Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer - a retelling by Peter Ackroyd

How much do I love Chaucer? Just a lot.

I first encountered Chaucer at A-Level. We studied the original, un-translated Merchant’s Tale and I can remember being absolutely thrilled by the mastery of words, and the way in which the words have changed over time. Did you know that an medieval word, ‘Wight’, means man?

However, it would take me months to fully translate the entire tales, as much as I would like to. So instead I left that to Peter Ackroyd, who does a marvellous job of it.

He’s transformed poetry into prose which includes dialogue and characters and generally fabulous things. Among my favourite tales are the Squire’s Tale and of course, the Merchant’s Tale, but I liked the one about the hens and also the one of the cuckolded carpenter. Ackroyd totally changes the form but still retains the humour of the original stories. What we have here is a rich book of tales that probably everybody has to read.

At some points, the literal translations can be crude. The ‘c’ word is used several times, for example. But it adds to the bawdy humour of Chaucer and it is really amazing to consider that, if the pilgrimage was real, that no-one spoke out against it! The Canterbury Tales gives a whole new perspective into medieval life and is therefore thoroughly enjoyable.

However, as much as I love Chaucer, I have only given this book three stars. The prose is often repetitive (Ackroyd) and the stories similar – cuckolded husbands are a common theme (Chaucer). I would appreciate the stories more in their original state, but I am too lazy to translate them. One must also keep in mind that these stories were meant to be read out loud, otherwise the whole novelty of the pilgrims telling their stories to the rest would be lost. The book was easy to put down, unfortunately. But I can really appreciate the work that Ackroyd has out into it, and although it feels almost blasphemous to say it, it’s mainly Chaucer’s fault that I found the stories slightly aggravating. Sorry, man. You're still the father of the English Language. Maybe mention dragons next time?

I know, I know, a lot of reviews recently, but tomorrow will be exciting. Bath Central Library is holding a book sale so I’ll be reporting that. Also I have four books to debut as well as plans for The Fiction Project.

Friday, 21 January 2011

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient flows like Almasy’s unchartered deserts, with bumps and beauty and mystery. It centres around a collection of nations, a small group of survivors, shell-shocked and living in an Italian villa.

Ever strong is the presence of nature – as if no human can escape it. Even the winds have names.

Marvellously structured, The English Patient delves through history and stories are strong. Beautiful and lyrical. A blend of love and memory. The flawless deliverance of the story make it vivid, sacred.

I like it especially because it talks about writing and books and Django Deinhardt.

‘She had come to love these books dressed in their Italian spines, the frontispieces, the tipped-in colour illustrations with a covering of tissue, the smell of them, even the sound of the crack if you opened them too fast, as if breaking some minute unseen series of bones.’ 

Saturday, 15 January 2011


Hill and hill and scab and scale, the hide that reaches,
gropes for the sun, lean-to, winter death.
Fingers alive caress the contours of bark,
and feel its dryness, cracked,
flaking skin flakes away in hand.
How things have burrowed,
 biting blind,
 revealing ruddy flesh,
 sand-red, moist dripping.
Spurts of white flower in sunlight – spring.
Black bitter things bunch - the year is old, and the tree dies,
bare and corroded, consumed and spent.
This is the tree of life.
This is the tree of death.
Was its beginning placed by hands
or had it already been there?
 Some say it is there as a warning for witches,
a warding of witches,
though fairies crawl
through wood-worm cast to sit in fleshy self.
I sat on it. I sat in a cheating card-board wood house on it,
painting life and plaiting string.
My castle.
A house.  
Insect menagerie, they come and go as they please.
That was when the tree was strong, pre-amputation,
before the earth shifted and set its angle.
In the summer my tree is my water,
I drink what is left of the season. I drink the sun.    
Savour every drop. A year is too long.
In autumn my tree grows berries of pearl black,
 bunches where the white should be, will be.
 In winter the tree is a dead thing.
Wood-worm cast. Exposed and exceptional, my tree.
The tree of life, the tree of death,
witch-ward, wood-wormed, child-play.
 At the bottom of my garden,
garden guarding.
My tree.
My elder tree. 

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A Place Beyond Courage - Elizabeth Chadwick

‘Dex ai! Dex ai le MarĂ©chal!’

That is the powerful battle cry that John Marshall’s troops echo across the fields to the rising of the make-shift gallows for the young William Marshall. It’s rousing, and your heart really goes out to that small boy who is fated to swing. A blend of tense drama and solid feelings resonate throughout the novel, which makes A Place Beyond Courage great.

It is formed as a prequel to The Greatest Knight, one of my favourite Chadwick books. It tells the story of William’s father, John, and his struggles within the court, the civil war, and his home. We are presented with the annoyingly pathetic Aline, and the strong and sexy Sybilla. Chadwick is a master of romance – it is exciting, it is meaningful, and the novel is not all about love – it is fused at every point with accurate research and a love for the medieval period.

I found it incredibly difficult not to read, and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. John’s face gets ruined by molten lead but we learn to look beyond that and into his heart. You are there throughout his life, through war and children. If anyone wants to gain an insight into medieval life, Chadwick is definitely the way to go. She’s very god at developing and moving the plot on, as is proved by the fact that the novel spans 23+ years, and all of that covered in about 500 pages.

However, within all of Chadwick’s characters (I have read about six of her novels now) there are similar qualities. The protagonists are always sexy, young, beautiful, strong. This is the same for Sybilla and John. It is like Chadwick is just re-using characters from her other books but giving them a different name. She also has a tendency to repeat phrases, for example, ‘the ladder fell with its heavy burden of men’ was repeated more than once.

I admire Chadwick’s love for the period and the want to discover the character’s history and really bring to life the stories. She has an amazing blog which she regularly updates about her research into her books.

I would like to read The Greatest Knight again. It is certainly one of my favourites of hers – knights, jousting, and if I were to meet William Marshall in real life, I would fancy the pants off of him. 

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Robinson Crusoe - Would You Hire This Man?

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe

I read Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe as a companion to my studies in Postcolinal Literature to Foe by J.M. Coetzee, which I actually enjoyed a whole lot more. 

I did like the sense of adventure and marvelled at his seemingly endless survival skills, but this sometimes seemed ridiculously far-fetched. I can’t say I was gripped by the book. I think this was because of the style Defoe is writing it in. Lots of parenthesis, too many commas. The ease he suddenly tames Friday. But it is a book of its time and I suppose I can see why people in the 17th Century would find it so attractive. High tales of adventure and cannibals! I wish I had made a list as I went along of all the skills Crusoe happens to have. I have tried to remember as many as I can in the following CV. Why a CV? Because Crusoe has a ridiculous amount of skills and if he were to explain them fully it would take up a whole novel. 

Oh, wait a second. 

Robinson Crusoe - CV

Practical and optimistic ordinary young Englishman, with a variety of practical skills, who is a devote follower of His word, and an amiable slave master, looking to flourish as an adventurer.


Practical skills
·         Basket weaver
·         Baker
·         Boat-builder
·         Chef
·         Tanner
·         Seamstress
·         Potter
·         Lumberjack
·         Goatsheard
·         Home maker
·         Navigator
·         Miner
·         Architect
·         Vintner
·         Farmer
      ·         Marksman 

 Special skills
·         Slave-driver – I fancied myself a companion, in the form of a slave, whom I began to speak to, and teach him to speak to me; and first, made him know his name should be Friday, which was the day I saved his life.
·         Tutor – I made it my business to teach him (Friday, so above mentioned slave and companion) everything that was proper and useful, and especially to make him speak, and understand me when I spoke.
·         Killer – have killed at least ten natives, and at least five Englishmen
·         God-fearing – believes heartily in Providence and reads the Bible every day.

·         Survivor

References – available on request. 

Talking about hiring vagrants and castaways, check out this dude.

Take note of the link beneath the pictures and watch the trailer, it's fricken hilarious. There's a skull in a wig!!


A book a week?!

I don’t particularly have any New Years resolutions – instead, I reflected on what was crap about 2010, mainly me being horrifically lazy and not taking opportunities when they were laid before me on a silver platter, and so deciding that I wouldn’t repeat that again in 2011. This is set to be a busy year, if I put my mind to it. But if I had one New Years resolution it is this: to read one book a week. I have designated shelf-space with ‘to read’ books on it and currently I have 28 books on it, not to mention all the books in Bath I’ve been picking up, and all those crumbly books I’ve been drooling over on here. A book a week. That is what is expected of me at least! Especially if I want to re-read my favourite series this summer, including Temeraire, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. I usually make a point of reading all of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings but alas that didn’t happen in 2010. Here’s to 2011, a year of books!

This Christmas holiday I’ve been a tad lazy. I told myself I should read at least three books. Well, actually I did finish three books, but since two of them have been on the go since September, it doesn’t really count. I will review two of those books in the next couple of posts.

p.s. I'm also aiming to write a blog entry a week, so if I stick to this book-a-week idea I should have endless amounts of material to write about.