Posted in books

July 12: Summer Reading #6

R is for Roth

I chose a Philip Roth novel for my final book as a tribute, to mark his death this year.

Nemesis is a narrow story, with a narrator who almost doesn’t figure in the story at all. It tells the harrowing tale of one of the last polio epidemics and its effects on the lives of the Jewish population in Newark, New Jersey. Bucky Cantor seems to me to be a selfish character, always wishing that his life had taken a different turn, while turning away from what might be the best choices. He has some unlucky breaks, but in the end, isolates himself from anyone that might help him. The final chapter highlights starkly what could have been… perhaps.

This was a “short novel”, and I read it during a sleepless night. I find Roth very readable, even if I don’t much like his characters.

There are other structured reading activities still continuing – the Twitter reading group, the library reading group, but this book brings my personal 2018 “SUMMER” reading challenge to a close, much earlier than expected.

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Posted in books

July 11: Summer Reading #5

E is for Eliot

Every year I make myself read at least one of the “classics” that I should have read long ago. This is my “punishment reading” for the summer.

Actually, it was okay. I quite liked Dorothea, once she started to stand up for herself. I got irritated (as usual) by the various characters causing themselves trouble by not being open in their dealings. I disliked Rosamund, but she got her comeuppance, so that was all right.

Middlemarch was quite shallow, I thought. Similar to Austen books, very much about “place, face and manners”. I found it lighter than the Brontes, whose works I prefer. It was a “good read”, but not one that I expect to have any particular lasting effect. It would work very well as a TV serial.

Posted in books

June 29: Summer Reading #4

M is for McDonald (again)

I seem to be getting through these rather more quickly than I expected to.

This is my second Ian McDonald of this challenge, and it is a novella, rather than a novel. It is a romance, of sorts. It is a science-fiction mystery. IT DOESN’T HAVE ALIENS! It does have time travel, and it does have a bit of gay sex. Major events and twists are foreshadowed nicely but not too obviously, and there is enough romantic angst to satisfy anyone who needs that in a story.

The blurb doesn’t quite match the book, but I’ve read enough (particularly in “genre” works) to know that is quite often the case. I chose it because it was a new work by a favourite author, not because of the blurb.

It is a lovely, lovely story.

Posted in books

June 20: Summer Reading #3

M is for McDonald

I haven’t read many good science fiction books recently. I’m not a lover of “space opera” or aliens, so I approached Chaga with a little trepidation.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It had some science and some politics and a setting I was unfamiliar with (Africa). I generally like McDonald’s “big” books (Brasyl etc), and while this wasn’t quite like those, it had some similarities.

It would have been good to have, say, a Nigerian reporter, rather than an African crew backing up a white incomer, and the “spunky girl reporter” trope got on my nerves. I wanted a more believable protagonist. I would have liked to see a lot more of Oksana. The “sexy scientist” boyfriend irritated me as well.

I wanted to know more about the Chaga. I wanted to know why they were making the spaceship habitable for humans. I wanted to know where they came from. I wanted more about the whales.

It puzzles me that I liked the book without liking the characters in it. I’m tempted to add the two follow-up Chaga books to my extra-long wish list (211 books at latest count), to see if it gets clearer.

Posted in Television

June 11: Patrick Melrose

Last summer, I read Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel, Never Mind, as the first of my SUMMER reading challenge books. It gripped me and horrified me enough to make me buy and read the other four books in the series.

Almost exactly a year later, Benedict Cumberbatch takes on the role of Patrick in an eponymously titled TV miniseries, and plays it masterfully.

The series doesn’t flinch from the abuse suffered by the child Patrick, but thankfully doesn’t feel he need to portray it graphically. A closing door is evidence enough of what is happening.

Events in the books are rejuggled. The series starts with the death of Patrick’s father, and ends with the death of his mother. The optimistic end of the last novel is omitted completely, as is the new-age Irishman’s comeuppance.

There is wit and humour, and darkness.

This series deserves to win awards. I will be terribly disappointed if it doesn’t.

Posted in books

June 11: Summer Reading #2

U is for Udall.

Strangely, I seem to have chosen another ghost story. Of course, I didn’t know it was a ghost story until about halfway through.

This book was okay. Not brilliant, but not bad. I felt sorry for all the characters, but not enough to cry for them, not even little Millie.

I wanted Jonah to get over himself, and I was oddly irritated by the central not-really-a-character, Audrey.

I wanted more of Kew, more of the paper birds.

I wouldn’t put this on my read-again list, but I don’t feel the time spent on it was wasted.

Posted in books

June 5: Summer Reading #1

S is for Saunders

The first of my six summer books is coincidentally the fiftieth of my fifty-book challenge.

I wish I could say I liked this book, but to be truthful, I didn’t. The style is clever, but I found it irritating after the first couple of chapters.

I understand the concept of the bardo. And it seems to me that Saunders is using this ghost story as a way of marking Lincoln’s transition into an abolitionist. It feels clunky and patchworky, though.

There was one thing I really didn’t like. The notion that children had to be punished in order to allow adults to make penance did not sit comfortably with me at all.

Altogether, I thought there was too much bardo and not enough Lincoln.

I’m never sure what makes a Booker winner. Some I have loved. Others I have hated. This one doesn’t fall into either category for me, which says something in itself.

Posted in books

May 31: Summer Reading Challenge

I did this last year, and it made me read some books I might otherwise not have chosen.

The way I planned to do it was to choose six books by author surname, corresponding to the six letters of the word SUMMER. I would first draw from my “books I own but haven’t read yet” pile; then from my wishlist of books that: I like the look of; I feel I ought to read; have been recommended etc. Finally, if necessary, I would search the internet for “author whose surname begins with U” (it’s always going to be U that’s a problem, let’s face it).

Last year I had to go searching out in the wide world for a “U”, and it gave me the odd but likeable “Baba Yaga Laid an Egg” by Dubravka Ugrešić. This year, I only had to go as far as my wish list.

So, this year’s challenge:

Between June 1st (start of meteorological summer) and August 27th (August Bank Holiday, which I consider to be the end of summer) I will attempt to read the following six books, in order.

S: George Saunders. Lincoln in the Bardo. I chose this because it won the Man Booker prize, and when I have read Booker winners before (Midnight’s Children, Life of Pi) they have stayed with me longer than I expected them to. I don’t think of myself as a “literature” reader. I gravitate towards crime and SF. But I make myself step out of my comfort zone every so often. I think it does me good.

U: Tor Udall. A Thousand Paper Birds. This is also literary fiction, with, I am promised, a bit of magical realism. There is a threat of romance (not my genre), but what sold me on this was the lure of origami. This was the only U author on my wishlist, and so I didn’t have many other choices(!). We’ll see how it goes.

M: Ian McDonald. Chaga. I have read a number of McDonald’s books (River of Gods, Brasyl, The Dervish House, spring to mind) and I like the idea of setting SF in a slightly “off” familiar location. I decided to go back to an early work for this first “M”

M: Ian McDonald. Time Was. The same “M”(not necessary, but I thought it would be fun), but bang up to date with this one. Time travel. Hmm…

E: George Eliot. Middlemarch. Every so often, I make myself read something I should have read when I was at school. This is it for this summer.

R: Philip Roth. Nemesis. Reading this in tribute.

The challenge starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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 audio, books, festivals, Opera

Week 33

An interesting mix of things this week.

Opera

Arcola Theatre: Grimeborne Festival

Kurt Schwitters/Lewis Coenen-Rowe: Collision

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This is described as part sci-fi, part Weimar-decadence, and is a short ( hour and a half straight through) opera, set in prewar Berlin, with an end-of-the-world plot involving a large green globe on a collision course with earth. I have to say, there wasn’t much sci-fi to be had, and perplexingly, all the lighting effects were blue and red. So, no sign of a green globe,  but there was a bit of Cabaret-style decadence. Casting a high soprano as the (male) chief of police was odd, especially as the soprano was scantily clad in a thankfully well-engineered red brassiere. The other voices were strong, apart from the inevitable weak tenor. The music was performed by a live band, and was very good. The set design and costumes looked very amateurish, but this was possibly deliberate. Overall, this was an enjoyable performance, well up to fringe standards

Tod Machover: VALIS

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This is another short, sci-fi opera, based on the VALIS novels by PhilipKDick, and available to download free.

I really liked this, even if I didn’t fully understand it. You can make your own judgement-  read more and listen to it here

Literature

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On August 15th, 1947, India was partitioned and Pakistan was born. To commemorate this, the BBC broadcast a dramatised adaptation of SalmanRushdie’sMidnight’sChildren. I binge-listened to all seven episodes on August 15th 2017.

I had read the novel, quite a few years ago, and liked it. I liked this version too.

SUMMER reading challenge

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The challenge comes to a successful early conclusion with R for Runcie. This is the fourth Sidney Chambers book, and one in which the female characters have become particularly grating. I go on reading these in the hope that something dire will happen to Amanda, Helena or the irritating Hildegard.