Posted in books

June 27: Library group

I joined a reading group at the library, and it turned out to be a very interesting first meeting, where we meandered from the book under discussion to other authors to politics and beyond. It was quite difficult to have a proper discussion of the book because the group leader and I were the only two who had actually finished reading it, so I’ll give my thoughts here.

It had a good opening line – probably the best I’ve read.

It was a bit of a family saga, over two generations. There was a mystery – at first only a disappearance, but eventually disclosure of a murder. Or maybe two murders. The probable murderer got his comeuppance. No police were involved.

I laughed out loud at an inappropriate moment (when the protagonist’s atheist father died). Well, he was climbing a church steeple and he got struck by lightning.

I didn’t really like the protagonist much. I didn’t like the girl he fell in love with, either. But I did like Ash, the girl he needed to fall in love with.

The ends were too neatly tied for me. Prentice got a second chance at Uni. He got a legacy and a fancy car. The murderer got what he deserved. The disappeared uncle was found (dead, sadly). The girl Prentice should have fallen for turns out to love him…

Iain Banks is an author worth reading, but not a quick read. This book was okay.

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Posted in books

April 26: Macbeth #1

I have been working my way through the Hogarth reimaginings of Shakespeare’s plays, with varying degrees of pleasure and satisfaction. The latest offering is from the pen of Jo Nesbø, better known for Scandi-noir and Harry Hole.

Nesbø sets Macbeth in an un-named “northern” town, which I first assumed to be in Scotland, and still read as Scottish despite the author’s saying in a TV interview that he sees it as being somewhere like Newcastle. The characters are recognisable in most cases, and where they are not obviously Shakespearean, then they are clearly Harry-Holeiverseish.

I didn’t find a single character sympathetic-and sadly, I feel a little let down by this bad-cop, bad-cop scenario. I didn’t think the trope of the addict cop was necessary here, either. I think that Nesbø is relying too heavily on his most famous creation, and what could have been a much better book suffers from it.

Having said that, I like the idea of transforming the Thane of Cawdor to the Chief of Police, and I was intrigued by the Lady Macbeth character.

It’s likely that anyone coming fresh to Nesbø without prior knowledge of his other crime novels would like this a lot.

Three stars, I think.

Posted in Television

April 15: The City and The City part 2

I love China Mieville’s book. It is one of my favourites and one I re-read regularly, and I was very excited to hear that the BBC were adapting it for TV. I wondered how they would show the two cities, and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. I really really like David Morrissey as Borlú. Next time I read the book I know I’ll be imagining him. I downloaded and binge-watched it all, of course, although the series hasn’t finished running on the BBC yet, so no spoilers from me here, but I do have to say that I wish the BBC hadn’t gone for the missing wife angle. The book is so much more interesting without that trope as a main theme.

Posted in Theatre

April 12: Witness For The Prosecution

This is a new production of an old Agatha Christie story. I have seen a couple of TV adaptations of this book, but nothing beats live theatre.

This version is playing in the old courtroom of County Hall, a wonderful space, with the most comfortable seats I have ever experienced in a theatre. I was front row, and the only disadvantage to that was a slightly stiff neck from looking up at actors on my side of the central stage ( if I looked straight ahead, my gaze was level with the actors’ ankles).

The acting was a little on the overdone, but the costumes and clever sound effects provided an atmosphere that made up for it.

This wasn’t “great” theatre, but it wasn’t bad, and whiled away a couple of hours pleasantly.

Posted in books

April 10: The Temptation of Forgiveness

Whenever I get a new Donna Leon, I know I will pick it up and not put it down until I have finished it. Even after 27 Brunetti novels, I still enjoy reading about him and his Venice.

This book had slightly less of Venice, slightly less of Venetian food, a lot less of sidekick Vianello. To compensate, there was more of Commissario Claudia Griffoni and rather too much hacking from Elettra Zorzi.

The story was not as crusadingly “eco” as the last couple have been. Not so anti-tourist, either. There was a nasty little thread of exploitation of the elderly, and the problem of drugs in children was left unresolved, but that is fairly standard Leon.

I detect a glimmer of weakness in Brunetti. He relies far too much on Elettra, who surely should not be given so much access to investigative work. I foresee trouble, especially since she seems to have got away with something major in this story. Griffoni also seems to be losing some respect for him. We’ll see what happens in the next one.

Posted in books

March 27: The City and the City

I reread this book in advance of the TV series (starting next week, watch this space), and am happy to say I love it just as much as I did on first reading it. Tyador Borlú is one of my favourite detectives, and Beszel and Ul Qoma together make a fascinating setting. I am really looking forward to the TV version, and can’t wait to see how they do the magic which will clearly be required. I have heard that the Ul Qoma partner is to be a woman, rather than the man China Miéville wrote, and I hope this is to match more closely to the many recent “international noir” series rather than to add romance or sexual tension where it isn’t necessary. I like Borlú because he isn’t full of tropes. He doesn’t drink, he isn’t unhappy in love, he isn’t depressed… I hope they let him stay that way.

Whatever happens with the TV series, I will continue to love this book.

2009/10 Winner of: Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clark, Locus, World Fantasy and Kitschies Red Tentacle awards

Posted in books

Week 52

Last entry for 2017. No cultural outings this week – a quiet Christmas, followed by a sick in-between week wherein I am fairly sure I poisoned myself and various family members.

I finished my Reading Challenge!

img_0478Some highlights from the list: Yellow Blue Tibia – probably the best pun in a title ever; King Dido -a historical crime novel I would recommend to anyone; The Night Sessions, excellent SciFiCri.

I won some audio books, all Maigret stories, and listened to some of them; I read a few graphic novels, and some children’s books, including The Dark Is Rising, which I wasn’t supposed to finish until the new year, but I couldn’t resist.

I finally got to grips with Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, and made a dent in the Dickens backlog. There were six cookbooks, and three books I bought because I didn’t think I would get to see the plays based on them, and then actually did get to see them all . There was a new Donna Leon, a new Dave Hutchinson, a new Christopher Fowler, a new Jo Nesbo and a new Ragnar Jonasson (do you detect that I like a crime story?)

Finally, there were two new Hogarth Shakespeares, based on Othello and King Lear.

It was a real challenge to read 100 books this year, as well as keep up my weekly culture outing. Next year’s challenges will be simpler, I think.

Posted in audio, books, Musical theatre, puppetry

Week 41

Last week, I saw The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, wherein the female lead begins as a singer at Wilton’s music hall. By strange coincidence, I was at Wilton’s myself this week, and a wonderful place it is, too.

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Wilton’s Music Hall

Les Enfants Terribles: The Terrible Infants

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IMG_1018The play in question was a sort-of musical, a little like the offspring of  Shockheaded Peter and Oyster Boy might be, if you can imagine that.

The actor-musicians were very good. The story was pretty much what I expected – cautionary tales aimed for a mixed audience. A lot of the action was through ingenious puppetry, which was excellent. The theatre space was fabulous. Seating was more comfortable than I expected, and I had a jolly good time. The only downside was the awful walk from Shadwell along Cable Street. A warning to fellow pedestrians – go via Aldgate East and Leman Street. It won’t be much quicker, but it will be more pleasant.

Reading Challenge

I haven’t managed to actually read anything this week, but I did win a competition to win what I thought was one audio book, but which turned out to be three audio books.

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Posted in Art, books, exhibitions

Week 35

This week signals the end of summer.

Exhibitions

Somerset House

Perfume

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I was a little worried about this, as I have an aversion to strong perfume, hovering around physical discomfort and sometimes actual breathing difficulties if the perfume assaults me in a confined space. However, the ten perfumes were presented in a way that made them pleasant and not overpowering.

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My favourite in the “blind” smelling was presented in a confessional-style cell., and reminded me of the smell of old churches. I later found out it was Incense:Avignon, created for Comme des Garçons, with base notes of Frankincense.

Also at Somerset House

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This was a strange little exhibition of faked artist biographies and portraits, alongside found objects and strange manipulations of everyday items. It was quite amusing and filled some time on a rainy day.

Art installations

Royal Festival Hall

Peter Lazlo Peri: The Sunbathers

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This piece has an interesting history. It was made for the 1951 Festival of Britain, and installed on the South Bank. After the festival was over, the work was lost until very recently, when it turned up in the garden of the Clarendon Hotel in Blackheath. A crowd-funding campaign was launched and the work was restored and installed inside the Royal Festival Hall.

It was smaller than I expected, although not tiny by any means. I liked it.  Sadly, the exhibition is temporary, and will soon be taken down.

Marianne Heske: Gordian Knot – Necklace

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This is another temporary installation at the Royal Festival Hall, which I was pleased to see on its last day in situ. I liked this very much. The macabreness of the dolls heads juxtaposed with the mathematics of the Gordian knot appealed to the geek in me. I would wear a necklace like this.

Water

The Edmund J Safra Fountain Court at Somerset House is a lovely example of a water feature that the public can get wet in. On the day I visited, it was pouring with rain and chilly, so I was able to take a picture of an unusually empty courtyard and “dancing fountain”.

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I crossed the river from one dancing fountain to another. Jepp Hein’s Appearing Rooms is less pretty, but more exciting. If you don’t correctly anticipate where the next “room” will appear you can get very wet. It was still raining when I was there, so again, I got a picture of an empty fountain.

Books

SUMMER reading challenge

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The idea was to read all six of the books before August Bank Holiday, and I achieved it with a couple of days to spare. I may set myself another mimi-challenge later in the year, but for now, it’s back to my main 100booksin2017 challenge.

Reading

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These two bring my total so far to 71. I am well on track to meet my target.

HarryHole is one of my favourite detectives, and I thoroughly enjoyed this continuation of his sober life with Rakel and Oleg, despite spending the first part of the book thinking he was dead.  HardCheese is an interesting and amusing “locked room” amateur detective mystery, well worth a read, and yes, there is cheese.

Posted in books, Theatre

Week 22

Sadly, this week’s post starts in a similar way to last week’s. Another terror attack, this time in London, and for the first time, south of the river. I was safely indoors when it happened, but just a few hours earlier, I had been at a theatre not too far from London Bridge, having a wonderful time. It is hard to just carry on as normal, but of course, we will.

Theatre

National Theatre (Lyttleton)

Lindsey Ferrentino: Ugly Lies The Bone

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This was a grim play with odd moments of comedy. Kate Fleetwood played the returned war hero very well, onstage for almost the whole play, wearing prosthetics and bandages throughout. This was a 90 minute, no interval play, and it was long enough. The set was interesting, largely empty, with elements on rails to ease changes of scene. The “virtual reality” lighting and projection was impressive. I had hoped that Kris Marshall would get a chance to show a bit more of his acting range, but sadly, he was given the role of yet another affable buffoon. Three stars for this. But the Lyttleton is looking in need of a little tlc.

Jermyn Street Theatre

Stephen Unwin: All Our Children

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Another grim offering, based on recent history. The idea that disabled children are dispensable, a drain on society is chilling. The acting was good, and I give five stars to Frau Pabst (Lucy Speed). Jermyn Street is tiny and the audience are practically onstage. I like this little theatre very much, and not only because they sell wonderful stem-ginger ice cream. This was another no-interval play, as seems to be fashionable nowadays. Four stars for this one.

Young Vic

Bertold Brecht: Life of Galileo

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This was wonderful. It had everything. Excellent acting, especially Brendan Cowell (Galileo), who was stellar. There was music (brilliantly composed by the Chemical Brothers), planetarium-style projection, subsonics that rattled my bones, puppetry, dancing…  And some serious science. I’m glad I hadn’t opted for stage seating, which took the form of sponge cushions on the floor. The bench seating was fine – only becoming slightly uncomfortable towards the end of the three hour play. Interestingly, I had a ticket for seat D31, but row D went from seat 30 to 32 with no sign of an actual seat 31. I sat in 32, and luckily, no one came to claim it. Five stars for the Young Vic for this one.

Books

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Two crime fiction offerings this week. Why Did You Lie is a proper Scandi-noir story. Multiple viewpoints, three seemingly-separate plot strands, angsty cop-with-a-problem. It was a good read, but it left a number of threads unresolved. I wonder if there will be a sequel?

I picked up the first in the Grantchester chronicles because it was (a) cheap and (b) a familiar story from a TV series. It was very reminiscent of Chesterton’s Father Brown  stories, rather more gentle than the TV programmes, and I look forward to reading the rest of the series, wherein Sidney promises to move up through the ranks of the clergy.