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The Man in the Iron Mask (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 02 July 2017 00:00

nd so ends, the series that started with Three Musketeers, proceeded through Twenty Years After, then into The Vicomte of Bragelonne, Ten Years Later, and Louise de la Vallière. By my estimates, it took 4000 pages to arrive at this point. And after three years and something like 100 books and short stories later, I'm ready to conclude this saga with The Man in the Iron Mask.

I've written how the eternal bonds formed in the first book, of three (then four) common soldiers were unified by friendship and duty. I've also noted (in later books) how the four have broken, reforming as France suffers its changes. Good enemies become weasely courtiers. Good kings become bad ones. Religion (and frankly, ambition) draw the friendships apart.

And here we are at Mask: they are all old now, looking at their lives in retrospect, all but Aramis, General of the Jesuits, who has schemes in mind (still!). And what schemes. He has learned that when Louie XIV was born, there was also a Louie XIV.V, meaning a twin only minutes behind the elder. With everyone downstairs toasting each other, everybody save Anne of Austria (who I like far less as she gets older). And she does the only thing a mother can do - she has her child banished to the country (for his youth) and then to the Bastille (welcome to manhood, there). But Aramis knows, and Aramis schemes.

With the help of a bed in an estate that lowers into the service corridors, he convinces trusty Porthos (still strong, but perhaps just a touch senile) to help him spirit His Majesty out. They take him to the Bastille and swap him for the false king, trained and now instituted into the Royal bed, now to serve as a better ruler (and perhaps a puppet, as well as a stepping-stone to popedom) to Kingmaker Aramis.

Really, it's hard to like the guy.

Well, the scheme bombs. The first person Aramis approaches is Fouquet, a soon-to-be-disgraced minister who could save himself by going along but righteously does not. This leaves Aramis in the lurch, forcing him to flee to fortified Belle-Isle with the confused Porthos. And if that isn’t bad enough – he leaves the false king, unwarned and unaware, to face his angry true brother when he returns. Talk about uncomfortable family reunions.

But all is not well for everyone. D'Artagnan is nearly disgraced by dragging his feet in catching the fugitives (here, I side with Louie - Aramis meant for him to stay in the bastille for the rest of his life, seen as a king-wannabe madman. Perhaps Louie should have picked someone else, or D'Artagnan should have declined? And Athos is distraught over his adapted son Raoul who has gone on an African campaign to die (still upset over Louise's treachery of the heart). In the end, everyone dies but Aramis: Porthos heroically defending his false friend, lovelorned Raoul in battle, Athos in the pain of his loss, and D'Artagnan while on campaign in Holland, standing before the thirteenth fort he's taken, the day won, victory his, struck by the final shot of the day, right as he reaches for his awarded Marshall's baton. And Aramis, he's an old, graying Spanish ambassador. His death, when it comes, will be a whimper; of this we can be sure as readers.

It was sad to read D'Artagnan's final thoughts as his life drained away, how he would soon be reunited with Athos and Porthos and even Raoul. But Aramis? It was goodbye forever.

A bittersweet ending to one of the grandest epics I've ever read, and interesting that it shows that there can be friends who can't be saved.

If you are a reader and love classics, you might attempt this long journey. I've marked the trailhead and the waypoints above. Get ready for the read of your life.



Last Updated on Saturday, 01 July 2017 15:04
Amanda Todd: The Friend of Cats (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 25 June 2017 12:24

isclaimer: My poor little cat is in the vet's care this weekend, attempting to recover from a kidney disorder. I'm aching in love for my cat (in particular) and all cats (in general).

With a confusing week behind me and a massive book still underway (The Man in the Iron Mask), I found myself with nothing to review. This morning when I woke up, I considered my options and reached over to Jurassic’s The End (a wonderful collection of short stories produced by a closing publishing house). Flipped open this vast leather volume to the next story beneath the bookmark ribbon and there it was, Amanda Todd: The Friend of Cats. Irony; sad and wonderful, all at once.

This story was written way back at the turn of the last century by Mary Wilkins Freeman, a sad little writer who suffered failure before success and never really found love in her life. And this is a story of what we now call "A cat lady". For Amanda Todd is a spinster, one who only had one chance at happiness and failed to achieve it, who grew up in a village and has turned into a recluse, not going to church, not wearing her bonnet, and caring for one poor feline who replicates over and over until there is an army of cats which she cares for.

This is a cat-lover's story, clear enough. Amanda hates dogs and small children (particularly for what they do to cats) and no canine will come within stone's throw of her. And it's also an odd story with points that a subtle reader will decode. Clearly there are things that she does for her cats, her likes and dislikes, that sound cruel or weird until further explanation is given (to wit: she wishes to adopt a young girl who will tend to her cats. The child will focus on those animals and like her adoptive mother shun all social interaction with other children. Cruel and heartless? Perhaps. The adoption board thinks so and denies her, which is fine, and so the child remains in their institution for who-knows-how-long because a quirky home is somehow worse than no home at all). In this way, we get several views on Amanda which change as we progress.

Like all of us, Amanda knows she is getting older, that her cats need her, but she won't be around forever. What can she do? What will she do? No resolution - just a slice-of-life about this unique person, presented in short-story form. I have to say that it really touched me, with my own fears and situations. So, yes, four paw prints of approval for this tale of tails. I suppose finding it may prove difficult, but to those who make the effort (like those who tend and suffer for their own feline companions) the result is worth it.

Go get it.


Last Updated on Sunday, 25 June 2017 12:46
Interpreter of Maladies (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:09

his isn’t my usual type of book. There are no trains, no musketeers and no spaceships. This is about ordinary people, Indian people, going through gradual encounters of change. My wife read it and I had a look – after all, it couldn’t suck too badly. Ms. Lahiri won a Pulitzer for this effort.

You also might remember that I reviewed the first story I read a few weeks ago, A Temporary Matter. I really enjoyed it, and looked forward to more of the same. And in that, my hopes were realized.

Again, not dramatic action here, no 24 pace. There isn’t even deliberate irony or meaning. But one can read these stories and see how the characters might have arrived at their ending positions. For example, in the title story, Interpreter of Maladies, an older man who normally works for a city doctor helping to describe his patents ailments ends up tour-guiding for an Americanized Indian couple (and their bratty kids). Here the main character hopes that the wife might confess something to him yet when she does, it doesn’t go as he planned. And in This Blessed House, a somewhat mismatched married couple (he an executive, she a free-spirit) purchase a house in America where the former residents hid away Christian items for them to uncover. The wife approaches it as a game, he as a transgression. In Mrs Sen’s, an American boy is after-schooled by a quiet Indian bride. While we see hints of her superior culture in her grace and poise, we also see its weakness in her lack of independence and murderous ineptitude at driving. And Sexy, where a Western woman has an affair with an Indian man and deals with the issues of cheating and infidelity – not directly, but with a growing unease.

Like I said, all of the stories were good in their subtle ways. It was like a cup of rich tea, not a diet soda. They were pleasurable and thoughtful and interesting and, like life, left me wondering where each was going.

For the advanced reader, I can only strongly recommend this work. You won’t be sorry.


Last Updated on Saturday, 17 June 2017 20:35
A Borrowed Man (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 10 June 2017 20:26

like noir. I like detective stories set in gritty cities where a shoe-leather, trenchcoat guy who knows people and knows the city plays against power (mob or city hall) and figures out the guilty party (even if that party is his client). Yeah, it’s a great genre.

A Borrowed Man, by Gene Wolfe, attempts to use a scifi setting to update this mythical misty figure. This time it's in the far future in a depopulated, exhausted (but seemingly verdant) Earth. The Borrowed Man in question is author E.A. Smithe, who seemingly penned many scifi classics including Mission to Mars. Now he's long dead, but cloning being what it is, he's been brought back as a "resource" for the local library. He lives "in the stacks" (some sorts of three-walled tiny apartment). Library patrons can check him out if they wish, so simply sit at a table and "consult". But the future is like now, few people read or care about the past. And Smithe has the burden of needing to be used - otherwise he, as nothing but property, can be "burned".

And this is when a beautiful woman comes in and checks him out. She asks all sorts of interesting questions about books and how information can be secreted inside them. And this leads to our first interesting factoid - her rich father is dead and inside his safe was nothing at all save so a single book - Mission to Mars.

This, of course, sets off a frightening chain of events as Smithe, with no rights as a human, has to figure out what is going on and why his book (of all others) was in the dead man's safe. Now, I'd like to say that this became a tale of lovers on the run, of power and corruption and death and greed as is so much a part of noir. But it isn't. Really, there is the details of her father's house, the deliberate search, the introduction of a couple of characters who, outside of being useful gophers, don't seem to bring much to the tale. No, the fire just isn't there. Smithe has some interesting adventures (and I will admit that the final secret was interesting, yet inexplicable in its origin). A second-class citizen would be doubly endangered in such a world but Smithe doesn’t seem too concerned. Even getting the shit beaten out of him leaves him disinterested.

The setting really doesn’t help the noir-tale either. It's hard to imagine a world falling back into nature with small cities with bus stations and beat cops and jewelry stores and downtown shopping. It just seems too 50's in this sparse future world. All good conflicts require pressure (the pressure of gritty big cities in this case) but it just isn't there.

It's a good book all in all, just not a great one. And (if you are like me and have a friend send it to you for free) then read it. I'm lukewarm on this one, I'm afraid.


Last Updated on Saturday, 10 June 2017 20:50

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