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Book Review: “Titus Groan,” by Mervyn Peake

6607257Genre: classic; literary

Plot Summary: Once upon a time there was an infant son and heir born to the Groan family of Gormenghast Castle.  His name was Titus and being so young he was yet unaware of the long line of history and tradition of which he stood in line to inherit.  But things were turned on their head (quite literally) on the day of his christening, and strange events began to unfold that are even stranger than the world into which he was born.

My Book Review: The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake has been on my reading list from very early on.  I believe it was a discovery made while perusing the Dover catalog.  I really had no idea what it was about, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries.  In this case, it was a very interesting discovery indeed, and has become one of my top reads for this year so far.

This isn’t normally a book I would have picked out for myself, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what it was about. I’m proud of myself for completing such a thick book.  I’m also usually more action-oriented, whereas this is more character driven.  There is not a lot of action and when there is there is always a slow buildup to it, making those scenes stand out more.  I tend to quickly forget details and character names of a lot of the books I read, but not this one.  The scenes in this book stand out clear and defined in my mind, in large part due to great detailed descriptions.  With names like ‘Prunesquallor’, ‘Nannie Slagg’, and ‘Countess Gertrude Groan’, they’re hard to forget.  And the author’s own illustrations of many of them are wild and memorable as well.

Even better than just the names and pictures are the full-bodied characters themselves. You really have to read the book for yourself to make them come alive, and once you do I can almost guarantee they will live forever in your mind.  The insane Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Gormenghast, who thinks he’s an owl; his epileptic twin sisters Cora and Clarice who are stupid and vacant-minded; the vain, middle aged Irma Prunesquallor in love with a teenager; and the sociopathic Steerpike, the young puppet master behind the inhabitants of the castle.  These aren’t all the colorful people of the story; there are many more besides.  It’s ironic that the title character really doesn’t play a major role in this first of the series.  In fact it really only covers the first year or two of his life, but all the important things that occurred during it.

f021918e76aa942568f2cff1ff2172c9It’s hard to put a finger on why I liked this novel so much. At times it seemed rather dark, and longwinded, yet the wonderful descriptions and the weirdness of it all lured me on.  The author had a way of making even peeling paint sound interesting.  I think one of my favorite scenes was the description of Fuchsia’s attic hideaway.  Who wouldn’t want a great hidey-hole retreat like that all to oneself?

Is this book fantasy? I would not call it that, although it is set in a fantasy world.  If you go into it expecting fantasy, you might be bored.  It is not set in a particular time era, though the closest one might get is the 1880’s-1910 era with a fantastical twist.

Some say this book reads of despair and futility. It is dark and the people of Gormeghast do live futile lives of pointless ritual, but the unusual turn of things as Titus grows gives a glimpse that things may change with Titus as heir… ?

One caution: there is one chapter in which a character, Keda, has a one-night stand with a lover.

I’ve read that there is more than one audio drama of this series, and also a movie, but I don’t see how any of them can be as good as the novel.  If I ever come across them, I’ll surely review it and post if worth it.

Titus Groan won’t be for everyone.  But I’ve certainly learned that character-driven books can be just as interesting (or even more so) than the plotted ones.  I’m not sure what the other books in the series will be like, but I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next installment of Titus Groan’s life.  The entire series are as follows:

  1. Titus Groan
  2. Gormenghast
    1. Boy in Darkness
  3. Titus Alone
  4. Titus Awakes

I also recommend…

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

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A Post Full of Audio Dramas

I came across something entirely new to me– the ATC Seneca Awards, which recognizes the best in family audio dramas.  The Awards are according to the opinions of the Audio Theatre Central podcast which you can check out here.  I thought it would be fun to dredge up trailers for as many nominations as I could find and collect them all in one place on this post.  Audio dramas are a great source of favorite family memories and long car trip entertainment.  Have fun!

Captain Bayley’s Heir – (Heirloom Audio Productions; John Fornof (writer/director); starring John Rhys Davies, Finty Williams)

The Trials of St. Patrick – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); Philip Glassborow (producer); starring John Rhys Davies)

Ode to Saint Cecelia – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); starring Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell)

The Giant Killer – (Lamplighter Theatre; John Fornof)

Wulf the Saxon (couldn’t find a trailer) – (Heirloom Audio Productions; Todd Busteed (writer/director); John Campbell (score))

*You can find reviews of all of these audio dramas and more on the ATC podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Listen to “The Man Who Was Thursday” on BBC

Are you in the mood for a little G. K. Chesterton?  I enjoyed reading “The Man Who Was Thursday” a few years ago (see my book review here), but I am enjoying Geoffrey Palmer’s reading of it even more!  For a limited time, you can listen to it for free on BBC Radio 4.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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End of Year Random Book Post

Must do this post because my current new stack would fall over if it wasn’t propped up between my bookcase and my nightstand.  I’ve now started Bookcase #3 and have about 1 1.2 shelves left of free space on that.  Oh dear…  Does anyone else have these problems?

I love going through my accumulations because I forget what I have and it’s like Christmas all over again!

 

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2017 in Book Shopping

 

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Book Review: “The Phoenix and the Carpet,” by E. Nesbit

Genre: classic; children’s fiction; fantasy

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Four siblings- Cyril, Anthea, Robert, and Jane- experience magic adventures once again, as they happen across a unique egg that hatches into a beautiful Phoenix.  Along with the egg comes a magic carpet that will take them on one wild ride after another, and that is only limited by their imagination.

My Book Review: One of my most popular posts on this blog has been my book review of E. Nesbit’s “Five Children and It.”  I’m glad to know these children’s books are treasured by new generations of readers.  The very definition of a classic is that it is timeless- it’s relatable, a standard, and often imitated.  Nesbit really did break the mold in children’s fiction.  Her stories tell of ordinary children who happen across magic in their daily life.

I did not grow up with Nesbit.  Instead, I became interested in her works after I discovered Edward Eager’s Tales of Magic series in the young adult section of my library in my late teens.  After reading several of his novels (in which he always pays homage to Nesbit), I decided to try her books as well.  To be honest, I wasn’t all that enthusiastic over Five Children and It.  Maybe there’s something wrong with me but being spoiled with Eager books, the Nesbit children felt bland in comparison.  However, I decided to keep trying because I don’t give up that easily.

I have to say I liked this second novel in the Psammead series much better than the first.  I believe these were both early works of hers, but she had a little more writing under her belt by the time she wrote this one.  One reason it appealed to me more was the exotic locales the children travel to on their magic carpet.  All the around the world we go- from India, to Persia, and a remote island in the Pacific.  Such fun!  But there are local adventures, too, such as when the Phoenix demands to be taken to his holy temple—the local fire insurance company!

The chapters are long, and I still find these four children boring and unrelatable compared to Eager’s children.  Perhaps that is because Eager wrote his books fifty years later.  I’m not sure.  And of course, there are different opinions out there and some may like Edith Nesbit much better.  To each his own.  But I still plan on continuing with more Nesbits…

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Little Prince”

ec4e725b6d1c1d6faf94e3a956f7a7e4Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Version: 2015; starring Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, James Franco

Genre: children’s; animation

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] “A little girl lives in a very grown-up world with her mother, who tries to prepare her for it. Her neighbor, the Aviator, introduces the girl to an extraordinary world where anything is possible, the world of the Little Prince.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

Growing up, my mom had two copies of the French classic “The Little Prince.” One was in French (and incomprehensible to me), the other in English. Neither interested me very much.  The pictures looked bland and too unbelievable.  I was sure I wouldn’t enjoy the story.

Not too long ago I saw that Netflix had made an animated version of the book and I didn’t mind sitting down to spend an evening that way. I was mildly curious.  I was not prepared to be blown away.

I think I was drawn into it from the first notes of music. The art, the plot, the script were beautifully done.  The old phonograph playing was enough to melt my heart alone!  I was nearly crying by the end of it.  And now I want to read the book very much.  It isn’t often that film versions inspire me to read the book, but when they do…  🙂

This movie is actually told in two stories. One is of a little girl who is expected to live a life where childhood is forgotten.  She unexpectedly meets her next door neighbor, an eccentric old man (and self-proclaimed ‘hoarder’) who used to be an aviator once upon a time.  He begins to woo her friendship by telling her the story of the Little Prince he met in another world long ago.  The story of the Little Prince and his rose is told through stop-motion animation, and I loved every bit about it!  I enjoyed it even more for it’s nuances, and thought-provoking lines about life that are hidden like gems throughout where you have to mine them to interpret the meaning for yourself.  Wonderful!

5dc9afdfecd8144ffddd97bd0c8b18e9There are many who abhor this film because they say it takes too many liberties with the book. Apparently the story of the little girl trying to live the expected life of an adult is not in the original.  Since I’ve never read it, I don’t even know if the part of the Little Prince is told faithfully.  But I know I loved the film and that it has inspired me to pick up a book I never knew I needed to read before.  I would say that is the effect of a well-told, don’t you?

One of my favorite lines comes from the Aviator consoling the little girl when she tells him she doesn’t want to grow up. He responds, “Growing up isn’t the problem– forgetting is.”  I wish someone had been able to tell me that when I was a kid and afraid of graduating to adulthood.  This wisdom makes a world of difference because it is true!  I have found that becoming a true adult is really only becoming the person you were meant to be, which includes the parts of childhood that are good and pure and young in heart.  Idealistically, the aim is to shed the ‘juvenile’ ways we used to think and act.  Juvenility is to be differentiated from being childlike in that it is immature, selfish, and narrow-minded.  (1 Cor. 13:11)  Childhood, on the other hand is essentially joy, wonder, and innocence.

1631c1a78f3a24aa2c2690874535b559I have met older adults, even Christians in their 60’s, behave like juveniles. I have met adults who have completely forgotten what is childhood, instead exuding joylessness, hyper-practicality, and busyness.  But I have also met other adults who have retained their openness to life, wonder at the world, and quest to learn and grow- the mark of a true ‘child at heart.’  That is what God means for us to be, I think.  And for us believers, we are all to be trusting children in relation to Him.

And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

I do have a qualm about the movie’s plotline, and that is although it is an indie flick, it does not escape the usual Hollywood storyarc of children being better-knowing than their parents (or more often single parent): rebelling against the ‘status quo’, and teaching the parents they do not know what is best for their kids. See an excellent article on this topic here.

But the voices (esp. Jeff Bridges’ for the Aviator) were great!  Bridges has a voice that has aged well, resulting in a friendly, comforting effect.  I also loved the Fox, voiced by James Franco.  So adorable!

I recommend this glimmering, luminous movie for family viewing, young and old alike. If you approach it being prepared that it’s more loosely based on the book, I think you’ll enjoy it.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Movie Reviews

 

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C. S. Lewis Audio Drama

I wish it had not taken me so long to listen and pass this excellent audio drama on to you, but such has been my [lack of] blogging activity lately I’m afraid!  The Northern Irish Man in C. S. Lewis* stars Geoffrey Palmer as that famous author, who reminisces about his childhood in Ulster.  The acting felt very realistic and it was interesting to find the pieces of Narnia that inspired Lewis as a boy.  Settle in and enjoy, but don’t forget that this is only available for a limited time!

*For some reason cannot insert link to text, so click on picture to take you to the drama!

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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