May 15th, 2007

earthsea

May Books 14) [In Search of Lost Time #2] In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower

14) [In Search of Lost Time #2] In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, by Marcel Proust

Having had my enthusiasm engaged by the first volume in Proust's classic series, I started reading the second with some enthusiasm. (A shout out here to Odette, reading Proust in Foxborough, who commented on my last entry.)

I have to say that I found vol 2 a bit more slow-moving, alternating passages of eye-glazing introspection with some really profound and expressive descriptions of what love is like, and how we react to art and to artists (be they actors, writers, or painters). But a welcome surprise was that there is an actual plot, with the narrator's rebuff of Gilberte near the start vaguely reflected in his relationship with Albertine, and with her other young friends, at the end.

I found myself very irritated by the publisher's notes. (I'm reading the new-ish Penguin edition.) First of all, I hate end-notes rather than foot-notes as a general matter of principle. Second, while I don't mind explanations of obscure references to contemporary or older French literature, I thought the editors went overboard in drawing attention to Proust's minor plot inconsistencies. (Though I did wonder why these were never corrected by any of Proust's French editors.)

I'm already realising that this is a set of books that I will have to re-read in perhaps five or ten years' time.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey
earthsea

May Books 15) Dead Air

15) Dead Air, by Iain Banks

A gratifyingly easy read compared to some I've tried recently, this is the story of Ken Nott, a Scot who hosts a popular London radio show. The political disasters of late 2001 are mirrored in his personal life, as his dangerous affair with a gangster's wife drags him into the underworld. Nott's obsession with truth at a professional level (there is a rather peculiar show-down with a Holocaust denier) is contrasted with his difficulties with honesty in his sex life. Banks has a great ear for dialogue and for the different demotics of London. And the climactic chapters, where Nott tries and fails to avoid the wrath of his lover's husband, are vividly related. Very enjoyable.

Top UnSuggestion for this book: The sisterhood of the travelling pants, by Ann Brashares.
doctor who

Marco Polo

This is the fourth ever Doctor Who story, broadcast in 1964, and the earliest one to be lost conpletely from the archives. It was also the first purely historical Doctor Who story, telling simply of an encounter between the time travellers and Marco Polo (and eventually Kublai Khan) in the late thirteenth century.

I bought the soundtrack with linking narration from William Russell, who played Ian Chesterton in the original series. It's generally pretty good though the fifth episode sound quality is rather lousy. I was also misled by one of the hidden extras - the first of the three CDs includes also all seven episodes as MP3s without narration, and since this is nowhere stated I ended up loading them by mistake.

Took me a while - first started this the week before last, and took a break from it while I was travelling. But it is in fact very good. Seven episodes is about right for a leisurely plot, with Susan bonding with the maiden Ping-Cho, and the others dealing with the treacherous warlord Tegana and with Marco Polo himself, who decides to seize the Tardis and offer it to the Khan as his ticket home to Venice. (Or, as Croatian lore would have it, Korcula.)

It builds to a satisfying conclusion with the Doctor playing the Great Khan at backgammon, with the Tardis as the stake. Marco Polo himself, weighing in the balance his honour, his liking and respect for Ian and the others, and his desire to get home, is an interesting character study.

A shame, but I guess understandable, that they stopped making stories like this one after a while.