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Search tags: kill-your-darlings-game
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review 2018-03-19 02:24
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd - Agatha Christie

The house next door, The Larches, has recently been taken by a stranger. To Caroline’s extreme annoyance, she has not been able to find out anything about him, except that he is a foreigner. The Intelligence Corps has proved a broken reed. Presumably the man has milk and vegetables and joints of meat and occasional whitings just like everybody else, but none of the people who make it their business to supply these things seem to have acquired any information. His name, apparently, is Mr Porrott— a name which conveys an odd feeling of unreality. The one thing we do know about him is that he is interested in the growing of vegetable marrows.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is an absolute classic, even among the other books of the Poirot series. 

 

For one, this is the book that catapulted Christie from an average mystery writer to a being recognised as a driving force in the genre. It's her sixth book, and it is the first with a twist that is utterly memorable. 

 

This is also the book where we meet Poirot in his attempted retirement. Attempted, because there is this pesky unexplained death that happens in the village of King's Abbot, which draws Poirot away from his garden. And quite rightly so!

Poirot is no gardener! 

 

This is made very obvious right from the start where we get to watch something that is rare in the series - Poirot's being defeated and humiliated, by nothing more than the infamous vegetable marrow:

"I saw the chance to escape into the garden. I am rather fond of gardening. I was busily exterminating dandelion roots when a shout of warning sounded from close by and a heavy body whizzed by my ears and fell at my feet with a repellent squelch. It was a vegetable marrow!

I looked up angrily. Over the wall, to my left, there appeared a face. An egg-shaped head, partially covered with suspiciously black hair, two immense moustaches, and a pair of watchful eyes. It was our mysterious neighbour, Mr Porrott. He broke at once into fluent apologies.

“I demand of you a thousand pardons, monsieur. I am without defence. For some months now I cultivate the marrows. This morning suddenly I enrage myself with these marrows. I send them to promenade themselves— alas! not only mentally but physically. I seize the biggest. I hurl him over the wall. Monsieur, I am ashamed. I prostrate myself.”

Seriously, this is one of my favourite scenes in the whole series, and it is why I have re-read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd several times. Once you know the twist, it is hard to forget and makes a re-read somewhat pointless. 

However, the scene in the vegetable patch is one that is funny every time.

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review 2018-03-18 23:12
The Bette Davis Club
The Bette Davis Club - Jane Lotter

A fun read. The Bette Davis Club is not exactly conventional chick lit, but it is still a bit meh.

 

 

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review 2018-03-18 13:49
Arthur Conan Doyle - Beyond Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle: Beyond Sherlock Holmes - Andrew Norman

Arthur Conan Doyle - Beyond Sherlock Holmes, Andrew Norman's biography of Arthur Conan Doyle is one of those books that got off to a rocky start with me and I should have DNF'd after the Preface. 

 

However, I wanted to know how preposterous the book could actually get, or, ever so hopeful, if the premise set forth in the Preface was just an unlucky and sensationalist choice of "bait" that would be abandoned in the course of Norman's investigation of ACD's life. 

 

As I don't want to string anyone along, the book did not improve after page 11, which is where the Preface ended. In fact, if anything it got worse. So, if you plan to read on this short collection of thoughts about Norman's biography of ACD, you're in for a bit of a rant.

 

To recap, the Preface of the book seems to say that Norman's focus in this biography will be to explore what motivated a reasonable, logical fellow to believe in such ridiculous concepts as spiritualism and fairies, and the last paragraph of the Preface suggested that Norman's conclusion was that Doyle must have suffered from a mental illness:

Not only that, but this illness was itself a hereditable disease, in other words, one which Charles may have handed down to his son via the genes. Suddenly I realised that I now had an opportunity to solve what I consider to be the ultimate mystery, that of the bizarre and extraordinary nature of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself."

This was the in Preface! I don't know about other readers, but unless I am reading an academic text where the expectation is that the conclusion is summarised in the prefacing abstract, I am not looking to have the author's assumptions stated as facts on page 11 (!) of what I would hope to be a gripping biography of an extraordinary personality. 

 

Strike 1!

 

Next we get two (yes, TWO!) short chapters on Doyle's childhood, which are mostly pre-occupied with his the difficulties that his family had to cope with - mostly his father's alcoholism. There is, in fact, little about young Arthur in these chapters.

 

Following this we get no less than ten (TEN!) chapters about Sherlock Holmes. Not just about the writing and publication of the Sherlock Holmes stories but actual interpretation of Sherlock as a character - all substantiated with apparently randomly selected quotes from the different stories. 

 

Seriously? A book that carries the subtitle of "Beyond Sherlock Holmes" should not focus on the one topic that the subtitle seems to exclude. What is more, there are only 25 chapters in this book in total. Norman has spent 10 of them on Holmes. That is preposterous. 

 

Strike 2!

 

Luckily, we get back to ACD after this with a brief run down of his involvement in actual criminal cases, where he managed to prove vital in overturning two miscarriages of justice, and his work and life during and after the First World War. 

Unfortunately, there is nothing new or detailed in this, and the focus and ACD is superficial. Norman uses these chapters to write about ACD's father's illness and time in various mental institutions, surmising at what kind of psychiatric condition he suffered from. This, however, can only be guesswork on Norman's part. Charles Conan Doyle was hospitalised privately. There are few actual medical records. What is more,even if there had been medical records, the areas of psychiatry and medical treatment of addiction or mental illness in the 1890s was still in its infancy. The recording and diagnosis of cases of people who had been hospitalised or committed can hardly be described as reliable. And yet, Norman, with the help of The Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry (by Michael Gelder, Paul Harrison, and Philip Cohen) dares to presume to make a diagnosis of what illness may have plagued Charles Conan Doyle, and has the audacity to infer that Arthur Conan Doyle may have inherited the same potential for mental illness because in one of his works he wrote that he knew, rather than believed, that fairies existed!

 

What utter, utter rubbish!

 

And, btw, I kid you not, but the The Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry is referenced throughout the relevant chapters as the ONLY source to back-up Norman's ideas.

 

WTF?

 

Never mind that spiritualism was an actual thing in the early 1900s and that ACD was not alone in believing in fairies and magic and the paranormal. Instead of investigating ACD's interest, Norman's work in this book is not just superficial but outright lazy. He simply regurgitates the same outrage and disbelief over how a man of sound mind can belive in something fantastic. With this book, Norman simply jumps on the gravy train of sensationalism and continues an outcry over the notion that an author of fiction may have believed in something other than hard facts.

 

I can't even...

 

Fuck this book. (Note: This is Strike 3!)

 

Seriously, I have no idea what Norman's other books are like, but he seems to have written several other biographies featuring Charles Darwin, Agatha Christie, Robert Mugabe (seriously???), and others. 

 

None of which will ever end up on my reading list.

 

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review 2018-03-18 11:25
The Power
The Power - Naomi Alderman

The world is the way it is now because of five thousand years of ingrained structures of power based on darker times when things were much more violent and the only important thing was - could you and your kin jolt harder? But we don't act that way now. We can think and imagine ourselves differently once we understand what we've based our ideas on.

Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn't. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it's hollow. Look under the shells: it's not there.

One of the most written-about books of 2017, and hailed as a modernised version of The Handmaid's Tale, I had very low expectations of The Power. I'm not a fan of dystopian fiction and I tend to avoid hyped-up books like the plague.

However, I am a sucker for a great cover and so this ended up on my shelves.

 

The biggest surprise was that I found quite a lot about this book that held great promise:

 

I loved the epistolary exchange between the two authors, Naomi and Neil, at the beginning and end of this book. 

 

I loved the idea that the rise of the women was not due to a freak accident or a mutation, but was based on a power that had been there all along but had been, for want of a better word, forgotten. 

 

I loved that Alderman based so much of her novel on current events. 

 

I loved that there were male characters that were not horrible human beings. Well, okay, there was just one. But ... that is still one more than in many of Atwood's books.

 

I loved the snarky tone of Alderman's writing. Some of the dialogues and inner monologues was funny enough to make me smirk. Dripping with sarcasm, but it did make me smirk. 

 

Where the book fell flat, however, was that once the premise had been established, the story didn't seem to go anywhere. Or not anywhere new. It just seemed to follow the same old path of mayhem and carnage that had already been established by both the MaddAddam trilogy and Butler's Parable of the Sower. In fact, the insertion of Biblical tone and phrases reminded me a lot of Parable of the Sower, and the fight scenes reminded so much of MaddAddam that I spent the second half of the book wishing it would end. This had already been done, and done better. 

 

I really hoped that maybe, just maybe, this novel would have had the guts to dare to imagine the rebuilding of society after an apocalyptic event - the cataclysm in this book.

There are hints of this at the end of this book, but the story ends before it gets to develop this aspect. All we get is another iteration of Lord Acton's adage that "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." 

 

So, while I really enjoyed the political side of this book that seeks to hold up a mirror to society with respect to the differential treatment of men and women, the execution of the actual story as a whole was disappointing.  

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review 2018-03-16 01:01
I Stopped Time
I Stopped Time - Jane Davis

She span away from me, a sleek starling becoming one with the swirling, churning mass. Something in the way she moved - her hands raised above her head to part the crowd - made me wish I had a camera to frame her, just as she was. I blinked and, in that instant, it was as if I was experiencing a flashback, although I knew it wasn’t a memory of anything I had experienced. That was the moment I became a photographer.

Apparently, I bought this book in 2014. I remember nothing. It's been lingering on my kindle ever since and if I hadn't been looking for a book with a certain cover to fulfil one of the tasks for the Kill Your Darlings game, it would have been left unread for even longer. 

 

I Stopped Time really was a rare find. Having known nothing about it when I started the book, the stories of Lottie and James quickly drew me in: James is a former politician who was "disgraced" and forced to resign when a low-life paper covered his involvement with a rent boy. However, James story really begins when he learns that his estranged mother has passed away at the age of 108 and left him with forty-two boxes of, mostly, photographs.

 

With the help of Jenny, a young art student, James begins a journey of discovering his mother's story by examining the photographs. 

 

Lottie was James mother. She had reasons for leaving the family when James was still a toddler, and the reason is kept from the reader until very late in the story, until we have had a chance to get to know Lottie from her early childhood in Brighton in the early 1900s, through her formative years as a famous photographer in the 1920s, and in her old age in the late 1980s.

 

I mentioned in an earlier update that the story dragged a little in the middle. I no longer hold that criticism. It had to drag. We had to have time to learn about Lottie in so much detail. By taking us through Lottie's everyday life during and shortly after the First World War, Jane Davis makes us look at both labels and defiance. We follow Lottie as she learns who she is, and by doing so we get to see how identity is shaped (or not) by events and family. 

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