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

28927

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 means. 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 swinging 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: Want You Gone by Chris Brookmyre

Want You Gone (Jack Parlabane #8)
Chris Brookmyre

Published February 2nd 2017 by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 9781408707173

“Chris” Brookmyre writes straight, solid crime fiction. I do miss the joyful anarchy of “Christopher” Brookmyre (and I dearly hope he comes back one day) but these books are certainly a thrilling read. A majo31356782r feature of this one for me was, in amongst enjoying a right rollocking read, I learned a whole lot of terrifying new stuff about hackers and data security. Top tip: TRUST NO-ONE! Ever.

I loved the few wee links to Brookmyre’s other works that show Jack Parlabane inhabits the same world. DI Catherine McLeod is mentioned in passing but my favourite was a cameo from All Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye, one of my top 3 Brookmyre books.

Jack is something of a long-suffering character and I’m starting to imagine him as one, gigantic bruise (inside and out). Come on Chris, give the guy a happy ending! Just once. The trials of Mr Parlabane aside, this is an extremely well written, pacy thrill-ride from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Book review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

#amreading #neilgaiman #norsemythology #librarybook #mythology #librariesrock #bookstagram

A post shared by JA Condie (@veryfinelibrary) on

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: February 2017 by Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 9781408886816

Gaiman uses simple language to tell these stories but they are deeply compelling and evocative nonetheless. Old as these tales are – and well known to me – his simple, elegant words paint new and vivid pictures in my mind. Thor with his red beard and comic stupidity; beautiful, haughty Freya… and Loki – who “makes the world more interesting but less safe”.

There’s a lot of humour and lightheartedness in these myths but the whole mood is somewhat darkened by Gaiman’s prophecy of Ragnarok:

“This will be the age of cruel winds, the age of people who become as wolves, who prey upon each other, who are no better than wild beasts. Twilight will come to the world, and the places where the humans live will fall into ruins, flaming briefly, then crashing down and crumbling into ash and devastation”

I found this passage eerily familiar. Are we now living through the end times? Is Ragnarok almost upon us?…

I devoured this book like a wolf devouring the moon. Neil Gaiman’s reputation as a Bard of Epic Standing is now assured in my opinion. Highly recommended.

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: The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot by Robert Macfarlane

18005201The Old Ways is a more philosophical consideration of walking than previous books I’ve read by Macfarlane. I loved the lyrical prose and got so wrapped up in his descriptions I spent weeks reading this book, savouring the images. However, it lost me on two points:

  • This book has a very similar feel to Roger Deakin’s Wildwood but, like that book, this seems overlong to me. Once the story has travelled to epic foreign paths it feels uncomfortable and somewhat dull to return to England for so many pages. Perhaps I’d feel different if England was my home?
  • In the penultimate chapter he makes what I feel is a ridiculous assertion that someone who loves unconditionally actively asks to be hurt and betrayed. This is so out of step with the rest of the book and angered me to such an extent, I skipped that whole chapter and my overall view of the book was changed completely.

In summary, a mainly lovely book but sadly flawed.

Book review: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods 
Bill Bryson
Published 1998 by Black Swan (first published 1997)

 

I’ve just re-read this and found it to be even more wonderful the second time round.

At times genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny – funny in a way that makes you snort with laughter on public transport. It’s packed with background data and interesting anecdotes from the author’s own readings about the Appalachian Trail.  At heart though this is the tale of two guys on a really, really long walk.

Whole-heartedly recommended.