I'd never read any Ibsen before and was astonished by this - its psychological depth compared to its economy was amazing, even for drama. Hedda Gabler...moreI'd never read any Ibsen before and was astonished by this - its psychological depth compared to its economy was amazing, even for drama. Hedda Gabler, the ferociously intelligent, dangerously cruel, yet ultimately pitiable protagonist defies easy categorisation.
I can't imagine why I've waited till now to read it - I saw that there was a new production of it on in London and thought, ooh, I should give that a go. It was another of those "to read" books that's been on the pile for years.
It's a pile I really need to mine more often at this rate. (less)
I just didn't get it. It was on some Amazon special deal for mere pence and I bought it ages ago, but I still feel swizzled. I finally got around to f...moreI just didn't get it. It was on some Amazon special deal for mere pence and I bought it ages ago, but I still feel swizzled. I finally got around to flipping through it. It gets one star for a joke in the middle - "Hurt me!". "All right, you look fat in that dress." But really, don't waste your time. Watch some Dylan Moran and get to laugh more than once. (less)
A tiny, beautifully put together little ghost story with the bombast of neither the play nor the movie, but full of horrifying but unshowy touches.
The...moreA tiny, beautifully put together little ghost story with the bombast of neither the play nor the movie, but full of horrifying but unshowy touches.
The novel (or rather novella) follows Arthur Cripps, now in middle age, as he enjoys Christmas Eve with his family of second wife and step-children. The children begin to tell ghost stories, and when he is asked if he has any to contribute, he makes his excuses and runs out into the snow.
By turns we learn that he does indeed have a ghost story, and he resolves to write it down, for no-one to see until after his death. The Woman in Black is this story.
The framing device here works very well - we see straight away that the Arthur of the present is very different from the Arthur of the past, and his description of his Harker-esque journey to an unnamed county on legal business is compelling. In fact, all of the writing on atmosphere, from unpredictable sea "frets" to beautiful, silent sunny days is exemplary and makes a major contribution to how the book works. The Woman herself, a malevolent but tragic creature, appears out of the shadows of such quiet moments, and her curse on the village, which translated on the screen recently as horror grand guignol is huge and yet effectively silent and cruel in the book, as none of the afflicted will speak directly about it.
It's all so bitter and done so wonderfully well. And I loved the dog. Though I wouldn't recommend reading this late at night. (less)
I enjoyed this, but felt it never really got going til 200 pages from the end. I never, unlike the other series Carey has done, got a sense that Moiri...moreI enjoyed this, but felt it never really got going til 200 pages from the end. I never, unlike the other series Carey has done, got a sense that Moirin was ever in any real danger or that much was at stake - a feeling that continued until she finally gets to Chi'in.
It's a shame, but if I hadn't loved the Kushiel's Dart series so much, I don't think I would bother with another Carey after reading this. (less)
Really enjoyed this by the end. After a rocky relationship with it at the beginning, it cut suddenly away to Bernadette and her past and herself as an...moreReally enjoyed this by the end. After a rocky relationship with it at the beginning, it cut suddenly away to Bernadette and her past and herself as an artist, and immediately I was hooked through to the end. Thought it was a lot smarter than I'd initially suspected. (less)
Signed with the Cross - "The Crusades" by Thomas Asbridge location: London mood: impressed music: Toxic Valentine - All Time Low I've frequently whinged a...moreSigned with the Cross - "The Crusades" by Thomas Asbridge location: London mood: impressed music: Toxic Valentine - All Time Low I've frequently whinged about the rather dispiriting lack of anything resembling a proper popular cultural history of the Middle Ages. There's loads of great Tudor era material, but not much from earlier. I have my much-loved copy of The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer, which is an utter life-saver, but unfortunately it concentrates on the Fourteenth Century, and the character in Sleepwalker is actually from the Thirteenth. Furthermore, he's a Crusader; specifically a Knight Templar.
I had of course done some reading on the Crusades just out of general interest before I started writing Sleepwalker (they'd been a matter of personal fascination to me since I'd visited Jerusalem as a student), and I'd particularly enjoyed The New Knighthood by Malcolm Barber, the multi-volume History of the Crusades by Steve Runciman, and also the very populist but no less fun and interesting The Crusades by Alan Ereira and Terry Jones.
So I was happy to get a chance to look at Thomas Asbridge's forthcoming book The Crusades (published by Simon and Schuster, who very kindly set me up with access to an except), and I was very glad I bothered. It proved a fast and yet authoritative read and distinguished itself on two fronts - through the device of giving equal time and consideration to the Muslim view of events (Saladin's tactics are analysed and critiqued - it's clear that Asbridge feels that it's a downhill slide for the Islamic champion after Hattin) and the book also offers more than a passing treatment of what it might actually be like to be fighting in the Siege of Acre.
Though bound to be a straightforward military history by its very nature, it's actually spiked through with lively storytelling and wonderful anecdotes, such as the scandalised Muslim historian reporting on "300 young and lovely Frankish maidens" who arrive to earn a living servicing the Crusaders (and, it is implied, Muslims) besieging Acre, who "brought their silver anklets up to touch their golden earrings [and:] made themselves targets for men’s darts". Ingenious jihadis get a supply ship to the beleaguered city of Acre by shaving their beards off and filling the decks with pigs and crosses, fooling the Christian sailors manning the cordon. An emir caught transporting the hated and feared "Greek Fire" (which features in Sleepwalker, so I was delighted to see it) is captured trying to get into the city, and a Latin knight ‘stretched him out on the ground, emptying the contents of the phial on his private parts, so that his genitals were burned’.
But it's not all (admittedly grisly) fun and games: there is also the horror of starvation, disease, of being surrounded by rotting corpses which are constantly being replenished with fresh ones to the tune of up to 200 a day.
There's also a very human treatment of the main actors - Saladin is passionate, determined, but maybe a little too cautious; Richard the Lionheart is flamboyant, canny, and vain, but capable of ruthless acts of massacre. The use of evidence, historical context, and personal supposition is mingled convincingly and their characterisations drawn with an elegant economy of language. The political history is delivered with the same sprightly verve as the military history, and from the point of view of an interested amateur, this treatment worked well for me.
Apparently the word "crusader" comes from the Latin portmanteau crucesignatus - "signed by the Cross". One can forward social and political reasons that render the Crusades a matter of mere expediency, but those reasons on their own are insufficient - ultimately the genesis of the Crusades is ideological. Sadly, in the last couple of decades, the Crusades and their troubling questions of religious fanaticism and grasping political adventurism are closer in spirit to us than they have ever been. Asbridge's accessible and above all humane take on them is thus an entirely welcome approach to this very topical subject.(less)
It's been a long time since I've read something I admired so unreservedly - on one level, it's a nailbiting adventure in each of the book's segments,...moreIt's been a long time since I've read something I admired so unreservedly - on one level, it's a nailbiting adventure in each of the book's segments, as you care passionately about the outcome of each disparate story, but it's also constructed in such a lucid, intricate way, and the final section (which is the first chronologically) connects so beautifully to the central (which is the last chronologically) that it effortlessly subverts the movement of the characters through time - all is circular. I was quite breathless at the scale and ambition at the end.
I definitely see more David Mitchell appearing on my reading list in the very near future...(less)
A fun grab-bag of assorted facts, such as the observation that "time" is the most commonly used noun in English, and that in Iceland the phone book is...moreA fun grab-bag of assorted facts, such as the observation that "time" is the most commonly used noun in English, and that in Iceland the phone book is organised by first names. If that's the kind of thing that floats your boat, you've come to the right place. (less)