Archive for January, 2010

‘Authors I’ve read – Sarah Waters’

Posted in Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2010 by echostains
 
 

  

 

 

Tipping the velvet by Sarah Waters Victorian Music Hall tale

I am a huge fan of the writer Sarah Waters.   When the BBC series ‘Tipping the Velvet’ first appeared on our screens, I rushed out and got the book.  I was not disappointed!  The next book ‘The Fingersmith’ is a real twisty adventure ingeniously plotted (extremely far-fetched) but so clever – I found myself applauding! 

The fingersmith - powerful

‘Affinity’ set in a women’s prison in the Victorian era is very atmospheric and has an over all strangeness and darkness to it.  Prison and seances make for a chilling combination.  This was also televised, and was I thought,  a very decent translation of the book. 

affinity - eerie

The Nightwatch was the only book which I didn’t like.  This one is set in war-time Britain.  All Waters books feature same  sex relationships.  But they are not at the cost of the story (though obviously important to the plot). Although I finished Nightwatch   I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others. – though that may also be down to it being set in the war time era.  However, I really am looking forward to watching Nightwatch the  90 minute period drama which will be shown on BBC Two  12th July 2011  as I’ve greatly enjoyed all the other ones.  Wonderfully gifted writer as she is, I do feel that Waters work translates really well to screen too.

The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters - a real page turner

Now  ‘The Little Stranger’ is completely different again.  It’s a ghost story (of sorts) and there’s a real shut in feel to the old house that holds you a prisoner in there amidst its secrets.  I liked this book very much even though……………… well, you will have to read the book, but I promise it shall be worth it. 

This post was originally on my other blog echostains

 

Titus Groan: A gold ring for Titus

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by echostains

I am galloping through this book, now on page 150 which is about halfway through ‘Titus Groan’.  The writing though is about 100 pages behind.  In this chapter his mother names him.  It also gives us another look at the Countess’s relationship with Slagg, Prunesquallor and her new-born  son.  Peake gives us a descriptive glimpse into Titus’s inheritance:-

Nannie Slagg entered, bearing in her arms the heir to the miles rambling stone and mortar; to the tower of flints and the stagnant moat; to the angular mountains and the lime-green river where twelve years later he would be angling for the hideous fishes of his inheritance.

The Countess, who cannot abide Dr Prunesquallor, shouts for him whilst he is in the act of drinking:-

My lady,” he said, when he had reached her door and was showing the Countess and Mrs Slagg nothing except his head around the door post in a decapitated manner, before entering.  “My lady, ha ha, he, he, I heard your voice downstairs as I er – was -“

“Tippling,” said Lady Groan.

‘Ha, ha – how very right you are, how very right you are, ha, ha, he, he, , as I was, as you so graphically put it, ha, ha, tippling.  Down it came, ha, ha – down it came.”

“What came?” interrupted the Countess loudly.

“Your voice,” said Prunsquallor, raising his right hand and deliberately placing the tips of his thumb and little finger together, “your voice located me in the Coldroom.  Oh yes it did.”

The Countess stared at him heavily and then dug her elbows into the pillow.

Being the Countess of course she informs the Doctor that she will be getting up the very next day.  To argue with her is futile.  She is a formidable woman, and a strange one.  She doesn’t seem to have any maternal instincts whatsoever, for her husband nor her children.  Any sentiment she has is reserved for her cats and birds.  Indeed she misses greeting the morning with her cloud of white cats (what a surreal image that conjures up).

“Isn’t he sweet, oh isn’t he the sweetest drop of sugar that ever was?” said Mrs Slagg.

Who?” shouted the Countess so loudly that a string of tallow wavered in the shifting light.

The baby awoke at the sound and moaned, and Nannie Slagg retreated.

“His little lordship,” she whimpered weakly, “his pretty little lordship.”

Slagg,” said the Countess, “go away!  I would like to see the boy when he is six.  Find a wet-nurse from the Outer Dwellings.  Make him green dresses from the velvet curtains.  Take this gold ring of mine.  Fix a chain to it.  Let him wear it around his wry little neck.  Call him Titus.  Go away and leave the door six inches open.”

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies

‘Titus Groan: The 76th Countess of Groan’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by echostains

Gertrude by Mervyn Peake

Peake excites our anticipation  of seeing the Countess, by allowing us a look through the keyhole into the room of white cats.  The black door of her room has a white cat emblazoned on it and on the landing outside, pictures of birds adorn the walls. The interior of the room is not as orderly though.  Bird seed is piled up, there  are wax stalactites and a tottering pyramid of tallow.  Peake  gives us the most wonderful description of the room and our first physical encounter with the Countess;-

“As the candles guttered or flared, so the shadows moved from side to side, or up and down the wall, and with those movements behind the bed there swayed the shadows of four birds.  Between them vacillated an enormous head.  This umbrage was cast by her ladyship, the seventy sixth Countess of Groan.  She was propped against several pillows and a black shawl was draped around her shoulders.  Her hair, a dark red colour of great lustre, appeared to have been left suddenly, while being woven into a knotted structure on the top of her head.  Thick coils still fell about her shoulders or clustered upon the pillows like burning snakes.”

What a curious woman the Countess Gertrude Groan  is!  Obsessed by cats and birds to the exclusion of her children.  She certainly does seem to have a way with the wild birds which flock to her.  I wonder if subconsciously she longs for freedom herself?  If she does, she would be the last person to do anything about it – she seems to have accepted her lot.  From her description we  know that she is a huge person with green slanting ‘cat’ eyes and wild dark red hair.  This part was played by Celia Imrie in the BBC series.  I thought the actress put over a wonderful sense of the presence of this character.

Celia Imrie as Gertrude

Her favorite bird is a rook called ‘Mr Chalk’ who the Countess has a particularly tender relationship with.  She  talks to the bird like he was her own child;-

“Three weeks it is,” continued the Countess, “three weeks, I’ve been without him;  wasn’t good enough for him, Oh no, not for Mr Chalk, and here he is back again, wants to be forgiven!  Oh yes!  Wants a great treeful of forgiveness, for his heavy old beak and months of absolution for his plumage.”

In this chapter we get a glimpse into the Countess’s personality: we feel her strength and unusually for her, even some tenderness .  The Countess sticks to the rules, even though they sometimes interfere with what she really want to do (converse with her animals).  She has no time for chit chat and Prunesquallor in particular gets on her nerves – she likes to get straight to the point.  This is how she deals with poor old Nannie Slagg (more of her later);

“What?” shouted Lady Groan.  “What d’you want?  What are you hitting my door for?”

Whoever it was,  raised her voice nervously and cried, “Nannie Slagg. it is.  It’s me, my lady, Nannie Slagg.

What d’you want?” repeated her ladyship, settling herself more comfortably.

I’ve brought his Lordship for you to see,” shouted Nannie Slagg a little less nervously.

“Oh you have, have you?  You’ve brought his lordship.  So you want to come in, do you?  With his lordship.”  There was a moment’s silence

What for?  What have you brought him to me for?”

“For you to see, if you please my lady,” replied Nannie Slagg.  “He’s had his bath.”

Lady Groan relaxed still further into the pillows.  “Oh you mean the new one do you?” she muttered.

“Can I come in?” cried Nannie Slagg.

Hurry up then!  Hurry up then!  Stop scratching at my door.  What are you waiting for?”

“A rattling at the door handle froze the birds along the iron bed-rail and as the door opened they were all at once in the air, and were forcing their way, one after another through the bitter leaves of the small window.”

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies

Authors I’ve read: Daphne Du Maurier ‘Rebecca

Posted in Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2010 by echostains

 

rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I’ve read such a lot of Daphne Du Maurier books – some good and some better,  If I had to rate them, number one would surely be Rebecca.  The  first line sets the mood  of the book, as we are whisked away back in time to the mysterious Manderley and the equally mysterious Max De Winter.  The story reads like Cinderella, where poor servant (well, rich woman’s companion) wins wealthy prince (De Winter) and goes to live happily ever after in his palace (Manderley).  However, the ‘Happy ever after’ is a long time coming –  something keeps getting in the way. 

 

Manderley

 There’s another fairytale in here, if you think about it.  The handsome Prince kisses the beautiful princess who turns into a frog (Rebecca).  Max’s second wife (we never do learn her name?) is also awakened by her prince but not to a life of pleasure (like her predecessor) she inherits a nightmare – the ruin and devastation that Rebecca has left her.  I have only just thought about the fairytale aspect of Rebecca.  When  the poor woman (encouraged by evil Danvers) dresses  unknowingly in a fancy dress costume that Rebecca wore and confronts her portrait, it is so ‘Mirror Mirror on the wall’ (Snow White) with Rebecca winning again by being the fairest of them all.  In the end though, all that glisters is not gold and the real beauty shines through –  not the supercilious veneer that is Rebecca – the beautiful frog triumphs and  marries the prince.

 

Beauty is only skin deep

I shall go through these books separately in other posts.  The list below is not in particular order of preference.

Jamaica Inn

Frenchman’s Creek

My Cousin Rachael

House on the Strand

The infernal world of Branwell Bronte

Don’t look now

The Birds

‘Titus Groan – Fuchsia

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , on January 21, 2010 by echostains

 

fuschia - very nearly beautiful

I’m speeding on with my re reading of Titus Groan.  I’m now on page 110.  Steerpike has escaped the locked room and is now on the roof of the castle, Lord Titus has fallen from the book of Law onto the floor with no injury and Flay has struck Swelter around the face with his chain of office!  Oer – getting exciting isn’t it.  Unfortunately my writing is not keeping pace with my reading.  I shall still be writing my observations when I’ve finished this book  and I’m on to Gormenghast!  But I am getting ahead of myself here.  On my way to page 110, I have met more characters – and these shall be covered.   Now where was I up to?  Ah yes, Fuchsia Groan, the daughter of Gormenghast;-

“As his lordship stared at the doctor another figure appeared, a girl of about fifteen with long, rather wild black hair.  She was gauche of movement and in a sense, ugly of face, but with how small a twist might she not suddenly become beautiful.  Her sullen mouth was full and rich – her eyes smouldered.

A yellow scarf hung loosely around her neck.  Her shapeless dress was a flaming red.

For all the straightness of her back she walked with a slouch.”

This is our first encounter with Lady Fuchsia and already Peake has whetted our appetite for more information about this strange-looking girl.  Will her personality match up to her appearance?  Peake does not disappoint;-

“Oh here and there father,” she said staring at her shoes………………

“Here and there?” echoed her father in a weary voice.  “What does ‘here and there’ mean?”………..

“N the libr’y and ‘n the armoury, n’ walking about a lot,” said Lady Fuchsia and her eyes narrowed.  “I just heard silly rumours about mother.  They said that I’ve got a brother – idiots! idiots!  I hate them.  I haven’t. have I?  Have I?”

Impetuous highly strung Fuchsia.  She feels so passionately about things.  The idea of not being an only child seems terrible to her, and yet she is lonely.  At fifteen, you would expect her to take the news – a bit better.  It’s not as if she is spoilt by her parents.  The relationship with her mother is almost non existant.  The one with her father only develops slightly closer and is tinged with tragedy…….  The chapter about her room provides further information about this lonely girl.

‘Titus Groan: Dr through the spyhole’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by echostains

Dr Alfred Prunesquallor by Mervyn Peake

Several clues to the next characters of the castle are given in this chapter.  Flay approaches one of the portraits in the octagonal room, pushes the frame to one side, to reveal a round hole in the panelling;-  

From his vantage point he was able to get a clear view of three doors in a corridor, the central one belonging to the chamber of her Ladyship, the seventy sixth Countess of Groan.  It was stained black and had painted upon it an enormous White cat.  The wall of the landing was covered with pictures of birds and there were three engravings of cacti in bloom.  This door was shut, but as Flay watched the doors on either side were being constantly opened and closed and figures moved quickly in and out or up and down the landing or conversed with many gesticulations or stood with their chins in their curled palms of their hands as though in profound medication.  

We are then introduced to Dr Prunsquallor and Lord Sepulchrave.   The whinneying laugh which the Dr interjects into his dialogue is strange (to say the least).  But this gives his character a uniqueness – it’s the sort of individuality that Dickens imbues in his own characters – a kind of quirkyness which Dickens exploits mercilessly.  I adore the description of the neighing Dr Prunsquallor;-  

His great vague eyes swam about beneath the magnifying lenses like a pair of jellyfish seen through a fathom of water.  His dark grey hair was brushed out over his eyes like a thatch.  For all the indignity of his position it was with a great sense of style that he became seated following with his eyes the gentleman who had begun to walk around him slowly………  

There is not much detail of Lord Sepulchrave’s personality, except that he carries a silver stick with a black jade knob and is prone to melancholia.  But more about him later.  

Best dialogue;-  

“Still here are you?  Still following me?”  

“You suggested that I should,” said Steerpike.  

“Ch! Ch!” said Flay, “What do you want Swelter’s boy?”  

“Nauseating Swelter,’ said Steerpike between his teeth but with one eye on Mr Flay, “vile Swelter.”  

There was a pause during which Steerpike tapped the iron banister with his thumb nail.  

“Name?” said Mr Flay.  

“My name?” asked Steerpike.  

“Your name, yes, your name.  I know what my name is.”  Mr Flay put a knuckly hand on the banisters preparatory to mounting the stairs again, but waited, frowning over his shoulder, for the reply.  

“Steerpike sir,” said the boy.  

“Queerpike eh? eh?” said Flay.  

“No Steerpike.”  

“What?”  

“Steerpike, Steerpike.”  

“What for?” said Flay.  

“I beg your pardon?”  

“What for, eh?  Two Squeertikes, two of you.  Twice over.  What for?  One’s enough for a Swelter’s boy.”……..

Apart from this early misunderstanding, these two characters come to understand each other only too well…..

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies

‘Steerpike – the high shouldered (soon to be high handed) one’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on January 17, 2010 by echostains
 
 
 

Mervyn Peake's Steerpike, what a truly wonderful artist he was

When we first encounter Steerpike the kitchen boy, he is trying to escape from Swelter’s kitchen.  Using Flay’s footsteps as a marker to get  into the upper world of the castle, he seems well – just a boy.  He is seventeen years old with high shoulders, smouldering eyes and obviously intelligent.  From this first meeting, Steerpike seems harmless enough.  He is quick to observe Flay’s dislike of Swelter though and play on it.  Indeed, this quickness coupled with keen observation helps him insinuate himself at every opportunity.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike

In the BBC adaptation, Steerpike was played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who I felt was much too good looking (though these looks do ‘improve’ as the story unfolds).  There are many sides to Steepike’s character and  none of them sentimental.  He is indeed an opportunist – even creating opportunities where none exist, – which shall be seen. 

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies