Thursday, 18 February 2016

Automated Alice - Jeff Noon

Automated Alice is essentially Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in a cyberpunk universe. A little Victorian girl named Alice is bored with her humdrum existence, and is transported through a grandfather clock to the future, or at least to 1998, which was the future in 1996 when the novel was published. Once there she meets her Twin Twister, a life-size embodiment of her favourite doll Celia, who has been animated by an inventor and joins Alice on her quest to get home.

Alice is under suspicion for the famous Jigsaw Murders, in which the victims are found dismembered and stitched together in a nonsensical fashion. They are found with one jigsaw piece each, all of which are missing from Alice's jigsaw puzzle in the past. She and Celia decide that the only way to get home is to retrieve all of the missing puzzle pieces, while evading the clutches of the police.

In many ways Automated Alice feels like it ought to be a children's book – it's told in a matter-of-fact, childlike voice and even has wonderfully quirky full-page illustrations, as well as smaller doodles throughout. There are aspects, however, like the practical but detailed way in which the murder victims are described, that would be very much out of place in a children's book. Noon keeps the dreamlike feel of Carroll's original and applies it to his own, more modern universe found in Vurt and Pollen (and later Nymphomation) to create a very readable, but very unsettling, atmosphere.

The novel questions the boundaries of fantasy and reality in a way I'm sure Carroll would have approved of. Alice meets an authorial figure, Zenith O'Clock, who has a very existential conversation with her questioning whether she represents the Alice known in real life by Carroll, the Alice in the book he wrote, or another Alice entirely. A cameo appearance by Lewis Carroll himself increases the blurring of lines.

For those who have read Noon's other novels, Automated Alice offers some interesting theories about the background to the culture he's created which set Vurt, Pollen and Nymphomation in a different light.

Next up: The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

A Trail of Ink - Mel Starr

The third novel in the medieval mystery Hugh de Singleton series focuses on the mysterious theft of his friend John Wycliffe's entire collection of books. His investigations lead him to several different groups of possible suspects, and to multiple attempts on his life as he tries to uncover the truth and retrieve the books. At the same time, he must try to win his beloved Kate from the latest of her persistent suitors.

Like the previous novels, A Trail of Ink is so rich in detail, especially in little everyday things like food, clothes or furnishings. This gives a real depth to the story and makes it more than just a mystery set in the past. Starr blends intrigue, action and comedy together to create a very readable novel that really brings the period alive.

Next up: Automated Alice by Jeff Noon

Friday, 15 January 2016

Film adaptation: Gone Girl

I was curious as to how the film adaptation of Gone Girl would show the story, as adaptation of an unreliable narrator and a plot where time skips about I imagine would be quite a challenge. As it turns out, they simply followed it the same way the book does, and I think it works very well.

In terms of casting, Ben Affleck is exactly as I'd imagined Nick, and while Rosamund Pike didn't initially look the way I'd pictured Amy (personally I thought of her as paler and a natural blonde), she acted the part very convincingly. The film also does a great job of showing externally what in the book is a lot of internal monologue, without turning it into people talking to themselves.

While some parts are a little streamlined, for instance the flashbacks to Amy and Nick's early relationship, or Nick's part in the investigation of Amy's disappearance, we still get enough detail and depth to get the full impact of the plot. In particular though I did feel it was a shame that Amy's relationship with her parents was mostly missed out.

The development of both Nick and Amy's characters is very well shown throughout, and even knowing the ending from the book the plot is well-paced and gripping. Not a pleasant or relaxing film, but definitely worth watching.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Film adaptation: And Then There Were None

This 3-part BBC adaptation is one of the most faithful novel adaptations I've seen in a while, which I was glad about as Christie's plots are so carefully and intricately thought out that tinkering with them generally makes them less effective. There was a surprisingly star-studded cast considering it was something I'd seen no advertising for (or maybe it's been out there but I just haven't seen any), including Charles Dance, Aidan Turner and Miranda Richardson, as well as Burn Gorman (another, less well-known face from Game of Thrones) and Anna Maxwell Martin.

The scenery of the island was wonderfully bleak and atmospheric, with the intentional contrast of the modern mundanity of the house itself as effective as in the novel. Seeing it all visually for me accentuated the characters' gradual descent into a kind of stress-induced madness, especially, although it might sound odd, in the women. I hadn't really thought about it before, but it seems rare to see middle or upper class women in period dramas in any state other than well-dressed and composed, so seeing the convention of decent dress and presentation gradually break down was very interesting.

In terms of changes, the largest one perhaps was a change from the solution to the murders being a found manuscript in the book to a live confession in the series, which does make sense as being more dramatic and easier to show in visual media. The crimes committed by the 10 guests were also changed for the most part, in a way that made them feel more deliberate and in many cases more violent. My own feeling is that this wasn't strictly necessary, but perhaps it does make the viewer less sorry to see them die as they are more culpable themselves.

Another common alteration to period adaptations that often frustrates me is the addition of sex where it's absent in the book, and this did take place here. I didn't actually mind it, however (and not only because Aidan Turner is very nice to look at), because the characters in question did have a sense of chemistry in the book, and their acting on it in the adaptation served to accentuate the sense of social boundaries and rules breaking down.

I hope I haven't accidentally given spoilers to anyone who doesn't know the story, but I will say it's definitely worth watching, and also reading.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

2015 Greatest Hits

Booking Through Thursday's New Year question (late again, I know) is:

What were your favorite books of 2015?
How many books did you read this year? Are you happy with the amount of reading you got done? Wish you’d had more time? (I know I always do!)

In 2015 I read 32 books, if you count those overlapping year boundaries. I do wish I'd read more, I always do.

In terms of favourites, I'll pick out some in chronological order:

A Corpse at St Andrew's Chapel by Mel Starr (read 12/02/2015-21/02/2015)
The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen Donaldson (read 03/04/2015-10/05/2015)
Les Liaisons Dangerueses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (read 20/06/2015-15/08/2015)
Thank You, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse (read 10/10/2015-11/10/2015)
Nymphomation by Jeff Noon (read 12/10/2015-17/10/2015)

May 2016 bring some equally good reading!

Friday, 8 January 2016

Bonus review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

I've had quite a few Agatha Christies on my bookshelf patiently waiting their turn to be read, but when I noticed the new BBC adaptation of And Then There Were None over the Christmas period I wanted to read the book before watching it.

The premise is pretty well-known: 10 people go to a house on an isolated island, and are killed one by one until they are all dead. In a foreword Christie herself comments on how challenging it was to think up a way to do this, and it really is a very clever and surprising solution.

This is one of the least cosy Christie novels I've read – usually the investigating figure, whoever they may be, is not personally involved in the murder and feels pretty safe in themselves. In And Then There Were None, however, the narrative viewpoint shifts between each of the characters as they become increasingly more aware of their own inevitable demise, which lends the story an unusually serious edge, more like a psychological horror than a comfortable murder-mystery.

The tone remains very grounded and British however, and Christie does a great job creating a variety of distinct but convincing narrative voices. In spite of the fact that they all have quite serious flaws, many of them are likable enough for me to have wished they didn't have to die.

One of Agatha Christie's best-known novels, and well worth a read.

Thursday, 7 January 2016


I realise I'm a little behind on this one, but this Christmas' Booking Through Thursday is:

What books are/were you hoping to get as gifts this holiday season?
Which books DID you get?
Are you happy, or did you rush right out to your local bookstore to pick up the book you’d hoped you’d be getting?

The books I got this Christmas are:

Cooking for Geeks
by Jeff Potter (I had a copy of this previously when I lived in Canada but sadly had to leave it behind due to luggage weight limits)

Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson - the latest in the Mistborn series

A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr - the third in his Hugh de Singleton medieval mystery series

They were all from family and I'd specifically asked for each of them, which is how we usually do presents, so we all end up with something we actually want!

How about you, readers? Did you have a good book haul this Christmas?