14 May 2017

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Feb 2016
The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith - Sphere, 2015
* * * *
Now I know I have complained about books featuring authors and publishers in the past, but I am going to give this one a pass, largely because they are victims or possible perps rather than protagonists. This is a proper whodunit with an intriguing set up, plausible suspects and proper clues. And unlike The Cuckoo's Calling, it doesn't make a mess of the ending.
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Mar 2016
The Book of Legendary Lands - Umberto Eco, tr. Alastair McEwen - MacLehose Press, 2015
* *
A disappointment, this. I got it because it looked pretty and I thought that Eco would have some interesting things to say about worldbuilding and its semiotic meanings. Unfortunately, he doesn't, really, contenting himself with potted histories of legendary locations such as Camelot, Thule and Atlantis which were clearly culled from his research for Foucault's Pendulum. The copious pictures are beautiful, but I got the impression that this was meant to be a coffee-table book rather than a serious work of literature.
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Apr 2016
The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern - Vintage, 2012
* * * * *
I have always had a soft spot for stories of travelling entertainers. The irruption of the marvellous into the workaday world, which they represent, is a very powerful idea, because it is something we all want (the trope of the romantic meet-cute - the handsome prince who sweeps you off your feet, the princess so beautiful that when she looks at you, the entire world stops - is another very common manifestation of the same thing). As a child, the appearance of the leaflets advertising the arrival of the annual funfair was a source of great excitement. The reality, of course, was rather different. Fairs and circuses are intensely physical places, grimy, noisy and smelly, and I wandered round them in a permanent state of mild disappointment that they were not as extraordinary as I had imagined.

Writers who set their stories in such an environment have a challenge to avoid engendering a similar feeling in the reader. How to keep the location sufficiently real that it doesn't feel twee or whimsical, while still retaining a sense of wonder and possibility? It's a difficult balance to pull off, and few writers have achieved it. One such is Ray Bradbury's fabulous Something Wicked This Way Comes, which uses the darkness and wildness of autumn and hallowe'en to give his carnival a fantastical edge. The Night Circus is more derivative, but that is about the only thing I can say against it.
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