I left the house twice this weekend, on specific short errands. The rest of my time I spent in bed, listening to the wind howl... no snow, though there was plenty of that Friday, just wind and drizzle. Since Saturday morning consisted largely of an intake of neurofen and a re-iteration of the mantra that past 30 one should not mix wine and whisky this was possibly a wise move. (Highlights of Friday evening included my gun-toting secretary picking me up and carrying me round the boardroom in an effort to persuade me to stay, but we'll draw a veil over that.)
My resolve not to buy more stuff before my imminent return crumbled on Friday afternoon and I ended up walking out of Ottakars some 25 quid the poorer. All now read.
First up was the second Captain Alatriste, Purity of Blood. These are essentially Arturo Perez-Reverte's Spanish version of Dumas (you can't help trying to work out whether, and if so at what point in his career, Captain Alatriste will actually run into the Three Musketeers). They've apparently been a massive craze in Spain for years, but its only very recently, presumably on the back of Perez-Reverte's success with his other novels, from The Dumas Club (filmed, by all accounts unsuccessfully, as The Ninth Gate (not seen) and the novel featuring a cameo appearance by one of its obvious inspirers, an unnamed great Dumas fan, described only as the Professor of Semiotics at Bologna) to Queen of the South, that they've been translated. I think they're fantastic fun.
Second was Naomi Novik's Temeraire (how does she get livejournal to do that?) - Napoleonic fantasy with dragons. The blurb cites Stephen King referencing Susannah Clarke. I don't think this is anywhere near up to the strength of Jonathan Strange, but then I think few things are. I do think that early-modern to Victorian fantasy (as opposed to science) influenced alternate history is a sub-genre that's going to be quite popular for a while, and why not? Lots of mileage. As Joff semi-argued elsewhere it has the advantage over steampunk in that the bounds of the latter if construed strictly, are pretty narrow -and lets face it, few conform. It's not new as such -Clarke's partner, Colin Greenland produced what I think remains his most imaginative and best-written work yet, Harm's Way some years ago now, even before one goes delving into prototypes in older stuff. So the real question, as with all genres, is what to call it. Steam and Sorcery?
To be honest, the other blurb, from McCaffrey, was more indicative of where the novel was going, as was the reference to Patrick O'Brien (who, I'm afraid, completely fails to grab me, give me Hornblower and Ramage any day, though I'm aware the vast majority of my reading list disagree) though she's a better writer than MacCaffrey ever was. Her characters are far less complex than Clarke's, and it feels far more a straight historical novel with added dragons (though to be fair this is but the first of a series). One thing Clarke did that Novik is less strong on is try and give some historical context: it's difficult without a bit more background to believe that notwithstanding a serious aerial bombardment capability used, we're told, by Francis Drake to beat the armada, we've nonetheless ended up in much the same historical situation at the time of Trafalgar (which takes place, offstage, during the book) as we do in our universe -though one notable outcome of Trafalgar seems to be different. Certainly worth keeping an eye on though.
Last up was part of my on-going effort to re-read a significant chunk of The Canon: on this occasion Trollope's Barchester novels, specifically Barchester Towers. It must be more than 15 years since I touched these, and I'd utterly forgotten how they read. I'd still take Austen, George Eliot, and Thackeray above him but he's a close follower (and streets ahead of Dickens in my personal ranking). Where he falls down most is on the romantic element -I don't find those relationships particularly convincing, though he does have a few brilliant one-liners even there. But the social and ecclesiastical politics, and the humour -even when he wanders away on one of his digressions- is marvellous. Incidentally I'm half convinced Tolkien had Barsetshire in mind when he created the Shire, though a Barsetshire shorn of the city pf Barchester and the ecclesiastical elements that for Trollope were the foundations of the place. (In particular I think the "Long-Expected Party" owes a conscious debt to the Thorne's great do at Ellathorne - I imagine someone has pointed this out before but it was a new realisation for me.)
Incidentally, I forgot to write about Gothic Nightmares at The Tate at which I spent much of last Saturday courtesy and in the always good company of Frankie. Well worth a visit anyway, particularly for room 6 ("Fairies and Fatal Women", including Blake and Fuseli's Midsummer Night's Dream inspired-work and associated pieces, plus some of Fuseli's porn (as in explicit, rather than as in "almost everything he ever painted")), though definitely better to try and find an off-peak time to go.
Spent Sunday evening with Midsomer Murders, in which
Bergerac's DCI Barnaby's sidekick is these days played by that chap what played Warren in This Life. Which makes his claim that he used to visit Midsomer Whatever's annual show regularly as a child feel a bit spurious, as it's difficult enough to believe that he stepped outside the Valleys once before the age of 18, let alone that he was an annual visitor to a small village in pastiche-Glos/Oxon. I mean, there's suspension of disbelief, and there's flying trapezi of disbelief. Also if I knew Barnaby was investigating a murder in my small village I'd be on the road away from there as fast as possible, the man is more Death on a Pale Horse than Morse ever was. Absolute nonsense, guest-starring a hamming-it-up Simon Callow (does he ever do anything else, but I love him to pieces, plus he once gave me a cigar) can't do better on a Sunday evening.
Madeira-aged Glenmorangie is a marvellous thing, and tolerably affordable when regularly passing through duty-free. So, by and large, is Chilean Merlot followed by Dubonnet. Yes, I did spend a large part of the weekend mildly sloshed. I just have to remember not to mix the two... Still, at least I discovered the Sekrit, or rather, misplaced, stash of cds: Mozart Requiem and Beethoven Late Quartets both of which, particularly the latter, bear repeated re-listening.
Some bits and pieces of writing done as well, none of it particularly good.