Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Seventeen - Dune - Part One

I think I knew this was a science fiction book before I began reading it. The movie seems to have fleetingly entered my consciousness at some point. While I’m not opposed to science fiction, it isn’t my favorite genre. I was a bit concerned when I saw several appendices in the back of this book since appendices tend to herald an author who has created his own world and his own language. While becoming absorbed in a new world can be fascinating it can also be difficult to keep up with unless I am completely engrossed in the story, so I’m trying to find chunks of time to read it. The thing I’m missing is a map. I really like maps in a book like this as I enjoy charting the various locations. (Perhaps this relates to my nerdy side. Um, yeah, I’m fairly sure that’s what it is even though I am not, in general, a huge fan of cartography.) 

I am intrigued by Paul and enjoy getting mere suggestions as to his future and his purpose. Dune appears to be a classic struggle of good versus evil and those are always fun. Plus I know that there are more books in the series so I’m pretty sure old Paul survives. There are also excerpts of a future history book that appear throughout the text and these excerpts provide foreshadowing. It’s an interesting technique.

There are some great quotes in this book and I am a fan of the pithy saying. I love an old adage, though I suppose adages are old by definition so that may be redundant. In any case, there are some lovely sayings here. “Any road followed precisely to its end leads precisely nowhere.” (Not sure I agree with that one but it sounds important.)

“The proximity of a desirable thing tempts one to overindulgence.” (Hence the reason you don’t buy the large Hersey bar.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Sixteen - Holes

Louis Sachar
Holes is a cute little book that I wish I’d read all at one sitting. Since I read it in bits and pieces, I missed some of the interweaving of the characters and it took a moment for the “Aha!” to set in. The main character’s name is Stanley Yelnats, and I always like anyone whose surname is his first name spelled backward. Well, Stanley may be the only example I can recall, but the rule still applies.

This novel is probably classified YA. The story is actually the story of Stanley’s family, his extended family and the various characters that they’ve interacted with at crucial moments in their lives. It’s also the history of the place called Green Lake, which in the present is not at a lake at all. There are the usual YA villains, easy to tell from the good guys, but the teenagers are more lifelike with some good and some bad qualities. The story is sweet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bleak House - The Movie

The 2005 adaptation by Andrew Davies is available instantly on Netflix! I'm in movie heaven. I adore Andrew Davies' work, particularly the 1995 Pride and Prejudice and the 2008 Sense and Sensiblity. I get lost when I watch those. You know, lost in a lovely sort of way.

This adaptation is eight 54 minute segments, so with the holidays it will take some time to get through them. I've seen the first episode and loved it. I like Esther so much better than when I read her! Perhaps it's because her kindnesses are condensed, and she doesn't seem like such a wuss in person. Lady Dedlock is so... vacant yet intense. She's perfect. Mr. Tulkinghorn is duplicitous and deliciously sinister, and Nemo is sufficiently haunted. (I didn’t know “Nemo” is Latin for no one! So Finding Nemo was about finding no one? I’m so disappointed. I mean, I know they probably took the name from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, but still.)

I got to see the Growlery! Oh, and Mr. Guppy is skeevier than I’d imagined.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Fifteen - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Part Three

Louis de Bernieres
From Literary Norfolk

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin has moments of clarity and perspective, much history about the island of Cellaphonia, and an incredibly unsatisfying ending. It isn’t even an ending as much as a cessation of writing. There is no resolution of conflict; in this case I expected the denouement to be sad yet sensible. But it wasn’t truly there at all. It is as though the author taught all he set out to teach about Cellaphonia, its history and its place in the world during the 20th century and he was through. What happened to the history being written by Dr. Iannis and later by Pelagia? I kept waiting for it to reappear but it did not. Apparently it was simply a tool for de Bernieres to provide his own history of the island. By the way, according to this site it’s pronounced keff-a-lonia.  

I enjoyed the book and I liked Pelagia well enough, loved Dr. Iannis, and didn’t trust Corelli from the start. I also love Carlo and Drosoula, Mandras’ mom, and could have done with more Alekos the goat herder. I love historical fiction but – is it just me or aren’t the characters the most important thing? I know the story needs to make sense in terms of plot and setting and that action is what page-turners are made of, but if I’m not invested in the characters why do I care what happens to them? I never felt that I understood either Pelagia or Corelli. Pelagia, young and immature at the beginning of the novel, never seems to mature. She accepts inevitabilities but there is not enough evidence of her thought process. We get her choices with none of the decision making process, only the end result. How can I understand her? It feels unfinished. The love story, especially, is fragmented. 

One thing de Bernieres masters is nice monologues. Here is one by Dr. Iannis –

Love is a kind of dementia with very precise and oft-repeated clinical symptoms. You blush in each other’s presence, you both hover in places where you expect the other to pass, you are both a little tongue-tied, you both laugh inexplicably and too long, you become quite nauseatingly girlish, and he becomes quite ridiculously gallant. You have also grown a little stupid.

If you’re a romantic and you’re not so much liking Dr. Iannis, wait! There is more.

Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part…

Do you see why I love Dr. Iannis? He’s mature enough to understand both the nature of love and its consequences. In this same narration he goes on to explain that he experienced this love with his wife.

There are other moments of brilliance, particularly in the description of the music. De Bernieres must play the mandolin because he’s so familiar with it, and he does a good job describing things like tremolo to someone who knows little about it. For example, “He heard the melody rise and swell, breaking into a torrent of bright tremolo more limpid than the song of thrushes, more pellucid than the sky.” Ah, I see from this site that he does play the mandolin, and “He works from a shed in his garden.” I rather like that about him.

The despair of a WWII novel is there, but the years after the war are touched upon so briefly that the changes in Pelagia do not make sense to me. Is it because I’m female and Pelagia, a female, is written by a male? Is the reverse also true? Is it possible for a male to write a female protagonist who women love and can relate to completely, and vice versa? Help me out here, people. I’m not talking romance novels or even Jane Austen. Her purpose was to write women who, after a bit of trouble, get happy endings. Her heroes are meant to appeal to women and behave bigger than life. (Actually her purpose was to make a living, hence the reason she wrote what she did. But I digress.) Are all male protagonists written by women better than life? Are all female protagonists written by men the same? I love Dr. Iannis, the father figure, but not Captain Corelli, the “romantic” lead. Dude, I’m not looking for a father figure, but maybe the charm of Iannis as a person is that he’s both loving and sensible. I suppose that’s why I like Drosoula, as well. I suppose the characters that appeal to us have more to do with us than with the characters, and I suppose there was a time in my life when I may have been on Team Corelli. (It’s difficult to imagine, though. I believe I was at least partially sensible even in my youth, but I may be employing selective memory.)

Enough of my personal angst. The book includes a quote from Goethe’s Faust that is quite stirring. Here it is in German and in English –
Meine Ruh' ist hin,
Mein Herz ist schwer,
Ich finde sie nimmer
Und nimmermehr.

My peace is gone,
My heart is heavy,
I will find it never
and never more.

Schubert set Faust to music and here’s a video of this song on You Tube. The music is magical and the refrain especially haunting. It is truly beautiful even though I don’t understand German. Here are the German and English lyrics to the entire song if you’re interested.

Finally, an image of Cephallonian goats, just for fun.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


I'm off on a business trip tomorrow and anticipate finishing Captain Corelli's Mandolin while there. I'm afraid I see where the book is going, and if I'm right I won't like it. I'd love to be surprised.

I'm also taking with me Behind The Scenes At The Museum, the first novel by Kate Atkinson. I adore her Jackson Brodie novels. She manages to take several disparate stories and flawlessly tie them together at the end. I did have a problem with the first one I read as she presented brand new information at the end of the book, but I gave her another chance and she hasn't done it since. When is information a clue and when is it a red herring? That is the question.

P.S. You know how when you don't know how to pronounce something you sort of figure out a way to say it in your head? And then you "say" it that way each time? For the first couple of hundred pages whenever I read "Cephallonia"I vacillated between cell-a-phonia and cell-phone-onia.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Fifteen - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Part Two

I’m enjoying this book very much. It’s told from different points of view and each voice is unique. I’ve often heard and read of the comradeship among soldiers, and at the beginning of the novel one of the characters expresses this in a lovely way --
You come to know every nuance of each others’ moods; you know exactly what the other is going to say; you know exactly who will laugh and for how long over which particular type of joke; you acquaint yourself intimately with the smell of each man’s feet and perspiration; you can put your hand on someone’s face in the dark, and know who it is; you recognize someone’s equipment hanging on the back of a chair, even though his is the same as everyone else’s…
Two of the voices in this novel are soldiers; one is Italian and one is Greek. I especially appreciate these dual perspectives, but as you can imagine the bottom line is the same - war is hell. As one of them says, "The world looked the same, but beneath the surface it had broken out with boils."

Most of the novel thus far is set on the Greek Island of Cephallonia in 1940-41. The Greeks fight the Italians relentlessly and to great effect and it is not until the Germans march in with their large numbers and superior equipment that the Greeks are defeated. After neighboring Corfu falls, the Cephallonians wait for the Italians to occupy their island –
Families embraced more than had been the habit; fathers who expected to be beaten to death stroked the hair of pretty daughters who expected to be raped. Sons sat with their mothers on doorsteps and talked gently of their memories… Many people visited their favourite places as if for the last time, and found that stones and dust, pellucid sea and ancient rock, had taken on an air of sadness such as one finds in a room where a beautiful child is lying at the door of death.
Imagine the hopelessness. All of the able-bodied men were off fighting and the remaining inhabitants could only wait for abuse from the invading army. How many times has this happened throughout history? In how many languages have people expressed the same despair?

Books like this make me wonder why I was so fortunate to be born in this time and place. I don’t understand my good fortune, but I suppose the sentiment is as old as war itself.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Fifteen - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Part One

I suspect I shall enjoy this book despite its somewhat flowery narrative. Here are a few quotes from the first paragraph of chapter 3. (Chapter 2 was about Mussolini. Seriously.)

The inscrutable goats of Mt Aenos turned windward, imbibing the damp exhalation of the sea at dawn that served the place of water in that arid, truculent, and indomitable land.
Why, if I’ve heard goats described as inscrutable once, I’ve heard it a dozen times.
Their herder, Alekos, so unaccustomed to human company that he was short of words even in his inner speech…
Now this I like. Brilliant description.
… his goats too would do as Cephallonian goats had always done; they would sleep at noon, concealed from the sun on the vertiginous northern slopes of cliffs, and in the evening their plangent bells might be heard even in Ithaca, carrying across the silent air and causing distant villagers to look up, wondering which herd was passing close.
Basically what we have in this scene is mysterious goats living in a desert next to the sea whose goat herder enjoys his work even though he has to climb steep cliffs but at least his goats are real easy to keep up with what with their loud bells and all.

So we went from chapter one - a fascinating story of a man who cured deafness with the removal of a decades-old pea - to Il Duce to goats. I like quirky and I like a book that keeps me on my toes, so overall I’d say I’m good to go on this one.