Well, I’ll be off to France tomorrow morning. So I’m afraid the Sandman reviews won’t be up until July (you’re all on tenterhooks, I can tell). I have no idea what my internet access will be like, but I probably won’t be able to post often. I’ll be reading Harry Potter et la chambre des secrets (thanks L!), and Maigret tend un piege while I’m there. The Maigret novels are mysteries that were written in the 50s; I had to read another one for class once (though my French was such that I never figured out whodunnit or why). M. Maigret stomps around dead bodies on the streets of bohemian Paris, smoking copiously, drinking wine at 9 in the morning, and ignoring his wife. It’s all very French. And with any luck I’ll be able to check out the second-hand booksellers opposite Notre Dame when I’m in Paris. So, that’s about it.
not dead yet May 27, 2004
There’s nothing like speaking mangled and broken French at one o’clock in the morning to make you feel terrifyingly alive. It’s all L’s fault (‘scuse me while I stick my tongue out at her)–of course calling your host family in the middle of the night sounds like a great idea when she suggests it. So while I may be slowly losing my mind, I’m still here; given up on novels for the time being, since I don’t have time to read the ones I want. I should be able to get reviews of Sandman vols. III and IV up before I leave.
god. Is it July yet?
BBC heaven May 19, 2004
Dear Reader, you see before you the deliriously happy owner of the BBC’s adaptation of Tipping the Velvet. I’ve been waiting for over a year to see this miniseries, and I’ve finally, finally managed it. I bought it as soon as I got back and, since there’s no privacy whatsoever in my home, I’ve been watching it in pieces, snatching the opportunity when everyone’s in bed or I’m alone in the house. It’s the uncut UK version, very hot stuff. Not something I want my family to walk in on, especially since they’re still dealing with my coming out.
But oh this is a gorgeous production. It’s got Andrew Davies’ stamp all over it. And it was cast perfectly. Keeley Hawes was made to play Kitty Butler, the dashing male impersonator, and I can’t imagine anyone other than Rachael Stirling as the heroine Nan Astley. She’s just heartbreakingly beautiful (and when your mother is Diana Rigg how could you be otherwise?)–in fact she’s almost too pretty to play the butch Nan, if it wasn’t for that sexy, husky voice of hers. (Okay Anne. Breathe.)
One of the best surprises was how wonderful Hugh Bonneville was as the lovely Ralph Banner. It’s just a bit part but Bonneville brings depth to it. I’m more and more impressed by him every time I see him. He just transforms seamlessly into every role, whether as the Upper-Class Twit Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park or as the Evil Villain in Daniel Deronda. I loved Jodhi May as his sister Flo, even if Davies does a bit of a disservice to her character by making her more naive and innocent than she is in the book. In the book she explains the phrase “tipping the velvet” (Victorian slang for cunnilingus)to Nan; in the movie it’s the other way around. And I must say I never, ever in a million years thought I would witness Anna Chancellor do it with a girl in a strap-on. But just like the rest of the cast, she’s the only actress who could play that nasty piece of work Diana Lethaby (she just does “nasty” so well).
The book is just one big Victorian soap opera and a perfect subject for the melodramatic Davies. He mangles the ending a bit, but not enough to annoy me, and actually gives us a little more closure than the book. Thankfully the movie doesn’t suffer from Davies’ characteristic excessiveness, because he gets it; the movie, just like the book, is an unabashedly queer bildungsroman. Unfortunately my review of the book isn’t worth reading; I mostly spend it being nervous and highly closeted. Hopefully I’ll come up with something interesting to say the next time I read it.
God I wish I had BBC America. You sure as hell won’t find this on Masterpiece Theatre.
The Sandman Library ~ Neil Gaiman May 18, 2004
Vol. I: Preludes and Nocturnes
Original Date: June 19, 2003
My first comic book! Even with a familiar author like Gaiman, it was a strange and unsettling experience. What with the non-linear structure, the visualized sound effects (“PHWOOM! C-C-KRAK!”)–felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole. The fact that it’s such a visual medium meant I couldn’t detach myself as easily–and it was a little disturbing as a result. With an ordinary novel I can choose not to picture certain scenes or skim over the words, but not with a comic book. I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience so much as a challenging one. It’s more like paper television than a graphic “novel”–very episodic quality, almost like a miniseries. Morpheus and his sister Death are intriguing enough characters to keep me interested in the series.
Vol. II: The Doll’s House
Honestly, the things I do for people. I only hope Mr. Gaiman appreciates my efforts. Here I am reading a horror comic book when horror is the one genre of literature I genuinely dislike. I just can’t handle it. Suspense, thrillers, the gothic, even the macabre, sure I enjoy all that–things like Poe or Hitchcock, or the older, darker versions of fairy tales–but I can’t take straight up gore and terror, slasher violence. And I don’t see the point of it, what’s more. It disturbs me. In one of my classes this semester a student read us a murder scene from American Psycho, which left me feeling almost physically bruised. Bret Easton Ellis is one twisted motherfucker. I just wish I lived in a world where it wouldn’t even occur to someone to write shit like that. In The Doll’s House, the issue “The Collectors” gave me something of the same feeling that Ellis did (that sick bastard), though not nearly as intense. I mean, on one level it’s dark humor (it’s about a convention for serial killers) which normally I like well enough, and the Sandman does punish them in the end, but still. I don’t need to waste my time reading shit like that; and there’s so much real horrific violence in the world, why do people invent more, for entertainment?
So if I hate horror and graphic violence for it’s own sake, why am I reading The Sandman series?
Because Gaiman is a master story-teller and I want to know what happens. I want to meet the rest of the Endless, and keep following the tale of Morpheus as he rebuilds his kingdom of the Dreaming. Because so much of it draws on mythology and fairy-tale and gothic convention and things I’m interested in. So far it seems only one issue per volume is pure horror, and I feel Gaiman includes it for a purpose. Because every now and then it’s good to read something that makes you uncomfortable. Because I trust Neil Gaiman, I trust he’ll take care of me as a reader, and so far he has. So far it’s been worth it. And I don’t know anything about comics so I figure The Sandman is as good a place to start as any.
“You have brought shame upon your profession, Herr H. You are under arrest!”
“On what charge?” replied Hopkins arrogantly.
“I am not authorized to tell you,” said the Magistrate triumphantly. “Proceedings have been started and you will be informed in due course.”
“But this is preposterous!” shouted Hopkins as he was dragged away.
“No,” replied the Magistrate, “this is Kafka.” (198)
And this is Jasper Fforde. This book shouldn’t be called a “novel”, it should be called A (Most Likely Chemically Induced) Literary Delirium. Lost in a Good Book picks up right where The Eyre Affair left off and rarely slackens it frenetic pace. Our embattled heroine, Thursday Next, finds out she’s pregnant with a child that may or may not be her husband’s, since he quite suddenly no longer exists (he’s been eradicated by an evil mega-corporation with aspirations of global domination, the aptly named Goliath Co.), realizes that someone is controlling the force of entropy in order to kill her via highly bizarre coincidences, moonlights as a demon-slayer, discovers a long-lost play by Shakespeare, bookjumps through great literature as the apprentice of Miss Havisham (Dickens character and Jurisfiction agent), and is interrogated by the Magistrate in Kafka’s The Trial (luckily, she’s read the whole thing; I only made it through the first 100 pages). In the meantime her time-traveling father (also eradicated) informs her that the Armageddon will occur in a few weeks when the whole of creation will turn into a giant blob of pink goo. Having ended the 150 year conflict of the Crimean War, rescued Jane Eyre (improving the book in the process), and defeated the third most evil person in the world in the previous novel, this is just another day on the job for Thursday.
Fforde’s world is entirely populated by colorful bibliomaniacs and is full of whimsy and classic understated British humor. “It didn’t look like the world was about to end in twenty-six minutes, but then I don’t suppose it ever does.” Thursday’s grandmother is cursed with immortality until she reads the ten most boring classics ever; Miss Havisham turns out to be a speed demon behind the wheel, and Fforde describes the Jabberwock as a “frightfully nice fellow–good at fly-fishing and plays the bongos.” It’s pure delight, a dizzying joy-ride, kind of reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Everyone in this book is quite mad.
There were a few (relatively minor) disappointments however. Though Fforde fairly dazzles you literary knowledge and references, when Thursday jumps into Sense and Sensibility, he describes Marianne as wearing Victorian dress, which flabbergasted me. Thursday’s interaction with literary characters is a bit inconsistent–the minor ones (like Fanny Dashwood) are presented as something like actors playing bit parts. But the whole point is that characters like the Red Queen or the Cheshire Cat (well, he’s the Unitary Authority of Warrington Cat now; they moved the county boundaries) in some sense really do exist, they’re not play-acted. Still, these are pretty easily glossed over. The only real flaw in the book is Thursday’s husband, Landen Parke-Laine, who is inexplicably colorless and boring (and what a crappy name, though apparently it’s supposed to be a reference to the British version of Monopoly). His romance with Thursday falls horribly flat; I don’t think Fforde feels very confident in that genre. Hopefully he’ll get more interesting in the next book. After all, I have to find out what happens next: Landen’s still eradicated, and Thursday’s on the run from Goliath, carrying her pregnancy to term while living in an unpublished book stored in the depths of the Well of Lost Plots…
(I love the spell-check on this thing; it thinks “Kafka’s” is incorrect and suggests I replace it with “Kafkaesque”. How…Kafkaesque.)
A Gentle Madness May 15, 2004
Well, after moving all my crap out of the apartment and back home, I seem to have achieved the impossible: I’ve managed to fit every book I own, including the ones I haven’t read yet (43), onto my meager bookshelves. With (very little) room to spare, no less. They’re fairly groaning under effort, but I did it. I re-alphabetized it all too (and yes, I enjoy rearranging my books); resulted in some strange bed(shelf?)fellows: setting fluffy and femme Georgette Heyer next to Hemingway tickles to me to no end, but I feel kind of bad for Sarah Waters, sandwiched between Kurt Vonnegut and ATTACK of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster SNOW GOONS! (Calvin and Hobbes, of course).
Like the shiny new template? I liked the old one but I thought I’d try out the new ones blogger has. And this feels more appropriate for a book blog. I’ve finished Lost in a Good Book, and decided to start Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, which Austen references (as does Rozema, more extensively) in Mansfield Park. And, since in two weeks I’ll be going to France for a month, I thought it was good timing. So I guess this blog will be more or less on temporary hiatus until early July. Which sucks, since I only just started it, but who knows, maybe I’ll find an incredibly fascinating French novel to talk about when I get back.
I stayed up all night to finish this book, and as soon as I was done I turned back to the beginning and started over again. It’s a combination of medieval and Celtic elements, pagan/witch-craft themes (clearly influenced by The Mists of Avalon), straight-up fantasy and magic, fairy tale, and with a good romance thrown in, structured around the three-volume high fantasy format. It’s just a good, solid, satisfying read, and there’s something to be said for that. And now (of course) I’m anxious to finish the series.
Marillier fleshes out the tale of the Six Swans, transforms the traditionally passive protagonist into the lovely heroine Sorcha, and gives us characters you really care about. It’s always a good sign when I start thinking of the characters as people and start wondering about them beyond the plot of the novel. (I’m not going to revert to undergrad English student mode and start ruminating on the implications of Sorcha’s suffering and silence, or the predominance of male characters or even the happy ending, which is actually a neat reversal of the traditional woman-as-prize motif–she gets the guy in the end, kind of a man-as-prize/reward at the end of the hero(ine)’s journey, very cool. Seriously, I’m not going to go into that.)
The problem I have with this book, and reason I haven’t gotten the review up sooner (well, time constraints mostly)–well it has more to do with my personal idiosyncracies (I love that word, I use it whenever I get the chance) than the book itself. Or neuroses, if you like. See, unfortunately this book set off another skirmish in the Great Inner Dashwood Debate.
Remember how I said that I always end up either as Elinor or Marianne with those online Austen heroine quizzes? And how I said that really I’m both at the same time? That’s the problem. It’s very much Sense versus Sensibility in my head here. There’s part of me, which I dubbed Marianne, which is a hopeless sucker for a good love story, the more thwarted and unrequited the better. My inner Marianne swoons over smouldering angst; it’s embarrassing, frankly. It’s because of my inner Marianne that I’ve seen Sleepless in Seattle an alarming number of times and that I get all teary eyed over the whole Eponine–Marius–Cosette triangle in Les Mis. Marianne adored the “Richmond” chapter of The Scarlet Pimpernel. She loves the unabashed pathos of Casablanca.
Then there’s my inner Elinor. She has a bit more influence, because she’s an intellectual and always has solid, reasoned arguments–not to mention a good deal of scorn and disdain–on her side. My Elinor side knows that “love” is a suspect concept, a social construct designed historically to keep women in their place, barefoot and pregnant. Elinor is pretty sure that she’s not really the kind of person who falls in love anyway, in fact she’s not sure she believes in “love” at all except in some kind of familial or general humanitarian sense. She hates sentiment and mushy kissing scenes and swelling violins in the background. She loathes weddings. She’s forever grateful that Austen kept her love scenes to a sparse minimum. Darcymania makes her want to puke. She rolls her eyes at breathless effusions about Twue Wuv. She thinks Romeo is creepy loser horndog and Juliet is a stupid twit.
(I know this characterisation is a bit of a disservice to Austen’s characters, but it works well enough. )
These two parts of my personality are constantly waging war with each other. I’ve yet to find a happy medium between them. So when something like the romance in Daughter of the Forest shows up, it sets off an internal debate that really hasn’t been resovled yet. I’ll be reading the book and something like this is going on in my head:
Marianne: Omigod! Omigod! He loves her, I know it! Yes!!
Elinor: Oh joy. The boy-meets-girl plot. Another example of the romanticization and idealization of institution of heterosexuality. Is this really something I should be reading at this point in my life?
M: Can’t you just read something for god’s sake? Why do you have to analyze everything to death? Oh boy! Angst! ::swoons:: Why doesn’t he tell her? She has to know!
E: Lovely. The Strong Silent type. Shades of Mr. Darcy. Why emotionally repressed and unavailable men are considered attractive I’ll never understand. It keeps women preoccupied with earning male approval instead of achieving their own self-actualization.
M: ::sighs, gasps:: Oh just kiss her already! I can’t stand it!
E: Neither can I. This book is so written for straight people. If she mentions his “big hands” again I think I’m going to puke.
M: You’re so uptight. He’s a good guy! He’s given up everything for her! Isn’t it wonderful?
E: Whatever. Once the honeymoon’s over you know this guy’s got to be a pain in the ass to live with.
Etc. ad nauseum. It starts up again whenever I consider buying the next book in the series. And I really do want to finish it because Marillier leaves all these loose ends and I want to see how it works out. Is anybody else like this or am I just crazy?