The Rise and Fall of Little Voice – Chorley Little Theatre

Even though the title of the play clearly gives away the trajectory this must take, this was a very watchable play, even if it is one that could do with a more closed-off ending. Jim Cartwright, the playwrite is a local man, who now runs a drama school in Chorley, and this play does have a very local feel.

Steve Unsworth was as always a very competent actor (and I’ve nearly forgiven him for picking me out of the audience in the Complete Works of Shakespeare), and Eleanor Anderton played Little Voice brilliantly, with beautiful singing switching seamlessly to shy, browbeaten LV.

The new seats are very plush, although it was odd to be on the “other” side of the auditorium from our previous season ticket!

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Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood

This was part of my (not yet complete) attempt to read the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist for 2017. One of two which I purchased rather than accessed through the library, this one didn’t make the shortlist so was dropped into the guilt pile.

This was Atwood’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and there are two main ways that such a reimagining can take place: the character names and plot can be uplifted and used in a different setting without ever mentioning the source material, or a “book within a book” device can be used to include it directly. Atwood chose the latter option for Hag-Seed, which largely revolves around a production of the Tempest, as well as lifting the plot and characters. This enables her to delve deeply into analysis of how the plot works whilst creating another layer around it, and it works well.

The depths were enjoyable, and the revenge angle made this into the sort of book which cannot be put down, as I was desperate to find out how the plot would unfold.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Selected Letters – Edited by H. J. Jackson

I had been inspired to try Coleridge from reading The Lure of the Lake District, which specifically recommended some of Coleridge’s letters as further reading. This has been sitting on the “guilt pile” for a while, since the non-completion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Poems. But I added it to the set to take away with us on a camping trip, and rattled through it.

He has an enviable list of correspondents, including Wordsworth and Humphrey Davvy. It is fascinating to read the correspondence between these “Greats” as just friends who mostly discuss ordinary matters. But in his earlier years he did not shy away from big topics, some of which remain contemporary as he discusses the benefits a minimum wage, and guaranteed work “from the parish” and his and Poole’s plans for a Pantisocracy, a classless society.

Aside from his letters on living in the Lake District, I was surprised by his frankness with his correspondents on the subjects of his ill health, both depression and pain-related. He is an entertaining, satisfying letter writer, and I’m now tempted to keep an eye out for the full letter collections should I find them in a second hand shop.

BlueEyedBoy – Joanne Harris

I am more used to Harris’s magical realism, but this crime mystery novel is way outside this genre. I love the style it is told in: the protaganist’s blog posts and discussions in the comments. It reminds me of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a book which I didn’t keep, but found a good strong read.

The setting is of course as grim and gritty as is expected in this style of book, and in the absence of magic we instead have synaesthesia, because Harris can never have characters who are entirely normal human beings. As the characters are built, we get the feeling of the rug being shifted under us, with nothing ever quite fitting the picture I already had. But despite knowing a twist must be coming, the one taken was not what I expected.

A disturbing but satisfying read.

The Secret People – John Wyndham

The Secret People is a scifi classic with a setup reministent of Blyton (plus extramarital passion). We have a rich boy with a private jet who manages to crash it in the most inconvenient place possible. But then we take a swift turn into the underworld and discover “The Secret People”.

I loved the main concepts of this: environmental changes and evolution of races of peoples. It also considers zenophobia and true fears. Everything hangs together well on the two central characters and their investigation of this world. My only quibble is that the ending could have been improved above the current one!

The Temeraire Series (9 titles) – Naomi Novik

I first started the Temeraire series some years ago, but ran out of momentum on book 6 (The Tongues of Serpents) which had a very weak ending. But on this reread I felt driven to continue on through the rest of the books, which return the series to the high standards of the series start.

Set in Napoleonic times, dragons are as important to the defence of Britain as its’ navy is, and Temeraire is a large and talented dragon, so obviously forms a key part of this. But he is not given just this simple role, but instead we learn about more of his talents as he undergoes character development and finds his own place in the world. His companion Laurence has similar struggles as he makes life-changing moral decisions and deals with love, the war and friendship on firstly the terms of others, and gradually his own terms.

Each book moves around the world, although some settings are returned to, and the cast around Temeraire evolves as life for a deployed member of His Majesty’s Service continues. I like the imaginative way that dragons become part of the Napoleonic era without displacing true history too much, and how they do not instantly solve problems but instead present new ones. But the best subplot is the one around dragons’ personhood, set against a backdrop of the abolition of the slave trade by parliament. This beast that can destroy ships and kill soldiers without effort has far more interest as a political being than as a warrior.

The Clothing of Books – Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a lovely little essay I borrowed in ebook format from the library. It examines how little influence most authors have on their book jackets, and yet how much what is on the book jacket influences reader perceptions.

The opening is not on books but on real clothing, and how we choose it to present who we are to the world. She then explores her experience as a normal author, and how covers change between translations.  One little gem was how Virginia Wolfe’s first edition covers were designed by her sister following conversation between them.

I love this look at this aspect of perception of books, and the irony as I was reading this as an eBook, chosen based on the library service’s tagging of it, so with the cover having such little impact on my reading experience!

Notes on a Thesis – Tephanie Riviére

One of my current goals is to undertake a PhD, although life events keep stopping me from starting that (such as children!) But the cynical look at PhDs in the comic press always helps steer me away, as opening up for such a long drag always comes with hesitation. Riviére’s examination of a PhD is one of that tone, a woman who starts with dreams and ambition, and just about manages to end it.

A grim and adult look at relationships under pressue, family, ambtion and poor mentor support. Only the last I thought was unfair – putting words into the mouth of an advisor to make them unsympathetic rather than just distracted. Although French academic culture may be different in this regard.

But there are plenty of dry laughs in here, and a driving need to see if Jeanne succeeds. The art is also inspired, with lecture theatres full of vicious tigers one moment and shy kittens the next as she learns to manage lecturing and conferences. Worth a read!

 

Rethink – Steven Poole

Rethink is a look at the history of ideas. How there are very few truly new ideas, but a lot of ideas which were thought up before they reached their time. The focus was spread across scientific, political and economic disciplines, leaping from astronomy to mental health via chess.

The encouragement is to look again at currently discredited ideas, and to be patient with new ideas that require time and understanding be accepted as conventional. It makes fascinating reading, as links to modern ideas are found in ancient texts, and I enjoy a good story on an old academic debate, where what we know as a fundamental truth was first proposed.

Then there is a look at what ideas could be due for renaissance. This is where we steer quite firmly into political and economic territory, betraying Poole’s lack of scientific training. But these are all ideas which are moving into the Overton window, and becoming feasible in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago.

An interesting look on how ideas develop and move in and out of being accepted truths in human society.

Saffy’s Angel – Hilary McKay

Saffy’s Angel is well-written young adult fluff. It has the bohemian arty family, an adoption, and a strict family to put the artists into context.

Fundamentally, Saffy discovers that she should inherit an angel, and most of the book revolves around her quest to try and recover it. But there are side plots, with sister Caddy’s torturous learning to drive with Michael Darling, the father who spends most of his time at his London studio and other adventures of the rest of the family.

There is lots of rich humour, with some children allowed to do what they want, and some much more constrained, and not a single one of them being set up to be taken seriously. It forms a nice light book, touching on serious topics. However I don’t feel any great need to read the other three in the series.