Friday, 30 March 2007

The Observations - Jane Harris

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started reading this, having just realised it wasn't the new Joanne Harris, as I had thought in the bookshop (oops). However, the nineteenth century ambience and the quirky narrative of Bessy the maid/child prostitute was thoroughly engaging. When the 'supernatural' aspect of the story kicked in I was reminded of the non-ghost story that is 'Northanger Abbey', with rational explanations obvious only to those who wish to see them. Bessy's rather odd mistress ('marm') and her spiralling insanity keep the story rattling along, as the tricks Bessy plays get rather out of hand leading to a shock as her past meets her present.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The Flanders Panel - Arturo Perez-Reverte

I read this a few years ago, lent it to a friend then forgot all about it. When it was conscientiously returned to me, I couldn't not re-read it. When I started, I couldn't remember whodunit, but as I turned the pages, it all came flooding back to me. This wasn't really a problem; I don't mind knowing what happens because I read books or watch films more to see how it happens (I don't much like surprises...).

The layers of the story draw you in, but I found the 15th century mystery more compelling than the modern detective work. It was also slightly disappointing that the modern crime was not connected to the past events, except as an instigator. The flashbacks to Roger de Arras and Beatrice of Burgundy are beautifully constructed ethereal passages, portraying the distant beginnings of this mystery and the cast who played the key roles. It does seem a shame that the modern group appear more constructed and somewhat stereotypical (the louche homosexual antique dealer, the thrill-seeking aging gallery owner, the introverted chess master and the strong yet vulnerable woman they gather around). The denouement therefore, is less shocking than it should be, and the betrayal involved more of a disappointment than anything else. That said, the story is engaging enough for me to wish I could read the original, but unfortunately my Spanish isn't up to that.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Becoming Jane

With an interesting concept, accomplished cast and a fond public on its side, 'Becoming Jane' was always going to be relatively well-received. Anne Hathaway convincingly brings alive the frustrated author, torn between duty, passion and her conviction that works written by men and women have equal validity and promise. The 'Pride and Prejudice'-like romance between Austen and Tom Lefroy seems to jerk from antipathy to true love, creating a paradox due to the film's lack of pace in other aspects of the story. This may reflect the lack of historical background material regarding the supposed courtship and love affair, though it does create the effect of a slightly awkward gear change half-way through the film.

Visually, the eighteenth century comes alive, and the slow unfurling of the story may be considered atmospheric, particularly the opening soundless sequence. However, it really needed either more atmosphere or more substance to utterly convince, instead the result is an uneasy mix of conventional love story and stylistic imagery. The questions surrounding Austen's life and love that 'Becoming Jane' tries to answer are indeed intriguing, and for that reason I would say it is worth watching. Unfortunately though, it falls short of 'Shakespeare in Love'.

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