Thinking Aloud: Lord of the Flies

Thursday December 14, 2006 in books read 2006 |

  • Since picking up William Golding’s Lord of the Flies I’ve been looking for symbolism in the novel. This dates back to my subjection to The Spire as as A level English student. According to my Golding-mad teacher, everything in that book was symbolic. So with Lord of the Flies I’m thinking about the meaning of the boys and their roles, the island, the fire, the wild pigs. Even the palm trees on the island caught my attention. Golding describes them as growing to a certain height and then falling to the ground, the sand unable to support them any more. Something to do with the future of the shipwrecked boys?
  • I’m already worried about Piggy. If first impressions really count, he’s doomed right from the start. Unjustly given a name he will never shake off in the first few pages, this boy only appears useful for the strong lenses in his glasses used to relight the fire on the mountain when it burns out. If natural selection plays its part, this boy isn’t going to get out of there alive.

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From the Stacks: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Wednesday November 22, 2006 in books read 2006 | science fiction

Most people probably know that Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was turned into the film Bladerunner. The novel was published in 1968, although the film wasn’t released until 1982, just a few months after the author’s death. So Dick didn’t get to see this cinematic reworking of his future, along with other films based on his work (Total Recall in 1990 and Minority Report in 2002).

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The Beatles and The Stones

Saturday November 11, 2006 in books read 2006 | music

I’m about a quarter of the way through Dominic Sandbrook’s massive White Heat, a history of Britain 1964-1970. It’s a fantastic book, that’s very well written and serves as a great antidote to the endless dull and repetitive documentaries I’m tired of seeing about the period.

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The Ladies of Grace Adieu

Sunday November 5, 2006 in books read 2006 | ghost stories

I’ve just finished reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a collection of short stories by Susanna Clarke. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I’ve dedicated a whole post to it.

If you’re familiar with her last novel Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you’re in for no surprises here. If you’re not familiar with her work, I’ll try to describe the world she’s created as best I can. Clarke’s stories are mostly set in the early 19th Century and written from that perspective, and it’s a recognisable 19th Century world up until a point. In The Ladies of Grace Adieu, there is a barrier or, as one story describes a ‘wall’, between the real world and the supernatural – a wall that is often, and sometimes unwisely, passed through.

The supernatural world is known as the Fairy world, but don’t let this put you off, and don’t be put off either by the fact that Clarke does visit some familiar fairy stories in her subject matter. What’s good about this book is it’s ability to tell well worn tales in a well written and original way.

One example is how On Lickrish Hill revisits Rumplestiltskin. The story is wonderfully fleshed out by its narrator, who manages to add a creepy element, although I couldn’t help wondering that Clarke is merely drawing our attention to the fact that fairy stories are often very macabre anyway. Mrs Mabb is another good example of this, where a girl defeats the wicked fairy who takes the story’s title and all is resolved after just a little death and bloodshed. Not really that unusual; have you ever read a fairy tale without somebody dying in it?

My only criticism is that some of the stories are too brief, and it’s the most substantial stories in the collection that are by far the best. Mr Simonelli is a wonderfully told tale of a man tricked into a dead-end role as a country rector who makes some very strange discoveries before trying out some magic of his own. Tom Brightwind also adds a lot of humour to the strange and unsettling.

Despite the subject material, The Ladies of Grace Adieu is definitely not for young children. There is a dark element to these stories and, as with Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, it’s a darkness that creeps up on the reader slowly. Fairy land isn’t a place where I would want to go.

I rarely buy in hardback but I’m glad I bought this. The design and presentation of the book is perfect for the material, as are the illustrations by Charles Vess. But, apart from a new and slightly disappointing addition called John Uskglass, all of these stories predate Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and have been published previously, so I’m waiting patiently for something new from Susanna Clarke that I can really get my teeth into.


Unfinished Books, Dylan and Barrett

Tuesday September 12, 2006 in books read 2006 | music

So many books have been left unfinished this year. Still in my rucksack or gathering dust around the house are:

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