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Don’t Follow Me or Anybody Else

There’s a lot of very sensible advice here!

J.M. Rosenberger

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I’ve noticed lately that a lot of writers out there are looking for other people to tell them what to do. Especially when it comes to building their “platform” and getting their name out there.

Taking advice from other people who have gone before you or achieved the success you want to achieve is great. But let’s be frank…

If you’re just blogging or building an email list or making a Facebook page because somebody somewhere on the internet told you that’s what you’re supposed to do, then you’re wasting your time. Valuable time you could be spending writing a book.

Of course, I’m not saying that any of that stuff is bad. In fact, I think building a platform as a writer is one of the smartest things you could do. Building an email list is also important. But if you’re just doing those things to check off the…

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French Soap

The Three Musketeers

by Alexandre Dumas

If Dumas were alive today,’ writes Keith Wren in his introduction to my current edition of The Three Musketeers, ‘he would certainly not be bidding for the Nobel Prize for Literature but writing scripts for The Bill or Brookside.’

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Dr Wren’s remark, written around 1993, may not strike many chords today since neither of the two soap operas mentioned still runs on British television. However, the point he makes is a valid one. Dumas, skilled exponent of the novel in serial form, knew what his public wanted and served it up to them in aces. His approach to storytelling (at least in this novel) was very much in accordance with the expectations of the modern soap opera fan.

Critics of Dumas’ works may deny that he was a great novelist but, whether that is true or not, he was undoubtedly a great storyteller. As with Walter Scott in this country, it is impossible to overestimate his contribution to the development of the historical novel – especially the historical romance.

The Three Musketeers is one of Alexandre Dumas’ (Dumas Père’s) best known, best loved and greatest stories. I would agree it’s not a great novel; there are too many inconsistencies and the plot is a bit wobbly. D’Artagnan is not Edmond Dantès. The author does not reveal and explore the depth of the human soul in the Musketeers as he does in Monte Cristo. D’Artagnan is more a younger version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote – indeed Dumas describes him in those terms:

‘Fancy to yourself Don Quixote at eighteen – Don Quixote peeled, without his coat of mail or greaves …’

The Musketeers are impossible adventurers, daring, romantic, swashbuckling if you like, and incredibly arrogant. Based on the exploits of four real-life characters amidst a cast of historical consequence, D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis drink, game, fight and love with little regard for tomorrow.

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Arriving in Paris, a young man from Gascony (D’Artagnan) is caught up in the affairs of the French Queen Anne and the political machinations of the cunning Cardinal Richelieu and his beautiful but deadly spy, Milady de Winter.  He falls in love with Constance, young companion to the Queen, and assists her in protecting the Queen’s honour when Richelieu tries to expose her relationship with the Duke of Buckingham. However, Constance is kidnapped and D’Artagnan with the help of his friends sets out to recover her, a quest that brings him within the reach of Milady’s spiteful hatred.

‘Pale and terrible, her ladyship raised herself up, and pushing away D’Artagnan, who was near her, by a violent blow on the chest, sought to hasten from him… The young man now knew her secret – that terrible secret, of which the whole world was ignorant …’

The background to the story – the Huguenots, the strained relations between Louis XIII, his Spanish wife and his cardinal, the siege of La Rochelle, the murder of Buckingham and other historical episodes – is authentic, yet Dumas treats all in a cavalier way. The Three Musketeers is high melodrama but it is edge of the seat suspenseful fun. A great many swashes are buckled in its 500 or so pages. The dialogue is clever, and the book also has its share of tragedy.

This particular translation, by William Barrow, is an old one from 1846 – only two years after the story first appeared in novel form. It is suspect in certain passages, as Dr Wren more than hints in his introduction. Indeed Barrow is somewhat conservative and even prudish in sexual scenes, reflecting the attitudes of English Victorian society. Wren suggests the reader might care to refer to the original French, which I did (though my competence at that language is inadequate to reading the whole book in a reasonable  time span) and recommend that English speakers who can’t read French at all might care to try a more recent translation by Richard Pevear. Apparently – and I do not have time at present to read this translation too – he is much less coy about bedroom scenes.

None of the movies of The Three Musketeers does justice to the main characters: Athos is a flawed and pained aristocrat; the other three are all in their way womanisers, D’Artagnan the most blatant; the vain Porthos is a gigolo; Aramis, despite his clerical ambitions, a very unclerical admirer of feminine nobility.

Had television existed in 1844, I could well imagine French – or British – soap addicts sitting glued to their sets as the weekly adventures of the musketeers unfolded.

The Three Musketeers was one of my favourite books back in my early teens, when I first read it, and I enjoyed it every bit as much this time around.

 “‘It is by my order, and for the good of the state, that the bearer of this has done what he has done.  RICHELIEU'” 

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Classic Reviews – Free Book

For the last few days, I’ve been busy collecting together some of my earliest reviews into a little book, which I have now published on Amazon Kindle.

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The book is now available at:

http://www.amazon.com/Classic-Reviews-Andrew-G-Lockhart-ebook/dp/B01E2TNBC8

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Classic-Reviews-Andrew-G-Lockhart-ebook/dp/B01E2TNBC8

and other Amazon sites, and if you would like a copy, you’ll be able to download it FREE from Monday 18th to Friday 22nd April.

[I had originally intended it to be permanently free to friends, followers and supporters but Amazon isn’t too keen on the idea, so I’ll have to be content meantime with a five day promotion!]

I’ll be going back to reviewing  and posting later in the week. Meantime, Happy Reading!

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‘Do you want to come in?’

I sometimes wonder why Hollywood has to go one better than Europe when it comes to adapting novels for the screen.

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Last week, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to buy the Bluray disc of the Hammer film Let Me In. For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know it, Let Me In is a vampire horror movie, a reworking of the 2008 Swedish film Lät Den Rätte Komma In (in English Let The Right One In).

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My experience with Swedish films ‘moved’ to America warned me not to expect too much. Despite featuring a few excellent actors, and being showered with awards, the remake in English of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was, I thought, the poor relation when it came to capturing the atmosphere and power of the original drama.

The makers of Let Me In shifted the setting from Sweden to New Mexico and gave the characters new names, which confused me a bit until I got used to it. Nevertheless – surprise, surprise – the film was rather good and ticked all the right boxes as a Hammer production: suspense, anticipation, grisly body parts and lots of blood.

Based on the novel Lät Den Rätte Komma In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let Me In tells the story of Owen (originally Oskar), a lonely 12-year-old boy who is victim of school bullying. One night, he meets Abby (Eli), seemingly a girl of his own age who has moved with her ‘father’ into the next apartment. But Abby has a frightening secret; she is a vampire who has been ‘twelve for a very long time‘. When her ‘father’ pours acid over himself then commits suicide by jumping through a hospital window, Abby is left to her own resources. She befriends Owen and advises him to hit back against the bullies.

Being a vampire, Abby must find blood of course and she does so in suitably gruesome ways. However, nothing is quite as gruesome as the way she exacts revenge on Owen’s tormentors.

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Yes, this time the film industry has produced two very good films but, good as they are, I would recommend the novel. There is so much more to it, both story content and character development!

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The Attic

A Short Story

A whiff of something unexplained, alien, reaches me through the half-open trapdoor. I fumble for the light switch just inside on the floor, find it and flip it on. Nothing happens. The bulb has gone. Something crawls across my hand and I draw it back instinctively. The ladder creaks and wobbles underneath my feet.

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Just a spider. The attic is probably full of them. I heave upwards, slide the trapdoor back and thrust my head and shoulders into the attic space. A blast of icy air meets my face. The skylight window, encrusted with God-knows how many years of dust and grime, has cracked and a triangle of glass is missing.

I cough on the dust and damp. How long has it been like this, I wonder. Thirty-five years have gone by since my sister and I played in this room. My memories, cloudy now, are of freshly-emulsioned walls and the smell of pine disinfectant. I remember the sound of hammering – and the occasional expletive echoing round the roof space – as my father worked on the flooring and the insulation. The cross-beams were too low to accommodate a fully-grown man. Moreover, wearing safety goggles instead of his customary spectacles, he was dangerously short-sighted. My mother too, before arthritis claimed her hips and knees, would scamper up the pull-down ladder we had then to clean and vacuum for us. She could work standing with an inch or two to spare.

I grip the frame of the trapdoor, allow it to take my weight, and lever myself over the edge. The old wooden ladder, borrowed from a neighbour, stops short of the gap by a good three feet. No pull-down now. The fastenings had loosened and my father had deemed it unsafe.

On the window side, there is just enough light for me to see the hazards – a missing floorboard, a brick, splinters of glass everywhere. Crouching, I brush the strands of cobweb from the nearest rafters and stand up between them. A soggy heap of moss, grit and leaves has collected under the broken pane. The insulating panels that form the makeshift walls bulge and run with green slime. I smell the decay. The remaining pieces of furniture, my school desk minus lid, a wicker chair and our old holiday trunk are thick with decades of dust.

A sports car screams past in the street outside, the Doppler effect intensified by the hollow stillness of my surroundings. Why did I come, I ask myself? The house has too many ghosts: grandparents and parents have gone, and now my sister … I suppose I want to see where it happened, want to have a last look at the old place, my inheritance, before I sell.

The alien smell is stronger now but I cannot locate the source. Then I see them, grotesque shapes, shadows thrown by the failing daylight in the far corner. Hanging, dead or alive I cannot tell, from one of the crossbeams. I cough again, reacting to both dust and stench. There is a flutter of wings and one skims past my nose. Another narrowly avoids my hair, panicking, squeaking.

Protected, claiming territory that was once mine.

***

A Fisherman’s Tale

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

‘….nothing showed on the surface of the water but some patches of yellow, sun-bleached Sargasso weed and the purple, formalized, iridescent, gelatinous bladder of a Portuguese man-of-war floating close beside the boat.’

oldmanseaHis name is Santiago, and we are left to guess his age. What is old anyway? It’s an adjective applied by the observer, in this case Hemingway himself, who was around fifty when he wrote his story. So we must assume the ‘Old Man’ is meant to be somewhat older than that. He is certainly a man past middle age, one who has led a full life as a mariner sailing the world, as a fisherman, and as a champion arm-wrestler. He is ‘thin and gaunt with deep wrinkles’ we are told at the beginning, ‘with brown blotches of the benevolent skin cancer the sun brings from its reflection on the tropical sea.’

However, he is strong; a man has to be strong to be a lone deep-sea fisherman. But he is poor and has not caught a fish for 84 days. The other fishermen say he is bad luck and the boy who has been his companion has been forbidden by his parents from sailing with him.

The Old Man believes the 85th will be his lucky day and he sets out in his skiff before dawn, equipt with all the lines, bait and other items needed for deep-sea fishing. And he does indeed hook a fish, a big fish, a marlin – the biggest he has ever seen.

‘The line rose slowly and steadily and then the surface of the ocean bulged ahead of the boat and the fish came out. He came out unendingly and water poured from his sides. He was bright from the sun and his head and back were dark purple …’

Bringing in his catch is not the work or one day or of two. The Old Man must play with the lines, using all his strength and cunning to outsmart and defeat his antagonist. And having at last brought the fish to the boat, he must contend with new enemies and endure the hazardous journey back to the Havana coast before he can market his prize.

The Old Man and the Sea is a difficult work to classify. Often regarded as a short story, it is, at about 30,000 words, too short for a novel and rather long for a conventional short story. Yet into this work, Hemingway poured what must surely be 30,000 words of his best writing. A passionate deep-sea fisherman himself, he brings the pastime alive in the detail. Whatever one thinks of fishing as a ‘sport’, one cannot help but admire the atmosphere, the tension, the colour of this simple story, or feel the excitement of the contest and the pathos of its ending.

We get inside the head of Santiago and share his thoughts, the snatches of his memories, his enthusiasm for baseball and admiration for the great Joe DiMaggio, his dreams of lions in Africa and above all his love-hate relationship with the fish. We feel his sympathy with its fate as a ‘brother’ as well as his steely determination to make the kill.

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‘Then the fish came alive, with his death in him, and rose high out of the water showing all his great length and width and all his power and his beauty. He seemed to hang in the air above the old man in the skiff. Then he fell into the water with a crash that sent spray over the old man and over all of the skiff.’

The Old Man and the Sea won Hemingway a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and contributed to the Nobel Prize which he collected the following year.

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Mansfield Park

by Jane Austen

Having finished my review of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe with the words of Jane Austen, I can do no better here than allow Sir Walter to introduce this one:

‘[Jane Austen] had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I have ever met with.’

Mansfield Park is the second of three Jane Austen novels on my Classics Club list. I hadn’t read it before and any knowledge I had of the plot came from a TV film starring Billie Piper, which I guess (having now read the book) deviated quite a bit from Miss Austen’s intentions. Miss Piper, talented actress though she has become since her days as companion to Doctor Who, is much too daring for Fanny Price.

This is a novel which contains some of the best of Austen’s satire. It is a story of class, snobbery and would-be upward mobility. Though many of the characters have traits and habits that are unattractive, Mansfield Park has no real villains. Even those participants whom, through Fanny’s eyes, we are meant to dislike, turn out to be not so bad after all – at least when measured against 21st century standards. The morality of Jane Austen’s day, especially the morality of sex and marriage, can be very puzzling to the modern readership.

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The three Ward sisters have made very different lives for themselves. Maria is married to a baronet, ‘with all the comforts and consequences of a handsome house and large income’. The second sister – referred to throughout the book only as Mrs Norris – marries a clergyman who has the misfortune to die before the story has properly begun. Frances, the youngest, marries Lt. Price, a lowly naval officer, ‘to disoblige her family’. She does that ‘very thoroughly’ and produces a large brood of children.

Fanny, eldest daughter of this last-mentioned family, goes to live with Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, her rich relations, at Mansfield Park, where she is made to feel all the disadvantages of her parentage, especially by Mrs Norris, the most frightful snob you can imagine, who has the most elevated opinion of herself and her importance.

‘As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, [Mrs Norris] was thoroughly benevolent, and nobody knew how to dictate liberality to others; but her love of money was equal to her love of directing …’

Three of the Bertram children, Tom, Maria and Julia, are too wrapped up in their own privileged lives to pay Fanny much attention, and her only real friend is the Bertram’s second son Edmund, who plans to be a clergyman. Maria engages herself to Mr Rushworth, a rather bland and boring ‘gentleman’, while Julia sets her sights on Henry Crawford, a more appealing catch. But Crawford is a flirt and seems to prefer her sister.

It seems likely from the outset that Fanny and Edmund are destined to be together; that is the way Jane Austen works. However, what begins as a genuine friendship has a long way to go before it can become anything more. Edmund’s romantic attention falls on Mary Crawford, the attractive but annoying sister of Henry, and half-sister of the Norris’s replacement in the Mansfield parsonage, Mrs Grant. The niece of an Admiral, Mary is something of a snob too. Although she does have feelings for Edmund, it is clear she would much rather have him were he the elder rather than the younger son!

‘Certainly, my home at my uncle’s brought me acquainted with a circle of admirals. Of Rears and Vices I saw enough. Now do not suspect me of a pun, I entreat.’

Meantime, Fanny becomes the object of the attentions of Henry Crawford, easily distracted by a pretty face. What begins as a seduction challenge turns into what seems to be genuine affection. However, Henry’s flirtatious nature does not endear him to his intended bride.

While Sir Thomas is abroad attending to his property in the West Indies, the young people turn one of his favourite rooms into a theatre with the intention of putting on a play. Amateur acting was a fondness of the upper classes in Austen’s day and, in the detail of this episode, she was probably writing of her own experiences. Unlike her creator, however, Fanny Price dislikes theatricals. She is quite certain Sir Thomas will disapprove, and indeed he does, returning home in the middle of the final preparations to put a stop to it all.

‘The removal of the bookcase from before the billiard-room struck him especially, but he had scarcely more time to feel astonished at all this, before there were sounds from the billiard room to astonish him still farther. Someone was talking there in a very loud accent – he did not know the voice….’

Crawford uses his influence with the Admiral to secure a promotion for Fanny’s brother, William and, following a ball which Sir Thomas gives for her ‘coming out’, he proposes to her. Though grateful for William’s sake, Fanny refuses him. Upset by her stubborn nature, Sir Thomas proposes she spend some time with her parents and siblings in the hope that the experience will bring her to her senses. Crawford pursues his suit vigorously. However, Fanny is unmoved and he is eventually diverted by easier prey, much to the mortification of the Bertram family.

There is no fast action in Mansfield Park and indeed a few chapters do drag on a bit. It is a story about people, about their merits and flaws, and about how they react to society’s claims on them.  The contrasting family circumstances of the Bertrams and the Prices, and Fanny’s guilty but understandable feelings regarding the indifference of the latter, throw a light on the class inequalities of the age. Mr Price, as a pensioned-off naval officer is a sad character, Mrs Price a tired, used wife, ageing before her time. By contrast, Lady Bertram is a lazy, thoughtless woman who idles away her life in frivolous pastimes. Young Tom is fond of hunting, racing and gambling, something of a wastrel, Edmund his antithesis and almost too good to be true.

‘How could she have excited serious attachment in a man who had seen so many, and been admired by so many … who was everything to everybody, and seemed to find no one essential to him?’

Fanny Price is not at all like either Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennett, two of Austen’s most popular heroines. She appears at the age of 18 as a reserved, thoughtful and retiring young woman, her character shaped by her status as the poor relation.mansfieldausten

She is modest, greatly underestimates her attractiveness and in so doing sometimes frustrates the impatient reader yet, as the novel progresses, we warm to her sensitivity and her high principles, strange though these are to our modern ideas of a heroine.

In her portrayal of the Mansfield cast, and especially of Fanny and the Crawfords, Austen excels, and fully justifies  Scott’s opinion of her talent. I think there is more of Jane herself in Fanny Price than in many of the other Austen women. I enjoyed Mansfield Park, and I liked her heroine immensely.

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Real Neat Blog Award

I’ve been nominated!

I’d like to thank Bronte’s Page Turners for nominating me for a Real Neat Blog Award! I’m very flattered. The idea is for me to respond by answering a few questions and by nominating some other friends to do the same. Wow!

These are the rules:

RULES

1. Thank and link the blogger that nominated you.

2. Answer the 7 questions that the nomination has provided you.

3. Create 7 questions for your nominees.

4. Nominate 7 other bloggers.

Well, here are the questions I was asked:

1.How many books are on your TBR list?

I’m going to have to do some adding up here! There are three lists: on my Classics Club list, I have 30 books unread, but I have until October 2018 to read those. I have 4 on my Kindle that I’m definitely going to read and, of physical books (short-term reading plans), there are 2. That’s thirty-six altogether if my arithmetic is any good. OK, my intentions might change tomorrow but that’s as honest as I can make it.

2.What is your greatest bibliophile skill?

Being able to read is in itself such an amazing and rewarding skill, and to be able to do it (reasonably well) in more than one language – that’s probably enough for me.

3.What is your finest bibliophile dream?

A bibliophile dream? I have two very old books which need rebinding and hope to find an expert to do it without it costing me an arm and a leg.

4.What is your worst bibliophile nightmare?

Easy one! I can’t bear the thought of some nasty villain breaking into my house and stealing or vandalising my books.

5.If you could thank one person for turning you on to the joys of reading, who would it be?

Another easy one – my father.

6.If your partner is a fellow bibliophile, do you merge book collections i.e. get rid of duplicate copies of books you both have? Or is this too much to expect, even in a long-term relationship? Am I worrying about this too much?!!

My wife’s tastes and my own occasionally coincide, but good partnerships share. I don’t think we have two copies of anything. And yes, I think you are worrying about it too much!

7.Paste and copy a picture of the most beautiful book you own.

The most beautiful book (jointly owned), is Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.

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And here are MY questions:

  1. What inspired you to start writing a blog?
  2. Do you have an all-time favourite book and, if so, what is it?
  3. It’s a commonly held opinion that a movie is never as good as the book on which it is based. Do you have a favourite movie that you think is better than the book? [just one, in case you have more]
  4. What do you look for in your favourite blogs – eg poems, humour, challenging writing, serious issues, frivolity, art, photographs  etc – or whatever?
  5. What historical figure is your role model, if any, and why?
  6. What is your favourite indulgence – eg chocolate, expensive holidays, fast cars etc – or whatever?
  7. What recipe can you offer for achieving world peace?

My nominees:

I’m going to cheat and break the rules because I really don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. There are so many different neat blogs out there and I like them for different reasons. To pick only seven would be so unfair to all the others. So I’m going to nominate everyone, and if you feel like taking up the challenge, whether by my rules or those of the unknown originator, please do so. Whatever you decide, just keep writing, because Writing is Fun!

Thank you all for reading and following.

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Ivanhoe

by Sir Walter Scott

‘Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian?’

What, you may ask, has the above quotation to do with Sir Walter Scott? Surely part of Shylock’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, what is its connection with Ivanhoe, a novel written two hundred years after Shakespeare’s death?

A central theme of Ivanhoe is anti-semitism. Written and published in 1819/1820 and set during the last decade of the 12th century, it is a novel which seems to demonstrate that, with respect to religious intolerance, plus ça change, plus c’est la mème chose – as the French say. European anti-semitism during the reign of Richard I of England was of an especially vile kind, which the historical Richard himself fomented, not only by introducing draconian laws but by (it is said) acts of physical violence towards them.

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Scott’s purpose in creating Isaac of York seems to be to develop his theme. Isaac resembles Shakespeare’s Shylock in being two-faced – at once proud and devious, yet there is a soft underside to him, a humanity that is missing in Shylock’s dealings with Antonio. Yet the question in the reader’s mind remains: which does he love more, his daughter or his gold?

Rebecca, the beautiful and talented daughter, is by contrast one of the greatest heroines in all fiction. The object of her affection and love forever denied her by the customs and prejudices of the age, and by HIS prejudices, she endures her disappointments and trials as a shining example of all the best a human being can be. And it is largely through his development of her character that Scott demonstrates his own partiality – his favourable opinion of King Richard and his contempt for the Templars. Neither is wholly deserved.

Ivanhoe, by Scott’s definition, is a Romance. I hate that word when applied to novels of this kind as it conjures up in its modern usage visions of large bosoms, ripped bodices and much sex. The book is not like that and, welcome or otherwise, I have to say it contains pretty much  every literary device that ‘modern’ writers of historical fiction avoid and critics despise: a universal narrator who addresses the reader; lots of telling and very little showing; dialogue abounding in ‘thees’, ‘thous’, ‘gramercies’ and other pseudo-mediaeval oaths; the bending of, indeed the ignoring of real history when it suits the plot and the writer’s purpose.

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The story of Ivanhoe is briefly told. Wilfred, disinherited by his father Cedric the Saxon, returns from King Richard’s crusade to find his property in Norman hands. He loves Rowena, who is betrothed to Athelstone, a friend of his father, and must remove all barriers to his happiness before the end. Rebecca, the Jewess, who loves Wilfred, saves his life after he is wounded in the lists, and nurses him back to health, rises above the hatred and prejudice of the times to wish them every happiness. The arch villain, the Templar Bois-Gilbert, Ivanhoe’s nemesis, complicates the plot by coveting Rebecca and in so doing placing her unintentionally in peril of her life for witchcraft.

For a hero, Wilfred of Ivanhoe is conspicuous in the pages of the novel by his few appearances in it. Rowena, the official heroine, appears hardly at all. Instead, it is with Norman barons, brave outlaws, frolicking clerics, a king in disguise and – in true Shakespearean fashion – a jester that we are encouraged to keep company. Even Bois-Gilbert gets his opportunity to present an almost decent side to his personality. A man driven by ambition and desire, he is not entirely without a conscience.

After my recent flirtation (as both reader and writer) with the fantasy/scifi genre, I enjoyed returning to my first love, historical fiction. Ivanhoe is a great novel and, along with Kenilworth, The Heart of Midlothian and The Talisman, one of Scott’s best. It includes a wonderful description of a mediaeval jousting tournament as well as a colourful supporting actor roles to Robin Hood and Friar Tuck. It is such a good story that I will even forgive Sir Walter for transporting Robert of Locksley and his band from Sherwood Forest to Yorkshire!

To conclude, I can do no better than echo the words of another of our great writers, Jane Austen:

” ‘Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones. It is not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and should not be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.’ “

 

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My body is not my own!

Female 22

by David Hulett Wilson

A Review

What would it be like to live part of your life in a body of the opposite sex? How would you cope with the little everyday details of being a woman, or a man, as the case may be? Not only would the anatomy be strange but you would have to deal psychologically with society’s mores and attitudes.

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Female 22 is an intriguing science fiction novel that explores this very theme. In a futuristic galactic union, humans have gone a step further than faster-than-light travel. The Union has invented a technology which enables the almost instantaneous transfer of consciousness across hundred of light years. Would-be travellers in a hurry can hire a host on the destination planet whose body and mindset is a close fit for their own and, using the services of Tranzcon, transfer their life-force to that  body for the duration of the trip.

‘Jon saw the mischievous smile that came to Amey’s face. She giggled. “On no account can your host body be used for sexual relations …” He gave her an indignant look. “The thought never crossed my mind.” ‘

Jon Chandler is a middle-aged, high-ranking government official on Vissan, with ambition to become first minister. When the current first minister demands he attend an important conference at Celebration, capital city of the planet Phoenix, he is persuaded to use Tranzcon for the first time. Unfortunately, the only host available is a young woman called Jana Kell. Jana, the Female 22  of the story, has a twin sister, Jasmine, and already one can imagine the extra complications which might arise from that fact.

‘Maybe Jana herself might have taken delight in the admiring glances that . . . swept over her female form, but for Jon the feeling was scary.’

On the point of returning home to Vissan, it is Chandler’s misfortune –  good fortune some readers might argue – to find himself trapped in Jana’s body due to a failure of the Gbeam, the interplanetary communication network. Without funds and with no means of communicating his predicament to his colleagues, Chandler attempts to access both Jana’s bank account and his own. His limited success brings him into conflict with the law and he is arrested. No one believes his story except Jasmine and his lawyer, Kamar, and he has to resort to desperate measures to get ‘himself’ home. But being home might not be where he wants to be! One dilemma after another faces Chandler as he endeavours to extricate himself from the frying pan only to find himself in the fire.

Female 22 has an intelligent and well thought out, if complex, plot-line. David Hulett Wilson’s imagining of his character’s situation is well-written. There is the ‘anatomy question’, and that is one thing. However, he also makes the reader – the male reader – consider what being the prey of predatory attention  (rather than being the predator) might be like. Jon Chandler is not an especially ‘nice’ character; he is a ruthless, self-made man and (as we discover early on) a murderer too. Yet, as the novel progresses, he is softened by his experience and begins to catch a glimpse of the female point of view.

I was enjoying the story and eagerly turned the pages to discover whether Chandler reached home and was truly reformed by his journey. However, I discovered at the end that Female 22 is the only first book of a series. As I’m not very fond of series, ** that rather spoils the book for me. I also think that the author gives us too much detail, especially in the explanations of his ‘science’. There are one or two passages where nothing very much happens. These negatives slow the pace of the novel and make it over-long for a work of science fiction. The ‘murder’, which is so crucial to the resolution (or otherwise) of the protagonist’s mounting list of problems, is, I feel, not integrated as well as it might be into the storyline.

These criticisms aside, Female 22 is an imaginative piece of writing about a future that, while fantastical, may well be closer to being realised than we think.

[I received a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review]

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** I have given up on, for example, ‘Game of Thrones‘!

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