I haven’t read War and Peace. Have you?

books tv

How often have you been dating, interviewed, or even quizzed on Facebook and in a moment of panic told a porky when asked ‘have you read War and Peace’?

Mumble mumble mumble

Well, you’re not the only one… According to pollsters almost half of us claim to have read more than we have. The stats don’t surprise me. I know I’ve done it. Why? Because claiming to have read War and Peace instead of  Twilight means people will see our smarter and more cultured selves? I dunno, you tell me. It seems silly when you think about it.

With Tolstoy’s Russian masterpiece weighing in it at 1,225 pages, getting through the tome takes commitment , (32.63 hours worth of shopping, eating, gaming), and with twitter and the BBC serving up instant gratification versions, ‘enhancing’ your Good Reads account has never been easier.

The reception to Andrew Davies’ adaption was good, really good, but can a well received TV series transmit everything Tolstoy poured into his masterpiece? It’s a question that the Handmaids Tale recent televisual success has also left me wondering, (because, between you and me I  haven’t actually read that one either).

But, if you agree with Stephen King that ‘the word is only a representation of the meaning’ then its arguable that it doesn’t matter how many (or how few) words a story is told in as long as at least one of them captures the essence of its meaning. So with this theory in mind, when your teacher, mum, date next asks the question and you don’t have 30+ hours to spare, do you think checking out the twitter take, quoting King and saying yes will leave you guilt free?

I’m not sure, but i’d like to think to find out. And with that final kick of motivation… i’m off to read Tolstoy….

Napoleon invades Russia. Russian aristocratic families sent into a tizz. War ensues. French retreat. Russians celebrate. Lots of them marry.



Following Trumps inauguration

I am finding comfort in the words of Douglas  Adams;

And this computer, which was called the Earth, was so large that it was frequently mistaken for a planet – especially by the strange apelike beings who roamed its surface, totally unaware that they were simply part of a gigantic computer program. And this is very odd, because without that fairly simple and obvious piece of knowledge, nothing that ever happened on the Earth could possibly make the slightest bit of sense. Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe 


Application to membership: Daphne Du Maurier fanclub

Had it not been for my insatiable interest in the uncommon, the Gothic and the antiquated (as found in Jamaica Inn), I would have dismissed Rebecca without trial. I found its literary predecessor Jane Eyre unrewarding and as a rule, find plot-lines hitched on ‘other women’ devices’ uninspiring.

But this isn’t a dissection of my literary palate, it’s a request for membership to the Daphne Du Maurier fanclub, (and a celebration of sleep depriving work). The author’s knack for dragging characters like Mrs Danvers into 21st heads is why I read Rebecca in 48 hours. Prose of the kind used in Jamaica Inn explains why I overlooked the romance’s blurb.

And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same. Jamaica Inn

Mary was no hypocrite; she was bred to the soil, and she had lived too long with birds and beasts, had watched them mate. and bear their young, and die. There was precious little romance in nature, and she would not look for it in her own life. Jamaica Inn

I was rewarded for overstepping my literary borders with the freedom to roam through Du Maurier’s heroine’s lovesick head. Although I couldn’t relate to the pointedly nameless and submissive character, the depiction of her bought of love is displayed so vividly that even the most confident tinder user can’t help but sympathise.

He had not said anything yet about being in love. No time perhaps. It was all so hurried at the breakfast table. Marmalade, and coffee, and that tangerine. No time. The tangerine was very bitter. No, he had not said anything about being in love.

Not only did the writer’s characters and narrative style allow me to enjoy Rebecca, the skill with which Du Maurier manipulates her reader through plot twists, saw  a 21st century feminist rooting for a wife stifling chauvinist. I’ve never agreed with the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ idiom (where books are concerned), never judge a book by its genre however, was a rule I left Rebecca constemplating.


(What can you buy for 80p?) Penguin’s literary tuck shop

The days of getting a pint for 80p were over before I was born. Nowadays 80p gets you a pint of milk and a packet of Angel Delight- (tasty but less mind-altering.)

For a treat that fattens the mind rather then the waistline, head to your nearest bookstore and pick up one of the new Penguin Classics range of 80p mini masterpieces.


In an enlightened move in the fight to save the book trade (and bring classics to the masses), Penguin have released 80 ‘Little Black Classics’: Small enough to fit in your handbag and cheap enough to be bought alongside your lunchtime meal deal.

Before embarking on a recent train journey I spent £1.60 and received in return, Jane Austen’s ‘The Beautiful Cassandra’ and Guy de Maupassant’s ‘Femme Fatale’: Literary snippets whose slimness is just as appealing as their price. Whilst the skinny volumes won’t appear as grand and imposing on your bookshpostera_1elf as their ancestors, the feeling of intimidation involved in embarking on a 500 page literary voyage is pleasantly absent, (as is the chance of being awoken by a tome of 19th century literature landing on your nose.) And let’s face it, carting a half tone of Dickens around the country is no fun for anyone.

It seems appropriate that the booklets, so perfect for train journey’s, have been released in celebration of the publishers 80th birthday. Allen Lane, (the gentleman who was so disgruntled with the choice of literature available at train station’s that he formed Penguin), would be delighted that his brain child is celebrating their birthday by providing excellent and affordable train reading material.

(Alternatively, you could buy yourself 4 Freddo’s and pretend you’re on the  Hogwarts Express).

For the full list of Little Black Classics click here


aGHAST at the lack of GORMEN

“We are all imprisoned by the dictionary. We choose out of that vast, paper-walled prison our convicts, the little black printed words, when in truth we need fresh sounds to utter, new enfranchised noises which would produce a new effect.”

Peake, Mervyn, Titus Groan

Employing the creative wordplay that typifies his work, Peake uses three lines to identify and illuminate the difference between a book that remains with you for as long as it takes to read, and those which, (like Gormenghast,) entrench themselves within your psyche. In short Peake explains the key to his success as a writer, or at least, the critical success of the Gormenghast trilogy. (An important distinction because whilst those brave enough might suggest that Peake’s masterpiece technically surpasses Tolkein’s, only the later one allows you to don pixeled elven  garb and traipse Mordor). http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/aug/16/gormenghast-masterpiece-mervyn-peake

Attempting to explain Peake’s ability to create mind altering description, critics have highlighted the writer’s occupation as an illustrator. However, whilst the artist’s eye is undoubtedly advantageous, I feel that Peake is able to drag his readers so wholly into Gormenghast because he is able to fuse together combinations of words and ideas that no other writer would consider. (Or at least none that I’ve read yet).

Hence why i’m aghast that i’ve clocked up almost a quarter century of literature loving life without brushing paths with Meryvn Peake’s Gormenghast Trillogy. For his descriptive abilities alone he should be on the syllabus.(And yeah, I appreciate the irony of using a corny play on words blog title to introduce a post celebrating excellent language use.)

This is how Peake begins to describe Gormenghast:

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

It’s curious though because whilst I feel enriched as a person and a writer for having read Gormenghast, I simultaneously acknowledge that there’s a lot you could dislike about the trilogy. (Not that any of the following criticisms excuse it for having missed the literary bandwagon). Unlike a lot of popular fiction, the work is not hugely plot driven and the dense layering of description often overwhelms the comparatively sparse dialogue. The characters additionally, one might recognise as pantomime heroes and villains; (the moody teenager, spluttering doctor and depressive king).

However, I’d argue that even the flaws simultaneously work to redeem themselves: Yes, the work is description heavy, but it’s not description in the normal necessary setting the scene sense. This description is made of chunks of art work that you consume it without ever checking how many pages are left. The characters, whilst arguably carved from the same block as stock panto figures, have their oddities so richly detailed and expanded upon that they, like the description, rise above their carving blocks. .

In consequence of my appreciation for the Gormenghast trilogy, I have dedicated a post to this lurking literary gem in order to alert as many people as possible that they need to read it instantly. (Go go go! To the bookstore!) However, if you’re one of the lucky ones whose brain is already creeping past Flay’s sleeping form, help me share the love for a wrongfully neglected masterpiece.