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Wednesday Ways of the World

What I've Just Finished Reading

Sense and Sensibility! It's great, what can I say? I think I have more mixed feelings about Col. Brandon than about any of Austen's other primary suitors. The problem is, [Spoilers for Sense and Sensibility, which you really should read]I feel obligated to have misgivings about pairings where one partner is a teenager and the other is almost twenty years older, especially considering that Marianne is a very young seventeen at the start of the book, and there's an aftertaste of instruction and improvement in their relationship that makes it even worse, and so the fact that I really like Col. Brandon as a person just makes me more annoyed :(. I don't know, I have some issues in this area.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much work the 1995 movie put into making Edward Ferrars likable: lots of adorable scenes of him playing with Margaret and gently undoing his sister's rudeness. I was less-pleasantly surprised with how funereal and worn they made poor Col. Brandon, who looks and moves more like Marianne's decrepit mental picture of him than like Brandon as he appears in the book. He also talks like a ghost. Look alive, Brandon!

Otherwise, the movie was great! A really smart adaptation, and beautifully filmed. Mrs. Jennings and her family are pure delight (and the Dashwoods' culture shock is really well played). I love the pack of dogs that follow them everywhere. Hugh Laurie is Mr. Palmer! Harriet Walter plays the Dashwoods' mean sister-in-law! (and has her own tiny dog which she clutches everywhere like a forlorn purse)! No one wallows in despair as prettily as Kate Winslet!

[Further spoilers for Sense & Sensibility, just in case!]The scene where Elinor learns that Edward isn't married, and suddenly BREAKS DOWN IN FRONT OF EVERYONE, was amazing on so many levels.

What I'm Reading Now

I recently read 100 pages of an acquaintance's fantasy novel, which turned out to be unexpectedly unpleasant. In conversation, we seemed to like a lot of the same things: worldbuilding, fairy-tale re-imaginings, made-up religions, prickly heroines with lots of agency! But then the book turned out to be wall-to-wall rape and torture -- mostly in the form of plot-irrelevant puppykicking for the bad guys.

I know YKINMK and all that, but if even half the rape scenes had been replaced with infodumps about agriculture or ritual or fleshing out the magic system, I would have been so much happier. Oh, well. I won't be bothering with the rest of the book; life is too short and I hate rape scenes too much.

I began The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, and I'm still of two minds whether I'm going to keep going. It's a lot better than [title redacted] above, but I don't know if I'm ready to commit to a whole book of this length in this style. The first chapter is a lot better than the prologue, and the in-world epigraphs are a little better than both. I have the problem of periodically craving a big pile of fantasy, then being really, really picky about it.

Pride and Prejudice is terrific, of course, though my experience of reading it is very different from that of the other Jane Austen books, because I know exactly what's going to happen at every turn and have the thing practically memorized. Still, it's a lot of fun with the occasional stabbing in the heart, as usual. Darcy is awful, but maybe not as awful as you think? Bingley is a human ray of sunshine, the Bennet sisters and their mother are doing their best with a bad situation, etc. etc..

The Aerodrome continues to be easy to read, but less easy to understand. The Air Force has just announced its takeover of the neighboring village, and everyone is going to be reassigned to Air Force jobs. It reads a little like a Monty Python sketch with all the most obvious humor sand-blasted away. The narrator seems to operate according to a principle of needing to advance the satire (and his love interest/object is an animated cluster of clichés, almost certainly on purpose), and so it's a little hard to hook onto him, for dislike or sympathy. It's definitely interesting.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency started out being laugh-out-loud funny and is now only nod-in-acknowledgement funny, mainly because the title character has been introduced and is a bit less entertaining than everyone else. This is my first Douglas Adams book since I made the mistake of reading all the Hitchhiker's Guide books in one sitting, and I'm enjoying it a lot.

What I'm Going to Read Next

The Horse's Mouth by Joyce Carey (next on 99 Novels); The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:00 pm (UTC)
...can i possibly interest you in a truly epic fantasy tetralogy with no sexual violence whatsoever, fascinating worldbuilding, an ensemble of wonderful characters and a truly epic sweeping narrative arc? because i could :D
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:03 pm (UTC)
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:04 pm (UTC)
inda by sherwood smith! it's possibly you've read it, since i'm always the last to the reading train, but if you didn't, i'm ready to do the song and dance.
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:05 pm (UTC)
I have not read it! You can tell me more if you like, or I can just pick it up and discover it for myself -- your call!
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:22 pm (UTC)
INDA. i've discovered it more or less on accident couple of years ago, and it's firmly in my, like, top five of high fantasy series of all times, so. some points in no order:

- a really interesting, complicated, thought-out fantasy world. there are several fundamental magic "tweaks" to everyday stuff that a whole lot of grandiose changes cascade from - it's interesting to discover them as you, so i'm not going to spoil, but it's fascinating. and a lot of it is about culture shock and culture interchange - here's the formalized, warrior culture of marlovens that we start out with, and there's a gigantic world outside the border, different countries and different cultures, and they view marloven with interest and a kind of baffled confusion, and vice versa; this kind of a thing is my jam, and it's just packed so tightly into this book. inda, the titular hero, goes into exile pretty fast, and he's a stranger in the strange land for a big part of the narrative, and we get his-reactions-to-things, others'-reactions-to-him, his homeland people reactions' to the him after they reunite, etc. etc.

- kind of as a corollary, the whole story is very BIG, grand wars and big politics, but it's mostly shown through people, everyday lives, small decisions changing the big picture, one little act of kindness solving a grand tragedy, this kind of thing. the pov kind of swoops between eagle's eye on the proceeding and tight third (it's actually a meta-narrative device too, but it's described in the sequel, the banner of the damned - for now just go with it).

- there's a big ensemble of characters, men and women, all different and just - i love everybody in this bar, honestly, including people i spent half of the books shouting NO DO NOT DO THAT at. even the enemies are very... humane? damaged, occasionally really horrible (ugh, wafri), but real in a way you can empathize with, or at least sympathize with. and i love inda as well: he's slightly autistic (word-of-god confirmed subtext), extremely loyal, smart about some things and clueless about others, and just - good (it's important to me, a lot).

- casually lgbt-friendly world! in a sense that there's a handful of lgbt characters and they're just there, doing their thing and having their adventures and relationships and so on. different places have different attitudes re: formal recognition of lgbt relationships, but there's no homophobia as such (see: small cascading worlbduilding changes).

- a lot of swashbuckling and pirate ships, a lot of grand battles, a lot of devastating interpersonal stuff, a lot of warmth and camaraderie, and sometimes the text rises to the pellenor fields level of high tragedy, but it's never grimdark or in-your-face edgy; it's a respected, respectful tragedy within the largely hopeful universe.

phew. i must warn that sometimes people struggle with the beginning, with inda in the war academy - it's a bit infodumpy, there's a lot of stuff going on unexplained and people using a mix of family names, given names, nicknames, titles and so on, it's easy to get lost. but if you stick through, you're in for a ride.
Aug. 5th, 2015 09:48 pm (UTC)
That all sounds pretty delicious! I will definitely check it out soon. And we'll see what happens with the beginning -- but one of my favorite books of all time is War and Peace, so meeting a lot of characters with 4-6 nicknames each should make me feel right at home, if anything.
Aug. 5th, 2015 11:28 pm (UTC)
Inda and sequels are not quite in the Tolstoy league, but they are very enjoyable. Most of Sherwood Smith's books are loosely in the same universe too. Have you read the Témeraire books? They, and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell have something to offer an Austen fan bereft because she only wrote six complete novels.
Aug. 6th, 2015 04:01 am (UTC)
That is a strong recommendation! I haven't read any of those books, but they are on my radar.
Aug. 5th, 2015 11:22 pm (UTC)
the thing I really hate about the Marianne and Col Brandon is that she just doesn't want to date him (ok that's not the right term but whatever) and everyone's like no, your preferences don't actually matter. Whatever. It bugs me probably anachronistically because of how and when I live, but no one owes anyone a romantic interest or relationship and women especially get this - oh give him a chance, why such a bitch, etc. Argh. I also am not a fan of huge age gaps with teenagers. Marianne is so sheltered. So sheltered.

Anyway. FJSHDGJH. After the Dashwoods' unbelievable horribleness (the reams I could write about them can be more easily summarized as NOOOO YOU SUCK) I dislike the secondary romance the most.
Aug. 6th, 2015 12:15 am (UTC)
I don't think it's anachronistic to expect the Dashwoods to respect Marianne's preferences, especially considering that a reluctance to marry outside one's inclination is treated sympathetically in several other Austen novels. I don't mind them laughing at her a bit because she thinks no woman past the age of 25 could possibly feel or excite love, but the fact is, a man in his mid-thirties IS old to her, and she isn't wrong to notice the difference, because she is very, very young.
Aug. 6th, 2015 01:11 am (UTC)
Maybe anachronistic isn't quite the right word for it, but what women can do for a living at her social position is very limited (at least if she wants to continue to stay at that level) and I think that drives some of that. Older men are more established, can provide for their wives, etc. She has to marry or live off her relatives basically and we already know Mr and Mrs Dashwood won't lift a pinky to help her.
Aug. 5th, 2015 11:35 pm (UTC)
I don't love S&S as I love P&P, but Emma Thomson did a fine job with it. (It's also when she shacked up with Greg Wise and broke up with Kenneth Branagh, I believe, so there was much fought RL stuff going on.)She was definitely too old for the part really, though one can understand why she wanted to do it, and Ang Lee was an amazing director.

I love Alan Rickman, which reconciles me to the Brandon/Marianne thing a bit. I think Austen was a little too concerned with neat wrapping up of themes in this book, so that Elinor marrying for love when all seems hopeless is counterbalanced by Marianne learning to be sensible. In many ways it's as much a commentary on contemporary popular fiction as Northanger Abbey is - the heroines are as subject to the ironic authorial gaze as any other character, which is not quite true in the later books. (Except Emma. And I love her dearly.)
Aug. 6th, 2015 12:22 am (UTC)
Hah. I thought it was a bit worse in the movie, because Alan Rickman looks even older than Col. Brandon is supposed to be, and they never seemed to develop much chemistry, which could have sold me grudgingly on it. He has a nice nose, though; I will give him that :)

Emma Thompson is visibly too old in some scenes, but it didn't hurt anything as far as I could tell.

That's a good point about the ironic authorial gaze. The trouble is, Austen is just too damn good at characterization! I felt too protective of Marianne to even think about popular fictional norms and themes and things.
Aug. 6th, 2015 02:09 am (UTC)
How does a Holistic Detective Agency work? You come in with one problem, and Dirk Gently steeples his fingers and says, "I'm sure you think your wife's infidelity is your biggest problem, but let's take a look at the big picture, shall we?"

...Also, because apparently I can't help myself with plugging the S&S miniseries at every opportunity - I should really watch it again myself; it's been a few years - but I thought they did a better job with Colonel Brandon there. There's still the age gap, but he doesn't seem as ill-suited to Marianne as in the movie version.
Aug. 6th, 2015 03:53 am (UTC)
That's the basic idea! "Specializing in the fundamental interconnectedness of things -- we solve the whole crime, we find the whole person." It's primarily a bit of a scam in which Dirk is engaged to find missing cats etc. and later bills the client for his trip to Bermuda, on the basis of the aforementioned fundamental interconnectedness. But eventually he ends up helping to solve a larger mystery in which many things really are interconnected, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, aliens, and the origin of life on earth. It's a comedy sci-fi ghost story that has very little to do with detection in the traditional sense.

I'll have to take a look at the miniseries!

Edited at 2015-08-06 04:00 am (UTC)
Aug. 6th, 2015 12:10 pm (UTC)
Aw, glad you liked both S&S and the film, even with your reservations! (I am okay with Colonel Brandon for lots of reasons, especially narrative structure, but also character ones too. You're not alone, though - an awful lot of S&S fic and requests are for Elinor/Brandon instead. Which causes me problems, because the way Austen constructs stuff I just can't take alternative pairings because in my head that breaks the book.)

I am, however, super-amused at you not falling for Alan Rickman at all. (Like Emma Thompson, he's too old for the role, but he's Alan Rickman.) I thought that was illegal or something? :loL:

But it is a lovely film & not at all a bad adaptation, and all the supporting parts, as you say, are so well cast. (I am always in favour of having Elizabeth Spriggs in stuff, because she's awesome - Mrs Jennings.) I had totally forgotten Hugh Laurie, so great is everyone else. :-)

The not-good fantasy novel by an acquaintance sounds really awkward. I hope you don't have to tell them or something?? (I've never read Robert Jordan, so I can't comment. He came along at pretty much the same moment I decided I had had it with doorstop sized series of fantasies.)

Seconding Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, though - but, given your long reading list, it isn't a short book! (It is just all about the Austen-ish tone and the footnotes and the world-building and the irony and it's a wonderful thing to get immersed in. There's also a collection of short stories, Ladies of Grace Adieu. I don't know how it would read if you did them the other way round, but you could always try that as a taster? Given that you're only trying to read 99 novels, water-damaged things, all the golden age detective literature and a few other things. ;-D)
Aug. 6th, 2015 06:26 pm (UTC)
I mean, Elinor and Brandon are good friends and it could work I guess, if Brandon wasn't set on Marianne, but. . . I don't know. The only alternate Austen pairing I could see myself committing to is Mary Bennet/Mr. Collins, and even there I don't feel quite right about it because they would just bring out the worst in each other.

Is Alan Rickman a big deal? I don't think I've seen him in anything else except as Snape in Harry Potter, so maybe there's some context I'm missing?

Luckily, there shouldn't be much awkwardness about the book; I only ever see the author at book events and it's not like she asked me to critique it or anything (she is, or presents as, very confident in the reception of her work). If she asks, I'll just say it wasn't my thing after all. There's some evidence to suggest she may interpret this as prudishness, but that's all right with me.

We'll see! Jonathan Strange etc. definitely sounds worth trying.
Aug. 6th, 2015 07:22 pm (UTC)
Alan Rickman is a fairly big deal; or at least he's a very good actor & well-known film actor. I like him (he is indeed a very good actor) but I am a little bemused by quite how generally attractive everyone seems to find him. (Mind, I think a lot of it's the voice, and I can get that, it's true.) But, yes, pretty much. I saw S&S in the cinema with a friend who spent the whole time raving just about his boots, so you can understand my amusement at your lack of enthusiasm for him! ;-)

He's been in a few things with Emma Thompson, actually.

Oh, I'm very glad to know the author isn't going to be demanding much feedback from you!
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )


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