Reading a play that you've never seen performed is a bit of an awkward experience, because you have to imagine pretty much every interpretative thing that makes a play come alive when acted, from the stage setting to the actors' vocal inflections, behaviour and the clothes they wear. In this particular instance, at least I had the visuals of two movie adaptations of the underlying novel to fill in the void (plus my own memories from a trip to Egypt 10 years ago), and Agatha Christie -- ever the novelist -- also gives incredibly detailed stage directions both for the setting and ligihting of the stage and for the actors' movements(show spoiler)
But absent seeing this play performed, there still seems to be at least one layer of complexity less than in the novel Death on the Nile; and not only as a result of the reduction of characters and the elimination of virtually all subplots, with the sole exception of the second (pseudo-) love triangle involving a young female passenger harrassed by an overbearing elderly relative (in the book: Cornelia Robson), a socialist aristocrat who has dropped his title, and a German-born doctor and psychologist who happens to be among the passengers (here as in the book, Dr. Bessner).
Moreover, as Moonlight Reader notes in her review, absent a few bead sellers appearing at the beginning of the play and a minor blackface character appearing throughout (the boat's steward), this play could be set in England or anywhere else in the world just as easily as in Egypt. Essentially, this is a cozy / drawing room mystery, whereas in the underlying novel the Egyptian setting is a crucial, indelible element.
I'm also not sure that the elimination of Poirot and the conflation of the roles of the detective and of the murder victim's guardian in a single character named Canon Pennefather* really works for me (or why the inclusion of that guardian was necessary to the reduced framework of the play to begin with -- or why he has to be a Canon, for that matter). Obviously, Poirot's lines about not letting evil into your soul (when speaking to Jackie) are perfectly placed as coming from a clergyman. But we don't ever see a response from the good Canon that suggests he is shocked, distraught, sad or in any other way personally emotionally touched by his ward's murder -- he instantly accepts the captain's request to act as investigator (and why that part should be in better hands with him than with the captain himself beats me as well, since it actually would be the captain's job under the circumstances), and we see the Canon acting in the capacity of detective only pretty much the whole time from that moment onwards.(show spoiler)
All of these implausibilities don't amount to plot holes large enough to sink the entire play, and come on, this is still Agatha Christie. I also suspect that a good production of the play would be able to re-supply quite a few layers of the depth stripped away in the text of the play vis-à-vis the novel (especially if the actors and director involved had read the novel). Even so, this is at best Death on the Nile Light.
* Again as MR notes, not the same person as the Canon Pennyfather from At Bertram's Hotel. Not only do the two gentlemen exhibit entirely different, even diametrically opposed characters (and spell their names slightly differently); there is also no reference in At Bertram's Hotel suggesting that the Canon Pennyfather from that novel could have any connections with Yorkshire or Shropshire.
Nile cruise ships moored next to each other at the pier in Assuan (above) and at Kom Ombo temple (below)
Abu Simbel: Entrance to the temples of Ramesses II (above) and his queen consort Nefertari (below)
(Abu Simbel is -- supposedly -- the setting of the play's second and third acts)
On the Nile: Near Assuan (above) and near Luxor (below)
Got to the end of Act II, Scene 1 -- now off to bed. Quite apposite, probably, in light of the fact that the first shot has just been fired ... and the shooter has been packed off to bed, too.
Basically, this is a very condensed version of Death on the Nile -- all the major exchanges are there, plus some of the characters, with similar (though not identical) names as in the novel. And of course I now want to revisit the novel to check on little details; not least because it seems to me that the makers of the David Suchet TV adaptation got their clues, in part, not from the novel but from this play.
Canon Pennefather (who is also Kay, the rich heiress's, godfather) is the stand-in for Poirot (and presumably Colonel Race). I definitely also want to look up whether the Canon Pennefather from At Bertram's Hotel is also one of the Shropshire branch of the family ... because this is definitely not the same person. Much more assertive and also quite a bit taller and more forceful in his body language.
That said, I love that we're not only given stage directions as to people's basic movements and gestures -- it goes all the way down to little details, such as where they place their glasses on the table (or the bar), or one character planting a foot on a chair while beginning to talk about an emotional matter, etc.
Hmm. I suspect like other early Discworld books (particularly Equal Rites), I'm going to come to like this one considerably better upon a reread. Going by first impressions, it begins with a hefty shower of sparkle, and both dialogue and plot hit high points whenever either of the two female leads (Death's adopted daughter Ysabell and Princess Keli, heiress to the throne of Sto-Lat) or, of course, Death himself appear -- I mean, just the mere notion of Death attending a party or(show spoiler)
is sheer genius in and of itself.
Somehow, though, it's definitely still on the light side of Pratchett, and the main wizard's Death's apprentice plotline doesn't quite work for me -- maybe because Pratchett already did similar things in the first two books (what but a bumbling wizard's apprentice is Rincewind?), only with a pointed spoof of 1980s fantasy conventions added into the mix. I also have to say that the ending didn't quite work for me.(show spoiler)
Well, at least now I know part of the back story of Hogfather, though. And I'm still vastly enjoying this journey through the Discworld universe from the very beginning! After thoroughly having enjoyed several of the later books, it still feels only right to finally catch up with how it all started.
Well, this was a reread for me and I said I was going to "tag along" with MR's, BT's and Lillelara's buddy read -- turns out I ended up whizzing through it because I liked it so much better this time around than when I first read it.
In part, this is doubtlessly due to David Timson's audio narration, which goes to enormous lengths in harmonizing the various contributors' authorial styles and making this much more of a consistent book than it comes across in print (or did to me, anyway when I first read it). But in part it is also because I'm more familiar with some of the book's contributors in the interim (above and beyond those who still are "big name" mystery novelists today, that is, like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers), and they had me chuckling with glee as I recognized their various pet foibles.
Agatha Christie, for example, crafted a chapter in which great reliance is being placed on gossip: as both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are known to do again and again. Freeman Wills Crofts has the inspector going through all the nitty gritty motions of investigation and duly doing the legwork to follow down each and every clue. Dorothy L.Sayers injects an entire novel's worth of fresh clues into the plot at about halfway point, all of them diligently and scholarly researched (as we learn in the annex) -- which then has Ronald Knox take stock in the next chapter and compose a veritable catechism of questions to be answered in the investigation. (In his comments in the annex, Knox vents his frustration about having to take up the baton from Sayers.) Even before Sayers, Milward Kennedy is the first -- but by far not the only contributor -- to throw a complete spanner into the works of whatever plotline the authors of the earliest chapters may have been contemplating ... and her predecessors' repeated instances of apparent one-upmanship have Clarence Dane, who wrote one of the final chapters, begin the comments on her own solution by basically saying "I have no idea what is going on here, so I just tried to write a chapter that everybody coming after me could use in whichever way they wanted". (Yet, Sayers in her introduction assures us that great fun was had by all.) And finally Anthony Berkeley who wraps the whole thing up in his own trademark manner(show spoiler)
Indeed, in this second read, my particular kudos go to Mr. Berkeley, who in the final chapter, prophetically entitled "Cleaning up the Mess", not only managed to craft a solution that is consistent with all major clues provided by his collaborators in the prior chapters -- no matter how divergent their approaches and the theories / solutions / stories underlying their own respective contributions (all of which are included in the book's annex) -- but, even more astonishingly, he even presents a solution which, in keeping with the best of the Golden Age mystery tradition, may actually be guessed, at least in part, over the course of the book. I didn't remember the solution when I started revisiting this story, but parts of it came back to me while I was listening, and I kept thinking, "yeah, Berkeley really did use the major clues set out from the beginning and you can see them if you only pay attention". -- I don't know whether, unlike all of the other contributors, Berkeley had access to the texts setting out his fellow authors' respective solutions / theories of the crime, but if he didn't, he is to be applauded all the more, as almost all of those individual solutions contain one or even more elements and aspects that also found their way into Berkeley's wrap-up of the plot.
Great fun, all in all, the prototype of a successful round robin -- and a book that, with this revisit, has definitely found its way into my list of go-to comfort reads.
... but I'm at the point where I basically celebrate any Flat Book Society group read that actually makes a serious effort to deliver (popular) science content without authorial grandstanding, fashion commentary and similar distractions -- and notwithstanding a few silly jokes too many, this book certainly does accomplish that.
Not all of the examples given were new to me, but plenty of them certainly were; and while I would have appreciated a few more diagrams here and there, generally the authors' explanations are easy enough to follow. As a result of reading this book, my appreciation of our fellow creatures on this earth has certainly grown yet again -- and I also found myself nodding along with this passage from the concluding chapter:
"It is mere convention to talk about biology and physics as if they're unrelated; they're just labels we give to different ways of looking at nature. Convenient, but not necessarily helpful. Dividing physicists and biologists -- making them go to separate classes and learn different subjects -- stifles progress. Each camp ends up speaking a different language: to a physicist, a nucleus is a collection of particles at the heart of an atom; to a biologists, it's a structure at the heart of a cell that contains genes.
Many physicists are guilty of believing that everything reduces to physics. What is an animal, they will say, other than a collection of atoms and molecules made of electrons, neutrons and protons, themselves composed of quarks and gluons? That's true, but it only gets you so far. Though we use the movement of air molecules to explain how peacocks create infrasound, we won't know why they make those noises unless we study their mating habits. The world's a complicated place that can't always be boiled down to physics; and that's without even mentioning animal genetics, neuroscience or physiology."
Hell, yes. There should be more interdisciplinary learning and scholarly exchange -- and I'd wager to many a student it would make a huge difference, too, not only to learn about the laws of physics in the abstract (or by way of lab experiments) but also to understand where those laws find application in the world surrounding us, in animal life and beyond.
Wow. What a depressing read -- particularly so, the first half of the book (or thereabouts). We're meeting four main characters who thoroughly seem to be passengers, not drivers of their own lives, in a trajectory from nowhere to nowhere (and not necessarily a different part of nowhere, either) -- all set, as I said in my reading status update from a little over the halfway point, against a quintessentially late 1970s backdrop of cheap drabness (with the cityscape and office life mirroring the four protagonists's personal lives), occasionally contrasted with and punctuated by the visceral shocks of the psychedelic age.
Like others who participated in the buddy read, I felt by far the most drawn to Lettie; not only because she is the character whom we get to know the best both inside and out (and with whom it is thus easiest to empathize), but also because she is the one who most reflects about her situation and who is the most honest to herself(show spoiler)
Throughout the book, I kept finding myself comparing the lives of the four protagonists with those of my grandparents and my mom: The former, selling the house where they had raised their children upon my grandpa's retirement from his job in a federal ministry and moving into a (much smaller, but comfortable) apartment and into a financially secure and, health allowing, active final 2 (or in my grandma's case, 3) decades of their lives. And my mom, taking advantage of the generous early retirement program offered by the employer where she'd worked the final 2 decades of her working life, and making the most of it, with plenty of travel in Europe and elsewhere as long as her body would play along, and at 80 years of age still my opera-going companion and still in control of arranging her life just as she sees fit. -- And yet, only a few decades earlier (if my mom had not started but ended her professional life in the 1960s or 1970s), she might easily have found herself in Lettie's place, and the poorer for it.
This was quite a contrast to our first Pymalong read, and while Pym's fine eye for the workings of British society and of people's behaviour was again on brilliant display, I do hope our next Pymalong book will strike a less somber and subdued note again and leave more room for her particular brand of wry, gentle humour. For a novel of less than 200 pages in length, it took me quite a long time to finish Quartet in Autumn and quite a substantial effort to return to it time and again -- if it hadn't been for the buddy read, I might quite conceivably have DNF'd it, not because it's not well-written (it is), but because it is simply such a depressing book.
All right, everyone, open thread for April buddy reads/readalongs/etc.
What I know so far:
Discworld is reading the 4th Discworld book, Mort, which is also the first in the "Death" subseries. The buddy read starts on April 1, and continues through the end of April, so you can jump in any time!
BrokenTune, Lillelara and I are planning a buddy read of this collaborative novel by various authors of The Detection Club.
The Agathytes are reading Crooked House
Chris' Fish Place, Tigus & I are discussing a Maigret-along, although we haven't identified a book or a date.
Themis & I are going to continue with reading Agatha's plays, planning on Murder on the Nile, although I don't recall if we set a date. Sometime in April is my recollection - Themis, did we actually pick a date?
There's also been a lot of talk about the RITAs and how authors of color aren't nominated/don't win in a way that suggests a hostility of romancelandia towards those authors. I have been interested in reading something by Beverly Jenkins for a while, and would love to buddy read with other readers. When I asked Ms. Bev which of her books she would recommend a new reader, she suggested Indigo, so I'd love to start with that one!
If you are hosting a buddy read that you want me to add to the post, put it in the comments. If you are interested in getting one going, put it in the comments and we'll see what develops!
In connection with my Around the World in 80 Books reading project, I have created, as an additional reference point, a reading list containing the books currently on my TBR with an "Africa" shelving:
The list includes the three books set in Africa I already read in 2019, but none read prior to this year.
If anybody has recommendations for any of the countries not yet represented on my TBR, that would be phantastic (double extra brownie points for books by women authors). Those countries are:
Republic of Congo (as opposed to Democratic Republic of Congo, for which I already have several books)
French Southern Territories
All recs welcome of course, but I'm finding I have a surprising amount of books on my Africa TBR already, for more countries than I'd have thought before I started compiling this list (particularly, though, for Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa), so I'm mainly trying to fill in the blanks at this point. Thank you all in advance!
ETA: In case anyone is wondering, I'm deleting countries from the above search list after having added books to my TBR / reading list based on the recommendations made. So far I've thus deleted South Sudan, Uganda, and Namibia.
The aim: To diversify my reading and read as many books as possible (not necessarily 80) set in, and by authors from, countries all over the world. Female authors preferred. If a book is set in a location other than that of the author's nationality, it can apply to either (but not both).
On the map I'm only tracking new reads, not also rereads.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Purple Hibiscus (new)
Elizabeth Peters: Crocodile on the Sandbank (new)
Alexandra Fuller: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight (new)
Michelle Obama: Becoming (new)
* Puerto Rico
Stef Penney: The Tenderness of Wolves (new)
John le Carré: The Night Manager (new)
Hyeonseo Lee: The Girl with Seven Names (new)
Michael Ondaatje: Anil's Ghost (new)
Elif Shafak: Three Daughters of Eve (new)
Australia / Oceania
Joan Lindsay: Picnic at Hanging Rock (new)
Ngaio Marsh: Vintage Murder and Died in the Wool (both revisited on audio)
Lorna Nicholl Morgan: Another Little Murder (new)
Stephen Fry, John Woolf, Nick Baker: Stephen Fry's Victorian Secrets (new)
P.D. James: A Taste for Death (revisited on audio)
Agatha Christie: The Big Four, Why Didn't They Ask Evans?, The Unexpected Guest, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Secret Adversary, Parker Pyne Investigates, and The Mysterious Mr. Quin (all revisited on audio; The Unexpected Guest also in print); The Lost Plays: Butter in a Lordly Dish / Personal Call / Murder in the Mews and Murder on the Nile (both new)
Elizabeth Ferrars: Murder Among Friends (new)
Terry Pratchett: Equal Rites (revisited on audio) and Mort (new)
Georgette Heyer: Why Shoot a Butler? (new)
Joy Ellis: The Murderer's Son (new)
Elizabeth Gaskell: My Lady Ludlow (new)
Various Authors / Contributors: Agatha Christie Close Up: A Radio Investigation (new)
Virginia Woolf: The String Quartet (new)
John Buchan: The 39 Steps (revisited on audio)
Oscar Wilde: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (new)
Ellis Peters: The Hermit of Eyton Forest (reread)
Patricia Wentworth: The Alington Inheritance, The Gazebo, and The Benevent Treasure (all new)
Dorothy L. Sayers: Whose Body? (twice) and The Five Red Herrings (both revisited on audio)
Martin Fido: The World of Sherlock Holmes (new)
Ian Rankin: In a House of Lies (new)
John le Carré: Our Game (new)
Martin Durrani & Liz Kalaugher: Furry Logic (new)
The Detection Club: The Floating Admiral (reread)
Tana French: The Witch Elm (new)
Stephen Fry: Mythos (new)
Madeline Miller: Circe (new)
Astrid Lindgren: Die Menschheit hat den Verstand verloren: Tagebücher 1939-1945 (A World Gone Mad: Diaries, 1939-45) (new)
Agatha Christie: Murder on the Orient Express (revisited on audio)
(Note: Yugoslavia at the time of the writing -- but the action is set after the train has passed Vinkovci, aka "The Gateway to Croatia".)
Read to date, in 2019:
Books by female authors: 45
- new: 30
- rereads: 15
Books by male authors: 13
- new: 11
- rereads: 2
Books by F & M mixed teams / anthologies: 3
- new: 2
- rereads: 1
I don't know if this January 2019 release signals a new series of audios of all of Dorothy L. Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, but if it does, please God let them all be narrated by Mark Meadows. Although my overall favorites still remain the Ian Carmichael audios (not the BBC full cast dramatizations, but those where Carmichael actually narrates the unabridged novels themselves), there doesn't seem to be a full set of those available any longer, and the alternatives produced in the interim are of -- putting it gently -- extremely varied quality.**
This is particularly true for the first Wimsey book, Whose Body?, where those looking for an audio version so far have had the choice between two ridiculously over the top, trying-too-hard (and thus failing) British versions -- one male, one female -- and an American version failing even worse, for incongruously incorporating what the narrator obviously thinks Wimsey's nasal upper crust voice would have sounded like into an otherwise unabashedly American accent.
Imagine my delight, therefore, in listening to this Mark Meadows recording and finding that Meadows quite literally hits all the right notes; chiefly with Wimsey's own voice, but actually with those of all the characters and, notably, also with Sayers's own narrative voice ... and with extra brownie points for also getting the occasional French and German bits right, with only a slight English accent to boot. So even if this recording doesn't usher in a full series of new Lord Peter Wimsey recordings -- although I hope it may -- it's definitely the one I'd recommend as the one to turn to for those audio- rather than print-edition minded. Who knows, you may even end up finding you like the usually shrugged-on Whose Body? better -- or at any rate not any worse -- than some of the later Wimsey novels. (Five Red Herrings and Unnatural Death do come to mind in that department ...)
** The one notable older, "non-Carmichael" audio I have yet to listen to is Patrick Malahide's recording of Five Red Herrings. Even with, as BT reports, his Scots accent somewhat regionally "off", I can't imagine it to be anywhere near as awful as the so far exstant versions of Whose Body?, however.
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(More than The Alington Inheritance, that is.) -- Still a bit too much of a whiny heroine, but at least we're firmly back in true and trusted Maudie territory. And it has to be said, while the victim is no Mrs. Boynton (cf. Agatha Christie, Appointment With Death), by the time she finally meets her end few would argue that the world is not a better place without her in it.
There are some shades of Grey Mask here (broken off engagement sends the hero to "forn parts", where he roams the wilderness for a few years until he starts missing the old country and returns, only to be plunged straight into his former / still beloved's latest messy circumstances: if there's one trope Wentworth can be said to be overusing, it's probably this one; e.g., it's also the premise of Miss Silver Comes to Stay, and with a twist, of The Traveller Returns / aka She Came Back, and a key character's surprise return also features importantly in The Watersplash, albeit minus broken off engagement) -- and although this is emphatically not an inverted mystery, both the whodunnit and the core "why" is pretty obvious from the get-go. (Or I've just read too many stories of that type. But Wentworth really isn't exactly subtle about this particular bit.) Despite a valiant attempt on Wentworth's part at creating a plausible back story for the "who" and "why", the motive still feels a bit contrived ... or let's say, it's the kind of thing that pretty much only Arthur Conan Doyle could get away with (or the creators of mysteries for young readers, where it's a particular favorite). But at least Wentworth's attempt here is not any worse than those of other authors using this particular trope.
Most of all, though, Wentworth's fine eye for character(s) and human interactions shines once again -- in the portrayal of abusive relationships (there are several here) as well as the creation of the comic relief, in this instance, three gossipping old-maidish sisters -- who in another book might easily have had a different role (and indeed the local gossip is portrayed extremely negatively in The Alington Inheritance) but here it's clear that they are essentially harmless and, indeed, ultimately even helpful to the investigation. And of course, watching Maudie and her most devoted fan (Frank Abbott) is always a joy.
Is this the fate that would have awaited Pym's heroine from Excellent Women, Mildred Lathbury, if she had decided upon permanent "spinsterhood"?
So quintessentially late 1970s -- cheap drabness (the cityscape and office life mirroring the four protagonists's personal lives), occasionally contrasted with and punctuated by the visceral shocks of the psychedelic age. Pym (1913-1980) quite obviously more than empathized with her protagonists -- but unlike other writers born before WWI and still publishing books in the 1970s (looking at you, Dame Agatha and Ms Marsh), she seems to also have looked upon the concerns and attitudes of the representatives of younger generations with quite a fair amount of sympathy.
Now that the two female protagonists have retired (and I'm about halfway through the book), it seems a good moment to take a break. I wonder how Pym is going to keep the "quartet" together, though -- the office so far having provided their only, albeit persistent, point of contact. I guess I'll be finding out tomorrow!
... don't go anywhere near this one.
Whiny, immature, TSTL special snowflake heroine. Insta-love. Completely implausible, "fortuitous" (*major headdesk moment*) first encounter between hero and heroine. Weak plotline that is further weakened by an "inverse mystery" structure -- it certainly does NOT help that we know whodunnit from the get-go.
One star for Maudie being Maudie. Half a star for de-facto street urchin Dicke's occasional comic relief.
So much for the much-needed comfort reading I was hoping for ...
Almost done with chapter 3 and so far, so fluffy and easily digestible. It reminds me a lot of some of the animal-related science programs on TV that I used to be glued to as a kid (and that I sometimes still enjoy watching) -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing; they did / do get quite a bit of interesting information across, even if somewhat superficial in actual science terms. As a result, there are a number of things I already knew going in (e.g., the Komodo dragon's bite and the garter snakes' fake-female pheromenes featured in a program I watched just recently), but there's enough that I hadn't heard about before to keep me interested.
The humor was funny for about 5 pages, then it got a bit much and I started getting a sort of "one-upmanship" vibe between the two authors as to who could come up with the funnier turn of phrase, and it began to intrude into the text. I'm glad that by the beginning of chapter 3 they seem to have been over it and are now keeping it to more bearable levels.
Props for mentioning a scientist from my (German) alma mater, Bonn University! (Prof. Helmut Schmitz, he of the scorched-wood-detecting fire beetles -- whose actual research paper can incidentally be read HERE, in case anybody is interested.)
The building where Bonn University's Institute of Zoology is located (an erstwhile palace of the Archbishop / Electoral Prince of Cologne)
Ugh. If this hadn't been my final "Snakes and Ladders" book I'd have DNF'd it. This is essentially a Puerto Rican version of House of the Spirits minus magical realism, plus a plethora of characters and episodes that don't greatly advance the plot (think 500-episode telenovela) and a whole lot of telling instead of showing. That isn't to say I learned nothing at all about Puerto Rico, its people and its history -- indeed, the island itself was by far this book's most interesting, believable, fully elaborated and just plain likeable character -- but by and large, I'd have accomplished more by reading a nonfiction history book or a travel guide about Puerto Rico ... or by going there to see it for myself. (Which I'm still hoping to do at some point.)
Nevertheless, I've enjoyed my "Snakes and Ladders" run enormously -- a huge thanks to Moonlight Reader for her spur-of-the-moment inspiration in initiating this game!
(Charlie and Sunny also say thank you for the exercise and all the snacks along the way.)