December 7th, 2010


December Books 2) The Hollow Men, by Keith Topping and Martin Day

A Seventh Doctor / Ace novel set before Survival, thus outside the New Adventures continuity which I am used to. Despite the fact that Keith Topping is a co-author, I thought it was rather good, a sort-of sequel to The Awakening and to a lesser extent The Dæmons, with occult practices in a remote English village connecting both to ancient aliens and the highest levels of today's government; lots of good moments for Ace and her Doctor, and managing to engage with the genre of The Wicker Man while still being more or less a Doctor Who story. Two things I didn't like: the scene-setting seventeenth-century dialogue in the opening chapter is terrible (though oddly later chapters do it better) and there seemed to be a geographical delusion that Liverpool is the nearest large city to Wiltshire. But apart from that it worked for me.
train, tintin, leuven

December Books 3) Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by Tom McCarthy

I picked up this book in a foul mood the other day and it cheered me up almost instantly. McCarthy looks at Hergé's adventures of Tintin and finds all kinds of hidden material - tracking recurrent themes through the entire œuvre, including such issues as sepulchres, mirrors, castration, and the true and incredible meaning of the Castafiore Emerald.

I was particularly impressed, as I always am in books like this, by the relation made by McCarthy between Hergé's work and his life. Remi (to use his real name) shifted uneasily from his pre-war racism and anti-Semitism to a more liberal approach, generated perhaps by the very fact of writing in Nazi-occupied Belgium - a passive collaboration which he never quite expiated. And his grandmother, working in an aristocratic household not far from my own home village, rather mysteriously conceived his father and uncle (who used to wander around as if they were twins) and then married Mr Remi whose name was borne by her sons and their descendants, leading to the sort of genealogical fuzziness that can give you two obviously identical twins called Thompson and Thomson. As to who Hergé's real grandfather was, Belgian royalists can only speculate.

There were a couple of points that I did not really get in the course of McCarthy's argument. Much is made of Barthes' assessment of a short story by Balzac, ending in a 'vanishing point', holding 'the signifier of the inexpressible', a concept that didn't really convey much meaning to me. And I would have liked to see also some wider discussion of the geopolitical setting of the post-1945 Tintin stories, considering that the global situation is so crucial in the earlier volumes.

But basically it's a good painless introduction to literary theory by means of a well-known, well-loved canon; when McCarthy sneers in the introduction at 'Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer-as-Postmodern-Signifier conferences', he is sneering also at himself I think (certainly it's an unfortunate line which undermines his own argument).

NB the icon for this post is especially appropriate since I wrote most of it on the way home.

December Books 4) Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Although I'm a fan of both Pratchett and Gaiman, I don't quite get Good Omens, which seems to me to have the two writers not so much reinforcing each others' talents as toning them down. I did laugh out loud at the footnotes about firelighters and decimal currency, but I have to say that the book itself is rather a footnote in its authors' careers as far as I'm concerned.