One of Our Thursdays is Missing

As the latest in one of my favourite series I couldn’t wait to read this one. It did not disappoint. The pace was great, lots of twists, turns and of course, funny moments. The real Thursday is missing and the fictional Thursday is called in to help, well, sort of, she’s actually given a hopeless task which they don’t expect her to complete as she’s not nearly as good as the real Thursday. She makes a point of trying to be the written Thursday as the real Thursday would have her, but no-one is reading her and as the read rates drop the calls for a re-interpretation of the way that she is ‘read’ are on. Most readers seemed to prefer the Thursday with more sex and violence.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing

So, Thursday (fictional) has to make some decisions, about how she plays Thursday, whether or not to go on a date with a nun and puppy killer, and how to solve the puzzle of the giant book that has just dropped from the sky with no ISBN numbers. She then has to do the improbable and rescue the real Thursday after sneaking in a quick visit to the real world where she has to deal with awful things like movement and gravity and having a crush on Landen.

If this sounds too confusing you really need to start the series at the beginning with ‘The Eyre Affair’. If you have read the others you will love this one. The literary jokes fly thick and fast and the language is clever and amusing. The final twist was plausible (well, if you can believe that there is a whole world within fiction and the whole idea of reading as a kind of acting) and it was nice that we got a different heroine this time – even if she was a fictional version of the real, albeit fictional! one.

Great fun.

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Fforde’s Greyest book yet?

I waited with bated breath for this to arrive from Amazon in the US and even though they told me that this would be six weeks!!! it actually arrived very early and I have just finished it. My first thoughts were that it was very different to anything else he has written, which of course is a good achievement, but in this case, I did find the writing less exciting than that of the fabulous Thursday Next series.
Maybe it was because the world that he was trying to render was very complex and difficult to portray, or maybe it was just that the lead character was not as compelling as Thursday, but I did not find myself wanting to drop everything to finish it as I had with the other series.
Edward Russett lives in a world where people are classed according to colour perception. The strict heirarchy comes with numerous and complex rules about how people should live and communicate with one another. Communal life is severely proscribed and it is almost impossible to veer off the beaten path. The book could be described as a dystopian fiction, a genre which I usually love, but in this case, the darkest aspects of dystopian worlds simply seem mildly annoying. I don’t want to criticise it for something it is not however, and it is clearly not meant to be dark or political.
Edward discovers that things are not as they seem when he is sent to the outer fringes after a minor indiscretion. The people he meets there, show us glimpses of life under the colourtocracy and it does take a little while to actually understand the world that Edward inhabits. He meets Jane, a rebellious Grey, who eventually opens his eyes to the deceptions in his world and he joins with her to fight them. The twist at the end is mildly annoying and the novel ends with the typical generic cliffhanger so that we will follow Edward’s adventures in the next installment.
Edward as a character is faintly annoying, he’s weak and vaguely stupid, and, while I realise that is the point, he did not really enamour me. Jane was interesting, she was more feisty, but we did not learn enough about her unti much later in the novel. Edward’s ‘friends’ are odious and he reacts to them mildly when they betray him.
While Fforde has built a complex and interesting world here, and you can never argue that he is not original and clever, I just don’t think that there was enough here to be really good fiction. I ended up feeling slightly disappointed that the book did not live up to my expectations. Maybe that says more about Fforde’s previous work than his current work, or maybe my expectations were too high.

Confderacy of Dunces

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

The genius in this case is the hilariously pompous and delusional Ignatius J Reilly. He is a grossly fat, incredibly self-centred and self indulgent lazy 30 year old, who still lives with his mother. Ignatius sees the modern world as the antithesis of all he holds dear being an adherent of Boethian ideals. The sheer hypocrisy of this character is astounding and yet the reader really is drawn into following Ignatius’ lumbering progress through finding dead end jobs, which he sabotages, to winding up pushing a hot dog cart around New Orleans in his attempt to do as little as possible. However, as little as possible ends up creating as big a possible mess as could be imagined. We are drawn into the mind of a lunatic who believes that he is the only sane person around, and yet all we can do is laugh uproariously.

His slovenly and pathetic mother eventually sees a future for herself away from her son’s cruel treatment and eventually succeeds in driving him away from his self imposed cloister of a bedroom. When he takes off with the wonderfully named Myrna Minkoff we cannot but wonder what a sequel would have made of his adventures in New York.

This book is not one to read in a quiet place, you will end up bursting out into laughter. It is incredibly clever and highly recommended reading.

The Thirty Nine Steps

Well, this has to be the must see of the season here in Melbourne. I was dubious as to whether Marcus Graham could pull off this type of high camp humour, but he did marvellously. The timing was absolutely brilliant and the audience marvelled at the fast paced high jinks throughout. The ‘nod, nod, wink, wink,’ references to Hitchock’s films had the audience applauding and the plot had enough twists and turns to keep everyone amused.

This wonderful send up of film in the first half of the 20th century was clever from the beginning with the strobe lights recalling early talkies (which thankfully didn’t last too long, my eyes couldn’t stand it!) to the many tropes seen in British film before 1950. The audience was asked to participate in the action by the actors addressing them in asides and making remarks about the stage set such as when Hannay asks the stage hands who are holding the ‘river’ a length of silvery satin, up so that he can’t cross, to just put it down after making the attempt several times.

The plot is roughly as follows: Hannay, a typical upper class Brit, is bored, goes to the theatre to see Mr Memory a sideshow type character who memorises facts for the audience to quiz him on. A shot rings out and a beautiful, mysterious woman then asks herself back to his flat. He later wakes to find her dead, lying across his lap with a knife in her back. Before she went to bed she mentions a place in Scotland and some spy business. Rather than stay in London and face murder charges he heads off to solve the mystery. There are some hilarious travel scenes where the police believe that they have him only to find him escape through the window of the train and run along the roof. The conveyance of this on a stage is something to behold. The bodies of the actors (of which there are only four!) sway in time to the movement of the train and then Hannay escapes off the Forth bridge and the police give chase. I won’t give away the ending, just see it.

History Boys

I’m a bit behind the times. I actually saw this play last week and I’ve not yet blogged about it even though I did rave about it a bit through the week. It was a funny and thought provoking play about a group of sixth form boys at a Sheffield school. We were introduced to them through their General Studies class with Hector and old iconoclastic teacher who loves the classics, particularly another old bugger, Auden. He gives the boys lifts home on his motorbike and feels them up on the way home. The boys aren’t traumatised by this, in fact they vie for his attention and are very fond of him. Hector teaches the boys to love poetry and classic literature and even teaches them French, much to the disgust of the Head teacher who is unable to quantify Hector’s teaching and so brings in a much more educationally acceptable teacher Irwin (Matthew Newton) who knows how to get the boys to pass their final exams and get into the much coveted Oxford University.
Alan Bennett shows his scorn for this character by giving him a job on BBC2 after having him fall of Hector’s bike because he ‘leant the wrong way’.
The boys are the wittiest bunch and wryly observe the goings on at the school. They are resilient survivors who show us that teachers don’t really understand them (with the possible exception of Hector). They are confident and accepting of one another.
The educational debate threaded through the play is particularly apt at the moment given the governmental concern for quantifying everything that teachers do and the possibility of performance pay for teachers who ‘value add’. Irwin would get paid under this system as he could be percieved to have taught them how to pass the exams and get into Oxford; Hector would not get paid even though his is the spine that exists in the body of their knowledge and his teaching will continue to support their love of learning. Get that Julie Bishop!
This is a must see play if you are at all interested in education, learning (yes, they are separate things) and like a good laugh. The funniest scene was the French scene where the boys were using the subjunctive to wish for what all 18 year old boys wish for. The head teacher enters the room and the boys become wounded soldiers crying ‘Aidez moi!’ . They clearly do not need help as they frolic around the room, one trouserless. At several times the audience was convulsed by the wit threaded through the play and it is one that will stay with you for quite some time, much like Hector’s teaching I suspect.