Wed, 11 Mar 2009
Lowboy, by John Wray is a novel about a schizophrenic teenager who calls himself Lowboy. There are two main threads to the story, that of Lowboy who escapes his handlers in a subway station into the tunnels themselves, and that of his mother and the police officer assigned to find him.
I enjoyed the novel a great deal. The Lowboy thread helped me to understand what having Lowboy's condition might feel like, the constant shifting of attentions and the extrasensory feelings he was having, without alienating me from him. The mother thread both grounded the novel and provided a background of normality against which the Lowboy thread was juxtaposed.
The characters in the book are vivid. Lowboy himself is neurotic but never alien. His mother, seen through the police officer's eyes, is alien but not unwelcome. The police officer, seen through the mother's eyes, is predictable but not boring. There are other, peripheral, characters. They are well-drawn and never feel like they exist to expose some facet of a main character or to move the plot along.
The only disappointments I had with the novel came within the last 5 to 10 pages. The ending is not quite as clear-cut as I was hoping, and the 'twist' doesn't have a mind-blowing effect. On the other hand, the ending fits with the rest of the book perfectly, and the lack of a 'twist' means that rereading the novel in future will remain interesting, so the disappointment was not too great.
I recommend reading this wholeheartedly. As with The Sound of Building Coffins, anyone I know should feel free to ask to borrow it.
Mon, 09 Mar 2009
On Saturday night, abandoning CompSoc to their own trip to see Watchmen, a group of friends and I went to see Watchmen at a cinema in Leamington Spa.
Overall, I considered the film to be just OK. Of the four friends I went with, two liked it and two disliked it, so I was right in the middle.
I should note now that I haven't read the graphic novel (yet). I should also note that I'm not going out of my way to avoid spoilers below.
I'll start with what I liked. I liked the action sequences, they kept me interested. Not the highest praise, but I'm not really an 'action movie' guy, so this was an achievement. I liked the world we were being immersed in. I liked the title sequence, with the live-action cells of a graphic novel, a lot.
What didn't I like? Quite a lot, sadly.
Despite that I liked the world we were in, I didn't know enough about it. Was it reasonable for the Comedian to start shooting his shotgun at the crowd in one particular scene? I don't know. It feels more like the strength of the world in the graphic novel is such that anything set within the world will be interesting but, as this film show, not necessarily satisfying. Hopefully reading the graphic novel will be satisfying.
The film was too explicit, both in terms of gore and in terms of sex. With the violence, it was obviously important that we, the audience, realise that we aren't in a standard superhero universe here. We need to know that people bleed blood here, and that facing off against a superhero doesn't just involve the word 'POW'. I get that. However, I didn't need to see bones popping through skin or entrails plastered on the ceiling to get it. I guess this was just to be expected from the director of 300 though.
We were also treated to an entirely needless sex scene or, at the very least, a needlessly lengthy sex scene. Apparently the sex scene is in the graphic novel, which I guess goes some of the way to explaining it. I just wish that the film-makers had spent more time on the interesting part of the graphic novel, the world we were in (see my above complaint), rather than a sex scene which we have seen in plenty of other films which could roughly be summarised by "these two characters love one another; people who are in love have sex".
The film became largely incoherent in the last third. Essentially from the scenes within the prison onwards. I guess this is linked into my first complaint. On the bright side, I'm told that the graphic novel has a different ending, which I'm looking forward to.
Overall, I don't think that this film isn't really worth seeing unless you have already read the graphic novel or really want some motivation to do so.
The Sound of Building Coffins is, in some respects, like the Mississippi river that flows through its pages. It is turbulent and muddy whilst being powerful and beautiful. It tells a number of stories, all of which flow into the novel at various points, adding to and changing those that have come before them.
I was somewhat uncomfortable with the magical realism of the book to begin with. I guess that part of this was to do with not having a firm understanding of what 'magical realism' was, and so not being sure as to what statement Louis Maistros was making regarding some issues of spirituality and faith. However, as I went through the novel, these concerns were allayed as I began to make sense the world in which I was becoming immersed. If you experience similar concerns, I urge to push on through to the end.
Overall, I recommend this novel.
N.B. If anyone I know would like to borrow this book, just ask me.
Thu, 07 Aug 2008
Gregory Maguire's "Wicked", as popularised by the Broadway musical, is a tale of the Land of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West's life. It starts with her birth to an unsuspecting minister and his unfaithful wife, and ends with her death, as chronicled in L. Frank Baum's classic book.
First, a brief note on why I chose to read this book. Recently (though not recently enough for me to have blogged about it), my housemates and I went down to London to see "Wicked the Musical". It was faintly enjoyable, but had a massively disappointing ending (as with the vast majority of musicals, but that's for another time). Anyhow, I couldn't really understand why this was such a big deal, so I assumed it must have something to do with the book on which the musical is based (albeit exceedingly loosely, now I have experienced both). So I took Wicked out of Peterborough Central Library and set about reading it.
Starting at the ending, it was better than that of the musical. However, it was probably the weakest part of the book. I should note at this point that I was getting rather tired by the end of the book (the tiredness entirely my own doing, most of you will not be surprised to hear), so I am not entirely sure that that didn't affect my enjoyment. Anyway, on with the review.
The book is split into five parts, and it is along these lines that I have made my notes (though I read the final part without my notebook by me, so that part will be even more sparse on comment than the rest). A quick warning, I haven't gone to any great lengths in what follows to avoid any spoilers. Beware.
In the first section, "Munchkinlanders", the story opens, as mentioned previously, with the Witch, whose name is Elphaba, being born to Frex, a minister of sorts, and Melena, a housewife of noble stock. Green from the outset, Elphaba causes a great deal of consternation and not a little infanticidal feeling from most people who meet her. By and by, a Quadling named Turtle Heart arrives, and proves to be able to tell the future in some part. It is here that we first get the link between this Oz and L. Frank Baum's Oz, as he predicts the arrival of the Wizard in a few years. This link is confirmed when Ozma, the deposed Princess of Oz, is later mentioned. As someone who has read some of the Oz canon outside of "The Wizard of Oz", I was pleased to see this reference. This part of the book ends with the birth of Elphaba's sister, Nessarose. Overall, however, this part of the book seems to take too long to get going, and doesn't really get enough done for the amount of time it takes to do it.
The story then skips, in "Gillikin", to Elphaba's arrival at Shiz University. Within this part, the story of the musical diverges from that of the book by so much that it would be laughable to claim they are the same at all. The storyline in this part becomes too complex for me to bother with describing (though I don't consider this to be a bad thing). One thing that bothered me about this section was that occasionally it got too cutesy, and the dialogue in some scenes seemed very false. It completely drew me out of those parts of the storyline, which were fairly important. The other thing that I began to notice, which was confirmed by the rest of the book, is that religion is fairly weakly drawn. It is too similar to religion in this world to stand independant and be more than allegorical, but yet doesn't really say anything of value about the religion of our world.
In the "City of Emeralds", Elphaba has a love affair with Fiyero, who showed up in "Gillikin". This becomes relevant in the latter parts of the story. I found this section to be enjoyable and readable, my only complaint being that the ending is somewhat ambiguous (though it should be understood that, by this time, I was beginning to tire).
"In The Vinkus" is set seven years on from the "City of Emeralds". I found this part interesting, but it began to drag on. I also found that Maguire kept the happenings of the seven interim years back until they could be sprung at some suprising moment. This didn't really add anything, but just meant that I went back and had to consider the behaviour of Elphaba from the start of this section over again, which disrupted the flow.
The final section, "The Murder and Its Afterlife", seemed confused to me, and seemed to raise more questions than it answered.
To conclude, I quite enjoyed reading this book. However, it always felt like it was grasping for something, whether it be deep meaning, true understanding of camaraderie or Elphaba's mounting frustration towards the end, but never quite grabbing it. It seems to me a lot like Galinda at Shiz University, there's meaning and thoughtfulness in there somewhere but it's virtually impossible to coax it out. I also found that it was leaving a number of questions irritatingly unanswered. These may be answered in the sequels, but I fear I am more likely to read about them on Wikipedia than in the actual works themselves. Overall, though, I would recomend reading this, if only because I'm not sure I'm right.
Mon, 04 Aug 2008
"The Essential Plato" is another in the Virgin Philosophers series by Paul Strathern. I have previously read and reviewed (earlier this evening) his "The Essential Confucius", so this review will naturally reference that in some respects.
This book is short, only 56 pages including chronologies, recommended reading and a number of quotations, but Strathern manages to give a fairly complete history of Plato's life, showing how his life affected his philosophy while exploring, albeit in a fairly shallow manner, the core of his philosophy. In contrast to "The Essential Confucius", I know more about Plato's life and works, and so feel more able to say that this book gives a decent understanding on which to base further study of Plato.
Having said this, my one complaint about the book is that despite leaving me interested in studying Plato further, it doesn't really make such further study all that easy. The only help it lends is the 'Recommended Reading' section, which contains five entries with no sort of information about how to read them or which should be read first. I suspect that I will find this problem to be endemic in the series and only failed to notice it in "The Essential Confucius" because I wasn't all that interested in reading anything further.
This book also demonstrates a much reduced level of the issues I had with "The Essential Confucius", which largely boiled down to sacrificing readability in an attempt to be accessible and a seeming contempt for religion and faith. I wonder if this reduction is due to there being a great deal more to write about Plato than Confucius, meaning the author had no need to resort to such things. I suspect also that my increased interest could be traced to the increased content.
Overall, a good book which I would recommend to anyone with a passing interest in philosophy.
Sun, 03 Aug 2008
In this short book (57 pages including recommended reading, quotations and an index), Paul Strathern attempts to shed some light on Confucianism. Being completely uninitiated in the philosophy of Confucius, I am the target market. However, this also makes it quite hard to judge whether or not I have received a good grounding. Strathern seems to do a reasonable job of covering the basics, and I certainly know more about Confucianism than when I picked up the book. Sadly, the author comes across as being too eager for the text to be accessible, with puns and jokes which do nothing but distract. Strangely jarring with this wish to be accessible, he also can't help but take a few needless potshots at religious belief and faith, which I also found distracting. Overall though, a decent book.A couple of quotes stood out to me. The first, as a fan of The Mighty Boosh,
The second, as a university student,
"To expect a man to do something without the proper advice - this is an outrage."
"It is difficult to find a man who is willing to study for three years without getting a job at the end of it."