"Girl Reading", by Katie Ward. Virago paperback cover (from Katie Ward's website)

“Girl Reading”, by Katie Ward. Virago paperback cover (from Katie Ward’s website)

This is Katie Ward’s first novel, and a wonderfully intricate work which would be impressive were it her third, or fourth, or whateverth work. It doesn’t come across as a story as much as it does a series of scenes all of are built around variations on a particular image – a girl or a woman reading a book. We move forward through time with each scene, from 1333 to 2060. I can’t properly describe the chapters as individual stories, as there is no real beginning or ending, just some time spent with the characters, frequently stepping in at the start, the middle, or the end of their stories, but never including all three such parts together. The woman reading is the shared experience, as expressed in the opening quote from Jung’s ‘Synchronicity: an acausal connecting principle’ (Collected Works, vol. 8):

You can never say with certainty that what appears to be going on in the collective unconscious of a single individual is not also happening in other individuals or organisms or things or situations.

Continue Reading »

Edward Norton as "The Illusionist" (2006). Image via "How to watch a motion picture"

Edward Norton as “The Illusionist” (2006). Image via “How to watch a motion picture”

The Illusionist, directed by Neil Burger and released in 2006, is unquestionably one of my favourite films. My love of this film is as much about the light and colour thereof as it is about the story. It’s hard to describe the light; the best I can manage is that the film seems suffused with shades of gold and amber, like a sepia-toned photo come to life, with its own golden shimmer, and that it thus creates an atmosphere of magic and enchantment that truly enhances these same themes in the plot. Continue Reading »


A slightly incongruous title for a blog post introducing the multimedia collections, given the comparable limitations of Victorian technologies, but I must perforce stick to my personal brand! The Mediatheque, as it has been officially named, primarily covers my viewing and listening choices, some of which I will also review, as time and verbosity allow. The catalogue – albeit, in a possible affront to my librarian sensibilities, currently without classification – will hopefully be of interest to you, dear readers, in addition to helping me keep track of what I hear, read, and see. It also includes growing lists of websites and webcomics which I read regularly.

Please feel free to leave comments on the page itself, with recommendations or remarks as takes your fancy!

Without further ado, I now declare the Mediatheque open!

The Borribles, by Michael de Larrabeiti (cover of book one in the new ebook trilogy)

The Borribles, by Michael de Larrabeiti (cover of book one in the new ebook trilogy)

Every child should read Michael de Larrabeiti’s The Borribles books before they hit the age of 10. It’s a wonderful glimpse into what can happen to those children who refuse to grow up, who are judged and found wanting, who fall between the cracks somehow; gradually, they become Borribles, a kind of urban feral pixie, about the same size as a human child, who lives for the thrill of the chase, for their communities (see the quote in this post’s title, from the Borrible Book of Proverbs, and, above all, for not being caught; they require only enough material possessions as help them to keep alive, which possessions are usually stolen, and they do not use or covet money. They must earn their names through their great adventures. To be caught by the police is to have your pointed ears snipped, and thus to grow up. The Borrible life is what I wish the Lost Boys could have had when they chose to return to London. Continue Reading »

Avatar film poster (US)

Avatar film poster (US)

I’ve always meant to watch James Cameron’s Avatar, but have never been particularly enthused about the idea. It was on E4 last night,and I decided to take the plunge, as it were. The opening of the film has led to the following sentence, currently rather high up on the list of things I never thought I would write – did its creators want Avatar to be a fantasy/sci-fi Apocalypse Now? Jake Sully’s voice-over made me think that they may have been trying to create such an effect, mimicking Ben Willard’s opening monologue, and later scenes of the helicopters taking off to attack the People (the Pandora natives) were also reminiscent of Apocalypse Now‘s helicopters flight scene, set to Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Now I really want to apologise to the makers of Apocalypse Now. This is Avatar‘s main problem – everything about it has been done before, and done better; . I expected very little from the plot, but it was even more unoriginal than I was expecting. It’s an adventure story built around an individual’s redemption, as he recovers from his brother’s death, and replaces that brother on a journey of exploration on a new planet, which has its own people and way of life. It had potential, but every character, be they from Earth or from Pandora is a stereotype – an extreme stereotype – and it’s impossible to care about them, as they are not developed as individuals. The plot is likewise obvious from the outset; Sully may assert that the purpose of the “old-school brief [was] to put you at ease”, but I beg to differ. Continue Reading »

The centre of the labyrinth, Cathedrale de Notre Dame, Chartres (My photo, May 2014)

The centre of the labyrinth, Cathedrale de Notre Dame, Chartres (My photo, May 2014)

I’m frequently asked, most often by bemused family members, why the Middle Ages? What claim does it have on me? There is no easy answer to that question – I’ve loved the architecture, art, and stories so long that I cannot identify a single moment or monument that began my medievalist life. That said, the labyrinth is one element of medieval life that I cannot resist. Fortunately, many still exist, and the one I know best is at the heart of Chartres Cathedral. I don’t remember if we walked it on our first visit – I was three, perhaps four, and according to my mother, constantly rushing off to look at the Cathedral’s treasures. But it seems likely that it was covered by chairs, as it was on my most recent visit, when I took myself off for a wee holiday round Brittany and Normandy in May of this year, when I took the photo on the left. I was very disappointed at not being able to walk the path of the labyrinth, but it’s just another excuse, were any needed, to visit Chartres and its cathedral again. Continue Reading »

Empress Elisabeth of Austria in Courtly Gala Dress with Diamond Stars, by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, oil on canvas, 1865, Schloss Hofburg, Vienna. Image via Wikimedia Commons

I picked up Daisy Goodwin’s first novel, My Last Duchess (2011), primarily because it took its title from Robert Browning’s poem of the same name, which I had studied at school. I did in part judge her second novel by its cover, coveting the outfit worn by the model in Jeff Cottenden’s cover photograph, but my main reason for choosing it was the fact that one of its characters is the real life Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Elisabeth, called Sisi (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898), wife of Emperor Franz Josef I. Before reading this book, I knew Sisi only through her stunning portrait, by Franz Winterhalter (look left!). I have always loved this painting, and it is the reason why, knowing nothing else about her, I borrowed this book from the library. Continue Reading »


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