August 16th, 2011


August Books 12) Old Goriot, by Honoré de Balzac

A short classic French novel, whose central character isn't so much Goriot as Eugène de Rastignac, who shares a Paris boarding-house with Goriot and falls in love with one of his daughters. The Goriot daughters have some nasty emotional manipulation going on with their father and their ennobled husbands, and Eugène is way out of his depth. One of his other fellow tenants is a master criminal in disguise, who makes Eugène the original offer that he cannot refuse, a line directly borrowed by The Godfather. (NB however that Eugène actually does refuse the offer.) I found the translation a bit clunky but the plot rather engaging. Apparently Balzac wrote dozens of novels in his Comédie Humaine series, and died with over a hundred more planned but unwritten.

August Books 13) A Reader's Companion to A Civil Campaign, edited by Nikohl K. & John Lennard

This is an absolute must-have for any fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books, which reach their dramatic climax in her 1999 novel, A Civil Campaign. The editors examine the novel's debt to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer and the works of Shakespeare as well as various other sources; they then give a set of page-by-page annotations to explain references and in-jokes as they come up, and finally a long long list of further reading (which I was gratified to discover includes my name). It does exactly what I want of such books, deepening my enjoyment of the original work, encouraging me to query it and my other reading more intensely in future, and pointing me to other literature I might enjoy. (I know Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, and have read a lot of Sayers but not Gaudy Night; and Heyer is unknown to me.) I cannot recommend this highly enough, and hope it gets a reasonable boost for next year's Hugos in the Best Related category.

I was sorry to read that one of the co-editors dropped off the internet before the book was completed, and hope she knows how much pleasure I and other readers are deriving from her efforts.

August Books 14) Last Call, by Tim Powers

I didn't really get in with this, and almost gave up after the first third: most of the characters too unpleasant and unengaging, too many cultural references that simply sailed past me. I stuck with it in the end, and appreciated as ever Powers' dense description and evocative spookiness, but didn't really feel I grasped what it had all been about or why it mattered at the end.