Books

  • Trouble in Triplicate (“Before I Die”, “Help Wanted, Male”, and “Instead of Evidence”) – Rex Stout: More Nero Wolfe (but mostly, more Archie Goodwin). Very enjoyable, although they don’t stand out particularly in my memory.
    • I continue to be charmed and amused by the women in these stories, particularly seen against current discussions on representation in shows and stories written now but set then. While not unproblematic, there are a LOT of them, and very different, even if Archie is judgemental. I spend a lot of these books going, “Oh, ARchie!”
    • I love too how Archie’s point of view, even though he is the first person narrator, is not uncritiqued by the author.
  • Middlemarch – George Eliot: I read this to do an illustration of it for Litographs! Some of my thoughts on it are in that post (Middlemarch illustration). It’s a study in the gentle weight and power of cumulative, well-written volume. I really, really liked it, and am not sure I can fully distill my thoughts yet. Three aspects I’ve been referring to frequently, of late, are:
    • the *smallness* of society in the book;
    • the way it captures how consequences in life frequently seem inevitable and acceptable when you experience them even though a bland description of them would be melodramatic; and
    • how Eliot doesn’t pretend not to be writing a historical novel, and alludes at times to events “then” or “in those days”, etc.
  • My Antonia – Willa Cather: After Middlemarch, this was beautifully slim (pages) and crisp (the sentences). Not a criticism, just a contrast! A fascinating view of a predominantly immigrant culture, of a world moving between raw survival and ‘civilisation’.
    • Really interesting to read only a few months after Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, because it is set perhaps 50 years later and the lifestyle, landscape and some events resonate (I also just realised Burial Rites takes place the same year as Middlemarch, speaking of small societies and consequences).
    • And speaking of small societies… oh, the agoraphobic smallness of prairie towns!
    • It is also roughly contemporaneous with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood (and Seven Little Australians, although written earlier than the first and later than the second), and it is fascinating to think of these frontier childhoods happening at a time when Alcott and Coolidge’s comparatively urbane stories would have been out for several years.
    • Basically, it was a book I liked far more than I expected to: adventurous, charming, intriguing, awful, vital, gentle, uncompromising, and with plenty of story.
  • A Certain Justice – P. D. James: I… neither loved nor hated this? Possible I have been spoiled by the Sarah Caudwell novels. I could appreciate the masterly writing and observation, but I didn’t want to get into the world, so it wasn’t quite my brand of murder mystery.
  • Pegasus – Robin McKinley: Not my favourite McKinley, either – too much beginning. I had a similar issue with A Darker Shade of Magic, so your mileage may vary. It was interesting to compare McKinley’s deliberate, patient, pearl-like building of the world with the all-show-no-tell-no-time-to-explain-get-in-the-war-rig approach of Mad Max: Fury Road (shut up they are both stories which in their own ways are entirely of and about the world created).
  • Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein: Goodness, everything suffered from comparisons in April, at least at first. In case it isn’t clear, this is a recommendation.
    •  Black Dove, White Raven was not as violently, sense-assaultingly stunning as Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire. It skews younger and is paced slower, and I was expecting to be picked up and dumped by it like the other books. But once I realised what a different book it was, I did really enjoy it.
    • I fell in love with Ethiopia, and never realised how little I knew about it, or about the late years of the ’30s. And the fact it is a war novel tied to the currents which would become the Second World War, but before that war happens makes the politics fascinating and the tensions unpredictable. Mostly, though, I just want to know a lot more about Ethiopia!
    • Also of note: Wein does not write her characters as being particularly extraordinary (although they are!). Momma’s unconventional life and marriage is never presented as such, Teo and Em use other people’s expectations but never fight against their own perceptions. These aren’t “girl power!” books, they are just books about girls (and now Teo) who happen to be doing things. In planes. In war.

Movies

  • Dior & I – Charming, fascinating, human, unglamorous documentary of people management and fashion. I could watch people working competently indefinitely. There is something very beautiful about people who look normal, and think of themselves as normal, but who are doing fascinating things well as a matter of course (see Black Dove, White Raven above) and due to the little choices they have made, working in the milieu in which they find or put themselves (see Middlemarch).
  • Fast & Furious 7 – I was looking forward to this as much as Cinderella (last month) and for very similar reasons. These are such winsome films, and the found/made family so endearing. Also: cars and stunts.
  • Age of Ultron – Not hugely disappointing, but a little bit.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road – Not disappointing at all. I was sitting in the cinema grinning wildly, thinking, “stylish and classy are not words I expected to apply to this film”. Many, many people have written about the movie, and I recommend Tansy Rayner Roberts‘ thoughts as a starting point. My enduring impressions are:
    • It is a marvellous example of consistent, wildly inventive, contained, restrained story design. Lots of people have said there isn’t much story there, but there is. Most of it, however, isn’t spoken.
    • More than one of anything is powerful. Having more than one woman takes the pressure of representing (yet standing apart from) all women off a solo character, and means they can be individually awesome, weak, human, furious. But having more than one good man does the same for him. Neither Max nor Nux represent all men. They’re just… them, flaws and all. (I mentioned Rex Stout critiquing a character from within that character’s first-person viewpoint, and he largely does this by having two very different detectives).
    • This is the third (but most extreme) recent example I can think of, of people just deciding to love something loudly on the internet, and that is so much fun.
    • The thundering, crazed poetry of certain lines.
  • San Andreas – Exactly what you’d expect. Exactly what I paid to see.