Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 25

Summer has stalled and it’s turned gloomy again, so a bit of Gothic theatre is in order. Creation Theatre produce excellent site-specific versions of classic texts, and their Dorian Gray at Jermyn Street was full of references to the St James area. The set was minimal, and they used an impression of a painting rather than s real one, and it somehow worked. I wasn’t sure how the gender-swapping would play, and I must admit that changing pronouns while keeping the names as canon confused me a bit, but only for a few minutes. A clever version, with thankfully, no haze to make me cough.

Reading

Quite a bit this week. The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was won by Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, which I read last year, when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. It also won the Goldsmiths prize last year. I liked it, but not enough to read it again.

My summer reading challenge continues. U is for Urban, and an interesting alternate-reality crime story. I was glad that the crime did get solved, even if no one gets their comeuppance.

Judith Kerr died recently, and I have fond memories of reading Mog stories every night until I knew them by heart. I had never read When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, her autobiographical novel, and so I took advantage of the local library and downloaded and devoured the whole trilogy in one day. Well worth the time.

Finally, it is Bloomsday, and yes, I have read Ulysses, and no, I am not going to punish myself by reading it again. Instead, I chose to read the Republic of Consciousness co-award-winning Lucia by Alex Pheby and wish I hadn’t.

It is a well-written book, documenting, fictionally, the life of Lucia Joyce. The book has an interesting format, scenes from an archaeological dig juxtaposed with scenes from Egyptian burial from the point of view of both an observer and the deceased. All of this is cleverly set alongside biography-style chapters from Lucia’s life and eventual death. I found some of it quite harrowing, and the sexual torture scenes particularly overdone, and nasty. The parallels between the Egyptian burial and the (real) silencing of Lucia before and after her death were interesting, and the accounts of the cruelty perpetrated on asylum inmates were upsetting and sadly, probably historically accurate. This one will stay with me, I think.

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Posted in Art, books, Musical theatre

2019: Week 18

Busier week this week. A musical, some art and quite a bit of reading.

Musical Theatre

Man of La Mancha

I had been looking forward to this for a while, but sadly, it was a bit of a non-event for me. I don’t know why, precisely. The music was great (as the ENO orchestra always are), the acting was okay, the voices were fine. Nicholas Lyndhurst probably wasn’t in his best role, but he was fine. Kelsey Grammer managed to hit the high notes in “Impossible Dream”, but still, it all fell a bit flat. So much so, that I found myself longing for the end of act one. I actually couldn’t bring myself to go back for act two, so I managed to avoid the rape scene that was by all accounts given too much time.

Art

Martyrs

I am so glad I made the effort to see this work by Bill Viola. St Paul’s Cathedral is a wonderful venue and this is a perfect piece of artwork for the space it is in. I felt profoundly moved by it, and by its companion piece, Mary.

The video screens were smaller than I expected, but they fitted the space beautifully.

Reading

My calendar book this month was Frost in May, which I enjoyed immensely. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I downloaded the three continuation novels and read them straight away over a couple of days. I was a little perturbed by the massive changes to character and setting names in the second book, but soon settled down into Clara’s story. What a catalogue of disasters her life contained. I do wish she had been given a happy ending.

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 12

Theatre

A Hundred Words For Snow

A single-handed play stands on its actor. Gemma Barnett played a perfectly believable fifteen-year-old Rory (short for Aurora). There were some plot holes (e.g. a fifteen year old girl managing to book flights as far as Svalbard on her mother’s stolen credit card without attracting any notice), but as a rite-of-passage play, this was wonderful.

Reading

At this time in the month I would usually be writing about the Guardian Readers’ Club book of the month, but this month it is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, which I read just before Xmas last year, and can’t bring myself to read again. I know it is supposed to be great literature, but ugh, aliens. So it goes.

I liked this book, and I liked Hannah’s grandfather, despite his having made a pact with the devil. The book was a little reminiscent of Good Omens, but that doesn’t hurt it, and the basic premise is different. An enjoyable read.

I was disappointed in Square Eyes. I like cyberpunk, and I like graphic novels, so this should have worked for me, but sadly, the story was just too incoherent. The drawing is lovely, but a graphic novel needs a tight story, and this just didn’t work.

Posted in books, Theatre

2019: Week 11

Theatre

Equus

A disturbing play. I found some of this hard to sit through, but it was well acted, particularly by the actor portraying the horse, without the aid of mask or costume.

This is not a play for the faint hearted, but is interesting from a psychological point of view.

Reading

A strange dystopian tale told from the point of view of a worker bee. Very odd, and I didn’t really care for the anthromorphism.

This was a contemporary Irish story of one man’s attempt to cope with a child’s suicide. I didn’t expect to dislike the “supporting cast” as much as I did, but I did empathise with all the viewpoints. Don’t read this if you are depressed. It won’t help.

The 28th in the Brunetti series is tighter than some of the earlier ones, and has a definite conclusion, which isn’t always the case. I liked this, a lot. I’m just annoyed that the physical book is a tiny bit larger than all the others I own, and so doesn’t fit comfortably on my shelf.

The Short Story Club Book for March is a slightly creepy account of a romance between a girl and a much older man. I was bothered by this. I’m not sure I’ll continue with this particular club.

I admit to no prior knowledge of this story. I haven’t seen the film, and I didn’t have any expectations. I have been putting off reading it because of the author’s problematic stance on race, but it came up on the list of books available from the library as e-books, so I decided to see what the fuss was about. I liked the epistolary style, and I was quite a long way through the book before I felt that something about the letter-writing wasn’t quite right. The story is definitely a modern horror, and I found the mother to be a completely unsympathetic character, but I have to say, this is a very good book.

Posted in Art, books, photography, Uncategorized

2019: Week 10

Quite windy and damp this week. Not the best weather for me to venture out in, but I managed a trip to Greenwich.

The Mask of Youth

Mat Collishaw’s installation is brilliantly disturbing, and like other “animatronic” works, it uses motion sensors to track nearby movement, turning to stare freakily into the eyes of its audience. It is displayed very cleverly in the Queen’s House, gazing at its own portrait and itself in a mirror. This will only be on display for another week or so, so hurry if you want to see it.

Astronomy Photographer of the Year Exhibition

Since I was in Greenwich, it seemed a shame to miss the opportunity to see this. At £10, though, the exhibition was overpriced, especially as it was padded out with photographs from previous years, which made it harder to pick out the current year’s winners. (The poster shows the overall winner- I have to say it wouldn’t have been my choice). This yearly exhibition used to be housed in the Old Royal Observatory at the top of the hill, a much better, and more appropriate, venue than the National Maritime Museum.

Books

Two from my pile of physical books, both Xmas gifts.

The Legacy was a nasty little Scandi noir, the first in a series that I probably won’t continue with. It was fine. Yrsa Sig is a good writer, and it did keep me guessing until the end, which rarely happens. I didn’t like the murder methods in this, and I wonder what sort of brain can think up something so particularly nasty. I didn’t like the womanising cop either.

Old Man’s War is a hard SF tale, slightly reminiscent of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, but with a much better deal for the female and LGBT characters, as I expect from Scalzi. I’m not exactly a “spaceships and aliens” buff any more, but this was interesting enough to make me consider buying the next in the series.

Christopher Spencer ( aka @ColdwarSteve) has produced a book that so completely matches my own rage at what my country is doing to itself that I had to buy it. This man should be nominated for the Turner Prize for his photomontage work.

Tangerine is my library reading group book for March. I admit my heart sank when I saw the cover, but once I started reading, I found I couldn’t put this one down. Poor Alice.

Posted in books

2019: Week 8

No outings to theatre or whatnot this week. Too busy with other things. But I did manage to read a couple of books:

Giovanni’s Room was the Guardian Readers’ Group Book for February. It was billed as a “romantic” book (chosen for Valentine’s Day, I think), and I suppose it was, but not the sort of “happy ever after” romance that makes me cringe. It was the sad story of a young man trying to be something he isn’t, or trying not to be something he is. It wasn’t an easy read for me, I didn’t really like any of the characters, and knowing poor Giovanni’s fate from early on didn’t help. David, the narrator, was thoroughly unpleasant and incredibly thoughtless towards the people he crashed into during the course of the novel. I wanted to sympathise with Giovanni, but in the end, I really couldn’t. I understand that this is considered a “good” novel, and I can see why, but I expect I’m not really its intended audience.

Cat’s Eye was very, very good. This was the book chosen by my local public library reading group for this month, and made a change from the less interesting material we usually get. It was upsetting in places, and I read parts of it through my fingers, waiting to see what new horrors Cordelia et al could possibly inflict on Elaine next. The drift into depression and mental ill health was so obvious that it was very hard to see why none of the adults really noticed it. And of course, we discover at the end that they did indeed notice it, but either couldn’t do anything about it or were complicit in the cruelty that caused it. I have given this book a rare (for me) 5 star rating.

Posted in books, Opera, Theatre

2019: Week 6

A “normal” sort of week. A bit of reading, a bit of culture…

Anthropocene at the Hackney Empire

The title of Stuart McRae and librettist Louise Welsh‘s new opera refers to a ship, rather than to the geological era, although there are references to global warming and icecaps melting here and there. This was a “modern” opera, with modern music (so no songs). The first act worked for me. There was tension and some power plays, and a sense of threat from the “thing” in the ice. (some quite deliberate referencing of “The Thing” here). The second act fell apart a bit for me, in terms of story, although the voices stayed strong and the visual presentation was powerful. I didn’t like the idea of human sacrifice that too easily explained the central mystery. The end of the opera was depressing. Given the chance to save the world from icecap melt, our band of explorers chose the “self-interest” option, and let the world go hang.

I enjoyed the performance, and it was good to see/hear something new. But it wasn’t great opera, for me.

Dracula at the London Library

Creation Theatre put on a terrific two-handed performance of Bram Stoker’s story.

The library’s reading room was an excellent setting, and the story was told using a variety of media, including some very clever projection work. I enjoyed this very much, and the ending made me smile at its unexpectedness. Full marks for creativity.

Reading

Dead Pig Collector is a short story about a murder that goes wrong. It is clever and it left me unsure of who the baddie really was. I read it because someone recommended it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I picked The Thing Itself as a result of seeing Anthropocene. Like the opera, the book starts and ends with horror during scientific exploration at the poles. Unlike the opera, the book veers away from the ice and into a range of historical settings, seemingly randomly at first, and introducing two main themes; Kant’s philosophy and artificial intelligence. In fact, it wasn’t until the end of the novel that I realised the significance of some of the lurches into time. I like Adam Roberts’s work, but this was not among my favourites of his novels.

Posted in books

2019: Week 5

Too cold to go out much. We even had a tiny bit of snow.

My calendar read for February is called “February“. This is a collection of Boris Pasternak’s poetry, in Russian Cyrillic and also translated into English. I really wish I could read Russian, or that there was at least a version in phonetic spelling, so that I could get a feel for the rhythm of the verses. I could see from the Russian that there is a definite rhyme pattern for each poem, but couldn’t understand it at all. The English versions are carefully constructed to rhyme in what looks like the same sort of pattern, but the verse is very bland- not nearly what I would expect from such a lauded poet. I fear the poetry suffered badly in translation.

Random reading

Three books this week:

The Embalmer was a pulp crime novel, full of tropes, and I guessed the killer within pages of beginning. Not great literature by any means, and with enough spelling errors to irritate even the least bothered among us. Zandri needs a better editor.

Revenge Can Be Sweet surprised me by being quite enjoyable, and I may get others in the series. The setting is unusual for me (music) and the first-person narration would normally irritate me but didn’t in this book.

Red is a play script, but still worth reading as a book. I have seen this play, and it was excellent. It tells the story of why Rothko’s “Four Seasons” paintings didn’t find their way into the restaurant they were named for.

Posted in books

2019: week 3

Another quiet week. I did a bit of knitting, and finished a jumper I started in November last year. It was a notable achievement.

Reading

Good Omens was the Guardian readers’ choice for January. It was a re-read for me, but I had largely forgotten all but the story. I didn’t find it as laugh-out-loud funny as I expected to this time around (based on other readers’ comments), but it is undeniably clever, (as you would expect from Gaiman and Pratchett) and did make me smile. I hope that the upcoming TV series does it justice.

Christina Dalcher’s Vox was scary, and all too plausible. If you like dystopian novels you’ll like this one. It is set in a slightly off-kilter present-day United States, and is like the Handmaid’s Tale in that women bear the brunt of religious fundamentalism, but unlike it (and frighteningly more believable because of this) in that there is no underlying fertility problem to act as a “reason”.

I liked The White Book by Han Kang a lot. It reads like a poetic memoir (it reminded me of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets) , but is actually literary fiction, telling the story of the narrator’s sister. (No more spoilers from me). I liked the focus on one colour, and it was interesting to see the juxtaposition of South Korea and Warsaw.

Zugzwang is a term used in chess to describe a situation where a player is forced into making a move that will cost them the game. Ronan Bennett uses it as a device in a tight novel set in pre-soviet St Petersburg. I have a soft spot (I don’t know why) for novels set in Russia, and particularly anything set between the World Wars. This one hits the spot – a chess-playing psychiatrist gets drawn into a plot to assassinate the Tsar, and finds himself in his own personal zugzwang. It can’t have a happy ending…

Posted in books

2019 Week 2

Another stay-at-home week. Did a lot of reading:

A baby step towards increasing my non-fiction reading. I am a fan of Beatles music, and wish they had made more. This book is very light on text and heavy on what look like not-quite-good-enough-to-print-in-the-paper pictures from press photographers. It’s a collector’s item for avid Beatles fans, but it doesn’t “spark enough joy” to stay on my shelf.

This is the January recommendation of the Short Story Club. It had its funny moments, but the denouement was a little unpleasant. Pure Becket, of course, and both Dante and the lobster make appearances.

I have had this book on pre-order for a long time. It is as much a memoir as a cook book, and gives a readable description of a young woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and her sort-of recovery through food. I thought it might make a good gift for someone I know, but the ingredients Ella uses are on the expensive side, so it probably won’t. There are one or two very good chicken recipes that I will try.

Absinthe is an interesting exercise in not judging a book by its cover. It is not terribly thrilling. There is far too much talking and not enough action, although when there is action it is efficiently executed. The main character has the same name as the author. (In the notes, the author refers to a story about why he used his own name, but doesn’t actually tell us the story as that is “reserved for his live audiences” when he is on tour. Hmm.) In this book we have an older “maverick” detective (sigh) who has to work under a younger female supervisor he doesn’t respect (sigh). There is very little mention of absinthe.

I loved American Hippo. It is an AU western, that might have just happened if a real-life political plan had come to fruition. I loved the characterisation: the wonderful French conwoman who can’t squeeze into an armchair and yet manages to “pass” absolutely when the group need a white man to take a plot point forward. Hero, the protagonist’s true love whose gender is never referred to and who uses “they” as their personal pronoun, and no one ever questions it. The heavily pregnant lesbian assassin. The hippos! This will be a book I read again and again. Brilliant.