Very odd, and very enjoyable, though as noted in the introduction suffering from a serious case of 'that's just how people thought back then...' (seeVery odd, and very enjoyable, though as noted in the introduction suffering from a serious case of 'that's just how people thought back then...' (see my review of Agatha Christie's Come, Tell Me How You Live for my stance on that objectionable opinion).
If the semi-frequent footnotes* are to be believed, this is not the first outing of at least one of our heroines. The setup was frankly ridiculous, but in the vein of absurd comedy that Spain clearly mined heavily, it worked well.
If one believes 20th-century detective novelists of any stripe, the antagonistic artistic type of suspect with wild black hair and improbably enormous beard was in a natural state of abundance throughout the British Isles (see The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Five Red Herrings, for instance), and we are not let down here: co-chief suspect (along with the 'naturally socially inferior' Jewish doctor Lariat) is the improbably bearded other man who's name I have forgotten and the book is not handy, but anyway, you get the idea. The cast of characters are absurd, and act accordingly. Spain is sending up the genre is great queer style, and it is probably a mark of how much the world has changed that I am greatly reminded of the more recent David Suchet Poirot adaptations, with their obvious inferences to the sexuality and living arrangements of their characters.
Alongside the detecting and the sending-up is a slightly surreal, modernist bent that catches the reader by surprise: at one point, during the classic 'she told her what was in the letter' misdirection, the narrator interrupts (as she is wont to do at odd intervals throughout) and tells us that, if we are clever enough, we ought to have worked it out, and therefore she will leave the rest of the page blank for those of us who have done so. Elements of Edmund Crispin abound, and though I have never read any Wodehouse I have read enough quotes to know that "Miss Birch? No, Miss bbirch. Two lower-case 'b's," harks happily back.
The plot lags and the outcome is unimportant, but reading this book for the quirky modernism and the peppy one-liners alone would be well worth it. But there really shouldn't be any question that a person can be a lesbian/comedian AND a racist, should there?
*Death goes on skis or something like that....more
Nowhere near as entertaining as her other two 'working life' books. One gets the impression she was running out of steam a little. Even her witty, bubNowhere near as entertaining as her other two 'working life' books. One gets the impression she was running out of steam a little. Even her witty, bubbly style has gone flat, like champagne left out too long.
Fun enough, but ultimately forgettable, and not at all demonstrative of the heights we know she can reach....more
Surprisingly not as good as I was expecting. The way Jingo is mentioned by devotees led me to believe it was going to be a work of genius that lampoonSurprisingly not as good as I was expecting. The way Jingo is mentioned by devotees led me to believe it was going to be a work of genius that lampooned the xenophobic nature of war; instead what I found was a decent Watch novel with a couple of interesting, if fairly unchallenging, things to say.
It began promisingly, though safely, with good old Vimes being the voice of humane reason in a sea of intolerant Ankh Morporkians. But Pratchett has developed Sir Samuel to the point where his attitudes are no longer righteously enjoyable but rather simply expected by the reader, and thus the focus has shifted from him to the events around him, on which his opinions do not seem to have an obvious effect.
And so the tale rapidly devolved from "study of home-front attitudes in lead-up to war" into "farcical and highly unbelievable romp into a desert land where some kind of confusing political issue was improbably resolved". I mean, Vetinari teams up with Nobby and Colon, complete with fart jokes and riffs on feminism, to travel in secret to Klatch and prevent a war. I'm surprised their submarine didn't take a flying leap over a nearby shark...
The frustrating thing about it is that the elements of a brilliant Discworld story are there, they just weren't deployed in the right ways. It felt a little like Soul Music (though a thousand times more enjoyable) in that there were two distinct storylines that never quite matched up: on the one hand the "grassy knoll" assassin detective story, on the other the troublingly slippery slide into war. The comedy that strung them together did nothing for me, and the lack of genuine FEELING about the topic was front and centre.
I wanted to love it, but I found nothing upon which I could hang that love. ...more
Until today, I had not thought it possible to run up against a Discworld that I didn't enjoy - bar the first two, which don't really count, of course.Until today, I had not thought it possible to run up against a Discworld that I didn't enjoy - bar the first two, which don't really count, of course.
But this is a regression, an awkward coupling of two completely separate stories held together with a glue of really, really bad jokes. It almost feels like someone got the order wrong, and this is the third or fourth Discworld novel, written before he quite got control of the reins of the stories that flow out of his fingers like music. Which metaphor is about as clunky and faux-meaningful as any that you'll find in this particularly poor example of the series.
Unlike Moving Pictures, which captured a collective madness, a weird frenzy coupled with a dazzling discovery and a satisfyingly grounded conclusion, this book just didn't make sense. Music, we learn, is supposedly the glue of the universe, the noise of the big bang, the thing that was there all along and drives everything, deep down. Yet our story starts with proto-rock, Beatles-style, and moves rapidly on through Elvis, Stones, Dylan, and into hair- and glam-rock, before dying spectacularly in flames. Sort of. Maybe with some help from Death on a flaming motorbike, the guitar that embodies the soul of music, and a shard of his scythe as a pick. Sounds badass, reads like a confused and very high teenager's fever dream.
At no point do we feel the genuine love of the thing, the way we absolutely did in Moving Pictures, the sense of true wonder and spectacle and glee that Pratchett can so easily bring to his work. It felt like a grumpy old man making Dad jokes about things he doesn't really understand, or has only briefly glimpsed, and long forgotten. "Let's go home. I'm not sure I'm that interested in music anymore. It's a world of hertz."
Just the worst jokes.
The difficult combination of two utterly dissimilar stories kept pulling each narrative to a grinding halt, switching gears, and backtracking to try and make up the ground lost at the last shift. Susan Death could have been a brilliant character, had she not been unfortunately saddled with someone else's fate and told to get out there and save him. Maybe. Did she? Who can tell?
And while Buddy was a bit of a nonevent, his bandmates were colourful and fun, and the idea of a troll and a dwarf in a band with a human could have been another Men At Arms-like chance to explore differences between the species through the medium of music, that most universal of media. And yet what we were given was a gloopy mashup of ideas that never properly gelled, separately or together.
I'll throw it a bone and say I chuckled heartily at the Blues Brothers scene - "Four fried rats." "And some coke." But that - on page 36 - was the last genuine piece of amusement I got out of this very disappointing book. ...more
"Well, I've done stories, and the myth of the movies, and death, and ancient cultures. What next? I KNOW! I'll tackle religion!" -- Terry Pratchett.
T"Well, I've done stories, and the myth of the movies, and death, and ancient cultures. What next? I KNOW! I'll tackle religion!" -- Terry Pratchett.
The man just gets better and better, giving subtle weight and genuine reasoning to that most fraught of all topics, what people believe.
Wonderful Pratchett characters abound: sighing cynics, worldly philosophers (with state-granted loofahs), simple church novices, grumpy tortoise-gods... They interact with one another in delightful and delightfully true ways, they learn, they grow, they fail, they do silly walks. We, the readers, laugh and weep, sigh and chuckle, but mostly we just look on in awe as a master weaves his threads into something suspiciously like a masterpiece.
As far as I'm concerned, one need never read anything that isn't fantasy, since all the food for thought and soul-yearning for philosophy and discussion and reason are right here, in the Discworld. Throw away your Ian McEwans, your Salman Rushdies (make an exception for Graham Greene, though, a man who could possibly have done some fabulous collaborations with Pratchett in literary wonderland), put down your painfully self-aware Foster Wallaces and your Dave Eggerses. Just read nothing but Pratchett for the rest of your days. Open a school where the curriculum is based solely on the teachings of Sir Terry. Preach him to your children, your students, your old folks. Tell them this:
I: This is Not a Game II: Here and Now, You Are Alive....more
Enjoyable both for the insight into the Assassin's Guild that the logical-sequence reader has not yet come across, and for the honest and interestingEnjoyable both for the insight into the Assassin's Guild that the logical-sequence reader has not yet come across, and for the honest and interesting discussion of religion that it encourages. As well as, obviously, for its comic genius and for Pratchett's glorious fun-loving writing.
I didn't enjoy this as much as the last one I read, Wyrd Sisters, but I think that's just because I was more interested in the themes he chose to tackle in that one than in this. Only slightly less, mind you. I also liked the Wyrd Sisters more than Teppic and Ptraci, neither of whom were quite as well developed, in my opinion. However, the deft and gleeful handling of the hefty and difficult subject of religion, as always, shows Pratchett to be the master that we all know he is, summing up centuries of internal and external conflict in a few paragraphs, before getting down to a good solid (but pleasant) mockery of them.
Pratchett's comic timing is always spot-on and his pacing is fantastic, so that at times you forget you're reading and are completely dissolved into the story - the denouemont here, with the volatile pyramids and the literal race against time, was so well written that you could almost hear the dramatic movie music leading up to that peak. It was exciting. I remember reading the interview with Neil Gaiman at the end of Good Omens, in which he said that Pratchett was one of the very few people he'd ever met who enjoyed the act of writing, the sitting down and writing of a book, and this always comes to mind when I'm reading a new Discworld. It's blatantly obvious that he was having the time of his life writing this book.
One of the best parts of this one was the greatest mathematician in the world, the humble camel You Bastard and all his other mathematical camel friends with similar names that you can imagine being shouted by irate camel-owners. His descriptions are always so surprisingly accurate that they catch you off guard, unused as most of us are to authors using language in new ways or creating new turns of phrase - the way a camel appears to look at a person with his nostrils was one of my favourites this time round.
So, to sum up: religion -- mockery; camels -- secret geniuses; pyramids -- mysterious; Discworld -- more depth; humour -- genuine....more
A perfectly sweet little book. I read it in less than an hour, which I love.
It has something of the romantic comedy about it, and something delightfuA perfectly sweet little book. I read it in less than an hour, which I love.
It has something of the romantic comedy about it, and something delightfully quirky that I have come to associate with Canadian creations - although admittedly I am mostly thinking of Scott Pilgrim here. A little off-centre, a little tongue-in-cheek, it's kind of like one perfect slice of cake: not too big, not too small, leaves you feeling all warm and gooey inside without feeling overindulged.
The little vignettes of twentysomething life are charming and heart-tugging, from a first kiss after being painted into a corner, to realising you don't need so much stuff after your moving van with all your possessions inside is stolen. Now that I think about it, there was a lot of the slightly surreal sweetness of this book in the recent Australian film Griff the Invisible.
As with many short stories and short novels, I can see this being a really lovely movie, done properly. But that's not the point. I think the quote on the back said it best, that this book would be replacing flowers and chocolates as romantic gifts in the future. I can't think of nicer praise to give....more
If the idiots of the world aren't careful, they'll find themselves being educated without knowing it. Reading Pratchett is like reading something writIf the idiots of the world aren't careful, they'll find themselves being educated without knowing it. Reading Pratchett is like reading something written by someone who finds pretty much everything interesting, and wants to share it with you without condescending or being preachy. Oh, wait...
Here he tackles Macbeth in particular, and the power of the written and spoken word in general. How he manages to take something as epic and classic as Macbeth and simultaneously mock it and pay homage to it is probably the essence of what makes Pratchett a truly great author. His characters are no-nonsense, rational people often thrown into ridiculous situations that cause havoc and general hilarity. You can literally see him having fun with the story, playing with conventions in every possible way and still creating a gloriously readable, constantly chuckle-causing tale.
The three witches are works of genius, genuinely likeable, funny, and quirky characters whose interactions are a joy to behold. You would think that a man's view of women written 25 years ago would date horribly and laughably, but it's a mark of how insightful and observant Pratchett was that they are just as warm, relevant and funny now as they ever have been.
There's pretty much nothing wrong with this book; it's entertainment in its purest form, handled by a master....more
A perfectly enjoyable book. I can see why comparisons are frequently made with Pratchett, as the styles of comedy and the lightweight handling of fantA perfectly enjoyable book. I can see why comparisons are frequently made with Pratchett, as the styles of comedy and the lightweight handling of fantastical elements are very similar.
However I can also see why Pratchett has endured and Holt hasn't. Where Discworld slowly became a slate where Pratchett could write numerous styles of narrative and delve into various aspects of humanity and history, Tom Holt apparently just wrote a lot of humorous urban fantasy that didn't really connect at all. I said to Toby as I was reading, I think that his style of fiction has passed its use-by date.
It was fun, the characters were likeable/hateable, it was nicely plotted and well resolved. On the downside, a lot of the jokes were definitely only funny in the 90s and I found some of the overarching humour a bit juvenile (as in, the Dutchman can only put to shore once every seven years because he and his crew smell really bad; the scenario is handled well, but in the background you can kind of imagine the author giggling like a schoolboy...).
I had fun, but I don't think I'll be reading any more of his books, especially not while I've still got the majority of the Discworld novels to read....more
I knew this book was a dark horse before I started reading it. I think this may have detracted slightly from my enjoyment of it - when Toby was readinI knew this book was a dark horse before I started reading it. I think this may have detracted slightly from my enjoyment of it - when Toby was reading it and laughing out loud, reading out funny parts and noting the self-referentiality of it all, I was surprised. But when it came to reading it for myself, I knew all this already, and so my bar for pleasant surprise was higher. I expected Fen to be making up titles for the author during the story, otherwise that escapade might have reduced me to fits of laughter.
However, none of that detracts from The Moving Toyshop being an entertaining story! The fact that Crispin constantly draws the reader's attention to his literary devices only makes those devices work better. The writing is neat and enjoyable, the characters humorously likeable - reminiscent of Evelyn Waugh at his best - the scenarios delightfully improbable and all the more hilarious for it. It is rare for a really good chase scene to appear in any novel, let alone a 40s mystery novel, and this one has at least three; Crispin manages to keep the balance of action and dialogue just right, and to undercut the whole with a gorgeous farcical comic tone that feels just right.
I don't know if any comparisons to Waugh have been made of his work (or just this book, as I haven't read any others yet) but I would like to offer it; I do know that comparisons to Greene have been offered, because he did so himself (",...somewhere someone must be saying a Hail Mary...") and I definitely second that. I am certainly on the Gervase Fen bandwagon from this point on!...more
The thing that I found myself thinking most of all about this book as I was reading it (apart from that it was so like the movie that I couldn't helpThe thing that I found myself thinking most of all about this book as I was reading it (apart from that it was so like the movie that I couldn't help but hear John Cusack and Jack Black saying the lines...) was that it was basically 'guy-lit'.
As opposed to chick-lit, you know. An easy to read, funny, genuinely touching novel with some insight into the human character that haven't dated at all, even if the pop culture references have.
Hornby writes simply and easily, not well or badly, just nicely. Rob's constant internal monologue is so readable and identifiable that you feel like you know him, or maybe you are him. Even the characters that seem stereotypical get their little moments of redemption.
If the movie hadn't been pretty close to one of my all-time top five favourites, reading this might have been more of a revelation. As it was, I still found myself laughing out loud in all kinds of scenarios, something I rarely do (although I think this speaks more to my choice of reading material than my capacity for embarrassing social practices).
I have a warm and fuzzy feeling after reading this one, and so I am unashamed....more
I am a complete Lemony Snicket worshiper, without exception. The way he deals with any subject with irreverence hidden by neat turns-of-phrase and humI am a complete Lemony Snicket worshiper, without exception. The way he deals with any subject with irreverence hidden by neat turns-of-phrase and humorous observations is unequalled, in my opinion.
The holiday season is a time for storytelling, and whether you are hearing the story of a candelabra staying lit for more than a week, or a baby born in a barn without proper medical supervision, these stories often feature miracles.
The lump of coal's narrator is as despondent, observant and hilarious as ever, with winks and nudges to the reader, asides that in other hands would probably be naff and "break the fourth wall" are here wickedly enjoyable and add to the tone of the story.
My only quarrel is with the ending - it's happy! And a teensy tiny bit moralising, which, I know, it's Christmas and all, but I do tire of the American holiday-season smarminess sometimes.
The kind of book I will undoubtedly read to my kids one day....more
Loads of fun, my favourite early Discworld thus far. The signature Pratchett voice is starting to shine through more constantly at this point, makingLoads of fun, my favourite early Discworld thus far. The signature Pratchett voice is starting to shine through more constantly at this point, making Sourcery a super enjoyable read. A few of the secondary characters felt a little bit underdrawn, or started out well then got dropped later on, but to be honest it barely detracts from the enjoyment of the novel at all. ...more