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Moby Dick (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 26 February 2012 20:07

Yes, I know. This book should speak to me as a writer for the themes it explores. And it should speak to me, personally, about the mad pursuit of the unobtainable.

But I just...

can't...

get through it.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I've read Three Musketeers (and all the companion books). I've read Candide and Anna Karenina. I've read Don  Quixote. I've even read Tom Brown's School Days. Even Gilgamesh! I know how to set aside the twenty-first century me and become a simpler, less-expectant, slower-paced me, to read a book for its merit and discover the charm as those did hundreds of years before. But Moby Dick - I simply can't get through it.

I've tried. I've forced myself to focus on it, to not lose my way when Melville spends thirty pages on the types of whales. All I know is that twice I've challenged this novel and twice I've failed. Last time, I got to where Starbuck wanders the deck, babbling though the night and keeping the crew awake. But no, I can't do it. I simply can't get through this windy, dusty tale.

And that's too bad, since tales with a cautionary take on the weaknesses and foibles of humans really appeal to me. But no, there is something about Melville (just as there is something about lettuce) that I can't get down.

And it's not just that tale: I've tried Billy Budd and barely made it out of that novella alive. I just can't read Melville, no matter how hard I try.

So sorry - there is your review. Good luck with this fish story. I simply can't force it into my eyeballs.

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 February 2012 20:27
 
Flashman (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 19 February 2012 00:00

It was back in sixty-nine. I was a youngling then, eleven years old, not even shaving. We were stationed in Cubi Point, the Philippines, beastly hot, nothing to do (especially if one hadn't hit puberty yet). And in the base library, I found this book, d'ya see? Flashman. Odd, but it had a strapping big bloke with a sword on the cover - not swinging it, rot the luck, but just standing all satisfied before a seated Indian girl.

I was at the age where not much made sense - I'd read Ensign Flandery the year before and while I liked the idea that blood in space would form floating blobs, I hadn't followed the diplomacy angle of it. No, I was still young, but for a wee rotter I loved to read.

Flashman, by Frazetta no less!But Flashman. The only thing like it was War of the Worlds, and only because it set its story on its ear as the Martians won and won and kept winning, right until the end (my take HERE). Flashman played the bully of the classic Tom Brown's School Days and the novel picks up right after he's been ejected from Rugby (and that story), sent home in disgrace. Of course, his father pulls strings and has him shipped off to India. But as the story proceeds, we find that Flashy is a damned peculiar "hero" to be following. He's a worm, a weasel, a cheat, a bully and a coward. And yet with us (the reader), he's honest. He tells us he is all of those things, makes no effort to conceal it. He's not proud either; not in that boastful way of our culture. No, Flashy tries to just stay under the radar, to seek a warm billet and bedmate, all as far from the guns as he can.

And the charm of the story is that even while we like him, we still hate him (for what he is, since we can't help from being moralistic). And so his pratfalls into hell and high water are oddly fitting. Oh, we'll watch him scream with our puritanical delight, but cads have nine lives and Flashy always manages to win free, through luck or fast talking or a freak fall of the dice.

Fraser (the author) went on to write a dozen or so Flashman novels, ranging from fine to fantastic. As an American, I feel particularly cheated that we never found out what the old soldier did during the American Civil War (though we know he fought on both sides and is somehow personally responsible for Pickett's Charge). But it doesn't matter - I didn't know anything about the British retreat from Kabul in the 1840s, the blood in the snow and the column being methodically ground up. Oh, I had to go back to the library once or twice, to consult their globe and find the places mentioned, but it was quite the story.

If you are looking for a wild wandering, rags-to-riches-and-round-again sort of tale, this one would warrant a look. It's nothing short of brilliant.

Last Updated on Monday, 20 October 2014 12:39
 
Watership Down (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 12 February 2012 00:00

The sad thing is, this epic tale of a group of rabbits driven into epic flight towards the high, dry hill ("Watership Down") could probably not make it in today's market. It's too naturalistic, too paced in its telling, for modern audiences (trust me, how many times have I seen people pick up Early ReTyrement, flick-thumb its 357 pages and frown ("I gotta read all this?)). So a journey that lasts a lot longer, filled with descriptions of lazy English nature, would have a far harder sell these days.

Animal Farm was once rejected because "Americans don't like animal stories".

And here I am, sitting on Indigo.

But back to Watership's review, yes, rabbits forewarned by one of their psychic members, driven from their doomed warren into headlong flight. We slowly take the rabbit's perspective and gain its darting, fearful eye. Every field is a hunting blind. Ever shifting shadow an enemy ("All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies..."). And we learn words of their language, sprinkled through the story here and there and suddenly used, with great boldness, in a complete sentence (Bigwig's defiance against General Woundwort). I've tried this trick too in my books and not been so successful.

So the rabbits finally make their journey, they ascend Watership, they are happy and warm and safe. And with poor rabbit administrative talents, eventually come to realize that the one thing they lost along the way was all their does. For the warren to survive a generation, they will have for find breeding partners (ah, that's what the second half of the book is about). There are some in a farmhouse hutches nearby. And Efrafa, the totalitarian warren a short distance off, is overloaded with spare does. But the trouble, of course, is to get them past the patrols...

It's a great, sprawling epic that will reward those who can stick with it a full share of battles, final stands, harrowing escapes and clever stratagems. I read it at 16 and loved it, and reread it a two years ago and loved it all over again.

So if you are into something new and wonderful and lush, shove all those chick-lits and wiz-books out of the way and dive into this new world.

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 February 2012 09:29
 
Good Omens (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 05 February 2012 10:04

The first admission is that I've bought just about every Pratchett book out there - loved the Diskworld series. And Gaiman, I've also read one or two of his and generally liked them. So when a work acquaintance mentioned Good Omens, I had to have a look.

I've got to say that I really enjoyed it; the opener is perfect with the Angel of God (Aziraphale) and of the Devil (Crowley) distantly looking down at the ejection of Adam and Eve from Eden, both with strong misgivings (Crowley is miffed that the apple thing was very unfair, even though he, himself, played a part (as Crawley, right?)). It's a very clever start, allowing us to like the characters on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses.

And as the centuries pass, Aziraphale and Crowley work for their sides yet (in a perfect simile about how two competing salesmen in a foreign country will likely socialize with each other because of the alienness of everything except each other) meet for dinner at favorite restaurants and enjoy those little pleasures neither heaven nor hell are particularly good at. And so everything is nice and everyone is happy, until the Apocalypse is initiated with the birth of the anti-Christ.

With a flair even modern governments cannot duplicate, the babies are accidently swapped, the American Ambassadors' devil-spawn going to a loving but distracted midland's father. And as the boy grows without Hell to guide him or Heaven to interfere, the entire end-game for the fate of the world (and every sole upon it) is up for grabs.

As I said, I really enjoyed the whole story, the concept of Good and Evil as one's job, the revenge a helpfully prophesizing witch has on those who decide to burn her at the stake, the perversion of the hellhound companion into a cute dog named "dog". All that plays well. My only problem is a standing problem I've long had with Pratchett, his end-climax. I don't think this is an English (meaning Britain) thing; other writers don't seem so afflicted. No, it's that he can't seem to execute  a sharp satisfying single climax. With all respect to the master, they seem to be overlong, confused, multi-part climaxes, as if he'd come up with multiple resolutions and decided to work all of them in. His Diskworld books are often like this, and it carried over here. I've read this story twice now, and both times I've come away slightly dissatisfied at the end, as if all the actions of all the characters seemed diluted by the floundering about at the critical showdown. It's rather like sitting down to the perfect meal, and just as you are peaking, just as you are shaking your head at how good it is, the staff inexplicitly swaps out your silverware, brings the check early, and forgets to ask if you'd like desert.

Your reflections of it was that it was good up until that point.

But that's not to say that you won't have laughs aplenty and twists galore up until that point. Overall, its still a favorite and still comes recommended.

(and besides, the end might work for you - it just might be my Yankee outlook).

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 February 2012 10:46
 
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