This time, however, I read "Math son of Mathonwy" from The Mabinogion first, and that helped to make a little more sense of the plot. The story of Math, and his nephew Gwydyon, and grandnephew Lleu is frequently referred to in The Owl Service, but in a fragmentary and disjointed way. So reading the story of Math helps to put it in context. But I still didn't like it as much as Garner's earlier books. ...more
A book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behA book set in an imaginary world where the geography is different from our world, but the climate and vegetation are similar. The sun and the moon behave similarly, winter and summar are more extreme. The setting is thus in one sense familiar, though the countries and their borders are strange. Like many other books of its type, the technology is vaguely pre-nineteenth century.
What is different are the peoples and their cultures, and this at times makes it difficult to read, as some of the features of the cultures and society in the book are introduced without being explained.
Most of the action takes place in the land of the Khaiem, a land of city states each ruled by a Khai, with vague memories of a fallen empire, some elements of whose culture have been inherited. There is a somewhat shadowy group called the utkhaiem, whose role is not explained until about two-thirds of the way through the book. At first their appear to be some kind of police force, but it later turns out that they are the upper class in the cities of the Khaiem.
The story takes place in two parts, the first in Saraykeht, one of the summer cities of the south, which thrives on the cotton trade, and the second in Machi, one of the winter cities of the north, where the main economic activity is mining. The plot revolves around one of the customs of the Khaiem -- when the Khai dies, his sons fight to the death to determine his successor -- and follows the fortunes of Otah Machi, the sixth son of the Khai of Machi, who abandons his heritage and identity, and seeks to make a new life for himself far from home.
The culture has two peculiar features. One is that though they can talk, they have an elaborate system of non-verbal communication, by taking poses with lots of subtle nuances. It makes it a bit difficult to picture people walking down the conversing, and stopping frequently to adopt appropriate poses.
The other feature of the culture is the andat, a kind of materialised god/ghost created and controlled by poets, who are usually drawn from the ranks of the younger sons of Khaiem. The andat have powers that underly the prosperity of the cities of the Khaiem. In the mining areas, for example, the andat has the power of making stone soft, which facilitates the tasks of miners. In the areas of the cotton trade, the andat removes seeds from cotton. In this sense that andat are a kind of substitute for technology, so there is no need for any kind of industrial revolution.
In this setting the plot of the story is played out, with the usual human features of love, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, ambition and all the rest. When I try to think of other books in the same genre, the one that springs first to mind is Shardik by Richard Adams. ...more
Rhis is the third of the books I've read in Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, and I've just realised that I've neglected to writRhis is the third of the books I've read in Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, and I've just realised that I've neglected to write reviews of the other two either here in GoodReads or on my blog.
There is something about Zafón's books that is reminiscent of Phil Rickman, with the shared characters, and the undertone of fantasy and horror. The difference is, as I can now see, that Zafón's books need to be read in order, even though The Angel's Game is a kind of prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.
In that respect they are more like C.S. Lewis's Narnia books, where it is better to read them in published order rather than the chronological order in the sequence of stories. Chronology is an obsession of modernity, and Lewis, in particular, was trying to lead his readers out of modernity into a mythical world.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón has a similar intertwining of the mythical and the modern, though in a somewhat darker and more adult way than Lewis.
So for now let me just say for that the seres is about different generations of the Sempere family who run a bookshop in Barcelona, and the different generations of the family are introduced in turn to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where they are invited to leave a book that has been, or is likely to be forgotten, and to take one forgotten book and read it. Behind this lurke the idea that the book has something of the soul of its author and its readers embedded in it. ...more
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens toThis is a strange book.
It's hard to know if I can say more than that without giving away the plot, if there is a plot. Or giving away what happens to the characters and what they do.
It is also a bit confusing because sometimes one does not know which character is speaking until one is halfway down the page, and then I have to go back to the top of the page and read it again with the other character in mind. But that's OK, because even the protagonist doesn't really know.
And also you sometimes don't know whether the events are taking place in the present or in the past. But that's OK too, because most of the time the protagonist doesn't seem to know that either.
Marnie and Jess Irving are twenty-something sisters whose father has disappeared. And in the neighbourhood where they live the cats are disappearing one by one. Marnie has a friend Shiuli and two other friends Dylan and Ruth. Sometimes they do things together but most times they dont.
It is about the ambiguities of friendship and love, about memory, love and revenge and the darkness that is within us.
I don't think I can say more than that without giving away the plot. If there is a plot. ...more
When I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moveWhen I was a child we had this work on our bookshelves, in three volumes, just like the one in the illustrations, but they disappeared in several moves, when my mother got rid of a lot of surplus possessions. I read many of the stories but my favourites, the ones I reread many times, were those in the "horror" section, and it was this book that gave me a taste for horror stories.
It was more than fifty years ago now, but the stories that made the biggest impression on me, that I read and re-read, were "The Wendigo" by Algernon Blackwood and "Couching at the door" by D.K. Broster. After the books disappeared I sometimes wanted to read them again, but I could only remember the titles, and not the names of the authors, and I thought I would never find them again.
And then along came the Internet, with its access to knowledgeable people, and other resources. A web search engine quickly found the authors of both these stories, and "The Wendigo" was available in downloadable form. ...more
A failed wizard, a failed farmer, and a new queen anxious to improve her image in the eyes of her subjects: these are the main characters in this shorA failed wizard, a failed farmer, and a new queen anxious to improve her image in the eyes of her subjects: these are the main characters in this short and simple but entertaining tale.
It offers opportunity for reflection on the themes of monarchy, dishonesty, and ways of coping with failure. ...more
My younger son is a great fan of Terry Pratchett, so I bought this book as a birthday present for him, and when he finished he passed it back to me toMy younger son is a great fan of Terry Pratchett, so I bought this book as a birthday present for him, and when he finished he passed it back to me to read. Terry Pratchett is not my cup of tea, and the only one of his Discworld books I've tried to read I never managedf to finish. But I have enjoyed books by Neil Gaiman, and I quite enjoyed this one.
It's about an angel and a demon, Aziraphale and Crowley, who are charged by their respective principals with some of the preparations for the battle of Armageddon, but make some serious errors, which they then together attempt to cover up.
The Antichrist, who was meant to be brought up by an American diplomat, and presumably to grow up in a position to be able to influence the statesment of the world, is instead entrusted to an accountant and his wife in a small English country town. Aziraphale and Crowley are desperate to get him to fulfil his destiny, but his middle-class upbringing and healthy country living seem to thwart them at every turn. In fact his life as a schoolboy with his friends seem to resemble that of Richmal Crompton's William Brown. In fact one possible alternative title for the book was William the Antichrist.
This is not really a review, but more a response to the Good Reads review prompt "What did you think?" So I'm writing more about thoughts inspired byThis is not really a review, but more a response to the Good Reads review prompt "What did you think?" So I'm writing more about thoughts inspired by the book than thoughts about the book itself.
In The boy who could see demons 10-year-old Alex Broccoli is being treated by psychiatrist Anya Molokova. He tells her about the demons he can see, and especialy a demon Ruen, who says he is studying Alex as a research project. The story viewpoint switches back and forth between Alex and Anya. Anya is concerned that Alex needs in-patient care, partly because his father is absent, and his mother is suicidal.
An experience that a premodern person might have understood as possession by an evil spirit might be understood by a modern psychoanalytic patient as more mischief from the Id, and might be understood by a postmodern individual as a subpersonality making itself heard - might even, if you want to get really postmodern about it, be recognized as all three.
When Alex is an in-patient in the institution, which has its own school, he regards some of the other children in his class as "psycho", and is aware, at one level, that Anya regards him as a bit "psycho" too. Anya, from her professional point of view, regards Alex's condition as a possible case of early onset schizophrenia, but at times finds herself forced to see it from his point of view, and that when he tells her things about herself that he could not possibly have known, be is speaking the truth when he says that he did not know them, but Ruen told him to say them.
This takes me back to another book I read nearly 50 years ago, The primal vision by John V. Taylor. It was on Christian presence amid African religion, and is still, I believe, tremendously valuable. It shows how Western Christianity, which has been strongly influenced and shaped by modernity, sometimes fails to cope with premodernity in Africa. One of the things that stood out for me about it is that Western culture tends to relate the causes of evil to internal things, whereas African culture tends to see them as external. So for Western culture one's demons are all in one's head, whereas in African culture they are in one's environment. And it seemed to me that it is like different maps of the same territory. We all have our own constructions of reality, which differ according to our culture and experience, just as a geological and a political map of the same territory might be quite different. Nowadays, with Google maps and the like it is easier to see the different layers of maps that can be used to view the same territory.
I think I've mentioned before in this blog that when I was in Windhoek, more than 40 years ago, we received a letter from a group of psychotherapists in Chicago, saying that they were concerned about the mental health needs of the Third World (there was a Third World back then, though Namibia wasn't going to be any part of it if the Nationalist government had its way). I thought about this letter for a long time. And I thought that sending a team of American urban psychotherapists to rural Namibia would be like sending a team of witchdoctors from Ovamboland to treat middle-class suburban housewives in greater Chicago. Their psychological ailments are so culturally bound that the therapists from both places would need to spend the next twenty years learning to understand the culture of their patients in order to get inside their skins.
Of course psychiatry is not just any psychotherapy, but is specifically medical. But even there, Western "scientific" medicine is bound by culture, perhaps even more bound in some ways, because of its claim to be "scientific" and therefore above subjective cultural considerations.
Scientific medicine has made great advances in Africa, and great inroads into African thinking, but there can still be the dual viewpoint. In premodern Africa most diseases, other than minor coughs and colds, were thought to be caused by human malice expressed in witchcraft (see Tabona Shoko in African initiatives in healing ministry).
In Western medicine the germ theory of disease carries more weight. An African trained in Western scientific medicine would be aware that malaria is caused by the bite of a female anopheles mosquito that is infected by the malarial parasite, but might still ask, "who was responsible for sending that particular infected mosquito to bite me."
To Westerners this might sound superstitious, but I recall that 25 years ago the drug Ritalin was routinely prescribed as a panacea for all kinds of ailments, including children being bored and daydreaming in class. Psychiatrists and schoolteachers alike seemed to be convinced of its miraculous properties. That seemed entirely superstitious to me.
The Africa of The primal vision lies 50 years in the past; Africa is modernising rapidly, and is a different place. People sometimes don't realise how different it is. People talk about ubuntu as an African value, but very often seem to have forgotten what it means.
But there are still cultural difference in the ways that illness is perceived, and perhaps, like the wave and particle theories of the transmission of light, there is a place for both.
On reading this for the first time, it seemed to have been inspired by the popularity of Watership Down by Richard Adams. What Adams did for rabbits,On reading this for the first time, it seemed to have been inspired by the popularity of Watership Down by Richard Adams. What Adams did for rabbits, Horwood does for moles.
The system of mole tunnels under Duncton Wood is large, and moles in one part hardly know those from other parts of the system. There also some parts of the system that are almost forgotten, and there are also some customs that have been forgotten as well, so that the moles are using their centre, the silence of the Stone at the centre of the system. This enables a cruel tyrant, Mandrake, to take over the system.
Two young mioles, Bracken and Rebecca, the latter Mandrake's daughter, meet, and eventually embark on a liberation struggle.
The moles are given a philosophy and a mythology that is very human, and yet it somehow does not seem to diminish their moleness. ...more
Gross and obscene. Privet and her companions return to Duncton Wood to find the seventh Book of Silence, and Quail, leader of the newborn moles, is alGross and obscene. Privet and her companions return to Duncton Wood to find the seventh Book of Silence, and Quail, leader of the newborn moles, is also on his way there. More "religious" and less mole-like than any of the preceding books - Horwood has obviously run out of ideas, and seems to be trying to send a messages to his publishers, "I am sick of writing books about moles, and I am writing this one to make my readers sick of reading books about moles, so please don't ask me to write any more books about moles."...more
I've read the first three books of the quartet three times, and the last one, Tehanu once. I liked A wizard of Earthsea best on first reading. I was sI've read the first three books of the quartet three times, and the last one, Tehanu once. I liked A wizard of Earthsea best on first reading. I was slightly disappointed by the second reading. By the third reading none of the first three books was as good as I remembered them, and the fourth, Tehanu, was positively boring.
So I would have given the first book four stars on first reading, three on the second and two on the third. The tombs of Atuan three on the first reading, two on subsequent readings. The farthest shore gets two stars for the first reading, and probably the second and third as well. Tehanu gets one for the only reading.
Some books seem just as enjoyable on subsequent re-reading as the first time, but this one does not, and tehanu should never have been written. It's almost as bad as Wild Horse Woman, another fantasy novel sequel that really should have been strangled at birth. ...more
This was so bad and unconvincing that it put me off reading any other books by this author.
One expects strange and unexpected things in fantasy booksThis was so bad and unconvincing that it put me off reading any other books by this author.
One expects strange and unexpected things in fantasy books, but when rivers flow uphill one feels some explanation from the author is called for, otherwise it seems as though he made them flow uphill in a fit of absence of mind. ...more
Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever is back for another trilogy. Donaldson writes a good story, which manages to hold one's interest, perhaps because of thThomas Covenant the Unbeliever is back for another trilogy. Donaldson writes a good story, which manages to hold one's interest, perhaps because of the mcguffin of different suns, so that for the first half of the book one wonders what is going to happen next. When it seems that one is at last going to get an explanation, however, it turns out to be disappointing, and as bewildering as if there has been no explanation at all.
But Donaldson's style grates even more after three long books, with Covenant the leper clenching himself on almost every page, gagging on acid and chewing broken glass and other gory and distasteful activities.
Perhaps most annoying, from someone who is supposed to have an MA in English, Donaldson trips over his long words, and piles on the metaphors and adjectives until one wonders if he knows what they mean. He uses "inchoate" more as if he likes the sound than to add to the meaning, and uses "sojourn" several times when it seems from the context that a journey and not a stay is meant. If he uses relatively common words wrongly, one wonders whether he knows what he is talking about when he uses words like "incarnadine", "crepuscular" and the like, and then describes something as "livid green" in one sentence, and "iridiscent green" in the next, which is almost a total contradiction.
Like Covenant's clenching, Donaldson's malapropisms tend to become annoying. ...more
Phil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his otherPhil Rickman's books are difficult to find, and one buys them when one can. This was one of his earlier ones, which we hadn't read. Many of his other books have characters that appear again, but this one is in a different setting, with different characters.
The characters are not as convincing as those in some of his other books. It is more tinged with horror and dark and evil forces. His later novels, especially in the Merrily Watkins series, turn out to be more like whodunits, and one misses the supernatural chills.
In many ways I should not have liked it as much as I did. And I think the reason I liked it is that I have been in the kind of situations he describes. He gets the relationship between Christianity and paganism better aligned in his later books -- the kind of situation he portrays in The man in the moss has been shown to be historically inaccurate in England. But it is in many ways true to life in parts of Africa. It may be wrong in its setting, but move it to another setting, and it becomes true to life. ...more