Saturday, December 29, 2007

Books Read in 2007

So far this year I've read 98 books. I didn't make a century, but then it's not about numbers, but is about reading and enjoying books. I don't think I'll finish any more by the end of this year. The first 30 (or so) books on the list I read before I started to write this blog, so there are no posts about them. I've written about most of the books I'd read up to the end of November and I hope to write about some of the ones read in December next year.

Clicking on the titles that are underlined takes you to my posts on the books.

98.Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve
97.Four Stories, Alan Bennett
96.The Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, Chris Ewan
95.Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates
94.Old Filth, Jane Gardam
93.The Owl Service, Alan Garner
92. The Spoilt City, Olivia Manning
91.The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
90.All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West
89.My Cleaner, Maggie Gee
88.The Testament of Gideon Mack, James Robertson
87.The Great Fortune, Olivia Manning
86.Surveillance, Jonathan Raban
85.Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell
84.Remainder, Tom McCarthy
83.Lewis Carroll: a biography, Morton Cohen
82.The Sidmouth Letters, Jane Gardam
81.Crossing To Safety, Wallace Stegner
80.Playing with the Moon, Eliza Graham
79.One Fine Day, Mollie Panter-Downes
78.Ladies of Grace Adieu, Susanna Clarke
77.The Verneys, Adrian Tinniswood
76.Christine Kringle, Lynn Brittany
75.Set in Darkness, Ian Rankin
74.Sons and Lovers, D H Lawrence
73.The Man Who Died, D H Lawrence
72.The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett
71.Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
70.Astrid and Veronika, Linda Olsson
69.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
68.Ghostwalk, Rebecca Stott
67.Crow Lake, Mary Lawson
66.Speaking of Love, Angela Young
65.Letters to Malcolm, C S Lewis
64.Season of the Witch, Natasha Mostert
63.The Amber Spyglass, Philip Pullman
62.The House at Riverton, Kate Morton
61.The Secret History, Donna Tartt
60.Made in Heaven, Adele Geras
59.Crooked House, Agatha Christie
58.Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
57.The Subtle Knife, Philip Pullman
56.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J K Rowling
55.Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
54.Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
53.Mistress of the Art of Death, Ariana Franklin
52.Theft, Peter Carey
51.King of the Streets, John Baker
50.The Poe Shadow, Matthew Pearl
49.Digging to America, Anne Tyler
48.Wilberforce, John Pollock
47.On Trying To Keep Still, Jenny Diski
46.Death's Jest-Book, Reginald Hill
45.The Woodlanders, Thomas Hardy
44.Body Surfing, Anita Shreve
43.The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield
42.Daphne, Margaret Forster
41.Blessings, Anna Quindlen
40.The Dawkin's Delusion, Alistair McGrath
39.The Giant's House, Elizabeth McCracken
38.Pictures of Perfection, Reginald Hill
37.Keeping Faith, Jodie Picoult
36.Over, Margaret Forster
35.Master Georgie, Beryl Bainbridge
34.On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
33.Gentlemen & Players, Joanne Harris
32.Hallucinating Foucault, Patricia Duncker
31.Emotional Geology, Linda Gillard
30.The Secret of the Last Temple, Peter Sussman
29.When I Grow Up, Bernice Rubens
28.Under the Greenwood Tree, Thomas Hardy
27.Death Minus Zero, John Baker
26.The Conjuror’s Bird, Martin Davies
25.Nights of Rain and Stars, Maeve Binchy
24.The Devil wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
23.Stranger on a Train, Jenny Diski
22.Instances of the Number 3, Salley Vickers
21.Sovereign, C J Sansom
20.The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey
19.The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
18.Only Say the Word, Niall Williams
17.Learning to Swim, Clare Chambers
16.A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka
15.Mother’s Milk, Edward St Aubyn
14.The Dark Shore, Susan Howatch
13.Mr Golightly’s Holiday, Salley Vickers
12.What Good are the Arts?, John Carey
11.Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
10.The Falls, Joyce Carol Oates
9.The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
8.Moral Disorder, Margaret Atwood
7.Shadows in the Mirror, Frances Fyfield
6.But Nobody Lives in Bloomsbury, Gillian Freeman
5.The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
4.Miss Garnet’s Angel, Salley Vickers
3.The Christmas Mystery, Jostein Gaarder
2.The Water Babies, Charles Kingsley
1.The Waiting Sands

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Christmas

I'm nearly ready for Christmas, at least the presents are wrapped, just food to prepare and a bit more shopping to do and then I can sit down and relax.

We've not had snow here and the forecast for Christmas Day is heavy rain, so it won't be a White Christmas. We're seeing our son and his family for Christmas and my sister over New Year, so as this will probably be my last post for a while I'm wishing everyone who reads this blog

A Very Happy Christmas

Friday, December 21, 2007

Books – buy or borrow?

I’ve just received the January/February 2008 issue of newbooks magazine. It is full of information, articles, interviews and so on and so on … plus the special offers. In each magazine there is a choice of a free give-away (you pay p & p costs). There are extracts from each book to tempt you into further reading. This month the choice is between:

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies
The Oxford Murders, Guillermo Martinez
The Coroner’s Lunch, Colin Cotterrill
Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders, Gyles Brandreth

I’m not sure which one to pick. It won’t be On Chesil Beach because I’ve already got that book. The others all look as though I’d like to read them, so when I get time I’ll be reading the extracts, before deciding which one to pick.

Well, that’s about free books, but the magazine is packed with details of other books and it’s simply not possible to buy all or even many of them. This is where the Library is a fantastic service. I borrow more books than I buy – fortunately says my husband! I have always, as long as I can remember, been a member of a library and for a while I worked as a librarian, so I’m always enthusiastic about libraries. Where else can you get such a wide-ranging and all encompassing supply of free books?

Although I’m extolling the virtues of the library system I also buy books, because there are books I want to read again, books to read at leisure, without being told I’ve got to return them as someone else has reserved them and books I want to own. I buy books regularly (too regularly my husband says) and from a variety of different sources – local bookshops, there are several really good ones locally. I prefer to check out the books in the shops where possible but I also buy books from Amazon and other on-line booksellers. So, it’s a big help to find that BooksPrice now has a UK website that compares prices from on-line booksellers. Next year I’ll be checking them out before buying a book.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday - And, the Nominees Are….

What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007?(Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)
And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?
Looking through the list of books I’ve read this year I see that most of them are not new books published in 2007, so I don’t have much difficulty in deciding which ones I would nominate.

In the fiction category my nominations are:

1. Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert, about mystery, magic, memory, full of psychological tension
2. Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham, about memories, bereavement and the legacy of war
3. Speaking of Love by Angela Young, about misunderstandings, loss and above all love
4. Over by Margaret Forster about grief and death, heart-breakingly sad

My brief descriptions only give a flavour of the books and although they are all different it seems they have a lot in common – love and memories and loss.

I have only one nomination in the non-fiction category and that is:

The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood – the lives of the Buckinghamshire Verney family in turbulent seventeenth century during the English Civil War – love, war and madness.

“Best of” lists are interesting and I suppose they do influence my reading to a certain extent. Since I started reading blogs, about two years ago now, I am more influenced by recommendations from bloggers, particularly when I know they have similar reading tastes to mine. I’m also influenced by books I see in bookshops and especially in my local library. Sometimes I prefer to pick up a book without knowing anything about it or the author and am often surprised by how much I enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Goodbye Cranford - Hello Oliver

Sunday saw the last episode of “Cranford”. The final episode was very dramatic and there was a happy ending but overall I still felt disgruntled by the combination of three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books. I suppose that if I hadn’t read “Cranford” I’d never have known that the difference. I wouldn’t have missed the parts that had been left out and I wouldn’t have known that the order of events had been changed. I enjoyed the non-Cranford scenes much more – the railway explosion and injuries, the Sophie/Dr Harrison love story and above all the Lady Ludlow scenes and the interaction between Lady Ludlow, Mr Carter and Harry. I thought that Alex Etel who played Harry Gregson was excellent.

Tonight the first part of “Oliver Twist” is being broadcast at 8pm (not 9pm as I thought) on BBC1. I don’t have enough time to read the book before 9pm, so I shan’t be disappointed if the 5 part series (being shown in four nightly episodes this week and the fifth and final episode next weekend) is not faithful to the book. I haven’t read it before, but of course the story is so familiar from other films, musicals and TV productions. I don’t expect it to disappoint as “Cranford” did, as I don’t suppose it will be a combination of three of Dickens’ books! Can you imagine combining “Oliver Twist”, “David Copperfield” and "Nicholas “Nickleby”?

I’m also looking forward to watching The Old Curiosity Shop on ITV1 on Boxing Day. I haven’t read that either so I can watch it without any pre-conceived ideas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Sentences

Kate posted this meme, which she borrowed from Danielle, who in turn borrowed it from Sylvia. The idea is that you post the first sentence from each month in the year from your blog. Like Kate I've changed it a bit, skipping to the second post of the month if the first began with a quotation rather than a sentence I'd written myself, or if it was just something like "a good month for reading" as I usually start the month summarising what I'd read the previous month - and that's just too boring. Not that the following sentences are brilliant at grabbing attention or exciting (note to self - I must try harder!)

I actually started my blog in July 2006 but only wrote one post, so I'm starting this list in April this year.

I've been meaning to write more, both in this blog and in other writing, but somehow there's always something else to do.

Sunday was sunny, just perfect for a Bluebell Walk at Rushall Farm.

Daisy Lupin has started a new blog devoted to poetry and the theme for June is Poetry we loved as Children. (Sadly Daisy died in June, I did so enjoy reading her blog.)

It was D’s birthday last Saturday and the grandchildren painted some beautiful pictures to give him.

Can anyone identify this please? (It was a Cinnabar Moth).

The year is on the turn and autumn is on its way.

Whilst in Stratford last week I browsed the bookshops, one of my favourite pastimes, and couldn't resist buying The Complete Stories and Poems of Lewis Carroll.

Crossing to Safety was Wallace Stegner’s last novel published when he was 78 years old.

The third episode of “Cranford” is being shown on BBC1 this evening. (The last episode is on tonight.)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Any One for Brussel Sprouts?

We had to stay at home today, waiting for deliveries, so we had our shopping delivered as well. All well and good. We opted not to have our shopping put in carrier bags (thinking of the environment), so most things were loose, with just a few items wrapped. Everything on the order was there.

Imagine my surprise to find a little bag containing one tiny brussel sprout. When my husband had done the on-line ordering he hadn't noticed that he needed to enter the weight required and had just put "1", so that's what we got - one sprout costing one penny! Fortunately he says he's happy to share it with me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson

An intriguing book. This is the first book I've read for the From the Stacks Challenge.

I finished reading The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson at the end of November and have now got round to writing about it. I started it with great enthusiasm and found it a compelling book to read. It is a psychological mystery concerning the nature of belief, faith, and truth. It starts with an account of the disappearance and death of Gideon Mack and the discovery of a manuscript written by him shortly before he was last seen. It is clear right from the start that there is mystery and uncertainty surrounding his disappearance, death and the discovery of his body. The book centres on the manuscript with an epilogue containing “notes” written by a journalist investigating the mystery, considering whether the manuscript was “anything other than the ramblings of a mind terminally damaged by a cheerless upbringing, an unfulfilled marriage, unrequited love, religious confusion and the stress and injury of a near-fatal accident?”

Gideon Mack was a minister in the Scottish Church, even though he did not believe in the existence of God. He simply didn’t discuss religion and discovered that “it was possible to be a Christian without involving Christ very much”. He concentrated on works rather than on faith and threw himself into raising money for charity. One of his fundraising events was running in the London marathon and he found that running made him “immune to the world and its problems.” Whilst out running in the woods he came across a standing stone that he was sure had not been there before. It is this stone that drew him further into the mysterious events that led to his disappearance. He took photographs of the stone, but they failed to come out. It is not clear whether the stone was actually there or not, any more than it is not clear what actually did happen to Gideon Mack.

Be aware:there are possible spoilers ahead.

As well as being a faithless minister Gideon was married to a woman whom he did not love and he was in love with Elsie, his best friend’s wife. As I read the book I realised that it’s just not clear whether Gideon’s account is truthful and how much of it can be believed. Did he have an affair with Elsie or not? Did he see the standing stone, or was it just a figment of his imagination? Was he mad or deluded or what?

What is clear is that he fell into a ravine, trying to rescue a dog that fell into the Black Jaws and he was “churned and spun like a sock in a washing-machine, carried along by an immense, frothing, surging force.” He thought that he “couldn’t possibly have survived the fall” but even if he had “the river would have killed” him. He thought he must be dead. And it is at this point that he found he had been rescued by the Devil and spent three days with him before he eventually returned home. He claimed the Devil had healed his leg, broken from the fall, discussed the nature of belief and God with him and swapped his trainers for Gideon’s shoes. Are the trainers proof that the Devil does exist? When Gideon saw the trainers they triggered his memory – but is his memory reliable? What is real, what is imagined and what is illusion?

The question of whether Gideon believes in God and the Devil as a result of his experience is not answered directly, although in remembering his near-death experience Gideon thought “there really is something good on the other side. I don’t know what, but it’s not the end.”

The book kept my interest to the end. I wanted to know what happened to Gideon, why he became a minister when he didn’t believe in God, how he coped with living with the Devil when he had previously believed him to be a figment of his imagination, what was real, what was legend and are myths just metaphors. Like Surveillance this book is open ended. As Gideon said, “You either believe or you don’t.”

Booking Through Thursday "Catalog"

"Do you use any of the online book-cataloguing sites, like Library Thing or Shelfari? Why or why not? (Or . . . do you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking to?? (grin))
If not an online catalog, do you use any other method to catalog your book collection? Excel spreadsheets, index cards, a notebook, anything?"

Today's Booking Through Thursday questions are spot on for me - as an ex-cataloguer, yes of course I catalogue my books. I did have most of my books in a database on my laptop but when this was stolen I was devastated. I had spent a long time entering in all the details of both my books and my husband's and did not have a saved copy. I expect the thief was surprised to see my catalogue.

When I found LibraryThing I decided to use that instead. I think it is very good; I like being able to have an image of the book and other members' listings and reviews. You can find photos of authors and suggestions for more reading. It's easy to add in books as LibraryThing does all the work for you using data imported from booksellers and a long list of libraries. You can edit the info on each book if you want, add your own comments and sort your catalogue however you like. So far, I haven't entered in all our books and add in a few more every so often. Although not long after I'd entered in a lot of books LibraryThing was unavailable for a few days and I thought perhaps I'd made a mistake using it. So when it came back on-line I printed off a copy of my entries.

If you haven't seen LibraryThing have a look. You can see who else has the same books as you and there is a blog as well. Currently there is a photo competition "Holiday Book Pile Contest" for photos of, well - piles of books you receive or give for Christmas (what else?).

You can add a RandomBooks thing to your blog in various ways too - mine is over on the left sidebar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Cranford" - the location of Lady Ludlow's House

Very often when I’m watching TV I wonder where the filming took place – the scenery and the buildings can look so familiar and yet usually I can’t place them. In the case of Lady Ludlow’s house in “Cranford” I recognised the outside views immediately. It’s West Wycombe Park, in Buckinghamshire. It is set in beautiful grounds. It’s been a while since I visited the house and I’m not sure that the scenes inside Lady Ludlow’s house were filmed inside West Wycombe Park mansion. Looking at the pictures in the guidebook the grand entrance hall has a similar floor but the columns and walls are different. The colour too is different, whereas the actual entrance hall is predominantly cream and brown Lady Ludlow’s grand room was overall white and grey, matching the grey grandeur of Lady Ludlow herself. Wherever it was filmed it was impressive. Lady Ludlow is becoming my favourite character in this TV production, stealing the show somewhat from Miss Matty in my view. The view of the railway coming over the horizon onto Lady Ludlow’s land was astounding – I could almost believe it was real!

I’m looking forward to visiting West Wycombe Park again next year. It is owned by the National Trust and is only open to the public during June, July and August. The grounds with its temples, lake and cascade are open from April to the end of August. It’s a beautiful Palladian style house, remodelled from the original Queen Anne house between 1735 and 1781 by Sir Francis Dashwood. Sir Francis was a most interesting character – a member of the Hell-Fire Club, and a Fellow of the Royal Society and of the Society of Antiquaries.

Elizabeth Gaskell based her fictional town of “Cranford” on Knutsford, in Cheshire. I suppose it is because Knutsford has changed since the 1840s that Cranford was not filmed there, but in Lacock, in Wiltshire. I had a school friend who lived Knutsford. Every year there is the May Day festival in Knutsford and I remember going with my friend to watch the May Day procession through the town, but the highlight for me as a young teenager was the fairground rather than the coronation of the May Queen. It was all very different from the “Cranford” May Day celebrations, which were filmed on the Ashridge Estate in the Chilterns, not in Cheshire. There were Morris Dancers and a Maypole, but I don’t remember a dancing bush!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What's In a Name? Challenge

I can't resist joining this challenge, even though I'm already doing a few. This one is hosted by Annie, who is ten or eleven. See Words by Annie for the full picture. The idea is that you read one book from each category over the course of next year. Surely I can do that, especially as I can choose books from my to be read list.

These are the books I've chosen for now - I may change them later as who knows what I'll want to read next year? I've been meaning to read these books for quite a while now, so this should push me into reading them.

A book with a colour in the title: Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A book with an animal in its title: The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney

A book with a first name in its title: My Cousin Rachel, Daphne Du Maurier

A book with a place in its title: Winter in Madrid, C J Sansom

A book with a weather event in its title: Snow, Orhan Pamuk

A book with a plant in its title: Gem Squash Tokoloshe, Rachel Zadok

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to read “Surveillance”. The title suggested to me that it is about spying and being spied upon and in essence that is the book’s main theme. However, it is also about paranoia and the many insecurities, fears and weaknesses in our modern society. The Spectator reported ‘Raban’s book should certainly be required reading. Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.’ The Sunday Herald Books of the Year described Surveillance “like Dickens revived to witness the “age of terror”.’

There’s a lot going on in this book. It starts with a bang:

“After the explosion, the driver of the overturned school bus stood behind the wreckage, his clothes in shreds. He was cupping his hands to his ears, as if to spare himself the noise of sirens, car alarms, bullhorns, whistles, and tumbling masonry. When he brought his hands away and held them in front of his face, both palms were dripping with blood. His mouth opened wide in a scream that was lost in the surrounding din.”

However, things are not always what they seem. The main characters are Lucy, a journalist and single mum, her daughter eleven year old Alida, and Lucy’s friend and neighbour Tad, who is HIV positive and full of conspiracy theories: “You think you’re living in a democracy, then one morning you wake up and realise it’s a Fascist police state and it’s been that way for years.” Alida, in contrast, believes in facts and is “hungry for realism”. She prefers non-fiction to fiction, Ann Frank’s diary to Lord of the Rings and tries to understand human relationships in terms of algebra.

August Vanags (Augie) is a professor of history who has recently written the bestseller “Boy 381”, a memoir of his terrible childhood in Europe during World War Two. Lucy has been assigned to interview Augie, said to be a recluse. Augie believes that the world is in a worse state than it was in 1939, presaging a catastrophe for civilisation. Lucy, whilst terrified of terrorism, feels more threatened by natural disasters such as greenhouse gases and earthquakes. The instability of the planet and our precarious existence run parallel with the violence and fear generated by terrorism. As the story unfolds Lucy investigates the truth of Augie’s memoir – was he really a refugee from Hitler’s Europe or did he spend the 1940s on a farm in Norfolk?

Then there is Finn, a schoolboy geek who can “rattle out stuff in HTML and Java faster than the girls could write English when they were IM-ing. If Finn had a life, which was doubtful, it lay somewhere out in cyberspace.” Another character who may or may not be what he seems is Mr Lee, the Chinese landlord of the Acropolis building where Lucy and Tad live. To Tad Mr Lee epitomises what is wrong with society “the way the world had lately fallen into the hands of grifters, liars and cheats.” Tad’s anger with himself, everything and everyone else threatens to overwhelm him and possess him.

As the novel built to a climax I was so engrossed in wondering what was the truth about the characters and what the outcome would be, that I failed to foresee how the book was going to end, even though thinking back over it now I can see that hints were given almost from the beginning. This is not a book where all the ends are tied off, or where all the questions that have been raised are answered. Everything is left unresolved and to my mind there could be no other conclusion.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This Time 10 years ago ...

Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book posted earlier this year on books he had read “On this day …” where he listed books he had read on a particular day in the year going back several years – in his case on 28 September. I haven’t kept such accurate records as Simon, but as I found a notebook listing books I read in 1997 I thought I’d look back to see what books I was reading in December in 1997, 2002, 2006 and this December. I didn’t record the precise dates and have just picked one book out of the books I read in December during those years.

December 1997 – Homeland and other stories by Barbara Kingsolver. I made just a brief note at the time “v. readable”. This is a book of short stories and I have to admit that at a distance of ten years I can’t remember much about them. So, I’ll just quote from the back cover:

“Extraordinarily fine. Barbara Kingsolver has a Chekovian tenderness towards her characters … The title story is pure poetry.” New York Times Book Review.

December 2002 – Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein. I first read the books when I was at Library School – everyone on my course was reading them. I’ve read them several times since then and this time I read them again, prompted by the films. The films compared quite favourably with the books, although I think the Ents didn’t live up to my expectations. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was just perfect.

December 2006 – Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I have read several Atwood books and I think this one is one of her best. It’s based on the true story of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper in Canada in 1843. Grace and fellow servant James are found guilty of the murders. James was hanged and Grace imprisoned for life. The question, never answered to my satisfaction, all through the book is, was Grace guilty?

December 2007 – All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I haven’t read any other books by Sackville-West and was pleased to find it most enjoyable with an awful lot packed into what seems on the face of it to be a novel where not much happens. It’s a novel of opposites. For example old age and youth are contrasted in looking back over the life of Lady Slane, widowed at the age of 88. I’ll be writing about this in more detail, after 15 December, as it’s the chosen book for Cornflower’s book group.

A Christmas Meme

I was tagged by Sam for this Christmas meme.

What is your most enduring Christmas memory? I don't think I could single out one particular moment, maybe remembering back to my childhood when Christmas was a magical time, later enjoying it through my son’s excitement and these days through my grandchildren’s eyes.

Do you have a favourite piece of Christmas music? Silent Night, but don’t ask me to sing it solo.

Do you stick to the old family traditions? Apart from giving present and celebrating with lots of food, no. My grandmother used to stand to attention during the Queen’s speech but no one else did, much to her disapproval.

What makes your mouth water at Christmas time!? I love all Christmas food.

How soon do you put the Christmas tree up and when do you take it down? It varies – we haven’t put one up yet. It has to be taken down and all Christmas decorations put away before Twelfth Night.

I would like to tag Nan, Kay, Cornflower and Geranium Cat for this meme.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Cranford - a "Multi-Threaded Production"

The third episode of "Cranford" is being shown on BBC1 this evening. Over the course of last week I have puzzled over my reaction to the production. If I hadn’t only recently read Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford I might not have been so bemused. I was quite prepared to find that the actors and the locations didn’t match the pictures in my mind – how could they? I also didn’t expect the dramatisation to follow every word in the book – after all it is a dramatic representation, not a book.

Still, after seeing two episodes and looking at the preview of the third, I think that by amalgamating Cranford with two other books the end result is not Cranford. One difference that really has jarred is concerning Mary Smith. In the novel Mary is the narrator. She lives in Drumble (Manchester) with her father and writes about her visits to Cranford at different intervals over a number of years. Her father is an old friend of the Jenkyns family, maybe even a distant relative, who helps with Miss Matty’s business affairs. Nowhere in Cranford is there any indication that Mary Smith has a stepmother and stepbrothers and sisters, but they appear in the TV series – I can’t see how they add anything to the story. And why was it necessary to make Miss Brown’s death take place before her father’s? I could go on.

The BBC’s Press Office page has some interesting information that explains how the script was written. The creators did not think that there was enough material in the novel suitable for a straightforward adaptation. So, as they wanted to keep “true to the spirit of Gaskell” they took several of her books and interwove them together. This quote from the Production Notes explains the process:

"We took a lot of liberties with Elizabeth Gaskell," Sue continues. "We lost some of her characters, we amalgamated some and we invented. We shuffled story beats around and we added extras to some of the stories from the other books.

"And we lifted out two comic incidents from her essays about her childhood which weren't in the novels. In the end, we had interwoven parts of all the three novels so closely that it took on a life of its own, and essentially became a new drama.”

Cranford is thus a multi-threaded production, combining three of Elizabeth Gaskell’s books and essays as well as introducing new material. They have indeed produced a new drama. My question is – do I want to watch it? I’m not so sure that I do.

Francesca Annis is quoted in the Press Pack:

"I read Gaskell's My Lady Ludlow, and (Cranford writer) Heidi Thomas's characterisation is quite faithful to her but she obviously had to leave out a huge amount of detail that I found completely fascinating.

"But then this serial isn't called Lady Ludlow... unfortunately!"

Maybe it shouldn’t be called “Cranford”, either.

One thing I do know is that thanks to this production, I shall read Mr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

November Round Up of Books

Another month of good reading. I have already written posts about most of the books I finished reading in November. Clicking on the titles links to my posts.

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham - an excellent book, looking back over 60 years.
Lewis Carroll: a biography by Morton Cohen - long and detailed.
The Sidmouth Letters by Jane Gardam - good (better than I expected).
Remainder by Tom McCarthy - mixed feelings about this one, thought provoking.
Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - a very enjoyable read, better than the TV series for me.
The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning (the first in her Balkan trilogy) - set in Bucharest during the 'phoney war' period of the Second World War.

Posts to follow on these books that I've also finished:

Surveillance by Jonathan Raban - an interesting look at modern life.
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson - a thought provoking book.

Currently I'm reading:

My Cleaner by Maggie Gee. I've nearly finished this about Vanessa, English, middle class and Mary, Ugandan who used to be Vanessa's cleaner.

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West. I've read the first chapters of this story of an aging British aristocrat. This is the book chosen by Karen for her new book group.

Winter In Madrid by C J Sansom. I've just started reading this. I chose it because I read with great enjoyment his three earlier books, Dissolution, Dark Fire and Sovereign, historical mysteries featuring Matthew Shardlake, a lwyer-cum-detective. I hadn't realised this book was set in the 1940s when I decided to read it - yet another book from that period.