Monday, 25 July 2011

The Scarlet thread of murder!

A Study in Scarlet
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

"I might not have gone but for you, and so have missed the finest study I ever came across: a study in scarlet,eh? Why shouldn't we use a little art jargon. There's the scarlet thread of murder running through the colourless skein of life, and our duty is to unravel it, and isolate it,and expose every inch of it." (p.37).

I first read this as a teenager looking for diversion and escape, I had no preconceptions and expectations, but journeyed innocently into the grimy world of late Victorian London to be dazzled by the genius of Sherlock Holmes through the naive and admiring eyes of Dr Watson.  Sherlock Holmes represents my first case of hero worship, I found his cerebral eccentricity compelling and attractive, I found him plausible and his more obnoxious moments entirely forgivable.  I also found his rational explanation of the inexplicable, comforting and admirable, mystery was no longer that, but rather a puzzle to be reduced by logic and the application of knowledge and mental discipline. 

In this, the very first Sherlock Holmes story, Doyle introduces Holmes' scientific and rational approach to mystery, but as evidenced by the above quote the narrative also maintains a romantic tone in it's portrayal of what is a new scientific discipline.  A Study in Scarlet like all the Sherlock Holmes stories embodies a Victorian enthusiasm for science and rationalism, via a manifestation of the Byronic hero and a taste for the Gothic.

I must admit I enjoyed this novel as much now as when I read it many years ago.  I did find myself wondering about how p.c. the plot was, given the vilification of Mormons and structurally the narrative is perhaps a little disjointed.  It is a very short novel and Holmes succeeds in catching his murderer quite early on, the middle of the novel is devoted to recounting the perpetrator's back story, exposing the motivation for the crime and reveals an abrupt shift in setting and viewpoint, but it does effectively expose motivation and is an entertaining narrative.  In many respects this short novel has the tight story telling that characterises the short stories.  It recounts Watson's first encounter with Holmes and his methods, beginning what is a now legendary partnership.

This is just a short post I may come back and add to this, short of time at the moment, suffice to say this is an entertaining read. 

Friday, 15 July 2011

Grandville Mon Amour

Grandville Mon Amour
by Brian Talbot

A kind of crime/political thriller set in a very alternative dystopian world where the main characters take the form of antropomorphised animals and humans take only a very marginal role.  Very much a graphic novel for grown ups, violence at least abounds, and sex does not escape mention, check out the sexy badger Billie.  A fairly simple crime plot sees the hero Detective Inspector Lebrock in pursuit of an escaped serial killer, some complexity in the plot emerges with political implications emerging, entertaining but not especially complex.
Grandville is very much a fantasy world drawing heavily on steampunk traditions, in this world France won the Napoleonic war and colonised England, guillotining the royal family as a consequence.   The characters are all antropomorphised animals but this no Wind in the Willows, this is a curious grown up tale, part Tin Tin, part Watership Down, it really is a grown up comic book, beautifully drawn, a vividly realised universe.  In fact the art work is the most remarkable feature and it is truly remarkable, the beautiful complex panels give great depth to what is essentially a fairly predictable plot, proving more evocative and powerful than the text on it's own.  The book trailer which I have borrowed from YouTube does some justice to Talbot's work, letting his powerful illustration speak for itself.

This is of course the second Granville graphic novel, and several more are planned, it could have been just plain silly, and yet it works and works beautifully, as much a tribute to the past, and writers and illustrators who have gone before, as much as it is a new and inventive text, spotting the reference is of course half the fun.  Just for information and interests sake here is the link to Michael Moorcock's review in the Guardian:

This was an interesting reading experience, as it was the first time I attempted to read a book on an ipad, my other half had the book as an e-book on his ipad which is how I came to read it that way and while I am not, so far a fan of the digital book experience, I have to admit that the back lit screen of the ipad gave a vivid quality to the art work, making it feel more like I was watching an animation than reading a graphic novel,  reading a text based work on the ipad may be a different experience. 

Libraries, bats and twitter.

Okay so I am a bit of a Luddite. I have only just joined twitter, for so long I just didn't see the point, still not sure I see the point, but for what it is worth I have finally joined the twittterverse, with some guidance from the ever helpful Bell, who also had a select  number of tweets for me to start following, including Neil Gaiman which is how I stumbled upon this little nugget: "Librarian bats", originally a blog/twitter post by Jo_EQ  and re-posted by Neil Gaiman.  Jo writes about how bats co-habit two of Portugal's oldest and most famous libraries, in the University of Coimbra and the palace of Mafra. An interesting story about co-existence and eco pest control.  A cool story given the unpopularity of bats and especially flying foxes or fruit bats where I live.  We are currently experiencing another outbreak of Hendra virus, a terrifying disease, rare but with a high fatality rate for both horses and humans, which has resulted in hysterical calls to cull our native bat populations, not a rational, practical, or humane response.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Missing in action and ghosts

A major reading rut at the moment!  It is a cruel irony that when I am stressed and depressed I just can't read, I endlessly pick up books only to abandon them after a couple of pages, which is what I have been doing for the last week, so this is really just a brief book post.  I spent most of last week in Brisbane visiting libraries as part of a study thing, which was pretty cool, I will possibly post more on that later.

I thought I might just put up a short post on the subject of a very small, local publication; Ghostly Tales of Toowoomba, by Don Talbot, I just picked this up when I was tidying shelves at work and had a flick through.  It's not very long and each entry is only about a page to a couple of pages long, illustrated  with black and white photos and some low grade clip art, just a brief curiosity piece of local history really.  I was mainly interested in the 'haunted railway station' entry: the Toowoomba railway station is a great local piece of Victorian architecture and supposedly sports a resident ghost, Mrs Perkins.  The old tea rooms have been converted into a restaurant, Platform 9, effectively it is a living museum with much of the crockery and cutlery being original Queensland Rail issue.  We have visited a couple of times, mainly to partake of their great weekend breakfast special; cheap, filling and yum, oh and of course I love the historical/Victorian feel of the whole place, so it was with some interest that I read of the problems with the renovation of the building caused by the apparently ghostly presence that haunts it.

Below I have copied in a video of Don Talbot discussing Toowoomba ghosts.  It is a State Library video which I have taken from their youtube channel, the link: State library are a great resource, not just some interesting video resources, but they have also made a lot of their photographic collection available online, much is out of copyright, so I have used an early post card image of the building, (the link to the state library online image is below it).


They are a great resource for historic images.  Next time I'm at Platform 9 I will try and take some pictures of my own, never know maybe I will get to see Mrs Perkins in person.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Looking for something to read

I have stacks of books to read at the moment but I seem to have hit a slight reading rut, one of those blah moments when nothing seems to grab, it is not a reflection on the books but on me.   Despite the numerous unread titles and many old favourites awaiting a re-read I find I just sit amongst my books not able to discipline myself to focus on one title, I find I am thinking about the books I have not yet acquired that I suddenly seem to have an irresistible urge to read right now. 
I find local bookshops endlessly frustrating, they seem to have a very limited and very mainstream range of titles, I really do want to support local bookshops, particularly independents, but when they fail to stock very little beyond what I can buy at BigW or Kmart for a discounted price I wonder why I even try.  I mention this only because it relates to a recent frustration which has  arisen.
Several weeks ago I stumbled across a new speculative fiction title which I was very interested in, at the same time I have also been intensely aware of closing bookstores at every turn, so I decided I would not order this title from Book depository or Amazon but buy from a local bricks and mortar outlet.  The problem is this, here where I live we have a limited number of book shop possibilities and within those available retailers the stock they carry is limited and generally very mainstream, sci-fi for example has become increasingly limited and marginalised, and the title I am after falls into the genre designation of speculative fiction in particular steampunk and science fiction, so despite now being an award wining title I new that it was unlikely that I would find it here locally, which I didn't.  Now local book sellers are obliging and willing to order in titles, my problem with that is they tend to take at least twice as long as it would take for me to order the same title from the Book depository and charge me at least twice as much, usually more than twice the price as the Book depository, so this combined with a generally inadequate service is why I am reluctant to do so.  My preferred option is to make the trip to Brisbane and  visit an independent retailer who I know not only stocks a wide range of speculative titles and but is in fact a genre specialist.  In this general region a number of big book retailers have collapsed and finally closed their doors, (Borders and Angus &Robertson), these are stores that I utilised, since they have now failed I am afraid that without continued support we will see the smaller independents also struggle and in some cases, ultimately fail, hence my decision to try to avoid online book retailers, at least for the moment.  I do not want to lose the pleasure of just browsing, happy wandering with the possibility of discovering a hidden gem and the welcome guidance of knowledgeable sales assistants to help the process of discovery.  To an extent book blogs have provided a substitute for that process, but I am not yet ready to relinquish it completely, hence a determination to support good independent book stores.   For months now I have been trying to find a time to visit Pulp Fiction and a perfect time has simply not arisen, until now, next week I have a uni prac in Brisbane, so will be in the city for about a week, before coming home I am determined to find time to drop into Pulp Fiction.  Hopefully they will have the book I am hanging out to read, if they don't I will almost certainly find other books to pique my interest, in any case I will be buying a book, if not multiple titles from a favourite book shop, so even if they don't have the title I am after I can assuage my guilt and go home and order it from the Book depository.
The name of the book I am so keen to read, well it is the winner of this year's Philip K. Dick award: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder.  Just the cover alone on this title makes me want to read it, let alone the cool steam punk setting and characters.  In the meantime I discovered a great web site from the publisher where they post sample chapters from the books in their catalogue, including the first two chapters from this novel found here at;Sample chapters of Pyr Books.  Definitely a web site and publisher worth checking out.

In the mean time I have managed to pick up a book and will hopefully over the next week manage to finish The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds, not a long novel, so far characterised by beautiful prose, hopefully it will distract me from this blah mood and keep me reading.  It was shortlisted for the 2009 Booker prize and has been a title I have been meaning to read ever since it was mentioned on the Booker shortlist, I'm just a couple of years behind the times.