About Me

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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 14 October 2012

"Atomised" by Michel Houellebecq

This is an overtly philosophical French novel. Michel is a molecular biologist who lives in France and later moves to Ireland (much like the author, Michel). Michel has no relationships with other people except perhaps for the friendship he once had with his childhood friend; he lives alone and does not seem to need sex. In contrast his half brother Bruno is obsessed with sex, seeking as many joyless couplings as possible.
I suppose Michel and Bruno represent the soul and the body in a modern version of classic Cartesian dualism.

It is a long time (over thirty years) since I read Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy and I am not sure if I remember it rightly but it seemed to me that Sartre's existentialism was told in a much more believable novel, with a human face, than this cold, impersonal, almost nihilistic book. But perhaps that was the point. Perhaps Houellebecq is trying to show us that we are all isolated individuals gtrapped within our own identities and unable to relate to anyone else in any way that is in the least bit meaningful. But it makes for  sterile and inhuman story.

And if you feel that stories should be about humans and their relationships and that you should be able to suspend disbelief as you relate to at least one of the characters you will, like me, find this novel challenging. There was no-one you could like. The best moments were when the priapic Bruno tries ever more desperately to get laid in a New Age hippy camp while simultaneously trying to avoid the contingent clap trap. But in the end he was unbelievable. And the end of the book, with its swift execution of almost all the major characters amid despair and loneliness degenerated into humourless farce. Finally we descend into a science fiction philosophy and discover that the book is written in the future.
Depressing. October 2012; 379 pages

"Will in the world" by Stephen Greenblatt

Greenblatt never even entertains the idea that the author of the Shakespeare plays might be someone other than the son of a glover from Stratford. He traces the evidence of the Stratford Shakespeare's life, adds a healthy dose of supposition, and relates this biography to the literary output. Was Shakespeare a closet Catholic or a closet homosexual? Was this why he left virtually no documentary evidence of his life excpet the plays? Was he a loner, tight with money to the point of miserliness? What happened between the marriage in Stratford and his appearance as an actor in London? And what were his relations with his wife?

 This was an excellent read and so well-written that it kept me picking it up and it was hard to put down. In that respect it was like Greenblatt's The Swerve (which I liked slightly better). But 1599 by James Shapiro is so much more convincing when it relates specific incidents in the life of Shakespeare and his company to features of the plays (eg when Will Kempe the clown who has created the massively popular role of Falstaff leaves the company Shakespeare writes Falstaff out of Henry V despite having promised at the end of Henry IV that Falstaff will be back; later clown parts are more subtle because the clown is new). Will in the world was slightly disappointing in the links it didn't make. But a single volume life of the greatest playwright in the world is no mean feat.

Get it. Read it. October 2012; 390 pages

Also read:

  • 1606 by James Shapiro about Lear
  • Contested Will by James Shapiro if you want to be convinced that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare
  • The Lodger by Charles Nicholl
  • Shakespeare and Co by Stanley Wells about contemporaries of Shakespeare
  • 1599 by James Shapiro (the man is brilliant) which culminates in Hamlet




Tuesday, 2 October 2012

"Glyndebourne"

I wouldn't normally read a book about an opera house but the publishers were suggesting we might write a book about our school and this was the sample they offered us.

The first chapter explained how Glyndebourne was conceived. A very rich man was owner of a stately home and fell in love with an opera singer; the Glyndebourne Festival was a sort of extravagant am dram. The book managed to combine a tone of reverence with smugness; this seems to perfectly suit opera afficionadoes.

The first chapter was slightly interesting although I wanted to know more about the source of the wealth. I suppose I am a philistine.

The later chapters degenerated into long lists of operas staged and performers involved: In 1957 Svengali's Don Giuseppe was performed; ingenue Janet Sodastream was a memorable soprano; the set design was conceived by Charley Farley. That sort of thing. To someone like myslef who doesn't know his Figaro from his Barber of Seville the author might as well have been listing subatomic particles. The book became virtually unreadable.

Thank goodness it was short: 65 pages; October 2012