis in agreement with you!

tammikuu 15, 9:14 am

I've read with interest your thread so far, and will continue to do so. I always like reading your reviews and learn so much, although I am mostly lurking here.
I wish you a nice reading year!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 16, 6:37 pm

The Secret Pilgrim - John Le Carré
This was the next unread book on my shelves, published in 1991 and picked up in a charity shop somewhere in England. There are nine novels in the George Smiley series and this is the eighth and the first that I have read and so I have come rather late into the sequence. In fact Smiley is close to retirement and has headed out onto the lecture circuit, where he is giving a speech to young trainee spies. The secret Pilgrim is Ned also coming up to retirement who has been in the service as long as George Smiley, sometimes working for him and at other times their paths have crossed, but Ned has always seen Smiley as a mentor. Smiley's speech brings back memories for Ned who is sitting in with him, and it is these memories that are welded into the stories in this book. They cover much of Ned's career from his first assignment, where he made a bit of a fool of himself to assignments that were life threatening to him and to the spies (Joe's) that he controlled. There are thirteen chapters and each tells a story and/or takes the reader back to Smiley's lecture.

The stories take us around the world: Berlin, Hamburg, London, Poland, Cambodia, Lebanon where the British secret service battles both foreign agents and American spymasters, sometimes winning sometimes losing. Although much of their work is routine they are never sure who they can trust and they run considerable risks much of the time. The novel does not only feature these stories, but sketches in a history of British intelligence in accordance with the world peopled by the spies of John Le Carré. It also allows Smiley to contemplate the part the intelligence service played in winning the cold war: wondering if they did win or if the other side just lost. The time span covers the cold war, leading up to and beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revelations of the double agents working for Russia. Near the end of the book Smiley is getting to grips with his own motives for working in the intelligence services and passing on his words of wisdom to the students.

The world of the spies and their masters portrayed in this book is very British, one would not be surprised if those at the top of the hierarchy, had all gone to the same school. Their methods and gadgetry hardly advance over the time period, they continue to keep doing the same things with equipment that sounds just a bit dated. As in many occupations competition can be fierce, but this is laced with suspicions at all levels, where trust is at a premium. Le Carré dwells on this, creating a world that will be recognisable to many readers. He is good at creating dialogue and gives his characters enough time to think through their actions. I enjoyed immersing myself in John Le Carré's world and sometimes thats all you need; I have got more novels by Le Carré and I am looking forward to reading them. 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 17, 10:46 am

Valerie Tong Cuong - Par Amour
This was a Library book and in typical french fashion there was just enough information on the cover to give a clue to its subject matter. It said that it was a novel which spellbindingly leads us from L'Havre under German Occupation to Algeria and it follows the destiny of ordinary heroic people whose secret lives form part of the larger history. It was published in 2017.

The story begins on 10 June 1940: war has been declared on Germany the previous year and Lucie a young girl starts the novel, by introducing us to her family and saying that everyone was convinced that the french army would repel any German invasion attempt. Her father Joffre has been drafted into the army with his brother Louis and the family left behind in L'Havre consist of her mother Emilie and her older brother Jean, her Aunt Muguette married to Louis and her children Joseph and Marline. After the child's introduction the story is taken up by Muguette and it is now later in June 1940: and it is now a different story the french army have not repelled the invasion and have sued for peace. Joffre has managed to get back home a defeated man, but Louis has been taken prisoner. The next person to take up the story is Emilie and then she passes the baton to Jean. By the time Muguette takes up the story again it is October 1941 she has fallen ill and her two children Joseph and Marline have been evacuated to Algeria. The only person outside the family that tells the story is Joffre's friend Thuriau who works as a navigator on the boat that takes the children to Algeria. Marline who has lost her speaking voice wraps the story up in August 1945 after the liberation of the town by the Allies.

L'Havre was the town that suffered more than most during the German Occupation. Situated on the North West coast of France it was at once identified as a town that would be crucial for defence against any attempt to liberate France and so the port was heavily defended. The french citizens suffered from a strict enforcement of the Occupation and soon lost any freedom. Public buildings such as schools were turned into military barracks, a rationing system was introduced and the port area soon became out of bounds. However once rumours of a liberating army circulated in 1943 things got much worse for the french when the Allied airforce started to bomb the town. In fact the English airforce reduced the town to rubble during the period from June 1944 to September 1944, when the German commander refused to sue for an armistice. The families description of a town under occupation becomes a story of survival under extreme military bombardment, they did not know what was worse the German Occupation or the English airforce who were intent on destroying the town.

The story as told in the first person by family members works well because it was necessary for them to keep secrets from each other to save their loved ones from German reprisals, therefore we get a full picture, and can sympathise with each member of the family. The only criticism that I would make is that the characters are not given more of an individual voice by the author, it feels to me more like a device to tell a complete story and this it certainly does well. I was unaware of the deprivations suffered by L'Havre during the war and so it filled a gap in my knowledge. Valerie Tong Cuong lists the materials of her research at the back of the book which includes a few witness statement. It all boils down to a dramatic story of survival of a family during wartime by an author who also achieves her aim of telling the story of the town of L'Havre. A four star read

tammikuu 17, 1:39 pm

Great review. I realize, while reading it, that I haven’t heard much if a French perspective like this. It seems I always see the French from a Jewish, resistance and/or Paris perspective (and Paris was never really bombed, although I learned more about the end-of-the-war Paris liberation fighting in Left Bank. Paris was not considered strategically important.)

tammikuu 17, 4:07 pm

>40 baswood: I would be interested in reading this one, but it doesn't appear to be translated (yet).

tammikuu 18, 9:15 am

>40 baswood: Great review, for a book and an author that are unknown-to-me.
I passed by Le Havre during my summer break, and there is a strong feeling of immediate post-second-world-war architecture, with concrete being the go-to material.

If you don't mind, I just found this photo of Le Havre during the 1944-1945 winter on wikipedia. Impressive.

tammikuu 18, 9:56 am

tammikuu 18, 10:53 am

>43 raton-liseur: Thats a great photo because the author Valerie Tong Cuong talks about the persistent dust from the bombings that covered the town like snow, which got to everything and everyone. Reading the book obviously made me think of the civilians suffering in the Ukraine at the moment.

tammikuu 18, 2:07 pm

>45 baswood: Yes, the photo is not clear where there is snow and where there is dust...
Unfortunately, some photos from Ukrain might be similar, only add the colour. Some things do not change, and sometimes it's unfortunate.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 19, 12:02 pm

Arthur C Clarke - A Fall of Moondust
Originally published in 1961 this novel is now published in the science fiction Masterwork series. I have not been disappointed by Clarke's earlier science fiction novels and this one was another good solid read. It may lack that sense of wonder of some of his novels, but this one shows that Clarke could do characters as well as ratcheting up the tension in an escape from disaster scenario. There is enough hard science and mechanical engineering to satisfy those reader who want to be convinced that they are on solid ground with their science fiction reading, however it is the lack of solid ground that provides the excitement in this novel.

Captain Pat Harris earns a living on the moon by shuttling tourists over one of the moon's seas in a craft named the Selene. The Sea of Thirst is actually made up of very fine dust and the Selene skims along the surface. In the middle of the sea are the inaccessible mountains and Pat Harris provides some thrills for the tourists by hurtling the Selene through a narrow gorge. Coming out of the gorge and back on the sea there is a moonquake and the Selene sinks beneath the dust. There are 20 passengers on board as well as Captain Harris and a stewardess. They have lost all radio contact and are 20 metres below the surface and cannot move under they're own power. They have enough air and provisions to last a week. The story is a rescue attempt against the clock to get everybody out of the stricken vehicle. The moondust flows like a liquid making it impossible for individuals to reach the surface and threatens to encase the stationary vehicle.

Captain Pat Harris is a competent pilot of the Selene, but lacks ambition to become a space pilot, he is falling in love with the stewardess. He is fortunate that his passengers include a range of scientists as well as a celebrated, but retired spaceman. They must work together to keep their spirits raised while waiting to be found. Clarke's story alternates between the efforts of the passengers to survive the catastrophe and the efforts of the scientists and engineers to find the Selene and then launch a rescue mission.
Clarke does a good job in bringing his characters to life and the dialogue between them is well handled, tempers get frayed, but also friendships form. It is to Clarkes credit that life in the stricken craft is as interesting as the rescue mission.

The story takes place in 2042 and from snapshots of the conversation in the Selene we learn bits of the history that has enabled man to conquer the solar system. Unfortunately money still controls all men's actions and male chauvinism is similar to what it was in 1961. On the more positive side there is recognition of the destruction of ethnic people on earth, as one of the passengers a scientist and an aborigine tells moon born Pat Harris of the attempted elimination of his people and their culture. This is a good disaster novel whose moon setting creates additional and unforeseen problems. It is well written and a 4 star read.

tammikuu 19, 1:39 pm

Just 19 years till moon sea tours. Sounds good. Fun review.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 20, 7:04 am

Anonymous - Locrine
Printed in 1595 this play has been variously ascribed to Robert Greene, George Peele and even in collaboration with Shakespeare, however I think it is best that it remains anonymous. It is not a particularly bad play but reading it today it just feels very 'run of the mill'. It is a relatively simple story with no surprises: Brutus has conquered Britain and has established his family as future rulers. He is about to die when the play opens and his three sons and three brothers all swear to maintain family unity. Locrine the eldest son is declared king and he has been betrothed by Brutus to Gwendoline. Humbar king of the Scythians and his son Hubba are attempting to invade Britain. They first meet Albanact: Locrine's young brother in battle. Albanact's army are defeated and Albanact commits suicide rather than being captured. Locrine takes to the field to avenge his brother. Albanact's ghost has appeared before Humbar and shown him his troops desecrated on the battlefield. Humbar is defeated and Hubba is slain. Back at Locrines court Estrild: Humbars wife is brought in, Locrine is minded to kill her, but falls in love with her and gives her the option of being his mistress. Corineius Locrine's uncle warns that Locrine should remain faithful to Gwendoline and leaves the court. It is seven years later when Corineius dies and Locrine brings Estrild into his court. Meanwhile the defeated Humber has been on the run and starving, he decides to commit suicide by throwing himself in the river. Thrasimachus: Gwendoline's brother vows revenge and he and Gwendoline raise an army and defeat Locrine. Locrine commits suicide as does Estrild and their daughter Sabren drowns herself.

It is the usual story of a royal family in discord, a kings inflexibility and weakness, but in Locrine the guilty party is firmly nailed as either Estrild or Gwendoline, because in a closing speech Ate the goddess of revenge says:

Lo here the end of lawless treachery,
Of usurpation and ambitious pride;
And they that for their private amours dare
Turmoil our land, and set their broils abroach,
Let them be warned by these premises.
And as a woman was the only cause
That civil discord was then stirred up,

There is very little character development in Locrine. It is a moral story and looks back to earlier plays with its dumb shows at the beginning of each act. It is written mostly in pretty good iambic pentameter, with language that harks back to Marlowe; particularly Tamburlaine the Great. Running through the earlier acts are the clowns Strombo and his entourage and they are genuinely funny and corse. It is a play that sets out to tell a story and succeeds admirably. It calls itself a tragedy and reminds the audience that it is based on chivalry. It has ghosts, it has battles, it has a history of sorts, but it does not say anything different to what has gone before. I enjoyed the read through 3 stars.

tammikuu 20, 10:02 pm

Thoroughly enjoyable review.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 21, 6:34 pm

Miles Davis: A Critical Biography - Ian Carr
This morning I was listening to a recording of Miles Davis concert performance at the Carnegie Hall in 1961. It was the concert that also featured Gil Evans big band as well as Davis's working quintet. On the CD it is evident that for some tracks Miles played solo backed by the band, on other tracks his quintet was playing out in front of the band and on others just the quintet was performing. I wondered how the concert was arranged, because it was clear that the original record did not include all the pieces played that night. I could not find the order of the performances on the internet, but I remembered I had an unread biography by Ian Carr. I still did not find the answer, but I could not put down the biography and finished it tonight.

The biography that I read was published in 1982 when Miles Davis was still alive. It was subsequently repackaged with additional information and called The Definitive Biography in 1998 after Davis had died in 1991. The Critical Biography concentrates on the music, Ian Carr is a well known jazz trumpeter and would have an inside track on both the music and some of the musicians that played with Miles. Where Davis's private life impacts on the music then Carr gives us the necessary information; for example Davis was critical of the treatment of black people in America and wanted his music to speak to them and sometimes for them. His music appealed mainly to the white jazz listening public and Miles, as he became more well known tried to shift the balance. There are of course instances of Davis falling foul of the police, the authorities and white service men, but this is not the main focus of this book. Ian Carr is a white jazz musician and he writes about what he knows best and that is the music.

The musical development of arguably the greatest jazz trumpeter is well documented. His early association with Charlie Parker in the bebop groups, and then moving beyond that to leading his own groups in what is now known as cool jazz. The winning of most jazz accolades quickly followed and then his first great quintet with John Coltrane. We follow him searching to take his music further after the break up of this group and the next great quintet with Wayne Shorter. The music has changed with the personnel and Miles is forging his own path steering away from the avant garde players and looking over his shoulder at the younger rock musicians. He takes on board electric instruments and once again a period of transition where the rhythmic pulse drives him towards more skeletal stripped down music; his music becomes funkier taking on board some of the sounds from rock music and he becomes more interested in group improvisation. Ian Carr takes us through all the important recording sessions, describing the music played and the people playing it. He includes comments from Miles' sideman digging to try and get inside Miles' own thoughts on the music he was making. The critical bit of the biography is criticism of the music, not the lifestyle of the musicians

Ian Carr gives musical examples and there is an appendix at the back with written musical examples. Some knowledge of how jazz and music works will enhance the reading experience, but it is not essential because Carr explains as well as he can the sound created and how the musicians went about their work. For me this was the perfect biography, yes it does concentrate on the music, but there is enough background to give a feel for the characters of the individuals who make that music. There are some of Miles famous quotes scattered through the text and one at the start of each chapter:

"When it comes to human rights, these prejudiced white people keep on acting like they own the damn franchise"

" I don't buy polish .......Polished negroes are acting the way they think white people want them to act, so they can be accepted"

" An artists first responsibility is to himself"

I am glad that I read the original publication of 1982, which stops while Davis was still alive with the last item in the discography being the 1981 session that produced Man with the Horn. Miles was still making music, but his health was failing and his important work was behind him. I don't like being in at the death when I read a biography. Ian Carr's love of the music is evident all through the book, but he is critical of some of music without being prejudiced against a certain style or trend. I can vouch for the accuracy of some of his observations because he describes a Miles Davis concert in London in 1967 where I was in the audience and it was just how I remembered it. This is a fabulous biography for anyone interested in jazz and/or Miles Davis 5 stars.

tammikuu 21, 8:45 pm

Terrific review and cool you were at a concert special mentioned in the book. Miles Davis shows up in Left Bank where he had a passionate relationship in Paris with … someone important whose name I forgot, but who was French. He could not see her in NY because of the racism.

tammikuu 24, 1:48 pm

The Next book on my shelf was Don Quixote - Cervantes. It is the Paul Rutherford translation, but I only have part one. I therefore ordered and received the Norton critical edition of the two parts of Don Quijote with a translation by Diana de Armas Wilson.

I read Don Quixote a long time ago (a Penguin edition I think)
I am 100 pages into the Norton Critical edition and I am loving it.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 24, 1:53 pm

>52 dchaikin: Singer songwriter Juliette Gréco: (the article is in French, but really all you need to see is the photo)

tammikuu 24, 2:26 pm

>54 Dilara86: Thanks! That’s great,well sad, but great article. Left Bank essentially quotes that article. The second to last paragraph is really sad.

>53 baswood: nice Bas! I look forward to what you have to say about DQ.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 24, 3:19 pm

>54 Dilara86:

Oooo, I didn't know that. What a chic couple.

ETA: >53 baswood: Yay!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 24, 4:30 pm

Viestin kirjoittaja on poistanut viestin.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 5:38 pm

Nue - Jean-Philippe Toussaint
This is the fourth and last book in the series about an artist in the world of haute couture: Marie Madeleine Marguerite de Montalte. I have not read the previous three, but had no trouble with picking up the story in Nue. Thankfully the heroine is referred to as plain Marie in this book and her story is pieced together by the narrator the unnamed admirer and lover of Marie. The story is told in several set piece situations. The first is an outrageous fashion show in Japan where Marie has designed a dress that clings to the body of her model like a second skin and is the colour of honey. She arranges to have a swarm of bees follow the model down the catwalk. We then find the narrator alone in his Paris apartment after enjoying a holiday with Marie in Elba. He spends two months looking out of the window waiting for Marie to phone him. The narrator remembers an art exhibition celebrating Marie in Japan, to which he had not been invited and how he climbed onto the roof and peered down at the gathering through a porthole like window. Then he finally receives a phone call and meets Marie in a run down Paris cafe on a wet winters night in the city and then agrees that night to go back to Elba with her for a funeral.

These incidents are described in some detail with the author intent on providing an atmosphere which connects them to each other. I enjoyed the writing which has a dream-like quality to it. It has the feel of being written by a person in love who understands that he must play his part in the game of love, without fully understanding the rules. It is a waiting game and like the diaphanous honey coloured dress, nothing must be done to spoil the overall effect. I was carried away by the writing in this short novel which has a timely resolution. I need not read the preceding three to understand the story, but I would like to for the quality of the writing. 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 4, 7:59 am

Don Quijote - Miguel de Cervantes (Norton Critical Edition)
Many people have heard of Don Quixote (or Don Quijote in this translation), but to read both volumes of the book takes some reading commitment. It was the next book on my shelf and although not unread; I had read it such a long time ago I had only a vague impression. Reading today a revised translation by Diana De Armas Wilson with its introduction by the original translator Burton Raffel was very much in keeping with Miguel de Cervantes claiming that his Don Quijote was a translation from the Arabic historian Cide Hamete Benengeli, which put me in tune with the meta fictional aspects of this book.

It has been labelled as the first novel ever written, (first volume published in 1605), but I can vouch to the fact that this is not true having read novels from the previous century. It's claim to be the first modern novel bears more consideration, as from my reading experience it shines like a beacon of light, a sort of lighthouse beacon which lights the way for character development and interior reflections, authorial interventions, open ended interpretations, and endless discussions on the aims and objectives of the author. The dark side of the lighthouse beacon is its disparagement of the subject matter of the popular fiction of its time, the books of chivalry: knights in armour riding out to do fantastic deeds. These are the very books that caused Don Quijote to go insane. He was of the opinion that all the stories written on chivalry must be historically accurate, because they were printed in books. Why would anyone write about things that were not true, that did not happen. There is a scene very early on in the first volume when Don Quijote has returned exhausted from his first adventure and the priest and the barber go through his library throwing out of the window all the bad books on chivalry that they intend to burn.

The basic premise of the novel is that a rich landowner Don Quijote has become infatuated and addicted to books of chivalry and takes it upon himself to revive the whole idea of knight errantry. Cervantes says:

"Indeed his mind was so tattered and torn that finally, it produced the strangest notion any madman ever conceived, and then considered it not just appropriate but inevitable. As much for the sake of his own greater honour as for his duty to the nation, he decided to turn himself into a knight errant, travelling all over the world with his horse and his weapons, seeking adventures and doing everything that, according to his books, earlier knights had done, righting every manner of wrong, giving himself the opportunity to experience every sort of danger, so that surmounting them all, he would cover himself with eternal fame and glory"

Don Quijote recruits an employee of his Sancho Panza to be his squire and saddles up his old horse Rocinante, puts on some old armour and together they ride out; Sancho Panza on his beloved donkey, looking for adventures. Not only is Don Quijote insane, but he also suffers from hallucinations, seeing wayside inns as castles, windmills as giants, and herds of sheep as a marauding army. He also dreams of an impossibly beautiful woman who will be the love of his life and to whom he will dedicate his conquests: the matchless Dulcinea del Tobolso. Tobolso is a town near where Don Quijote lives and he might have caught sight of a pretty girl there.

There have been many interpretations of Don Quijote. A ribald, knockabout, slapstick comedy; there are certainly many funny incidents along the way that can make the reader laugh out loud. A loveable idealist who follows his heart and an unflappable optimist. A tragic hero figure in the best traditions of a romantic interpretation. Christians might interpret him as a Christ like figure, or that it is a cabalistic Jewish text. Some may think it is an allegory of Spanish politics or an attack on romantic chivalry that Cervantes claims it to be. It is in my opinion primarily a novel about insanity, self delusion and how other people handle, care for, or make fun of people who are insane. Don Quijote's sanity comes and goes, in book two his periods of lucidity increase until he returns home almost cured of his delusions. During his adventures people are often surprised by his educated response to questions, he gives Sancho Panza excellent advice on how to be a governor of a municipality. Don Quijote's insanity leads inevitably to mood swings, he is easily angered and in fact twice tries to kill Sancho Panza.

Many classic works are infused with thoughts and ideas about writing and literature and Don Quijote is no exception to this. The prologue of the book addressed to the idle reader written by Cervantes talks about the difficulties of writing the prologue, reminding readers that he is only the stepfather to the book not its parent. He then tells of a conversation with a friend who tells him shortcuts to write a successful piece of literature. Throughout the actual novel there are pauses where Cervantes reflects on the art of writing.

The two volumes were printed nine years apart and in the second volume the metafictional aspects take another turn. We are told that Don Quijote has become famous, because people have read about his exploits in the first volume. He starts to be recognised and some people take advantage of his fame. He complains however, that there seems to be two Don Quijote's riding around; one who is a bit of an idiot and one who is accomplishing good deeds, one book is poorly written while the other can stand up as a piece of literature. This together with authorial interventions, perhaps by the parent: Cide Hamete Benengali or perhaps the step father Cervantes himself adds further to the innovations that are introduced by the author.

The two volumes together make a superb reading experience. There are Don Quijote's sometimes rather puzzling exploits, there are stories within stories. There are two tremendous characters in the knight himself and his proverb loving squire Sancho Panza, who develop characteristics from each other. The stories are funny, sometimes violent, sometimes contemporary to that period of Spanish rule: the expulsion of the Moors and the jews feature heavily. Of course the reader rides along with Don Quijote sucking up the atmosphere of Spain in the early 17th century wondering about the next adventure that will befall the insane duo and caring about the health of the duo as well as despairing about the damage they cause. The Norton Critical Edition contains an excellent introduction and a beautiful translation. The criticism section however, leaves something to be desired. I know it is difficult to come to a conclusion about the main theme or thrust of this novel, but most of the extracts focus on individual stories. Some attempt at an overall impression would have been welcome. It is a book that one can return to and enjoy individual stories and exploits, with the whole scope of the book firmly in mind. Wonderful and a five star read.

helmikuu 4, 8:26 am

>59 baswood: Wonderful review, Barry. It's a book that I have never managed to read all the way through, but your review makes me think I should have persevered.

helmikuu 4, 8:57 am

>59 baswood: I really enjoyed your review. I never actually even tried to read Don Quijote but I hope I'll find the will to do so one day, it sounds a great thing to do!
I love the cover of your edition. Do you know who painted it?

helmikuu 4, 10:57 am

>59 baswood: it’s on my grand plan. I love your review. I didn’t realize he wrote part 2 with the popular reputation of part 1 in mind. But i also didn’t know there were two distinct parts. Maybe you could take a contemporary risk and follow up with Salman Rushdie’s entertaining Quichotte. 🙂 (or any of the zillion other responses)

helmikuu 4, 12:19 pm

>59 baswood: Great review. It's a book I've managed to read through twice, so completely agree with your return to and enjoy individual stories and exploits. The second time through I had just finished Candide and thought there were perhaps parallels there.

>62 dchaikin: Quichotte noted

helmikuu 4, 1:51 pm

>61 raton-liseur: The cover is a painting by Ivan Filichev "Rider, Don Quixote" (oil on canvas 2002)
>60 labfs39: >62 dchaikin: >63 SassyLassy: Thanks - it is a time commitment it took me over a week to read it, but it is one of the great books if you are comfortable reading something 4 centuries old.

helmikuu 5, 11:22 am

>64 baswood: Thanks for taking the time to check the reference!

helmikuu 5, 12:38 pm

Loving the love for the Knight of Sad Countenance.

helmikuu 6, 4:34 am

Fabulous review of Don Quixote, Barry! I read the Edith Grossman translation roughly a decade ago, and I absolutely loved it. I think about this novel often, and your review makes me want to reread it, perhaps the translation you read, in the near future.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 8, 8:59 am

Wonderful review—that's one of those books that I suspect I'll just never tackle at this point, so there's a vicarious element in reading your thoughts. And I love the cover image on that edition you posted.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 8, 6:48 pm

Ignatius Donnelly - Caesar's Column: a story of the twentieth century
Published in 1890 this has been labelled a 'forgotten book'. It was a popular success in its day combining an adventure story with visions of dystopia and utopia. It belongs undoubtedly to the genre of science fiction with its vision of a world balanced on the edge of catastrophe in 1988. There will be problems for some modern readers with its political viewpoint which advocates a socialist utopia with fascist leanings. Popular socialism probably accounted for its initial success, but today some antisemitism could be seen as more than unfortunate.

The story is told by Gabriel Weltstein who becomes involved in a revolution while visiting New York. He is writing to his brother who lives in Uganda and the epistolary nature of the book puts it into a first person point of view. Gabriel discovers that future America (1988) is ruled by a corrupt capitalist elite. Rampant capitalism and greed have reduced the vast majority to almost slave labour and this pattern has been repeated in Europe.

"Europe is a banking association conducted exclusively for the benefit of the bankers. Bonds take the place of national aspirations. To squeeze the wretched is the great end of government; to toil and submit, the destiny of the peoples".

Gabriel rescues a man from being run down by a horse and carriage soon after he arrives and falls in love with a young woman passenger. The man(Max) proves to be one of the leaders of an underground plot to overthrow the capitalist oligarchy and Gabriel soon gets involved. He must also rescue Estelle (the young woman) who has been sold as a concubine to the house of Prince Cabano the effective head of the oligarchy. The date of the uprising is only days away and Gabrielle is frightened by the rapacious mobs that he predicts will be in the forefront of the revolution. He realises that Max and his network of followers cannot control the situation.

Gabrielle gets a first hand account of the world situation from Max which allows the author to paint a picture of a world where 1% or less of the population control all the resources and the more power they get allows them to drive down wages and increase profits. He gives a short history, which demonstrates how the huge ghettos were created and prove to be excellent recruiting ground for revolutionaries. The adventure story is Gabrielles attempts to rescue Estelle and flee the revolutionaries who are out for the blood of all well dressed people. Bloody encounters and horrific scenes are described; civilisation is on the brink of destruction and Donnelly spends a chapter on describing a new utopia based on socialist principles that could emerge from the wreckage: the political story runs parallel with the derring-do.

The book written in 1880 certainly feels like a Victorian novel. Although it would be only nine years before the invention of the motor car Donnelly does not see this coming and so horse and carriages are the main form of transport and dirigibles are the only form of air traffic. He imagines that man has tapped into the Aurora Borealis to provide light, despite electric street lighting being trialed in London two years earlier. This makes the book feel more like a political adventure story rather than science fiction.

This mixed bag of popular entertainment and political education is not without its merits as certainly some aspects of the novel seem to point the way to where the current world situation maybe isheading. Ignatius Donnelly was an American Congressman, populist writer and fringe scientist. The adventure story is full of Victorian naivety but it is a useful peg on which Donnelly can practice his political theories. It is violent and probably excessive, but is an interesting read and so three stars.

helmikuu 9, 5:19 pm

Musil touches on this incoherent association of antisemitism with economic and social anxieties. (He is a lot more palatable, being coherent also with a Jewish spouse. He left Austria eventually because of the Nazi German takeover.) There is a lesson against all idealism there. It always hurts someone, and never that 1%, who are protected.

helmikuu 10, 3:09 am

>59 baswood: Great review of the Quijote! You put me to shame, I haven’t advanced with my reading of the RAE edition since about three months ago. I ought to read a few more chapters…

helmikuu 11, 9:09 am

>70 dchaikin: Interesting comment Dan. I struggle to understand antisemitism. I am not a Jew, but my first wife was Jewish as was my second partner. Perhaps it all comes down for a need to identify a scapegoat?

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 12, 6:53 pm

Camille De Toledo - Oublier trahir puis disparaître.
This was a library book that proved to be an interesting read. Camille de Toledo is the nom de plume of Alexis Mitral a french essayist and writer now based in Berlin. This book is described as a novel, but the majority of it is set out in poetical form with some short chapters in prose. The narrater is on a train journey travelling in Eastern Europe and he is accompanied by a twelve year old boy Elias. The narrater wants to be a father figure for Elias who speaks a different language to him. The countryside flashing past the window is described and so is an old woman a mother figure sitting opposite Elias. The narrater looks down the carriage and sees a man who is causing his fellow passengers to recoil in apprehension, it is at this point that the reader starts to realise that this is perhaps not a real train journey. The narrater talks to Elias and the theme of his conversation is the war in Europe after the break up of Yugoslavia, he impresses on the boy that he is a man of the 20th century with guilt and blood on his hands, but the boy Elias has a chance to live peacefully in the 21st century.

They get off the train in Mostar now in the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the scene of fierce conflict in the Yugoslav wars, they visit the famous bridge "Stari Most" that crosses the Neretva river and watch the children making the dangerous jump into the water to collect coins thrown in by tourists. They then walk to the life size statue of Bruce Lee erected in 2005 in a nearby park. The narrater suggests that this crazy statue of an American actor exemplifying a Chinese martial arts tradition was the only compromise possible for the Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks after the wars. There are martial arts schools in Mostar popular with the young, but this is hardly a statue that looks forward to a peaceful existence. In the conclusion to the book the narrater seems to be recalling his own childhood and the two faces of his father always hard at work at his desk, whose only words of wisdom seemed to be that his son should create his own world. The narrater remembers filling his bedroom with figures from American super hero comics.

The book although not always easy to grasp spoke to me in some moments. I remember standing on the original Bridge in Mostar before the wars (it was destroyed and has since been rebuilt). The narrater also talks about climbing the Buddha statues at Bamien Afghanistan, which I also did before they were destroyed by the Taliban. There was also another reference to Robert Musil who I keep coming across in my reading:

"un histoire du vertige de Robert Musil à Bruce Lee"

A book that has put down a marker for me for the work of Camille de Toledo and so 3.5 stars.

helmikuu 13, 11:03 am

>73 baswood: You have had some interesting experiences that complement your reading. Nice that you saw them before they were destroyed.

helmikuu 13, 12:12 pm

>74 labfs39: Yes But I am so disappointed I have not seen that Bruce Lee statue

helmikuu 18, 10:01 am

>59 baswood: What a great review of Don Quixote. I have read excerpts of it in my university Spanish classes, but have never read the whole work. Your review makes me want to pull it off the shelf and read it immediately. (No longer up to reading it in Spanish, unfortunately).

helmikuu 18, 7:02 pm

King John (Arden Shakespeare)- William Shakespeare
The life and death of King John - BBC Film
The Arden Shakespeare edited by Jesse M. Lander and J. J. M. Tobin have chosen to call the play King John instead of the usual title The Life and Death of King John. It is unusual in the Shakespeare cannon as it appears to be a rewrite of an earlier play: The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England which was published in 1591, some four years earlier than the probable date of Shakespeare's play. In my opinion Shakespeare could have called his play The Troublesome play of King John, because although he improved the dramatic effect of the earlier play, he lost some continuity in his version. It was a play depicting an historical event and the telling of the story, however accurate or inaccurate it might be, should be intelligible for the punters paying their money at the theatre gate. It is a play that has not enjoyed many revivals in the late 20th and early 21st century and although the poetry is typically Shakespearean the drama suffers from being tied to the earlier Troublesome Reign.

The Troublesome Reign of John, King of England has been accredited to George Peele and it is noted for its coherent story and sustained and developed characterisation. It starts in the court of King John when a messenger from king Philip of France informs John that his brother Geoffrey's son Arthur is entitled to the crown of England and that John has usurped the throne. John tells the messenger that he will take an army to France to enforce his crown. Shortly after the messenger leaves two sons of Lord Faulconbridge arrive disputing a claim to their father's property. John with the aid of Queen Eleanor sorts the dispute by knighting the bastard Philip as Sir Richard and agreeing that his brother Robert be entitled to Sir Robert's property. The newly knighted Sir Richard will join King John in his expedition to France. The armies of England and France face each other outside the town of Angiers, whose citizens will not decide who is the rightful ruler of their town. A compromise is reached when the citizen of Angiers suggests a marriage between the Dauphin and Blanche a ward of John. After the wedding the Pope's legate Cardinal Pandulph arrives to excommunicate King John and orders King Philip to restart his war with John. After the battle we learn that John has captured Arthur and returned to England and instructed Sir Richard to rob the monasteries. The Dauphin and his army land in England to rescue Arthur. King John arranges for Hubert to murder Arthur, but this is too much for his followers who side with the French. Sir Richard remains loyal and leads King John's army against the French; the English Lords who have changed sides learn that the Dauphin is planning to kill them change sides again. Cardinal Pandulph arrives to welcome John back into the christian fold and the Dauphin's invasion is thwarted but King John while residing at an Abbey is poisoned and his son Henry is proclaimed king.

It is a complex story and the plot in (TR) is reeled out in fairly pedestrian fashion. Shakespeare takes the plot by the scruff of the neck in his King John and in the very first scene the french ambassador has arrived and is squaring up to the usurper King John. In the Troublesome Reign (TR) Queen Eleanor starts by explaining the history of King Richard's brother Geoffrey and Arthurs claim to the crown. This is an early example as to how Shakespeare dramatises the action and he continues to do this as he follows and changes the story line to the plays advantage. His characters are more sharply drawn and have better poetry to speak: there is no prose in Shakespeares play. Shakespeare further enhances the drama by introducing more action; for instance he has the two Kings clutching hands while the Pope's legate is excommunicating John and King Philip must decide to let John's hand fall.

I read the two plays side by side and had the impression that Shakespeare grew into the story. The first act with the disputed land rights of the Faulconbridge brothers is confusing and goes on too long, making the play appear top heavy at the start. There follows the dispute in front of the town of Angiers and it feels like the scene has been shaped to allow processions and parades, rather than battles and action. In the second half of the play Shakespeare is able to cut out scenes that hamper the central storyline. for example in TR there is an account largely in prose of Sir Richard's sacking of a monastery: there is a semi humorous conversation between Sir Richard and Friar Lawrence. This scene has disappeared from King John.

Shakespeare's play is built around the politics of the relationship between the two kings and the women who support them. Queen Eleanor mother of John and Constance mother of Arthur are fanatical in support of their progeny and emerge as strong characters exerting some control over the men. Shakespeare emphasises the oath breaking: the changing of sides which all the men are guilty of, while the women stay firm. The action moves forward at a good pace in the second half and while it does not enjoy a particular climax the death scene of King John provides a sombre conclusion to a play where few characters are shown at their best. Commodity rules much of the action as Sir Richard reminds us in one of his soliloquies. TR is very anti catholic and while this is present to some extent in King John Shakespeare has toned it down.

I also watched the 1984 BBC production with Leonard Rossiter as King John, who gave his character a particularly Machiavellian bent; perhaps a bit too much like a pantomime character in some places. The production made excellent sense of the story and moved it along at a pace. Shakespeare indulges in much word play throughout and some of it, not even the best actors are able to deliver meaningfully, for example part of Pandulph's speech in act 3:

It is religion that doth make vows kept,

But thou hast sworn against religion

By what thou swear’st against the thing thou swear’st,

And mak’st an oath the surety for thy truth

Against an oath. The truth thou art unsure

To swear, swears only not to be forsworn,

Else what a mockery should it be to swear?

But thou dost swear only to be forsworn,

And most forsworn, to keep what thou dost swear.

Therefore thy latter vows against thy first

Is in thyself rebellion to thyself;

Of course there is much good poetry, including this much misquoted speech by Lord Salisbury:

Therefore, to be possess’d with double pomp,

To guard a title that was rich before,

To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,

To throw a perfume on the violet,

To smooth the ice, or add another hue

Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light

To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,

Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.

All in all I spent an enjoyable few days with King John, but this early play of Shakespeare's is not my favourite. 4.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 8:58 pm

>73 baswood:

The dedication on the statue is signed "Your Mostar". :)

Some orientating remarks: Bruce Lee wasn't seen as "American" in Yugoslavia nor anywhere else in the cosmos in which he is globally bigger than any American, Jesus, and the Beatles put together. (For one co-ordinate of his reach, see Marjane Satrapi's childhood adoration in Persepolis.) He was Chinese, an underdog defending underdogs, small, skinny and fierce, with nothing but his body and skill between naked life and a world bent on crushing him and other little people. None of that American fascist superhero crap and obscene glitz of the superrich.

The appeal to anyone who is not a born Anglo supremacist, ruler of the universe, is obvious.

Chinese-language martial movies (of Taiwanese and Hong Kong production, of course) in general were hugely popular throughout Yugoslavia. There is absolutely nothing artificial about noting this as a unifying trait, any more than, say, football is.

In 2004 a Croatian film with the title "Oprosti za kung fu" ("Sorry for kung fu") came out, playing on the theme of this popularity when a Croatian woman returns home from working in Germany, pregnant by an Asian lover. It's pretty good.

this is hardly a statue that looks forward to a peaceful existence.

Bosnia's problems won't be solved by any statue but as funny or "surreal" as you may find it, Lee is actually a figure everybody loves. What are they going to fight over, is he Croatian or Serbian or Bosniak?

I'm just happy it's not a Mickey Mouse.

edited: some adjectives

helmikuu 20, 9:31 am

>73 baswood: A quick search on google reveals that there are three statues of Bruce Lee at the moment. One in Hong Kong, One in Los Angeles and the one in Mostar.

I visited Mostar in 1975 a couple of years after Bruce Lee's death, but as the statue was not erected until 2005 I did not suffer any surprise by stumbling across it.

Time to catch up with those old Bruce Lee movies again. I am wondering if they will be as exciting as when I first saw them in the cinema.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 12:02 pm

I took a short train journey to Toulouse last Friday and got the chance to visit a couple of second hand bookshops which were quite different from each other. The first was Joseph Gibert near the Capitol, which was really a bookshop with some second hand books mixed amongst the new books on the shelves. All the books were in good condition and the only way you would notice the second hand stock was that it had a bright yellow label and a two euro reduction. I suppose the advantage is that you might find books that are out of print. I found two Geoges Simenon Maigret books published in 1951, but I had to work hard to get them as they were on the bottom shelf and I am not quite so agile as I used to be. Before catching the train home I had time to walk down to the river to find the Bouquiniste Brocanteur at the pont Neuf. This was the other kind of second hand bookshop where all the books are second hand. There were some areas and shelving named according to genre, but much of the stock was piled up in heaps on the floor which leant against the shelves, there was also plenty of cardboard boxes packed with books. No hope of finding anything you might be searching for, but a great place for browsing and it was there that I bought:

Le Guide du Polar: Histoire du Roman Policier Français by Michel Lebrun and J.P. Schweighaeuser.

Only when I saw the book did I realise I wanted a guide to french crime writing in the mid 20th century, which also supplied pocket histories of popular authors and their best work. This was published in 1987 and so by no means up to date, but was perfect for me. The first chapter is pre-polar: that is before 1900 and a chance to drag in such famous names as Honoré de Balzac, Françoise Vidocq and of course Emile Zola. The second chapter covers Maurice LeBlanc and Arsène Lupin as well as the mystery story writer Gaston Leroux. There is an interesting chapter on the magazines that sprung up from 1910 onwards like Fantômas and the authors that supplied them with short stories or serials. The first real detective novels appeared after 1920 with authors such as Gabriel Bernard, André Armandy, H.G. Magog. It also saw the first 'collection' of books specialising in the genre "Masque" and paved the way for other publishing houses to follow suit.

!930-1940 was the golden age for detective novels; Georges Simenon of course but also Pierre Véry, Claude Aveline, Steeman, and Jacques Decrest. Authors tended to have more than a couple of pseudonyms and so it was useful to have the guide and google to sort them out. Typically crime writers also wrote film scripts and the book covers these as well. There is a section at the end of each chapter that gives pocket biographies of other less well known (today) authors. 1940-1950 was a more difficult period, certainly because of the war, but also because of the invasion of American crime fiction. Much energy was spent on making translations of American books. The collection called Série Noir was launched in 1945 and all the books apart from one, published between 1945-50 were translations. The American invasion continued between 1950-60, but french authors were beginning to make a comeback: Leo Malet in the 1940's with his Nestor Burma series, then Terry G Stewart pseudonym for Serge Arcuoët and Thomas Narcejac, Jean Sabran and Louis C. Thomas. However the genre was starting to widen under the influence of the American writers and Auguste Le Breton introduced his Rififi series, books with a noir edge whose criminals used gangster slang. 1960-70 saw an explosion of writing in the crime genre, which now encompassed espionage, suspense, humour, fantasy; really too much to get a handle on and plenty of new french writers in the genre including Michel Lebrun (co-author of this guide). There were plenty of authors that were new to me in this section and the final two sections that followed.

Le Guide du Polar cost me 6 euros, but I have the feeling it is going to cost me much more as I track down some of these writers. I feel quite a few lists shaping up. The book was probably only worth three stars when it appeared in 1987 as it is part of Guide Culturels Syros written for a popular market, but for me it was a 5 star read.

helmikuu 20, 4:02 pm

>80 baswood:

I'd love to find another French polar writer as good as Manchette. Boileau-Narcejac leave me cold. Le Breton I feel I've "read" through the movies, don't feel compelled to seek out the books. Speaking of Lupin, I'm loving the 1970s series up on Madelen currently, with Georges Descrières. It's pure silliness, but done with such style and humour.

helmikuu 22, 4:41 am

>80 baswood: Only when I saw the book did I realise I wanted a guide to french crime writing in the mid 20th century
Love the sentence, know the feeling.

helmikuu 23, 2:09 am

>58 baswood: My library has got La Clé USB. Did you read that one?

helmikuu 23, 5:11 pm

I, too, loved the Don Quixote review. You may have noted I included it as the funniest book I own on the recent Avid Readers list. It's also one of the most poignant. Also, cool description of those Toulouse bookstores and the books you found. My wife and I had a really good time there during a visit sometime around a decade ago (actually probably longer ago than that).

helmikuu 23, 5:29 pm

>80 baswood: You took a trip to Toulouse, you say? I immediately thought of this:

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 23, 6:08 pm

The Frederic Brown Megapack
Searching for more science fiction from 1951 I came across Space on my Hands by Frederic Brown. Instead of getting a second hand copy shipped from America I took the easier option of downloading on my kindle the Frederic Brown Megapack of 33 of his short stories, five of which were featured in Space On My Hands. Apparently Brown has attracted a cult following being as popular now as he was when he produced most of his short stories between 1939 and 1964. He wrote mostly science fiction and mystery stories, which found their way into the pulp magazines and later were collected in book form. This is from his wiki page:

According to his wife, Fredric Brown hated to write. So he did everything he could to avoid it. He'd play his flute, challenge a friend to a game of chess, or tease Ming Tah, his Siamese cat. If Brown had trouble working out a certain story, he would hop on a long bus trip and just sit and think and plot for days on end. When Brown finally returned home and sat himself in front of the typewriter, he produced work in a variety of genres: mystery, science fiction, short fantasy, black comedy–and sometimes, all of the above.

His stories typically have a twist at the end, It is all about the story: there is hardly time for character development and so his tales depend on originality, surprise, mystery and in some of the longer ones suspense. All of which Brown handles pretty well. If you were a reader of comic books and magazines in their heyday of the 1950's I think you would always be on the look out for a Frederic Brown story. This collection opens with Arena one of his best which has suspense and a well thought out story: two representatives of equally matched battleship armadas are randomly selected to fight in a hostile environment with an invisible force field between them. Letter to Phoenix is a story that demonstrates that mankind's basic insanity will ensure the survival of the species. There are stories highlighting problems of time travel, others feature mysterious artefacts. I would imagine that many aficionados of these types of stories would guess the twist at the end, but might not have done at the time they were written. I enjoyed most of them and Brown can make you laugh as well as providing food for thought. Little science in the science fiction, as the mood tends to be fantasy but with a dark edge.
Here is one of his very short stories The Sentry:

by Fredric Brown
He was wet and muddy and hungry and cold and he was fifty thousand light-years from home.
A strange blue sun gave light, and gravity, twice what he was used to, made every movement difficult.
But in tens of thousands of years this part of war hadn’t changed. The flyboys were fine with their sleek spaceships and their fancy weapons. When the chips are down, though, it was still the foot soldier, the infantry, that had to take the ground and hold it, foot by bloody foot. Like this damned planet of a star he’s never heard of until they’d landed him there. And now it was sacred ground because the aliens were there too. The aliens, the only other intelligent race in the Galaxy...cruel, hideous and repulsive monsters.
Contact had been made with them near the centre of the Galaxy, after the slow, difficult colonization of a dozen thousand planets; and it had been war at sight; they’d shot without even trying to negotiate, or to make peace.
Now, planet by bitter planet, it was being fought out.
He was wet and muddy and hungry and cold, and the day was raw with a high wind that hurt his eyes. But the aliens were trying to infiltrate and every sentry postwas vital.
He stayed alert, gun ready. Fifty thousand light-years from home, fighting on a strange world and wondering if he’d ever live to see home again.
And then he saw one of them crawling toward him. He drew a bead and fired. The alien made that strange horrible sound they all make, then lay still.
He shuddered at the sound and sight of the alien lying there. One ought to be able to get used to them after a while, but he’d never been able to. Such repulsive creatures they were, with only two arms and two legs, ghastly white skins and no scales.

Come on then who guessed the ending? Good pulp stories from the 1950's and so 3.5 stars.

helmikuu 23, 6:15 pm

>85 RidgewayGirl: Ah Monty Python, that brought back some memories.

helmikuu 23, 6:17 pm

>83 Ameise1: No I have not read that one Ameise 1, but I will look for something by the author in the polar section of my local library.

helmikuu 23, 6:23 pm

>84 rocketjk: So Jerry I seem to remember you saying that in your second hand bookshop your books were carefully shelved according to genre. Your shop was not like one of those in Toulouse where piles of unsorted books leaned precariously against shelves full of books.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 23, 8:09 pm

>89 baswood: You remember correctly. I love visiting the sort of bookstore you're describing in Toulouse, but it would have driven me crazy to run one. :)

helmikuu 24, 1:00 pm

>86 baswood: Ha! No, I hadn’t guessed :-D

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 28, 5:25 pm

La Colère Du Mistral - Jean-Michel Thibaux
Jean-Michel Thibaux (18/4/49 - 16/3/2015) published his first novel in 1983 and since that date published 1/2 books a year until his death in 2015. He was recognised as a regional author in that many of his novels were set in the region of Provence and the city of Marseilles where he lived. La Colère du Mistral is set in Provence in 1930 and part one takes place in the countryside some distance from Marseilles

Colin and André Bastille are two bothers living with their mother (Georgette) in the village scratching their living as farm workers. Georgette is estranged from her husband Gregoire who lives in the big manor house outside of the village with Mathilde his Jewish partner that he met in the North of France. The book opens with the village en fête and Colin and André are fuelling their hatred of their father with plenty of alcohol. They stumble out towards the manor house intent on causing trouble. Gregoire meets them shotgun in hand; their is an altercation and Gregoire has a heart attack. Gregoire's will is due to be read the next week, but a beautiful well dressed woman (Anne) arrives from Marseilles claiming to be Gregoire's daughter. Typically the will leaves the large house to the family, Georgette gets the Manor house and the brothers get much of the best farming land. Mathilde and the family servant Adèle are given a run down cottage and an olive grove. Anne helps her mother and Adèle to fix up the cottage. Not content with her inheritance Georgette stirs up hatred for the "jews" enjoying her new found wealth and position in the towns hierarchy. The second part of the book takes place mainly in Marseilles. Anne is a journalist and needs to secure her position at the newspaper and with her elder lover who is editor of the paper. André has fallen in love with his half sister and moves to Marseilles, meanwhile Anne has met a Corsican young man who works in a soap factory and is involved with gangsters.

The book has many strands which are in the background to the story. There is the hatred of the jews stirred up in the village, the fear of the Germans after the first world war as the villagers hear of the news of the rise of Hitler. There is the easily believed stories of occultism and sorcery amongst the village people and the struggles of bringing an olive grove back into production. In the city there is the economic downturn, the ghettos where the Corsicans live and the underworld of the gangsters who have a foothold in bourgeois society. None of these are developed to any extent as the love story takes precedence. The mistral: the cold wind that blows in the bouche de Rhone for weeks at a time adds to the underlying malevolence in the countryside and Marseilles. 3 stars.

helmikuu 27, 5:24 pm

Fun review. A lot of plot for a half year of writing.

helmikuu 28, 5:16 pm

Poetry and Drama, T S Eliot
This was a lecture delivered by T. S. Eliot at Harvard and published in 1951. It was in memory of his friend Theodore Spencer who was a poet, and a Shakespeare scholar. The first part was a homily to Spencer.

The second part T. S. Eliot makes a case for poetry being better suited to drama than prose. He says that poetry is superfluous if it does nothing to enhance the drama on the stage, however it is best suited to chart the ebb and flow of the action. He is of the opinion that a mixture of poetry and prose should be avoided, because it loses the rhythm and the music of the words in the prose sections. He ends this section with an analysis of the first act of Shakespeare's Hamlet; demonstrating the melodic design of the act, how it is checked and accelerated by the use of verse

In part 3 Eliot talks about his own plays. It is at a time when his play The Cocktail Party was a big hit in New York. Writing in verse allows the dramatist to find his own voice and rhythm and this is what he tried to do in his first play Murder in the Cathedral. He says he was fortunate because it was written to be performed at a festival where there would be plenty of serious people; the play was performed in dress from a bygone age and so the audience were not surprised that they were speaking in verse and It was also a religious festival where people go expecting to be bored. He says he got by even if it did sound too much like Shakespeare. He makes the point that blank verse just sounds odd today. His next attempt was The Family Reunion and although he was happy with some of this he thought the structure was all wrong. He realises that he spent far too much time in Act 1 setting the scene and when the curtain rises in Act 2 he is still providing too much background, by this time the audience expects something to happen and when the action gets going in the final act it all feels rushed. He feels he was more successful with The Cocktail Party; he had sorted out structural problems, but wondered if he had lost some of the poetry. He says writing plays is a learning process and much can be gained with further study of Shakespeare.

He says he hopes that his study of his own plays does not come across as egotism, but will give food for thought to other playwrights. He says there is still the problem of marrying poetry with action, but he feels that it is better suited to the stage than prose. He does not come across as egotistical, but as a writer who sometimes with a wry sense of humour is almost showing the world his dirty linen. Perhaps you are entitled to do this with a hit play doing the rounds. Interesting, well written of course, but I am not sure that he did convince many playwrights to use verse. 3.5

maaliskuu 1, 2:28 pm

Eliot. Can go fly a kite.

maaliskuu 2, 11:22 am

Selected Poems - Fleur Adcock
Fleur Adcock now 89 years old has eighteen collections of poetry behind her and her collected poems were published in 2019. Born in New Zealand she has lived in England during her later years. This selection of her poems was published in 1983 and so is missing all ten subsequent books of poetry. There are 146 poems crammed into 124 pages. I started reading the poems over three years ago and have read them all now, mostly in short bursts. I do think that you need to spend more time with a book of poetry than when reading a novel, but three years is perhaps a bit too long, especially when there are more than 150 poetry books in your TBR.

It was not the difficulty of reading the poems, nor was it a lack of enjoyment that kept me from finishing the selection. The book just kept getting buried under piles of other books. Fleur Adcock's poems will not cause much difficulty for most readers, but some are complex enough to make the reader unsure of an interpretation, a meaning or the tenor of the piece. I found the poems strong on description with frugal use of exotic imagery. Much of her later poetry is in free verse, but some of her earlier work does use rhyming schemes; she uses different stanza forms, choosing them to fit the subject of the poem. She is a poet very aware of the world around her, the natural world in particular, she is inspired by places that she visits and some of the poems are small travelogues: This is from her book Below Loughrigg the lake district in England.

I am the dotted lines on the map
Footpaths exist only when they are walked on.
I am gravel tracks through the woodland; I am
field paths, the muddy ledge by the stream,
the stepping stones. I am the grassy lane
open between waist-high bracken where sheep
fidget. I am the track to the top
Skirting and scaling rocks. I am the cairn

here on the brow of the world I stop,
set my stone face to the wind and turn
to each wide quarter. I am that I am.

She writes about human relationships her own love affairs and about sex. She is pithy about her partners and very aware of her self as a woman. In her poem Against Coupling which vaunts the joys of masterbation; she ends with:

I advise you, then to embrace it without
encumbrance. No need to set the scene,
dress up (or undress), make speeches.
Five minutes of solitude are
enough - in the bath, or to fill
that gap between the Sunday papers and lunch.

She writes about children, she writes about grandparents, she writes about other women, keenly observing people in isolation, her subjects are far and wide, but usually make reference to the natural world. She is skilled in the use of irony and it is this skill that sometimes makes the reader wonder as to how he should read some of the poems. She writes in the first person and much of the poetry makes the reader feel that he is there with her when she is describing what she sees and what she feels, however her strength is as an observer, she is not always concerned with 'the meaning of life'. She can be funny and she can be witty and most of her poems work well. I never felt out of my depth when reading, her poems have a point to them that can readily be understood.

My only criticism is that these 146 poems seem a little cramped in their 124 pages. I think many of the poems would benefit from a little more space around them. I will keep this book handily within reach for a while longer and dip back into its pleasures 4 stars.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 5, 8:24 am

Colette - Claudine at School
The first novel written by Colette was attributed to her husband Willy when it was first published in 1900. Colette later said that her husband Henri Gauthier-Villars (Willy) had found a draft of her first novel and suggested how his wife could improve it, in order to get it published. There is no doubt that "Willy" a notable figure in the literary world would have been able to find a way of publishing the novel, which he did under his own name. The question which remains unanswered is how much input he had in the final text. The novel is largely autobiographical and tells the story of 15 year old Claudine's final year at school. It could only have been written by someone who had experienced that final year and is written in the first person. It reveals the burgeoning sexuality of a young girl eager to launch into a lesbian relationship with a nineteen year old woman and her frustration when the object of her affections is stolen from her by the head teacher. Claudine however is in control of her situation she is learning about life while still involved in all the frivolities of a fifteen year old schoolgirl. This is related with such candour and such pride that the reader feels it could only have been written by Colette.

The book today reads as a light and frothy entertainment with an underlying knowingness of the sexual mores of the time. Claudine is fortunate in going to a village school where the majority of the girls are farmer's daughters. She is intelligent and has a talent for singing, drawing and french composition and her father is a naturalist/scientist certainly belonging to the middle class, therefore Claudine is able to dominate her fellow students and to hold her own with the teachers. Claudine loves the scratchy working village which is surrounded by glorious countryside. She is left very much to her own devices by her father as there is no mother figure in evidence. Apart from arithmetic and problem solving Claudine finds the schoolwork a breeze, especially as she is plundering her fathers library at home; educating herself.

We meet Claudine roaming through the countryside on her way to school and follow her through her lessons. The headmistress has hired a new teacher and a teaching assistant and Colette describes them:

"As for Mademoiselle Sergent, she seemed anything but kindly and I augured ill of that redhead. She has a good figure, with well rounded bust and hips, but she is flagrantly ugly. Her face is puffy and permanently crimson and her nose is slightly snub between two small black eyes deep-set and suspicious......... her assistant the pretty Aimée Lanthenay attracts me as much as her superior repels me......... "Little Mademoiselle Lanthenay, your supple body seeks and demands an unknown satisfaction. If you were not an assistant Mistress at Montigny you might be - I'd rather not say"

Claudine attempts to seduce Aimée, but is eventually rejected when Aimée enters a lesbian relationship with Mademoiselle Sergent. There are two new male teachers hired for the boys school next door, who attract the attention of the elder girls. There are two big events in the book one of which is the 15 year olds matriculation examinations which take place in a town a couple of hours train journey away and Claudine and her close group of friends must endure two days of being examined. This is a fascinating episode that homes in on the trials and tribulations of this two day event. The nervousness of the girls, the characters of the examiners, who stage a one day oral examination and the worry of the teachers who do what they can to help their pupils are all brought to our attention through the eyes of Claudine. The other event is the welcoming committee back in Montigny for a Deputy of the French Senate when the whole village is "en fête" and Claudine has a starring role as a singer and speechmaker at the village school.

The competition between the girls in Claudine's class is intense, tricks are played, physical intimidation is rife and Claudine is master of it all. They try to outdo each other in making themselves attractive and/or seductive. Every new item of clothing, every look, every nuance towards elder girls or men is dissected in the mind of Claudine. She follows meticulously the exchanges between AImée and Mademoiselle Sergent, spying on them when she can. Colette does a marvellous job of placing the reader inside the head of a precocious fifteen year old girl, but she also informs the readers of the situation of those girls, who are dependent on the goodwill of their teachers, but more dependent on the men who might eventually choose them for marriage. They must also tread a fine line with some local dignitaries who might press them for favours or worse.

Colette portrays school and village life in lively fashion. Through Claudine she is amused, sometimes bored by the petty restrictions, but always passionately involved in the life around her. Claudine's forthright expression of her thoughts and feelings are seductive in themselves and her connection with the village and its natural surrounds are well portrayed. The novel pushed heavily by Wily was a success, even a bit of a sensation. Colette said that he encouraged her to spice up her story and no doubt was able to proof read for her; there were three more novels continuing the story. I read an English translation by Antonia White in a penguin edition - 4 stars.

maaliskuu 5, 9:39 am

>97 baswood: Nice review. I had two other, later volumes in the Claudine series. It was never clear to me whether it was fiction or autobiography.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 6, 7:52 pm

Sam Merwin jnr - The House of Many Worlds
More science fiction from 1951 and Sam Merwin's The House of many worlds contained a few surprises. Merwin was an American mystery fiction writer who also crossed over into science fiction; The House of Many Worlds is probably his best known book and is an imaginative plot driven story that rattles along to its conclusion.

Elspeth Marriner poetess and journalist is sent along with photographer Mack Fraser to cover mysterious events along the South Carolina coastline. They are directed to a house on an offshore island which proves to be a gateway to several parallel worlds. The master of the house tells them that they must deliver some important information to a rebel leader to stop a major conflict. They discover an America that has developed differently to their own country; there was a divergence in 1814 and the country to which they have been transported is called the Columbian Republic. They are equipped with a car that can power up to become an aeroplane in a country that has missed out on developing an heavier than air flying machine. This is a bargaining chip that should strengthen the hand of the rebels. The adventure begins when they arrive at the beautiful city of Baton Rouge. The story becomes more complex when a third parallel world must be visited in order to gain access to more technology to avert a catastrophe in the Columbian Republic.

Elspeth Marriner and Mack Fraser are an unlikely couple, but their different skill sets make them a good team and they gradually come to realise that they can work together. The book is subtitled an Elspeth Marriner novel and she is the strongest character, unusual in science fiction from this era. The unlikely couple are helped along the way by Juana from the mystery house who acts as an adviser, with links to the other worlds. Mack Fraser's roughneck approach to life is called into question, but he has his uses as a technical expert and muscle when needed. The novel has a more enlightened view towards racial differences, with Juana saying that the biggest problem in all the parallel worlds is the slow movement towards racial equality. Elspeth falls in love with the black general of the rebel army and one wonders if these viewpoints hindered the popularity of the novel. However let's not get too carried away, because it is an adventure story at the end of the day, easy to read, but perhaps more subtle than some. I enjoyed the story and so 3 stars.

maaliskuu 7, 8:54 am

>80 baswood: >85 RidgewayGirl: My mind went immediately to Ville des Lumières by Astaffort Mods (allegedly "La ville des lumières qu’ont jamais lu de livre"). It ends with the famous words "N’allez jamais à Toulouse / C’est loin et c’est naze" - to be taken with a pinch of salt, of course :-D

Full lyrics here:

maaliskuu 10, 4:44 am

>100 Dilara86: I had not heard or seen those lyrics before.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 10, 4:53 am

Vermeer, Gregor J.M. Weber
This is the catalogue to the Vermeer exposition at the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam which is on this spring with all the tickets having been sold. We have tickets for next week, but with the train strikes happening all over France at the moment we have I think a fifty per cent chance of getting there.
I ordered the catalogue in advance because it is a large coffee table size book of over 300 pages and it will stay on our coffee table.

I was a little disappointed when I received the book to discover that the reproductions of all the photographs are in a dull matt finish, but having read through the catalogue which contains many enlargements of specific areas of the canvases I can understand that this was the best option. There are 37 paintings in the exposition and they are all examined in some detail by the various contributors to the book. I should call it a book rather than a catalogue because the chapters are arranged by various themes that cover the working life of Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675). It starts with a short history of his life with a little of the background and this is followed by a description of the interior of his house. Historians know a lot about this, because shortly after Vermeer's death his wife filed for bankruptcy and there was an inventory made of all her possessions room by room, this document was published for the first time in 1957, therefore we discover that in the attic room upstairs, there were two painting easels: this has led to some conjecture as to whether Vermeer had a pupil. Gregor J. M. Weber then follows with a chapter on the pictorial world of Vermeer, highlighting the innovations that he made and explaining his mastery of perspective.

The following chapters then discuss the paintings in the exposition, starting with the four early historical paintings before moving onto his breathtaking picture of the 'View of Delft'. The chapter entitled 'In Search of the Perfect Illusion of Space' by J.M Weber takes some of Vermeer's early interior scenes examining them in some detail, which is useful in guiding the eye of the reader as to what to look for specifically in the paintings; for example his innovative way of using different thicknesses of paint to emphasise the feeling of space that he attains in his pictures. There is a chapter on the various position of windows and how they brought light into the paintings and how Vermeer used this to make his compositions. There are chapters on the people in the pictures, what they are doing, their relationships to one another, their clothes and possessions and how they are situated in the rooms. There is a discussion on his portraits (Tronies) for example the famous 'Girl with the Pearl Ear Ring'. The final chapter is devoted to another masterpiece 'The Art of Painting'.

All the chapters are preceded by page size reproductions of parts of the painting or sometimes the whole paintings, within the chapters there are smaller productions of other artists works that complement Vermeer or give some insight to his innovations. Various contributors to the book have individual chapters, but apart from some differing opinions on whether Vermeer used a camera obscura or other historical details, the chapters flow together very well. The book is of course aimed at the more general reader, but there is plenty of information, certainly enough to enhance the enjoyment of the paintings. The books starts with smaller reproductions of the 37 works on display and serve as a useful reference. There are no shortages of all Vermeer's work available on the internet and having one of these reproductions to hand while reading the text is very useful. There is of course an extensive bibliography and copious notes at the end of each chapter. The main purpose of a book like this; that purports to be much more than just a catalogue is to inform the reader in preparation for his visit and to provide a keepsake afterwards and I think this book serves that purpose very well. It is not a book to lug around the exposition itself. 5 stars.

maaliskuu 10, 7:11 am

Great review of a gorgeous book, I hope the trains will be running at the time you need to travel—good luck!

maaliskuu 11, 9:18 am

>103 dianelouise100: What Diane said

maaliskuu 11, 10:33 am

>102 baswood: Great review! I’m not planning to see the exhibition but I was vaguely thinking of having a look at the website. And now maybe reading that book.

maaliskuu 12, 9:05 am

>99 baswood: That's a hell of a cover.

>102 baswood: I hope you make it to the Vermeer exhibit, and if you do, please report back. If I were another person living another life, I would have bought tickets and booked a long weekend trip to Amsterdam to see it.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 19, 9:41 am

Just back from a four day trip to Amsterdam to see the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijks Museum. We were fortunate that none of the four trains that we took were cancelled as we had chosen the week where it was predicted there would be social unrest in France due to the Government passing the pensions bill into law. We had one scare when we received an alert on our phones just as we exited the exhibition to say that the French train for the following day was cancelled, however while in Amsterdam we had changed our phones to English language and the translation had missed out a negative. The message should have read the train will not be cancelled. We enjoyed the train journeys which were clean, comfortable, cheap and lightning fast. After having avoided big cities for the last couple of years due to Covid we found ourselves visiting three big cities in four days - Bordeaux, Paris, Amsterdam. We were a little taken aback by the numbers of people surrounding us, especially in Amsterdam, but we soon got used to it.

The tickets for the Vermeer exhibition were timed entrance and when we arrived for our 9.30 slot there was already a large queue and so we expected that the number of people in the exhibition rooms would be considerable. A wing of the museum has been devoted to the 37 pictures on display and although there were usually just one or two pictures on each wall the rooms were still half full of people and so the crowd in front of each picture was four or five deep, but a wait of three to five minutes was enough to be able to edge into the front row, where you could be in touching distance of the paintings. Apart from the four early religious paintings and the large landscape of 'The View of Delft' the canvases are not very large. Many of them must have been brilliantly restored because they shone out as though they had been painted yesterday. The attraction of these 17th century paintings to viewers today is their accessibility. Most of them are interior scenes, showing one, two or three people in a room seemingly going about their everyday business. They are painted with all the accuracy of a photograph, but with the added depth of perspective and the feel for the materials and furnishings that only a good painting can provide. They really do seem to be a snapshot of everyday life. The lighting and positioning of the paintings was exemplary.

The crowds of people in the exhibition were well behaved in the main and considerate to other viewers, no one lingering too long at the front of the queue, however I was amazed by the number of people taking photos on their phones. It seemed to be the main point of the exercise getting in prime position to take the photograph, without really looking at the paintings. I could not see the point as there are many superb reproductions available on the internet. I had to be careful that my overriding impression was not just the views of the paintings on other peoples telephones as they took their pictures.

The day before we saw the Vermeers we had timed tickets for the Van Gogh museum which is the next building in the park and I have to say I enjoyed this experience even more than the Vermeers. Plenty of the artists pictures are on display along with those of his contemporaries and the story of his life and work is very well captured. This is a permanent exhibition and so allows more time and thought for the display and it shows.

'The best painting in the world' claimed our Dutch art historian friend.
Vermeer - View of Delft

maaliskuu 19, 7:00 am

Glad your trip wasn’t cancelled and went well! Yes, it’s amazing how people will go to great efforts to take a crummy picture of a painting that is available online anyway, apparently without taking the time to look at the painting itself. I guess being able to prove that you were there is more important than enjoying the moment.

I chose not to see the Vermeer exhibition because I didn’t fancy facing the crowd, I have seen a couple of these paintings and I know they are very small. Instead I am strolling through the online exhibition with Stephen Fry as my guide.

maaliskuu 19, 7:38 am

>107 baswood: Great you could enjoy the exhibition. I would have loved to go.

Your art historian friend is in tune with Proust, who thought this painting was "la plus belle image du monde" (the most beautiful image of the world).
I remember reading his description of this painting and "le petit pan de mur jaune" (the small yellow wall section, what an awful translation!), when I was in lit class in high school. I don't know why it made such an impression on me, but I remembered looking eagerly for this yellow patch when I saw the painting for the first (and only) time years ago when I visited Den Haag years latter.

And during the same visit, I enjoyed the Van Gogh museum as well!
You make me feel like going to those places once again!

maaliskuu 19, 9:04 am

>107 baswood: I loved travelling with you vicariously through your post. Thank you for the write up. I loved the Van Gogh museum as well. Seeing the Theo-Vincent letters in person made me tear up.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 19, 9:41 am

Philip K Dick - The Man in the High Castle
There are fourteen novels by Philip K Dick in the Science Fiction Masterwork series, totalling now at 193. This 1962 novel was the breakthrough novel for Dick it won the Hugo award in 1963 and was the next one on my list to read. It is an alternative history novel. In Dick's imaginary world; the Germans under Adolph Hitler had won the second world war some fifteen years ago in 1947 and now in 1962 America was suffering under the rule of Nazi Germany and the Imperial state of Japan, both nations having influence in various parts of the USA. Nazi Germany has pushed on with technological developments that has resulted in rockets now able to reach Mars and Venus. They are the most powerful of the two nations that control the rest of the world. American citizens are of a third world status and are trying to come to terms with the struggle to survive under the yoke of the leading two powers.

Dick tells of several American characters attempting to secure a living in these changed times. Robert Childan runs an antique shop in San Francisco which is now part of the Pacific States of America under Japanese Control. He is riding a wave of Japanese interest in American items which were in use before the war: many of the artefacts were destroyed in the war and have become a rarity. He has important Japanese customers who are collectors and he must adapt to their cultural mores as well as securing the items that will satisfy their cravings. Frank Fink who keeps his jewish ancestry secret has recently been fired from his job as a machine tool expert and has recently supplied to Robert Childan a counterfeit colt 44 that he has made in his workshop. He is now going into the business of making modern contemporary American jewellery. Julia Frink the estranged wife of Frank has recently met Joe CInnadella who has promised that he will take her on the trip of her dreams and shows her large bankrolls of money to fund their extravagance. All the characters frequently consult the I-Ching when making decisions and must interpret the weird statements that the I-Ching devines to them. Joe and Julia become avid readers of a novel that is sweeping America called 'The Grasshopper lies Heavy' by Hawthorne Abendsen which tells of an alternate history which bears more resemblance to our own history for example in the 'Grasshopper lies Heavy' the allies won the second world war and America became the most powerful country. Abendsen is the Man in the High Tower and Julia becomes suspicious that Joe is an assassin who is using his relationship with her as cover so that he can murder Abendsen.

If this sounds complicated then I can vouch for it being even more complicated because throughout the novel references are made to the history of the German victory in the second world war and the subsequent progroms carried out by the Nazi's that resulted from it. At the current time of the novel there is a power struggle going on in Berlin. Martin Boorman who succeeded Hitler has recently died and Joseph Goebbels is launching a bid for power with the prospect of more ethnic cleansing with his project Dandelion. Agents from the Nazis are meeting Japanese officials as part of the power struggle. Americans are standing helplessly by, hoping that a more liberating clique seizes power in Berlin, but are hedging their bets with the officials with whom they come into contact. Of course a story as complicated as this will have plot holes, but this is science fiction where plot holes are almost de rigueur. Dick's characterisation is good for this genre and there is little evidence of racism and misogyny from the hands of the author. It is dark, it is a little weird, but Dick creates an atmosphere that can grip the reader right to the end of the story, even in a story like this one, that is open ended. 4 stars.

maaliskuu 19, 10:18 am

>107 baswood: however I was amazed by the number of people taking photos on their phones. It seemed to be the main point of the exercise getting in prime position to take the photograph, without really looking at the paintings. I could not see the point as there are many superb reproductions available on the internet. I had to be careful that my overriding impression was not just the views of the paintings on other peoples telephones as they took their pictures.

dont get this either. First the constant flashing cant be good for the painting but really, use your eyes to see.Its not just at museums; go to beaches and see people doing nothing but taking pics I remember our camera broke on our honeymoon ( back in the day when getting it fixed or a replacement was not easy) we still havve visuals of an amazing sunset off of Ragged Point in Ca. Enjoy what you are seeing, relax, take time to take it all in, no matter where you are,

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 19, 11:37 am

Nicholas Blake - The Dreadful Hollow
Published in 1953 this is the 10th book in the detective novel series featuring Nigel Strangeways. After reading the selected poems of Cecil Day-Lewis I wondered how his detective novels would read, under his pseudonym of Nicholas Blake. The short answer is that this one was an entertaining read.

Nigel Strangeways is a private investigator and is hired by a financier Sir Archibald Blick to travel down to his village in Dorset where he is the major landowner. Blick has been informed that a vicious series of poison pen letters has been unleashed, causing a suicide in the village. He has two sons Charles and Stanford living in the village and in the past there had been a nasty incident between the Blick's and the other wealthy family the Chantmerle's. In part one of the book Strangeways easily solves the mystery of who sent the poison pen letters, but when Sir Archibald Blick comes down in person to receive Nigel's report he is promptly murdered. In part 2 Strangeways assists the police in solving the murder.

The writing is good and the characterisation is excellent. Blake painstakingly describes the village and all the interviews with the characters. There are plenty of instances of summing up the story so far, for those readers who have not been paying attention. I suppose many veterans of mystery stories would solve this case even before Strangeways makes the big reveal. It is of course very 1950's British and Blake does a good job in creating an atmosphere of mystery. There is no suspense and everybody behaves quite well, but I enjoyed it all and would quite happily read another in the series. 3 stars.

maaliskuu 20, 3:06 pm

It sounds as though you had a great visit to Amsterdam, Barry. I assume that you took a Thalys train from Paris Gare du Nord to Amsterdam Station Centraal? I've ridden Thalys trains several times between Amsterdam and either Bruxelles Midi or Lille, and they are comfortable and fast.

Amsterdam is chock full of great museums. Oddly enough I still haven't been to the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum, but I liked the Museum Stedelijk (modern art), which IIRC is adjacent to the Van Gogh Museum, along with the Amsterdam Museum, the Joods Historisch Museum (Jewish history), and the Verzetsmuseum (Dutch resistance).

maaliskuu 20, 5:26 pm

>114 kidzdoc: Yes Daryl we took the Thalys train from Gare du Nord. The fastest train was the SNCF train from Bordeaux to Paris in 2 hours and 6 mins - a distance of 630 kms.

maaliskuu 20, 7:32 pm

>111 baswood: the translation had missed out a negative. The message should have read the train will not be cancelled.
Oops. Glad the bad translation worked out in a positive direction, at least. And wow, that exhibition sounds lovely.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 23, 8:07 pm

Un été sans alcool - Bernard Thomasson
A summer without alcohol; was this possible? It was the next book on the library shelf and proved to be a very good story that picks again at the issues of collaboration with the Nazi invaders during the second world war.

69 years old Charles is the first to tell the story. He lives in Paris in some opulence, having sold the family business to set himself up in some style for the rest of his life. He is now an alcoholic surviving by relying on his chauffeur and maid to get him through each day. His world was turned upside down on his 21st birthday when his parents who had always been a bit distant revealed that he was not their son. His mother had died giving birth to him in 1944 and his father was probably a member of the resistance group who were annihilated by the Germans just outside the French town of Brive-la- Gaillarde. Charles on one of his walks through a public park in Paris is robbed by a gang of young girls, no one comes to his aid, and he is left wounded on the ground, but a young black guy chases after the robbers and retrieves Charles' expensive watch and helps Charles back on his feet before zooming off. Charles tracks the young man down who lives in a poor Paris suburb.

Matt the young man resumes the story. He becomes friends with Charles and wants to help him to stop drinking. Charles overcome by Matts kindness thinks of a way to help the young man and knowing his interest in History employs him to help him look for evidence of his parents. Matt agrees if Charles will stop drinking and they head down to Brive-la-Gaillarde to start their search. Interspersed with the story are love letters written by Charle's mother Angele during the war addressed only to Cheri. Their research leads them to meet relatives of the two lovers who are themselves living in denial to what happened in Brive, because the resistant group were betrayed by a collaborator and the surviving relatives were dealt with harshly at the wars end. Matt uncovers evidence that Charles father could have been the leader of the resistance group or he could have been the 'Collabro' The story twists and turns until the end.

The story raises the issues that french people faced during the invasion, but in addition to this; actions that they wanted to stay hidden and the effect of these on their children, who may or may not know how their parents survived during the war. It is a good story, mainly plot driven, but the leading characters are well drawn. It would resonate with many readers today whose parents or grandparents would have had to deal with the invasion. Questions are raised as to what would you do in similar situations.

The author Bernard Thomasson is a journalist and radio presenter and has based his imaginary story on a real events in Brive-la-galliard during the war:

Le 11 novembre 1943, les 42 membres du camp de l'Armée Secrète de La Besse défilent à Sainte-Féréole. Quatre jours plus tard, ils sont dénoncés et leur camp était encerclé par des troupes allemandes. Dix-huit maquisards sont tués et huit déportés. les seize autres réussissent à se sauver. Laval envoie 4 000 GMR supplémentaires pour aider les troupes et policiers allemands à ratisser la région.

Some events are a little detached from reality to make the story work and the resolution is neatly tidied up. All the same I enjoyed the read and could easily identify with the characters and so 3.5 stars.

maaliskuu 23, 9:05 pm

>107 baswood: The taking of pictures of painting mystifies me, too. It's not like the gift shop isn't full of postcards and prints of those same paintings that are of a far higher quality than a cell phone will manage. And there is always the exhibition catalog, which is a wonderful way to revisit the art and learn more about it.

maaliskuu 24, 12:26 am

They don't always have postcards or prints of every piece in the museum, though. And even if you're not in the picture you're taking, there's something personal about it, a reminder that you were there.

maaliskuu 24, 4:21 am

I'm with Keith. First off, assuming they're not infringing on my experience, I like to let people enjoy things however they'd like to enjoy them. And secondly, I have and do take pictures of things in museums sometimes. I usually can't afford to buy a catalog, and sometimes not even the postcards. Plus, postcards serve different purposes for me; I buy postcards to send to other people. I'm not buying postcards to put up on the wall, and I'm also not taking my photos to put up on the wall. I'm taking photos of what catches my eye while I'm there, just like I take photos of other things in my day that catch my eye. On this day I was here, and this is what I saw.

maaliskuu 24, 6:22 am

>117 baswood: The story seems interesting and nuanced: I'll see if my library has a copy.

The author Bernard Thomasson is a journalist and radio presenter
I knew the name sounded familiar!

maaliskuu 24, 8:13 am

I sometimes take photos of work to remind myself that I want to look up something about it, or track it down online—most gift shops don't have an extensive selection of postcards from any given show and I don't always want to spring for the catalog. I've also noticed a few exhibits encouraging people to look at miniatures, or detailed pieces, through their phone cameras for magnification—the Hans Holbein the Younger exhibit at the Morgan Library was one I saw last summer like that and it really did make a difference in being able to view some of his intensely intricate work.

That said, I don't love people all standing in front of a particular work in a crowded exhibit with their cameras up. Click and move on if that's what you're doing! But then when do people ever do anything in an orderly way...

maaliskuu 24, 8:17 am

Sometimes, I take photos on my phone in a museum as a way of keeping track of my favorite pieces. It's quicker than writing down the names in my pocket notebook, and involves much less risk of dropping things and causing a ruckus.

maaliskuu 24, 9:13 am

my problem with taking photos in a museum, besides the bothersome flasing in others eyes, is the danger of damaging or destroying a piece of art. Never understood why this was allowed, but guess its the way it is now

maaliskuu 24, 9:18 am

>124 cindydavid4: I think all museums forbid using flashes on phone or regular cameras. I've seen people escorted out for that.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 24, 5:23 pm

Bullard of the Space Patrol - Malcolm Jameson
Published in 1951 this collection of nine stories feature lieutenant Bullard in the first story, but we leave him as Grand Admiral in the final one. These short science fiction tales appeared in the pulp magazine Astounding Stories from April 1940 through to December 1945 - the so-called golden age of science fiction.

The stories are based around the spaceships that house the Space Patrol and are mainly of the problem solving variety. Bullard is a very competent engineer and captain who inspires loyalty in his crew. In his first story 'Admirals Inspection', he is new to the crew having been recruited from a cargo carrying vessel. The two day test involves a flight towards the planet Venus and there is fierce competition amongst the crews to perform best. A chemical reaction knocks out all the senior officers and Bullard must use his engineering skills to bring the spaceship back to earth and win the plaudits from the Admiral. In the next story 'White Mutiny' Bullard is a commander who is suffering with his crew working under a captain who does everything by the rule book, even when his procedures are fostering mutiny. Bullard must find a way of turning the tables on his captain.

Malcolm Jameson was an officer in the navy before he started writing science fiction. Probably an engineering background led him to think of a space ship being like an ocean going ship with similar problems. He enhanced the weaponry, the guidance systems based on engineering principles to make it read like an early attempt at hard science fiction. There is hardly an alien in sight and when in the weakest story "Blockade Runner" Jamesons tells a far fetched story of running an alien blockade the story does not work so well. I liked the story Slackers Paradise where the sons of wealthy men serve their time in the service in an old spaceship which has the duty of protecting Wall street from aerial attack. Commander Bullard is not a million miles from being an early pro-to type for Captain James T. Kirk as he runs his crew and spaceship like one sees in the Enterprise.

There is nothing very original here and nine of these stories back to back is a bit of overkill, there is a lack of characterisation and the tales plod a little as the denouement is more often than not achieved by some weird scientific invention. No harm done though and so 2.5 stars.

maaliskuu 25, 8:31 pm

Simon Armitage - Kid
How do you evaluate a collection of poems? Perhaps rate each poem and then work out some sort of average, but what about the individual poems that really grab you, how do these effect your evaluation of the collection as a whole. Rating a collection of poems is similar to trying to come to some conclusion when considering a collection of short stories: there are usually some that you like more than others, but if you work with averages they are likely to lower your overall rating. You will probably never be able to rate a collection 5 out of 5. Simon Armitage's Kid is a collection of 47 poems and I found six of them that I rated at 5, but there were many that just bubbled under at 4, however when I read these again I found that I liked some of them as much as I liked those that I had rated as 5.

I do not read poems in the same way as I read novels or stories. I like to give them time, to sit with them for a little. I always read them at least three times each and usually no more than 3/4 at one sitting. In literature classes in school, poems can be analysed in great depth, I tend not to do this now, hoping that my experience in reading will be enough to appreciate the poem in some way or another. It is easier these days with google to hand, to look up references or the meaning of words and I usually take the time to do this. I have got out of the habit of reading collections of contemporary poetry and now realise the difficulty in writing about them.

Kid was published in 1992 and it was Armitage's second collection. His first collection Zoom had been a great success and since those early days he has succeeded in becoming the poet laureate. There is great variety in this collection, but some general themes do emerge. The poems are rooted in working class life in Northern England. Many of them tell individual stories of the quotidian of daily life, relationship problems, loutish behaviour, they can be amusing and witty, but they do not look up to the wealthy classes or down to the people in poverty. Many of them are right on target they seem to hit the right note. Another theme is that they can suddenly become quite strange, they can throw the reader a curve. Apart from the Robinson poems (more later) they are not difficult to understand, no obscure references, but this does not mean that they do not puzzle the reader or make him think as to where the poet has been heading. Many of the poems are in free verse, but there are some end and internal rhymes and they look and feel like poems, they are good to read aloud.

Armitage loves a metaphor and sometimes these feel more like clichés or platitudes. I am sure that the poet is having fun with these. The poem 'Judge Chutney's final summary' piles up one metaphor on top of another: the thread of a story, thrown the wheat out with the chaff, and then he mixes the metaphors; winnowed a baby from its bath, hauled in a line of enquiry, letting the tail fit the punishment. There is a poem titled 'Never mind the quality' and the first line reads feel the width. This poem is typical of many it tells of a woman scraping wallpaper in preparation for decorating a room. She luckily manages to grab an end and the whole lot comes off the wall in one piece ;

then took it in hand
and simply she used
her own weight, leant right out
like a wind-surfer rounding
the tip of Cape Horn
and it came
and kept coming, breathtaking,
like a seam of ore
through an unclaimed mountain -
from the skirting board
to the picture rail
from the door frame
to the bay window.

The woman becomes a celebratory in the town, stories are told, the wallpaper gets bigger, the menfolk have to take over the household chores while the women chat about the event.

The mysterious figure of Robinson appears in several poems. He is a ghost like observer, not quite real and is introduced in the poem 'Looking for Weldon Kees' This is where Google comes in handy as Weldon Kees was a cult figure in the world of poetry. A Californian poet who disappeared leaving his shoes on the Golden Gate Bridge. He wrote a series of poems featuring Robinson a displaced ghost of a person in modern society; a twilight figure, Armitage takes up this theme with his series featuring Robinson.

Armitage writes poems about a gang of thieves operating at a football match (Brassneck). A couple having to live with their in-laws (Wintering Out). A young girl who cannot remove an irritant in her eye (At Sea), Kid the title poem is the story of Robin dumping Batman because he wants to grow up. These poems are based in realism, but more often than not squirm away into something more mysterious. I love the poem simply entitled Song which has the theme of 'the way of things in the natural world.' Armitage can write beautifully about the natural world and man's place in it.

Lets forget about all those complications of working out ratings for this collection and give it 5 stars and finish with another great poem.

Speaking Terms

This is not the blanket of night,
It is a poor advert for it.

Through the action of the wind
The clouds appear slashed, longwise,
into rough black shapes, like the remnants
of a poster stripped from a window.

We must be driving west because
the furthest hilltop cuts a broken line
against the fading light. Picturesque,
a talking point, except

words being what they are
we wouldn't want to loose the only sense
we can share in: silence.
I could say the clouds

are the action of our day
stopped here to evidence
the last four hundred miles
like a mobile, hardly moving.

But I ask you the time
and you tell me, in one word, precisely.

maaliskuu 26, 2:57 am

Love that last one. You’re right that poems should be read slowly, several times. I rarely take the time to do that and I’m sure it’s a mistake.

That last poem. There’s a whole story in there, but it’s up to us to imagine it.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 27, 11:09 am

Georges Simenon - Maigret et la Grande Perche.
Simenon published nine books in 1951; Five of them starred Commissaire Maigret of the police judiciaire de Paris. It is a heatwave in Paris during August and many of the staff of the PJ are away on holiday and Maigret pretty much has the place to himself. A large lady (Le Grande Perche) steps into his office and he recognises her from a case he worked some 17 years ago. She is now the partner of Alfred-le-Triste who has gone missing. Alfred is a notorious safe breaker and while cracking a safe in a large house he was surprised to see a dead body of a female, he panicked and left his tools behind. He is now in hiding and Le Grande Perche fears for his life. Maigret believes the story and starts an investigation. There is no trace of a body or a crime scene when he visits the house which is occupied by a dentist and his elderly mother, but Maigret is convinced there has been foul play.

Characterisation is important in this story and Guillaume Serre the dentist is well portrayed. He looks like a bigger version of Maigret himself (and that is big) and the story develops into a battle of wills between the two men. When Maigret finally calls him into the PJ for an interview in his office, it becomes a marathon session with Maigret's pipe smoking and Guillaume Serre smoking cigars, they end up by hardly being able to see each other. Maigret has to get up to open the window despite the heatwave. Inspector Janvier is around to do the leg work and madame Maigret puts in an appearance sitting downstairs on the terrace of the Brasserie Dauphine while her husband goes back and forth to his office. She wonders whether the four or five calvados that he drinks with her, will affect his work. When Maigret arrives for a steak-out of the dentists house, he sits in the restaurant opposite the large house and does not miss his aperitifs. It's all a bit different from the TV series Engrenage (2005-2020) where the team are usually huddled in the back of a van in the poor suburbs of Paris and must piss in a waterbottle.

The story is up to the usual standards of Simenon's police tales and although it is not difficult to guess the outcome, all the fun is in the getting there. Charming and 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 31, 10:51 am

Shakespeare - Richard II
I find it exciting to pick up a Shakespeare play that I have not read before and Richard II proved to be a straightforward read. Let me explain: my modus operandi with Shakespeare is to read through the play in one sitting if possible and then note down any thoughts. I will then read the introduction and any notes or commentaries before reading through the play again at a slower pace. I finish off by watching a video performance of the play (usually a BBC production). On my first reading I was surprised how easy it was to follow the story. It is a history play and Shakespeare although reorganising and adapting the historical facts still tells a recognisable story of the latter part of Richard's reign and Bolingbroke's seizing of the crown. Other first impressions were that the heightened language that Richard and others use reminded me of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II or even Tamburlaine. It is a political play, perhaps the most political play I have read so far and its major theme is the divine right of kings. There is only a little light relief from the tragedy of the unfolding story. There are no prose passages and plenty of poetry in the iambic pentameter. The play is usually dated at 1595 and would seem to be a thoroughly professional job, by a playwright who had learnt his craft.

On to the commentaries and notes of which there were plenty, being from the Arden Collection of plays. There is certainly enough here to explain and enhance the enjoyment. I also had in my library a copy of MAXnotes from the Research & Education Association's collection of study guides, I had previously not read any of these and found it concise and easy to read. It summarises the play scene by scene and provides a good analysis of the themes and story as it goes along. It stars with a very useful introduction on Shakespeares language and was a useful back-up to the Introduction and notes in the Arden publication. I usually spend some time researching on the internet for different aspects or views, but found much of this to be superfluous for this play. I felt I really did not need to know anymore to the information to hand.

The editors of the Arden Shakespeare of course talk up the play that they have been asked to edit, but I have to agree with Charles R Forker who says:

"Its unusual formality of structure and tone as well as the impressive eloquence of its style seems to have been crafted to express the mystique of kingship more emphatically than any of the earlier histories, without neglecting a subtle handling of its major action........................In the character of Richard, Shakespeare achieved a higher degree of psychological complexity than he had yet managed in tragedy"

Forker goes on to say that Richard II is now regarded as one of the greatest of Shakespeares histories, with over 3000 books/commentaries written about it, which means that you could spend any amount of time reading about other peoples research or views if you wished.

Shakespeare starts the play with the confrontation between Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk and Henry Bolingbroke in front of King Richard II. They accuse each other of being traitors to the king. Richard cannot settle the dispute and so they agree to a trial by combat. At the very last moment before the lethal joust Richard stops the contest and exiles them both. Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke who has family connections to the king for six years. Richard lives a dissolute lifestyle spending much money on his friends and hangers on, he decides to lead an army to quell a revolt in Ireland, but the treasury is nearly empty. He raises money by enforced loans on the English nobility and by the sequestration of land and property from Bolingbroke who has inherited his fathers estates, the wealthy John of Gaunt. While Richard is in Ireland Henry Bolingbroke with a host of titled followers lands in the North of England and soon attracts more support including eventually the Duke of York who Richard has entrusted with guarding his kingdom whilst he is in Ireland. Richard arrives back in England after a successful campaign to find that his army has been let go and his court favourites have fled or been executed by Bolingbroke. He is powerless and Bolingbroke looks for a way to seize power by persuading Richard to abdicate in his favour. Richard is forced to agree and becomes Bolingbroke's (now Henry IV) prisoner. Richard is murdered in Pontefract castle.

In Plantagenet England kingly succession was more often than not a tricky business, because of disputes over birthrights, however in this instance Shakespeare's focus is on a direct usurpation which brings starkly into question the divine right of kings. Richard claimed amid popular contention that he was appointed by God to rule England, still a feudal state at this time (mid 14th century) and so Richard supported by the clergy has an indisputable right to govern as he sees fit and he makes this case throughout the play. For political reasons Bolingbroke is able to lead a successful revolt, but cannot rule in security until the old king is dead. Shakespeare's skill here is in leading his audience firstly to admire Richards kingly qualities in settling a difficult dispute and then to turn them against the king when they see his unjust behaviour, to the noble families and particularly Bolingbrook. Unjust, vindictive behaviour or a politician indulging in realpolitik it's difficult to decide. However sympathies are swayed back to Richard when he is devastated by the loss of his kingship. Watching the BBC production I thought that Richard got what was coming to him, despite his tragic circumstances, but in Elizabethan England where the idea of the divine right of kings was almost sacrosanct, Shakespeares arguments brilliantly portrayed by Richard would have swayed many people to feel the tragedy of his final months.

The play is notable for its poetry and word play. There are some impressive speeches, for example John of Gaunt's patriotic 'sceptered Isle' speech or Richards 'hollow crown' speech. There are many such as these, even the assistant gardener can get in on the act:

"Why should we in the compass of a pale
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea walled garden, the whole land
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit trees all unpruned, her hedges ruined
Her knots disordered and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars."

He is talking about the state of England under Richard's kingship and the caterpillars are the kings flattering supporters. We know this about the caterpillars because one of Bolingbroke's followers has already referred to Richards' flatterers as caterpillars. This is an example of the unity of Shakespeares vision and poetry in this play, which has patterns and themes interweaved throughout, for example: the idea of blood which stands for family and murder, the tears and weeping which show emotion, images of blots stains and poison, the powerful image of the mirror where Richard examines his dual identity of man and divine monarch, the idea of people and things which can be sweet or sour according to the wheel of fortune.

A Shakespeare play then that can hardly be faulted and one that has a unity of vision making it a delight to follow to the end. The character development of both Ricard II and Bolingbroke adds real depth and so 5 stars.

maaliskuu 31, 7:21 pm

Thank you for that fabulous review of Richard II, Barry. I've not seen it, but I'll make it my business to do so as soon as I can.

maaliskuu 31, 10:09 pm

>131 kidzdoc: excellent review! I read it in Hs and have seen a few production, always like it

huhtikuu 1, 9:45 am

>130 baswood: I haven't read that one either, though I'm a big fan of the Arden Richard III. Thanks for the good review!

huhtikuu 1, 9:58 am

>130 baswood: All I can say is "wow". Great review and a reminder that I should get back to Shakespeare after moving geographically away from my group. Richard II was the play they read my first year away, and I had been looking forward to it, so a good place to pick up again.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 1, 11:35 am

Owen Dodson - When Trees were Green
Searching through publications of books in 1951 I came across Boy at the Window by Owen Dodson. he was an American poet, novelist and playwright. He was one of the leading African-American poets of his time, associated with the generation of black poets following the Harlem Resistance. James V Hatch has explained that Dodson 'is the product of two parallel forces - the Black experience in America with its folk and urban routes, and a classical humanist education. He had two novels published two collections of poetry and several one act plays. If LibraryThing's information is to be believed then he is widely forgotten now, with only 6 people having this, his first novel in their library.

When Trees were Green renamed in paperback Boy in the Window is thought to be largely biographical. Dodson was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and we first meet Coin the hero of his book as a nine year old boy coming to terms with a world that is full of smells and colours. He is an imaginative boy growing up in a poor black family in a mixed neighbourhood. His families social life is based around the Baptist church, his father is a deacon. Coin is not at all streetwise trying to find out for himself how he should live his life. Over half of the novel is his close relationship with his mother whose health is failing due to a series of strokes. He does not realise that she is dying and thinks only about her getting well. His mother Naomi has had nine children five of which have survived and live at home; Coin is the youngest.

We look at the world through the eyes of Coin and feel his struggle in making sense of his existence. He spills ink on his clothes at school and rushes home in a panic knocking over a boy of his own age in his haste. The mother of the boys shouts 'nigger' after him and Coin tries to find out what that means, he comes to the conclusion it must mean a bad person. Mrs Quick comes every few days to help his mother; rubbing oils into her skin to try and ease her paralysis she persuades Naomi that she should visit a faith healer. Meanwhile Coin steps up when called in church to become one of the faithful, his only thought is to pray for his mother. When Naomi dies her husband although he is poor insists on a large funeral. Coin is devastated by all the people congregated in his house and his emotions are torn between the rising up of spirits engendered by the preaching community and his own feelings of not being part of it. After his mothers death the oldest daughter Agnes must take on the role of bringing up the kids and she is relieved when uncle Starr turns up to to offer Coin a place to live. Uncle Starr is blind and Coin will be useful to him. Coin travels on a bus when a white man shouts at the 'darkies' at the back to shut up. Coin is amazed to see one of the women march up to the man to confront him. Whilst staying with uncle Starr he meets Ferris a boy a year older than him and falls in love.

We leave Coin at this point, still with much to learn and still not knowing how to make his way in the world. Owen Dodson writes well and convincingly about a young poor black boy's early experiences. Coin is sensitive and his sense of the world through colours, smells and imagery adds to his portrayal of a youth searching for a way forward. How to grow up, how to cope with the sensitive part of his nature. Dodson nuanced depiction of family life amongst a baptist family and then Coins escape from an overburdened older sister into a different sort of life with Uncle Starr is lively and intense. Dodson wrote a second novel in 1967 called Come Home early Child which is said also to be autobiographical and I am tempted with his first poetry collection Powerful Long Ladder 4 stars.

huhtikuu 1, 11:42 am

>130 baswood: and >135 baswood: are both great reviews. I am tempted to read both, or at least to try and find a video of Richard II. Boy at the Window sounds very interesting but is probably not available as an ebook.

huhtikuu 1, 12:19 pm

>135 baswood: Great review of an entirely intriguing book. Thanks.

huhtikuu 1, 7:36 pm

>136 FlorenceArt: When trees were Green is available free on archive organisation which is a sort of internet library:

huhtikuu 2, 3:08 am

>138 baswood: Thanks! I’ll have to look that up. I wasn’t aware until recently that had a lending library.

huhtikuu 2, 7:40 am

>135 baswood: Interesting find, Barry.

huhtikuu 3, 4:05 am

Georges Simenon - Un Noël de Maigret
Published in 1951 this little book ends with Simenon signing Carmel by the sea (California) mai 1950 it is not only a beach read, but was probably written on the beach. You would not be in danger of getting sunstroke as this detective story is all finished in under 100 pages. Nevertheless for lovers of Maigret it would not disappoint.

Maigret wakes up on Christmas morning anxious to get out of bed. Looking out of the window of his Paris apartment he sees two ladies come out of the building on the opposite side of the road and head for the concierge of his apartment, he has a feeling that they are going to pay the famous commissaire a visit. He listens to a strange story told by one of the ladies 7 year child that she had been visited by father Christmas and that he had removed a couple of floorboards, so that he could visit the children in the apartment below. Maigret takes the story seriously and after questioning the women is convinced a crime has been committed. He rings up his minions in the JP and has them working overtime to gather information that will help him solve the mystery.

It is a mystery detective story with a Christmas spirit, nobody gets hurt and everybody gets treated to drinks in Maigrets apartment during the festive day that it takes him to solve the crime. Mme Maigret has to cope with many visitors to the apartment as she tries to cook dinner plotting a way to the kitchen so as not to disturb her husband whilst he organises his staff to do the legwork. He does cross the road to talk to the little girl in the apartment opposite, but does not need to go to his office. Good fun and 3 stars.

huhtikuu 3, 12:12 pm

Fabulous review of Boy at the Window, Barry. I thought I knew all of the major writers of the Harlem Renaissance, but Owen Dodson is completely unfamiliar to me! Thanks for mentioning; I'll register with the site and borrow this book from there.

huhtikuu 4, 7:34 am

Graham Greene - The end of the Affair
Published in 1951 Graham Greene's The end of the Affair is a book that evokes that epoch in a London suburb, just at the end of the war. Greene talks about the common which is in fact Clapham common a place I used to know well and perhaps its main theme is an adulterous affair a situation I also know well and so I felt right at home with this book. The quality of the writing astounded me as soon as I started reading, but perhaps that was because of all the 1951 science fiction books I have been reading recently. The major themes of adultery and catholic faith, which caused something of a scandal at the time of publication, may not appear so relevant in the 21st century, but the thoughts and feeling of the characters involved remain as vivid as when the book first hit the streets.

Having said that the quality of the writing, characterisation and setting are superb, there are many other things that make this novel, worth stepping back to appreciate. Greene writes this novel in the first person. Bendrix (Greene?) is a novelist living from his royalties and advances from his publishing company. Bendrix has an affair with Sarah who is married to Henry a high flying civil servant, Greene in real life had an affair with Lady Catherine Walston who refused to leave her husband because of her catholic faith and Greene deliberately merges himself with his central character to the effect that it is not clear at times who is speaking. It is like he is taking authorial intervention to another level, mixing some stream of conscious techniques, with flashbacks, but never losing sight of the story; for example this could be Greene or Bendrix talking:

"When young one builds up habits of work that one believes will last a lifetime and withstand any catastrophe. Over twenty years I have probably averaged five hundred words a day for five days a week. I can produce a novel in a year, and that allows time for revision and the correction of the typescript. I have always been very methodical and when my quota of work is done, I break off even in the middle of a scene."

At other times Bendrix confesses that he is having trouble with bringing one of his characters to life in his latest novel and one immediately thinks of Richard Smythe in this novel; an atheist Hyde Park Corner speaker who Sarah visits from time to time, or perhaps the catholic priest who always has the right answer to questions of faith.

Using the first person technique enables Greene to pour into his writing all the needs, the worries, the ego, questions of identity, and lust of a man who falls in love and hates himself and his lover for the situation in which he finds himself. Bendrix is all too human, his actions at times are not those of a considerate human being, but he knows this and refuses to stop himself; because he is in love; Bendrix says to Richard Smythe; lovers aren't reasonable are they:

‘Can you explain away love too?’ I asked. ‘Oh yes,’ he said. ‘The desire to possess in some, like avarice: in others the desire to surrender, to lose the sense of responsibility, the wish to be admired. Sometimes just the wish to be able to talk, to unburden yourself to someone who won’t be bored. The desire to find again a father or a mother. And of course under it all the biological motive.’

Bendrix has a love/hate relationship with Henry the husband of Sarah, he is intensely jealous of Henry's fortune in being able to share his life with Sarah, although he knows that their relationship is now platonic. Of course writing in the first person does not give Green insights into Sarahs real thoughts and feelings until later on in the novel when he gets sight of her personal diary.

At this stage in Greene's life and work, his flirtation with catholicism was almost all consuming and so when writing in the first person in a semi-autobiographical style in this novel, there is no surprise when a catholic priest enters the story. His words and advice get in the way of Bendrix needs, he becomes a frustration and Bendrix cannot understand his faith and influence on Sarah. It is a dichotomy that looms large at the end of the novel as it does in many of Greene's books and makes this novel personal to the author. There is also something supernatural that hovers over this story, taking it out of the realism that serves for much of the book. It is this supernatural element that did not quite ring true for me and somehow dated the novel, in not a good way.

It is a book that I could not put down and when this happens I find that I probably read a little too quickly. However having read many of Greene's novels I am hoping I did not miss too much. 4.5 stars.

huhtikuu 4, 8:04 am

>143 baswood: Thanks for a great review! I read this novel, probably sometime early ‘70’s, and after your comments, I realize that I remember almost nothing of it. Time for a reread, and I’ve added it to the TBRR list.

huhtikuu 4, 10:02 am

Fabulous review of The End of the Affair, Barry. I'll definitely read it sometime in the near future.

I took this picture of Clapham Common in September 2019, when Paul Harris (Polaris-), his partner at the time, and I met on a lovely Sunday afternoon:

huhtikuu 4, 3:55 pm

very interesting; I have not read anything by Greene, perhaps I need to start withthis

huhtikuu 4, 4:20 pm

>145 kidzdoc: Nice picture of Clapham Common

huhtikuu 4, 4:59 pm

Enjoyed your review of a great book that still stands up on rereading.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 5, 11:11 am

Sax Rohmer - Sumuru (The slaves of Sumuru)
Pulp fiction writer Sax Rohmer is better known for his Fu Manchu series of books, but he also wrote a further five book series staring Sumuru whose mission was to ensure that women ruled the world. This 1951 edition is the second book in the series and tells of Sumuru's attempts to ferment a take over in America.

The slaves of Sumuru are the most beautiful women in America who are under the power of sorceress and criminal mastermind Sumuru. Rohmer drafted in Drake Roscoe from the Fu Manchu series to thwart Sumuru's ambitions, but with her powers of seduction never known to fail, Roscoe is always on the back-foot. The interesting part of this nonsense is the idea of these beautiful women breeding a future race dedicated to the glorification of women. Sumuru claims that her people failed to stop Hitler, but managed to put obstacles in his way, she wants to outlaw ugliness and abolish war. In her female dominated world only men with great brains or physical beauty would be kept for breeding purposes. If this all sounds like a weird adventure story with added doses of titillation then this is not far from the actuality. It certainly could have been better written and made less confusing. Rohmer did his best with the titillation, and does manage to create some atmosphere of voluptuous abandon, but was probably hampered by 1950's conventions.

She escapes the clutches of the American secret service with some ease so that she can appear in the next novel where she claims she is heading behind the iron curtain; I wont be following her. 2.5 stars.

huhtikuu 5, 11:32 am

>149 baswood: You gotta love those books just for the covers.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 8, 4:41 pm

Orson Scott Card - Speaker for the Dead.
It is ten years since I read Ender's Game and so I am a bit late in getting to the second book in the series: Speaker for the Dead; published in 1986. It is generally a well liked novel with over 200 reviews and won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. I was not disappointed as Orson Scott Card has come up with another scenario that fires the imagination. There was a moment in Enders Game when we learnt the secrets behind the alien invasion and it was genuinely surprising and had been skilfully fashioned in the lead up to the big reveal. Card does it again in Speaker for the Dead; the actions of the alien race can only be explained when more is known of their story, however until that moment their mysterious behaviour is intriguing.

Ender Wiggins is the Speaker for the dead still trying to atone for the xenocide (the destruction of an entire alien species) that he carried out in the first novel. This time he is summoned to a planet where another alien species is proving just as hard to understand as the Buggers were in the first book. Yes Buggers was the name given to the alien species in the first book and this time round the alien race are called Piggies (no high marks for nomenclature then). Lusitania is a planet where power is shared between a catholic priesthood and a civil administration and a group of scientists are studying an alien race under a strict policy of no intervention. The Piggies have killed two of the scientist in particularly gruesome rituals and Ender sees it as his task to solve the dilemma. He must first overcome the hostility of the priesthood and of the family who have summoned him to speak for one of their dead.

Enders straightforward psychological approach leads to immediate positive results within the family and the catholic priesthood are also soon won over. If these scenarios achieved within a four day period are a little beyond belief they are nevertheless good background to the uncovering of a startling alien life form. Orson Scott Card handles the dialogue and characterisation smoothly enough in order to fit together all the loose pieces in this puzzle. It is a story with a moral that does become a bit Spielberg like, but I can forgive this because of some intricate storytelling and huge dollops of the sense of wonder that makes for excellent science fiction 4.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 11, 11:53 am

Nelson Algren - Chicago: City on the Make.
Published in 1951 this is a prose poem of 12000 words taking the city of Chicago as its subject. A city where the dollar has always been king and Algren's portrait of his hometown did not go down well with critics and editors. Times have changed and the initial scorn for the essay has now turned to something like admiration. Algren who grew up in a working class area of the city has an eye for the piquant: he tells of the colourful characters of its early history, the more notorious the better, he admires the energy, but decries the lack of humanity and culture. In his view Chicago is a city that seems to have gone backwards.

Chicago has progressed culturally from being the second city to being the second hand city

This is not the story of a city, you will not learn much of its history; it is a gaze; an insiders gaze on what made the city that you would have found in 1951. Images and events run pell mell through its paragraphs, we learn of some infamous politicians, social climbers, hustlers of course, jazz musicians and baseball personalities, Hinky Dink Kempa and Bath House John from the early days and the working people of the city. It is best explained in Algrens own words:

'As well as the old soaks goats parts, backstreet brothels, unlit alleys and basement bars; for tavern traps and tenements, for all the pool room tigers in chequered caps, who've never seen a cow, and all the night club kittens who've never seen a cloud
For white lit show ups, dim lit lock ups, and the half lit hallway bedrooms, where the air along with the bed is stirred only by the passing of the Jackson Park express. For all our white walled asylums and all our dark walled courtrooms, overheated district stations, and disinfected charity wards, where the sunlight is always soiled and there are no holiday hours.
For hospitals, brothels prisons and such hells, where patronage comes up softly like a flower
For all the collerless wanderers of the horse and wagon alleys of home.

This sort of writing reminds me of the beat poets; Ginsburg Ferlinghetti perhaps. It is a roller coaster from start to finish;

Chicago isn't so much a city as it is a drafty hustlers junction in which to hustle awhile and move on out of the draft.

But Algren still claims to love his hometown, he certainly loves the White Socks baseball team, even though they were accused of accepting bribes to throw a world series, just par for the course in this city. but he say that once you become a part of this patch you will never love another.

I read the 1961 reprint in which Algren adds a long after word. He feels a need to make clear his views on racism and sexism in the city and also reflect a little on his essay that had upset so many important people in his hometown. It is certainly not a flattering portrait, but it is so full of life and energy that it almost tumbles off the pages. I thought it was excellent, but then I have never been to Chicago. 4 stars.

huhtikuu 10, 2:15 pm

I’m catching up and it seems you had a busy March…and early April. Too much to comment on. But I’m glad you could see the Vermeer show. I loved your Richard II review (I haven’t read it. Bummer no Chaucer or other writers snuck in an appearance). The Graham Greene and Nelson Aglren reviews are terrific. Never heard of Owen Dodson.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 11, 11:57 am

Jack Vance - Son of the Tree
This is a very early story in the career of Jack Vance a respected mystery, fantasy and science fiction writer. Published in 1951 as a story in the magazine Thrilling Wonder Stories it was eventually published as part of an Ace Double novel in 1964. Vance had his science fiction hat on for this one as our hero Joe Smith is planet hopping in search of a rival in love. The story catches up with him on Kyril where a race of druids are in control; keepers of an enormous tree that they claim gives life to the planet and is fed by the work of an underclass. The druids are a proud testy race and Joe meets Hableyat a spy from the planet Mangtse who helps him deal with the druids in his quest to move onto the planet Ballenkarch. Meanwhile Joe has met and fallen in love with the druid princess Elfane who is on a government mission to Ballenkarh. Everyone ends up on the spaceship to Ballenkarch where politics, espionage and murder are acted out before the denouement on the planet.

It is all over in 110 pages but Vance proves that he can write a good story. The politics are breezily worked through, the plot progresses smoothly and I enjoyed the character sketches of Princess Elfane and Hableyat. There is not much time for world building, but the scenarios are well set. The story is not overcomplicated and as a science fiction adventure story it moves quickly through the gears and so 3 stars.

huhtikuu 11, 5:52 pm

>152 baswood: That sounds interesting.

>151 baswood: That's my favorite of the Ender novels. The first one always read a bit too young to me - nothing bad in that and it was designed to read that way because of who and what Ender was but it never really connected as much as this one did. I liked the next one in the series a lot as well (and I really did not care much about the 4th or most of the Shadow books...)

>154 baswood: The politics are breezily worked through, the plot progresses smoothly

That's what I miss in a lot of the modern science fiction. There is a place for longer novels but they had been getting progressively longer and longer without a real need for that... Nice review of a Vance I had not gotten around to.

huhtikuu 12, 5:32 pm

Raymond F Jones - The Alien
Science fiction novel published in 1951, by an author that was comfortable in the genre of science fiction adventure stories and who made his name writing for the pulp magazines. Rather forgotten these days I think because his stories were better than many. The Alien starts with the discovery of an artefact in the asteroid belt. Archeologists, scientists and linguists are tasked to solving the mystery of something that could be a portal. They succeed in translating a series of instructions to enable an alien entity to be reborn. The alien boasts of tremendous powers that he can share for the race that can bring him back to life. The scientists and experts are working in isolation from planet earth because of the febrile nature of their home planet. People have everything they need, but have become bored dissatisfied, no leader has emerged that can move, or unite the people in the search for progress. The alien or Great One could fulfil that need. The story develops into a space opera with the earth born scientists on a desperate mission to find the home planet of the race that destroyed the Great Ones planet.

There are interesting developments as the story moves along at a brisk pace. It is a plot driven novel with minimal characterisation, but Jones wrote well enough to keep me interested. Racism and sexism were largely absent and Jones knew how to spring a surprise and hold his story together. 3 stars.

huhtikuu 14, 11:57 am

>151 baswood: >155 AnnieMod: I think I liked Ender's Game more than you, Annie, but Speaker for the Dead was my favorite too. Xenocide was the weakest of the three, I thought. Never got into the Shadow books much either. Bean was not as compelling a character for me as Ender.

huhtikuu 16, 5:49 pm

Possible Worlds of Science Fiction - Ed Groff Conklin
A collection of short stories that was published in 1951 although many of the stories were written some time earlier. Conklin says in his introduction that none of these stories had been published in book form; all had been selected from magazines. Many of the famous science fiction novelists made their name in the pulp magazines and so there are stories by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon. The Book is divided into two parts the first part contains stories that take place in our solar system and we have:

Raymond Z. Gallun; Operation Pumice
Robert A Heinlein: The Black pits of Luna
E. Van Vogt: Enchanted Village
Malcolm Jameson: Lillies of life
Ray Bradbury; Asleep in Armageddon
Isaac Asimov: Not Final
Frank Belknap Long: Cones
D. L. James: Moon of Delirium
Theodore Sturgeon: Completely Automatic
Nelson S Bond; The Day we Celebrate
Margaret ST Clair: The pilllows
Hal Clement: Proof

In this section the stories are arranged so that the first story by Raymond Z Gallun's tells a story of the first astronaut to orbit the moon and the next one is Heinlein's story of tourism on the moon and succeeding stories spread out through the solar system. Heinlein and Van Vogt's stories have subsequently appeared in other collections which I have read and they are both good solid stories. Other notable entries are Frank Belknap Long's Cones that describe electrical forces on the hostile environment of Mercury and D. L. James Moon of Delirium where intrepid astronauts must deal with telepathic creatures on one of Saturns moons. Margaret St Clair's The pillows is also good. There are a couple of Duds Asimov's: Not Final and Hal Clements: Proof; both of which move towards hard science fiction and were unintelligible to me.

The second section contains stories from The Galaxy; escaping from the limiting confines of the solar system where imagination can run wild:

Murray Leinster: Propagandist
H. B. Fyfe: In Value Deceived
Jack Vance: Hard-Luck Digging
John Berryman: Space Rating
Katherine Maclean: Contagion
Clifford D Simak: Limiting factor
Samuel Merwin Jr: Exit Line
James H. Schmitz: Second Night of Summer
Arthur C Clarke; A walk in the Dark
Poul Anderson; The Helping Hand

There were two standout stories in this section; Katherine Maclean's Contagion which I thought was original and in its short story format full of twists and turns. The other was Poul Anderson's The Helping Hand, which manages to introduce a more thoughtful aspect into space colonisation. I had previously read Clifford D Simak's Limiting factor which was good and Murray Leinster's Propagandist which verges on the cute. There were no real duds in this section although the stories by Jack Vance and Arthur C Clarke were workmanlike.

Short stories from pulp magazines are not going to have much literary merit, but that is not what I look for in these collections. I want to be amazed, surprised, be taken on an incredible journey, feel a sense of wonder and some of these stories had these elements. 3.5 stars.

huhtikuu 17, 7:51 am

Great review of Chicago: City on the Make, Barry. That's definitely one for the wish list.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 22, 6:44 pm

Groff Conklin - In The Grip Of Terror
Published in 1951 this is a selection of horror stories edited by Groff Conklin. He says in his introduction that it is a pretty gruesome collection of horrors, some more subtle than others, but all calculated to strike terror one way or another. The stories are:

Maurice Level - The last Kiss
Ray Bradbury - The illustrated Man
Stephen Crane - The Upturned Face
Dorothy Sayers - The incredible elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey
E F Benson - The Horror Horn
Will F Jenkins - Night Drive
H P Lovecraft - In the Vault
Guy De Maupassant - The Diary of a Madman
William Fryer Harvey - The Tool
Theodore Sturgeon - Bianca's Hands
Walter Owen - The Cross of Carl
Margaret St Clair - Hathor's Pet
Wilkie Collins - A Terribly Strange Bed
W W Jacobs - The Well
Samuel Blas - Revenge
Edgar Alan Poe - The Pit and the Pendulum
Howard Wandrei - Macklin's Little Friend
H H Munro - The Easter Egg
H L Gold - Problem in Murder
H G Wells - The Moth
Ambrose Bierce - Resumed Identity
Wilbur Daniel Steele - Bubbles

This collection delves back into the 19th century for some of its stories and none are contemporary at the time of publication. The literary content is quite high as can be seen from the number of well known authors listed. Groff Conklin says that he has tried to find stories that have not been previously anthologised and certainly he has come up with one gem in Walter Owen's: The Cross of Carl, a story from the first world war which outdoes anything else here for gruesomeness by a country mile. He has not beeen so successful with Edgar Alan Poe's: The Pit and the Pendulum or H G Well's: The Moth which many people will have read. I made a point of reading these just before I went to bed, but nothing kept me awake. Some hoary old chestnuts here, but a solid collection and so 3.5 stars.

huhtikuu 23, 2:52 am

>160 baswood: "I made a point of reading these just before I went to bed, but nothing kept me awake." That made me smile 🙂

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 23, 6:59 pm

Vernon Subutex - Tome 3 - Virginie Despentes
Wow she did it! Virginie Despentes brings her story of urban life; Parisien style to a suitable climax; in this the final part of the trilogy. The Christ like figure of Vernon Subutex who communicates only through his presence and his work at the mixing desk manages to become a cult figure for future generations. However this is not a novel about the future, but about contemporary life in Paris France.

In Tome 1 we met Vernon just as his life was changed by the death of a famous french chanteur Alex Bleach. Vernon managed a record/disc shop in town, but also worked in some capacity looking after the wayward pop star. When Alex died maybe from an overdose, but under suspicious circumstances he left Vernon three cassettes. Vernon found himself suddenly homeless and the lease had expired on his record shop. He had plenty of hangers on in his shop and managed to lodge with some of them for a while, but when favours ran out he found himself living on the streets of Paris. A film producer connected to the criminal underworld sets out to steal the cassettes and a journalist is putting together a biography of Alex Bleach and a search is on to track down Vernon who at the end of Tome 1 suffers a vicious beating.

Tome 2 finds Vernon at deaths door, but he manages to find somewhere in one of the Parisien Parks to heal. He is befriended by a couple of other homeless people in the park and then by staff of a restaurant that backs onto the park. Vernon's suffering has resulted in him being an ethereal like figure, but gradually more people gather around his makeshift home including some of the people who frequented his record shop and or knew Alex Bleach. The violent incident in this book does not involve Vernon, but the film producer is assaulted in his home by two of Vernon's female camp followers. Vernon is talked into running disco nights at the restaurant which soon become popular. His followers arrange for out of town "convergences" rave like events with Vernon mixing the music.

At the start of Tome 3 Vernon's rave events are turning into gatherings of like minded people. Some of the old crowd are with him, but he is attracting new people. They bliss out at the drug and alcohol free events dancing the weekend away to Vernon's mixing of the music. A follower of Vernon dies leaving Vernon a considerable sum of money. The close knit group around the DJ cannot decide what to do with it and when Vernon suggests they make a zombie film using the actresses from the porn industry that are part of his group, nobody is enthusiastic and the idea of getting hold of the money breaks up the circle. Vernon goes off with his latest girlfriend/manager earning a living as a DJ for hire. It is 2015 the year of the Bataclan terrorist attack in Paris. There is also a violent incident in the circle that had gathered around Vernon. He drifts back to Paris.................

Vernon is sometimes a catalyst, but more often a sort of cipher, a hollowness at the centre of this group, that whirl around him. Despentes uses the back stories of her characters to raise issues about modern life, with Paris as the contemporary backdrop. Racism, homelessness, prostitution, violence, politics, religion, criminality, terrorism, immigration, relationships and gender awareness are all subjects raised and experienced by the characters that people the book. Vernon has no views on any of this, letting everything happen to him, while he concerns himself with making lists of music to play. The introduction of new characters and the development of their lives, their views and interactions are used by Despentes to paint a vivid picture of issues facing characters living on the fringe of urban society. The hollow centre of the book works, because Despentes is looking to examine the figures, motifs, developments and myths around the periphery. I wondered if Despentes would be able, somehow bring this all together in this final book; she does triumphantly. I rate this novel at 5 stars.

huhtikuu 24, 1:48 am

>162 baswood: Intriguing. Still not sure I want to read this, but I’m intrigued.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 26, 6:35 pm

Dragon's Island - Jack Williamson
A science fiction novel from 1951, which is strongly anti racist and has a strong female lead character. All this goes against the grain of many science fiction novels of this period and took me completely by surprise having read his Seetee Ship published in the same year. The front cover of the popular library edition has the blurb "She was a century ahead of her sex" which could give a wrong impression of the novel, but actually makes sense once you have read it

Dave Belfast is 24 years old and moving to New York City when he experiences a strange physical feeling of anxiety, and he receives a phone call from a woman telling him his life is in danger and that he should not trust a certain John Gellien who will soon approach him. He agrees to meet the woman Nan Sanderson in a couple of hours time, but in the meantime Gellien has approached him with an offer of a job to track down mutant beings. Belfast works in the field of genetics and finds himself targeted by three different organisations. Sanderson who wants to test him for psychic powers, Cadmus industries who want him to work in their genetic engineering laboratory and Gellien who wants to recruit him as an agent. Belfast is soon caught up in a world of fierce competition and when a journalist is brutally murdered he realises that he could be next.

This is a story about mutants and genetic engineering that has plenty of surprises and twist and turns in the story telling. Williamson writes well enough in this genre and keeps the story and mystery rolling along as well as some science fiction on genetic engineering. It is an earth based story, which is an adventure thriller which kept the pages turning. This together with its basic message of tolerance, that does not become too schmaltzy makes this a 4 star read.

huhtikuu 27, 1:05 am

>164 baswood: Great cover! Is this the edition that you read?

huhtikuu 27, 3:40 am

>165 FlorenceArt: Yes it was the edition I read, but I read it online at which is Luminist archives a free online library

huhtikuu 27, 7:41 am

>166 baswood: Thank you. Interesting site!

huhtikuu 27, 7:56 am

>164 baswood: I enjoy reading sf and so far this year have neglected it. This sounds like one I’d enjoy! Thanks for an excellent review and also for the link to the Luminist society. I’d never heard of it.

huhtikuu 27, 12:51 pm

>164 baswood: I was amazed to see that book was available as an ebook. So I downloaded it and I’m reading it.

huhtikuu 27, 12:52 pm

>166 baswood: darn, didn’t know I could get it for free.

huhtikuu 27, 7:27 pm

Great review of the Vernon Subutex Trilogy, Barry; your review has encouraged me to read it. I have Vernon Subutex 1, so I'll move it considerably higher on my TBR list.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 29, 5:49 pm

William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Nights Dream (Norton Critical Edition)
A Midsummer Nights dream: BBC Shakespeare 1981
Shakespeare's wonderful A Midsummer Nights Dream is pure fantasy. The fairy hordes that populate this play have all the best lines, that is until the final act where they are largely absent and Theseus is moved to make his 'The lunatic, the lover and the poet speech." Until this time the play comes alive when we are transported to fairy wonderland.

The play starts with Theseus Duke of Athens who wants to celebrate marriage with his partner Hippolyta. The tone of this opening is set by Theseus when he addresses his future wife:

Hippolyta I wooed the with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries.

Egeus enters with his daughter Hermia and two young suitors Lysander and Demetrius. Hermia wishes to marry Lysander, but Egeus has chosen Demetrius for her, he will not listen to her protestations, determined to exercise his rights as her father in accordance with the law of Athens. He expects to be supported by the Duke and he is not disappointed as Theseus tells Hermia that if she does not marry Demetrius she must either die or become a nun. After the hearing Lysander suggests to Hermia that they elope. Hermia tells her close friend Helena of her plans to elope. Helena is in love with Demetrius. Meanwhile Quince, Snug, Bottom, Flute, Snout, Starveling; local artisans are preparing a play for Theseus' wedding celebrations.

It is Act 2 when the fairies appear and all is not well in the forest. Oberon the king of the fairies has fallen out with his queen Titania. Oberon tells Puck to put a love potion on the eyes of Titania so that she will fall in love with the first wild animal she sees. He also tells Puck to use the magic potion on an Athenian gentleman who is lost in the woods, to resolve his tangled love life. Demetrius is in the forest looking for Lysander and Hermia who have also become lost and Helena is following them. The artisans are also in the forest rehearsing for their play and Puck cannot resist putting an asses head on Bully Bottom which is the first thing Titania sees when she awakes. Puck mistakenly puts the love potion on the wrong Athenian gentleman causing even more confusion between Demetrius, Lysander Hermia and Helena. Oberon manages to sort out the entanglements and also takes pity on Titania removing the donkeys head from Bottom. All is resolved to everyones satisfaction and the final act shows the artisans performing their play for Theseus and his entourage. the play finishes with the approaching dawn and the disappearance of the fairies from the forest: Puck has the last word;

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is amended;
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear,
And this weak and idle dream,
No more yielding but a dream.

The world of the fairies in the forest had never had such a sympathetic portrait as Shakespeare shows in this play. Although Puck can be mischievous, he follows Oberon's lead in trying to do good.

Jack shall have Jill
Nought shall go ill

Watching the BBC's production, which films the fairies in the moonlit splashing around a swamp like landscape, does its best to bring out the dark side of the fairies world; Puck looks on at the humans that he leads around the forest in a merry dance and says;

Lord, what fools these mortals be.

A romantic interpretation of this play held sway until the 1970's; then Peter Brooks production suggested that "the conflicts and erotic adventures of the nocturnal wood were the uncontrollable eruption of subconscious fears and desires" The BBC's interpretation is impressive in following this idea and it is stimulating to watch, however reading the play as a whole I prefer to see things in a more romantic vein. Shakespeare's poetry attains new heights, descriptions of the natural world of the fairies are lively and intense, bathed in moonlight it may be, but it is a world of wonder: a fantasy world that keeps on giving. It is a world of music and play and much of the poetry is song like in construction. Along with the fantasy world of the fairies there is the humour of the artisans rehearsals and performance of their play. In contrast to the magical woods of the fairies there is the rather staid world of Theseus and his court, but even they loosen up when the play is performed, it is as though they have been touched by the fairy world.

This is a magical play, no one gets hurt, everyone appears in a better light at the end of the play. Human troubles have been resolved and even if the play does not quite end in a joyous celebration it leaves the audience with a feel good factor that has been touched with fantasy 5 stars.

The Norton Critical edition has an excellent introduction and the critical responses to the play do well to emphasise the different interpretations. It is a short play and there are numerous extracts from Shakespeares possible source material, which might not be of interest to everybody. There is not much help with the actual text, for those who may need more interpretation. It is a play that can be read purely for its beautiful poetry, but it all came alive for me with the excellent BBC production.

huhtikuu 29, 7:33 pm

>172 baswood: Fantastic review, Barry. It's been a long time since I've seen the play. You make me want to watch the BBC version.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 30, 7:11 pm

John D Macdonald - Wine of the Dreamers
John D Macdonald was a prolific writer of crime and suspense novels, which started appearing as paperbacks in the early 1950's. Before that he had earned a living selling stories to pulp fiction magazines. Wine of the Dreamers published in book form in 1951 was a venture into science fiction, he tried again in the next year with Ballroom of the skies, but soon turned to a regular churning out of crime novels, usually three or four a year. Wine of the Dreamers starts off with a car journey: Bard Lane a scientist and Sharon Inlay a psychiatrist are speeding across New Mexico after being summoned by the military head of Bard Lanes' rocket building project. General Sachson is looking at ways to curtail the project after one of the scientists has run amok injuring two military personnel and smashing some delicate equipment. The tension of the car journey is well described interspersed with news flashes of people across the country doing crazy things, many of them involving murder. It is in chapter three that I realised I was reading a science fiction novel when we meet Rual Kinson trapped in a building on a planet of dreamers.

The early part of the novel is well written as is the development of the dreamers on the mystery planet, the two stories run side by side until the connection between the dreamers and the crazy events on earth is made. The later part of the novel runs away with itself a little, as far too much happens too quickly and events that seemed plausible in science fiction terms rapidly become less so. The idea of alien mind control leading to murderous events on earth is not a new trope, but the rational behind the events is given a twist by Macdonald. The quality of the writing, the characterisation and the absence of racism and sexism helped to keep me reading right to the end. Not bad and so 3 stars.

toukokuu 1, 5:09 am

Hugh Merrill - The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D Macdonald.
A biography of John D Macdonald a prolific author of crime and suspense novels. I was interested to read it because I wanted to get an insight into the life of an author like Macdonald who was able to sit down in front of his typewriter and just write: 8 hours a day, which must have been just like turning up to the office. He wrote at a time before computers put this facility in the hands of many more people. One wonders where he got his inspiration, where he got his ideas to write so many books: well over 60, plus many more short stories. The book is not able to give much information on the inner workings of Macdonald's mind, but it does a good job in explaining the situation of a person who wanted to earn his living from writing. He wrote an advisory memorandum aimed at would be pulp writers, telling them what they would need to get started.

The biography follows his life in chronological order. It tells of his education, his restlessness, but finally his award of an MBA at Harvard university in 1939. He had got married in 1937 and with a family to support, needed to earn a living by his writing, hence his discipline of sitting down in front of his typewriter to churn out and send off his short stories to the pulp magazines. There were many more magazines in the crime/detective genre being published and so that is the genre in which Macdonald wrote, with a brief flirtation with science fiction. He had his first standalone novel "The Brass Cupcake" published in 1950 and then there were 3/4 novels published every year until in 1957 when he had a big success with 'The Executioners' which was filmed as Cape Fear. Hugh Merrill says that Macdonald had built up a steady following of readers, who knew what they were going to get with a Macdonald crime novel: a well written entertainment. Many more novels followed before he started the first of his Travis McGee series in 1964, which really hit pay dirt.

Merrill only briefly refers to the books (there would be far too many to analyse in any depth) being more intent on putting his career into the context of his life and times. He does however compare him to other writers in the genre, particularly with his Travis McGee books, which he claims are more sympathetic to female characters than most of the hard bitten crime novels published at that time. Macdonald was also anti-racist but struggled to find a voice for this in his work. He was also interested in the environment, particularly in Florida where he eventually made his home and some of this is reflected in his novels. There are plenty of quotes from his letters and some from the forwards to his novels in a book that seems well researched, however I did not get much of a feel for Macdonald as a person, as the biography seems more of a paper exercise.

Macdonald was one of those popular authors that at times attracted the attention of literary critics. He sold over 70 million books and so he could hardly be ignored. I have only read one of his early science fiction novels, but found his writing to be more than competent. I am tempted to try one of his novels from the extremely popular Travis McGee series. This biography is useful background material and so 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 1, 10:43 am

>175 baswood: Wow, this looks like a fun biography. I'm about seven books into the Travis McGee series. I generally read one or two of them a year. They're quite fun. The claim that the McGee books are "more sympathetic to female characters than most of the hard bitten crime novels published at that time" is true I guess, but only within the context of those times. Still, the books are well written and enjoyable. I think McGee's books also had a bit of a cool cache to them for a while. I remember reading an article about Warren Zevon, for example, who went on about how addicted he was to the McGee novels.

toukokuu 4, 8:02 am

Flann O'Brien - The Third Policeman
Published in 1967, O'Brien's weird novel was written in 1939-40 and published a year after his death. I found myself losing patience with it, struggling to understand what was going on in the macabre world that O'Brien portrays. As I approached the final couple of chapters I had a good idea of where the novel was going; I don't want to spoil it for other readers, but I wish someone had spoilt it for me. I might then have been able to appreciate more of the silliness that had gone on before; particularly the conversations in the police barracks. I am not going to re-read it in order to discover the pearls of wisdom that some other readers have found, it wasn't that intriguing for me.

It is difficult to pigeonhole the book although it often appears in the genre of science fiction. I would be more inclined to think of it as a horror story with plenty of black humour. It would certainly appeal to bicycle lovers and to readers who might be in-tune to O'Brien's sense of humour. Perhaps the notion that people become as one with their bicycles because of the continual displacement of atoms as they ride their bone-shakers on the rough roads make it appear as science fiction, after all O'Brien goes out of his way to explain through one of his characters how this happens, or perhaps the continual reference to the madder than most scientist de Selby clinches it for some people. I remain unconvinced

My own view is that the book has been overhyped as a rediscovered masterpiece of modernist literature, but I did in the end learn to like it better, the more I read of it, but not enough to give it more than three stars.

toukokuu 4, 8:39 am

>177 baswood: Great review! The book sounds intriguing, but your balanced review says it’s not for me.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 8, 4:21 pm

Arthur C Clarke - The Sands of Mars
Life on Mars? Arthur C Clarke thought so in this 1951 novel. It was published early in Clarke's career, but perhaps he could already imagine himself as a famous science fiction author. In the book Martin Gibson is the famous writer and he has been invited to travel on a spaceship to Mars with five other astronauts; it is in the 1990's and there is a well established colony on Mars and the spaceship is being made ready to provide tourist accommodation for the three month trip.

The novel starts with the journey to Mars and the difficulties of space travel. Gibson is the newbie travelling with four other seasoned astronauts and one junior. Clarke's ideas of space flight are not too wide of the mark considering that this was written before a manned space flight, but he also is able to portray well the developing relationships between the men who must learn to live with each other. The story starts to move forward when Gibson arrives in the colony, but Clarke is as interested in the human relationships as he is in the science of living on Mars and the politics following a trip across an unexplored section of the planet.

This is a good solid entertaining read with some fireworks towards the end of the book. It is well thought through with enough of a mystery to keep me reading till the end. Nothing spectacular and apart from some obvious anomalies I thought it held up pretty well. No obvious racism and although women on the colony are employed only as office workers , this is not unusual for the period. 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 9, 4:27 am

Jean Teulé - Fleur de tonnerre
Fleur de Tonnere in Jean Teulé's book is Hélène Jégado a french serial killer. She was active in Brittany between 1833 until her public execution at Rennes in 1852. It is thought that she murdered at least 36 people by poisoning with arsenic.

Teulé's biography links Jégado's murderous exploits to the landscape and legends of Brittany. Jegado came from a poor family and earned her living as a cook, housemaid and sometimes prostitute. He tells her story in chronological order sticking closely to the known facts. His most inventive story telling is at the start of her murderous life where he tells of her taking part in a shipwrecking expedition on the Brittany coast with her lover, who she of course poisoned later. There seems to have been no motive for her murders, she just seemed to enjoy the power that she had over her victims, often nursing them, while poisoning them.

Of course there are a lot of murders to get through, but Teulé imagines that Jégado was influenced by L'Ankou who was a personified spectre from Celtic mythology who represented the dead. Jégado's parents died when she was young and Teulé imagines that she killed them and other members of her family using belladonna, from that time she imagines she hears the spectre L'Ankou sharpening a blade, which encourages her to murder. She also seems to be empowered by the standing stones that litter the Brittany landscape. After the deaths in her family Jégado starts her murderous journey criss-crossing Brittany, killing as the mood took her in the families of her employers. She seems to have inspired loyalty in some of her employers, or perhaps they found it difficult to find hired help. She did garner a reputation for bringing death with her, but life in rural Brittany in the mid 19th century was certainly more precarious. She was usually not under suspicion of murder, but when she felt that she maybe, she moved on; seeking employment in another town and another household.

Teulé does not try to explain her actions or her motivations, he busies himself by telling her story in the context of the times in which she lived, letting her speak and be spoken to, and being affected by the imagery of the houses, convents and bordels in which she lived. When she says to her employers that she will bake a special cake or that she will make her exceptional vegetable soup with herbs, the reader suspects that soon someone will fall ill. Hélène Jégado was a psychopath and in the towns and communities in which she lived she could function as she wished. It was only when she lived in the big town of Rennes as an elderly woman of 49 years that she got caught out when medical practitioners became suspicious. A sobering tale shot through with the imagery of the folklore and culture of Brittany in the 19th century 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 9, 8:38 am

>180 baswood: interesting and strange - well, perhaps strange is part of the point.

Enjoyed catching up. Loved your take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Also terrific review of Vernon Subutex. And very interesting about the book machine John D MacDonald - who I hadn’t heard of)

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 10, 4:57 pm

Patrick Hamilton - The West Pier
Patrick Hamilton achieved fame as a British inter war years writer and playwright. The West Pier published in 1951 was the first part of a trilogy now known as the Gorse Trilogy: the final part and Hamilton's last novel was published in 1955. His novels are not much read these days especially his later ones and after reading The West Pier I can't quite understand why this should be so.

The West Pier is set in the town of Brighton on the South coast of England. The novel starts by introducing us two three school friends. Ernest Ralph Gorse who is one of those boys that nobody really likes, a cold, selfish individual who gets by through clever manipulation of others; Ryan a handsome boy with a warm heart and finally Bell who tries to make up for his unattractiveness, by his knowledge of literature and art and his affected ways. The boys meet up in Brighton as 17 year olds and hang out together. Gorse has by this time become more street-wise than the other two and when they meet a couple of girls on the West Pier, the beautiful Esther Downes and her plain friend Gertrude Perks, it is Gorse who makes all the arrangements and Ryan who falls in love with Esther.

The novel now settles down over a three weeks time scale to chart the progress of the relationship between Esther and Gorse and Ryan. Much of the book from this point on takes the form of dialogue between the three main characters and Hamilton brings all his skills as a playwright to capture quite brilliantly the gauche, uncomfortable and sometimes gushing conversations. In England, at that time particularly, class prejudice was all important; Esther thinks the three boys are gentleman; a class above her and tries hard to be considered worthy, but at the same time conscious of the fact that she knows more about life in working class Brighton. Hamilton captures these nuances of what the three protagonists considered proper in their behaviour through their conversations. The youths spend their evenings walking between the piers and the large Sea front hotel admiring the view, playing the slot machines and some of them trying to pair up. The boys are on holiday they are at leisure, living in rented rooms and being looked after by maids. The girls are already working for a living, going home to crowded rented flats choked full of family members.

Gorse dominated the proceedings; trying out his skills in manipulating others, showing all the traits of a psychopath. This makes the novel a depressing read, there can be no happy ending, the youthful bounce of Esther and to some extent Ryan is overcome by coming in contact with Gorse who brings disillusionment and perhaps even danger. The novel never becomes sleazy or or down at heel, but in its portrayal of Brighton and its population it is not uplifting. Attitudes towards women and class belong to the inter war years, but it is not surprising to find them in post war Brighton.
It is Hamiltons lively dialogue and flashes of black humour that gives this novel an edge and I rate it at 4 stars.

toukokuu 10, 5:56 pm

New author to me. Excellent and intriguing review.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 14, 1:59 pm

Maigret au Picratt's - Georges Simenon
This is the third of the five Maigret books published in 1951 that I have read. Maigret is up to his neck in sleaze and seems to be quite enjoying it. The novel starts with Arlette a striptease dancer stumbling into a police station in Montmartre Paris at 5 am claiming that the countess is going to be murdered. She is drunk and fairly incoherent and really only gets the time of day because one of the police detectives is an admirer. Later that day Arlette has been murdered and Maigret is called in to examine the crime scene. He immediately takes charge and launches an enquiry to discover who she meant by the countess.

Picratt's is the name of the small nightclub where Arlette performed and that is where Maigret heads for, to interview the owner and the other artists. He finds a club that is at the end of the line, meaning that people looking for entertainment in that pert of Paris end up there, when there is no other place to go. The owner Fred manages it with the help of his wife Rose and Maigret soon rules them out of the investigation, but reading through the notes of Arlette's interview he is certain that there is a connection between the club and the murders. Maigret spends most of his time interviewing witnesses at his Headquarters or ensconced in Picratts where he can always get another drink and watch the show. Georges Simenon's story takes on the usual procedure of Maigret skilfully breaking down suspects in the interview room, handing them over to Sergeant Torrence when he wants them roughed up. However a feature of this novel is the workings of the small nightclub, sleazy it might be, but it is a business like any other. There is a telephone inside the club and so Maigret finds it convenable to sequester himself inside while his team and the local police trudge around the wet wintry streets of Paris.

There are some good backstory's to the main murder enquiry and it is all over after 150 pages when Maigret finally rouses himself from his chair in the night club. 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 14, 2:53 pm

>184 baswood: Fun review 🙂

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 18, 10:40 am

Angela Carter - The Passion of New Eve
Angela Carter explores sexual desire in this dystopian science fiction novel. Sex dominates this novel, painful, erotic, disgusting perhaps, but mostly controlling, it is life pushed to extremes as the veneer of civilisation dissolves, as extreme climatic conditions are tearing the world or at least America apart. The male phallus is taken to extreme limits as the beautiful boy Evelyn is forcibly transformed into the new Eve. Is it punishment for his aggressive male sexuality or is it a transformation to the female that can ultimately repopulate a dying world? well of course it is not as simple as that. The key word in the title of the book is passion; sexual passion, obsession, suffering, religion and myth making are all part of the mix. Everybody suffers, mostly as a result of others sexual needs, rape is the most common form of sexual possession; Evelyn is raped once as a man and continually raped as a woman, but she can also be a mother figure, transcending the sexual chaos, whatever her role her most significant trait is passivity.

Angela Carter hangs all these themes onto a solid road-movie like story; told by Evelyn. Obsessed by the film star Tristessa, he leaves London to carve out a new life for himself in New York, but his stay is soon overshadowed by a city collapsing in on itself. He is seduced by the eroticism of Leilah, a black woman of the city, but when she gets pregnant, Evelyn drives her to have an abortion. He leaves her in a mess and flees the city and his responsibilities to find himself in the desert like landscape that is sucking up America. He is captured by the women of Beulah who see him as the new Eve. He is forcibly led deep underground to the the womb-like operating room of Mother; an enormous woman who rapes Evelyn to collect his seed, which she will use to impregnate him when she has surgically changed him into a woman. Evelyn now Eve escapes before she can be impregnated, but falls into the hands of Zero a Charles Manson like figure who is worshipped by a bevy of female slaves. Eve becomes one of his slaves, but Zero is becoming increasingly obsessed by tracking down Tristessa who he accuses of robbing him of his fertility. More adventures follow and the book figuratively leads Eve back to the womb.

"Tristessa had long since joined Billie Holliday and Judy Garland in the queenly pantheon of women who expose their scars with pride, pointing to their emblematic despair just as a medieval saint points to the wounds of his martyrdom."

The book can be read on a number of levels; from an erotic science fiction dystopian romp through America or as a full scale analysis of gender confusion theory topped by matriarchal control. There are obviously layers of meaning to be picked over at the readers leisure, but although these are not always clear, the power and potency of Angela Carters writing most certainly is. Her commentary on modern society segues into a tightly controlled storyline, there are no throwaway wisecracks, just deep insightful writing that can resonate with even the most rapid reading of this novel. She does nastiness, brutality, love and eroticism, but weds this too a story that seems to pour itself into an ending that is logical and satisfying. It is a no holds barred drive across a future America that can also supply that sense of wonder that makes for good science fiction reading. Originally published in 1982, its ideas and themes might seem a little passé today, but I doubt that any contemporary writers would be able to compete with the quality of the writing. I can see some people rating this novel as five stars, but for me, who can hardly keep pace with modern trends in violence and feminist literature, I give it a cowardly four stars.

toukokuu 18, 1:54 pm

Just that one sentence you quote is worth entire cartloads of stuff published today.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 20, 4:46 am

Gervase Markham - The most honorable tragedie of Sir Richard Grinuile, Knight
Gervase Markham (1658-1637) was an English poet and writer and was best known for The English Huswife. in 1595 early in his career he published The Most honorable tragedy of Sir Richard Grinville. It is a long narrative poem that could be described as Epic Poetry. It seems to fall into two parts starting off with troubles in the kingdom of the Gods and how these relate to events at the time of the Spanish Armada. The poem really gets going when it turns to a narrative on the heroic sea battle when Sir Richard Grenville took on the might of the Spanish Armada single handedly.

"Grenville was appointed Vice-Admiral of the Fleet under Thomas Howard. He was charged with maintaining a squadron at the Azores to waylay the return to Spain of the South American treasure fleets. He took command of Revenge, a galleon considered to be a masterpiece of naval construction.
At Flores Island the English fleet was surprised by a much larger squadron sent by King Philip II of Spain. Howard retreated to safety, but Grenville faced the 53 enemy ships alone, leading his single ship in what amounted to a suicide mission, stating that he "utterly refused to turn from the enimie...he would rather chose to die than to dishonour himselfe".11 His crew was reduced by nearly 100 men due to sickness on shore, but he chose nonetheless to confront the far superior Spanish force.11 For twelve hours he and his crew fought off the Spanish, causing heavy damage to fifteen galleons. According to Raleigh's account, Grenville and his soldiers fought for hour after hour, "...until all the powder of The Revenge, to the last barrell, was now spent, all her pikes broken, fortie of her best men slain, and the most part of the rest hurt".11 The ship itself was "marvellous unsaverie, filled with bloud and bodies of deade and wounded men like a slaughter house"

The poem is written in eight line stanzas with a rhyming scheme (abababcc) It builds to suitable climax when Grenville is fatally wounded, but continues to fight on although his ship is nearly destroyed. He orders the ship to be scuttled, but the surviving members of the crew refuse, choosing to surrender rather than go to their deaths with Grenville.

What foole (saith he) ads to the sea a drop,
Lends Etna sparks, or angry stormes his wind?
Who burnes the roote when lightning fiers the top?
Who unto hell, can worse then hell combined?
Pale hungry death, thy greedy longings stop,
Hope of long life is banefull to my mind:
yet hate not life, but lothe captivity
Where rests no trust to purchase victory

The second part of the poem is full of blood and thunder and Markham has written a lively and at times atmospheric poem that draws the reader into the desperate battle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this example of epic poetry and so 3.5 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 20, 5:33 am

Henry Chettle - Piers Plainnes Seauen yeres prentiship
Henry Chettle (1564-1606) was an English dramatist and pamphleteer. He worked as a printing house factotum, author for hire and was probably a notorious forger. Piers Plainnes published in 1595 is a typical story set in a pastoral world where Pierres meets some shepherds and they sit down to be entertained by Piers telling a story of adventures in Greece and the island of Crete. I could find nothing to recommend spending much time with this and so 2 stars.

toukokuu 20, 8:24 am

Enjoyed reading your evaluations of these last two poets. I’d never heard of either.

toukokuu 28, 7:43 am

Waiting for Columbus - Thomas Trofimuk
A beach read, but the beach was the beautiful city of Paris. We took a short break to take in some art galleries and for me to buy a new saxophone and we also met up with FlorenceArt. I suppose that Waiting for Columbus would be considered as a Romance with a flavour of the 15th century, there is also a mystery element and the rather tired trope of unravelling the story of a person who is institutionalised in a mental hospital, believing himself to be a famous historical figure; in this case it is Christopher Columbus.

The story mixes elements of the 21st century with a telling of the story of Christopher Columbus, through broken fragments from the memories of the mental patient. It is romanticised, because the mental institution is described in the same dreamy prose as the rest of the novel and of course the beautiful unmarried nurse Consuela is earmarked for a romance with her patient. The mystery element will pull many readers on through the book and this reader was not disappointed with the quality of the writing. The soft, sensual language can make this story seem more like a fairy tale than a modern day romance, but there are one or two sex scenes that introduce elements of reality. The characters are well developed and the dialogue works well enough. This is a love story, teetering on the edge of tragedy and kept me entertained during those inevitable downtimes when travelling. 3.5 stars.

toukokuu 28, 11:30 pm

I hope your trip to Paris was perfect in every way. What art stood out to you? Any interesting shows? Did you get to break in your new saxophone with a rooftop serenade?

toukokuu 29, 7:42 am

>192 RidgewayGirl: We spent three days in Paris and managed to get to six exhibitions as well as spending a morning in the saxophone shop. Our favourite exhibition was "Pastels from Millet to Redon" at the Musée d'Orsay; Working in pastels provides a challenge to many artists, but the results can be astonishing and this expo. showed a variety of art through the ages as well as seeing a lot of work that we had not seen before. The Musée d'Orsay is home to many impressionist's masterpieces and most of the galleries were packed with people, but the pastels were a haven in the midst of much tourist madness. We also enjoyed the Andy Warhol-Paul Basquait exhibition at the Louis Vuitton Fondation - so much energy, so many huge works of art.

I am particularly interested in Photography and we got to see an excellent exhibition of Elliott Erwitt's photographs. We quite enjoyed the light show at the Atelier des lumières, we thought it might be a bit naff, but we stayed and watched the whole show twice. The music and lights worked well together. I didn't get to break in my saxophone during the rest of the trip, although the garden at the hotel where we stayed would have been perfect, but I had to think of the other guests. I had to wait till I got home.

toukokuu 29, 8:39 am

>193 baswood: Oh, sounds lovely, Barry.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 29, 9:10 am

Sterling Noel - I Killed Stalin
Published in 1951 and with a title such as I Killed Stalin I was not expecting a work of great literature which is certainly did not prove to be. It is pulp fiction, which was also an alarming anti-communist rant. I suppose I should not have been so surprised at this considering the year of publication and the start of the cold war, but I have read quite a few books from that year, but nothing quite like this.

It gains an entry into the encyclopaedia of science fiction on the grounds that it is an alternative history novel. The action takes place in the years 1956/8 and precipitates the third world war. Alexis Bodine a marine with a history of working under cover during the second world war is hired by an agency of the F.B.I (Bureau-X) to launch an assassination attempt on Joe Stalin. It is written in the hard boiled style of crime novels of that era and dances lightly over some factual details and plenty of plot holes. Alexis is a communist killing machine, the more the better for the safety of the world, but also thinks nothing of killing American compatriots who get in his way. There is a love interest even more ludicrous than the rest of this thriller/espionage story that barrels along until the ultimate assassination: I am not giving anything away because of the title of the book.

At very opportunity the author is disparaging about Russia and communism and I do mean at every opportunity, perhaps every couple of pages. It is much worse than the kind of rhetoric you might find in comic books of that era. The book is aimed at a young adult readership, the same readers who would also buy science fiction and it was published at the height of the Senator Joe McCarthy's red scare programme and so it is a reflection of it's times, however with all this taken into consideration it still feels over the top when reading today. I was pleased to get this one out of the way and so 2 stars.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 29, 6:25 pm

Woman In The Dark - Dashiell Hammett
This is a novella length story originally published in Liberty Magazine in 1933, but republished as a paperback in the early 1950's probably 1951. It is 76 pages of Hammet's hard boiled; not a wasted word style. A woman breaks the heel of her shoe hurrying down the road in pouring rain. She makes it to the front door of a house and knocks to be let in. Brazil a large man shouts out to come in and Luise Fischer enters the room. Brazil summons the young Evelyn to tend to Luis's ankle and shows no surprise when there are further knocks to his front door and two men enter who have been trailing Luise. A dog: a Great Dane is shot, Brazil gets angry and punches the shooter who falls to the ground cracking his head on the stone fireplace. Nobody panics, but Brazil and Luise decide it's time to find a safe house before the police arrive.

A few more characters are added to the mix as Brazil and Luise try and straighten things out, but only succeed in getting deeper in the mire. The story would make an excellent one act play as the dialogue seems to have a rhythm all of its own moving from laconic to tense and back again. It all ends in a bit of a rush in a non too convincing denouement. The story has its moments, but not all the characters are developed satisfactorily to satisfy the demands of the plot. It feels a bit of a throwaway and so 3.5 stars for its unique style.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 2, 5:37 pm

Georges Simenon - Maigret En Meublé
Another Maigret story from 1951, this one has Maigret moving out of the family home to solve an attempted murder. He doesn't want to be in the family home anyway, because Mrs Maigret has gone to help her sister who is recovering from an operation and Maigret does not like being alone in the house. Another reason for the drastic move is that "petit" Janvier his favourite inspector is the attempted murder victim and has narrowly survived being shot in the chest. The gunning down of Janvier took place in the rue Lhomond a couple of steps away from Mlle Clements boarding house. Maigret figures that getting to know the other boarders by actually living in the property is the best way of picking up clues to the crime.

Maigret proceeds to interview the various boarders more than once and his attention also becomes interested in the building across the road and another chance to interview even more people. Fortunately there is a good brasserie in the next road where Maigret can hang out after his exhaustive enquiries. This reader started to get a bit lost with all the various people involved, but Simenon must have realised this as he provides some summaries of who is who as the story unfolds. Perhaps the best character is Mlle Clement herself a large lady with an enormous bosom who thinks all her tenants are wonderful and tries her best to entice Maigret into her kitchen. As usual with Maigret stories of this era there is some humour some of it at Maigret's expense, there is ittle danger or suspense, but the real meat is the unravelling of the story and the solving of the crime. Maigret's tough interviewing technique is put into action as his team provide all the legwork. Another good story which I rate as 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 3, 9:12 am

I enjoyed your Maigret review! I’ve read only the first of the series, but I liked the Maigret character a great deal and will likely read more.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 3, 9:29 am

Penguin Modern Poets 1- Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings, R.S. Thomas
Penguin Modern Poets was a series of 27 poetry books published by Penguin Books in the 1960s and 1970s, each containing work by three contemporary poets (mostly but not exclusively British and American). The series was begun in 1962 and published an average of two volumes per year throughout the 1960s. and beyond. Each volume was stated to be "an attempt to introduce contemporary poetry to the general reader, by publishing some thirty poems by each of three modern poets in a single volume. In each case the selection will be made to illustrate the poet's characteristics in style and form."

This was a new departure; publishing contemporary poetry in paperbacks and so should be lauded for making the poems affordable to many, being priced originally at 2 shillings and sixpence (half a crown). I must certainly have been able to afford them as I have managed to track down nineteen of them on my bookshelves. I have certainly not read them all, but a few do bear some notes that I made at the time. They are of a nice size to slip into a pocket and I usually took one of them away on holiday. One of them still bears the stain and the faint smell of sun tan lotion and brings back fond memories. Most of the books now have a fairly battered appearance and reading again this first volume has resulted in a few pages coming away from the binding.

I remember being excited to buy them the first time around and then being a bit dismayed when I got around to opening them, to discover that some of the poets were writing in a style or language that I could not get to grips with and so although we can congratulate the publishers for making the poems available, a few paragraphs serving as an introduction would have been useful. After all the aim was to introduce the poets to the general reader. The approach here seems to have been "just print the poems". They are nicely spaced out with each poem starting on a new page and there is a list of all the poems at the front of the book.

The first poet in the first collection is Lawrence Durrell who is perhaps not the easiest of poets to appreciate and by the time the general reader had got to his third poem 'Carol on Corfu' he may have found himself as all at sea as I was. Remember in the 1960's no internet connection to help with background knowledge and any Encyclopaedia to hand would not have covered contemporary poetry. Information easily available today would alert the reader to some of Durrell's themes. His ability to connect the past with the present, his love of Greek mythology and his ability to evoke the atmosphere of Greece and its islands; its light its colour and its nature and of course the sea. He sometimes looks at life with amusement, but death is also not far away and he is a poet who feels his his aloneness in the world, love seems to be important, but ephemeral I think that all this is expressed in my favourite poem from this selection:

This unimportant morning

This unimportant morning
Something goes singing where
The capes turn over on their sides
And the warm Adriatic rides
Her blue and sun washing
At the edge of the world and its brilliant cliffs.

Day rings in the higher airs
Pure with cicadas, and slowing
Like a pulse to smoke from farms,
Extinguished in the exhausted earth,
Unclenching like a fist and going.

Trees fume, cool, pour - and overflowing
Unstretch the feathers of birds and shake
Carpets from windows, brush with dew
The up-and-doing: and young lovers now
Their little resurrections make.

And now lightly to kiss all whom sleep
Stitched up - and wake, my darling, wake.
The impatient Boatman has been waiting
Under the house, his long oars folded up
Like wings in waiting on the darkling lake.

In many of Durrell's poems there are stanzas of vivid beauty and thoughts that coalesce with the atmosphere he has created. Other poems where he achieves this are Sarajevo and A Water-Colour of Venice. I have on my shelves his collected poems and I love his novels that form the Alexandria Quartet. I have to acknowledge that some of his thoughts in his poems and his novels still remain just out of reach for me; I can almost see them but they remain just out of focus, but that is the beauty of poetry.

Elizabeth Jennings is represented by thirty poem here and I think she is more approachable than Durrell. She is said to be a religious poet and although I do not share her faith this does not prevent me from enjoying her poems. She is noted for her so-called emotional restraint, but this does not stop her from tackling highly emotional subjects for example her poem entitled 'For a Child Born Dead' where typically she keeps her distance from the event itself but still expresses thoughts that are quietly caring. She was a poet that paid great attention to the form of her poems making them a joy to read. She is also a poet who can lead the reader by the nose through a poem and then suddenly in a couple of lines take away the ground from under your feet, making you think outside of the box that she has created for you.

Here is one of her most popular poems included in this selection

My Grandmother

She kept an antique shop – or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture,
She watched her own reflection in the brass
Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove
Polish was all, there was no need of love.

And I remember how I once refused

To go out with her, since I was afraid.

It was perhaps a wish not to be used

Like antique objects. Though she never said

That she was hurt, I still could feel the guilt

Of that refusal, guessing how she felt.

Later, too frail to keep a shop, she put

All her best things in one narrow room.

The place smelt old, of things too long kept shut,

The smell of absences where shadows come

That can’t be polished. There was nothing then

To give her own reflection back again.

And when she died I felt no grief at all,

Only the guilt of what I once refused.

I walked into her room among the tall

Sideboards and cupboards – things she never used

But needed; and no finger marks were there,

Only the new dust falling through the air.

This is another poet that has become a favourite of mine and I also have her collected poems.

The final poet is R. S. Thomas and he seems to be the most approachable poet of the three. His poems in this collection could be summed as: Life is hard for a peasant farmer and he can look forward to a lonely death especially if he lives in Wales. Ok I know that this is a bit flippant as some of his poems can reach right to the bone. Women do not figure much in his poems and a couple of his poems verge on misogyny. The search for the fertile earth in barren conditions seems the lot of Thomas's peasant farmers. The poems are in sharp contrast to the two previous poets and seem to belong perhaps to an older generation. Here is a poem simply entitles Song:

We, who are men, how shall we know
Earth's ecstasy, who feels the plough
Probing her womb,
And after the sweet gestation
And the year's care for her condition?
We, who have forgotten, so long ago
It happened, our own orgasm,
When the wind mixed with out limbs
And the sun had suck at our bosom;
We, who have affected the livery
Of the times' prudery,
How shall we quicken again
To the lust and thrust of the sun,
And the seedling rain?

A nature poet who saw life in the raw: R. S. Thomas seems to be celebrating the hardness of life. He says at the end of his poem entitled 'A Peasant':

Remember him, then, for he, too, is a winner of wars,
Enduring like a tree under the curious stars.

Looking back and re-reading or perhaps reading some these poems for the first time I feel that these books are a treasure trove for poetry lovers. One hopes that the series as a whole did introduce contemporary poets to a wider audience, they certainly broadened my horizons as a young man and these battered, ink stained little poetry books are among my favourite books on my shelves. This volume 1 was a great start to the series, introducing three great poets who stamped their individual genius through all the poems here: 5 stars

kesäkuu 3, 1:35 pm

I’m impressed that you have nineteen PMPs! I thought I had a lot, but it’s only seven (if you count the recent reprint of The Mersey sound). The first featured poet who wasn’t British or American must have been Peter Porter in PMP2, I suppose.

kesäkuu 3, 2:28 pm

>199 baswood: Very interesting review, and those covers are wonderful.

kesäkuu 3, 3:32 pm

>200 thorold: Well you could argue that Dom Moraes was the first poet featured who was not British or American, because he also features in pnp2 and his poems appear before those of Peter Porter. I have pnp2 on my desk ready to go.

>201 FlorenceArt: Hi FlorenceArt The black and white covers continued for the first 7 volumes and volume 8 broke the pattern a little:

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 5, 10:56 am

Jean-Guy Soumy - La Tempête
My next library book La Tempête was a romance; a love story where two people are thrown together as a result of an unusual event. The event in question is the title of the book. Perhaps there will be more stories like this as a result of climate change, but in this novel published in 2003 there is no hint that the tempest was caused by the result of a warming climate. I don't read many romances, but I am always liable to stumble on one when taking library books out randomly.

Grace and her husband Christopher are two Americans who have spent much of their working lives in Europe. Grace was a pupil of Christopher before they were married, they are both well to-do especially Christopher who is well connected. They are holidaying in France travelling towards a chateaux deep in a forest when a tempest strikes pushing their car into a ravine. Grace climbs out uninjured, but Christopher is trapped with a broken ankle. The tempest has destroyed the forest and Grace embarks on a perilous journey to find help. She reaches a small hamlet deep in the forest which has suffered much damage, where she meets Thomas who is frantically trying to make the roof of a small chapel water-tight. Grace persuades Thomas to help her rescue Christopher and they must spend some days trapped in the hamlet which has no running water and now no electricity.

Having experienced a tempest here deep in the French countryside the scenario rings true enough. It may well take the EDF several days to reach a hamlet after a severe storm and it is likely that people who live in an isolated village will be fairly self-sufficient. Grace and Christopher are travelling in deep winter when temperatures can stay below freezing point and coping with the cold can be hard work without power. Jean-Guy Soumy creates a very realistic scenario and I am glad I read this book in summer time. Soumy also does well with the characters who live in the hamlet, but stretches credibility when he smoothes over the difference in cultures between the uninvited guests and the local residents: necessary for a love story to develop I suppose. He does treat the story with some sensitivity and it held my interest well enough. 3.5 stars.

kesäkuu 5, 1:49 pm

>203 baswood: A hot summer day is the perfect time to read anything cold and ice-bound.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 7, 5:12 pm

Emanuel Ford -The Most Pleasant History Of Ornatus And Artesia

This is an Elizabethan Prose Romance probably written in 1595 and published in 1599. Little is known about the author Emanuel Ford, but this novel proved to be very popular going through at least eight editions in the 17th century. I am calling it a novel because from a 21st century perspective it reads just like one: there is no poetry, no songs just prose that is very amenable. There is no evidence of the ornate sentence structure popularised by John Lyly, which can be like so much sugar coating getting in the way of the story telling. All of the prose romances that I have read by authors such as Robert Greene, Thomas Lodge, Anthony Munday and even Thomas Nashe seem at times to struggle to break free from Lyly's ornate style. It has to be said that there is nothing groundbreaking in Ford's book, but what he has done is taken many elements of the romance stories and wielded them together into a story that works. It feels like he had a plan and kept to it, rather than letting his tale run away to wherever it felt like going.

Ornatus falls in love with Artesia after seeing her bathing in the river, however his father is a deadly enemy of her father and he has to devise a way of meeting her. He convinces a friend of hers to ply his suit, but meanwhile the kings son Lenon has fallen in lust with Artesia who is determined to reject both of them. There are secret meeting places, Ornatus disguises himself as a woman to get close to Artesia, pirates capture Artesia, Ornatus is banished with his father, there is a fight with a wild boar and Lenon holds Artesia hostage, war is declared, but all is resolved after further twists and turns.
The story itself is a mixture of fantasy with well described realistic events: there is cheating, lying, fighting, attempted rape, casual liaisons and some altruistic behaviour. Ornatus must be a master of disguise, because Artesia and his father do not recognise him when he is disguised as a woman or when he is disguised as a pilgrim, but these disguises are necessary for the plot and are familiar tropes in comedies and romances. Ornatus when disguised as a woman gets to sleep in the same bed as Artesia, but also becomes the love interest of another man; the cross dressing leads to a mixing of gender perception issues.

Caroline Lucas in her book Writing for Women claims that Emanuel Ford's Ornatus and Artesia was aimed at women readers. Its mixture of fantasy, romanticism and adventure is appealing and Artesia and her friend Adellena are right at the heart of the story. There is lust and bad behaviour from some of the male characters, but the women behave true to themselves finding ways to thwart unwanted advances to protect their honour, but consenting to love making on their own terms. There is some eroticism in the descriptions of Artesia's near naked body and a two page lovemaking scene when Ornatus and Artesia get into bed and Artesia finally decides to give up her spotless virginity, even though they are not married (she does not suffer any retribution at the hands of the author).

The story is not overly endowed with moral preaching and even though the divine right of kings is stated as an argument, at one point in the story there is a successful rising by the downtrodden classes. Ford says in his dedication/introduction that: Here you shall see lust tyrannizing avarice guilty of murder and dignity seeking his content with usurpation, yet all subverted with virtue.
There is motive in the behaviour of his character, there is self questioning and inner cogitation and there is also some logic and argument as to how they react to events. I found myself enjoying the reading experience, not getting lost or overwhelmed by the events and although the characters are mostly high born they are not shackled by traditions of courtly love. I am not sure that readers of romances in the 21st century would find this compulsive reading, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and so 4 stars.

kesäkuu 7, 8:13 pm

Im not much of a romance reader, but Id read that! thanks for sharing!