Thursday, 13 March 2008

Philosopher turns detective

The Sunday Philosophy Club -- Alexander McCall Smith

A self-sufficient lady philosopher witnesses a young man's death and decides that something isn't right and that she needs to investigate.

Isabel Dalhousie takes advantage of the tight-knit nature of the Edinburgh arts scene to find out more -- everyone knows someone you know so it's possible to dig around like this. I keep expecting the residents of 44 Scotland Street to pitch up.

She justifies her nosiness by claiming that it helps her recover from the trauma of witnessing someone dying.

I like McCall Smith's precise, correct language. It suits Isabel's side of the story. I find it harder to keep up with her neice Cat -- the head voice is slightly too old (although she's a very engaging character, and I, like Isabel, care about her.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

The marriage bed

TV: Malcolm in the middle
Dewey's Opera

I love shows where elements of fantasy blend into the action. In this one, Dewey watches an opera on TV and is reduced to tears. He is inspired to write his own -- his snoozing special needs teacher gives him plenty of opportunity to do this. But he needs a plot worthy of his music -- and Hal and Lois' quarrels over a new bed is perfect. When they argue, they gradually slip into song, then into costume and finally on to the stage, complete with supporting choruses.

In between, baby Jamie has his own opera going on -- he conducts a silent love affair with the toddler next door based on glimpses on her eyes over the windowsill.

And as if that's not enough, Malcolm and Reese take up street luge (a craze so dangerous that the police are nostalgic for crack) and find themselves humiliated again and again by a mysterious rider -- who turns out to be wheelchair bound Stevie. This was revealed to the viewers early on.

Black birds

Another few chapters of A Feast For Crows.

The Maid of Tarth's story continues. Brienne is strong as you like, but she's still so vulnerable because she's a woman. Always afraid that someone is going to attack her; and the taunts of the Bloody Mummers are almost unbearable. I want to watch out and see if I feel the same way when a man is taunted by the people he is fighting. And Brienne's paranoia makes her judgement poor; although perhaps she was right, and Dick Crabbe was only good compared with the Mummers. She is afraid, and then feels guilty for being afraid of someone. How very womanly.

Victarion is another difficult character to like -- he's hard as rock; and mentions having killed his wife... and then goes on to make me feel sorry for him. Gah. I enjoy the Ironmen threads because they are relatively straight forward people who are not losing their grip on reality. This was a tense chapter -- I genuinely didn't know who was going to win. I hoped it would be Asha; but then I suppose to move a story on, you need to have the worst, most terrifying outcome possible. There was a quote in this chapter, which shows where the book got its title: "After every battle, the crows come in their hundreds and their thousands to feast upon the falled. A crow can espy death from afar. And I say that all of Westeros is dying. Those who follow me will feast until the end of their days."

Poor Arianne -- I'm starting to get the feeling that she's way out of her depth here. But she is lucky in a way; because of who she is, she will never lose everything. It might almost be a game for her.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Lark Rise to Candleford

This was a funny little episode. Once again the theme of love that can never be acted upon appears -- poor Miss Lane. Mystical yokel Queenie finds a tapestry in the graveyard and she and her husband Twister are overwhelmed by its beauty. And also by the possibility that it might be worth a fortune. The Misses Pratt come over all psychic.

Meanwhile, Philip and Alf go head to head, but is it about poaching, or about Laura? I love this thread -- although I'm pretty sure I know who's going to win in the end.

And Mrs Arless comes home determined to be a better person, cue a very funny scene where she can't stop saying 'arse' ('we all has one, and some of us has two') in front of the vicar's daughter. Her character seems a lot deeper and slightly more interesting now she's been to prison.

And Robert accuses his son Edmund of lying -- lots of opportunities for them to glare darkly at each other. But since I'd had no indication that Robert's own brother had been a bad'un, until I was told in an exposition, I found it hard to be sympathetic. I loved Laura's quote: ' walk down the road as if you own one half of it and are thinking of buying the other.'

I find the reactions of the Misses Pratt to the tapestry very... out of character. I suppose, being fashionistas, they'd know what they were talking about, but to have them go all mystic about it doesn't seem right. I think, given that Queenie already has a relationship with them through her lacemaking, I would have been inclined to have her go to them first; I would have had them take it off her in a flurry of excitement (just like they took the schoolmaster's French books from Thomas Brown) and then I would have had Miss Lane and Sir Timothy intervene. But who knows the minds of other writers, eh?

Other points I liked: The baby box, which I remember from the book; and the music; and Emma's felt hat.

BBC website: Lark Rise to Candleford

A Feast for Crows

I'm still munching away at George R. R. Martin's epic, and loving it. Pod has appeared again -- he's one of my favourite characters.

And there's been a startling revelation about the baby Samwell Tarly is escorting -- I guessed there was something of this nature up. Samwell, as usual, is suffering and uncomfortable -- seasick, stuck in a cabin with a miserable woman and her puking, shitting baby and the bard he is travelling with is bullying him. Poor Sam seems to attract bullies.

Cerys gets madder by the chapter -- I'm observing closely how she is being unravelled, as it's done very effectively. Paranoia, and an obsession with her son. She is afraid to trust anyone, and is gradually alienating all her supporters.

Myrcella -- previously a rather sketchy character -- is developing (developing is a good word, because it's very like watching a picture appear). I'm liking the Sunspear threads -- this story is being told through many different characters, which is interesting.

Poor Sansa is losing her identity -- I've glanced ahead, and all her chapters now have her new name. It's strange how suffering can make you like some characters more -- I hated Sansa at first -- and other characters less -- I used to be a huge Cerys fan, and now I'm just waiting for the end.

I'm dying to hear more about Tyrion; and Jon Snow, but I won't get that until I start the next volume. I really, really wish this could have been a massive book with all the stories mixed up.

Women underfoot

Quality Women's Fiction -- July 2007, issue 51.

This just goes to show how behind I am on my magazines...

I love QWF; but one thing struck me about this issue -- it's full of stories about victim women -- wives who have to wear a pair of denim shorts to bed; wives whose husbands have affairs with their sisters (the wife's sister, I mean); wives forced to put themselves in danger from violent exes because they need money etc etc. Sometimes it feels as though to be a women is to carry an unbearable burden, and a lot of these stories are about the consequences of laying down that burden.

Then again, I love the widow experimenting with carrots; and the mother who was pissed off at having to attend an awards ceremony for her autistic son who 'takes up a whole eight and a half by eleven piece of paper to write his four-letter name'.

Website: Quality Women's Fiction

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Crows and Gumshoes

A Feast For Crows -- George R. R. Martin.
I love this series, and have been working at it for almost ten years. I was sent the first book as a review copy when I was at uni -- I read it, reviewed it and gave it away. It was too dark, too gory for me. But the plot kept tugging at me -- particularly the story of resourceful born survivor Arya Stark; and her bitter bastard brother Jon Snow; and the erotic tales of Daenrys, Queen across the water. I love the way character push and push at making me recoil with disgust until I can't understand why I want to read more about them.

So far this installment is going well. Jon has had a go at Samwell for whining on about being craven (good for you, Jon, I've been wanting to give fat boy a shaking since he first rolled into the story). Arya has made yet another new start in a new place, swallowing her doubts and fears in the usual way -- I'm afraid at some point she is going to have a breakdown, but who knows... There was a good slice of travelogue in this chapter, too. I'm enjoying the Damphair chapters too -- the idea of a religion that drowns and resuscitates people to baptise them is splendid.

Interzone 213
I am behind on my magazine reading, and I found this half-read in a box by my bed. There was one story still to go, and the reviews section. The Lost Xuyan Bride is a gumshoe story set in a world of a Chinese / South American empire. Aliette de Bodard must have had fun with the details -- loved the Mexica border officials in feathered regalia.

I didn't feel as if Brooks (the detective) was as trapped as he should have been into taking on this assignment. The love of his life was dead; he was a hard-up immigrant with no-where to run, but I sort of felt that there wasn't enough to force his hand. He just seemed to be going through the motions, somehow. I think perhaps he needed something more to spur him on, to make the case burn into him. Having said that, I kept reading -- I wanted the girl to be safe. And I loved the ending, and the way the resolution echoed Brooks' own sad life.

Book reviews -- saw a book I'd recommend to Katie, but the description on Amazon makes it sound like hard sci fi instead of a bodice ripper. Sigh. Plus, she's so busy these days that I don't suppose she'll want a fat epic series -- Queen of Candesce by Karl Schroeder. Also thought that Cat might appreciate the YA Dragonhaven by good old Robin McKinley.

Interview with Gary Gibson. I was struck by a para about how Gibson wrote most of his last book while forced to be off work. He talked about how Douglas Adams started his career being homeless so that he didn't have to get a 'proper' job: '...while friends who were initially as ambitious to be successful writers did the 'sensible thing' and got decent day jobs in order to support themselves: they were never heard of again.' Thank you.