Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

"The learned profession of the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities, neither was Mr Stryver, always fast shouldering his way to a large and lucrative practice, behind his compeers in this particular, any more than in the drier parts of the legal race."

Dear Mr Charles Dickens, it is such a puzzlement to me that it has taken so many years for us to become so well acquainted. Your stories are so entrenched in popular culture that they appear strangely familiar, for I 'dreamed a dream of days gone by' that Madame Defarge was knitting in Les Mis but clearly my cultural references were all askew.

I wonder whether my new found love of Charlie D (as I've decided to call him)  stems from:
 a) the awe inspiring address of Simon Callow that I had the pleasure of hearing on the subject of his brilliance - Dickens that is - not Callow - who is nonetheless quite brilliant; 
b) the wisdom of approaching middle age (highly doubtful with my Peter Pan-like tendencies - is there a female version?) or;
 c) my recent masters course of the legal persuasion - no one writes about the law like Dickens - he so beautifully captures the potential injustice of justice and the true financial burden and mental cost of protracted cases. 

Perhaps it is a mixture of all three and might I add, that this particular offering is delightfully slim in volume. I'm not 'fat-ist' but Dickens can tend to occupy a decidedly large portion of your life should you pursue some of his more weighty tomes and this  exists as a tasty morsel - much like A Christmas Carol  - bite sized chunks of brilliance for your brain to savour.

Fair warning, dear reader, the plight of the good Doctor Manette, his daughter, her husband and Mr Lorry is bound to draw you in and you may, like me, find yourself closing the final chapter in the wee hours of a school night. Needless to say work was frightful the next day and yet, I felt privileged to have lived through such upheaval in two great cities. I think the opening sentence retains such resonance because the present time is always the best and the worst of times and the equally famous final sentence, chock full of self sacrifice reminds us that in crazy times when the world  is a scary uncaring place, there are still good people who put the needs of others first. That, despite the horrific Defarge couple, is a reassuring takeaway in a world where civil unrest and torment is still an every day occurrence in much of the world.

"A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to each other" - well isn't that a timeless turn of phrase in a hands-off digital world?

5 out of 5, a classic for a reason and perhaps the real reason why I'm hopeless at knitting.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

"He had achieved this state consciously after year upon year of unconscious rehearsal of the manifest paraphernalia of arrogance and contempt, then exceeded it".

Every now and then, an exception to the rule raises its head. In terms of movie adaptations, this, in my opinion is certainly one where the cinematic offering is far superior to the literary version, and I say that with one foot staunchly set in the opposite court. It is rare where one's own imagination can't invent a more intriguing adaptation than the likes of Hollywood, however the prose on offer here is so laboured that I say bring back Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra.

The novel is written as if the author has both simultaneously swallowed the dictionary and also harbours a desperation to be considered as a serious author. Drowning in a sea of unusually large words that mesh poorly together, the reader is left to shirk the constant undertone that screams " look at how clever I am". If , perhaps he'd succeeded, then the work would exist as some kind of revelation; as it stands, it seems to be the poor cousin of the scriptwriter's polish. It is VHS compared to blu-ray.

The ideas, must have been novel to the contemporary readers upon its release and certainly the notions are exciting and interesting, the difficulty arises in the delivery.

I have not seen the Denzel Washington movie adaptation, however it would be interesting to compare both movies with the book. 

3 out of 5, old blue eyes sang it better, now let's go play some solitaire.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Bonkers by Jennifer Saunders

“I bloody loved this jumper. My going-out outfit, when I went to the local disco, was red cord jeans and the jumper.”

After reading her autobiography, I am more convinced that ever that Jennifer Saunders would make for an entertaining party guest. Certainly she might do, say,  or wear, the wrong thing, but always in a generally hysterical fashion. Told in rapid fire fashion, the book is a collection of delightful vignettes that will appeal to fans of Saunders straight away.
Who hasn't imagined themselves as Edina or Patsy, a few bolly stollies the worst for wear?
Who wouldn't love to count Dawn French, Lulu and the odd spice girl as a friend?
Jennifer delivers as always with her uniquely wacky and lovable persona and I am sooooo excited to see her this week at the Sydney Opera House. Don't worry, I'm not a freak, I shan't ask her around for tea or pony club.

 5 out of 5 show jumpers like to prance...neigh?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

"No wonder the undead were traditionally considered to be very angry"

Hurrah for another outing to Discworld and what a delight this particular journey promised to be. Who, of those Pratchett readers out there, doesn't like Death - the guy's a scream - boom tish. This lively outing begins with death or rather the lack of it.
As previous visitors to Pratchett's other realm will know, a wizard must be met in person by DEATH at the end of his life - meeting your maker style. Yet, when Windle Poons' days expire it seems no one is available to meet him and well, his body just doesn't seem to be leaving for his final resting place.
Elsewhere Death has been fired and has taken work in a village as the unlikely named Bill Door. I'm thinking doors are more likely to slam shut for an overgrown skeleton, but fear not, adventure, mirth and merriment abound. Well the guy is handy with a scythe.

Thanks Nicki for the loan of this delightful book.

5 out of 5 mediums are verging on small.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki

"They gazed rigidly forward as they spoke, the one seeing the line of the other's nose dimly through the corner of the eye."

It is hard to believe this novel was written in 1929, perhaps because it deals with such a constrained subject as the loss of passion in a marriage and the reticence of both parties to move on. Kaname and Misako still love each other and their young son, but everyone is wearing a mask to the outside world, pretending their circumstances are perfect to shield the void within. This is a story that could happen anywhere and anytime in many ways. The fear of social reprisals through divorce may not be as all pervasive these days ( except in some cultures where it is not an option) yet, there remains a sense of failure that divorce is imbued with and that often keeps couples together who would be better apart.

The sense of timelessness is not the result of a particularly modern translation either, this particular edition was translated in the 50s. In terms of the aspects of the novel that clearly place it in the Japanese setting such as the puppet shows, the kimonos and the social interactions, they add a layer of both complexity and delight.

This novel is certainly not one I would have picked up were it not for its inclusion in the 1001 books list, but I'm glad I did.

5 out of 5 unhappy couples need to let go.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

"A twopenny ice from an Everest tricycle was the whole extent of her knowledge of luxury."

This has been on my to read list for a decidedly long time, but I only got around to it of late. There is something really dense about the prose which is to be savoured and not rushed; admittedly this took a lot longer for me to read than your average 270 page paperback, but that is hardly a bad thing.

Unfortunately the lure of Helen Mirren was too much to resist and so I'd actually seen the film before reading the book. Generally, I find that most disappointing, however I was able to compartmentalise and enjoy them both separately on their own merits. In my imagining of the written word, the colours seemed brighter, the action more lurid, Ida completely un-Mirren like and Pinky less visible, and a little pathetic. His tough act hides the immaturity of his years and poor Rose, who seems so innocent, perhaps she is the real wild card. There's a sense that she is playing the victim  to escape the status quo of her life, and indulge in  a more adventurous one.

I can honestly see why this is on so many best reads lists, but I admit to being a bit of a Greene fan - so perhaps I'm biased. The blend of the seamy underbelly with the innocence of youth makes for a compelling juxtaposition and the parade of well realised, but damaged characters will reel you in from the get go.

5 out of 5 record players might play things you won't like to hear.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

What Darkness Brings by C. S. Harris

"Sebastian was aware of a strange sensation, like a rush of burning liquid that coursed through his veins, tingling his fingertips and dulling all external sound."

Hurrah, another thrilling instalment of the Sebastian St. Cyr franchise all wrapped up and I'm still smiling. I love the trip back in time that these books provide and Sebastian makes for such an attractive heroine. Just when Kat was finally off limits due to his marriage to Hero and her marriage to Russell Yates, circumstances have a way of changing rapidly.

Throw in an enormous blue diamond, continuing intrigue with French spies, unwitting murder witnesses and witchcraft and you have an action packed, exciting tale to draw you in.

The continuing tension with father-in-law, Jarvis, the mystery of Sebastian's look alike non-relative, the sub plots continue and maintain the reader's interest throughout the series, while each instalment provides a delightful morsel of adventure, death and a soupcon of sexual tension - will the rivalry between Hero & Kat heat up? Will Sebastian remain a good boy? Will I have to wait a long time for the next novel? So many questions and I can't wait to have them answered.

5 out of 5 blue diamonds may not be a girl's best friend.