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Wednesday Walking After Midnight

What I've Finished Reading

The Masters by C. P. Snow. The Master of the college is dying; when he dies the fellows will have to elect a new Master. A lot of dismal political maneuvering ensues, and some of the Fellows confront their own disappointments and ambitions. It's not suspenseful, but like all the C. P. Snows so far, it has its own momentum, clicking away with unexpected but not astonishing energy. They all give the impression that in other hands they could be great or deadly boring, and in Snow's are neither. The best part of The Masters was M.H.L. Gay, a very old fellow who once made his name as "the authority on the Icelandic sagas" and now chatters happily about his honorary degrees and what "his saga men" would do in any given situation.

"No towns my saga-men had," said Gay proudly. "Just healthy farms and the wild seas. They knew what to do with towns. Just burn the houses and put the townsmen to the sword. That's the way to deal with towns."

He remembered each farm as though he had lived among them as a child. And when we went back into the house, and his wife, coming in almost at the run, had taken off his coat again, he showed us models of Icelandic halls, longships, pictures drawn by himself of what, from the curt descriptions, he imagined the saga heroes to have looked like. His interest was as fervent, as vivid and factual, as if must have been when he was a young man. Some of the sketches had the talent of a portrait-painter; there was one of Gudrun that had struck me on my last visit, and another of Skarphedinn, pale, fierce, scornful, teeth projecting, carrying his great axe over his shoulder.

"Ah. That was a terrible weapon," said Gay. "That was an axe and a half."

Interestingly, though there's a major plot thread dealing with a candidate's devotion to his "unsuitable" wife, Eliot's own chronically ill wife is never mentioned, except once by oblique reference. Maybe she died, or is currently packed away at an asylum - we just don't hear anything about it. Snow seems to keep her plots segregated to separate books. After the novel finishes, there's an appendix about the history of the Cambridge college system, which is undramatic but interesting.

Men at Arms was full of surprises, and one very welcome non-surprise: [Technically a spoiler?]Vimes is back in the Watch where he belongs, even if it means having a knighthood foisted on him. No sacrifice too great! I'm not sure that I'm competent to summarize the plot, but it involves a string of mysterious murders committed by a terrifying new weapon, and another attempt to restore hereditary monarchy in Ankh-Morpork, this time with adopted dwarf policeman Carrot Ironfoundersson as the (unwilling and uninterested) long-lost heir. The inventor of the "gonne," Leonard of Quirm, is normally so ahead of his time as to be incomprehensible, but there's always a market for new ways to kill people horribly. In the end, [Spoiler!]the prototype is destroyed, but is that really the end of it? It seems like there's a parallel here with the failed restorations, here and in Guards! Guards! re: time only going one way. In Star Trek people are always destroying prototypes and never thinking about them again, but I have a feeling the weapons developers of Ankh-Morpork are going to be performing a lot of experiments with gunpowder from now on.

As before, after saving the city, the Night Watch presents a list of "new arrangements" for its organization, including

"--a department for, well, we haven't got a name for it yet, but for looking at clues and things like dead bodies, e.g., how long they've been dead. . ."

<3

I also didn't expect to be SUDDENLY IN TEARS when Vimes' secret account books were revealed, but here we are. It's not like it was unexpected, or even "not a cliche," but both those things made it absolutely perfect. Vimes may have the bad luck to inhabit a landscape of subversion, but that doesn't mean he isn't going to go on playing it straight. And now he has buckets of money! What will he do with it? And the Watch, here and in the future, is rapidly being restored to its former state of "functioning non-vestigial organization." It'll be interesting to see how Vimes responds to the new status quo. I hope the next book doesn't twist itself into knots trying to lead him back to the bottle, but we'll see.

I liked so many things about the book that the things I didn't like as well have sort of shriveled from my mind. I can't decide, looking back, whether I liked the Clown Murders subplot overall or not. I think "clowns aren't really funny" may be one of those humor tropes that have worn out through overuse, though Pratchett can't necessarily be blamed for using it in 1996. And the business with the dogs left me feeling a little squeamish, though I'm not completely sure why yet. I wish there'd been more Sybil -- she was mostly in the background here, and subdued compared to the booming, tweedy human mountain in rubber boots I know and love from Guards! Guards! I loved the asides about famous historical landscape architect Bloody Stupid Johnson, who never met a measurement he didn't foul up somehow, leading to one-inch-wide trout lakes and statue gardens so small they are kept in a drawer for safekeeping, who also "had 2,000 tons of earth built into an artificial hillock in front of Quirm Manor because 'It'd drive me mad to have to look at a bunch of trees and mountains all day long, how about you?'"

What I'm Reading Now

The Dark Lantern by Henry Williamson, first in the 15-volume Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight novel series listed as one novel for 99 Novels purposes. Burgess spends most of his 99 Novels paragraph on the reasons he can't blame anyone for not finishing the series: it's hella long and full of nature facts and fascist sympathies. He's so resigned to my inevitable giving-up that I feel determined to see it through. I may feel differently later.

It wasn't at the university library and ILL didn't have it, so I had to order it new and spend twenty-five dollars! Which just goes to show you how spoiled I am when it comes to easy book access. My teenage self, in all else so despairing and judgmental, is boiling with envy of this one thing only.

And it's odd. The first chapter uses the word "thither" about a dozen times. The main character is a moth aficionado, and every paragraph is overgrown with natural history, and it's slow, slow, slow. But I can already tell that it's valuable. It's set in the 1890s, with a wealth of suburban detail, and a hero who is uncomfortably prim and awkward against the background of his time. It's written far enough into the twentieth century to benefit from the revolution in frankness, but it's full of the concrete and unexpected detail of a real memory (it reminds me a little of L. M. Montgomery in that way). Other than that, it's too soon to say anything. The scene that opens the book, where Richard M. is mistaken for a peeping Tom while trying to capture a rare moth, scares off the local toughs, and gets propositioned is awkward. But it's also possible that I'm expecting the worst and should just relax for a few books and see what happens.

Also: Eugenie Grandet by everyone's my favorite walking disaster, Honore de Balzac! I've immediately been seized by the same reaction Balzac's contemporaries must have had, and every other reader for almost two hundred years: How can Balzac describe this miser so thoroughly while being incapable of saving any money himself? It's pleasant to share this simple bafflement with so many invisible strangers, even if it isn't really that baffling when you think about it: knowing how other people do things and bringing yourself to do them are different skills. It's a little strange to read a novel for the first time after reading a biography of the author. It's like reading my brother's fiction: I feel like I can see all the little pieces of himself rearranged - I imagine I can see them even when I have no evidence.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'm going to be completely without internet access for the next two weeks, so I'll be finishing the books I've started but without posting for a while. I'm bringing Guermantes with me, The Caine Mutiny and maybe Balthazar by Lawrence Durrell (but maybe not). Also: The Just City by Jo Walton. There was a free ebook giveaway at Tor (you can get it here through the 7th) but I don't have an ereader so I just got it from the library.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
a_phoenixdragon
Aug. 3rd, 2016 09:56 pm (UTC)
*HUGS*
osprey_archer
Aug. 4th, 2016 12:31 am (UTC)
Burgess spends most of his 99 Novels paragraph on the reasons he can't blame anyone for not finishing the series: it's hella long and full of nature facts and fascist sympathies.

I am imagining Burgess hanging his head all "I know my problematic fave is totally problematic, okay." But he can't resist reccing it anyway, even if the rec is full of defensive caveats.
evelyn_b
Aug. 4th, 2016 03:22 am (UTC)
I know this feeling all too well. :|
sallymn
Aug. 4th, 2016 11:50 am (UTC)
I've heard good things about C P Snow...

At the minute, I keep picking books for the 100 things I'm doing and then deciding to reread them, because I love them...
lost_spook
Aug. 4th, 2016 08:48 pm (UTC)
Burgess spends most of his 99 Novels paragraph on the reasons he can't blame anyone for not finishing the series: it's hella long and full of nature facts and fascist sympathies. He's so resigned to my inevitable giving-up that I feel determined to see it through. I may feel differently later.

:lol: It's always the way. In both cases. Like in fandoms where there's always that one episode everyone tells you not to watch but you have to watch it just to see why. Good luck! That is the Tarka the Otter author, isn't it? I have heard of his fascist sympathies before now, they must be bad enough to be famous, but there is also a Tarka Trail around Somerset and Devon somewhere which is very pretty. Nature = good, Fascism = bad bad?

And, aww, so glad you're still enjoying the Watch's adventures! Lack of Sybil is a sad thing in a few of them, but is at least balanced out by a lot of other good characters. Bloody Stupid Johnson is a Discworld running joke, although it sounds as if Men at Arms might be its (his) debut there. :-)

Have fun! The internet will be a sorry place without you, but we shall try not to explode it too many times while you're away.
wordsofastory
Aug. 5th, 2016 12:48 am (UTC)
It's a little strange to read a novel for the first time after reading a biography of the author. It's like reading my brother's fiction: I feel like I can see all the little pieces of himself rearranged - I imagine I can see them even when I have no evidence.

Haha, I can imagine. I have a strong predilection against reading an author's real life into their fiction, but sometimes it's hard to resist!
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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