August 12th, 2013


August Books 10) Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak

He stopped dead in horror. Affixed above the door was a human skull, grinning down at them.
Carnivore saw him staring at it. "Shakespeare bids us welcome," he said. "That is Shakespeare's skull."
One of Simak's typically low-key stories, with lots of interesting ideas - the central character has been in cold-sleep for a thousand years, and is the only living human survivor on a ship whose central computer merges three people's personalities; Shakespeare's Planet itself is the end point for a network of poorly understood interstellar transport tunnels, where the only intelligent creature mildly regrets eating the human known as Shakespeare a while back; periodic psychic shock hits everyone left alive every now and then; a woman turns up from Earth to investigate, but the situation s resolved by inhuman and incomprehensible forces. It's a bit like a combination of Red Dwarf with the end of A Handful of Dust. Not especially memorable but quite typical of Simak's style.

August Books 11) Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, by Jeanette Winterson

When I left the infant school in disgrace for burning down the play kitchen, the headmistress, who wore black tweed because she was in mourning for Scotland, told my mother that I was domineering and aggressive.
I was. I beat up the other kids, boys and girls alike, and when I couldn’t understand what was being said to me in a lesson I just left the classroom and bit the teachers if they tried to make me come back.
I realise my behaviour wasn’t ideal but my mother believed I was demon possessed and the headmistress was in mourning for Scotland. It was hard to be normal.
I haven't actually read any of Winterson's fiction, and I realise that this autobiography is meant to be read by those who already know Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, but I really enjoyed it anyway. The first two thirds are about her childhood in Accrington, brought up by her adoptive parents, her abusive mother a deeply pious member of the Elim Pentecostal Church who had the teenage Jeanette exorcised for being gay, and her own efforts to escape the cultural shackles of her family to study in Oxford. It is tough and frank about sex, class, religion and parenting, and also very funny in places.

The final section is much less funny; it is the account of how she traced and got to know her birth mother, written much more as an emotional diary than as a procedural account (though the bureaucracy is clearly pretty infuriating). It is a story that surely fascinates us all, whether or not we have direct experience with adoption or long-lost family members. The ending of the story is pleasingly undramatic, given the intensity of feeling that got us there.

Winterson comes across as an intense driven personality, possibly rather difficult in person, but certainly very interesting to know. And the book, in its two unequal parts, is very readable.