Monday, 27 April 2015

Costume and Fashion: A Concise History - James Laver

Bonus review! (The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, while very good, is also extremely long, being a trilogy in one book. A friend saw me reading it at lunch today and suggested it might also double as a self-defense item, on the grounds that it would probably stop a knife or bullet.)

I got this book from the library on a whim. I've never had much interest in fashion in the modern sense, but I find historical clothing fascinating as a part of life in general throughout the past.

This book had a little less explanation of the factors that led to changes in clothing than I'd hoped, but to be fair it had a lot of ground to cover, and does actually call itself a concise history in the title. There were brief explanations as to motivating factors for change, and very detailed timelines with a lot of wonderful illustrations.

Pivotal changes such as cross-cultural invasions, trading routes, and inventions that led to changes in clothing and fashion all link in to the developments that took place. Although it's a lot of information to take in on casual reading (and I have to admit I did mostly skip through the final chapter about modern fashion and designers) I feel more as though I can watch a period drama or look at a painting and pinpoint more exactly which time period it presents, and know which details to watch out for.

Next up: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever

Friday, 17 April 2015


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

What proportion of the books you own are unread? 

 Good question. I think, looking around my bedroom, about 40%. I really need to stop buying new books before I've read (and ruthlessly purged) the ones I have, but I don't have the heart to give away a book unless I really didn't like it, and it's so hard to resist new ones.

Sunday, 12 April 2015


This week's Booking Through Thursday (response delayed by my trip to Derry for a family wedding) is:

Do you read books recommended by friends? Or do you prefer to find your own books to read.

I'm not very good at saying no to things, so if a friend is particularly insistent and actually provides the book in question, yes I will read it, all the way through, whether I like it or not. I do have some friends who share the same taste in books, though, and I'll happily accept their recommendations and look forward to reading them.

Normally I prefer to find my own novels, by browsing at random, searching for new novels by authors I like, or just idly clicking through Amazon recommendations, but I've found some really great authors from friends' recommendations and I hope to discover more in the future.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu - Honoré de Balzac

Balzac's short story Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu (The Unknown Masterpiece) was followed by a bonus even shorter story, La Leçon de Violon (The Violin Lesson) by E T A Hoffman.

I found Le Chef-d'oeuvre innconnu quite heavy going to begin with – it mostly seemed to be a discussion on artistic philosophy disguised as a conversation between Frenhofer, an elderly, gifted artist, and two younger painters, made even denser by the language barrier. Until the last few pages I thought that would be it, but the surprising and touching ending made up for it.

The two young painters are intrigued by their older friend's enthusiastic talk of his masterpiece which has taken him 10 years to complete, but which he won't allow anyone to see. When he finally allows them to view it, it turns out that spending so long on one picture has completely distorted his view, and that what was once a wonderful painting is ruined. When the young friends break this to him, he collapses down in misery. One of them returns the next day to check on him, and it turns out he passed away in the night, after having destroyed his entire works.

Having pushed through and finally finished the story, I could see that the rather dull majority of it was necessary for the effect of the final scene. However, I can't help but feel that a smaller quantity of the philosophical discussion would have been fine for building up the suspense for the final reveal.

La Leçon de Violon was more approachable, if also rather shrouded in artistic philosophy. A promising young violinist is introduced by his tutor, Haak, to Haak's own patron, a baron who was once one of the foremost violinists of the age. After an extended theoretical and philosophical speech (again), the baron allows the narrator to try out his own antique violin. Frustrated with his lack of technique, he shows him how it's done – except that his ability to play has completely disappeared, and only his belief in his own genius remains.

Both stories were interesting studies of human nature, although I can't help feeling they'd be more interesting if I actually cared much about artistic theory.

Next up: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson