Northanger Abbey — Jane Austen
I’m making my way once more through all six of Austen’s completed novels, and was interested to see how this one would hold up. Although published posthumously it was actually the first one she completed, and bears many of the marks of juvenila — including a lot of pop-culture references that are now lost on us, and were probably already outdated by the time it was published fourteen years after completion.
We live in a content-saturated world. It took me a long while to get used to the idea that books are now easy enough to source that I can start one, decide I don’t like it, and just give up. I don’t owe the book anything. The same of course goes for TV shows and films. Here are some that I have started, but given up on in the last few months.
This is the one that I sort of regret giving up on, and might return to. Continue reading
Tremendous Trifles — G. K. Chesterton
One of the better ways to approach Chesterton is through a collection like this one, consisting of 30 or 40 or so short, self-contained pieces in which he thinks about things he has seen or done. He is always a keen observer, quick to see beneath the surface of things, and able at drawing analogies between trivial occurrences and the most profound matters. And of course, he is fun.
The pieces collected as Tremendous Trifles vary rather wildly in quality, but in any one of them fails to appeal, there’s always the knowledge that the next one will be along soon. It’s the second time I’ve read this (see my notes on the first time), and won’t be the last. Continue reading
High Society — Ben Elton
Elton doing what he does best, colliding a cast of somewhat stereotypical characters (the corrupt politician, the drugged-out singing star, the teenage runaway) and working with the sparks that fly — and doing so with rather more craftsmanship than he is often credited with.
Different Doctor Who fans have responded in different ways to the shallow disappointment that is the Chibnall/Whittaker era. I have reluctantly written something about each episode, despite actively disliking plenty of them. Elizabeth Sandifer seems to have pretty much given up. Andrew Rilstone has written about the most recent season (having quite rightly skipped the previous one), but is also reviewing Tom Baker’s tenure from the start.
But maybe the most interesting response has been that of Gavin Burrows.
The Magician’s Nephew — C. S. Lewis
I don’t quite remember what the specific stimulus was for my starting to re-re-re-read Lewis’s classic Narnia books. But this must be at least the tenth time through, going back to when I was eight or nine. (These are often referred to collectively as “The Chronicles of Narnia” but that it exactly what they are not. They are stories, with no pretense to historic verisimilitude or exhaustiveness.)
Wintersmith — Terry Pratchett
Towards the end of his career — and Wintersmith is the 41st of the 47 Discworld books — it seems to me that Terry Pratchett’s heart was really in the Tiffany Aching subseries, aimed at young adults.
Wintersmith is the third of the five in this subseries, and I think one of his last really good books. Tiffany is a young witch: practical, headstrong, feet on the ground while others have their heads in the clouds. She is easy to like, and Wintersmith puts her in an interesting set of dilemmas. Well worth reading (and re-reading, as I was doing.)
Let’s start with the big-picture stuff. The Timeless Children was fun to watch, but more than that: fascinating. It’s full of interesting ideas, and they all pretty much make sense. The rewriting of Time Lord history accords well what we have come to learn of that race’s mendacious tendencies, and the Doctor’s discovery of her own pre-Hartnell history makes perfect sense.
The Master’s role is crucial, his plan truly horrible; the Irish policeman’s story from last week plays into the big reveal in a perfectly cromulent way; and the reappearance of Ruth Clayton from Fugitive of the Judoon was welcome and not overcooked. I particularly liked how everything she said was reflecting back to the Doctor things she already knew.
It feels to me that this series is gearing up to be much stronger than series 11, and this penultimate episode does a fine job of setting the stage for the finale. I like that we’re left with three separate cliffhangers.
What I like even more is the way the episode built to that point, organically and progressively, almost as though there was some narrative craftsmanship involved. I found myself drawn into the story of the Irish foundling baby, and moved by it, to the point where it almost felt like an unwelcome jolt to be pulled out of that story into what was more obvious Doctor Who: how many backstory sequences can we say that for?
I feel like the ingredients are all there in this episode, but the somehow they spend most of the episode just sitting there. We have a cast of interesting historical characters in a web of ambiguous relationships, in the setting of an ostensibly haunted house on the night in which one of them should write one of the two greatest horror novels in the English language … but the tension never really ratchets up above “medium”.
To be fair, it kicks into gear in the last third, when tension has been abandoned and it becomes about the lone cyberman. But that gear-change serves to highlight how relatively weak everything up till then has been.