Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label drama. Show all posts

Friday, June 1, 2018

Othello by William Shakespeare

Rating: WARTY!

This is the third of these short audiobooks. I liked Rome and Juliet, disliked The Winter's Tale, and now I have to say I did not like Othello, so I am done with following this Shakespeare series. One of the things that saddens me about our lack of time travel capability(!) is that I will never see these performed in Shakespeare's time or see Shakespeare act one of his own roles. I am really curious as to how it would work and whether it would look amateur or be brilliant. Would it be fake and stilted like some of the asinine, stentorian over-acting of yesteryear, or would it be as natural as can be?

My fear is that, judged from some of the overblown writing we find too often in Shakespeare, it would appear false and perhaps even risible, so mayhap 'tis for the better that we may not time travel. Certainly this version felt overdone and inauthentic to me. I could not focus on it. It failed completely to draw me in and did not capture my attention or love.

Known officially as The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, the story is of a general in the Venetian army, who has secretly married Desdemona. Once again Shakespeare ripped this off, this time from an Italian by the name of Cinthio, who wrote A Moorish Captain. Shakespeare's story changes details as usual, but the overall arc is pretty much the same. This play may have originated in a true story wherein Christophal Moro, a military man who in 1508, strangled his wife, whom he thought had been unfaithful.

In Shakespeare's version, Desdemona's father Brabantio, having been informed of the marriage by Iago, whose feathers Othello has ruffled when he overlooked him for a promotion, seeks to kill Othello, accusing him of witchcraft in seducing his daughter, but military needs prevent this assassination. Meanwhile, Iago continues to stir things up at every opportunity, getting Cassio fired and then suggesting to Othello that there is something going on between Cassio and Desdemona. This eventually leads to Othello suffocating her in her bed, but even so, she still manages to talk! Ridiculous! From then on it's all downhill, with people dying stage left, right and center. The whole story is stupid, but I can see how Elizabethan audiences would lap it up. Modern audiences still do lap up that crap, especially if it's a real life event rather than a show.

This play is dumb, and this version is so poorly acted that I cannot recommend it.

The Showrunner by Kim Moritsugu

Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I read one review of this novel which said the author (who has a totally cool name!) "...has the uncanny knack of creating stories you can't put down, featuring characters you'd love to be, who say things you wish you could say," but I definitely would not want to be one of these characters or say the things they say. Only one of them is not potentially psychotic! That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it however. The author did create three strong and well-defined characters, although one of them (Ann) seemed rather over the top to me.

I would have preferred a straight-forward story rather than interspersing the Stacey (main protagonist) story with entries from the journal of another (Ann). Those did not work for me because they seemed not only inauthentic, but also not something this particular character would do. It took me out of suspension of disbelief. I really dislike first person voice because it is so inauthentic, and I also dislike diary and journal entries, so this was a double negative for me. The other two perspectives, Stacey's and Jenna's, were much more realistic and readable. While I wouldn't describe it as 'un-put-downable' it definitely did make me want to keep reading.

Another joy was that, just when I feared it would go all chick-lit when Stacey started zeroing in on a guy, the author was smart enough to keep that low-key and focus on the main drama, which I appreciated, as indeed I did the fact that (apart from Ann's journal) this was not first person voice. Finally - an author who gets how weak and annoying that voice is! U shakll build a Moritsugu Shrine! yes! That's what I shall do! Mwahaha!

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the story is about a TV production company called Two Women Walking, the two women being veteran Ann Dalloni, and up-and-comer Stacey McCreedy, who was the creator of this new show that has become such a success and for which Ann has usurped the credit. The story repeatedly describes the two women as partners and the company as a partnership, but the story is told consistently as though Ann in the boss and Stacey her employee, which made little sense to me, but starting from this resentment, there builds a festering and smoldering mutual antagonism between the aging Ann and the vibrant Stacey which mounts towards what seems to be an inevitable butting-of-heads if not worse.

Each is trying to undermine the other, and it does not help that Ann, without consulting Stacey, has brought on board a young actor, Jenna, who is currently in a slump, and who is happy to work with a veteran like Ann to learn the producing ropes and maybe get back into the acting game through a back door. The story doesn't explain why Ann did not already have an assistant like Stacey does, which was a bit of a plot hole, but no big deal. Jenna finds herself playing piggy-in-the-middle and running thankless and trivial errands for Ann, but she swallows it all down because she has her own agenda.

Frankly I didn't like any of these three woman and would certainly not want to know them in real life (much less be them!), but they made for fascinating characters and a very readable story. The ending was in some ways predictable and in others a surprise, but I can't go into it without giving away spoilers!

The book wasn't all joy though; there were some issues, one of which is a common one in my experience. At one point I read, "...the bottom half of his left bicep was visible..." Unless his skin and muscle is torn and one of the ligaments is hanging out, I doubt that his bicep was visible. I don't doubt that his biceps was if he's quite muscular. 'Bicep' relates to one or other of the muscle attachments to the humerus, and isn't very impressive. The actual bulge in the upper arm is the biceps.

Another issue wasn't a writing problem, but a formatting problem caused by Amazon's crappy Kindle app. I really am not a fan of it (or Amazon in general for that matter), because unlike B&N's Nook app or a PDF file, it will mangle anything that's not plain vanilla text. In this case, the novel was clearly formatted for print, with page headers (book title and author name on alternating pages) which to me is pointless if not pretentious, but it's what publishers do.

Unfortunately, when Amazon gets it hands on this stuff, it can't handle it, and it incorporates the page headers directly into the text! Consequently, I read at one point, "And have KIM MORITSUGU nerves of steel." Hey, I want 'Kim Moritsugu nerves of steel'! Where can I buy them?! This happened quite often and was annoying, I hope it's fixed before the final ebook version becomes available.

There were other issues of improper formatting or poorly written sentences, but not too many, fortunately. At one point I read, "What had Stacey called her when she strolled up to the entrance, looking stylish..." here it wasn't immediately clear who's being stylish, but this is a minor issue. In another section, I read, "...and I know you're in an difficult position" 'An' needs to drop the 'n'. At a different point there was, "Which made feel Jenna victorious." Jenna and feel need to switch places. Also, in a slightly different issue, several weeks pass between chapters 18 and 24 without any real indication of such a huge time, which was a bit confusing!

Finally for me, there was a bit of a problem with how things were resolved at the end. I can't detail it without giving spoilers, but it seemed like the participants were indulging in unnecessary overkill when they could have simply told the truth about what happened, which was all they needed to do. I didn't get why they had to cook up a story. It felt to me like maybe the ending had been changed from what it originally was, an ending that might have needed such a story, but having made the change, the author either didn't realize there was a problem or couldn't think of an easy way out of it, when there actually was really a simple one: tell the unvarnished truth!

But these were relatively minor issues in what was overall a worthy and engrossing story, which I recommend.

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare

Rating: WARTY!

This was probably written around 1611, and first published in 1623 in a folio which grouped it with the comedies! It's not a comedy, unless a comedy of error. Some have labeled it a romance, but it's not a romance. To me it's a tragedy in more ways than one because it's not well-written and it's an awful story in the sense of being completely unrealistic. In that regard, it's a typical Shakespeare play where he asks us to remove our brains before entering the theater, but then he does call it The Winter's tale - like it's the mother of all tall stories, told in this audiobook by a very average full cast.

It's also another one of Shakespeare's thefts. He was a monstrous plagiarist. This story is essentially the same as Pandosto by Robert Greene, published some two decades earlier, a story in which the King of Bohemia, Pandosto, accuses his wife of adultery with his childhood friend, the King of Sicilia. Greene in turn may have taken his version from The Canterbury Tales which may have in turn been lifted from earlier stories such as The Decameron And so it goes!

In Shakespeare's rip-off, we're supposed to believe that Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has so little to do in his own country that he can waste nine months (a curious amount of time) swanning around in Sicilia with King Leontes, whom he hath known since childhood. When Polixenes refuseth, citing pressing business back home, Leontes unreasonably tries to require him to stay, and when he fails in that, he sends his wife to try to talk him into staying. Why he would send his wife who knows this guy less well than does her husband is a mystery, but she persuades him so quickly that Leontes immediately decides she's had sex with him in order to convince him not to go!

Note that Bohemia is part of the present-day Czech Republic, so there is no way in hell a name like Polixenes would be in play there, nor a name like Leontes in Sicilia for that matter, but that's Shakespeare for you. Nor is there any way these two were childhood friends when their countries of origin were so far apart given the vicissitudes of travel back then, but again, Shakespeare expects us to buy this old mystery meat pie. He also expects us to believe the king took his wife to court (not the same as courting his wife) in a complete farce of a trial rather than simply behead her as was the fashion at the time. The reason for the trial is that it's far more an exercise in linguistic strutting and puffery than ever it was a realistic trial.

The wife, of course, dieth after the trial, but isn't really dead, just like the unheroic Hero wasn't really dead in Much Ado About Noting. Shakespeare wasn't original by any means. He even plagiarized himself! In the end, the child he thought had been burned alive on his own orders was in fact raised away from his sight for sixteen years, and the wife he thought was dead was living with a neighbor and lo an behold, all is forgiven at the end.

Horseshit! This king is so clueless that he has no idea what's going on in his own court, let alone his own country! He's so selfish that he won't let his supposed friend go home, and he's so stupid and paranoid that he thinks his best friend and his wife had sex. The guy's an asshole and simply isn't worth reading about. I do not recommend this! If you must indulge in Shakespeare, he has better material to read or listen to than this.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Billy and the Devil by Dean Lilleyman

Rating: WARTY!

Set in England and making absolutely no concessions to mid-Atlanticism (be warned!), this novel begins in early April 1967 as judged by the references to Sandie Shaw winning the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held on April 8th that year, and is about a human disaster zone. The structure of the novel is rather experimental, and is odd because it has a prologue, which I skipped. I don't do prologues. To me, if it's important enough to include, it's important enough to include in chapter one (or later), and this is why it's odd, because the novel has another prologue in chapter one! I read this one; it's where teenage post-partum Jean decides she's keeping baby Billy but wants nothing to do with his father. Chapter two jumps to first person PoV which I don't like. In this case it wasn't obnoxious to begin with, but became so as the story regressed. This shifting structure of the novel served only to remind me that this was indeed a novel I was reading. It kept me from becoming truly immersed in it and that, amongst other things, became a problem for me in enjoying it.

On the positive side, chapter two is set in Chesterfield, city of the crooked spire and home of a League One soccer team. Chesterfield is only ten miles from my home town and I know it well, so this story began to resonate with me. It reminded me of my own youth and some experiences I'd had. I never was an addict, unless you count movies and books, but I knew dead-end people like this, and dead-end places like these. It's in this town where we meet the baby which Jean decided not to give up. Now he's a young boy, and the saddest thing is that he's already on a downhill ride, walled-in on one side by his past, and on the other by a largely incapable and/or uncaring present, so that when he reached his early teens, even though life had improved immeasurably, the rot had already gone too far to be remedied.

The problem was that this was the last time I felt bad for him, because the story then dropped into a numbingly repetitive rut, of which I became both increasingly aware and deadened by, as I reached the mid-point. Some of it was highly entertaining, whereas other parts - too many other parts - were truly tedious to read - so much so that I began skipping sections because it was not only boring, but consisted of whole paragraphs of poorly punctuated, block caps infested, run-on text that was hard to read and make sense of. It felt as though not only had Billy given up caring, the author had, too. The structure changed often, sometimes reading like a regular novel, other times like hastily jotted notes for a chapter which were then never followed-up on, and left as is. Some parts read like a play, such the Punch and Judy chapter, which I found cruel but funny, and very much in the vein of the real Punch and Judy puppet shows that used to be popular but are now largely forgotten, but there were far too few chapters like that.

For me, though, the biggest problem was that it felt more and more like the author was saying, "Hey, look at me! How clever and inventive, and crazy am I?" It felt less and less like there had been a real motivation to tell a coherent and engrossing story about Billy, and it was more like a leering gross-out story about Billy, and not even told, but rambled almost incoherently. One or two times reading about how drunk he got and how much he vomited and urinated and so on were fine, but when we get detailed descriptions every time, it became uninteresting - and uninventive. It was the same with his interactions with various women who seemed to be unaccountably attracted to him no matter how unappealing he was. The bottom line is that we really never got any closer to him than they did. He was all about antagonism, acting out, and obsessive self-importance, and the vaguely likable character we met at the start was drowned in alcohol. I understand that this is how it can be with addiction, but it felt to me that there are better ways of relating a tragedy like this than deliberately pushing the reader away. And there are ways to make it seem realistic. This method failed for me.

On that note, I found myself thinking, if this guy came up to me somewhere, and started telling me this story, just like it's written here, would I be interested? Would I care? Would I listen? And the answer was "No!" I'd be making excuses and leaving because there's no human interest there to hold me, and it's largely incoherent anyway! It's just a litany of villainy, so why read a book that's exactly like that? In the end, Billy is just a spoiled brat, a veneer of a human who has no redeeming, educational, or appealing value, and who offers us no access to him whatsoever. While I agree there are people like this in real life, whose stories, told less tediously in a documentary, can be compelling, to find such a character in a novel and to be forced to spend time listening to his mindless, drunken ranting, and his selfish acting-out, and to see the countless people, including family, he trashed and left in his wake like so much jetsam, was neither an endearing nor an engaging proposition.

I was actually much more interested in those other people - his family, his children, his friends, the women he felt-up and discarded - than ever I was in Billy himself! What were their lives like? How did they view him? What was their aftermath? Did the fiancée ever get back in her fiancé's good graces? We were offered no chance to learn anything of them, so not only was Billy a selfish, boorish oaf, the novel itself felt equally selfish and boorish, focusing far too much on him and the damage he did to himself, and not at all on the "collateral" damage. It was as though none of that was remotely important, and this grated on me and made me resentful towards Billy rather than try to find some way to empathize or uncover some level of understanding, and it made me cruelly wish that his story was over in one way or another.

Overall, it was like watching a really slow-motion train-wreck, and while the wreck at regular speed is dramatic and gripping, and holds a deep human interest, when you slow it way down to snail speed, so that it hardly moves, it becomes emotionally unmoving, too. No one wants to follow that because there's nothing to follow! No matter how tragic it actually is, it's meaningless at a microscopic level and pointless to try to view it through such a lens. I can't recommend this novel. based on the sixty percent or so that I managed to get through. I should advise, too, that this novel was so English - and midlands English, too - that you really have to have been there to get it, otherwise the jargon and slang will be as much over your head as a beer bottle tossed callously from a football train.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Smoke by Catherine McKenzie

Rating: WORTHY!

This novel, which is outside of my normal range of choices in reading, is a story set in a small town in a fire-risk area where a brush fire has started which has the potential to threaten the whole town. It has a claustrophobic feel to it, with the town seemingly isolated, the fire bearing down on it, and an ongoing quest to find out how the fire started under way even as the fire is fought with increasing numbers of people and growing amounts of equipment. The two main characters are Elizabeth, a woman who, despite her youth, has a long experience of dealing with brush fires in a professional capacity, and Mindy, a slightly older woman. Mindy has suggested using the funds her group collects annually for the local ice hockey team, for the fire-victims instead, since the hockey team doesn't need it. In particular, she wants to help an old guy named John whose house has burned down completely, but before long, John becomes a suspected arsonist.

I'm sorry to say that we get the trope routine of having the main character describing themselves by looking into a mirror. In this case it's Elizabeth who is a green-eyed redhead. She speaks in first person PoV, which is actually quite palatable for once, but this is interspersed with a third person perspective from the PoV of Mindy, and later, from the PoV of another character. The writing was technically very good (especially since this was an advance review copy), with very few appreciable errors or issues,

Presumably the few that were apparent will disappear in the actual published edition. For example, I read, "...who'd read To Kill a Mockingbird one too many times..." wherein both the title of the book and the first word after the title were italicized, which made for an odd read! Another was "...with a whole in her heart" which should have read "...with a hole in her heart." A third was "He gently removed my shirt from my finger gently...." Note that this may sound weird here out of context (it sounds fine in context), but the issue is that 'gently' appears twice. It was evidently an editorial change where the original 'gently', whichever it is, failed to be erased. I do that often!

Another example was "...I'd of thought you knew that by now." I know people say this instead of saying it correctly, or at least they sound like they're saying this, but I don't think that gives a writer free reign to write it like that when it ought to be "...I'd have thought you would've known that by now." One more was " Aren't nothing you can do about it." Presumably that should be " Ain't nothing you can do about it." One last example was where the phrase, "The Daily’s offices" was used. The 'l' and the 'y' were unaccountably italicized whereas the rest of the word was not!

One problem I had was the extent of Elizabeth's involvement in the investigation. Yes, she knew her stuff when it came down to interpreting the beginning of the fire, but she was neither a professional (no longer) nor a police officer, so even though she worked for the local DA, it seemed odd that she was so involved int eh minutiae of the investigation. But that's no big deal.

On the positive side, the really nice way in which the first person PoV is done, as well as the integration of this with a third person perspective, works well and tempts me to bring this to the attention of other publishers and writers and tell them in no uncertain terms: "See? It can be done! Follow this example." In general I liked the way this story unfolded. Some might find it a little slow, at odds with the urgency of the spreading fire, but for me, it wasn't rushed and it didn't drag. It felt normal and natural and that's a really pleasant thing to encounter in a novel, especially one with drama and self-recrimination laced through it.

Elizabeth and Mindy knew each other at one point, but are no longer speaking. It takes a while for the story behind that to unfold. Mindy starts out feeling a bit unappealing and slightly useless. Elizabeth starts out in the beginning of a divorce from her husband of ten years. How much of their feelings are real and how much is smoke? That's what this novel explores, and the extent to which people's lives are tangled and twisted around one another is what's really at the heart of the story, adding to the claustrophobia and the feeling of being trapped in something you don't even understand, let alone know how to get out of. The feeling exists at so many levels in this novel it's a wonder the author managed to keep hold of all the threads! But she did.

I have to say that I didn't like the ending (one character who needed a come-uppance gets none), but it was appropriate to the way the rest of the novel was written, so even though I rather disliked it, it was what the novel demanded. I recommend this novel, It's not your usual drama. I can see it becoming a movie or a TV mini-series. Hopefully it will be a movie, because while TV can do subtlety better than a movie, it rarely gets this kind of story right!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer

Title: The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
Author: Kate Hattemer
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review.

If you liked E. Lockhart's / Emily Jenkins's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or her Dramarama, then in all likelihood, you'll adore this one as much as I did, because it's very much written in that vein, but be prepared for a rocky start. I did not like this at all for the first few pages (especially when one of the characters suggests dog-earing the page (on an ebook!), but it was interesting enough that I stuck with it and I was well-rewarded.

The story concerns the amusing and disturbing situation which a high school (academy if you will) gets itself into, when it allows a TV station to stage a so-called 'reality' show using students as characters. Some of the school students not involved in the show, notably: Luke, Elizabeth, Jackson, and the narrator, Ethan, find it reprehensible that the show is such a farce and is detracting from academic standards, and is also imposing censorship on independence and creativity since slowly, everything in the school is becoming subjugated to the TV show's needs, and the fat bucks it generates, which are rolling into the school's coffers (supposedly). What a great premise for a story! And Hattemer doesn't let it down.

These four students decide to do something about this dismal situation, but misdirection, sadness, betrayal, and somewhat hair-raising escapades are in store for these guys as they try to rebel against it, and then start digging into the mismanagement (which they uncover) of both the show and the funds it generates. There's some sly humor and amusing situations, and a really touching romance which blossoms. Now that's the way to write a YA romance. Seriously. There are too-many ham-fisted YA writers who honestly need to read this novel just to learn how to do it.

This turned out to be yet another novel wherein I discovered a supporting character who actually interested me significantly more than the main character! I'm doomed to read novels like this - especially first person PoV novels, which is another reason to detest them! This novel curiously has three endings, none of which are very dissimilar, and none of which is the ending I was hoping for and expecting. Of this, I have to relate some disappointment. Maybe Ethan actually was as dumb as I feared he was! Actually, more accurately, maybe he just wasn't as smart as I hoped he'd be. But a worthy read and an interesting variation on the E. Lockhart novels I mentioned in that the main character is male rather than female.