I love Macbeth.
Yes, I know it’s almost a cliche. I also love Hamlet and loathe Romeo and Juliet.
I first studied the play in Year 10; we watched the Polanski/Finch/Annis version, which is why every Lady Macbeth will forever be compared to Francesca Annis for me, because she was breathtaking. Since then (lo these many years), I’ve seen it performed at least once by Bell Shakespeare – although their production list suggests I may have seen it twice, but 2007 is a long, long time ago. I saw it performed at least once at uni: it was done in the round, and the conceit was to have the characters all dressed as punks. And I mean stereotypical punks: spiked hair, rings, spiked leather jackets, the works. I was blown away by it at the time. I also feel like I must have seen it done another time at uni – it’s such an obvious play for that context. Anyway, there’s also been two film versions that got enough advertising that I saw them: the Australian – Melbourne, in fact – ganglands version which was amazing, and the Fassbender/Cotillard version that I was pretty disappointed by.
And now, of course, there’s a new version. With Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Which I am very excited by. So here’s the plan: to watch this version and then, over the next couple of months, watch the other versions as well. Just to see what happens.
I read this courtesy of NetGalley; it’s out in April 2022.
Glorious. Frustrating. Confusing. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking…
It’s hard to know how to talk about this book.
The first thing that needs to be said is that it’s unfinished. The author, John M Ford, died in 2006. He had been working on this novel, it seems, for many years – at least that’s what I get from the introduction, written by a friend of Ford’s, Neil Gaiman. And so… the book is incomplete. That is, there’s no conclusion; and I suspect there are bits that might have been edited for clarity if the author had, indeed finished.
And I nearly cried when I got to the end, because this book is just so amazing. Like, this could have been the start of one of The Great Series. I’ve read only one other Ford novel, and I think a few short stories; this makes me want to go back and read absolutely everything. Because if this is the standard, well – I’ve been missing out.
Aspects is set in an alternate world. It’s kind of Britain, I think, although it doesn’t seem to be an island. It’s kind of analogous to the nineteenth century – there are trains (the Ironways), for instance, and there’s a form of electricity but some people are suspicious. But chemistry doesn’t quite seem to work the way it does here. Religion is important, but it’s not a Christianity-analogue; there’s a goddess with several faces, and matching consorts. And there’s a Parliament, with Commons and Lords, but here’s the final difference to our world: the lords are lords of the land, of religion – and of sorcery, or Craft.
So it’s kind of steampunk, but it doesn’t really fit into what I know of that category, and it’s fantasy set in an industrial context. Honestly though it just defies categorisation. It’s a deeply political work – three of the main characters are in Parliament, and at least part of the narrative revolves around machinations there, like writing a new constitution. It’s a country struggling to figure itself out several decades after becoming a republic – and it seems that the previous monarchy had been imposed by a conquering race, although that’s one aspect (heh) that I never quite got my head around. Some of the characters have the ability to use magic, which is not without its difficulties, and it’s clear that was going to a significant thread if the book had continued. There’s a romance, with its own difficulties; and such a large array of characters, all with their quirks (and bringing diversity, too) that this should have – could have – provided many, many pages of just mesmerising story. And now I’m making myself sad all over again that I’ll never read them.
Ford’s writing can be profound: “Play keeps us happy and agile, in mind and muscle; sleep and good meals keep us alive. We can misspend time – hurting people, ourselves included, making the world worse – but to ‘waste’ time – to get no motion at all, good or bad – to do that one would have to be not at alive at all” (p172 of the e-version). While I was sometimes a bit confused about what was going on, I was always captivated by the writing itself and somehow convinced – even though I don’t know Ford’s work that well – that everything would eventually make sense. And I was largely right.
I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for… maybe a decade? It was a gift, I’m pretty sure. I always intended to read it, but it just didn’t grab me. I maybe thought that it seemed a bit too… serious, perhaps. Although exactly why it would be serious with quite such a title, and a dinghy with a bright red sail on the cover, don’t ask me to explain. At any rate I thought I wasn’t going to love it, and I’d have to psych myself up to finally get through it. And I finally got to that point this week, as well as a desire to get through some of Mount ToBeRead.
And, of course, I loved it.
In 1997, the Australian author is an English teacher in England. After 6 years, he decides that it’s time to do something different, and to help figure out what that is he borrows the school’s Mirror dinghy – which has been sitting abandoned for some time – and sets out to sail for a few weeks, over to the border with Wales. Predictably, given it’s now a book (and quite a thick one – 348 pages), that’s not the end of it. In three stints, with a fair gap between the first two because of the weather, Mackinnon ends up at the Black Sea. Yes: he sails through England to Dover, across the Channel, and then via canals and rivers and many, many locks, he gets to the Black Sea. Yes, it’s incredible; it takes about a year of travel.
One of the things that really worked for me, here, is the prose. Mackinnon is an English and drama teacher and it absolutely shows because he’s got literary and musical references coming out of his pores. He sings hymns and musical numbers to while away the hours, he compares himself to Odysseus, and he decides to commit all of Keats to memory while sailing the dinghy. He describes the scenery he passes and his various adventures, mishaps, and joys with great humour and a great eye for detail.
Another thing that’s a great joy here is that Mackinnon balances the travel-as-place aspect with the travel-as-people part. There’s a lot of description of the natural and industrial landscape he moves through, and occasionally runs into (rapids, derelict ships, willows, etc). And it’s very evocative. At the same time, the people he meets are a huge part of the adventure. Mackinnon had the most outrageous luck the whole way along – something he himself acknowledges, and admits that he has to work to convince his friends back home that these things really happened. (Yes, I did stop to wonder whether this was all completely made up… and I guess that’s possible. But there’s no way to prove it, so I’m happy to take it on a little faith.) He meets people who feed him, give him a bed, give him directions, and – most importantly – help him to fix the boat when it’s in direst need. The journey would have been much, much shorter if serendipity hadn’t been on his side.
This was a delightful read; and selfishly I’m glad it happened when it did, because this would have been completely different with a mobile phone.