Sunday 27 March 2011

From a Death of a Joyce Scholar to Joyce's Ulysses, how one book leads to another.....

I guess my title of this post gives it away, doesn't it?  The Death of a Joyce Scholar by Bartholomew Gill is the first book I've read for the Irish Reading Challenge for this year.  I've read a couple of the Peter McGarr mysteries before, many years ago, but this is my first one in some time.  I found it second-hand, and grabbed it because I thought, well, it's about Joyce and Ulysses, and once upon a time a very good friend of my father's loved Ulysses and thought it the greatest book ever written in the English language.  I think that was supposed to encourage me - me, an English Literature Honours student! - to pick it up, but sadly it made me afraid to read it, because if it was the best novel ever written, what hope was there for me as a hopeful writer to even bother writing?  So I plugged on with my writing and kept Ulysses on the back burner.  But I never forgot it.  Who knows what Fate had in mind when I picked up The Death of  a Joyce Scholar in early February? 
In The Death of a Joyce Scholar, Kevin Coyle,  a professor of James Joyce and Trinity Professor,  is found stabbed to death on Bloomsbury, the annual June 16 celebration in Dublin , the day that Ulysses occurs over in the book. Kevin is such a James Joyce scholar that he has had one book about Joyce published, and a new one just about to be - 5 days before his death.  He also has such a fine voice and good memory that he is able to quote pages and scenes from the book, and plays the role of Stephen Dedalus from the book on a tour he runs with his colleague, Fergus Flood.  It was at the ending of this annual night's tour of Dublin following in the footsteps of  the two characters in Ulysses as they move through Dublin over an 18-hour period, that Kevin is killed.  His body is discovered in the night, and moved, and it is only when Kevin's wife seeks out Peter as 'one of us' that his murder is discovered.  For she has his body at their home, propped up on their bed. 

And this is the beginning of a remarkable book.  Not just because it's a good mystery, but because the author has managed to write themes from Ulysses into the characters and themes and of course, the setting.  Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr has not read Ulyssess, but after the first couple of days  of investigating the case, so many of the people involved in and around Coyle are Joyce specialists - his colleagues, past-over student, publisher, who all quote James Joyce and Samuel Beckett to McGarr and the investigating team as a way of showing their superiority and intellectual prowess - that after his own wife guesss that McGarr hasn't read Ulysses, he decides he should, if he is going to understand the myriad threads that make up the motives of the characters.   So we see him settle down to read Ulysses, one night well into the investigation.  Along the way, he stops to think about what he is reading, and says:

        "In his earlier attempts to read Ulysses, McGarr had discovered that the only availing approach for the novice reader was to consult the 'guide' often and in depth.  But he now found himself forgetting the many allusions to symbol, history, and myth and merely "listening" to the words on the page, much as he would listen to a piece of music.
     "It was a particularly Irish song, he understood from the first page, and  a particularly Dublin ditty - now melodic and fine, later rough and raspy, then rambling and vague and what McGarr thought of as ethereal, counterbalanced by a focus as sharp and unsparing as any microscope.........
      "The novel reminded him of the complex weave of voices raised in complaint, laughter, song, noise, and lament that he had heard all his life in one or another Dublin licensed premises, which could not have changed since Joyce's era."

It is that last sentence that caught my eye, and above all, convinced me to haul down my own copy of Ulysses, and open the first page.  There were Stephen Dedalus, and Leopold Bloom, the originals, on the morning of the day in question, June 16, shaving in the early light.  And on page 7 I had to stop and catch my breath, for a phrase leapt off the page and I saw it, the way I've seen it so many times back when I lived on the sailboat, the light of the sun and the clouds on the sea's surface: "A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, shadowing the bay in deeper green."  I know exactly what that looks like, what it feels like.  That's when I knew I have to read this book now, finally.

So The Death of a Joyce Scholar  is a mystery that has become much more than just a mystery for me.  The way the book ends also is deliberately written to echo the ending of Ulysses, with a modern woman in a soliloquy over  a man, and ending with the very end of Molly Bloom's soliloquy about yes, which is a fine way to end both this mystery and a novel about a day in the life of Dublin.

I can hardly wait to read Ulysses now, even though I am still nervous.  I like the idea of it as a novel about the song of life pulsing through Dublin, all the lows and highs and thoughts and memories, songs and faith and tears that make up a city where people live together. I think it will be interesting to see how much this novel is of Ireland, and if I understand any part of the melody, if being Irish isn't just being born in  Ireland, but is something we carry in the soul, too.  So all of us with Irish ancestors, carry some of this song too.  That the enormous flux of Irish people from Ireland took the song of being Irish out into the world, though the eternal song is always back there in the green hills of the country, and noisy streets of Dublin. I'll see, and let you know.

Meantime, I really enjoyed The Death of a Joyce Scholar.  I think every character lied, or hid the truth - certainly, this mystery was written in homage to Joyce, as every main character has thoughts and impulses in their part of the song of the investigation, thoughts they barely notice, impulses they act on, instincts that they use, and as the story unfolds, each of their movements help propel the story along, until each character, with a tiny moment in view or taking up chapters, is firmly in place in the mystery.  Every character is Irish in some way, from the lesbian Mary to the beautiful and free Catty who causes her own misfortune, from Coyle's wife who as a large woman looks like Joyce's own Noreen (commented on a few times in the mystery), to the way all the characters lie, whether evading questions from their spouses or hiding what happened to Ward's gun from the press, to the mystery surrounding who exactly plunged the knife into Kevin's chest.  It's funny, the amount of liars, innocents and cheats, there are in this book - in a way, The Death of  a Joyce Scholar is a miniature mystery slice of Dublin with echoes of Ulysses all the way through, and all the more enjoyable because it's a mystery that discusses books, literature, and the meaning - or not- of words.  It's also funny, with macabre moments and hilarious lawyer double-talk.  
4.7/5, and another half-star for convincing me that I could read Ulysses, at long last.

Read for Irish Reading Challenge

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Carl's Once Upon a Time V Challenge: Book Madness is Upon Me!

Once again it is that wonderful time of year, it's time for Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings' fabulous book challenge, Once Upon a Time V.  As if reading fantasy, fairy tales folklore, mythology wasn't magical enough, there are the artists that Carl introduces us to also.   Once again it is Anne-Julie Aubry, and her artwork this year is stunning.  I want this picture so much, I fell in love instantly with it:

And, of course, I can't choose just one level to participate in, because I want to be part of all of it.  I am throwing myself into fantasy for the next three months, with some side trips into mysteries for the occasional breather.  

 I am doing the Quest the Third, which includes:
Fulfill the requirements for Quest the Second AND top it off with a June reading of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream OR a viewing of one of the many theatrical versions of the play. Love the story, love the films, love the idea of that magical night of the year and so this is my chance to promote the enjoyment of this farcical love story.  
Quest the Second is:
Read at least one book from each of the four categories. In this quest you will be reading 4 books total: one fantasy, one folklore, one fairy tale, and one mythology. This proves to be one of the more difficult quests each year merely because of the need to classify each read and determine which books fit into which category. I am not a stickler, fear not, but I am endlessly fascinated watching how folks work to find books for each category.

 I am also doing the Short Story Quest
This quest involves the reading of one or more short stories that fit within at least one of the four genres during the course of the any weekend, or weekends, during the challenge. Ideally you would post about your short story readings on Sundays or Mondays, but this is not strictly necessary.  I do this quest every year, with varying success.  This is part of my goal to read more short stories.

 I'm also doing Quest the Screen. Stories are not just limited to the printed page. Many entertaining, moving, profound or simply fun stories are told in the realm of television and film. To participate in this quest simply let us know about the films and/or television shows that you feel fit into the definitions of fantasy, fairy tales, folklore or mythology that you are enjoying during the challenge. Fantasy on the television or movie screen!  I can easily accomplish this one. I'm not sure what I  will watch yet, but I will be watching more than one fantasy between now and June 22.

I am calling this post Book Madness, because for those of you who know me, Gentle Readers, will remember that during the past three years that I have participated in this challenge, I have had many more books on my list than I could possibly read in three months.  Last night I started with 8......tonight I went through my shelves after seeing what some of you (Cath, Chris and Pat are especially guilty here) are going to read, and this is now what I have in my momentary fit of I-Can-Read-All-Of-These, Yes-I-Can euphoria.  Or as Chris put it happily to me one year, half the fun is in choosing the books!  Since he posted a rather large list of possible books he is contemplating reading this year, I don't feel half so bad at my enormous list. Thanks, Chris!

 Susan's Euphoric Fantasy List:
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword - Robin McKinley
Muse and Reverie - Charles de Lint                                                     
Moonheart - Charles de Lint ***myth and folklore!
Silver Borne - Patricia Briggs
The Changeling - Terri Windling  ****fairy tale
The Wood Wife - Terri Windling
First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde
The Manual of Detection - Jedediah Berry
Boneshaker - Cherie Priest
A Madness of Angels - Kate Griffin
The Iron Dragon's Daughter - Michael Swanwick

A Storm of Swords - George RR Martin
The Mabinogion - ****myth
A Matter of Magic - Patricia C. Wrede
Beauty and the Beast - Max Eilenberg ****fairy tale
The Ill-Made Lute - Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Horns and Wrinkles - Joseph Helgerson
The Light Ages - Ian R MacLeod
Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link ***short stories
Kissing the Witch - Emma Donoghue ***Fairy tale/short stories
The English Year - Steve Roud ***folklore
Her Majesty's Dragon - Naomi Novik

A few other books should wander into here too, since I don't have Diana Wynne Jone's most recent one, and many books!  Happy reading, everyone, I hope to read many of these books and discover some new fantasy treasures again this year.  Moonheart, by the way, was the first Charles De Lint book I ever read, and it's always held a very special place in my heart. This is a reread for me, and like with Dreams Underfoot two years ago I am looking forward to revisiting this very dear book.

Sunday 20 March 2011

The Sunday Salon - The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

The Sunday

I was in  a reading funk last week.  I picked up four or five books, read a few pages, put them down again. I knew my knee was distracting me, and sorrow, so I waited while I went to work and came back, some reading time lost because I am not taking the bus while my kneee heals.  Finally, I got so impatient on Thursday, I looked around me and thought, what do I want to read?  My eyes lit on The Snowman, the latest Jo Nesbo thriller featuring my love, Harry Hole.  Harry!  I thought. Harry can save me!  And indeed, he did.

For two days I read it, yesterday lost in bliss for most of the afternoon.  The Snowman is chilling, eerie, creepy.  Harry is back to his old self, that is, the self we met in The Redbreast before he went on his drinking binges over the next few books.  He is without his protector and former boss Byarne Moller, who has joined the ranks of the Dead Policeman's Society gracing Harry's wall:  Ellen Gjelten, and Jack Halvorsen, Harry's previous colleagues, and Byarne Moller, all dead over the previous  books in the series. Harry is now alone in his police force, and he knows it.  Even though he has two new colleagues assigned to work with him, he is not liked, although he is respected for his detective work, he is feared because he is that worst of policemen also, an alcoholic who regularly goes on drinking benders.

And yet, be still my heart.  For he is Harry Hole, who has love and loyalty too, to give, and who when he is not drinking, is the keenest detective alive. He makes brilliant leaps of deduction, but can't see what is in front of him until it's almost too late.  He is also clever enough to realize that the plight of the motherless children reminds him of how he felt when his own mother died, which we get to see in this novel.  He may be a lone wolf, but it's not because he doesn't care, it's because he can't find his right home outside of the police work he does.  At the end of the novel, when he is offered what he thinks is a choice, and he accepts.  It means that for the first time, he has realized he has to find more in his life, more to his life.  That seeking justice and the thrill of the hunt are not enough to sustain him any more.  I for one am terribly anxious now to read his next book!  Will he be in North Africa?  What will Harry do next?  If he stays on the force, what next for him?

So, the plot: is it good?  Yes, very. The Snowman is about a series of missing mothers.  All of them are linked by a snow Man built near the house.  The first snow fall of the year.  And yet, the children in the house didn't build the snow man.  When one woman's head is found on a snowman, and another has the missing woman's scarf tied around it, the police realize the cases are linked, and that a serial killer, one of Norway's first, is among them.

Harry is put in charge of the investigating team as he is the only one with experience with the only other serial killer in Norway.  He has also been on a serial killer FBI course in the USA because of this experience.  So he is the logical one to put in charge.   As always, the clues are in the details, and following Harry as he finds each clue and puts them together makes for riveting reading.  This is a very good police procedural.  It's also a very good mystery, even though I had narrowed the possible killers down to two, by 2/3 of the way through the book, this in no way took from the mystery - instead, I kept urging Harry to find the one thing that would confirm what I suspected!    And when he does, it is still almost too late.

This gets 5/5 from me.  Highly recommended, just make sure you have some hours free when you sit down with it, because you really won't want to do anything else but follow Harry as he uncovers the secret behind The Snowman.

Other bloggers and reviews:
Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise

Tuesday 15 March 2011

some favourite Dr Who episodes at our house

After writing my post last night, I thought, what a plethora of sad news I've been writing about since Christmas.
So I thought I'd share with you something fun that has happened at our house:  The Doctor has taken over.  With the exception of my husband, who falls asleep during most tv shows, we all have favourite Dr Who episodes. 
This came about because our daughter, Holly-Anne, who you will remember from this post a few years ago, has developed a serious crush on Matt Smith as the current incarnation of Dr Who. 

This week, we have watched/listened to " The Pandorica Opens" and "The Big Bang" many, many times.  "I have to watch this every day!" she says, when asked why we are watching it for the 12th time in a weekend.  It's Spring Break for us, so this has meant that last weekend, "The Pandorica Opens" and " The Big Bang" played over and over for a whole day.  We finally,  after many hours of listening to these same two episodes, insisted she watch something else.  So she put on the episode before it, "The Lodger".  Now, "The Lodger" happens to contain a soccer game.  Graham is a tiny ball of soccer fever, at age 6.  We are even playing Monopoly because my in-laws sent us a version of Monopoly from England that featured the current English Premier League teams (in 2002) as the properties we could buy.  So for the past two days when it hasn't been"The Pandorica Opens" and " The Big Bang", it has been  "The Lodger".  (This just finished playing recently this evening.)  We turned on the tv to find Space Channel playing the very first Dr Who episode of the recent series, the one featuring Rose and The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston).  This one, "Rose", with the mannequins, is my youngest's oldest favourite, that we also have had to watch over and over, through the past year.  He also made us watch
"The Empty Child" and  "The Doctor Dances" , and  "Midnight"
over and over.  There is something about Dr Who episodes that makes them stand up very well under repeat viewings.

Along the way of watching Dr Who in this household, we have had to discuss so many things the show brings up:  time travel, history, how the doctor comes back, where Rose currently is (in a different dimension sealed off from ours), why the doctor never dies, extraterrestrial life, who Van Gogh was, how important memory is (Amy recreates the world because she has such a powerful memory, stronger than even the Doctor guesses). We've met Charles Dickens, Queen Victoria, the Titanic, Romans in early Britain, how dangerous angel statues really are (I like to scare the children too), and all through the 5 glorious years of Dr Who so far, seen so many examples of love, and faith, triumph.    We've seen Rose try to save her father from his early death, and how it nearly wipes the world out.  Loss, and grief, are part of Dr Who too.  He can't save his family, or his world that was destroyed in the Time Wars, even though he is a time lord.  We've met his mother, and we've met another Time Lord who went mad - the Master.  Dangerous, these time lords are.  It might be only science fiction, but I think it's the best kind of science fiction.

And, we've met the Angels.  The stone angels, the lonely assassins.  Those are my favourite episodes:  Season 3/ 10, "Blink", and  Season 5: "The Time of the Angels" and "Flesh and Stone", a two-part series.  Here is a link to a page about the Weeping Angels on the BBC Dr Who site.
  I love "Blink" because it is about so much.  There are the names - Sally Sparrow, Kathy and Larry Nightingale.  There are the angels who steal your life energy, but at the same time send you backwards, where love is still found - Kathy marries the first man she happens to meet in Wales, and Billy marries her daughter, if I'm not mistaken (one thing with the Doctor is you have to be on your toes and listen to every piece of dialogue - it all matters.  Another reason I love this show.  No wasted space or energy.)  There is the old creepy house, and the statues that you can't look away from, or they move.
Now tell me, haven't you had the feeling sometimes that things were moving at the corner of your eyes?  That things were happening just there, where you couldn't see, and if you turned your head fast enough, you could see it?  I have, though thankfully not often!  There's also movies, and seeing her friend's brother accidentally naked, and a grown over garden, and statues that move.
I love this episode because the ordinary is taken, and turned inside out.   Sally and Larry fall in love because when the angels threaten them, at the very last moment Larry throws himself over Sally to protect her.  It's romantic.  At it's heart, Dr Who is a romantic show, in the old fashioned sense that gallantry and rescue in the face of danger and braving terror for knowledge and adventure are romantic.  All the companions are allowed to be heroines, to have strengths and sensitivity and make errors and cry, and be open.  How could I not let my children watch this show?  They've seen me cry over and over during "The Parting of the Ways", when Rose looks into the heart of the Tardis,

and we see the power of time, space and knowledge pour through her as she is momentarily like a Goddess, like a Time Lord, looking into all of time and space simultaneously.  I love the powerful imagination let loose in this series, and the story telling  is glorious adventures in time and space.

Here is another link to the "10 Scariest Moments in Dr Who".  Do you agree?  Do you have a favourite Dr Who episode that you return to again and again? 

Monday 14 March 2011

Hopping along on crutches

So, there I was, last Thursday evening, trudging along in the snow/slush/ginormous puddles left by 11 cm of snow followed by 20 mm of rain.  It's dark out, 5:30 pm.  An enormous puddle faces me on the opposite corner.  Too deep for my winter boots.  I'll be flooded if I try to cross there.  So I skirt the lake puddle until I get close to the other edge.  Oh no!  A car approaches - St Joseph Blvd is one of the major roads in Hull aka Hell Gatineau.  Hastily I lift my leg to try to leap onto the mountain snow piled at the edge of the sidewalk.  Crack! went my knee.  "Oh, that can't be good," I thought, wondering if I could move it as the car lights approached. Somehow I scrambled over the bloody snow Gatineau refuses to remove from the sidewalk edges slushy snow pile onto safety of the sidewalk.  Stand there wondering if my knee will unlock.  After a few minutes, I can walk.  Get to bus stop, limping badly.  After many bad moments over the next 30 minutes, of my knee locking, including trying to get off the bus in Ottawa - another snow pile! gah! - and waiting it out, I eventually arrive at home.  To have my knee click one more time, with a dreadful sound and instant pain.

Cue two hours later:  at the hospital, where the nice doctor informs me that either a piece of cartilage has broken off, or the meniscus lining in my knee is torn, but the result is the same:  can't x-ray my knee because it's already swollen.  "Here, you're going to need these," she says sympathetically, writing out my first prescription for crutches.  Ever.

You would think that lying around on the sofa or propping my leg up by the computer would prompt much reading time and deep bookish thoughts.  Alas, the tylenol 3's that I take for pain are laced with heavenly happiness I float away on  contain codeine, that makes it difficult for me to focus enough to read. No books read in the past week.

Winter - 1, Susan - 0.

Will this winter ever end?  I did hear a cardinal singing in the darkness once again because we just have to mess with the clocks, don' t we? as I was picked up by my caring and kind friend from work so I could avoid the 4 buses from hell and arrive to work safely with my crutches in hand. Back to working 7:30 to 3:30 for this week while my knee heals enough for xrays.

At the same time as I injured my knee, I arrived home that evening to learn of the death of  David Gehue, my spiritual advisor and medicine man, that occurred the Sunday before.  Before I had time to begin to understand this, I woke up - as we all did here in North America - to the news last Friday morning of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  This weekend, while I have been sitting with my leg up on a cushion, I have been watching events unfold in Japan, feeling the enormous loss of life over there, and praying that somehow, miraculously, there isn't going to be a nuclear meltdown on top of everything else.

Sometimes, rarely, and this is one of them, there are no books, and no book thoughts.  There is life, and being in this world, and painful, sorrowful, loving and kind and beautiful as it is.

Sometimes, even humour  fails me.  My thoughts are with Japan, and the Japanese people.   And also with my medicine man David Gehue's family and Aboriginal community, at this time.  I think of the cardinal I heard this morning in the darkness before the dawn, and I think that even in the darkest hour and time, there is still life.  There is memory, and love, and laughter, and prayer. That's what David taught me.  Even in the darkest hour, the cardinal sings.