The Handmaid’s Tale (TV series) – (not quite) midseason review

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Last night I caught up with the new Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale via wonderful All4. They’ve so far only broadcast 4 out of 10 episodes so I’m not even mid season yet. However, I already feel this may be another of those rare “the film is better than the book” scenarios!

To me “June” in the series seems so much stronger and more real than the nameless character in the book. I never truly cared what happen to the book woman but June has spirit and is silently fighting to retain her personality as well as her life. The fact that book woman never named herself, even in her own mind, was big points against her. She already seemed broken by the system. June is sweary and disrespectful (in her head). She appears to submit but we know what’s really going on in there. Also, Elisabeth Moss does a fantastic job of conveying June’s emotions. Especially the barely controlled panic in her eyes during the most difficult situations. You can see her running through scenarios in her mind as she weighs up possibilities and struggles to give the ‘right’ answer, the one that will keep her safe and alive.

A tiny highlight of episode 1 for me was the brief, blink and you’ll miss it, cameo by author Margaret Atwood! She swoops in at one point to clout Offred round the ear – both hilarious and terrifying. Fun as that was, episode 3 has been the real standout so far. Through flashbacks we see the insidious steps that were taken to remove women’s rights and independence. The necessary precursors to their eventual enslavement. Jeezo! This seems just a blink away from the world as it is today. It was horrifying.

As a 10 part series this production has the time to remain true to Atwood’s original book – no need for swingeing cuts to your favourite plot points. However, writer Bruce Miller has also managed to add to the tale: rounding characters, showing backstory. Most excitingly, The Handmaid’s Tale is frighteningly relevant to our current circumstances.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum bitches!

Book review – Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland

 

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
by Sara Maitland
Published November 2012 by Granta Books
ISBN: 9781847084293

This started well, with the above – wonderfully feminist – definition of the word ‘gossip’. However, it quickly turned into an interesting but very confused book.

On one hand it’s a social history of England’s woodlands, examining how people have lived in and used the forests over the last thousand years or so. It’s also a fascinating breakdown of Germanic fairytales, their history and development. The author suggests that fairytales and forests are inextricably linked – an argument I find quite convincing. However, the problem for me is that Maitland spends her time frolicking round English woods (and a couple of Scottish ones) when the forests of the fairytales are in central Europe. The really nice premise of this book is spoiled for me by this odd geographic choice. I wanted to learn about the fairytales in the Germanic woodlands – their origin and real-world context.

A major bugbear for me was the author’s choice to visit a few Scottish woodlands… while still discussing english history! As well as just being insulting, those later forays into Scottish trees felt rushed, half-hearted and poorly written in comparison to earlier chapters. An attempt to pad out the book and nothing more.

The author’s re-tellings of several fairytales are excellent. If she had chosen to write two books, one about english woodland history and another about fairytales, I’m sure they would have made two very good works. Squashed together they seem disjointed, confused and un-natural.

Book review: Little Green by Walter Mosley

Little Green (Easy Rawlins #12)
by Walter Mosley
2013

18682512I haven’t read an Easy Rawlins novel in a long while, so this could be the norm and I’ve just forgotten, but I was really struck by just how much colour features in this story. Everything from the title to the clothes, cars, and buildings is painted in rainbow shades.

Most striking though is the colour descriptions as applied to people. At first, perhaps as a white European, I found this kind of shocking. Once I got used to it though it became wonderful to me. I felt I could see characters so much more vividly in my mind.

This is nice, solid detective fiction but the real joy is in the language… and the colour.

Book review: Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard

Conan: The Barbarian complete collection by [E. Howard, Robert]I was in the mood for a bit of fantasy fiction lately and started in on the Conan the Barbarian: complete collection I have on my Kindle.

The Phoenix on the Sword by Robert E. Howard
3-star

The Scarlet Citadel by Robert E. Howard
3-star

The Tower of the Elephant (Conan, #3) by Robert E. Howard
3-star

These first three stories were so much fun. Mayhem, magic and rippling muscles – everything a girl could hope for from a Barbarian. I was impressed by the flowing, epic language and thrilled by the adventure. The latter part of The Tower of the Elephant got a bit spacey but otherwise, three stars for each of these.

The Slithering Shadow (Xuthal of the Dusk)  by Robert E. Howard
1-star

The Pool of the Black One by Robert E. Howard
1-star

Things got very different when women were introduced to the stories. The misogynistic language in The Slithering Shadow was just eye watering. The sexism was slightly less pronounced in The Pool of the Black One, but that was problematic in so many other ways, it hardly seemed to matter. One star (or less!) for those two.

It seems there are many, many, many more Conan stories in the complete collection… but I’m not sure if I’ll be venturing there again.

Book review – Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Kindle Edition, 201423306186

The story opens with the onstage death of an actor, Arthur Leander, then moves back and forth between his former life and a post-apocalyptic future. We meet a variety of characters, disparate except for their connection to Leander.

In the future we follow an itinerant group of actors and musicians travelling their route between settlements and providing entertainment, news and culture in a shattered world. When I described this book to a colleague she said, “Surely people would have better things to do than watch plays”. That comment made me feel sad for her  😦

This book is beautiful, painful, exciting and thought provoking. Highly recommended.

Book review – Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson

Bats of the Republic: An Illuminated Novel by Zachary Thomas Dodson 

2015, Doubleday, 9780385539838

24724564It’s been a few weeks since I finished this book… and I still can’t decide if it was wonderful or awful.

Design-wise it is certainly lots of fun to read, with illustrations, pull out maps and a mysterious letter pasted tantalisingly into the back. The two (or 3, or is it 4?) narratives are each rendered in their own, distinct style with several characters presenting their stories. It gives an interactive feel to the reading experience.

However, I am still ambivalent about its merits as a story. I just can’t decide if that resolution is gobbledygook or genius.

Book review – The Martian by Andy Weir

20775702The Martian by Andy Weir
Kindle Edition 2014 (first published 2011)

By turns, laugh out loud funny and heart in mouth thrilling, this book is a rollercoaster of emotions. I was up and down like a Mars rover traversing Arabia Terra!

Mark Watney – engineer, botanist, astronaut. Lover of duct tape. Hater of taters. Trapped alone on a hostile planet with nothing but his mind, his skills and millions of dollars worth of equipment. I love you Mark Watney!

This is the leading contender for my top read of 2015. Highly recommended.