Sunday, 31 May 2015

Film adaptation - Poldark

In terms of accuracy to the novels, I can only comment as far as the first half of the TV series is concerned, as it seems to cover both Ross Poldark and Demezla, and I haven't yet read the second novel in the series.

The casting didn't exactly fit the characters' appearances as described in the novels – Ross' eyes and Elizabeth's hair were the wrong colour, and I think Eleanor Tomlinson is far too naturally pretty for Demelza - it looked like they had to try quite hard to make her unattractive for the first few episodes. However, the actors played the parts incredibly well, and I soon forgot about the physical differences. I also really liked the fact that the supporting cast playing the poor villagers and the miners actually looked unhealthy, dirty and poor, including Demelza to begin with.

It felt to me as though they'd lost much of the moral ambiguity of the novels, and made more of a 'heroes against villains' feeling with Ross and Demelza on one side and the Warleggan family on the other. In the first novel at least, both Ross and Demelza (who are point-of-view characters) are, although well-meaning, clearly flawed individuals, and George Warleggan is portrayed as nothing worse than a rather selfish, bourgeois rising businessman. The subtle dynamics of Elizabeth and Demelza's relationship were portrayed well, however, as was Ross' incessant brooding (Aidan Turner really does have a fantastic brooding face).

The Cornish scenery was beautifully shot and lent a stunning backdrop to the story, and the house interiors felt solid, dark and lived-in. The soundtrack was also beautiful and evocative. Overall, a surprisingly faithful adaptation of a poignantly human story. Well worth watching if you like period dramas.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Scorn With Added Vitriol - Matthew Parris

Bonus Review: Scorn With Added Vitriol by Matthew Parris

This a fun little book full of hundreds (possibly more than a thousand?) of collected short insults and curses on a wide variety of topics, throughout history to the present day. There are enough in here to appeal to peoples' different senses of humour – everything from open vulgarity to suave lines from Oscar Wilde - and I've enjoyed picking out my favourites to post on my Facebook feed.

Parris has sorted them into themes, some neatly arranged so that they seem to answer each other in an ongoing argument. A great little stocking-filler, ideal for dipping into on a coffee table, in the bathroom, or (my personal favourite) during video game loading screens.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Books into Film

This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

What book would you love to see turned into a movie?

(Yes, with the understanding that it would be everything you hoped it could be, doing justice to the story, the characters, the writer’s vision, and so on. Not a hatchet-job horror.)

While there are many, many, MANY books that I love and think would make great films if adapted properly, Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels always struck me as the easiest to convert into films. He actually said (when I was lucky enough to hear him speak at a literary festival) that he saw the action like a film in his head when he wrote them, and that really translates onto paper.

I know a few Discworld films have already been made, but personally I found them all a bit... wrong. The Colour of Magic majorly miscast David Jason as Rincewind, and then recast him as Albert in Hogfather, which is a much better fit, but the problem for me is that in another novel Albert and Rincewind actually meet each other, so to cast them as the same actor is just so non-canon. They weren't terrible adaptations as such, and it was great to see some Discworld stories make it to the big screen, but personally I think they started with the wrong ones.

Mort would make a fantastic film - it's already written very much like a screenplay, and has plenty of visual jokes written into it that would translate well straight to the screen. I always felt as though The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic were more of a warm-up for Sir Terry than fair examples of the Discworld series, and that the series improved very much from Equal Rites onwards.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy - Helen Fielding

I was a little dubious about a Bridge Jones sequel about her being aged 50 or so, and having finished the novel I'm still not quite convinced.

For one thing, we begin with a narrative voice that feels identical to Bridget in her 30s, and while her naivety and social ineptness were amusing and plausible in her younger incarnations in Bridget Jones' Diary and Bridge Jones: The Edge of Reason, her inexperience sits badly on a woman in her 50s. I found that I was too young to relate to some aspects of the story, and never having had children also meant that I'd only ever experienced the child-related parts as a child – not that that's an inherent criticism of the novel, just that I personally didn't get as much from it as I might have done.

I felt quite uncomfortable throughout with 20-year age gap between Bridget and her new boyfriend Roxter, and it seems to me very convenient (and frankly unrealistic) that she is now so rich she never needs to work except as a hobby.

On the plus side, Mad About the Boy had more depth and poignancy to it, as it showed the changes (some very sad) that had taken place in the lives of the characters in the 15 years that had passed since the last instalment. There are many genuinely funny moments to balance out the melancholy, and as well as a romantic comedy this is about a woman coming to terms with age and beginning to accept herself as she is.

So mixed impressions overall, but I did enjoy reading it for the most part, and by the end was thoroughly heart-warmed and cried a little bit.

Next up: Lamentation by C J Sansom

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever - Stephen Donaldson

It's taken me a long time to finish, but it was worth every minute. On the cover, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever is described as a “classic epic fantasy trilogy”, but it's so much more than that. Yes, it is an epic fantasy, with rolling hills, suspiciously elf- and dwarf-like human tribes, giants, orc-like twisted creatures of evil, and learned Lords who wield magical staves. I expected that much from the cover and blurb.

However, the first chapter begins with Thomas Covenant, previously successful author with wife and child, who was recently diagnosed with leprosy and as a result lost his family, his respect and his health. We have an incredibly vivid and moving account of the discovery of his disease and his sudden change to pariah in his own home in small-town America. It isn't until Covenant is hit by a police car and concussed that the 'fantasy' part of the story begins.

Covenant was warned on diagnosis that many lepers retreat into self-induced hallucinations to try and escape from the harsh reality of his disease, and so when he is plunged into a fantastic, beautiful land where his nerves are healed and he can function as a healthy adult once more, he doesn't believe any of it. One of the most fascinating aspects of this trilogy is the narrative viewpoint – instead of a hero, or even an anti-hero, we have almost a non-participant, a man who doesn't believe that any of what he's experiencing is real. Another thing that really sets The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant apart is the psychology of disability, which is so deeply and accurately portrayed; the foreword tells us that Stephen Donaldson's father worked with lepers in India in the 1940s and 50s, and that the author lived with him as a child when he was performing this work. His personal knowledge of the subject is obvious from the poignant, nuanced but brutally honest portrayal of Covenant's leprosy.

Gender equality was an unexpected but pleasant surprise, too. In most male-written fantasy universes sexual division is rife, but in The Land the council of elders who form a kind of parliament are all referred to as 'Lords', regardless of their gender. Similarly, when a couple marries, the wife takes the husband's name, but the husband also takes the wife's name – for instance, one couple Covenant meets are named Trell Atiaran-mate and Atiaran Trell-mate. Women are expected to be just as competent as men, and in fact the High Lord who leads the council in the second novel is a relatively young woman who is respected for her personal abilities.

Donaldson's unusual use of adjectives gives a lurid, dreamlike quality both to the fantasy Land and to the real-life sections, and he describes scenes using all of the senses, including touch, smell and taste, not just sound and vision. He builds a world rich with detail and background lore, my only criticisms being that he uses certain odd adjectives a little too often so that they start to jar ('extravagantly' and 'anile' being a couple of examples) and that I find his characters' habit of bursting into song or poetry during solemn, ceremonial occasions a little cringe-worthy.

That said, this is a story full of contradictions and moral ambiguity, and Donaldson is a master of the cliff-hanger chapter – many times when reading this I decided to just finish the current chapter and put it down, but found myself compelled to continue to find out what happened. I can't recommend this too highly – it has so much more depth and poignancy than your average fantasy novel, and is a very good epic fantasy story on top of that.

Next up: Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding

Thursday, 7 May 2015


This week's Booking Through Thursday is:

It seems like I’m always asking about actual books … but what about poetry? Do you read it? Write it? Like it? Not like it? Do you prefer song lyrics? (Because we can all agree there’s a relation between poems and lyrics, right?)

 I do like poetry, although I much prefer C16-C18 poetry in which rhyme and rhythmic structure were still considered important over modern poetry where poets often deliberately reject these things. It just doesn't feel like poetry to me without that kind of structure, just a weirdly formatted sentence.

I used to write a bit of it at university for my creative writing degree, and once I got used to it I found I really enjoyed it - it was a bit like a crossword puzzle in that you had to fit things into the prescribed structure and rhyme scheme, but it was also easier to condense and express emotion than with prose. I had one poem published in my university's yearly anthology, but I haven't written any since I finished the degree - I just haven't felt the need to sit down and do it, and I don't really feel like anyone would read it if it wasn't their job do to so.

As for song lyrics, I can see the link between lyrics and poetry, but the way many songs are produced means that they lack personal meaning for the final performer, and lose a lot that way - of course there are some wonderful singer-songwriters who perform their own work, but when a song is written by a team of 6 and sung by someone who hasn't written a single word of what they're performing, it doesn't have much soul.