I was so happy to finally get a copy of this book, after coming across it in little Cosmos bookshop in St. Kilda about 2 years ago, even though I coulI was so happy to finally get a copy of this book, after coming across it in little Cosmos bookshop in St. Kilda about 2 years ago, even though I couldn't get an edition with the nicer tractor cover. I just find it tacky to print the first two sentences on the front cover, even though it is a catchy beginning.
It was certainly not quite what I was expecting - because it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize last year, I guess I was expecting something a bit heavier, more depressing. But this book is hilarious. It's heavily ironic, surprisingly dialogue-based, yet so much is revealed in subtle ways.
Nadezhda (Nadia for short) and her Big Sis, Vera, lost their mother two years ago and have been fighting ever since over the will. Now they are brought together by a common goal: to prevent their 84 year old father, Nikolai, from marrying a Ukrainian gold digger with big boobs. Their words, not mine. Nadia's story is interspersed with excerpts from her father's work on tractors (he was an engineer), and the tale of her grandparents, parents, the war and how they came to be in England.
This story is so neatly balanced between the humour and farce of the present "situation" and the scary, desperate past. The past sections are not told in a morbid fashion, though. It's hard to put my finger on what it is exactly, but the narrative has that almost stale taste you acquire when telling a story not your own: Nadia was the Peace baby, Vera the War baby, and Big Sis is very tight-lipped. Nadia has to piece together the past, and Vera's account doesn't always match their father's.
Another thing I loved was the familiarity of the English world: although I have never been, I found great heart in the fact that the text had not been altered for a North American readership. Words like "capsicum" are still there, little golden nuggets to stumble across in the story. (For anyone who doesn't know, capsicum is the "real" word for "pepper", as in, bell pepper. The capsicum family, it is. It's the word we use in Australia, too.)
I loved this book, but I'm having trouble getting past my positive reaction to really understand it. I'm sure there's more to it than what's on the surface....more
To be honest, I never heard the panda joke until this book came out. The Australian version is a bit different - not as clever and involved, perhaps,To be honest, I never heard the panda joke until this book came out. The Australian version is a bit different - not as clever and involved, perhaps, but funny nonetheless. It went something like (and I am the worst person at re-telling jokes, I always forget bits. Usually the punchline): What does an Aussie bloke have in common with a wombat? They both eat, shoots and leaves. Except that's not quite it cause the grammar is off. Never let me tell a joke, I'll always ruin it.
Anyway, to the book. Wonderful, wonderful book. Hilarious, absolutely hilarious. And, as a bit of a "stickler" myself, very welcome too.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves covers the apostrophe, the comma, the semicolon and colon, the hyphen, dash and bracket, and even the question and exclamation marks. If you have always struggled, or sometimes doubt, how to use any of these, this is definitely the book for you. If, like me, you read it and get awfully chuffed with yourself for using them (almost always) correctly, you'll still want to keep this little gem around, either for back-up in those arguments with other sticklers (or punctuation-impaired people), or for a laugh. It's an easy-going, ironic book, full of tongues-in-cheeks and witticisms and puns - intelligent puns.
One of the things I love about this book is how Truss captures the punctuations marks' true characters. Giving marks personalities is a great joy to me - the only reason I used to fly through the times table every morning in primary school was because all the numbers had personalities and characters, and when they times'd by each other it was like a dramatic scene in a play; that was how I remembered it all. I can't say I do the same with punctuation, but I totally agree with Truss' personifications. For example:
Now, there are no laws against imprisoning apostrophes and making them look daft. Cruelty to punctuation is quite unlegislated: you can get away with pulling the legs off semicolons; shrivelling question marks on the garden path under a pwerful magnifying glass; you name it. ... the tractable apostrophe has always done its proper jobs in our language with enthusiasm and elegance, but it has never been taken seriously enough; its talent for adaptability has been cruelly taken for granted; and now, in an age of supreme graphic frivolity, we pay the price. [p.36:]
... if you feel you are safe paddling in these sparklingly clear shallows of comma usage, think again. See that comma-shaped shark fin ominously slicing through the waves in this direction? Hear that staccato cello? Well, start waving and yelling, because it is the so-called Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) and it is a lot more dangerous than its exclusive, ivory-tower moniker might suggest. [p.84:]
There are times ... when the semicolon ... performs the duties of a kind of Special Policeman in the event of comma fights. ... One minute the semicolon is gracefully joining sentences together in a flattering manner ... and the next it is calling a bunch of brawling commas to attention. [p.125:]
I love it! It also does wonders for understanding how to use the fiddly little things, if you've ever had trouble - and let's face it, who doesn't? And while Truss' tone may often be light and playful (even a little frivolous), this book is hip-deep in interesting historical background, usages and common mistakes, and entertaining examples of real-life punctuation boo-boos that, if you care at all, will actually make you tense up in indignation.
She also has a friendly dig at Australians and our tendency to turn statements into questions, which the British fans of Neighbours have picked up, much to her chagrin:
Increasingly people are (ignorantly) adding question marks to sentences containing indirect questions, which is a bit depressing, but the reason is not hard to find: blame the famous upward inflection caught by all teenage viewers of Neighbours in the past twenty years. Previously, people said "you know?" and "know what I'm saying?" at the end of every sentence. Now they don't bother with the words and just use the question marks, to save time. Everything ends up becoming a question? I'm talking about statements? It's getting quite annoying? But at least it keeps the question mark alive so it can't be all bad? [p.141-2:]
I laughed and laughed.
I did feel a bit ashamed when Truss disparagingly brings emoticons into the discussion - I have used a couple of smileys and the like on occassion. But it's not easy getting tone across in written words - or, rather, it kinda is (isn't that what writers accomplish all the time?), but in emails etc. it's more personal, and you can't read body language or facial expressions, and these people you are chatting away to are so often strangers, that it is so easy to be misconstrued, misunderstood, and a whole lot of other "mis-es".
Another thing I appreciated was that, this book having been written by a Brit, it hasn't been Americanised. That would be a completely different book. But Truss does make distinctions between American and British usages which are very helpful, and interesting too.
This book reads a bit like an essay, the kind famous writers write so that we'll all be awed by the intellectual genius behind their Great Works - except Eats, Shoots & Leaves is not at all pretentious; on the contrary, Truss confesses several times that she herself has doubts, and still learns that what she thought was wrong is actually "correct" (such as it is). What I mean, is that this is not some dry reference book - and the panda joke on the back cover prepares you for that. Even so, this is perfect reference material for students, teachers, copy-editors, journalists, proof-readers (please!), sticklers and, well, anybody. I learnt a lot from it but had fun learning, which should actually help me remember it all.
And I just can't believe I never noticed that the movie Two Weeks Notice doesn't have an apostrophe (which I very nearly typed in myself just now), or that Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn't have a question mark. I think my brain put them in for me, which is why I'm very surprised to find these punctuation marks are missing.
Recommended for everyone, even people who are bored shitless by anything to do with writing.
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afra**some spoilers**
Lamb starts with one of my favourite quotes, which sets the scene very aptly: "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh" (Voltaire). A deceptively slim-looking book (but one that is absolutely heavenly to hold - no pun intended - with it's glossy floppy cover and delicate leaves), Lamb is, as the title says, the (fictional) story of Christ's childhood as told by his best friend Levi who is called Biff.
Now, Moore doesn't mention Monty Python anywhere, but I'd wager he's seen Life of Brian. Whether he liked it, got it or appreciated it, I couldn't say, but it's a possible inspiration. It doesn't have the clever wit or irony, or the sheer genius of Brian, but it does have the irreverant humour. That aside, Lamb is a great story, made up but oddly plausible.
Keeping to the "known" facts and not interested in questioning your faith in any grand or cynical way, Lamb is told by Biff, resurrected today by an angel so he can write down his version of events. Given the gift of tongues, Biff writes it in contemporary American idiom, which saves the story from being dry and boring. He claims to have invented sarcasm, and encourages Joshua (later Jesus) to have a sense of humour. The best bit about this book, though, are the adventures the two friends have.
At about 13, they set off to find the three Wise Men who had been there at Joshua's birth, in order for Joshua to learn how to be the Messiah. They spend years in a cave-like fortress in Afghanistan with Balthasar, more years at a Budhist temple in the mountains with Gaspar, and yet more time in India in nooks in a cliff with the seagulls learning from Melchior. They learn Confuscius from Balthasar, Biff learns about poisons and alchemy from Balthasar's Chinese concubines, and they encounter a very hungry demon They meditate and study Budhism from Gaspar (as well as kung-fu and "Jew-do" because Joshua doesn't want to hurt anyone) and encounter the last Yeti; and rescue children from the Hindu god of destruction, Kali, before finding Melchior, who teaches Joshua how to fit himself inside a wine bottle and multiply food - which comes in handy later, that's for sure - while Biff learns the Kama Sutra.
Biff is the perfect counter-point to the more serious, naive and well-meaning Joshua, whose mother brought him up from birth to believe his father is God, not her husband Joseph. Although Moore admits it's hard to write a story set in this time and place because of the lack of knowledge of the period, he does an admirable job and it's entirely believable. I did find it a slow read at times, but I definitely found myself laughing as well. It also gave the best explanation of the Holy Ghost, or Holy Spirit, that I've ever heard, and suddenly it makes more sense. More to the point, though, it makes Joshua - Jesus - more human, and thus more sympathetic. That matters to me, though it might not to other people.
It got so that I found myself really caring for this character, and the others - especially Maggie (the Mary Magdelene), their friend from childhood. The final scenes, when you're suddenly reminded of how the story ends, creep up on you and settles like a lump in your throat, and I totally felt for Biff and understand why he did what he did at the end - though interestingly enough, despite all he'd seen Joshua do, and despite the fact that he had always believed in him, he did not believe Joshua could really bring himself back from the dead. And so, in the end, he did not have faith. A slight irony.
Despite Biff's silly humour and the occasional fart joke, Lamb is written with maturity, compassion and skill. The setting, landscape and supporting characters immerse you in the story, the period and the upheavels. More to the point, it's a nice (comforting) thought that Jesus might have had as good and loyal and silly a friend as Levi who is called Biff....more
A wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, aA wonderful, priceless book, full of wit and philosophical musings and profound observations.
One morning at the small village of Glennkill, Ireland, a small flock of sheep wake up to find that their shepherd, George Glenn, has been murdered. With a spade through his guts. Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glennkill, decides they should investigate and find his murderer, because even though George was a bit of a peculiar and irrascible bastard, he was still their shepherd, and who would read "Pamela novels" (romances) to them now?
So begins an interesting week of discoveries, where through the sheep's observations and investigations we learn about the townsfolk, and that some odd things were going on, and that there are mysteries beneath the mysteries. The sheep too have their own secrets, and fears, as well. Perceptions aren't static - as we learn more about George you can't help but become fond of the man, and I like his style of shepherding! Gabriel, another shepherd whom the sheep always admired, turns out to be less than worthy of their admiration. Bible-thumping Beth, as George always called her, isn't so straight-forward either.
The sheep themselves have delightful personalities, and although Swann's descriptions of raising sheep don't always coincide with my own knowledge from growing up on a sheep farm, a lot of the mannerisms and peculiarities were very familiar and often had me laughing out loud. There's Othello, a black ram with four horns who was once in a circus (part of a knife-throwing act that left him scarred); Maude and her incredible sense of smell; Sir Ritchfield, the lead ram, who's mostly deaf but still has good eyesight; Mopple the Whale, who can remember everything; Lane, the fastest sheep in the flock; and Zora, who has a ledge above the cliff from where she gazes out over the "abyss" and watches the cloud sheep.
Because the sheep have an almost childlike and very logical way of observing humans and their behaviour, it's often very humorous and also profound. The nice thing about this novel is that, aside from the sheep's ability to understand human speech and to ponder human matters, they haven't actually been anthropomorphised - they're still very much sheep, not sheep behaving like humans. Equally hilarious are the humans' perceptions of the sheep and their behaviour, which the story manages to convey with great comic timing. Using the sheep also enables clues to turn in on themselves, or be obscured until the sheep figure something out, and so on, which really keeps the detective side of the story humming along nicely.
I don't usually read crime novels of any kind, especially the generic kind, but this one I could happily re-read and notice more each time. Knowing the "whodunnit" side of things doesn't spoil it at all, because Three Bags Full is so much more than a detective story. ...more