I’m afraid this is just going to be one of those rambling posts, a blog entry in which some kind of theme, argument or conclusion may possibly suggest itself. Or not. So here goes.

Book reviews have stalled a bit. It’s not from want of reading — au contraire, I’m ploughing on with several books at once. It’s just that I’ve got to that stage of dawdling, not committing, one which no doubt we all hit from time to time. Exploring the world of ideas? I’m either wading through a mass of ideas — where they float like bubbles or balloons, insubstantial or ungraspable — or there’s a distinct vacuity inside my skull, where I feel I’ve nothing of worth to add. I’ve started drafting three reviews and then thought in each case, Have I got anything new to say about this? Do I want to post about the same old ‘same old’?

Let’s have a look at the roads I’ve travelled, that we might see patterns of intent rather than random wanderings. There’s Xenophon’s The Persian Expedition, itself a record of a journey, in which an army is virtually snatched from the jaws of death deep behind enemy lines. Then there are two novellas I selected as part of the Reading New England Challenge: Angela Carter’s “The Fall River Axe Murders” (set in Massachusetts) and H P Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House” (a locale somewhere in New England). Both involve violent deaths, though this is not a reflection on New England.

I should next mention A S Byatt’s two-novellas-in-one fiction, Angels and Insects , which the author has described as “an exploration of Victorian anxieties about what it was to be human,” with one piece “a Gothic tale about Victorian religion, sexuality and Darwin’s ideas” and the other “also about Victorian religion and sexuality, but in relation to spiritualism, the idea of the Afterlife …” If I note in passing that this is partly about Tennyson’s most famous poem, In Memoriam, then perhaps a bit of a thread is in fact suggesting itself. When we come to Castle Dor, the Daphne du Maurier completion of a novel begun by Arthur Quiller-Couch the theme is firmly to the fore: based on the tragic tale of Tristan and Isolde but set in 19th-century Cornwall, I think that the demise (spoiler alert!) of one of the lovers is a clear indication to me that Death in various guises and circumstances is what links all these pieces together.

A bit morbid then, I guess, but altogether appropriate for the ending of a year, and particularly for this year of 2016. This might give a focus to my reviews, starting with The Persian Expedition; at least I’ve started a review of this but have up to now been daunted by the continuing tragedy of present-day Syria and the general unrest in the region — the pounding of Aleppo, the bombings in Turkey, the obscenity of Daesh and the cynical machinations of Russia.

Here endeth the ramblings.


21 thoughts on “Rambling

  1. I cannot but add that the machinations of the USA and other Western governments involved in Syria are just as cynical & cold. If you only point to Russia as the bad guy here, you play in the hands of “our” own propaganda & war mongering.

    1. Absolutely. And we mustn’t forget that it was mostly Western governments, of various imperialist hues, who first drew arbitrary lines across the sands in the first place to create in their own images many of the nation states which are now tearing themselves apart.

  2. I hear you on sometimes not being inspired to write (or even start) reviews. That’s why in the new year I’m seriously trying not to take books from publishers who expect me to review them — then I feel guilty if I don’t. I want to write only when I have something to say that comes from me, not a sense of obligation.

    But I do hope you will tell us more about Castle Dor. It lived on my parents’ book shelves when I was a child but I never read it, and now I’m curious. Worth seeking out?

    1. That’s so true, what you say, Lory. I’m very tempted to do the Mount TBR challenge you’ve highlighted, as the one and only goal I set myself in 2017. That way the guilt you talk about, or indeed the frustration in not completing targets, is assuaged or at least minimised.

      I hope to finish and even review Castle Dor before the end of the year, and leave you to judge whether you’d like to try it! I’ve found it a bit slow to start with — it has a Hardy vibe about it — but it’s starting to perk up now that I’m a few chapters in.

  3. Would it really be the “same old same old”? If I worried about whether or not any of my ideas had been presented before by some other artist, I’d never do anything. Just because someone else has had similar thoughts on something and put them into practice does not invalidate my own. Also, if a piece of work has been shown once doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be shown again and again as most of the time the audience will be different. And even repeated readings/viewings of a piece can, will bring something new to the reader. I think we talked about this in your last post.

    1. No, you’re right, Alastair, if something’s worth saying it doesn’t matter whether it’s been said already, because each individual will put it their own way, give it their personal spin. As an ex-Bristolian I never really tire of similar shots of, say, the Clifton Suspension Bridge — they’re all slightly different, and they represent individual responses the engineering marvel in its scenic position.

  4. I understand your feelings Chris. I’ve too hit a snag in my reviews and comments as I wonder if I have anything new to add. But I remind myself, just as Alastair so rightly pointed out, that my audience is not other Shakespeare bloggers audience. Your audience values your reviews and looks forward to them.

    But I also agree with everything that is going on, especially in the Middle East, I find myself feeling too sad and in despair to write. As if what I am doing is just superficial and pointless.

    It’s nice to know I am not the only feeling this way. Maybe the best we can do is continue to do what we do best knowing we are a community that tries to shine a little light in a dark world.

    1. Thanks for your appreciative comments, Sari; and yes, this — in many ways — annus horribilis makes one despair for humanity. But it’s also true that, short of organising a revolution, the best thing we can do is to carry on doing what we do best. As that most British of phrases succinctly puts it, “Don’t let the buggers get you down.”

  5. Violence & New England go hand in hand. Then again, I’m a bit biased as I was born in the hometown of one of America’s more famous murderers (who, admittedly, was declared not guilty due to evidence), Fall River, MA. 🙂

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