Books and that.

More specifically, ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood. This isn’t a book review though, I’ve just finished reading it. IT WAS IMMENSE. I still find it fascinating how much a book can do to you. It’s such a small(ish) thing – you can hold the entire story, the whole world that’s been created in your hands, yet it does so much. This one made me cry, and, like in so many stories where there’s one main narrator, it feels like you’ve lost a best friend when it comes to its conclusion. Someone – usually fictional – has been sharing secrets with you for quite a few turns of the page, and, even though it’s usually fictional, I find it awfully hard to just give that up as soon as the book is complete. In the case of ‘The Blind Assassin’, I do rather want the book to just keep going and going and going, because how can a whole world collapse just because the amount of pages says it does?

My next literary ascent is into the world of Mr James Joyce. We’re starting off small, just ‘Dubliners’ so far, in an attempt to get accustomed to his style. ‘Ulysses’ is to be thrown into the mix after ploughing through ‘The Odyssey’. I’m not going to attempt ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ though, I’m not that stupid.

I have yet to feel a sense of achievement instead of a sense of remorse at the finishing of a book. What does everyone else feel?

Kindle Continues..

I could have written “Kindle Kontinues”, but then I’m not some sloppy second-rate tabloid that makes up unbelievably bad puns. Exception with The Sun’s “SuperCaleygoballisticCelticareatrocious”. Football headlines don’t come better than that.

Anyway. It’s story time again children, and this time it comes in the form of ‘Voir Un Ami Pleurer’. This little French saga involves a young couple and is set over six years or so (it’s a pretty vague time slot but the political actions going on at the time are vital), starting in 1939 I think, and I originally wanted it to be separated into four miniature stories, but I thought that would be terribly bad form to make someone pay a dollar for 200 words. Personally I prefer this to ‘Aunt Evelyn’, but death, separation, tragedy and lost youth is still involved, so get your bereavement hats on! The title’s taken from the Jaques Brel song ‘To See A Friend In Tears’ (he’s French, if this fact helps with the language), so head over to the Kindle store and buy it. Does honesty help this process?

KINDLE KINDLE! A new literary venture.

For me that is, I have been directed this week to look into throwing things out onto Kindle as it cuts out the “middle man” and you can, by the looks of things, publish whatever you want.. I might be wrong on that one as I’m new to this and there’s much to explore, but I have tried my hand at it and signed up. I have flung my first short story out into the world, and, as Kindle won’t let you price anything lower than $0.99, it can be yours for a mere $1.14. For some reason it comes up as this much on the Kindle Store. Obviously it would be whatever the current conversion would be in pence. It would appear I managed to sign up to

This short story centres around two main characters, one pretty young, one pretty old, the former looking after the latter and the latter the resident of a nursing home. I think it’s quite bleak, like most of my creative stuff, so if that’s your thing (and you have a Kindle) then head over to here..

And search ‘Aunt Evelyn’. It comes up with my name and everything! It’s all rather exciting. Will be putting more up there in future times, happy reading!

‘Sherlock – The Great Game’.

The other day, I found myself analysing the person in front of me in a Sherlock Holmes style. Sherlock, that is, in 2010. “Hm.. Sporting a blue plaster? Works in the catering industry. Chavy clothing though. Works in a chain pub. He’s carrying.. Knives?! Well he’s illegal but he clearly cares about his profession. Taking knives home to sharpen them..?” As I passed this chap on the street, I realised he was foreign – which was clearly my one great mistake. He was probably a brilliant chef but no one here would give him a chance.

Huge, probably wildly inaccurate, assumptions.

But yes, the point is ‘Sherlock’ is addictive and makes you want to be a consulting detective. Really. He makes detecting cool. And it must be so much fun acting the analysing scenes – the greatest moments of his career centres around making everyone else look incredibly thick because Sherlock can work out the hugest facts on the tiniest details. I WANT TO DO THIS.

‘Great Games’ reminded me of the 1939 Sherlock Holmes (with Basil Rathbone), ‘The Adventures Of-‘, which is a fantastic watch really. The main idea was that there were many small puzzles for Holmes to solve, whilst one huge one that he didn’t think was that important was going on in the background. Rookie mistake Holmes. This episode was also the first proper introduction of Moriarty, and it didn’t disappoint.

It starts with Holmes being bored in Baker Street, without a case to solve. He is disappointed with the criminals of London. After a gas-explosion, Mycroft visits and tries to persuade his brother to investigate the death of a MI5 employee, Andrew West, who was in possession of some highly important information. Holmes says no.

But then Sherlock is called to Scotland Yard, where he is given a package containing a pink mobile phone, similar to the one in ‘A Study In Pink’. A message on the phone is a recording of the Greenwich Pips – presumably an updated version of ‘The Five Orange Pips’ – and soon Sherlock starts receiving calls from unsuspecting members of the public who have had explosives strapped to them. These people give Holmes a number of hours in which to solve a puzzle, and if he doesn’t solve them, the explosives on the victim are detonated.

Case One involves Carl Powers, a boy who was drowned in a swimming pool in 1989. Being interested in the case at the time, but underage, Holmes was unable to do anything about it, but now a picture of 221C Baker Street (the basement flat of his building) is sent to his new pink mobile, and the trainers of Carl Powers sit there. Through analysing the trainers, Holmes solves the first case by detecting that Powers was poisoned through his eczema medicine – Case One is solved, and Victim One is saved.

Case Two – another photo message is sent to the pink mobile, this time of a car. When the car is found, a quantity of blood is discovered in it, and the assumption is made that the owner of the car, Ian Monkford, has died. But that is what we are supposed to believe – after Holmes finds a card for a rental service in the glove compartment, and talking to his ‘widow’, and analysing the clues, Sherlock discovers that Mr Monkford used the rental service to help him disappear, and set up a new life in Columbia. Job done.

Case Three involves a TV personality and make-over host, Connie Prince, who has died from a tetanus. Although it suspected she cut herself on a nail, Holmes blows this theory out of the proverbial water by pointing out the wound was made after death, and that it was Connie Prince’s housekeeper Raoul (how cliché…) who had poisoned her Botox injections to murder her. Holmes solves the case in time, but as Victim Three starts describing the perpetrator during her call to Holmes, the building she is in is blown up, and twelve people die. That Moriarty bastard.

Case Four – Alex Woodbridge. This was a particularly good one, and a photo of the Thames is sent to Holmes, via the pink phone. Checking the high and low tides, Holmes finds a body that has been lying under the water, and after a quick glance at the victim, he can tell Lestrade and Watson where he works and why he has been killed – a supposedly lost painting, worth £3 million, has been discovered and is to be unveiled at the museum that the dead man works at. Clearly the dead man knew, and so he had to die. OUTSTANDING analysis from Holmes here, who has about ten seconds to solve the case – or a child dies. He realises that a star, discovered in 1858, is painting into the picture. If this picture is supposed to be genuine, it cannot have been painted in the 1640s. Child survives. 1-Up Holmes.

Case Five – we are back to the underlying story of Andrew West, the murdered MI5 employee. After breaking into his brother-in-law’s flat and confronting him, said brother-in-law confesses and tells them about owing money to drug dealers, and how the important information that Andrew West was possessing could help him out of his debts. The death of West was an accident, and the information is reclaimed.

The episode ends in a stand-off between Moriarty and Holmes, at the swimming pool that Carl Powers died in (how sick). As his victim this time, Moriarty has Watson. Ouch. A discussion between whose mind is better ensues, and the scene ends with lasers from snipers on both Holmes and Watson, and Holmes trying to decide what to aim at with his gun – Moriarty or Watson’s explosive vest?

WHEN WILL THE NEXT SERIES BE?! Hurry up yes? Good.

You said it Holmes.

The Tuesday Muse – The Classroom.

(It’s only Wednesday and computer access has been sparse so I’m still Tuesday-Musing! Anyway..)

When delving into a book entitled ‘Introductions To Shakespeare’ (a collection written by lots of well-known people, nearly all (if  not all) who have acted in a play or two by said playwright), I came across this marvellous piece by Ralph Richardson written in 1957 and talking about ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ :

“My own first meeting with ‘The Dream’ was when I studied it with my schoolmaster in the manner prescribed for the examination. Everything about the play was anatomised – the internal and external evidence, the strong and weak endings, the sources of the plot – a dry-as-bones examination with never one word to let in the idea that the work had been written first and foremost as a work of entertainment, of delight and laughter. All that was a strict taboo, something quite unheard of, but as far as I was concerned, this attempted desecration was completely unsuccessful.”

Now despite talking about Shakespeare and all that, what he has said does rather relate to everything else I’ve ever been taught. What is the point in learning something if you don’t know how to use it? Or if you’re never taught the practical uses? Would people not be more inclined to learn things if they knew how they related to their own lives? Added to that, it would be so much more interactive and engaging. I would prefer to be taught a great lot of stuff, then see what I know after, not be made to learn a huge amount of things that I don’t care about by the ‘syllabus’ says we need it for the exam (which will be out of date pretty soon anyway). What’s the point in exams if nothing is really learnt in the process? Things are learnt for examination, not for life – which is a huge shame – and what is the point in learning things if they are not going to be for life?

Going back to the original quote, Shakespeare is a playwright. His work is intended to be performed and observed, not studied with a fine comb in a classroom. Why not run English and Drama together?

“Divorced from regular physical performances his plays would die – or at best be translated into something quite different from their basic nature.” (John Clements, 1971)

The Great Film Debate Mk 3 – Historical Inaccuracies

This is always a controversial point, and a huge thing of contempt for myself, so let us delve into some of the most blatantly inaccurate films ever made…

First off –

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas (2008)

It’s a goldmine! An enjoyable film, yes, and very readable book, but to get properly ‘in’ to it, it would have been a lot more believable has it followed what really happened. According to at least one of my contemporaries, the idea behind the film was to show the innocence of the youth of the nation, and how ridiculous this made Nazi Germany and the policies of the Third Reich. But surely you can do that in other ways than re-writing history and offending a lot of people along the way? The main character, Bruno (pictured), although being 8, would have known what a Jew was. And Shmuel, the friend he makes in Auschwitz, would, I am very much afraid to say, have been culled on first arrival. He was 8! Nearly all children and those under 15 years of age went straight to be exterminated. Fact of life. (Also, in the film, the actor playing Shmuel did not look like he belonged in a concentration camp, and was a weak actor – bad casting maybe?) Aside from these first two foibles, the film also made a huge mistake in that Bruno would not have been so close to such a place. If, indeed, the camp was Auschwitz (it is never really stated, just assumed), security would have been higher, no? The language John Boyne (author of the book) uses is infuriating sometimes – surely the ‘nicknames’ of ‘Out-With’ (instead, one presumes, of Auschwitz), and ‘the Fury’ (The Führer) only work if the characters are speaking English. But they wouldn’t have been, as they would have been speaking German! That, surely, is one of the most obvious downfalls.  I found the most believable parts of this film was when it was suggested that Bruno’s mother has an affair with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, and the arguments the situation causes. Not the politics, never the history. I do not see the point in using such a huge event in history and then changing it to tell the story. I believe the Holocaust does not need to be changed to emphasise the horror and atrocities and contradictions behind it. Enough.

Gladiator (2000)

This film I enjoy greatly, but I am led to believe it might have something to do with the fact that I know less about the Roman Empire, and therefore am just happy to enjoy the story. However, twisted history does not do well for good teaching. A great deal of history is, confusingly to me, based on opinion, but there are still facts there. Yes really.

So! What’s wrong with Gladiator? Well, mainly, most of it’s quite wrong. But again, an enjoyable watch. Mild amounts more of respect than that for Striped PJs, although obviously you can’t even really begin to compare except on a very rudimentary and crude level. Historical advisors were even hired for this film, one taking a step back from the project, and one withdrawing his name from the credits altogether, after such huge changes were made. In short, and very briefly:

– Marcus Aurelius died of plague, and was not murdered by Commodus.

– Commodus had his sister, Lucilla, murdered.

– Commodus is reportedly killed in the bath (strangled), by a wrestler. Not Maximus, and not at the Colosseum.

– A Roman usurper called Maximus did exist, but 230 years post-Commodus.

And this is just a selection of the huge inaccuracies that basically means Mr R Scott completely wasted his time trying to make the film accurate. Others include idiosyncracies of the characters (Commodus’ thumb up/thumb down routine is myth), costuming, which is never accurate, and the fact that Rome is founded as a monarchy. Possible my personal favourite… However, it still makes for a good story (or so I think). Perhaps because I first saw it so long ago means the historical inaccuracies do not mean a huge amount to me.

Amadeus (1984)

Another example of exacerbating a story to make apparently more engaging and watchable material. Some directors seem to be terrified that history alone will not make for a good story. The two major flaws with this very enjoyable film is that a/ Mozart was most definitely not American (it still baffles me he is allowed, or even as an actor, uses, his regular accent) and b/ there may have been mild rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, but there is no evidence to state that the latter was the catalyst of the demise of the former. They were even on good enough terms to write pieces together. At one point in the film, Mozart is commissioned to write an opera by the king, and it is stated it should be written in Italian. But Amadeus protests and insists on German – and if his language is German, why are the characters not speaking German? Or Italian? Indeed it is an American made film, but there is no reason, other than the ‘common tongue’ currently appears to be English, for it not to be in the language they would have been speaking. This also goes for Striped PJs and Gladiator, incidentally. Actually any film that is set in a county that doesn’t speak the language they are using in the film. Although there are some blindingly obvious ones in this, it is a very enjoyable watch. Especially once you get past Mozart’s accent and laugh. Perhaps the director wished to make it as melodramatic as one of Mozart’s operas.

Pocahontas (1995)

This one is my personal favourite as the Disney version plays on the separation of Pocahontas and John Smith as the saddest part. It would seem that Pocahontas was actually about ten when John Smith (who, I assume, would not have been a 6 foot buff blue-wearing ponce with blonde flowing locks) rocked over on the boat, settled, and then needed to be saved by her. As history goes, there is only his story to support what happened, and not a huge amount suggested they were ever in love or to get married. Said native American does, however, marry John Rolfe, travels to England with him (in a bid to show two communities can get on), and then dies just before the return to England. It would appear her immune system was not hardened enough against the many, many diseases that our shores had to offer her. She was around 21/22, although seemed to have some form of influence so it was not a total loss I suppose. But really Disney, what were you thinking? I am mortified to learn that Christian Bale lent his name to the Disney version. What were YOU thinking, Bale?

The questions being:

– Is it morally correct to be historically inaccurate when telling a historical tale?

– Which is more important, the tale and the meaning, or the accuracy?

– Is it ok to bend the truth for a better story, even if it shows lack of respect for some things, maybe even the dead?

– Do you not then just fall under the category of The Sun Trash?

Why use actual events but fictional stories? It makes no sense to me. I am adamant that stories do not need to be twisted to emphasise a point. Life can be as devastating or as exciting as it is, like it is. Artistic license not needed!

The Great Film Debate, Mk 2.

Adapting Words To Film

Is it ever a good idea to change the medium of a story to retell said story? How much of the tale gets lost and is there an optimum format to digest the initial tale through?

Now our first example, for want of a better adaption in the last 100 years since celluloid has been around, I give ‘The Lord Of The Rings’.

(Totally not just an excuse to insert marvellous pictures of some of the most awesome characters ever)

This, I feel, was a successful slide from book to film: I read the book(s) years ago, after ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’ appeared, and I’m not going to lie – I did not enjoy them. At all. Tolkien takes so long to say anything he might as well have been one of the Ents he was writing about. And boring! So very dull and boring. Who thinks they can get away with writing a 60 page chapter about some people sitting around talking? Fair enough, it was deciding the Ring’s fate (Council of Elrond, another hideously dull character), but he could have made things just a little more exciting.

There was such little motivation to find out what happened that it took me ages to finish the books, and I was rather unimpressed by this hefty slice of Tolkien’s work. It is a good thing, then, that the film is actually amazing. Top Ten easily, an absolute feat of film-making, direction, costuming, acting, stunt-creating… Really it baffles me how the operation took place. But I am exceptionally glad it did, or else I wouldn’t know about this marvellous world that Tolkien had created. So the world I love, but his initial medium and story telling abilities have a lot to be desired (in my opinion – bear in mind I really don’t like Shakespeare). But the films are incredible and in this case, I feel, that method of story telling was more appropriate as Tolkien’s work needed bringing to life. Which is easier – so much easier – with visuals, when you are missing the words.

For our second example, we are featuring ‘American Psycho’, another film I can watch again and again and again. And again. Lots really, I find it hilarious most of the time. More so than the book actually. Now I think this is a case where  both mediums are well-chosen – the book is brilliantly written, and it’s one of those rare ones that I’ve actually really enjoyed (much like ‘The Road’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’), but similarly I don’t think the film does the book any injustices. I saw the film first – which obviously has the potential to sway my ideas – but the book gives you everything, it leaves nothing out and you don’t have to use your imagination for it. It’s all there for you to read, and so readable it is too! The film, however, is more one of those “films for intelligent souls” (other than something like ‘Love Actually’ or ‘Bring It On’. I cannot believe I just mentioned the latter…), in that it hints at various things, and the more times you watch it, the better it gets. Had I read the book first then seen the film, I would have felt a little cheated, and to the film’s disparagement, it is irritating and pointless when screen writers change names and situations for, what feels like, the sake of it. I think the film relies (or rather utilises extensively) a lot on its medium – it uses the visuals for all they are worth but this is good. I’m not sure if I could cope with a 180 minute epic about a serial killer who may or may not actually BE a serial killer.

(This picture comes from one of my favourite scenes in the film, where Christian Bale is about to take an axe to Jared Leto’s face but insists on discussing the merits and demerits of Huey Lewis And The News before hand. It’s genius!)

Our next example features (dare I say it) HARRY POTTER. Mainly because these really were written for children (or adults with no sense of decent literature), and it is a prime example that if the story is terrible to begin with, the film direction awful with cringe-worthy acting and a sickening script, the book so badly written it literally is like “wading through treacle” (thank you Mr Fry), then there is nothing you can do and you end up with a massive franchise that was based on TALENTLESS DRIVEL. Oh wait, that’s what happens nowadays anyway. One does really feel like it is a poor man’s Lord Of The Rings, and what’s the point in making a film that big if you’re not going to do a proper job? Also, to be fair to every film director that’s lent their name to the HP world, it’s not like you’re starting off with an epic book that is actually well-respected in the world of words so it’s not like they have the easiest job. But as we have proven above, there is an awful lot to be gained out of film adaptations, and you can attract a great many people who are just not interested in books: but they completely failed to do this and the films are on the same very low-level as the books. On the plus side, at least they kept a decent trend going. If it was not so clear that JK Rowling had pilfered everything from every fantasy novel ever written before hand, she may have got on better… Obviously everyone learns from what has come before them but you don’t need to be so blindly crude about it.

In essence, a lot depends on how good the author is at story telling, as I feel unless the film has a terrible script and many other things besides, then it is so much easier to sit absently mindedly in front of a screen for a few hours. So the author needs to grab your attention as it is so very easy to throw a book down in frustration (has been done frequently). I also feel the art of reading is being lost, or at least has been on the decline, so it is difficult to appeal to the average person – going to the cinema makes for a pleasant evening out, reading seems to be more something to do if there is not much else to do. It is a time filler more than the premiere of a new film is. I am of the opinion that film makers have it easier than authors, but they could still miss out so much detail from the book. They have the power to make a story much more exciting though, and that is an encouraging thought.

To Watch:

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (1962)

‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ (I sincerely hope the film is an improvement: how can it not be with James Mason!)

To Read then Watch:

‘Moby Dick’

All Thomas Hardy novels I’ve missed out (the only decent ‘classic’ around, clearly)

‘Brighton Rock’

‘The Road’ – Cormac McCarthy. (CONTAINS SPOILERS)

Well. This book’s quite moving isn’t it. Eye-opening. Enthralling. Amazing? Amazing.

I quite liked it yes. YOU NEED TO READ IT. EVERYONE needs to read it.

I am rather interested to see the film now – even more so than I was, except most cinemas don’t seem to be showing it much or at all currently.. Alas!

So. Cormac. I finished this last night curled up in a comfortable bed with Lapsang Souchong, listening to Classic FM. These are all things I am now that much more grateful for. Be warned, recovery time is definitely needed, post-reading.

Despite being easy to read (in that you don’t have to read a sentence twice to understand it – a rarity at the moment I find), McCarthy sucks you into the world of ‘The Road’ – I believe “suck” is an appropriate word here, as it’s not really an enjoyable world and you wouldn’t want to live here anyway. The frailty of life is so disturbing you HAVE to know what happens – you have to find out whether they get through this. I think Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn for those uncultured types) said of his character “the man”, that he is essentially learning from the child throughout the whole journey. This is indeed true to a certain extent, as the boy has qualities that the man lost a long time ago – innocence, faith, types of wisdom the man cannot cling onto – but then both characters need each other far more than you first realise. This is quite representative of the need for community in human life, as the boy needs the man to find him food, but the man needs the boy to continue human life. Is the man driven by his love for the boy and his survival, or by his own survival instinct? The two are surely almost the same, as even if the man is going to die, life can still continue after he is gone.

300 pages Cormac? How the hell did you do it? It’s all the same! Yet all so good. So how did you do it? The plot just revolves around two males fight for survival in a post-apocalyptic world. I certainly could not have made this last so long.

I was slightly fascinated by the sick images McCarthy conjured up, like the humans being held captive and being harvested for food, and, worst of all, the idea of a new-born child being wheeled around on a spit. How is that survival instinct?! To kill something newborn? To kill life? Moronic characters.

I suppose it was also slightly moronic of me to not see death coming (I was racking my brains as to how it was going to end), as they had survived for so long, so why stop now? But the death was so mortifying! So utterly tragic and so sad. He has led the boy through so much and kept him alive for so long that it just seemed so cruel this would happen. But was this some sort of moral tale? That the boy had faith in human life so he survived and was saved by “the good ones”, was able to continue to “carry the fire”, and live? And the man was not allowed to do this because he saw no hope in humanity apart from in his own son? The boy showed his naiveté, but brought a ‘freshness’ to the view on human life – he seemed to know there was some good left in the world and that it was worth fighting for. I was almost as terrified as he must have been when they were at the beach and the boy was ill. Now that would have been a depressing end to things wouldn’t it.

So much of the time you don’t even have the emotional capacity to consider what they have lost, as you are so caught up on what they still have to lose. This does make you think about our lives now, and appreciate that we do have community, we don’t eat each other, we are able to experience still the first snowdrops in spring, or a good pint on a warm summer’s evening, the cosiness of the bed after you’ve tumble dried the bedsheets and the warming glow of the open fire. In your living room. And if you don’t have time to consider what they already had lost (a wife, friends etc), then you don’t really have time to relate it to your life, so you don’t get to consider what it would be like losing your life partner or best friends, and yet someone you still attach yourself emotionally too them and begin to understand their situation. HOW does the author do this?! I say only “begin to understand”, as I don’t think anyone could really comprehend such a situation unless they’d lived through it, which is currently unlikely.

I found the end of the book somewhat more abrupt than I thought it would have been – I needed more words McCarthy! Although it was a very good ending, and it was an actual ENDING. Unlike in books like ‘Disgrace’ (Coetzee) and ‘The Bell Jar’ (Plath-o-rama). I adore good endings. Despite them sometimes, especially in this case, being ones that actually make you cry. There was a glimmer of hope though, as the boy is found and he survives, and there is a girl his age. Is this what they had been fighting for? The boy grew up very suddenly too, although this was no bad thing. As soon as the man died, the boy was almost the new man – he went from being helpless to carrying the fire in a matter of pages.

I found it odd how the weather had continued yet life had died, although I imagine this just shows how nature will always be there – it was very much a nature over humans book. There were also times when I couldn’t put the book down because the characters hadn’t eaten for days and I needed to know they found food. I couldn’t relax otherwise. It was also ironic that a weapon used to take life (the gun) was their saviour on so many occasions, and their hope for life also. Very odd. But well crafted.

Just one small criticism Cormac. You cannot punctuate to save your bloody life. And I swear you make up half those words. Is “crozzled” really a word? There was a fair amount of American-English in there, something which I don’t normally care for, and how, really, is it possibly for such an author to miss out apostrophes?! Has no one proofread this? Do you not need a system Cormac? Is it not called Language? Did no one tell you each new sentence NEEDS A CAPITAL? I also do not care for mangled English, yet somehow the vast quantity of it in this book didn’t actually detracted from my enjoyment of it. Another plus for McCarthy, his words and story telling over take everything else.

If ever you are feeling bad thoughts about the world, you must read this book. It is a necessity.

‘Murder on the Mallaig Express’ – David Shepherd

I have come to the end of this rather interesting book. But I am still not quite sure what to make of it. On delving into some research on the author, it turns out he is in the clergy – odd start already as I’m not entirely sure members of the church should be writing about such subject material (“shock!”) – and that Shepherd’s main detective actually takes after Poirit and Marple, and that his books should make good (or “ideal”) holiday writing. So, essentially what he is saying (or worse still, what his publisher is saying) is that he is a poor man’s Agatha Christie. Not a brilliant set-up. Why have super-market brand when you can have Hellmans? For example. And why follow suit when you can strike out on your own and go for something a little more original?

That in mind, I present you with the first novel I have read by Mr Shepherd. It is a gentle read, and you get the feeling he isn’t exactly a professional writer – if that makes any sense. There were numerous places where I would have phrased parts differently, or changed words around, and that bothered me somewhat: I should not be writing an already published book for the author. Similarly, some parts of the lay-out were just infuriating. So inconsistent! If this was not your day job you would you not get someone to check it before hand? Even if you are going to lay things out the wrong way, why could you not make it all the same? Surely that is better than mixing it up. Choose a path and stick to it Shepherd!

There was, as previously mentioned, some shameful stealing from Ms Christie. It can’t be allowed to pilfer from such an esteemed author! The trick of “We found fingerprints…” – “But you couldn’t have because-!” – “Because you used gloves?”, stolen directly from Poirot’s ‘Death In The Clouds’, and the murder victim being thrown from the moving train was somewhat reminicent of the ‘4:50 From Paddington’ were so blindingly obvious. This is not cool Dave. Most glaring of all – name another famous fiction train murder! Not only was the title one word different from Agatha’s most famous novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, all the suspects in said novel wanted the victim dead – just like in ‘Mallaig’. How does one think they can get away with this…

Another massively obvious point was the lack of research Shepherd had done into this book. He talks of “cocaine parties” – but who would be stupid enough to host a party where everyone attending was either in possession or taking – or both- a Class A drug? People don’t have cocaine parties, they do cocaine AT parties. Jesus. Along the same lines (ha ha), I have never heard said drug referred to as “stuff” so many times. Some street words are frequently used, but never “stuff”. If you wanted to create an impact by saving the actual word “cocaine” until the end of the paragraph, fair enough, but use words more convincing than “stuff” in its place. Similarly, every single character seemed to be an alcoholic-which, again, is a little unrealistic. With such a large amounts of sex and drugs involved when it was not altogether necesary, one had the feeling the author was trying to act cool, and failing. I think it would be possible to have a murder without such scandals occuring and the ‘rock and roll’ lifestyle he gave his characters made them, at times, a little unbelievable. His descriptions of female clothing was also much to be desired – a small point but why tackle something you know nothing about? Which he clearly did not, as some of the combinations he suggests his female characters put together where laughable and not entirely contextualised.

Having said that, the story did start off very well and rather readable. I actually took it from my parents home to finish it. But once the murder had occured, and the suspects calculted, all the rest of the book consisted of was countless interviews with the suspects and no active detection work whatsoever. Small amounts of round-ups here and there to keep the reader on-board and alert to what is happening, but I wanted the Inspector to inspect! It was so utterly boring just reading account after account of the murder. Another body wouldn’t have gone amiss. It felt it wasn’t exactly a realistic method of solving the crime, and as there was basically only one setting for the rest of the book, character development was somewhat limited. His male characters were fairly solid and enjoyable ones, but his female characters were a little boring and somewhat stereotyped. Having said that, I know from experience it is hellishly difficult to write a decent female character, who is not cliched and does have a personality.

All in all, it was a fairly enjoyable read, although you are aware you’re reading trash. The latter part here means it results in a somewhat unpenetrating and unimpressionable book, but if it is aimed at holiday reading, it seems to have achieved its purpose in life. I found the story a little confusing as there were so many characters and so many words. A lot of dialogue seems to result in a lot of confusion… There was a pretty good and unexpected twist right at the very last chapter, but the whole thing was so Poirot it was hard to take it seriously. A good attempt at a murder mystery, given the difficulty and skill involved in writing a decent one, but there are other options than copying the greats. That is no way to become a great yourself!

Gatsby : Conclusion. Part Two.

It is finished. Finally. It… Sort of became better. In that there are now two layers to the characters! Fitzy seems to be very good at creating two-dimensional people. And it seems the entire plot focusses around the fact that Gatsby is in love with some bird who fucks off at the end. Big deal. All I got from it was that the entirity of Gatsby’s life was centred around Daisy – his reason for being alive was her. Which was insane as she had her own home, family and life. Ok it wasn’t necessarily a happy one, but Gatsby’s complete disregard for anything that was hers was just unbelivable. His overriding confidence she would down-tools and swan over to his life was cliche and arrogant. Just because he has money doesn’t mean happiness. How can a story centre around such an unstable major character? Christ alive Scott. Or is that what you were trying to say? The whole glitzy exterior of the 1920s hid this incredibly sad inside? I find that very hard to believe that was your only meaning.

I did like the sick irony that it was Daisy who killed her husband’s lover though. That was good. Although it was quite 19th century, quite convenient. Like the house Jane Eyre stumbles across just happens to contain her cousins. And just the right people seem to die at the end of ‘Return of the Native’. All a bit suspect, but it was the most exciting part.

But the insanely irritating narrator seemed to be so terrible at chronologically retelling things I had to re-read things at least twice just to know where I was. If anything, he became less interesting. Maybe it was the style to be deliberately vague, but it really hacked me off. Good work Fitzgerald. Good bloody work.

This novel left very little impression on me, aside from mild annoyance that others can see meaning in it and I just can’t. 1920s fail.