Links I found interesting for 01-10-2014

summer
alphabets
Some chums and I have got together on Facebook to read Anna Karenina over the next few months, at a chapter a day (they are mostly quite short chapters, so this will take us a while). We are doing it in English, as not enough of us are sufficiently fluent i Russian to tackle the original. This useful page gives various different translations of the first chapter to compare, and I think it's very helpful. For instance, the famous opening sentence, "Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему", is done by the different versions as follows:
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Constance Garnett, 1901)

All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Louise and Aylmer Maude, 1918)

All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.
(Rosemary Edmonds, 1949-50)

All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(The Maude translation revised)

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 2008)

All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
(Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes, 2008)
No huge difference between any of those; the sentiment is pretty clear, and the fact that there are no actual verbs in the Russian sentence means that it cannot be translated with quite the same ring into languages that do use verbs in sentences like this.

But I was struck by the weirdness of my cheap Constance Garnett translation's version of a phrase in the middle of the next paragraph, which describes what is happening in the Oblonsky household as a result of Dolly discovering Stiva's affair, and comparison with other translations indicated that she had got it wrong:
Дети бегали по всему дому, как потерянные

The children ran wild all over the house
(Constance Garnett, 1901)

the children ran about all over the house uneasily
(Louise and Aylmer Maude, 1918)

The children strayed all over the house, not knowing what to do with themselves.
(Rosemary Edmonds, 1949-50)

the children ran restlessly about the house
(The Maude translation revised)

The children were running all over the house as if lost
(Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 2008)

The children were wandering about the house like lost souls
(Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes, 2008)
There's a tension here between бегать, imperfective of "to run", and потерянный, "lost", which goes back to the original text. (And also по всему дому, "through the whole house", which shows that they are not lost but know where they are.) I think I end up with an image of the kids, both energised and emotionally uprooted by their parents' row, running around the house as if they didn't know where they were. I like Zinovieff and Hughes' "lost souls", but it maybe pushes it a bit far and they have toned down "running" to "wandering". Edmonds goes in the same direction but not so far, and helpfully unpacks "lost". Garnett's "ran wild" is clearly much further from the original sense, though - "wild" brings in a whole new idea which simply isn't in Tolstoy.

So I think I will switch to one of the more recent translations, though not quite sure which.

September Books

earthsea
I got this after tremendously enjoying Zoo City when it was nominated for the BSFA Award a few years ago. I'm afraid this left me rather colder; on the whole I enjoy urban fantasy (which Zoo City is) and I don't much enjoy cyberpunk (which Moxyland is), so I guess it's the specifics of the subgenre. There's deft interweaving of four different narrative strands with on-line gaming and the digital divide, all set in the near future of 2018; people with more of an affinity for Neuromancer than I have will enjoy this more than I did.
pic#ortelius
A history of the King's Inns, the professional society for Irish lawyers, starting in 1541 and taking us up to 1800 and the Act of Union. For most of that period, the King's Inns were located on the north side of the Liffey, immediately to the east of where the Four Courts are now - the Four Courts themselves were based in the grounds of Christchurch Cathedral for most of that time.

My biggest take from this is that it cannot have been hugely convenient for lawyers to oscillate back and forth across the river between the Inns and the cathedral, especially considering that the bridge was a toll bridge. Still, the building had a strategic location. It was where senior Irish judges plotted the return of Charles II at a time when Ireland was being ruled by Oliver Cromwell's younger brother. Thirty years on, Charles II's younger brother James II chose it as the location of the 1689 Patriot Parliament, which was of course expunged from history after he lost the war.

I still think that location is the biggest reason why the organisation had difficulty finding its feet. In addition, Irish lawyers were expected to have attended the Inns in London before they were allowed to join the Dublinn body and practice their profession. Also of course in areas less under central control it was difficult to enforce the principle that lawyers had to be members of the King's Inns. And it would have helped if there had been some educational function - indeed, I wasn't left very clear as to what the function of King's Inns actually was, other than providing office space for lawyers.

I didn't get much of what I wanted from this book - I was hoping to find lots more about my ancestor Sir Nicholas White, who was one of the early members. But there was enough interesting material to keep me engaged.
earthsea
Published (and presumably writtem) before O'Malley's success with Scott Pilgrim, this is pretty good in its own right; a fairly short graphic novel about a teenager on an accidental road trip from California to Vancouver with three schoolmates who she barely knows, and her inner conviction that her soul has been sold by her mother and currently resides in a cat. O'Malley's very simple drawing style is surprisingly effective at drawing out emotional depth and also illustraing the freewayscape of the Pacific coast.

Links I found interesting for 28-09-2014

summer

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11
It may well be thirty years since I last read an Asterix book, which means I completely missed this one, published in 1996 and translated into English as Asterix and Obelix All at Sea. the sixth of the eight books written by Uderzo alone after Goscinny's death.

I slightly wish I hadn't. A substantial whack of the humour relies on pretty offensive stereotypes - sub-Saharan Africans depicted as leopard-skin wearing savages. (Cleopatra, noticeably darker-skinned than Caesar, does make an appearance as the only significant female character, but is nothing like the memorable co-protagonist of one of the earlier books.) Sure, the Europeans are targeted too - the Spanish and Portuguese feuding over incomprehensible differences, the Brits being posh etc. But there's too much punching down.

The major theme of the book is an apparent choice between reversion to childhood, or being transformed into stone - both of these happen to the unfortunate Obelix before he is restored to his usual self; the chief baddy becomes a statue and the nice rebel slaves are returned to eternal boyhood on the island of Atlantis. I must say that I might have been better to rely on my youthful memories of Asterix rather than return to him now.
cyprus
Cyprus is partitioned between feuding rulers, one a proxy of distant Christian Europe, the other beholden to the more local Muslim regional power; the larger part of of the island is controlled by one faction, but the key cities of Famagusta and Kyrenia are in the hands of the minority.

However it's not 1974, or any year since, but 1463, and Dorothy Dunnett's Flemish hero Niccolo gets drawn into the dynastic dispute between the legitimate (but losing) heiress Carlotta, and her very handsome half-brother James. There are beautiful women and fierce battles, and terrific derring-do; there is a brilliant scene with chemically impregnated clothes and a valley filled with snakes; there is gut-wrenching, understated tragedy as Niccolo works through his own complex family back-story against the foreground of the Lusignan succession. It's brilliant stuff.

In addition, anyone who actually knows Cyprus will find it particularly attractive. For the same reason as Dunnett's hero, I have an affinity with the Gothic cathedral in Famagusta; much of the rest of the landscape, and a surprising amount of the architecture, is familiar even today - it may be that the same is true of the scenes in Burges or Rhodes, which I know rather less well. It's not essential to enjoying the book, but it adds some much appreciated colour.

Ello Ello Ello

orac
I am @nwhyte.
scotland
The referendum took place while I was in the middle of reading this, and I vaguely hoped it might give some insight into the histories of the England/Scotland relationship. But gawd, this is awful. Yeah, yeah, naive English lad ventures first to Northumberland and then Scotland and discovers that people talk funny and may not actually love London up there. The Jacobites rise and are defeated. Rob Roy himself doesn't appear in the book until surprisingly near the end. The writing style is florid and tedious. At least I can say I tried.
doctor who
In 1958, William Hartnell, riding off his success in the military TV sitcom The Army Game, played the title role and got top billing in the first installment of a franchise that was to last for decades, though it went into hiatus around 1990; later stars of the series included Jon Pertwee, Bernard Cribbins, Peter Butterworth and Bernard Bresslaw, and Windsor Davies and Alexei Sayle made appearances too. Carry On Sergeant, in retrospect, was the peak of his cinematic career, with the really big breakthrough on the big screen never quite coming; his usual form was to be super-effective, and yet not quite scene-stealing, supporting the bigger names.

Jessica Carney was his granddaughter - she's the basis for the little girl character in An Adventure In Time And Space - and has made a good honest effort to get under the skin of the grandfather she knew only as a stressed elderly man, who turned into a hero on television. The 180 pages of narrative reach Doctor Who only on page 154, which actually shows a rather admirable sense of proportion; Hartnell's life was much more than Who.

And it was a tough life. His father is unknown, and his unmarried mother was pretty much absent. (His birth family were not completely estranged - he remained in touch with his second cousin Norman Hartnell throughout their lives.) As a boy he eked out a life of expulsions from numerous schools and petty crime. In his teenage years the good-looking rough lad was adopted by the art connoisseur Hugh Blaker, who sent him to acting school and got him onto an upward track generally.

And from then on Hartnell steadily carved out a line in serious supporting parts (see eg here, esp from 1:22:00, or here with Jon Pertwee and George "Minder" Cole) with occasional glimpses of greater things as mentioned above (though even in Carry On Sergeant he had to fight for top billing with the young Bob Monkhouse). He remained very insecure, pursuing younger women, fussing about food and cooking, drinking when he wasn't working (which was more often than he liked). His wife Heather, who had grown up next door to John Masefield in Oxford, was a serious creator in her own right, both as actress and playwright; one of her plays was filmed.

Doctor Who was much the best thing that ever happened to William Hartnell professionally, and reading this second hand account is irresistibly reminiscent of reading the first-hand account of that other intriguingly flawed character, Tom Baker, for whom Doctor Who was a redemptive experience, enabling him to be reincarnated from sinner to hero. Hartnell, who was never religious as far as we can tell, lapped up his new connection with his young audience, and perhaps soldiered on longer than he should have because he was loving it too much.

Doctor Who now goes back almost 51 years, but in 1963 it had no history at all; and its future rested on Hartnell's own 38 years as an actor. I would have liked Carney to dig a little more into, say, how and why Hartnell's career differed from those of his contemporaries - he was born in the same year as John Mills, Rex Harrison, Michael Redgrave and Robert Morley (all of whom started acting professionally after he did, but came from more privileged social backgrounds). But I think this book is quite a good explanation of how and why he ended up in the role for which he is best known, and how and why he played it the way that he did, setting up the programme for a longevity he could not have imagined.

Wednesday reading

books
Current
Harlequin, by Bernard Cornwell
ψ1

Last books finished
τ1
υ1
Who's There?, by Jessica Carney
Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott
Race of Scorpions, by Dorothy Dunnett
La Galère d'Obélix, by Albert Uderzo
φ1
Lost At Sea, by Bryan Lee O'Malley
χ1
King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland, by Colum Kenny
Moxyland, by Lauren Beukes

Last week's audios
Zygon Hunt, by Nicholas Briggs
Signs and Wonders, by Matt Fitton
current: Mask of Tragedy, by James Goss (wrong order - should have listened to it before Signs and Wonders!)

Next books
Eva, by Peter Dickinson
The Strangest Man, by Graham Farmelo
The Professor, by Charlotte Brontë
tardis
I think this is the last in the series of short Who books by well-known authors published this year, which had a couple of earlier hits with Trudi Canavan's Salt of the Earth, Jenny Colgan's Into the Nowhere and A.L. Kennedy's The Death Pit.

This is certainly a hit. Harris was born in 1964, so Jon Pertwee was very much her Doctor, and here she gives the Third Doctor a final adventure as he flees, poisoned, from Metebelis Three on his last journey to UNIT headquarters, sidetracked on the way to help out a threatened planet and a dying girl. It packs an unexpected punch and I was very moved by the end. The Time Trips series goes out with a bang.

The by-election in the House of Lords

megaliths
(All staments taken from the official House of Lords Notice of 15 September.)

Why you should vote for Merlin Charles Sainthill Hanbury-Tracy, 7th Baron Sudeley, in his own words:



Why you should vote for Hugh Francis Savile Crossley, 4th Baron Somerleyton, in his own words:



Why you should vote for John David Clotworthy Whyte-Melville Foster Skeffington, 14th Viscount Massereene and 7th Viscount Ferrard (who if elected will sit by virtue of his junior title, Baron Oriel), in his own words:



Why you should vote for Francis David Ormsby-Gore, 6th Baron Harlech, in (some of) his own words:



Why you should vote for Charles Rodney Muff, 3rd Baron Calverley, in his own words:



Why you should vote for Anthony Nicholas Colin Maitland Biddulph, 5th Baron Biddulph, in his own words:



Why you should vote for John Anthony Cadman, 3rd Baron Cadman, in his own words:



[Edited] The winner of this election, which will be decided by the votes of an unelected legislature, will join the ranks of about 90 men and two women who, by virtue of the fact that their ancestors were politicians, will sit in the parliament of an EU member state and a nuclear power for life.
summer
One of four, count them, four Doctor Who books published this month, and one of the first three to feature the Twelfth Doctor, but I'm sorry to say that my favourite New Who writer, James Goss, slightly disappointed me here. It's a decent enough story about a prison governor who is more than he seems, and whose most troublesome prisoner is of course the Doctor; poor Clara (who looks set to be the least-novelised of New Who companions) gets only a couple of scenes. I felt that Goss was stepping down his usual intense descriptive grittiness in expectation of a younger readership than his previous books may have had, and ends up pulling his punches.
tardis
It's just as well that I read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia a few months back, or I would have felt a bit unmoored in this Eighth Doctor story of the Spanish Civil War. There is a time-changing entity plot, but I found myself instead appreciating Halliday's recreation of the awfulness of the 1930s, with one Eric Blair wandering in and out of the story too. (Though for some reason the editor has decided that the famous street in Barcelona is the Rambles rather than the Ramblas, which gives it quite the wrong nuance.) The time-twisting bit ties into the wider Sabbath narrative which has so far failed to really interest me, but I liked the rest.
train, tintin, leuven
I remembered this fondly from my childhood - it may even have been the first Tintin book I ever read - and very much hoped that it would live up to my memories. I'm glad to say that it did, and if anything it works even better for me now that I have spent several years in the meantime being closely involved with Balkan politics, and also because I now know Brussels rather better than I did when I was 9. (Apparently it was the first Tintin story to be translated into English, though that was some time before I was taking much interest in these matters.)

The story is pretty straightforward - Tintin gets recruited by a Balkan culture expert to travel to the mysterious land of Syldavia, where he crucially averts a plot to deprive the young king of his throne, engineered by an internal revolutionary movement which is a proxy for the neighbouring dictatorship of Borduria. There are lots of lovely Balkan/Slavic touches - although Syldavian spelling is closer to Polish than to the Balkans, the towns clearly have minarets and Cyrillic is used; the landscape and army/police uniforms are clearly drawn from the Balkan kingdoms between the wars. The small countries of south-eastern Europe are an easy target, but sometimes this can be done well.

But in fact the Balkans are mere protective coloration for what Hergé was really writing about. The unusually realistic depictions of the Warandepark and Avenue Louise in the early pages give it away. King Ottokar, running a small democracy in fear of annexation by its authoritarian neighbour through a front organisation, is not (as I have heard some speculate) Michael of Romania, but a slightly romanticised Leopold III of Belgium. The Bordurian plot to invade Syldavia could have been based on the Gleiwitz incident, were it not for the fact that it was published in Le Petit Vingtième in the summer of 1939, shortly before the Gleiwitz incident actually happened. Less than a year after Tintin En Syldavie had finished its original run, Belgium was occupied not by the sinister Bordurian activist Müsstler but by a bloke with a similar name.

And considering the general perception that Hergé was not exactly vigorous in resistance to Nazi occupation, it's a bit redemptive to see this story putting down a marker before it actually happened.

Also, given Tom McCarthy's speculation about Hergé's ancestry, it's amusing that he draws himself into two of the court scenes...

This was a good jumping-off point for my lifelong affection for Tintin, and I think I would still recommend it as a starting point today for people who for whatever reason have never yet tried it. The best of the pre-war albums is The Blue Lotus, but to really enjoy it you have to have read the inferior Cigars of the Pharaoh first. King Ottokar's Sceptre works well as a standalone adventure. (Even without Captain Haddock.)

Wednesday reading

books
Current
Race Of Scorpions, by Dorothy Dunnett
Rob Roy, by Sir Walter Scott
τ1
Who's There?, by Jessica Carney

Last books finished
History 101, by Mags L. Halliday
The Blood Cell, by James Goss
σ1
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller, by Joanne Harris

Last week's audios
The Ghosts of Gralstead, by Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt
The Devil's Armada, by Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt
Revenge of the Swarm, by Jonathan Morris

Next books
La Galère d'Obélix, by Albert Uderzo
Lost At Sea, by Bryan Lee O'Malley
King's Inns and the Kingdom of Ireland, by Colum Kenny
 
Books acquired in last week
The Blood Cell, by James Goss
Silhouette, by Justin Richards
The Crawling Terror, by Mike Tucker
Scales of Gold, by Dorothy Dunnett

Links I found interesting for 17-09-2014

summer

Book bingo

books
This is a great idea from a friend in a locked post. See how many of the squares you can check off with your recent reading. I'm restricting to books read this year, but you can cast your net as wide as you like.

Book bingo

the first 24 questionsCollapse )
A Book With A Blue Cover: Here, have several:

British Interventions in Early Modern Ireland Do Elephants Ever Forget? Beowulf Neptune's Brood Flora Segunda The Ocean At The End Of The Lane

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