Showing posts from September, 2018

RIP XIII #5: Jurgen

Why does this lady have this face? Jurgen, by James Branch Cabell I like weird Dover reprints of weird old books, so I picked this up somewhere a while back and it's been on the TBR pile.  It's one of those fantasy stories written before Tolkien came along and everybody kind of standardized into the modern genre -- the era of Lord Dunsany and E. R. Eddison.  So I thought it would be fun, and a good RIP title, but I was wrong.  It was completely meh. Jurgen was first published in 1919, and somebody promptly tried to ban it, which made it enormously popular.*  This is the "revised and definitive" 1926 version.  Set in a sort of early modern folktale setting, the story features Jurgen, a pawnbroker and poet, whose bitter, naggy wife Lisa disappears into a cave and is presumably taken by a...devil?  Maybe?  (It's rather unknown until the end.)  Jurgen ventures in and meets a cast of characters, most notably Mother Sereda (Time), and he is so flattering to he

RIP XIII #4: Among Others

Among Others, by Jo Walton Morwenna is heading off to a fairly posh boarding school.  It's 1979, and boarding school is the last place she wants to be....except for with her mother, which would be much worse.  Mor is Welsh (thus kind of foreign), brainy and bookish, and has to walk with a cane since her accident.  The school is largely focused on games and social standing, so Mor has few friends.  She misses her twin sister (who died), Wales, and the fairies they knew for years.  Mor is the survivor of the magical battle she and her sister fought, and this is the aftermath, the part after the story is ended.  But since Mor is still alive, she needs to find purpose and her place in things -- and maybe the battle isn't quite as over as she thinks. I liked this novel a lot; it's good stuff, well-written and gripping.  Mor is very lonely, and finds solace in reading SF, and a good chunk of the book is a paean to old-school science fiction writers.  I would say, in fact, t

RIP XIII #3: Ellen Raskin

The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) Figgs & Phantoms The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin When I was a kid, I read all of these books, and luckily I bought copies sometime in the 90s.  Lots of people have read The Westing Game , which won the Newbery, but the other three are less well-known.  They're all still in print, though!  I find that a little surprising, really, because these are pretty oddball books, and I would bet they'd never get published today.  Happily for us, they were written and published in the 1970s.  Raskin loved weird comedy, typography, puzzles, and puns. Ellen Raskin wrote and illustrated picture books too, and had a very distinctive style.  My favorite of the picture books is probably Nothing Ever Happens On My Block . The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues : Dickory Dock, wannabe art student, gets a job helping Garson, a society portrait painter.  While Dickory despises Garson's slick, sh

RIP XIII #2: The White Devil

The White Devil, by John Webster I'd been meaning to read this play for some time, for reasons which shall be explained hereafter.  Then I needed a classic with a color in the title for the Back to the Classics Challenge, and soon a really nice copy came across the donation table, and so I put it at the top of the pile.  Seemed appropriate for RIP... This is a Jacobean revenge play, performed in 1612, and was a complete flop at the first performance.  Webster blamed this on the audience, which made me raise an eyebrow, but it did in fact do better in 1630.  I found it pretty difficult to read, though; Shakespeare is easier.  This may possibly be because Shakespeare is already familiar..but Webster is hard!   There are a zillion double entendres, the language is extremely tricky, and everybody has Italian names that are too similar.  Keeping everybody straight was part of the problem. The story is based on an actual event in Italy that happened about thirty years before Webste

RIPXIII #1: The Romance of the Forest

The Romance of the Forest , by Ann Radcliffe This was such a fun read!  It dates from 1791, before Mysteries of Udolpho or The Italian , and you can kind of tell; not as much happens in this story.  It's kind of quiet for a Gothic novel, but it's also not that long.  I think it's shorter than the later two novels. We start off with La Motte, who is fleeing Paris with the law on his heels (possibly unjustly).  Lost on a stormy heath, he looks for help at a house, and is quite startled when the ruffians inside shove a teenage girl at him and tell him to take her away if he wants to live.  La Motte, his wife, and Adeline -- our heroine -- end up lost in a forest, where they find a ruined abbey and take shelter inside.  Their trusty servant Peter talks them into staying, and fixes it up so it's livable.  But!  there's a skeleton in a chest in a secret tunnel; what nameless horrors have occurred here?  And the abbey's owner, the Marquis, shows up and thinks A

Keep the Aspidistra Flying

He's being strangled by the plant, see Keep the Aspidistra Flying , by George Orwell I first read this fairly early Orwell novel back in college, and I still have my old copy.  I liked it then and I like it now, though I can't quite explain why; probably for reasons opposite to what Orwell meant. Gordon Comstock, wannabe poet, has declared war on Money.  His theory is that everybody (especially women) worship the Money-God, and he's going to refuse to participate in this corrupt, shallow, venial society.  His family has come down in the world, so he has a sort-of-public school education, but has never had the money for a leisured, upper-class lifestyle.  Instead the only job he could find was at an advertising agency, and he was horrified to discover that he has a real talent for writing ad copy.  Thus he has thrown away his "good" job, and now he works at a used bookshop for practically nothing.  He resents having to work, he resents not having any money