What's strangest about this book isn't that it's written in an ersatz extinct language, it's that the narrator ends up being the most unlikable characWhat's strangest about this book isn't that it's written in an ersatz extinct language, it's that the narrator ends up being the most unlikable character in the entire novel. The "shadow" Anglo Saxon isn't just a gimmick; this isn't merely an historical account of heroic Anglo underdogs fighting against Norman invaders--no simple RETURN OF THE JEDI set in twelfth century fenns. No, Kingsnorth overturns such a premise and instead crafts a rather complex and thought-provoking examination of imperialism, xenophobia, justice, religion, war, and class division. Rather than serving merely as a marketing ploy or as a poetic flourish, the otherworldly language serves to get us directly into the mind and emotions of Buccmaster of Holland, even as we slowly realize that he himself is a despicable fuccan esole. Such a tension causes us to question both sides of the war and in turn question similar fighting that has happened more recently. ...more
I spent a couple hours the other day looking through all the "Best of 2013" book lists that were recently published in newspapers and on websites. LIFI spent a couple hours the other day looking through all the "Best of 2013" book lists that were recently published in newspapers and on websites. LIFE AFTER LIFE was the clear winner, but I guess "Best of..." book lists are like Oscar picks for Best Picture because LIFE AFTER LIFE is hardly what I'd call a masterpiece. It has some great scenes (Ursula's marriage to an abusive schoolteacher, her work during the Blitz, her observations of a snoozing Fuhrer), but overall the book is a slog. There are dozens of characters, though only a couple of them are interesting. The same scenes are repeated over and over without any satisfying payoff. Any insight into the human condition is bleak but also cheap (and ultimately nihilistic), and I don't think that Atkinson really understands the Nietzsche that she so freely references. As other reviewers have pointed out, this is just a dark, boring, inferior GROUNDHOG DAY....more
Am I wrong in assuming that this brief chapter on Malgo (XI.7) is intended to be sarcastic? Geoffrey of Monmouth provides this self-contained biographAm I wrong in assuming that this brief chapter on Malgo (XI.7) is intended to be sarcastic? Geoffrey of Monmouth provides this self-contained biography: "Unto him succeeded Malgo, one of the comeliest men in the whole of Britain, the driver-out of many tyrants, redoubted in arms, more bountiful than others and renowned for prowess beyond compare, yet hateful in the sight of God, for his sodimitic vice. He obtained the sovereignty of the whole island, and after many exceeding deadly battles did add unto his dominions the six neighbour islands of the Ocean, to wit, Ireland, Iceland, Gothland, the Orkneys, Norway, and Denmark." The editor of this edition says much of Geoffrey's tongue-in-cheekiness, but aside from this late chapter about a powerful, wonderful, brave king who is nonetheless (or should I say "natheless"?) an evil sodimite, I didn't come across much humor in this book.
Nor much suspense or excitement or emotion. The book starts strong enough, when it discusses trolls and Lear and dungeon-dwelling concubines, but by the time it reaches Merlin's symbol-heavy prophecies, it has completely petered out. The second half, including all the stories about Arthur, is pretty much one person smiting another only to soon be smited himself, and it's rather tedious to slog through. The ancient history, which is clearly just localized adaptations of Biblical and classical Greek myths, is worth reading, but by the time Cordelia dies you can pretty much set the book aside. ...more
This is probably very good on the stage, but on the page it is a chore. Did Congreve really need to give every character a name beginning with an M orThis is probably very good on the stage, but on the page it is a chore. Did Congreve really need to give every character a name beginning with an M or a W? The character's love affairs are already crisscrossed in bizarre overlaps; trying to distinguish the names only makes a difficult puzzle impossible. As far as I could tell, the conclusion seemed improbable, the character relationships unnatural, and the humor not exactly funny (with the exception of Petulant, who hires empty coaches to call for him at hotels so he can make a show being too busy to deal with them, and the boisterous Lady Willful, who scolds her maid while applying excessive amounts of cosmetic). Don't read this, at least not first--find a way to see it performed....more
A most pleasurable read built upon a fantastic premise: in order to appreciate and, more importantly, to understand history, we must see it not as hisA most pleasurable read built upon a fantastic premise: in order to appreciate and, more importantly, to understand history, we must see it not as history, as facts and dates and artifacts and sweeping generalizations, but as an actual, liveable reality that once existed. To encourage such thinking, Mortimer writes of fourteenth century England as though it were possible to actually visit, conjecturing (and proving quite stylishly) that writing a travel book about the distant past is no more difficult than writing a travel book about a distant country. After all, it's no more difficult to cull together some facts and customs about Vietnam and explain what it would be like to stay at a hotel there than it would be to write about London in 1325.
Mortimer recounts some vivid imagery. A London so filthy that it's infested not only with rats but with wild pigs as well. Swollen scrofula boils that can only be healed by the patient king's divine touch. Suspected thieves who spend years in dank, dark cellars awaiting their trials. It's great stuff, and it makes me want to be able to pick up a Time Traveler's Guide to every century and country....more
I'm not exactly sure who the intended audience of this book is. It's too dense and precise for casual cover-to-cover reading and yet far too perfunctoI'm not exactly sure who the intended audience of this book is. It's too dense and precise for casual cover-to-cover reading and yet far too perfunctory for any significant research or critical insight. The greatest masterpieces of the canon receive, at most, a paragraph or two, while even a single esoteric poem might receive two or three long sentences. Some of the historical and cultural explanations are helpful, and the thing as a whole is certainly intelligent and readable, but it took me nine weeks to read the first four hundred pages and when the library renewals ran out I just didn't feel the need to finish the remaining two hundred and fifty....more