A disturbing dystopia

Romano-British lead font, Icklingham, Suffolk with Chi-Rho symbol and alpha & omega
Romano-British lead font, Icklingham, Suffolk: Chi-Rho and Alpha & Omega (reversed) Brit Mus

P D James: The Children of Men
Faber and Faber 2010 (1992)

Baroness James is best known for her modern-day crime novels featuring Detective Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who also featured in a popular television series starring Roy Marsden. Somehow, however, I find myself gravitating towards her other genres, non-fiction (The Maul and the Pear Tree), literary sequel (Death Comes to Pemberley) and this dystopia, The Children of Men. It could be that I’ve already got a few other crime novels to catch up on, or that I’m more than a little partial to speculative literature, but I am glad to have tackled this novel first, especially to dispel the compelling images of the film version, Children of Men, which although excellent in many ways departs significantly from its source material.

Some of the author’s persuasions also differ from mine — she is a peer of the realm, sitting on the Conservative benches, and a committed Anglican — so I was looking forward to seeing if her politics and beliefs affected my evaluation of her as a writer: she is the current President of the Society of Authors, no less.*

Indeed, politics and religion run like rivers through this novel.

Continue reading “A disturbing dystopia”

Magic and mayhem

castle

Diana Wynne Jones Charmed Life HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks 2007 (1977)

Orphans, one spiteful,
one open-hearted, effect
magic, then mayhem!

The first of the Chrestomanci books to be published but the third in order of chronology, Charmed Life exhibits many of the possible strengths and weaknesses of a book destined to be part of a series but perhaps conceived originally as a standalone: strengths such as freshness and vitality, weaknesses such as plot holes and inconsistencies. It is to Diana Wynne Jones’ credit that she manages to avoid many of the pitfalls while still retaining a charm that manages to enchant new readers nearly forty years later. Continue reading “Magic and mayhem”

To the Dark Tower

city

Kathryn L Ramage
The Wizard’s Son
Wapshott Press 2009

The British folktale of Childe Rowland has had a lasting influence on English literature. The youngest of three brothers, Rowland has to rescue his sister Elen and his elder brothers from the King of Elfland following Elen’s disappearance, Persephone-like, chasing a ball. With an enchanted sword he manages to track the King to his enchanted castle (also known as the Dark Tower) and defeat him. A few lines from a ballad (“Childe Rowland to the Dark Tower came…”) re-appeared in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the narrative also furnishing the plot to John Milton’s Comus and becoming the inspiration for Browning’s famous poem, and finally in the 21st century the elements of plot, name and relationships re-appear, I believe, in Ramage’s The Wizard’s Son to help elucidate what is otherwise a very puzzling story. Continue reading “To the Dark Tower”

Empathy for the rebel

Jason disgorged by the dragon of Colchis, with Athena and the Golden Fleece:  vase figure in Vatican Museum
Jason disgorged by the dragon of Colchis, with Athena and the Golden Fleece:
vase figure in Vatican Museum

Robert Ludlum The Bourne Identity
Orion Books 2004 (1980)

I’m not a violent person. I grew up watching American TV serials where the Lone Ranger shot revolvers out of baddies’ hands (who then merely had a sprained wrist to nurse) or comedies such as The Three Stooges which — like a Tom and Jerry cartoon — allowed the victims to recover with a shake of the head after a potentially life-threatening concussion to the brainbox department. Violence was depicted, the consequences papered over. I was uncomfortable with it, but that was all that was on offer.

These days, as it has been for several decades now, violence is more graphic in entertainment media, whether films, comics or video games. Not just villains are hurt but innocent bystanders and targeted victims. The alarm is raised every so often about how the consumption of this vicariously experienced violence without appreciation of the consequences stunts one’s capacity to exhibit empathy and how it can encourage sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. I mention this not to stir up more argument and controversy but to contextualise my normal avoidance of thrillers in whatever form. Continue reading “Empathy for the rebel”