by Glen Duncan
This started out with a different tone than I usually see in werewolf novels. More of a crime drama or conspiracy story tone as it's established that with the murder of a werewolf in Berlin, the protagonist is the last of his kind and an organisation that hunts down and kills werewolves will now be focused on him.
This was a very literary read. Despite a few descriptions of violence, the use of language made it a joy to read and the first person pov of the werewolf throughout felt very intimate and personal. I found myself wanting him to survive. It had a few very sexual references. Apparently being a werewolf sends the libido into animal rut. But both the sex and violence stopped short of becoming gratuitous, even if it nudged that parameter on occasion.
There was a lot of suspense well done and a few twists to keep things interesting. The last few chapters had me breathless!
The writing was so good that I went to see what else the author had written and found that this is actually a trilogy! I'll look forward to reading the next books. This was one of those stories that when it ended, I just had to sit a few moments, staring into space while processing the feels. It really had a strong emotional impact on me.
It's been a while since I finished The Longest Journey (still need to write a review) and now that tennis plans are on ice for a bit (because of a pulled muscle) and that work has, not slowed down, but has at least moved past the frantic phase, I feel might get the right time and head-space again to enjoy the next read in my Forster project.
I only have two novels left, the short stories, and Aspects of the Novel.
But, I have also found two biographies at the library that looked really good:
So, without further delay, I am off on A Passage to India.
(Taken on a trip to Simla a few years ago. The book is not set there, but this is what I picture when reading the book.)
Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more.
By Sinel’s death I know I am Thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosperous gentleman; and to be King
Stands not within the prospect of belief,
No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence
You owe this strange intelligence, or why
Upon this blasted heath you stop our way
With such prophetic greeting? Speak, I charge you.
- William Shakespeare - Macbeth (Act I, Scene III)
“I wish the Bard had never written his damned play!”
- John Campbell, 5th Earl Cawdor
It's been a stressful and rather frustrating week at BT HQ last which started with some-Brexit induced admin nightmare, which needed me to seek out the an appointment at Glasgow City Council on Monday because none of the council offices closer to home, i.e. on the other side of the country, were able to offer the required services. This was pretty stressful in itself (had to take a day off work on short notice and nearly panicked when sitting down for getting paperwork checked etc. it looked like I might have misplaced a bit of it ... it did re-appear in a different pile ... but that was one long minute of near panic) but a few days after I received a call from the council officer whose only task in this whole process was to take copies: the copies had turned out blurry and could I "pop in" for another round?
Erm, ... no.
So, several calls with people on withheld numbers and the local Chief Registrar later, we got another plan of action.
As it turns out, if I had submitted my paperwork a few days later, there would have been no need to trek to Glasgow because my local council will start offering the same admin service on Monday. Monday as in from tomorrow. And by local I mean the council office that is is a 10 minute walk away. But of course this was not announced anywhere least of all on the relevant government websites... GAAAAAHH!!!!
Tuesday brought with it a minor surgery - nothing serious, but it needed to be done - which went very well apart from some slight discomfort and the weird experience of asking the consultant to stop telling me in detail what he was about to do. I'm not exaggerating when I tell people that I can't read gory horror stories or thrillers... The descriptions really make me queasy. And as I found out, being at the receiving end of even a minor surgical procedure while being told the descriptions and wherefores of incisions etc. does not make me feel any comfortable at all.
Apparently, my request that the consultant stop the narration and get on with the procedure was unusual and a lot of people want to know the details. Well, each to their own. I now know that I'd rather know the plan step-by-step beforehand but not during.
The rest of this week was a bit of a mess really, but not being one for moping about in fine weather (even if I wasn't allowed to play tennis - because sutures...), I figured it was a fine day for exploring a castle that I had not been to, yet.
Cawdor Castle, near Nairn in the north of Scotland had been on my list for a long, long time. As some of you may know, I have a bit of a thing for Macbeth - both Shakespeare's version and the historical figure - and one of my other favourite castles to spend time at is Glamis (near Forfar), but I just had not had a chance to make the trip to Cawdor (about 3 hours of leisurely driving in good weather).
It was a fabulous decision. I mean just look at this beauty of a castle:
And the inside of it was just so ... let me show you because they had no problems with people taking plenty of photos of the amazing place:
Just look at them BOOKS! It's a lived in castle. The Dowager Countess does still live there and as one lady-in-a-hurry told me in passing, she does do most of the administration of the castle herself.
Also, there was a maze ... with a minotaur. :D
The castle was built in the late 14th, early 15th century. As the official guide book says:
"A new higher, harder site was chosen (traditionally by a donkey rather than by an architect - creatures with much in common), and as this rocky position was water-bearing yet firm, it could provide both a drinking-well and a strong foundation.
The tall, plain rectangular tower-house consisted of four storeys and a garret, served by a turnpike stair, and with one entrance to the outside world set at upper first floor level: the perfect design to keep out tourists."
So, what's the connection with Shakespeare?
Well, Macbeth (1005 - 1057) was real, but he was not a Thane of Cawdor (nor of Glamis btw.). King Duncan was killed, but he was killed in outright battle by Macbeth's troops, not in his sleep while being a guest under Macbeth's roof.
And as for the roof itself: The play was written in 1606 but not printed until 1632, i.e. after Shakespeare's death. However, the places described in the play were apparently added quite late in the play's publication history. So, can we really know whether the locations in the published versions are the ones Shakespeare intended?
Even if so, Cawdor was not one of them. The play notes Macbeth's castle near Inverness, but this could just as well have meant the original Inverness Castle or another castle in the area - there are several - or it could have just all been invented. After all, it's a play!
Most of all, of course, the possibility of the Cawdor Castle being the location of that gruesome midnight murder that lost King Duncan his life, Macbeth his sleep, and Lady Macbeth her mind, blows up in a puff of smoke when you look at the dates: the castle wasn't built until the 1400s and the previous castle near Nairn (about 5 miles away) was also built over a hundred years after Kind Duncan's death.
So, I get that the Campbells, the owners of the castle, get a bit touchy every time some fan of the play takes Shakespeare's play as historical fact. There should be space enough in people's heads to hold both versions and people should have the critical thinking skills to be able to make the distinction between fact and fiction. Otherwise, we are letting entertainment and propaganda form our opinions and write our history books.
Oh, hang on, ... that's already happened, ... and is still happening.
When my copy arrived from Thrift Books yesterday and it was EXACTLY what I had been looking for, I burst into tears. I haven't completely stopped crying yet. It's so beautiful!
As I went through it later last night, I did find a few small pencil marks which I think I can safely remove. And as I went through it later last night, I also went through several more tissues. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
How much of the Godolphin Arabian's story as told by Marguerite Henry is true and how much is story, I don't know. At least part is true, of course, because he was a real horse and the history of his descendants is well known and documented. But all the stuff before that, from his birth in Morocco through his trials in Paris and London, who knows?
Like most little girls, I was fascinated by horses. When my grandparents moved from Edison Park, IL, to Roselle, where they had a couple of acres of land "out in the country," all I could think of was having a horse out there.
Of course, that never happened. Once in a while when we visited I'd see a horse that someone else in the neighborhood owned, but I never got one. The drive from our house to theirs, however, wound through the stable area of Arlington Park Racetrack, and when we went there during the summer I would literally hang my head out the window of our '53 Chevy to smell the horses. If by some chance I actually happened to see one, well, that was even more terrific.
Oddly, even though we lived barely a mile from the track, I don't think I went there more than a dozen times in fifteen years.
I never became a huge racing aficionado, filling my head with pedigrees and times of various horses who became famous in those growing-up years of the 1950s and '60s. A few stuck in my imagination, though, and none more than Round Table, the "little brown horse" who was so famous he warranted a visit from Queen Elizabeth.
Not long after I moved to Arizona, I struck up a friendship with a woman whose husband was very much a horse racing fan. I was at their home one day in the summer of 1987 when I happened to flip through one of his racing magazines and learned that Round Table had recently died, and I burst into tears. Yeah, the feels, for a horse I never knew.
Round Table was a turf horse, claimed to be the greatest ever, and for 40 years or so even had a race at Arlington named after him.
King of the Wind begins with Man O' War, who was descended from the Godolphin Arabian, as are most Thoroughbreds. I learned from Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses that there were three foundational sires of the breed: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. From other reading - I devoured books about horses, too - I knew that Man O' War's dam (mother) was Mahubah, described as "a Rock Sand mare."
Man O' War, like Secretariat, was a big red horse, not at all like Round Table. But the little brown horse was also descended from Rock Sand, and through him the line goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.
All. The. Feels.
And all this was in my mind even before the book arrived yesterday. As I read it last night, yes, there were details that I had forgotten, because after all it's been close to half a century since I last saw it. But one thing struck me more than anything else, and it had nothing to do with all the feels about Sham the horse and Agba the stableboy and Grimalkin the cat and Lady Roxana the mare and the other things I did remember. In fact, it wasn't even really a detail about the story itself.
Agba is a stableboy in the vast complex of the Sultan of Morocco (even though the horse is believed to have actually come from Yemen). Unable to speak, Agba nonetheless is devoted to the horses in his charge, especially a pregnant broodmare. It is the holy month of Ramadan, and the Sultan has decreed that the horses shall abstain from food from sunrise to sunset along with their human caretakers. Agba is able to ignore the temptations of food all around him, but he is very conscious of the strain this puts on the pregnant mare.
I don't know if Agba ever existed or not. Maybe there are notes in the life of the Earl of Godolphin, who acquired the stallion, that tell of the boy who could not speak. I don't know. But what I do know is that I learned two things from the fictional character: that Ramadan was a holy month of a respected religion and that a person with what most people think of as a handicap can still be a hero.
My maternal grandmother's family is Jewish, so even though I grew up in a nice, white, christian suburb, I knew about prejudice, and I knew about the Holocaust when few of my schoolmates did. I didn't know, at the age I got my copy of King of the Wind, about anti-Islam bigotry, though it wouldn't be much longer. But what Marguerite Henry did, even if she did it unintentionally, was to give this one reader a portrait of someone very different from myself yet who I could see as a kind of role model.
That's a pretty powerful thing. To this day, I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of what they are.
When I worked at the public library and when I was a grocery store cashier, we had two customers no one wanted to wait on. At the library she was a quiet woman who almost never spoke, but came in frequently and checked out lots of books. One of my fellow librarians called her "creepy" because she was always staring at people. It didn't take me long to figure out this patron was severely hearing impaired. She stared because she was trying to read our lips. Most of the librarians turned away from her, making the experience even worse for her. I spoke directly to her, and we got along fine. I never did learn ASL, and she still spoke very little, but she smiled.
The same with the man at the grocery store. He tried to teach me to sign, but it's hard when there's a whole line of impatient people behind you. He learned to look for me when he came into the store so he would have a better experience checking out.
Had I learned that from Agba? From Marguerite Henry? Maybe. Maybe from Sham, the Sultan's horse who endured so much and never gave up.
King of the Wind is a beautiful book. I'm glad I posted here about my frustration with the first order that ended up being a flimsy paperback, and I'm doubly, triply glad that Chris found this copy at Thrift Books. It seems like $7 shouldn't be a strain on a budget, but at the moment it really is for me, but I'll do without something else along the way because this was definitely a book I needed.
The paperback will be donated somewhere, and I still have another copy on order from Better World. I'll probably donate that one, too. But this one, with its slightly tattered corner, is a keeper.