Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Needle in the blood

At last I have got hold of this historical novel, having read about it on various book blogs, notably dovegreyreader scribbles and Random jottings of a book and opera lover ,both of whom rhapsodised over it. I requested it through my local library, who did not have it in stock - but they do now. I must admit that I thought it very good and have enjoyed the story of the production of the Bayeux Tapestry, the characters who were involved in its making and what happened to them. The story is that of Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, half-brother to William the Conquerer, his involvement in the invasion of England and the battle of Hastings and its aftermath, and also about his relationship with Gytha, a Saxonwoman, serving maid to Edith Swan-Neck. The research that has gone into this story is prodigious, but only adds to the reality of the story and is not intrusive.

There is a letter about reading historical novels, one of my favourite novel categories, in the latest edition of New Books magazine, a magazine for reading groups, saying that we read them in times of economic downturn, and that this time we are reading them "as a grim backdrop to a grimmer reality" what with global warming and the current economic climate. If and when the world situation improves, then historical fiction will fade away again, the letter writer concludes. Lets hope for more really absorbing historical reads in the near future, and that this time the trend is bucked, so to speak, as the economic situation doesn't get any worse.

Friday, 15 February 2008

The final Harry potter

One recent Book Club discussion was on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. A couple of people didn't enjoy it and found it a struggle to finish,but others including myself, found it a good read. Although well aware it was written for children, we felt the story pulled you along, you wanted to know what happened next; and plenty did happen in this book. Most of the group had read the previous titles in the series either for themselves or to children or grandchildren. One opinion was that the book had ideas and themes that children felt related to their lives, such as bullying, problems with parents (or lack of them). This story is particularly about a quest and some of us felt it could be compared to the Narnia stories, or the Lord of the rings. No-one felt that it was too juvenile for the group to read - it certainly engaged my attention and completed the saga - yes I have read most of the preceding volumes, although like others in the discussion felt that the later ones could have done with a bit of editing. We also felt that one of the reasons for the success of the Harry Potter books was that the leading characters were not stereotypical heroes, in fact they were all a bit nerdy, Harry with his glasses, Ron withhis red hair and Hermione with her cleverness and mass of hair.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Shakespeare, Life of Pi and the Wild Places

Two recent book group reads have been Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, a fairly scholarly biography of William Shakespeare, which most of the group liked and one or two really loved. I found it interesting and informative, although given the dearth of information about Shakespeare in the historical records, the image one gains is not complete, more a somewhat shadowy figure, partially glimpsed. It has inspired me to get hold of Germaine Greer's Shakespeare's Wife, which seems on a quick dip, to give a completely different view of the wife whom Greenblatt almost dismissess as being totally unimportant to Shakespeare the playwright. Both writers send one back to the plays, but these are best viewed in performance, not just read, and preferably well-performed at that.
The last book group discussion was on The life of Pi, by Yann Martel, which won the Booker prize in 2002. I loved this for its sheer imaginative detail; the writing just carried me along, wanting to know exactly how Pi survived sharing the lifeboat with Richard Parker the bengal tiger, and admiring him for his tenacity and courage. I had wanted to read this when it first appeared, but life got in the way as it does. Now I'm glad I have.
My current read is Robert MacFarlane's The Wild Places, a story of the writer's exploration of wild places in Britain and our necessity for them. The writing is beautiful, evocative and makes one appreciate any small patch of wilderness in one's locality. Living in a city, yet with common land and other sorts of wilderness within walking distance, I envied the author his visits to the further reaches of the British Isles.

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