Ordeal by Innocence — Agatha Christie
Apparently one of Christie’s two favourites among her own books (along with Crooked House), and I can understand why. The two books share dark atmospheres, with the multi-generational inhabitants of houses deeply mistrusting each other. Some of Christie’s books feel like games; this one feels serious. The protagonist is a man who was unwittingly the alibi of a murder suspect who was convicted two years earlier and has subsequently died in jail. When he realises this, he goes to the dead man’s family to tell them the good news that he was not, after all, the murderer — only to find that they are not delighted. He had failed to realise that his news meant that one of the other family members had done it, and that they were therefore still living with a murderer. Good stuff; but not a good jumping-on point for new readers, as it’s rather atypical. Continue reading
Popcorn — Ben Elton
More Elton, this one the story of a film director, clearly based on Quentin Tarantino, who makes very violent but very stylish films; and about two copycat killers who break into his Hollywood mansion and hold him hostage.
Again, fast-moving and compelling. Ironically, though, it falls into exactly the trap that it’s accusing Tarantino of falling into: making the mindless violence seem exciting and sexy. I would like to think that Elton did this deliberately, as a sort of meta-comment, but I’m not sure he’s that clever. Continue reading
Breakfast at Tiffany’s — Truman Capote
I went back to read this source text after having been fascinated by the film. The novella is perfectly written: terse, just as descriptive as it needs to be, and economically outlining a Holly Golightly who is more to be pitied than envied or held in contempt. In both book and film she is an enigmatic figure, always holding contradictions in tension, and Capote was completely mad to think that Marilyn Monroe should have been cast for the role. Having read the book, I now see Audrey Hepburn as even more perfect for it than I already did — she has a combination of elegance, haughtiness, playfulness, shamelessness and insecurity that no-one else could have nailed so precisely.
Well worth reading the book first, then seeing the film. Continue reading
In Defence of Fascism (Bob the Angry Flower) — Stephen Notley
I went back to the very first collection of Bob the Angry Flower comics, which is wildly uneven but contains some superb strips.
It takes a little while for Bob to find his voice, but by the eighth strip (BtAF Joins the Circus) it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and some of the later stripes are genuinely thought-provoking and funny — for example, The Puppet Master. A fine beginning, pointing to yet better collections to come … Continue reading
Arkham Asylum — Grant Morrison and Dave McKean
I was so disappointed by this. I can’t remember whose recommendation I ordered it on, but when it arrived and I flicked through it, I immediately thought it had the most artistic art of any comic I’d seen: every page looks like the fruit of a long creative process and has a distinctive character
But the actual story is terribly limp and clichéd. It honestly reads like nothing more than an homage to Alan Moore, hitting all the classic points but without ever quite understanding why. It amounts to two stories told in parallel: one set in the past, about the founder of Arkham Asylum, and the other in the present, featuring Batman punching some lunatics. There’s a twist, but it’s the kind that leaves you saying “Oh, OK”.
Looks amazing, not really worth reading. Continue reading
Mrs. McGinty’s Dead — Agatha Christie
More Poirot, and more of Christie’s Mary-Sue character Ariadne Oliver. This one is rather good, with a gradual homing in on the solution rather than the usual sudden reveal.
Oliver is good for some comic relief, too. One of the better Christies, but perhaps not one for new readers to jump on with since you’ll need to be already familiar with Poirot to properly enjoy his discomfort in the dismal guest-house.
The Timewaster Letters — Robin Cooper
The original to which Return of … was the sequel. Robin Cooper writes childishly earnest letters to a variety of organisation proposing ill-considered ideas, offering terrible poems, and making trivial complaints. The book includes his letters and the replies from his targets — sometimes deadpan, sometimes completely taken in, occasionally contemptuous. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious, especially as some repeating themes start to warm up (the ill-conceived mascot character of Parmaynu the table-tennis bat, for example), and Cooper’s idiosyncratic diction starts to feel familiar.