Bookworming

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Arthur & George

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

Category: Books

Find it on: LibraryThing

What it is:
Based on real life events, the novel tells the story of Arthur Conan Doyle and his involvement in the unjust conviction of a lawyer, George Edalji. Or, while this is the reason why the two men met, the novel goes further than that because it tells almost their entire life stories and puts them against the background of the early 20th century Britain.

How I found it:
I don’t remember at all but the blurb sounded just like my thing. I never read Barnes before either.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed it though it missed something that would make me enjoy it ferociously. So I just enjoyed it in a lady-like manner.

Best things about it:
The novel is a very well-crafted, subtle piece of writing, employing a truly gentlemanly restraint: in fact, it manages to reflect what was expected of a well-bred man of the era through its very form. At the same time it reads well and the muddy details of the criminal case make one want to keep going to find out how it was solved.
Obviously, a book about Sherlock Holmes’ creator may be well-expected to involve an investigative plotline and, equally obviously, this is hard to pull off in anything un-pulpy. Barnes managed nicely.

Worst things about it:
As mentioned, I felt something was missing to make my involvement in the story complete. The restraint kept me from getting excited about any of the developments but, I suspect, the main thing missing is a female element. This is just such a manly book, and not at all in a Hemingwayan sense.

Other pluses:
✤ The characters relate to each other in a very interesting manner: even though at first glance they seem extremely different, the deeper you get into their personal relationships, families, limitations, the more similarities you find.
✤ The historical world is rendered in memorable detail, it feels lived in not just copied from research materials. I always appreciate that.
✤ One of the main themes of the novel is the impossibility of really knowing things (and, perversely, human beings’ need to know). It aligns interestingly with both Sherlock Holmes (whose popularity relies on the absolute knowledge he stands for) and with the crime that the novel focuses on.
✤ As I mentioned before, I’m often uncertain about the ethics of writing about historical figures but I feel Barnes did right by them. While I didn’t find either man particularly likeable, they are both drawn with attention and compassion.

Other minuses:
✤ In a few fragments the narrative voice changes: while it normally sticks closely to either Arthur or George, a few times it presents the point of view of another character or two. I found that inconsistent on a few levels and not really adding much to the story.
✤ Similarly, the novel employs two tenses: past for Arthur, present for George. I don’t find a good enough reason for that.
✤ Another prominent theme of the novel, Englishness, does not interest me in the least, but I’ll admit that it’s probably much more interesting for actual English people.

How it enriched my life:
I learned about a fact from Conan Doyle’s life that I didn’t know about so I guess it’s something for a trivia night (I don’t do those). I’m always curious to learn more about Victorian and Edwardian society.

Cover notes:
While I acknowledge what the cover is trying to do – create an old-fashioned, turn of the last century impression – this is done in an extremely uninspiring way, especially in the ornaments and the typography. The illustration is the best part, particularly the fact that we see the men’s backs, which corresponds to the theme of unknowability.

Follow-up:
I’ve already put Flaubert’s Parrot on my reading list because I’m curious to read more Barnes and his interests seem to align with mine.

Recommended for:
Fans of somewhat more ambitious, more serious historical novel focused on people’s everyday life (also: real people’s life) rather than on huge historic moments.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Back to Legion

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Riverdale (S1)

I never read Archie Comics. I was aware of their existence but I only knew that’s where “Betty and Veronica” came from (TV Tropes is my heroin). But I saw the trailer for Riverdale and decided it looked interesting.

er-riverdale-1Riverdale (season 1)

Category: TV show

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A CW reinvention of classic Archie characters, which tries to make the story dark. It starts with the murder of Jason Blossom (and some statutory rape, to be very strict about it) to make it sufficiently dark from the go. Archie, Betty and Veronica (and also everyone’s favorite pretentious Jughead) are all somewhat involved with the murder, and with one another. The whole other bunch of stories revolves around the parents (who include Luke Perry, so I’m all for it) and their mostly dark pasts. So you know, it’s not the classic Archie story.

How I found it:
After I saw the trailer, I watched a couple of episodes and while I liked the look of the show, I dropped it for a long time. But during our game of Monster Hearts (never mind), A was always using Riverdale for inspiration and it made me return to finish the season.

Summary judgment:
This show turns out to be a lot of fun.

Best things about it:
It looks great. The stylization, the colors, everyone’s eyebrows: it’s all to the point and makes watching the show a visual feast. I particularly like how they use colored lights, especially aqua, magenta and red, to create the mood of the whole thing. Seriously, there are no white light bulbs in the entire town – and it creates such a memorable look. Oh yeah, and the story is okay, I guess.

Worst things about it:
I couldn’t care less about Jason Blossom’s murder. This whole crime part of the show didn’t grab me at all.

Other pluses:
✤ Well, hello there, Luke Perry. I spent my late childhood in love with Dylan McKay and I’m glad to see Luke Perry mature well.
✤ Speaking of this, Mrs. Cooper looks great: she’s clearly not 30 but possibly one of the most attractive people on the show. I like that age shows on some of the parents.
✤ I like how the show is going for far-fetched rather than realistic and how it’s clearly a decision, not an accident. It (barely) saves it from just being a weird soap opera.

Other minuses:
So here are a couple of characters I hate: Mr. Blossom, Mrs. Blossom, Mrs. Grundy (ugh). Veronica straddles the line and Hermione often crosses it.

How it enriched my life:
At first it was a bit of a time-killer but then I got quite invested.

Fun fact:
It’s got nothing to do with Riverdale, just with Dylan McKay but close enough. So a couple of years ago we watched a few first episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and wow, was Dylan a terrible boyfriend. At one point he tells Brenda that he has his “needs” and it’s not his fault that she finds him with another girl if she missed a train by which she was supposed to come see him. It ruined some of my precious childhood fantasies. Also, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re clearly not my generation.

Follow-up:
I’m ready for season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of teen soap dramas on the dark side who don’t mind them rather theatrical. People who miss Beverly Hills 90210.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Still at it with Riverdale After Dark

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Heathers

It’s the 80’s/90’s nostalgia wave and I am willing to oblige.

er-heathersHeathers (1989)

Category: Movies

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A 1989 dark comedy / high school satire or something like that. Three Heathers and a Veronica rule a school but Veronica, played by a really young Winona Ryder, doesn’t find it as exciting as she hoped. So when she meets a charming psychopath, played by a really young Christian Slater, she joins him on a killing spree. This, however, she doesn’t find that exciting either.

How I found it:
Now that people are remaking the movie as a TV show I remembered its existence. I once saw a part of this movie on TV but I didn’t know what I was getting into and the tone of the movie put me off immediately. I decided to give it another go now that I knew what to expect.

Summary judgment:
I don’t think I’m the ideal audience for this movie and I find it really hard to judge.

Best things about it:
It’s stylish, with all the main characters and even, alright, Slater, looking great. The visual side of the movie makes it clear how it works more like a film version of a comic than a portrayal of an actual school clique.
They created a whole dialect for this movie. People say of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that Whedon wrote a teen slang that is completely invented but sounds realistic and I think Heathers‘ writers tried to do it first. The dialogs don’t really sound natural but they are full of quotable gems, “f*ck me gently with a chainsaw,” being the most memorable.

Worst things about it:
I had a problem with the tone of the movie. Of course, it’s fairly obvious what it is going for but at least now, thirty years later, it feels particularly tone-deaf. Everything is drawn with such thick lines and you can’t really care for any of the characters. It really does feel like an adaptation of some nihilistic cartoon stripe, which would be fine, but then sometimes it goes for those analyses of the condition of (then) modern teenagers and of how high school reflects society, which sound false. I’d rather have a consistent collection of cartoonish sketches.

Other pluses:
✤ I liked the joke with mineral water.
✤ The color-coding of the girls, while obvious, always earns a plus in my book.
✤ I like the emancipated (and smoked) Winona Ryder in the end. But I still have a hard time understanding her character.

Other minuses:
✤ The last part with the bombing. And boy, did this film grow old when you think of it. It’s hard to imagine a modern teen movie, even a satirical one, using the same motifs (which makes it half-interesting how they’re going to pull off the remake).
✤ I really disliked Christian Slater in this role. And “Greetings and saluuutaations” earns the movie another minus in my book.

How it enriched my life:
I discovered a source of some quotes I sometimes come across. And if I were the kind of person to send people animated gifs in emails as emotional comments, I would find a ton in this movie.

Fun fact:
I can totally see myself saying “How very” for a while now. My husband will just have to deal ’cause that’s how I roll.

Follow-up:
I’m not coming back to this one and unless I read very interesting things about the re-make, I doubt I will be watching it either.

Recommended for:
People with a very serious case of 1980’s/90’s nostalgia or curiosity who don’t mind superficiality in their portrayal of social ills. Or fans of 80’s fashion, maybe.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Riverdale

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