Saturday, 23 February 2013

Book v. Film: 'The Princess Bride' by William Goldman

I'd had the book of this on my wishlist for *ages* when both Ellie and Hanna kindly bought me it for my birthday last year.  The obvious problem with having two people whose opinions you respect send you the same book is that it doubles the pressure that the poor book is labouring under.

I never actually got to telling you how much I loved it last year because I read it just before I decided to cut my losses on the backlog of reviews and just finish up 2012 and start again in 2013.  But I really did love it!  Last weekend, when a horrendous cold/chest infection arrived, I tucked myself up in a duvet and settled down to watch the film based on the wonderful novel, which makes now the perfect time to have a bit of a chat about both.

Just as a warning, this is a hybrid review/comparison between the book and the film and there may well be a few minor spoilers if you either haven't read the book or watched the film!  Careful as we go, folks!


Buy your own copy at the
Book Depository here
I was promised "a fairy tale like no other, of fencing, fighting, torture, poison, true love, hate, revenge, giants, hunters, bad men, good men, beautifulest ladies, snakes, spiders, beasts, chases, escapes ,lies, truths, passion and miracles".  And blimey, does Goldman deliver.

I loved the story-within-a-story part.  There's something so...beautiful about the parts of the novel where "Goldman's" father reads him the story while he's poorly, even though he can only just about read.  A then grown up William Goldman sets out to re-capture the magic for his son by re-writing what he learns is actually a rather unwieldy original.  Little asides from the author pepper the story and make it more than "just" a fairytale. That moment where a story completely catches the young narrator's imagination is one that most readers will remember from their childhood and the fact that it's read by a parent is just all the more lovely.

The fairytale part of the story plays with your mind like the best kind of fairy tale and is utterly magical.  Funny, yes, but also delightfully whimsical and so very charming.  There are despicable baddies and loveable minions that are on the wrong track but deep-down are really just sort of rakish.  And, of course, there's true love, which may or may not triumph in the face of mild peril...The quote up there says it all, really.  What more could you want?!

My mum currently has my extra copy and when she's read it, I'll be inflicting it upon my younger sister (Mum, if you see this, get reading!).  A five-star, favourite read of 2012, easily.


So the book turned out to be fabulous and it was the film's turn to labour under the weight of lofty expectations.  I'd had the DVD for a while but had neglected it until germs compelled me to scour our collection for something fun.  I'm always sceptical about adaptations because, really, when do they ever meet up to our expectations as readers?

The adaptation was released in 1987 and has dated in a way that the book obviously hasn't.  For the most part, the version I watched has been updated so that the wobbly edges that normally give away older films aren't there.  It's only when special effects come into play that the age becomes more apparent.  The R.O.U.S. (Rodents of Unusual Size) (which seemingly have quite the cult following, incidentally) are an entertaining aside in the book but are a little jarring in the film...

See?  80s creatures at their best!
My favourite thing about the book to film shift is the casting: Cary Elwes and Robin Wright are perfect as Wesley and Buttercup respectively.  Wesley was just the right amount of dashing and his EYES are just so pretty...*swoon*.  Buttercup was actually a little less feisty than I imagined her to be and there was a bit more sitting around and waiting to be saved than there was in the book but she has just enough attitude to carry it off without being insipid.  You do kind of have to take their life-altering true love at face value because the beginning scenes fly by very quickly but the actors play it very well and I was sold :)

The dialogue was still sharp and snappy but it didn't sparkle quite as much as it did tucked amongst some equally sharp and snappy narration.  Without the characters' back stories, some of the recurring features of the film don't have quite the resonance that they do in the book.  In the book, as each of the characters is introduced, you get a potted life story and it makes the remainder of the novel flow so much better.  Inigo Montoya, for example, is played wonderfully and my *favourite* scene in the whole film is where he faces off against the man that killed his father - it's funny but also kind of heart-warming (you know, so much as a sword fight can be!) and it's almost exactly how I imagined it when I read it but I would imagine that it isn't quite as much so if you aren't as attached to Inigo to begin with...I can't resist including the clip but PLEASE REMEMBER that if you haven't seen the film or read the book, this is towards the end!

The Verdict?  As always, I'd recommend reading the book first - there's so much more detail, wit and swashbuckling in the literary version than there is in the film.  The film is entertaining but a little unfulfilling in isolation.  Need a pick-me-up when you're missing Goldman's quirky style and characters, though?  Get the film and settle down for a really jolly good version of the cult classic novel.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Reading Room Wishlist: Part One - The Fairytale Library

I think I've mentioned in passing over the past few months that Boyfriend and I are looking at moving house soon.  Our house is perfectly lovely but we're looking for something a little bigger.  We've found what we hope will be our next home but since finding and actually buying the right house is not always the most fun experience, I've taken to alleviating the more tiresome aspects by casually browsing the internet for interior design ideas. And by "casually browsing", I do of course mean downloading multiple apps (Houzz is my current favourite...) and obsessively poring over pictures of things that I probably won't be able to afford.

But Charlotte, you're no doubt crying, what is this rambling doing on your book blog?!  WELL, as the house will have more spare space than our current house, Boyfriend has agreed that I can have what I have taken to calling in a Reading Room.  Which is my dorky way of acknowledging that we won't have the space for an actual library but that there will be a whole room dedicated to books and reading.

Over the next few months, I'll be posting random ideas for said Reading Room, which initially will mostly consist of pretty pictures but may well later document the actual creation of the room itself.  Feel free to chip in with things I'm missing, sites I should be checking out and general wisdom.  I am no interior designer and am definitely not of a practical persuasion so once the fun colour-picking part is done, prepare for some swearing about flatpacks and other such nasties.For the picture-based posts of the next couple of months, I'm going to try and lump my ideas into themes.  So let's start with this week's theme...


Like many a feverish reader, slightly musty smelling rooms filled with ancient tomes and almost as ancient armchairs are my nirvana.  There is nothing quite as soothing as stepping into a vaulted room filled floor-to-ceiling with books and either wandering amongst the shelves and hunting out new treasures or sitting in the hush and getting lost in another time or place.  Were money no object, I'd create something as awe-inspiring.  Something that gives people that peaceful feeling that makes them feel as though they just want to light a fire and curl up...

I actually suspect that the middle picture isn't actually a library but a big open space with wallpaper to make it look like a library. For these purposes, we're imagining that they are real books and I could wander around on that mezzanine floor. Much though I know that my current preference is for something light and airy, if I had a bigger space available, I'd be going for the top one. 

Seeing as we've already established that I'm not a millionaire, I'll be looking at taking little things from the fairy-tale library of my dreams and incorporating them into my actual room. One of the things I love the most about this "style" of library is the feeling of being surrounded by books and I think that's created by having a number of wall-to-ceiling shelves. So I think that's the idea that I'm pinching from the fairytale libraries of my dreams (except without the ugly chairs...):

Reading Room Wishlist
1) Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves

Next week: Duck Egg Chic

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Literary Fiction Review: 'Swimming Home' by Deborah Levy

Synopsis from GoodReads

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

As he arrives with his family at the villa in the hills above Nice, Joe sees a body in the swimming pool.  But the girl is very much alive.  She is Kitty Finch: a self-proclaimed botanist with green-painted fingernails, walking naked out of the water and into the heart of their holiday.  

Why is she there?  

What does she want from them all?  

And why does Joe's enigmatic wife allow her to remain?


The synopsis above is from the paperback edition that I was bought for Christmas by my Dad.  There's a different synopsis on GoodReads (which I've linked to above), which is actually less of a synopsis and more of a mini-review.  There are some perfect phrases in that 'synopsis' though and it describes Swimming Home as combining "linguistic virtuosity, technical brilliance and a strong sense of what it means to be wears its darkness lightly".  So accurate are these phrases that I could just end my review right there.  On the face of it, this is a quirky tale of a family and their close friends that embark on a holiday in the sun, only to find their tranquility interrupted by the seemingly ever-naked Kitty.  Beneath that, there's so much more.

When I was talking to my Dad about this book, he made a point that I would totally love to claim as my own if I didn't know that he occasionally reads this blog and would call me on it. To him, this was a novel about identity.  About a poet who has spent his life struggling to create one for himself out of loss and a disrupted childhood and about a reader who believes that she has found her identity in his writing.  

According to the very short Afterword in the back of my edition, it's a novel about "desire: desire and its inseparable flip side, the death drive" and how the worlds of "commerce, politics, marriage and hearth, and literature itself" are affected by both.  To that reader, each of characters represents one of those 'worlds' and their relationships are at least in part representations of how those worlds interact in modern society and how they can be affected by external sources.  Personally, I think that's a little English Literature A-Level and the kind of analysis that can almost dampen a reading a experience.  That said, at only 157 pages, this is the kind of book that you could read a few times and see something different every time.

You might think that I'm resorting to others' comments about this book because I'm either lazy or don't have any thoughts about it of my own.  Really, the point I'm trying to make is that there are so many angles to this book and that I'm pretty sure it will appeal to each reader for a subtly different reason.  The characters are complex and it's remarkable how much detail Levy manages to pack into so few pages.  Since it is so short, this is really a snapshot of the characters' lives and I loved the references to past events that hinted at how each of them have ended up as they are.  They aren't a particularly likeable group but they are fascinating and their foibles do become more understandable (even if not always excusable!) as events play out.

What struck me most while reading Swimming Home was Levy's depiction of depression and its effects.  It's fairly evident from early on that Kitty has some mental health issues that make her perception of the world quite frightening but fascinating. It was less Kitty's issues though that captured my attention and more the quiet but equally debilitating depression of other characters, the extent of which was only really apparent to me with the benefit of hindsight.  The characters are all facing their own demons, with varying degrees of success, and their journeys are all unique and cleverly woven together.

Clearly, the Man Booker prize people knew what they were doing when they shortlisted this one.  Definitely recommended.

Overall:  There is so much to get from this short book that it's nigh on impossible for me to tell you why you should read it.  This would be a perfect book for a book club read because I'm sure that every reader will take something different away from their experience.  If you want to take it at face value, it'll work for that too - it's also an extremely well-written and entertaining read.

Date finished:  07 January 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Christmas present :)
Genre:  Literary fiction
Published (in the UK): by Faber and Faber in September 2012

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Hey, February! Where did you come from?

I pretty much say this all the time at the moment but, seriously, WHERE DOES TIME GO?!  January has absolutely flown.  Work has been seriously busy but I've been travelling further afield to meetings by train and have used my outward journeys to prep and my return journeys to read, giving my early 2013 reading a huge boost.  Also, I took part in the Bout of Books read-a-thon and had a wonderful time.  All in all, 2013 is rocking it so far.

Last year, I didn't do monthly updates and went for quarterly updates instead.  I was struggling to remember why but looking back at my first quarterly post of 2012, I only read three books in January.  This year (or, more accurately, for as much of this year as I remember for...), I'm switching back to monthly.  I like checking in at the end of a month and noseying through my GoodReads lists and statistics to see where I'm up to, even if it DOES mean more battling with Blogger's new fun feature of throwing pictures all over the place...

Total books read in January  7

Pages read in January  2,244

 As I mentioned in my recent "It's Monday" post, a lot of these have been included in award shortlists and one even scored a win.  I am under no illusions that all books nominated for awards/shortlisted for awards are all great reads - we've all read at least one lauded book that's turned out to be a real stinker (although I can't recall one just at this very minute...).  All the same, my January reads were all seriously good.

I gave both The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller five stars out of five on GoodReads.  I know that a lot of readers reserve the five star ratings for complete game changers but the text that goes with a five star rating on GoodReads is "it was amazing", as opposed to the four star "really liked it".  "Really liked it" doesn't really cover how I felt about either book, so "it was amazing" it is! Favourite of the month goes to The Handmaid's Tale.  Offred's tale is so moving and heart-breaking and beautifully told and is one of *very* few books that I've read in recent years (literally) that I would genuinely consider re-reading one day.  High praise, in my world.

January on the Blog

I put up nine posts in January.  While not as many as I would like, it's an improvement on the end of December.  I started out the year committing to not committing to challenges, a decision I'm more than happy I made.  I participated in Bout of Books during the second week in January, which buoyed both my page count and number of posts and helped my get back into blogging for 2013.  In other general news, I also participated in my first It's Monday! What Are You Reading? of the year and waffled about award winners, blubbing over The Song of Achilles and getting freaked out by Gone Girl.

I also got completely sick of the Intense Debate comment system either eating or hiding your comments so I flung out some ranty tweets before ridding myself of it completely.  Disqus kindly imported all of the comments that were both hidden in Intense Debate somewhere and lurking in my Blogger history and is settling in nicely so far.

Most importantly, I suppose, I posted two reviews (click on the covers to head to my reviews):


As always, I would love to post reviews BUT they are obviously the posts that take the most time, even though they are the posts that I enjoy writing the most...more of that in February, perhaps.

So how's January been treating you all?  Whether you've been trudging through snow or battling your way through a heatwave, I hope there have been great books involved!  What's been your favourite read of 2013 so far?  Anything to warn us away from?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Review: 'John Saturnall's Feast' by Lawrence Norfolk

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Full synopsis at GoodReads
1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft and John Sandall and his mother are running for their lives. Taking refuge among the trees of Buccla's Wood, John's mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations. But as the rich dishes rise from the pages, the ground beneath them freezes. That winter John's mother dies.

The Feast is John's legacy. Taken as an orphan to Buckland Manor, the ancestral seat of Sir William Fremantle, John is put to work in its vast subterranean kitchens, the domain of Richard Scovell. Under the Master Cook's guidance, John climbs from the squalor of the Scullery to the great house above...

An astounding work of historical fiction, John Saturnall's Feast charts the course of one man's life from steaming kitchens to illicit bedchambers, through battlefields and ancient magical woods. Expertly weaving fact with myth, Lawrence Norfolk creates a rich, complex and mesmerising story of seventeenth-century life, love and war.


I was really looking forward to this one - historical fiction with a magical, food-based twist? Right up my alley.  The first half more than lived up to my expectations - each chapter starts with an excerpt from an ancient recipe, which makes sure that wherever the story strays and whatever the characters are doing, there's a foodie thread running all the way through.  They're strangely beautiful on their own but they're worked into the story on a whole host of different levels too.

This is very much a story in two parts.  The first part looks back over John's turbulent childhood and explores the persecution of those women that didn't quite subscribe to established religion as "witches" (and the effect that persecution had on families and communities).  The pace is slow but the detail makes it all worth it.  John has an exceptional sense of smell and often recounts his experiences by reference to distinctive scents and aromas.  The writing is fantastic and great to get lost in.  

The pace picks up when John arrives at Buckland Manor and the shift works - he quickly gets embroiled in life in the vast kitchens and has to learn to develop relationships with his fellow kitchen-hands.  Alongside the ancient recipes, the preparation of great feasts were my absolute favourite parts of the book; the hustle and bustle, the steaming vats of sauces, the sheer volume of ingredients and camaraderie of the kitchen. Brilliant.

For all of the detail that Norfolk manages to cram into his story about life in the kitchens of a sprawling estate, however, the latter part of the story suffers from some huge gaps.    As John gets older, it's as though the story is put on fast forward.  After spending so much time on his childhood, the jumps in time disrupt the atmosphere and seem like an easy way out.

There is a very poignant moment about two thirds of the way through the novel, for example, where John discovers something about his ancestors and heritage that I was sure would impact on his relationships and position but, rather than deal with the repercussions and develop the related characters, the narrative stops and shifts forward a few years so that you can work out for yourself what the aftermath might have been (both immediately and in the intervening years) and clamour to catch up and work out what's happened to all of your favourites.  I like a good conclusion of an emotional dilemma as much as the next person but it would have been nice to share the journey a little bit too.

I hoped it was a one off but found it happening with increasing frequency as I was nearing the end of John's story and I got more and more frustrated about what I was sure I was missing out on.  When the English Civil War starts and the people in the village are divided by Oliver Cromwell's religious minions, there are some harrowing scenes that are reminiscent of the early chapters.  Sadly, though, the detail was always short-lived and year long gaps were never far away.  I suppose in a way it's a testament to the early part of the novel that I wanted more from the later parts.  A lot of potential but a faint whiff of disappointment tainting the end, unfortunately.

Overall:  There are some very charming and quirky aspects to John Saturnall's Feast that make reading it something a bit different but, ultimately, I felt as though it was striving to be something epic without committing to the page count or character development.  If you're happy to meander through some 17th century recipes but skip out on some of the background, this is for you.  If it's the sweeping historical fiction that you're looking for, you could do better (Pillars of the Earth, for example, which is one of my absolute favourite books).

Date finished:  05 January 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
Genre:  Historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc in September 2012