Posted in books

October 31: Reading roundup

I read twelve books this month. A little up on my average, mainly due to the Man Booker shortlist, which I have already written about, so I won’t be reviewing any of those in this post. In order of reading:

The second on the Man Booker shortlist, and the eventual winner of the prize. I didn’t think this one would win, but I am glad it did, as it turned out to be my favourite of the six.

Number three on the Man Booker shortlist.

Number four, and the most difficult to read.

Number five…

And the last one. I actually finished reading this on the day of the announcement, with a couple of hours to spare.

Reading all six, back to back, was a challenge to my brain and my pocket, and I might not do it again next year. Or I might borrow them from the library rather than buy them.

Any way, moving on…

A new addition to my small but perfectly formed collection of graphic novels. It is actually a set of linked short stories, originally published as a series of standalone comics. What you see is what you get. If you like manga and ghost stories you’ll like this. Not suitable for children.

My Calendar book for this month. Sir Fred Hoyle was a noted astrophysicist and coined the term “Big Bang“, although he didn’t subscribe to the theory, and believed solidly in the “Steady-State” universe. This book is firmly in the Science Fiction genre, but luckily for me there are no aliens or space battles, just a strange chronological quirk, and humans dealing with it. It has a very Victorian feel to it— a bit H G Wells-ish. It was ok, but the end was a bit limp, I felt.

I like Indridason’s detectives. They are always a bit “off”, and never annoyingly tropey. Flovent and Thorson are becoming favourites, particularly Thorson, who struggles with his suppressed sexuality (this is set in the forties) as well as his mixed heritage. This is only the second in this series, and it is shaping up well.

I am slowly re-working my way through Pratchetts “Watch” books, and this one seemed appropriate for the Halloween season, being set in Uberwald, where the aristocracy are vampires and werewolves. I like the Discworld novels, and have read all of them several times. I love finding new things in them—Pratchett was the master of “Easter eggs”. This time round I spotted a wonderful little Chekhov vignette, consisting of three sisters, a cherry orchard and Uncle Vanya’s trousers. Sublime.

My first foray into a new genre. LabLit.

On the surface, this book should have had everything. A female lead scientist. A mysterious feline disease epidemic that crosses into the human population. A couple of reclusive mathematicians. A government conspiracy. Bio-terrorism, etc, etc. What we get isn’t quite what was billed. Yes, there is a female lead scientist, but sadly, she is emotionally unstable and over dependent on her hunky male post-doc. The mathematicians are stereotyped as an elderly autistic professor (also usefully developing a dementia that seems to cancel out his autism somehow) and his slightly psychopathic assistant. There is only one cat. I wanted to love this book, but although it was readable, it didn’t really grab me.

This novella is one of Bassani’s Ferrara Cycle, set in northern Italy, and showing the country’s gradual slide into Fascism through the gold-rimmed lens of Dr Fadigati, whose transition from pillar of society to tragic outcast has a sense of inexorability about it. An uncomfortable read, but worthwhile.

I was a little apprehensive about this book, as I do not generally have a constitution that can cope with horror. I needn’t have worried. This was a piece of pure silliness that I highly recommend to any Sherlock fan.

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Posted in books

October 1: September’s books

I got through nine books in September. Some of them I enjoyed more than others.

Chronologically:

My library reading group book. The librarian gave us all a long list of available titles and asked us to tick off any that we thought would be good for future reads. I just ticked off all the titles I hadn’t read, on the grounds that I’m using the group to widen my reading (among other reasons for attending). Anyway, she chose this for September, told everyone it was from my list, evoking several heavy sighs and sarcastic “thankyous”. With 800-odd pages of tiny print, it does look a bit daunting – so much so, that the group collectively decided to run this book over two months. Reader, it took me two days. As always, I found some of the characters a bit irritating, but I really enjoyed the book overall. I don’t need to detail the plot here, but there is one trope I dislike, and that I see a lot in “classic” novels, that of older guardian-like man marrying generations-younger woman from poor circumstances. It feels a bit icky, somehow.

An attack on my “to read” pile gave me this, which was readable, quite enjoyable, but with some silliness. It is basically the story of an odd little ménage à trois. Alice meets Jove on a cruise and becomes his lover. Alice is a physicist, Jove is a renowned expert on time travel. So far, so good. I hoped there might be a bit of Sci-Fi, but there isn’t. Eventually, Alice meets Jove’s wife Stella, and becomes her lover too, in a separate arrangement, which then becomes the main relationship, with a very upset Jove neatly sidelined. The silliest thing in the book is Stella’s diamond, swallowed by her pregnant mother and somehow becoming embedded in the base of her foetal spine ( no, I don’t know how, either, and it isn’t explained).

I have read a couple of Winterson’s books- Christmas Days, which I erroneously bought as a cookery book, and The Gap of Time, one of the Hogarth series of reimagined Shakespeares (in this case, the retold story is the Winter’s Tale). I haven’t read her most famous book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but it is on my wishlist.

This novella was a very nice “extra” to Lock In, a Sci-Fi-Cri novel that I liked a lot when I read it back in January. It details the background to Haden’s Syndrome, which is central to the novel, and could be read before or after. I’m glad I read the novel first, but that’s because I really like good Science Fiction, and Scalzi writes good stuff.

I would call Yesterday SciFiCri, because of the very clever centrality of memory-diaries to the plot. It is certainly “alternate reality”. Otherwise, it is a fairly straightforward crime novel, told from multiple points of view. I would like to see more of Hans, the detective. There are a lot of holes in the world-building, (some of them are quite exasperating), and the mechanism of transfer between short and long term memories isn’t really explored. Quite readable, quite enjoyable, and with a reasonable twist.

A classic. I bought the Steadman-illlustrated hardback as a gift for someone, but had to re-read it first. This edition contains a couple of nice essays by Orwell, as well as the wonderful illustrations. I almost don’t want to give it away.

This was my September calendar book, and it was a wonderful story of a Jewish family in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution. This is really worth reading, and I am not going to write more in case I spoil it for anyone. I recommend this one.

How long have I had this on pre-order? So long I can’t remember. Anyway, it’s here, and read immediately, of course. I like Strike, and I’m glad that Robin is sorting herself out. I think this is a bit longer than it needs to be, but it will transfer well to TV, as the other Strike novels have. I enjoyed it.

This is another book I have bought as a gift. I found it odd, until I realised that it was written to be turned into dance. Here is the trailer for Raven Girl , the ballet based on the book.

The Man Booker shortlist was announced on September 20th. I bought all six, planning to read them before October 16th, when the winner will be announced. So far, I have managed one. The Long Take calls itself a poem, but I didn’t think it was poetry, really. It was very readable, and a strong story of PTSD and the toll it takes. I am taking an early punt and predicting that this will win the prize.

Posted in Musical theatre

August 30: Tiger Lillies: Edgar Allan Poe’s Haunted Palace

I like the Tiger Lillies, and I prefer their “proper” shows to their less-structured gigs. This show was less elaborately staged than others I have seen, but it had some very good theatrical effects. The set design was simple, but looked complex, with the help of some excellent projection work.

There were a few silly moments, and some humour: Martyn Jacques gently upbraiding latecomers for their tapping footsteps (inevitable, given the Q E Hall’s lovely wooden floors); the bargain struck for a replacement for Poe’s head.

The music was standard Tiger Lillies fare, with theremin and musical saw, but with fewer obscenities than usual. The band teased the audience with little snatches of quote (or quoth) from The Raven, but made us wait until the encore for the song, changed to first-person narration by the bird, played throughout the production by Jacques.

Standout songs for me were Tell Tale Heart and Nevermore.

Posted in Opera

August 21: Elephant Steps

This was billed as “rock opera”, “occult opera”, “alternative opera” …

I like the Grimeborn festival. I have seen some really good festival productions over the years, and I had great hopes for this, which were sadly not realised. My companion summed it up with “What did we just watch?”

There were some highlights — the choreography was tight (it had to be in such a small space). The costumes were authentically period. The singers were mostly strong, and I liked some of the music. The orchestra was very good, and skipped easily between styles, with a recurring bass guitar riff that I will have in my ears for days.

BUT- oh my word, this was a difficult piece to make sense of. There were parts that reminded me of the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour era. Parts that were Kafkaesque, parts that made no sense at all.

What were the cucumbers for?

The whole thing felt like an LSD dream, and the surtitles didn’t help at all.

This was the European premiere of a work written 50 years ago. It might be another 50 before it is staged again. I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t pretend I liked it.

(If you’re desperate, there is a CD)

Posted in books, Cinema, Opera, puppetry, Theatre

Week 47

Ooh, it’s getting cold…

Opera

Metropolitan Opera live in cinema

Thomas Adès: The Exterminating Angel

This is an opera I couldn’t afford to see at the ROH. Luckily, the Met performance was the same production, conducted by the composer, which was a bonus. The opera was another of those modern ones with no memorable “tunes”, but a lot of very difficult, very very high soprano singing, and some wonderful musical moments (a room full of drummers; a string section of miniature violins; a lot of bells). The story is odd, a surrealist nightmare, and I enjoyed it very much.

Theatre

The Puppet Theatre Barge

Wendy Cope: The River Girl

I really enjoy puppetry, and this production was lovely – some beautiful underwater scenes, and a literally breathtaking opening when a huge wave of haze rolled out over the audience. I found some of the puppetry a little clunky (the puppeteer working John Didde didn’t seem to have mastered the art of making a marionette kneel, for instance), but the use of narrative poetry was clever, and I came away from the boat very happy.

Reading Challenge

This is moving ahead slowly. I like Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, and this book brings me up to date with that. I find it odd reading books that have been translated out of order, and I am still very irritated with Ari Thor Arason, but that is part of the experience. No spoilers here – I recommend these books.

Posted in Art, dance, Theatre, video

Week 36

The Arts can often be an antidote to the grim reality of life. At other times they can be cathartic, allowing release.   This week’s outings were all produced by women, and all addressed the hard parts of life.

Theatre

Dorfman Theatre

Lucy Kirkwood: Mosquitoes

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This play has been the season’s hot ticket. A complete sellout from the beginning of the booking season, only two tickets allowed per customer, and only very occasionally appearing in the “Friday Rush”. I managed to bag the single ticket on offer for the performance I saw, and it was well worth the effort I had gone to in order to get that seat.  Olivia Colman was absolutely wonderful as the most damaged (and damaging) relative anyone could ever have. Scientific themes threaded through this excellent play, but it was accessible to the non-nerd.  I loved it.

Art

White Cube: Dreamers Awake

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A very comprehensive feminist surrealist exhibition, curated by Susanna Greeves and featuring work by (amongst others) Tracy Emin, Mona Hatoum, Sarah Lucas and Louise Bourgeois. There were some beautiful works, some very peculiar works, some that were hard to look at. None of it left me unmoved.

Dance/Video

Rosie Kay Dance Company: 5 Soldiers

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This piece was staged during a local festival back at the beginning of the summer. I wasn’t able to get to it then, and so was really pleased to see it being live streamed from an actual army base this week.

The dance shows the progress of five soldiers through their training and deployment. The interaction between the recruits and their officer, and between themselves were very well portrayed, with some difficult moments between the sole female soldier and her male colleagues played out effectively. One of the soldiers suffers a life-changing injury during deployment, and this is addressed well.

The female perspective made all of my “culture”  difficult to look at this week. There seemed to be a specific harshness about life itself in these pieces.