October 15th, 2011


October Books 6) Exit Music, by Ian Rankin

So I reach the last of the Rebus novels, which starts a few days before our hero is due to retire, with a dissident Russian poet found battered to death late one Edinburgh night in November 2006, followed soon after by the murder of his sound engineer friend. Rebus's impending retirement echoes the impending end to the hegemony of the Scottish Labour Party, with the SNP and possible independence looming in the wings, and the investigation takes him to investigate the intimate relations between government, opposition, bankers and Scottish oligarchs, before twisting into an unexpected but entirely satisfactory resolution.

I still have two books of Rebus short stories on the shelves, so will save a general assessment until I have read them both. But just here I want to note that Rankin's treatment of Scottish politics became much more sophisticate and convincing after 1999. The early books feature an improbable independent MP, and a fumbling exploration of the mechanisms of Scottish Office government. But with the coming of devolution, we have the first election campaign, the G8 summit and now this exploration of how government and opposition can be equally compromised. It's an interesting example of how a series of detective novels demonstrates the effect of a major constitutional reform.

Cyrillic italics

Those of you whose friends use the twitter-to-LJ daily post feature will have noticed that for some reason the subject line has been coming through in Russian, as:

Мои твиты

which is Russian for "my tweets". (Transliterated, "Moi tvity", "tvit"/твит being Russian for "tweet" and "tvity"/твиты being the plural; for completeness I should note that although мои is usually transliterated "moi" it's pronounced more like "mai" or the English word "my", which conveniently is what it means.)

Some Cyrillic italic/cursive letters look rather different from normal letters, much more so than is the case with the Latin alphabet. In particular, the italic/cursive version of the letter т often looks like Latin m - т - and the italic/cursive version of и looks like Latin u - и. So the "My tweets" header ends up rather different in italics, making at least one person I read wonder if the title had actually changed between reading it on their friends list and clicking through to the individual post:

Мои твиты -> Мои твиты

This doesn't work for everyone, particularly not if your default view is a sans-serif font. On my default view it looks like this:

There are some other ones which take some getting used to - the letters г, д and п (for g, d and p) are г, д and п in italics. (That last one should look like a Latin n.)

In Serbian and Macedonian the italic/cursive versions of б, п, г, д, and т is different again, but because blog posts tend to default to the Russian-based letter forms I can only point you to the Wikipedia illustration (I can't find a way of reliably displaying the South Slavic versions here). And one practical example: when I lived in Banja Luka, the local beer was rather optimistically called Nektar:

For reasons which will be obvious, some of my international colleagues often referred to it as "Hekwap":


October Books 7-9) The Borrible Trilogy, by Michael De Larrabeiti

The subversive trilogy about Borribles, children who have grown pointy ears and live in a gritty subculture of London; less supernatural than Neverwhere, more urban and poorer than Bevis, but sharing some context with both of those, and apparently an inspiration to China Miéville.

The first book, The Borribles, is a direct attack on Elisabeth Beresford's Womble novels. Fighting off incursion by the evil rat-like Rumbles, a crack team of Borribles sets off to assassinate the Rumble leadership, Vulgarian, Napoleon Boot, Chalotte, Sydney, Bingo, Stonks, Torreycanyon, and Orococco. On the way they encounter the evil Dewdrop and his son, who are a direct parody of Steptoe and Son. I remember when first reading the book being rather stunned at the bleak ending, with several of our heroes facing certain doom at the hands of the Wendles, a fascist Borrible tribe who live under Wandsworth.

In The Borribles go for Broke, our heroes challenge both the grownup police of the Special Borrible Group and the leadership of the Wendles, for a visually memorable and violent climax in a subterranean tunnel of stinking mud. And in the third book, The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis, they fight an epic battle with the Special Borrible Group and its hired auxiliary force of dwarves.

It's subversive stuff - unapologetically violent and opposed to the social order; and extolling the virtues of loyalty to your friends rather than to those who tell you that they deserve you respect. But at the same time it's a rather cosy anarchism; no drugs (beer is drunk by Borribles, but only in the second books and not to excess, and there are adult alcoholics), no sex, and a rather cuddly take on race. It's also rather noticeable that Dewdrop's son is mocked for his learning disabilities, the Rumbles for their speech defects, and the evil dwarves are just evil. So I'm afraid the trilogy didn't quite live up to my memories of it.