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Beiträge von Tanja Kinkel
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Tanja Kinkel "Tanja Kinkel" (Bamberg/München)

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Her Majesty's Will (English Edition)
Her Majesty's Will (English Edition)
Preis: EUR 4,62

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4.0 von 5 Sternen With a hey nonny nonny, 28. Oktober 2012
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This is, hands down, one of the most enjoyable books I've ever read. I had a silly grin on my face much of the time, I laughed, I whooped, I cheered. And I think I'd have done that even without a passionate interest in all things Shakespeare. Though of course that was an extra bonus. Because, fellow citizens of the virtual world, this is a swashbuckling romp starring young Will Shakespeare and Christopher "Kit" Marlowe.

The author uses one of the theories about what Shakespeare did between the time he got married and the time he starts writing plays and acting in London, for which we have no documentation whatsover, to wit: he's being bored and frustrated as a schoolmaster (under the nome de plume of Will Falstaff because of that run in with Sir Thomas Lucy and the law back in Warwickshire) in Lancastershire when what appears to be a gorgeous dark haired woman is getting molested by a couple of ruffians. Before you can say Dark Lady Will intervenes. Except the Dark Lady is actually not a woman at all but Christopher Marlowe in spying disguise, the ruffians aren't after "her" virtue but after a conspiracy-incriminating letter Kit Marlowe has stolen, and before you know it Will and Kit are on the run together, having managed to stumble across the Babington plot which means not only are Catholic spies after them but so is Sir Francis Walsingham, lest they uncover his double agent. Cue lots of witty dialogue, bawdy puns, hair-raising escapes, and lots and lots of flirting between our two heroes, and I don't mean in an annoying nudge-nudge, wink-wink subtextual way, I mean textual, with Will surprising Kit by being an excellent kisser.

It's the ideal book to have a good and glorious time with in an intelligent way, and there's even a bonus Oxfordian put-down for those of us who are Shakespeareans. Actually, there are two; when our lads have arrived in London someone brings up the Earl of Oxford and Will says "who?", and the other comes when Will and Kit have enlisted some other of the Elizabethan wits and playwrights to help decypher them the Very Very Secret Encrypted Code. Earlier, Will and Kit saw a performance of Kyd's Spanish Tragedy which Will loved but Kit did not, and now the other gents, all of whom, except for Will, attended university, are gleefully tearing Kyd and his play apart. Our hero listens and finds himself getting increasingly pissed off at the lot of them, for:

For ten minutes the three University men heaped coals upon the head of the absent Kyd and his play. It was hard to say which offended them more, the fact that Kyd had attempted the feat, or that he had pulled it off. Unable to fault the end result, they took turns abhorring and lamenting his audacity for daring to write one in the first place. (...) Will had never before dreamed of being a playwright. Actor? Yes, that profession had fascinated him since his first taste of the stage in his tender years. But never had he thought to set quill to paper and become a joiner of words. (...) Yet, hearing the litany of abuses hurled at a humble man of no formal education just because he had attempted to write a play, the force of Will's temper fashioned a new weapon. This time his anger was not hot, but cooly calm as he found himself with a new, all consuming desire. When this was all finished, when their lives were safe and the threat passed, he would spite these pompous, self-indulgent, self-congratulating men of high birth and low morals by bending his mind to do the very thing they were ridiculing. Will would write plays.

Oh yeah. But mainly the book is, as mentioned, a romp, with Kit M. being the charming, loyalties-not-quite-certain flamboyant trickster character and Will his straight man (err, bi man?) who, however, is the more intelligent of the two, especially when it comes to puzzle-solving. They make a fantastic Elizabethan duo, and I hope for more of their adventures, but if this remains their only foray, it's a glorious one. The only complaint I could make is that the author does something which I consider cheating, though your mileage may differ. No matter how much you fictionalize his life, there's no getting around the fact Shakespeare was an often absent, cheating and probably not that stellar husband. In the past, male biographers often went the "blame the wife" route (she's older! She trapped him by getting pregnant! She probably was a Puritan and didn't understand his plays!). Brixt comes up with a new version: They did marry because Anne was pregnant, but not by Will, by her father's groom whom her family wouldn't let her marry, and the Shakespeareas needed the money from her dowry because John Shakespeare had drunken so much of their own away, so basically the marriage is a beard-type marriage and the children are the groom's. Now Brixt is firm on the subject of Anne not being a slut, just in love with a man she can't marry, and I suppose it's nicer to imagine her happy in Will's absence, but somehow I suspect the main purpose for this bit of backstory which comes to light half way through is so Will can hit on women and flirt with Kit without the reader having to wonder, um, what about the wife and children back at home? And I don't think that was necessary; he'd still have been likeable as someone who simply wasn't cut out to be husband material and wanted more of life than Stratford.

But that is really the only nitpick I have, and it's a minor one, in the face of all the other good qualities the book has. It made me happy, it'll make you happy if you read it, and I badly want a sequel. Not just for more adventures of these particular versions of Will and Kit, but also for the many other colourful characters, from the Elizabethan underworld via actors, playwrights and fools (err, the professional type) to ruthless Walsingham and Elizabeth's lady-in-waiting Helena of Snakenborg, Marchionness of Southampton, who in my mind is played by Cate Blanchett as a 40 something no nonsense Elizabethan lady. And now excuse me while I must read it again!

Rituals - Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One
Rituals - Rhapsody of Blood, Volume One
von Roz Kaveney
Preis: EUR 18,30

5.0 von 5 Sternen epic and enthralling, 28. Oktober 2012
If you're in the mood for a fantasy saga that combines history, myth, locations that range from archaic times to present day (well, in the first volume, the 90s), want said story to be told both suspensefully and wittily, and want an epic which has more than one LGBT character adrift in an otherwise solely heterosexual world to offer (in fact, offers rather the reverse: a story where all the romances are same sex, though there are also strong friendships between the sexes), you're in luck: Rhapsody of Blood: Volume I is the book for you.

Rhapsody of Blood has two plot threads which, one early encounter aside, are separate yet constantly inform on each other. One is the story of Emma and Caroline; Caroline gets killed right at the start in the first appearance of the saga's villains, but considering she becomes one of the busiest chattiest ghosts you can imagine, this is just the beginning of her relationship with Emma Jones, one of our two point of view characters. (It also puts a cramp in their love life, but such obstacles are there to be overcome with style, invention and the occasional third party.) Emma and Caroline begin their career as a supernatural crime fighting team in the British Museum by saving a faun from two freelance angels, aided by the Egyptian crocodile shaped god Sobekh, and their adventures only go wilder from there. It's wit, banter and resolute non-impressedness versus a variety of overlord wannabes and the occasional mad zombie, and bit by bit a pattern starts to get revealed to both readers and characters.

The other plot thread sends us through human history, not in chronological order, and its pov character is Mara the Huntress. (Who saves Emma at the start of the novel from getting killed like Caroline but otherwise has no contact with Our Heroines, though its heavily hinted this will at some point in the future change.) Mara is her own myth, a woman who made it her business to put an end to any gods thriving on blood sacrifices. And to protect the weak, but note she's not called Protector, she's called Huntress. As this book's universe is one where all the gods from all religions ever really do exist (or did, until they met Mara), you can imagine this is quite a task. It also allows our author to put her own spin on several story tropes, myths and historical events. (The way Mara becomes immortal, for example, reminds me both of various Indian fairy tales and the Henry Rider Haggard novel She, with the added twist that Mara is telling this story in first person to Alistair Crowley, and, as she tells him and the readers, has no intention of giving him an actual recipe on how to become immortal, so of course she lied - or did she?) If the Emma and Caroline sections are sharp suburban black comedy (though not always - the showdown at the end of the novel is as epic as you could wish, and takes place, appropriately enough, in Hollywood), the Mara sections are a tragic-mythic fresco painting you watch, as Aristoteles demands, in awe/fear and pity. And a lot of suspense, which you'd think is hard to pull off with a first person immortal narrator but which Roz Kaveney manages splendidly.

If there is one cause of frustration, it's that this is only the first volume of a work in progress, and there are two more to come which aren't published yet. But given this author's writing pace, I don't doubt they will be soon, so if you want something fantastical (in both senses of the word) to enthrall you instead of, say, glaring into G.R.R. Martin's direction while drumming your fingers for a few years: grab this volume as fast as you can. And even if you have already a large reading pile, read this first. It's that good.

The General's Mistress (English Edition)
The General's Mistress (English Edition)
Preis: EUR 11,89

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5.0 von 5 Sternen The start of a fantastic life, 27. Oktober 2012
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Set during the later years of the French Revolution and the start of Napoleon's Empire, this is the story of Elza, aka Ida St. Elme, a young adventuress - or rather I should say it is the beginning of her story, the first volume of several about her long and exciting life that had her go, as the author once put it, from party girl to the Napeoleonic equivalent of Judi Dench's M. Elza - who is a historical character, not an invented one - starts out in the kind of trap which you'd think doomed her in her era - married to a man who was after her money and ruthless enough to abduct and "seduce" her at age 12, two children before she grows up herself, no family support because her mother never got over the death of Elza's brother Charles when they were children and only accepts Elza when she's playing said brother. But Elza decides this won't be her life any longer. Her story is one of constant transformation - mistress, actress (she's not very good at it, but it helps paying the rent), con woman, soldier - and one in which apparant disadvantages are turned around. Being able to be "Charles" becomes part of her identity and freedom instead of a way to deal with her mother. Taking a job as a fake oracle in order to make some cash allows her to discover she actually does have psychic abilities, though this isn't easy for her to accept; being a child of the Enlightenment, Elza is a natural skeptic. (This is also what makes Elza's story part of the world created in the author's other novels, all set in different eras and based on the premise of reincarnation, though each novel also tells its own story.) Sex can be a commodity to trade with or a joy; it becomes her choice. Speaking of sex, the novel isn't coy about its sex scenes, and manages something that unfortunately not that many erotic scenes accomplish: make them (an important) part of the characterisation of the people involved instead of feeling random and interchangable with, as the saying goes Any Two Guys (or Gals).

Something else: rare (though not unheard of) for a heroine in a novel is that Elza really is leaving her children behind in order to achieve her own freedom (and with her detested husband). Most fiction in any media has the ability to be a a good mother who puts her child(ren) above everything as a make or break criterium for the likeability of a female character. (Whereas male characters who are lousy fathers but in other ways sympathetic are as common as dirt.) So letting Elza do this and not trying to excuse it, but also not punishing her narratively for it, was an unusual and I think honest narrative choice on the part of the author.

Lastly, Elza starts out having little to no interest in politics, no matter of which country, and then slowly and surely comes to care because the system of the society she lives in affects her directly. By the end of the novel, she's gone from drifter to active participant, and we get an inkling how she might end up as a legendary spy. I can't wait to read her further adventures in print!

South Riding (English Edition)
South Riding (English Edition)

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Book versus TV Adaption (warning: spoilers), 22. August 2012
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Courtesy of the BBC iPlayer, I got around to watching a BBC three parter based on a novel which I found captivating in parts and deeply frustrating in others. Seeing as it was an adaption of a novel by Andrew Davies (i.e. Davies was the adaptor, not the novelist), I wondered whether the frustrating parts might be Davies' fault rather than the source materials, especially since I googled the original novelist, Winifred Holtby, and she sounded fascinating (feminist, socialist, daughter of the first female alderman in Yorkshire, wrote the first academic treatise on Virginia Woolf in Britain, died young, unfortunately, in 1935). So I read the novel itself: South Riding. Which indeed proved many, though not all, of the problems I had were due to Davies' alterations, and in any event was a treat to read.

It greatly appealed to the ensemble girl in me; inevitably, and this isn't something I blame Davies for, the tv version was more streamlined and focused on far fewer characters whereas the novel is more of a community story, but when I speak of the ensemble quality, I mean more than that. All the characters come across as three dimensional, and there are no caricatures around. There is a very humane quality to Winifred Holtby's writing: characters who in another novel might have served as boo-hiss villains for failing to live up to their claims of virtue, like the Reverend Huggins who cheats on his wife and becomes embroiled in a land scheme, instead are written with sympathy and allowed their strengths as well as weaknesses (Huggins is sincerely appalled by poverty and injustice and fights against it). Her novel, set in provincial Yorkshire in the early 30s, is also in many ways the anti Brideshead Revisited or the anti Downton Abbey, if you like. There is no nostalgia for the pre-WWI past there, most of the characters are middle class or working class, and the one main character who symbolizes the fading gentry, unable to cope with the present, let alone the future, doesn't have a "golden, idyllic past" since he's simultanously an update of Mr. Rochester of Jane Eyre fame, and a fascinatingly both similar and very different one from the simultanously written and more well known update, Maxim de Winter in Rebecca.

The character who comes closest to a leading role, radical headmistresss Sarah Burton, suffers the most in the last third of the tv version because Davies as opposed to Holtby in the novel inevitably privileges Sarah-the-lover over Sarah-the-headmistresss and fataly changes some of her background and motivations.

Let's start with the background. In the novel, Sarah before coming to South Riding had three major romantic relationships; one when she was very young in the war with the inevitable tragic ending when he died, one when she was a teacher in South Africa which ended for political reasons (she also left South Africa because of apartheid, and remember, this novel was finished in 1935), and one with a Labour mp who wanted her to give up her job and marry him and was shocked when she said she'd rather be his mistress instead. In the tv version, Sarah still had her wartime romance but never loved another man since (though as she informs another character "there were other men - none of them meant anything!"). The character she informs is Joe, the sole socialist on the South Riding council; in the novel, Sarah meets him through a spirited political debate. In the tv version, she meets him because she runs out crying out of a performance when a war related patriotic song is sung whereupon she proceeds to tell this total stranger all about her dead wartime lover. In the novel, the two stay friends throughout, even when Joe is leaving South Riding. In the tv version, he gives her a "love me or I'll leave this dump!" ultimatum in part three. He leaves, because Sarah's main storyline in the tv version, which is only one storyline of hers in the novel, is her not quite romance with Robert Carne. When this started I thought "it is a rule universally acknowledged that a brooding Yorkshire squire in possession of a mad wife must be in want of a sensible schoolteacher" and groaned. But if Carne is in some ways a modern Rochester (and in the novel as opposed to the tv version, this is even lampshaded because of course Sarah has read Jane Eyre and the comparison occurs to her), the relationship goes another way. Carne and his reactionary politics never stop symbolizing everything Sarah is against, and she's not economially dependent on him; on the contrary, he's the one in increasing financial distress due to the depression and his inability to cope with modern times. This being the 20th century, his wife isn't hidden in the attic but in a sanatorium (which puts a further financial strain on Carne's purse but my sympathies re: this vanished when the novel told me he was just too proud to let his wife's father pay for it) and the fact he's married isn't a secret, either. As opposed to Rochester and Maxim de Winter, he on the one hand not only married for love but is still in love with the mad wife in question, but on the other also bears and acknowledges guilt direct responsibility for her state of being. (This, btw, is something problematic in both novel and tv version and not Davies' fault, because the fact Carne forced himself on his wife on one occasion when she didn't want sex, resulting in an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy she was explicitly warned against that pushed the already neurotic woman over the edge post birth, is treated at his tragedy, not hers.)

Where the novel and the tv version fatally part ways is in the aftermath of Sarah's and Carne's one and only night together. In both cases, said night takes place in a hotel and before it gets to anything sexual, he has a breakdown due to being sick with the result that they don't have sex but she nurses him through the night and they part being mutually highly embarrassed for different reasons. In the novel, the next time they meet Sarah doesn't bring it up but the anger and embarrassment fuel her confrontational mood, with the result they have a full on fight about their usual issues, part in mutual anger, and since he then immediately has his fatal accident that makes everyone believe he committed suicide for a while, she feels awful and guilty, thinks about resigning and is talked out of it by Mrs Beddowes (the female alderman modelled after Holtby's mother). This conversation takes place in Sarah's office. In the tv version, Sarah and Robert Carne do talk about their night together, they part on loving terms, Sarah declares her love at his graveside in public, then resigns, then actually gets into the train and his talked out of it with Mrs. Beddows literally stopping the train to prevent her from going. It's melodrama versus character drama, and Sarah actually leaving (as opposed to thinking about it because she's depressed and feels guilty in the aftermath of the muddle of that last argument and Carne's death) and only forcibly prevented from it makes her look awful, too, me, because her main commitment in the story (in both versions, though in the novel this is far stronger because as I said we see far more of Sarah being a headmistress) is to her pupils whom she would fail by leaving.

One main story that is well done in novel and tv version alike is the one of Sarah's student Lydia Holly, a working class girl with a scholarship who after her mother dies has to care for all her younger siblings and thus loses her chance at life for a while. Lydia with her passion and her anger is a very convincing teenager and the hopelessness of her situation is extremely claustrophobic, so when a resolution does present eventually itself it's a blinding relief. Holtby is generally good at writing teenagers without either prettifying or demonizing them; one plot thread more important in the novel than in the tv version is what happens with one of the teachers, who is unable to keep discipline or any kind of authority among her students (and is simply bad her job in this sense, though she's well educated and also depends on the income completely as do her elderly parents, and, being in her mid-40s, is unlikely to get another school position if she's dismissed, which is one of Sarah's main dilemmas in the book) and ends up being bullied by the girls into hitting Carne's daughter (in the secureness of her privilege the main bully), which forces the woman to resign. The increasing taunting and bullying of the teenage girls feels chillingly familiar and yet their pov is given a well; they simply are unable to see a teacher as another human being, she's a ridiculous authority figure, and it wouldn't even occur to them that what they're doing is persecution. She's an adult and therefore an alien.

Mrs. Beddowes the Alderman in both book and tv version is a great and rare example of a female character in her early 70s who doesn't fulfill a "mother" (or "grandmother") role in the story; she's one of the main politicians of South Riding, champions Sarah as a headmistress but has a more cool personal relationship with her whereas she opposes Robert Carne politically but shares a long term friendship with him. (The nature of this friendship is different in tv version and novel, though. Because Mrs. Beddowes is a pov character, it's clear in the book that she loves Carne, though because of the age difference and the fact she's married she would never do something non-platonic. In the tv version, you can see her attitude as strictly friendly. When in the novel Mrs. Beddows in her conversation with Sarah after Carne's death talks about how being 70 doesn't make a difference, there are still days you feel like a girl and then you go down the stairs and look in the mirror and the wrinkled face of a stranger looks back, and so she didn't have an option but friendship, in the tv version Davies tones this down to "I loved him, too, and maybe more than I should have" and that's it.

I must admit that Carne being played by David Morrissey helps somewhat to explain why both Sarah and Mrs. Beddowes are attracted to him, because they also agree on the fact he's a hopeless reactionary and none too smart (though honorable and straightfoward; no land buying and selling speculations for Robert Carne, but then again, that's one of the reasons why he goes broke). It occurs to me that I've made the novel and the tv series sound unrelentingly grim, which it's not; there is a lot of humour in it as well - Holtby gets her satiric pen out for many of the council meetings (so much so that her mother felt obliged to resign as an Alderman after the novel got published), and Sarah's drive to install passion in her girls is appealing if you have any soft spot for inspiring teacher stories at all.

Lastly: the novel was finished in the year of Holtby's death, 1935, and there is a passage in which Sarah worries what became of a German teacher she used to know who when last heard of was brought to Dachau. (Just in case you need a reference to how aware the British public at that point could be of what the Third Reich was doing to its opponents, years before the Wannsee conference took ever place and a year before the world-attended Olympics happened in Berlin.) By contrast, Davies, presumably to present Joe as a clueless socialist, gives him a speech to his fellow councilmen of how they should pay attention to the social programs abroad "like Chancellor Hitler's in Germany", which isn't in the novel at all. In fairness, he also lets Joe mention Roosevelt's New Deal program, but still, the difference is annoying.

The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive (English Edition)
The Ray Connolly Beatles Archive (English Edition)
Preis: EUR 4,05

4.0 von 5 Sternen Boswell of the Swinging Sixties, 22. August 2012
If memoirs and biographies are written with the benefit of hindsight and quite often with one particular, unifying agenda (scores to settle, or defenses to make), letters and diaries are the perfect counterpoint in terms of research because they can't offer big pictures, they offer glimpses of the here and now, and the agenda in them keeps changing. And then, as of the 20th century, there are interviews. And articles based on same. They, too, can be great and insightful material (as long as you keep the whole part in mind where even a seemingly straightforward interview with no interjecting descriptions is already edited by the journalist and their editor, according to what he or she deems important, and of course whoever is giving the interview has their own reasons for doing so and usually something to sell.

In the Beatles' saga, some journalists and their writings are more prominent then others. Maureen Cleave for the January 1966 interview with John Lennon containing the "more popular than Jesus" quote that started the furore which was to end the band's touring days; Jann Wenner for the 1970 Lennon Remembers published in Rolling Stone which Wenner still insists on seeing as the definite John Lennon, and which certainly defined how the rock press and much of the public saw John Lennon (and the other Beatles) for years to come, never mind how much of it was contradicted by other interviews. And then there's Ray Connolly, who became one of the journalists with direct access to the band ca. 1967, was particularly close to John in 69/70/71, somehow miraculously managed to be on friendly terms with Paul through the breakup period as well (I don't think any other press members pulled off that one, they all took sides for one or the other), wrote the script for one of Ringo's most successful film appearances (That'll be the day), and was and is friends with Paul McCartney's younger brother Mike throughout the decades. Based the collection of his Beatles related articles, which is now collected as an e-book, he strikes me as the anti Jann Wenner in many ways. Not least for his insistence on the equality of talent between the two main Beatles songwriters (Rolling Stone and Wenner follow the "John's the one true genius!" party line to this day), but also for way he keeps between the two extremes of Lennon presentation, rejecting both the sainted apostle of peace/persecuted artist image and the vicious non stop angry thug (most recently spotted in Lennon Naked).

His reported John keeps having wit and charm and generosity along with the capacity for cruelty and self absorption (and thus makes it understandable for readers what people saw in him beyond the amazing talent). His collection of Beatles articles also contains some great Ringo interviews (starting with some made directly after India, as Ringo returned long before the rest of the gang did, and had time at his hands), and he's good with the one article portraits as well, whether it's of producer George Martin, Mal Evans (one of the two Beatles roadies; as opposed to the other one, Neil Aspinall, who went on to become the head of Apple, Mal had a tragic fate), Allen Klein, Pete Best or Cynthia Lennon. His reporting and image of Yoko varies; he was one of the first journalists to interview her at length (one interview from 1968 is included) and his descriptions of her and John in early articles are positive (and he was trusted enough by the very distrustful Ono-Lennons to be given the task of taking care of her younger sister Setzuko when she visited New York, but as the years go by he becomes steadily more critical. The Beatle he had least access to and consequently least writes about is George, and consequently while there are articles about the Bangladesh concert and an obituary, there is no George interview. ("In fact, though we knew each other, George and I never hit it off. Perhaps he thought I was too close to John and Paul, or should have shown more interest at a meeting one morning with a few other journalists at which he'd talked about his spiritual journey into Indian mysticism. Or was it simply that he was distrustful of most journalists?" writes Connolly in one of the explanatory texts he intersperses between articles.) Speaking of obituaries, the other two are for John and for Linda McCartney, both very touching, but you can tell he saw more of either than of George.

The collection starts with a Paul interview which was an attempt at damage control after Magical Mystery Tour flopped spectacularly and ends with a George Martin interview apropos last year's documentary about GM, with an epilogue that is, simply put, absolutely charming fiction: Ray Connolly imagines what would happened to the four Beatles if Beatlemania had not happened and the band had dissolved in 1963 instead. It's written with much humour and affection for all parties concerned, and ends with a bit of shameless and endearing happy ever aftering. Regarding the interviews, articles and explanatory notes in between: I was familiar with some that used to be online, and also with some quotes because biographers used them later, but sometimes reading the entire article instead of simply the one quote picked out by biographers gives a different context, and/or enriches the old one. Take for example one Paul quote that shows up in many a biography (and showcases the McCartney propensity for using the plural in certain situations): "John's in love with Yoko, and he's no longer in love with the three of us."

The article this quote hails from is from an interview directly after the news about the Beatles break-up had gone public, another attempt at self explanation, and the longer passage it's from is as revealing as the single statement cherry picked by biographers: "I didn't leave the Beatles. The Beatles have left the Beatles, but no one wants to be the one to say that the party's over. Last year John said he wanted a divorce. All right, so do I. I want to give him that divorce. I hate this trial separation because it's just not working. John's in love with Yoko, and he's no longer in love with the three of us." And just when one thinks, again, about Paul being disingenious with the "three of us" phrase, there is, a few paragraphs later, the amazingly direct: "I was jealous because of Yoko, and afraid about the break-up of a great musical partnership."

Also, while several of the direct quotes made it into the biographies, Connolly's descriptions from the original articles didn't, and that's a shame, because they allow you to imagine everyone concerned, as in this 1970 article about John and Yoko: "Yoko smiles, amused at all this, as though humouring a teenage boy. Contrary to popular belief, they are, in fact, rarely that serious with each other. Rather it's the reverse as John chides Yoko, poking fun at her and enjoying a teasing relationship. "It was Yoko that changed me," he scoffs. "She forced me to become avant garde and take my clothes off when all I wanted was to become Tom Jones. Andn now look at me. Did you know that avant garde is French for bullshit?" Yoko, for her part plays bashfully along, ignoring his swipes at her upper-class and artistic background. "At fifteen I wanted to be a fantastic opera singer and go to La Scala," she suddenly says. "My range was very wide and I would have liked to have been a coloratura soprano." "She also wanted to be a nightclub singer," John jibes back. "Well, yes, that was a secret ambition. Also, I wanted to become an actress."

Does Connolly have blind spots? Absolutely. There is one passage from an description of the 1971 party for Yoko's big exhibition and John's 31st birthday party which made me furious and scream "rape culture". But generally, he gives you the impression of writing with sympathy but without apologia or attempting to present his subjects as always being in the right. (Case in point: he sees the ending of the Paul/Jane Asher relationship as mostly Paul's fault. He also seems to have been the only journalist to whom the amazingly discreet Jane, to this day stonewalling any inquiries about their five years relationship, said something about said relationship after it ended, to wit: "Jane (...) told me how naive she'd been so far as other girls were concerned. But there were other problems. She was also unhappy about drugs, which were as common among rock stars then as they are now, and definitely not thrilled by Paul's friendship with some of the Rolling Stones." The Rolling Stones bit is news to me. Must be a reference to either Mick Jagger or Brian Jones, since he didn't befriend Keith Richards until decades later.)

All in all, a very reccommendable collection: not as a replacement for a biography (it does expect you to have at least a rough outline in your head to how the whole Beatles thing went down, explanatory footnotes notwithstanding), but a good addition, and a source from an eye witness as opposed to speculation after the fact. If Connolly isn't quite the Boswell or Pepys of the Swinging Sixties and Dangerous Seventies, he comes close.

Lost Things (O.C.L.T.)
Lost Things (O.C.L.T.)
von Melissa Scott
Preis: EUR 13,10

4.0 von 5 Sternen More!, 22. August 2012
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Rezension bezieht sich auf: Lost Things (O.C.L.T.) (Taschenbuch)
A splendid adventure featuring a group of interesting, complicated characters. Both the WWI backstory and the 20s atmosphere for the mainstory are convincingly rendered, and I never had to suspend any disbelief. Very enjoyable!

In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles
In My Father's Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles
Preis: EUR 14,48

4.0 von 5 Sternen Falstaff's Daughter, 22. August 2012
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"In place of yourself, you had offered an act of magic:/ first we all become Cordelia. Then we all disappear."

These two lines Chris Welles Feder wrote about her father, her sisters and herself in a poem about him don't appear in her book "In My Father's Shadow", and I find that regrettable, because they contain more ambiguity and anger towards him than she permits herself in prose. Reading Michael Lindsay-Hogg's memoirs has reminded me I've been meaning to get around to those of Welles' oldest daughter (guest starring in MLH's book as a childhood playmate, as he does in hers). Hers is a less well-written but at the same time immensly compelling book, the difference in gender crucial in how they relate to step parents, their mothers, and goals in life, but only partly in how they deal with Orson, with enchantment followed by a life long habit of hopeless longing. The first Mrs. Welles, Chris' mother Virginia, who comes in for a lot of anger and criticism from her daughter (some I felt unfair, some justified) nonetheless frequently gets the best and most acerbic lines in this book when it comes to her ex, and in the big traumatic showdown when Chris was 16 and made by Virginia to choose between her parents, she eviscerates young Chris' "but Daddy is the most wonderful man in the world" protests thusly:

"No one knows better than I how seductive Orson can be. (...) He can make you believe you're the most important person in the world to him and he can't live without you. Then the next thing you know, he's fallen in love with somebody else.'
'But he's not in love with me,' I protested. 'I'm his daughter.'
'The trouble is that Orson has no idea how to be a father. Does he behave like a father when you're with him?'
'Well...' I hesitated. 'Daddy treats me like an equal, but I can't say he always behaves like a father.'
'At least you see that much. (...) I'll just say this for now: as long as you think you really matter to Orson, you're in for a lot of heartache and dissappointment.'"

No kidding. And thus we get an unsettling father-daughter romance in which she does go Cordelia on him in several senses of the word: offering silence at the one point where he is willing to turn his frequent showing up in her life, whisking her away for some charmed weeks, leaving again act into something more permanent by giving in to her mother's "Orson or me" ultimatum and telling him she can't see or talk to him for a while. Being banished by him as well as a result. Reconciling when he's the powerless globetrotting former king thought mad wasted (to a degree). There is even a showdown with her sisters, though it's after his death, not before, at his funeral, to be precise, and there just who plays which daughter keeps getting reshuffled, because it's Chris and Rebecca (Rita Hayworth's kid) versus Beatrice (daughter of the third Mrs. Welles) and her mother Paola, who get the worst press in the entire book other than Chris's second stepfather, Major Pringle, and her mother, and are described as hypocrites wailing loudly but giving Orson a shabby, cheap cremation without even flowers or anyone saying anything if his over 90 years old fantasy father Roger "Skipper" Hill hadn't improvised something then and there. Then there is the reclamation of the kingdom by Chris coming to her dead father's defense at film festivals, pointing out that his creative life did not end with "Citizen Kane", championing the later work and forming a close relationship with Oja Kodar, Welles' companion for the last 20 years of his life, until Orson the flawed is transformed to Orson the magnificent again, all is forgiven, and you almost expect her to mutter Cordelia's "no fault, no fault".

The trouble with casting Welles as Lear is that he makes a far better Falstaff (and one suspects he knew it, too). His gift for improvising, spinning ever new stories to get himself out of tight spots, the living on credit for so long, and the sense of humour that luckily never deserted him are as unlike Lear as they come. Early in the book, when Chris recalls a conversation about her name (which is Christopher - she has the reverse of the "Boy named Sue" problem), about which she's horribly teased at school, Dad charmes her with the story of how when she was born he sent telegrams to everyone saying CHRISTOPHER SHE IS HERE. Only at his funeral does it occur to her she never saw evidence that these fabled telegrams ever existed.

So: imagine Falstaff as the father of a daughter who tries to see him as Lear, and you have the Orson Welles featured in this book. There is a supporting ensemble of memorable characters as well, notably Virginia (prone to bitter aphorisms between cigarettes, a 20s Noel Coward person when she's not a terrifying Tennessee Williams mother), her two post Orson husbands, amiable Charlie Lederer and revolting Edward Murdstone like Jack Pringle, half of Hollywood in acting and scriptwriting terms, the Hills (frequently the heroes in any Welles biography as the one example of a functional parental unit in the entire Welles saga, both to Orson and to his oldest daughter, and they of course were not related to either) and the two husbands Chris collects, the first of whom is gay which her father spots before she does (go figure).

Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers
Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers
Preis: EUR 10,42

4.0 von 5 Sternen Founding Mothers, 22. August 2012
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I like Barbara Hambly's books, and trust her as an author, so when some years ago I saw one titled "Patriot Hearts" I browsed a bit despite the title, and emerged intrigued enough to want to read the entire novel. Due to circumstance, I couldn't do so until now.

Patriot Hearts deals with the Founding Mothers, so to speak: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison and Sally Hemmings. It's not linear, with the framing narration being Dolley waiting for the British soldiers to sack the capital, and then flashbacks - but always not in chronological order - to the lives of the First Ladies (who weren't called that then) as well as the woman whose precise role in Jefferson's life has been hotly debated ever since, with, I hear, not even DNA testing on her descendants laying the debate at rest among the no-he-didn't die-hards.

What I admire most about the novel is indeed not just the choice of Sally as the fourth "Founding Mother" but that thematic importance, the fact of slavery and the treatment of the increasing black population in the former colonies as just as much a part of the new United States as its struggle with Britain, or the aftermath of the French Revolution. Barbara Hambly also avoids my pet peeve in historical novels, i.e. the prejudices and various isms are only displayed by the villains, while the sympathetic characters are all years ahead of their time. Her Martha Washington is completely on board with the system, sometimes afraid of slave uprisings and horrified when it turns out her husband set his slaves free in his will. Dolley Madison as a Quaker starts out being against slavery but compromises once she marries Madison and while sometimes uneasy about the fact she now owns people accepts it as part of her life.

Presenting the Sally/Jefferson relationship, however, had to be the greatest narrative challenge (i.e. doing so in the historical context but without prettifying the circumstances). Here the fact we're solely in the women's pov throughout the book pays off best, because I can't imagine this would have been possible to do if we had been in Jefferson's pov instead of Sally's. The fact that she's his slave, that he owns her and her family never goes away from her consciousness. By letting the relationship start in Paris Hambly manages to give Sally some degree of consent possibility (as she's not a slave in France, which is why her brother once Jefferson's tenure as ambassador ends announces he wants to stay there as a free man rather than to return to Virginia as a slave) while also showing its limits; her Sally unromantically but realistically despite actually loving Jefferson wants to stay in France as well once she gets pregnant but has the bad luck that this decision coincides with the storming of the Bastille, and under these conditions life with Jefferson is still safer for her and her child. Later, back in Virginia, Sally is in an in between state of love and hate most of the time, and one of my complaints about the book is that I would have wished for an entire novel about Sally; not because the other ladies aren't interesting - they are, very much so! - but because I wanted more of her.

The other immediate observation I have is that this is a book primarily written for American readers who already know their Founding fathers. Now, history education in Germany treats the American revolution and subsequent early years only briefly, as a sideshow/prelude to the main world changing event which is the French Revolution. Which means that basically you're only told it happened and the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence. What else I know about it I got from historical fiction, i.e. the musical 1776, the drama "The General from America" and Lion Feuchtwanger's novel "Proud Destiny" which is mainly about Beaumarchais and Franklin in Paris. This means I was lacking some of the context that I guess would be self evident for American readers, plus the various men didn't nearly come alive for me as much as the women did. (Presumably because they already live as archetypes in the American consciousness?) This works somewhat for Jefferson because he's supposed to be enigmatic and frustrating, but I couldn't tell you much about Washington and Adams as people based on this book alone (so I'm doubly grateful for 1776), and only something about James Madison.

Given, however, that the women come across vividly, this is a minor complaint. Again, Hambly avoids the mistake of giving them all a standard ahead of their time personality. Abigail is passionate about politics, while Martha sees them as shortening her husband's life and despises them yet is a natural at the art of diplomacy between hotheaded politicians in her salon. Dolley probably has the most sparkling personality between them while Sally has to adopt a quiet demeanor as a survival technique but comes across as very passionate about just about everything beneath it.

If pressed, I'd say it's more an interlocked collection of fictional portraits than a novel, which isn't a criticism. Definitely worth reading.

The Seven Wonders (Ancient World)
The Seven Wonders (Ancient World)
Preis: EUR 6,99

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5.0 von 5 Sternen We who are reading salute you!, 22. August 2012
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Steven Saylor is mostly famous for his Roman mysteries series set during the last decades of the Roman Republic, collectively known as Roma Sub Rosa and starring one Gordianus the Finder as his main detective. He also published two multigeneration novels about Roman history - Roma and Empire which have nothing to do with the Roma Sub Rosa series, and two collection of short stories featuring Gordianus, set at various points of his life not covered by the novels. While I always enjoy Saylor's style and way to give us believable Roman characters, not contemporary ones dressed up in togas, my response to his books is varied. Three of the Roma Sub Rosa novels I really, truly love, and they're from the middle of the serie - Catilina's Riddle (deals with the Catilina conspiracy), The Venus Throw (Clodia) and A Murder on the Appian Way (death of Clodius Pulcher). These three I would unhesitatingly recommend to anyone. The others I like in varying degrees, and sometimes even see as interesting failures. As for Roma and Empire, they're okay, but the very format prevents connecting with characters, and they feel more like illustrated highlights of Roman history. So my expectations for this newest novel, which features Gordianus again but is set in his youth, years before the Sub Rosa series starts, were that it could be anything from compelling to merely okay-ish to "try again, Mr. Saylor".

Well, I'm happy to report this one is a highlight again. Saylor has managed to meld his short story and episodic epic approach to his mystery novel approach; the premise of the novel is that young Gordianus (and he's really young, only 18 years old as opposed to the middle aged man he's through most of the series) is travelling the ancient world with his Greek tutor in order to see the fabled Seven Wonders of the World, and while he's at it also growing up in emotion and spirit as well as starting his life long penchant of solving mysteries. So it's a coming of age novel as well as a travelogue through the ancient world, like a miniseries where every episode takes place at a different place, but with an overreaching and connecting emotional arc. He's also in great form bringing the places and people to life, be they Ephesus, Halikarnass, Babylon, Rhodos or Egypt, and convey the awe and amazement the wonders inspire (only one of which, the Pyramids at Gizeh, still exist today) in a way that allows the readers to share it, which is no mean feat. If you're familiar with the previous books ,then it's interesting to meet Gordianus so young; he's both different and similar enough to his older self to be a just out of teenagedom version of his character, and because of all the mess that happened to Gordianus and his family over the course of the novels, the youthful idealism feels like a breath of fresh air. Otoh if you have never read anything by Steven Saylor before - and you can start with this novel, which requires no previous knowledge - then this effect will be missing, but this won't stop you from enjoying the story.

Of couse, Gordianus on his lonesome never was what made the Sub Rosa series so compelling, but the fact that Saylor keeps throwing him against a rich cast of interesting characters, some historical, some not, some showing up in more than one novel, others limited to one book. In The Seven Wonders, we get a great cast as well, and more interesting women in the same book than in any previous Saylor novel. Said previous novels also feature great female characters, but percentage-wise they're simply more men around, and so in most of the novels, you have more interesting men than interesting women per book. Not so here. My favourite is Bitto, the cousin of Gordianus' tutor, who became a hetaira, but there are plenty of others in all ages.

Another ongoing theme: the overall resentment of Rome as the new superpower of the Mediterrenean, which for Gordianus, a young Roman on his first trip abroad, is something he increasingly and keenly becomes aware of. This isn't just a question of atmosphere but ties in the personal story of the novel, as his Greek tutor, Antipater, increasingly shows his own issues with Rome in a way the man for obvious reasons never did when living at the place. (Speaking of, only the opening scenes of the novel are set in Rome before the big journey starts, but they allow Saylor to describe a Roman funeral and pulling all the stops there, which is great. Roman funerals were elaborate and highly theatrical affairs with mimes, and are immensely entertaining to read about.)

Complaints: only one. Now Gordianus in the series has been established as mostly straight but not completely unreceptive to the occasional homoerotic impulse, though with one possible exception, he doesn't follow up on it (being a married man for most of the series, he also doesn't follow up on heterosexual temptation, again with one exception). In The Seven Wonders, at one point a young Gaul hits on him, and Gordianus says no, which isn't my problem. It's ic (especially for a younger, more naive Gordianus), not least because the Gaul in question is quite full of himself and more like an enthusiastic gold retriever than someone bothering with seduction, so a "err, thanks, but no thanks" reaction is what this particular reader would have recomended, too. However, by the end of that particular episode in a sudden reverse Saylor leaves it open whether Gordianus finally did come around to the Gaul after all. Given that by contrast we're left in no doubt about the women he does and doesn't sleep with elsewhere in the book, this strikes me as unworthy in its coyness. (Before anyone says anything, yes, I'm aware Saylor is gay himself and also writes gay erotica. But each book should be judged on its own merits and not what its author does elsewhere.)

But this is my only complaint. Otherwise, I really loved the book, and highly recommend it, whether or not you've read anything of Saylor's before, especially if you want to read a historical novel set in the first century BC which doesn't follow the usual patterns and manages to bring the ancient world alive (as opposed to focusing on one particular part of it only, be that Rome or Egypt).

Die Frau in Rot: Roman
Die Frau in Rot: Roman
von Margot S. Baumann
Preis: EUR 9,99

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Spannend und lesenswert, 22. August 2012
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Rezension bezieht sich auf: Die Frau in Rot: Roman (Taschenbuch)
Ein schwungvoll und sensibel erzählter Mystery-Roman. Die zwei Zeitebenen, auf denen er spielt, verflechten sich auf fesselnde Weise ineinander, und die Figuren wachsen einem ans Herz. Ich freue mich schon auf weitere Bücher dieser Autorin!

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