Saturday, May 02, 2015

By George, another Pickwick?

Death and Mr. Pickwick: A NovelDeath and Mr. Pickwick: A Novel by Stephen Jarvis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this remarkable, long book (800 plus pages, Guv) especially the insights into the Pickwick characters and nineteenth century Holborn landmarks, the side stories and all round Pickwickmania of 1836, London. The sad tale of Charles Whitehead, afforded an early chance to pen Pickwick, who dies penniless in Melbourne Australia, is very compelling and the tale of Dickens' favourite clown Grimaldi and even sadder death of Grimaldi's drunken son is a key theme in the book.
Drink, wasted talent, poverty, petty squabbles, opportunism and death haunt the book and while I admire the story greatly and how the tale is woven through so many characters, the book at times lacks the whimsical esprit and comic potency of Dickens' writing and also does not quite have you side with cast off artist Robert Seymour, in the way that you might perhaps side with Little Nell, Oliver Twist and certainly Samuel Pickwick himself. Whom may have come up with the original idea for Pickwick is the over riding theme and the book goes to great lengths to prove that cartoonist Robert Seymour came up with the character for Pickwick, the sports theme and comic episodes such as 'the sagacious dog'. This may well be the case but as has been proven by so many memorable characters written in intervening years, characters such as the 'young un', Smike, Sikes, Fagin, Pegotty, Ralph Nickleby, Mrs Faversham, Pip, Madame Lefarge, Uriah Heep, Dickens had it in him to write for his time and to write characters that walked off the page and into our very mind's eye.
This is a special book in a different way. What Death and Mr Pickwick does is show in very telling detail how authors and writers come up with ideas and mold them into a format which will be appealing to the general public. In the same way that Sketches by Boz attracted considerable interest, Death and Mr Pickwick is a very promising piece of historical fiction. It is no Pickwick Papers but does a fine job of bringing attention to the genious of the parties involved in the creation of the work and also bring to light several fantastic stories about the period. The story of the George and Vulture is one that Dickens would have kicked himself for not thinking to write. What will Mr Jarvis come up with next? As a Dickens fan, later in life, I thank Mr Jarvis for this and eagerly await his next book. ***1/2

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Winter on Ice

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest PassageBoundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage by Kathleen Winter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this book in a library in London for my mother, an Oxfordshire farmer's granddaughter, who moved to Canada at the age of three. I selected it on the basis that that there was an underlying theme - and fading thread - of old world Englishness and a tenuous link to the subject matter in that my mother went to Newfoundland in the 1980's with her aging parents. Boats and ice floes and Canada's sovereignty in the North Of Canada underline a quiet quest for identity, in Winter's book, where New World technology subsumes Old World human tragedy and Victorian ships slip precariously through ice mountains following native migration routes. Keeping the modern ship entertained is Nathan Rogers, son of Stan who composed the iconic standard Northwest Passage, before being killed in plane fire, himself, while Winter tells the story of her own 'writers' life to date, and the passing of her first husband and the influence of her intrepid English father in the Winter family in Newfoundland. My Mum took the book away on a trip with her and when she came back to London, I asked, "How is the book?" "Enthralled!" Came the reply. So when she was finished I had to read it too. I think this book is on par with the early Margaret Atwood, especially the attention to Canadian nature; it is rich in incident and observation, science plays an important part; geologists on the ship (eventually shipwrecked) have their work cut out explaining rock formations in Northern Canada and Greenland to an intrepid group of odd bods, musicians, Japanese journalists, photographers and parliamentary delegates who sweep in for photoshoots on ice flows. Meanwhile Winter reveals her own past and family dynamic in rich detail. Very good book.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Poet fell down? Second poem from Patrick Woodock

from: You can't bury them all (ECW Press, 2016)

I fell down in front of an Assyrian relief while climbing a mountain
by Patrick Woodcock

One shattered arm, enmossed and lean,
ends at the earth and bleeds on stones.
A darkened spider raised for shade,
his other holds.

Some drink below on crates and cars
and watch his chest expand, unfold.
As he coughs salt-shakered songs
his throat implodes.

He cannot turn and leave them now,
his audience of Kurds and Kings.
He falls in farce and cigarettes
to sit within the sunset’s gleam.

© Patrick Woodcock

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

New Poem from Patrick Woodcock

from a forthcoming book: You can't bury them all (ECW Press, 2016)

The Forgotten of Binavy Tour…
By Patrick Woodcock

Underwater, if violence is water,
within the zephyr if the ceiling has fallen,
there is no colour or coloured deception
just beige in our blood and beige in the air.

The old school has one wall, falling and gabled.
The house of my father sits somewhere near here.
Most doors are sun-ravaged, of odd bonded metal;
the irrigation pond is where men cool their beer.

The cemetery’s headstones are scattered,
misshapen - some are as small as the palm
of my hand. Smaller than infants, some
battered, some hidden, as if none ever mattered
or walked on this land.

Saturday, September 13, 2014



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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Man on a white horse?

Consider the LiliesConsider the Lilies by Iain Crichton Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title almost put me off but was hooked soon enough. And who are you to ask anyways you stunning excuse for a man? (Anyhow that is the tone of the old dear and I just loved it.) Aside from the feisty old lady who rules her old farm house, it is about the Scottish clearances - and the exodus to NS and other parts of Canada. The old lady is notified by a fat man 'on a white horse' that she is about to be kicked out of her farmhouse where she has lived all of her life, and is suitably indignant. It is very poetic with rural images that last and has elements of Brian Moore's "Lonely passion of Judith Hearne" and Margaret Laurence's "The Stone Angel".

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dad's jokes are still 'Dad' jokes (in the 1850's?)

The Diary of a NobodyThe Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dad's jokes are still 'dad' jokes.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

No Rest for the Writer

Just After SunsetJust After Sunset by Stephen King

A book of recent and not-so-recent, short stories. Liked the story "Rest Stop". It had me laughing, aloud, in the library. "Rest Stop" is a justice story for cowards who beat their wives. The story had it all tension, laughs, entertainment value and was told simply. The wit and sense of humour make this story stand out. He has still got it.

A good find is also The Cat from Hell. This is a story from the 1980's archives which never made into a published volume of stories and shows why Stephen King dominated in the seventies and eighties.

There are some weaker stories in the book and you get the sense that Stephen King can stick whack them out and has a few more "Rest Stop(s)" in him.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Down and out with Russians in Paris (and London..)

Down and Out in Paris and LondonDown and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Working in a busy hotel kitchen as a busboy/dishwasher 'plonguer'in 1930's Paris is hard work as the detailed accounts of the stress, heat and pandemonium in the Paris hotel kitchens attest; young Eric Blair describes the turbulence of the political climate in 1930's Paris with a strange youthful stoicism, especially the exiled world of down at the heels but still proud Russian Émigrés. Switching countries, the London tramp scenes don't quite have the same flair as the scenes amongst the working waiters and plongeurs in Paris and the matter of fact style will do little portray tramps as people with their own hard luck stories however this grim style is also very effective and takes you deep into the hard boiled luckless world of the petty thieves 'screevers' and 'glimmers' of London. The descriptions of tramping in and around the East End offer telling insights into the interior worlds of faceless men when one admits 'there is never anywhere to sit down for any length of time'. Before he was Orwell, Blair was a young man, trying to make it pay. The two epochs come to life in all of their dingy and grimy resolve to press on through hard times.

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie is the female Catcher in the Rye?

Jean Rhys: Life and WorkJean Rhys: Life and Work by Carole Angier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book interesting, so much so that I also read the earlier edition of this same volume which was a much thinner book, a kind of sampler of the 770 pg later volume which I finished in one sitting.

I found out about Jean Rhys in Halifax Nova Scotia, in the 1990's, when I went into what was then the Trident Bookstore/Coffee Shop and asked the bookseller if he had a book by a female version of JD Salinger. "No," he said "but you might like this". He passed me After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie. It is my favourite book, the one I always go to when people ask because it deals with the basics in life for an artist, in this case it is a lonely dance hall girl who is losing her looks and struggling to survive financially.
What was interesting about the two versions of the bios was I thought the writer might be lazy and simply use the chapter intros from the slimmer volume and then pad the book with anecdotes and more filler but she completely re-wrote the whole thing chapter by chapter and I found that admirable and also fascinating. However on a technical note I think the earlier slimmer volume tried to imitate Rhys’ spare writing style and for that reason, I would say it is a more true book to her. That's just my opinion. I've always had a thing for old ladies. So now you know.

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