Friday, May 27, 2005

Time to paint my name on my shell...

and climb into my hibernation box. Yes, it's the end of May, and for me that means only one thing. It's been nice knowing you all. See you in August some time.

Original Comments
What the hell happened to 'read more books, watch less telly'?


Thursday, May 26, 2005

25: Tudor groupies

I don't know why I consider Philippa Gregory to be trashy reading. Maybe it's because she wins awards for romantic fiction. Maybe it's the blurb on the back. But it's probably because her books grab me in a way I've rarely felt since I started reading Stephen King all those years ago. The Other Boleyn Girl is the story of Ann's sister Mary and her affair with Henry VIII, and how she was supplanted in his affections by Ann, and once Ann was gone, if the Boleyn-Howard family could have stuck another woman of theirs under his nose, they would have.

But really it's a book about the special powers and powerlessness of women in that time, and the special freedom and servitude of courtiers, especially courtiers to someone as notoriously capricious as Henry. Gregory gets over very well the idleness, the gossipy flirtations that never went anywhere, the huge sums of money won and lost at cards and games while elsewhere people's livelihoods were being ruined for no reason. She is also great at ramping up the tension in a situation where you already know the outcome, but a part of you is hoping that maybe she'll change history, just this once.

But that's another genre altogether.

24: Slender book

Muriel Spark could sure teach modern novelists a thing or two about the soul of wit. The Girls of Slender Means is only a short book, less than 200 pages, but it contains a whole world, a whole social whirl of World War Two and the Blitz and the freedom that young women were beginning to experience and the constraints there still were upon them and their movements and their expectations for the future.

There is a cosiness and a sisterhood here, as well as sadness, wasted potential, seething jealousy, sexual tension. And there's a huge tragedy in the offing.

Somehow the tragic events that are ominously foreshadowed throughout the book and then revealed at the end are not really necessary to give this snapshot of young women living in a "club" for girls of slender means a doomed aura, but the tragedy is there anyway. It's pretty guessable and slightly disappointing, but the rest of the book is perfectly judged and timed.

23:Set sail for...

It's impossible to talk about Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf without talking about Jack Aubrey as well, so I won't bother taking that approach. And indeed, on the back of the book you are warned to have read your fill of Patrick O'Brian and C.S. Forrester before you open this book, for once you look upon the deeds of Lord Thomas Cochrane, all fictions will pale by comparison.

And to an extent (a very large extent), this is true. The things that Cochrane did were truly amazing. He took on and beat French ships twice his size. He took so many prizes on one mission that he had only 23 men left on his own ship, not enough to man a gun crew, and then he took another ship by firing only the bow chasers at her, because her crew reckoned that only a maniac would come after them if he didn't have an enormous crew.

Cochrane was that maniac. A fighter in all things, a scrupulously honest man, he was also a parliamentary reformer and (sadly) a bit of a mentalist. He was an inventor and a man to hold a grudge. He was a man at sea on land, just like Jack Aubrey. In fact, many of the scrapes and escapades that Jack gets entangled in come from Cochrane's life.

But take heart, even if you've read this book and are thinking about reading some Patrick O'Brian. This book isn't funny. There is no choosing the lesser of two weevils here. There's no Stephen, no intrigue, and no real character portraits of any of Cochrane's faithful crew (well, you'd be faithful too if you were taking the kind of prizes these guys were), who surely must have been a huge help in carrying out his lunatic plans.

What there is, though, is an excellent account of the life of an extraordinary man, an interesting overview of the senseless waste and corruption that was rampant in Britain at the time, and some fantastic sea battles to re-enact with your cruet set whenever you have friends over for port.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Contestant number three, you are the weakest link

Rizzo (or Beauty, to give her her real name (big points for that. It's almost as original as Lady)) has gone home to her Mammy who got a new name tag for her and a lecture on brushing her bloody dog.

Original comments:
Hey, I'm pretty sure you read a lot of books while we were away. Where are the reviews, huh?
Posted by watchdog on May. 24 2005, at 2:40 PM Delete

Here's contestant number three

This is Rizzo, or at least that's what we're calling her. We found her wandering around our estate for hours on end yesterday and we took her in while we figure out who owns her.

Three dogs is hard work. I don't know how they made it look so easy on All Creatures Great and Small.

Oh wait, they lived in the telly. That's how.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Phear teh CUTENESS

I didn't intend to turn this into a dog blog, but sometimes it's hard to resist.
Original comments
They look like a lot of fun, except Keith tells about the 5.30 wake up calls
Posted by Caelen on May. 11 2005, at 3:29 PM

That is true. But ahhhh, look. Ahhhhh.
Posted by perfectlycromulent on May. 11 2005, at 4:20 PM
I'm amazed you're in any position to worry about other people being woken up early, Caelen
Posted by Ray on May. 11 2005, at 4:46 PM

Monday, May 09, 2005

22: Less is more

I remarked on I Love Books that I was not enjoying John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure. One response I got said

"If you don't have a big interest in food, France, classic detective fiction, the Ripley books and so on it would probably seem a bit pointless."

I was forced to admit that I had an interest in none of those things, and so I found the book completely boring (hey! Just like I found The Talented Mr. Ripley completely boring!). Once again, if the blurb on the back had been better written, it could have alerted me to this similarity and I would have avoided the book.

The story concerns a gourmand and bon viveur, a man fond of the sound of his own voice (which is very tiresome and littered with French phrases) and his own opinions on the subject of Art, specifically, what is great art? He is envious of his brother, deluded in his view of the world, lazy and shiftless, and generally a thoroughly dislikeable person. Which would be fine, except that I didn't just register his dislikeability, I actively disliked him. Bit of a problem.

I'm not saying this is a bad book. I just, well, didn't like it.

Dog's life

Really, don't you wish you could spend your days like this?

Sheriff Cody

This is Cody, who is a nine-month old retriever/spaniel cross we're fostering at the moment. He's a bundle of fun and he and Milo are getting on really well. Of all the dogs we've fostered, he's the only one (apart from Milo) who I've really fallen for. It will be a wrench to give him up when the time comes.