Coming attractions

On my occasional jaunts to the cinema my eye is inevitably drawn to the movie posters, particularly to those advertised as Coming Attractions. An art form in themselves—quite apart from their function of selling the films they advertise—I’m always struck by their individuality as well as how they sit with each other, rarely clashing but mostly complimentary.

In like manner I’d like to share with you this picture of some recent book acquisitions, perhaps the first in an occasional series (if I can be fashed). Now I shall blather on a bit about design and about content, and if you can bear it feel free to join me.

Continue reading “Coming attractions”

From transcript to transmission

Flowers, buds and leaves of Hydrangea macrophylla [credit: Alvesgaspar, Wikimedia]

Kate Atkinson: Transcription
Doubleday 2018

The title of this novel, as with many novels of ideas, is a key to understanding what unfolds in its pages. The main protagonist, Juliet Armstrong, works for MI5 during the war transcribing the recorded conversations of a group of fifth columnists, themselves entrapped by spy posing as one of them.

But is the spy what he seems? This is a second level of transcription: is what we read on the page an accurate record of what has transpired, or is it a best-fit interpretation, or indeed a false record? In metafictional terms, are the facts described in this novel the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

The narrative seesaws between 1940 and 1950, from global conflict to Cold War, framed by a flash-forward to 1981. Juliet herself moves from MI5 to the BBC — from transcripts to transmissions, as it were — and yet the manufacturing of ‘facts’ continues with children’s programming, especially the dramatic reconstructions of how life was supposed to have been lived in Britain in times past. And, indeed, in the ‘present’. Has everything been a lie?

Continue reading “From transcript to transmission”

Vicarious voyeurs

Kate Atkinson: Case Histories
Black Swan 2005 (2004)

A wonderfully intricate novel — my paperback edition has a gold interlace pattern on the cover, as if to underline to interplay of characters and destinies — Case Histories is the first in a series featuring the brooding figure of ‘investigative consultant’ Jackson Brodie. (I’ve already read the second, One Good Turn — out of order, as it happens — and reviewed it favourably.) The title references detailed notes and records about individuals’ medical or social backgrounds and, true to this description, Atkinson’s novel introduces us to a missing child, a young woman murdered on her first day at work, a husband killed with an axe in his home and, lastly, Jackson’s own tragic family life. How the lives of the surviving relatives intersect is the stuff of Case Histories, and it proves a real page-turner.

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Resolutions

Scilla in the Banzoota school library
Scilla in the Banzoota school library (from The Winter Sleepwalker)

I’ve always been a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to marking certain times of the year — birthdays, New Year and so on. No doubt that’s down to some disappointment in childhood which I’ve since rationalised away by arguing it’s just mere superstition to grant significance to certain dates, an accident of an arbitrary calendar. But I’ve been trying to mellow a bit in recent years and, while I draw the line at New Year resolutions, I’m willing to contemplate a look back at the past year of blogging. Here’s hoping you don’t Bah Humbug what follows!

First, a look at some titles I’ve reviewed during 2014. I’ve selected a range of genres, from history to drama, classic to thriller, pulp fiction to science fiction, fantasy to autobiography. Continue reading “Resolutions”

That’s the way to do it

Edinburgh sees the final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009 (Wikipedia image)
Edinburgh Fringe turn, 2009 (Wikipedia image)

Kate Atkinson One Good Turn
A Jolly Murder Mystery

Black Swan 2007 (2006)

Kate Atkinson’s novel reminds me of the customary list, the dramatis personae, that appeared in printed copies of plays from the Elizabethan period onward announcing the characters one would expect to strut their stuff on the stage.

SO-AND-SO, King of Such-and-Such
THINGUMAJIG, heir to the throne of Such-and-Such
A gravedigger
FLIBBERTIGIBBET, Queen of Somewhere Else
A nurse
Attendants, courtiers, peasants etc.

For practical purposes — read-throughs, programme notes, students — that’s all very helpful, but from a dramatic point of view it makes little sense: an audience would want the characters, like the play’s narrative, to unfold before their very eyes, and a bald roster of who appears doesn’t normally tell you an awful lot.

So, what if I were to present the principal players in One Good Turn in a similar manner — would that be any different? Continue reading “That’s the way to do it”