Having discovered who her mother is and wanting to rescue Nate, who might be the love of her life and has been kidnapped by the Sea Goddess Sedna, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith – Bertie – sets out into the world with four miscreant fairies and one devious air-elemental. And this is where one really big difference between the first and second books occurs: the setting. Where the casual magic of the Theatre Illuminata kind of made sense because it’s a theatre, and it seems to occupy a space not really connected to a particular time or space, the ‘real’ world is meant to be just that. So the magic of Bertie’s words, and of some of the other characters met along the way, seemed slightly more out of place. Perhaps this is because I was expecting the story to be more grounded in particularity – perhaps Bertie’s ‘real’ (non-theatre) world isn’t meant to be any more ‘my’ real world at all.
That’s maybe a quibble, but it did still sit at the back of my mind gnawing a bit. There were a couple of other things that gnawed, including Bertie’s relationship with and attitude towards both Nate and Ariel. I’m not a fan of the love triangle at the best of times, and this one made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t tell which one I thought she would, or should, end up with! Perhaps silly, but there you go. I also occasionally had difficulty telling whether something was actually happening to Bertie in the real world, or whether it was a dream, or if it was happening for real but in an other place. It may well be that Mantchev was blurring boundaries deliberately, but I found that this confusion threw me out of the story occasionally.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this novel. Mantchev has a delightful turn of phrase and it’s fast-moving enough that I basically read it in a sitting (helps that I am on holidays). Bertie continues to be an enjoyable and engaging heroine, who develops by necessity as she encounters difficulties and as she considers the holds that people have on her, and how to be her own person. The fairies are still winsome and incorrigible, and have renewed my own interest in pie. Ariel… continues to be problematic. I don’t especially like The Tempest, but should I ever bother to see it again I will certainly have difficulty viewing him without Mantchev-glasses (I will also suffer from Dan-Simmons-glasses when watching Caliban, so maybe I really ought not to see it again. Oh so sad). The plot, as I said, was fast-moving and had some fun bits, but I think suffers with comparison to the first book. That was so tight, and focussed around one really core issue, that it felt utterly of a piece. Here, although rescuing Nate is central, the action feels more episodic and bound together much more loosely.
I’m intrigued that there is a third (and, I think, final) book in the series; it will be very interesting to see where Mantchev takes Bertie et al next.
I went to see Bell Shakespeare’s version of Julius Caesar last night as part of my 2010 Christmas present from my mother (Much Ado About Nothing was the first half, in which I laughed harder than I ever have before in a theatre). Often Bell makes a point of shifting a play into an obviously different era – Much Ado had a 1950s Italian-American vibe going on. But Julius just had the players in suits, and other than that was quite timeless.
It was a marvellous production and I am sure there are any number of brilliant reviews already out there. There a couple of things I wanted to note. One is that Cassius was played as a woman, which worked surprisingly well in that very few of the lines actually took on any other significance – unlike when Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are women, which I’ve seen, and gives their interaction with Hamlet maaaany more layers indeed. The woman who took the role was very good, although she did make her quite sharp and shrewd – interesting to consider whether I would have got this impression about a man (I haven’t seen this performed in years). Should also mention that Brutus was exceptionally good – and older than I have seen him played before, as was Caesar himself, which I really appreciated. Also Portia, Brutus’ wife, was agonisingly wonderful.
Mark Antony was appropriately young, and had a very clever transition in terms of costume: the first time he is on stage, his trousers are rolled up and he was shirtless. A bit later he was in a hoody… a while later he was in ‘office-casual’, shirt with cotton sweater; then by the end in quite a sharp suit, with his hair tied back (it had been out for the rest of the play; it wasn’t until this bit that it was obvious he had an UNDERCUT. Hello 1995!) So that was cleverly done.
The actress who played Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, also played Octavian. Make of that what you will.
The thing that left me breathless with appreciation happened right at the end. The stage was enclosed on three side with office chairs, and the only prop on stage was a single pillar, a la the Forum, with some scaffolding around it. More of the scaffolding gets built throughout the play, by the actors themselves, in some beautifully choreographed movements. Right at the end the scaffold is built up quite high and rods attached to the top… and the final action, basically, is to hide the single pillar with drapes showing three pillars instead. O, the symbolism! I swoon in delight.
I read this because it was the book picked by Mondy for March’s Writer and the Critic podcast, on which I was the guest (which is full of spoilers for the book). It’s kinda my sort of book… and kinda really not.
I am a Shakespeare Fan. I love me some Bard. Not the comedies, though; I love the tragedies and the histories. Oh, and Much Ado, but that’s a whole ‘nother story (one involving Kenneth and Emma and Ben Elton and Michael Keaton and Keanu…). So, a book that alternates chapters about Will Shakespeare Greenberg, aspiring Masters student at UCal, with the late-teen years of William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon, is in theory a very appealing one to me. And Winfield clearly knows (or got to know) his Shakespeare: there are allusions, and direct quotes, in I think every single chapter – and they all seemed effortless, too. I enjoyed the development of sixteenth-century Stratford. I’m not entirely convinced by man-whore Shakespeare, but I see the point from a narrative point of view, and it’s not a completely ridiculous suggestion. Overall it was a reasonably interesting portrayal of his early adulthood.
On the other hand, there was Will Greenberg. A book published in 2008 choosing the mid-1980s as its setting is kinda weird, although I understand why: Winfield was drawing (perhaps tenuous) connections between the persecution of Catholics by Elizabeth with the crackdown on drugs by the Reagan administration. The portrayal of a Masters student of literature was hugely stereotypical, sadly – although again I see the point from a narrative point of view, especially in terms of the drug use. It doesn’t help the view of Arts students in general though, and the idea that marvellous ideas come in a flash of lightning or drug overdose is just annoying and unhelpful. It may be that I am a prude, but I got bored by the descriptions of drug use and the explicit sexual content; it got in the way of telling the story.
So… not really my thing, actually. Certainly well written, in the early modern bits in particular; as a former history/lit student myself I found the brief discussion of literary theory, especially the bagging of New Historicism, pretty funny (I am a big fan of Stephen Greenblatt, one of the original proponents). But the characters weren’t that engaging and the story wasn’t that compelling.
Day 26 – OMG WTF? OR most irritating/awful/annoying book ending
If Roman Holiday were a book, that would be my answer.
Other than that… well, Tess would once again get a look-in. Keeping in mind I haven’t read it since I was forced to for Year 12, it still sticks in my mind as nearly making me scream with disgust and annoyance.
There are few others that come to mind. This is one of those occasions where having a bad memory is a blessing. But oh yes: those Shakespeare plays where the man has fallen in love with the girl-twin-disguised-as-a-boy, and the woman falls in love with that same twin, and THEN the BOY-twin turns up and it’s all ok? Yes, Twelfth Night, I’m lookin’ at YOU. I hate that.
We went to see Bell Shakespeare do it last night. I’ve been looking forward to seeing it for months, so I was glad that it was good. And I had worded J up beforehand, so that he at least knew the story line. Speaking of whom, at half time he said: “I don’t see why it’s called Othello; it’s all about Iago.” Which was a good call, I thought – Wayne Blair was good, as the Moor, but Marcus Graham absolutely kicked ass as Iago. He was so… evil. And manipulative. And just plain brilliant.
Couple of things I noted:
1. I have studied this play maybe three times, in different subjects, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it performed. Iago is so sexual! Half his big speeches seem to have to do with sex. Which is not a bad thing, but I had never realised it before, so it goes to prove that seeing a performance is infinitely better than simply reading words on a page (well, duh). And no, I don’t think it was just the twist Graham gave the words… although his body language certainly reinforced it!
2. It’s really quite racist. Well, duh, say all the historians – but you know, you’d think that if Shakespeare was putting a black man as nominally the lead it would be a bit sympathetic to him, but… not really. Othello isn’t rational – he “loves not wisely, but too well” – while many of the white (male) characters are; he is made to say some bad things about his own colour, and most of the other speakers get in a comment about his colour too. It made me think – and I’m not sure I ever considered this before, which is to my shame – whether a black man would actually have played Othello in Elizabethan times. I bet that if one did, you wouldn’t have been able to hear the words of the play, for all the excitement it would cause in the audience. Or maybe I’m overestimating the ability of an Elizabethan crowd to be impressed by anything.
3. The female characters are dreadful. Desdemona is weak (although there was one point in this version where it did look like she and Cassio were getting… close…); Emilia is devious, and would be a slut if given the opportunity; Bianca is a whore. Delightful!
4. The Cassio last night was disappointing. He’s meant to be this great lady killer, and Tom Wren just isn’t… pretty enough. He was a bit weak, I thought.
And of course it made me think of Wise Children, since Othello is one of the plays whose plot the family follows in some respects. If you like Shakespearean drama at all and haven’t read it, you really really have to. I would go so far as to say that it was the best book my Arts degree introduced me to.
And then, after, we had a lovely walk to the tram, looking at all the buildings in the mist. Our city is best by night.
On this show, some pop-science thing, there was a throw-away comment about how 400 years ago, Shakespeare would have been sending the final draft of Hamlet to the printers.
Oh my GOODNESS.
Oh my GOODNESS! I came home after Macbeth (sorry, The Scottish Play) tonight and looked at my fish and this is what I saw!! The Monster Angels were patrolling, so I can only think that they are the parents! Although I am positive that I saw the white one take a few nibbles of the clump, so they are both protecting and eating… EEK! How exciting. Again!
I have been a very cultural girl the last two days.
Last night I went to see David Malikoff’s one-man performance of the poem, mostly using Raffell’s (I think that’s right) translation. It was very impressive; he was exceptioanlly good at changing voices and stances to indicate different characters. I have only ever read an abridged version of the poem, and it probably wasn’t a very good translation; I think I will have to remedy the situation. He really made it come alive.
I didn’t really know what this was going to be like, but I should have paid more attention to the subtitle and got an idea: “A Masterclass in Evil”. That’s what it was; rather simply doing various soliloquys, which I was worried would be boring, he also commentated on the villains and the plays and the nature of evil and villainy themselves. Stephen Berkoff was amazing. David M was good; he was brilliant. He did Iago (mediocre); Richard III (genius); Macbeth (wannabe) and his Lady; Shylock; Hamlet; Coriolanus; and finally Oberon. I think the highlight probably was the scene between Macbeth and Lady M plotting Duncan’s death (drifting in and out of a ridiculously strong Scottish accent), although Hamlet and Gertrude in the bedchamber came a close second. I will never look the same on some of these characters again.
And in between, I saw my Nana and two of her brothers, which was a very pleasant interlude indeed.