Review and discussion: China Miéville, The Last Days of New Paris.

The Last Days of New ParisThe Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ursula K le Guin says, “You can’t talk about Miéville without using the word “brilliant”. I concur!

Falling into a maelstrom best describes my reaction to this book. The whole notion of Surrealism has fascinated me for many years. I am probably, along with most people, familiar with the work of Salvador Dali. However, reading The Last Days of New Paris reveals so many more of the Surrealist artists, writers, and sculptors. Their creations take form and manifest in the story. The creations are the story.

This is a new universe. It is terrifying and unpredictable.

Once again, Miéville confounds me with his wit, intelligence, and his vocabulary. Here are a few that I had to research. I have put them in context and followed with the definition and some explanation.

Vocabulary

“He spoke in passé simple and imparfait: he was never other than ambiguous about whether what he was telling me a story, though his explanations of the city’s quiddity, of its history, his descriptions of the streets and landscapes of New Paris, were completely vivid” (pp174-175).

Quiddity: 1 [mass noun] chiefly Philosophy the inherent nature or essence of someone or something.
2 a distinctive feature; a peculiarity. In scholastic philosophy, “quiddity” (/ˈkwɪdɪti/; Latin: quidditas)[1] was another term for the essence of an object, literally its “whatness” or “what it is”.

“About New Paris itself, he never spoke with anything other than the most wrenching oneiric.” (pp176).

Oneiric: adjective, formal relating to dreams or dreaming. The study of oneirology can be distinguished from dream interpretation in that the aim is to quantitatively study the process of dreams instead of analyzing the meaning behind them.

“I would ask questions, and he might answer and our interaction became an interview of excursuses, at times for an hour or more, before returning to the main track of Thibault and Sam’s journey through the ruins of New Paris” (pp176).

Excursuses: noun, a detailed discussion of a particular point in a book, usually in an appendix. • a digression in a written text. (It is worth looking excursuses up in full. I wish I’d had this word in my vocabulary when I was writing my thesis)!

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Review and discussion: China Miéville, The Last Days of New Paris.

Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear. #14 in the Maisie Dobbs series.

To Die but Once (Maisie Dobbs, #14)To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is #14 in the Maisie Dobbs series and one of the best. I did get a bit confused with all the names as so many characters from the previous books made their appearance in this volume. Nevertheless, this is an excellent story and the way is open for another book.

Jacqueline Winspear’s research means that every fact checks out. She speaks of her own family’s experiences in the Great War and the Second World War. She seamlessly segues this knowledge into the story and this, of course, enriches and supports the plot. I learned, again, about the Dunkirk evacuation. Many years ago I read The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico and I remember weeping as I turned the pages. Here, in Winspear’s book, the story of Dunkirk becomes so personal. I feel sure she also read The Snow Goose.

In Winspear’s To Die but Once I learned about the connection of Whitchurch in Hampshire, England, to the Bank of England during the war. I learned of the fake airfields set up to fool the Luftwaffe; all this and so much more.

I learned of the young trainee soldiers who didn’t survive their first parachute jump. Their bodies were collected from Salisbury Plain by the WAAF ambulances. I realise again and again the futility of war.

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Review: To Die but Once by Jacqueline Winspear. #14 in the Maisie Dobbs series.

Review: China Miéville, This Census-Taker

This Census-TakerThis Census-Taker by China Miéville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a long time since I have read a book from beginning to end and then from the end back to the beginning. This book astonishes me on every page. So much of the story is in the spaces. How skillful is an author when what is not written has the power to captivate the reader?

Recently, I mentioned to someone that China Miéville is an acquired taste and I hold to that. There is not much I can say about this novel; the skill of this author is extraordinary. Ursula K Le Guin says about his writing, “[Miéville’s] wit dazzles, his humour is lively, and the pure vitality of his imagination is astonishing.”

Another thing, I do enjoy a book that challenges my vocabulary. There are a number of words in this book that do that very thing. I’ve listed two here, together with the meanings and the context in which they appear in the story.

I am forever grateful to my niece, Heather Shearer, for introducing me to China Miéville’s work many years ago.

Vocabulary

vatic | ˈvatɪk | adjective literary describing or predicting what will happen in the future.

In context: There was supposed to be a holy old woman or man living in a cave no more than an hour’s walk from our door, just below the zenith, and I remember once glimpsing the beat of a brown cape like a shaken sheet but whether that cloth was worn on bony vatic shoulders I can’t say. I can’t even say if I truly saw it.

China Miéville, This Census – Taker. Page 16.

revenant | ˈrɛv(ə)nənt | noun a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead

In context: Did my mother walk ahead of me? Even when she told stories of her earlier life she never seemed nostalgic and I could think of no reason that death alone would change that. If she took that revenant route it might be she had no choice, that she had to pass through those familiar failing suburbs to scatter cats and go without a shadow past their hides in the roots of walls and carts sat so long wheel-less on their axles that they were less than landscape.

China Miéville, This Census – Taker. Page 85-86.

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Review: China Miéville, This Census-Taker

Old photos

When we lived in Bicton, Roland used to buy old paintings or prints at the swap meet. Kath and I decorated one or two of these with little drawings and sometimes we cut up old photographs to stick on. I did one of Roland fishing; it was a really small photo from way back. I cut out around the edges of his figure (with great care) and stuck it on a large, dismal looking print of a lake. Kath added a few things too, over time. No one noticed except children who visited us. They thought it was magical that we could be in the framed prints! Roland used to hang them on the back verandah of the Bicton house. I wonder what happened to them?

I also made a birthday card for Stavros, many years ago when he was still very young, and pasted portrait photos of the family on it – once again I cut them out very carefully from old photos. Martine said he really liked it. I found a bookmark that Stavros made for me and I treasure it.

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Old photos

Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary CanalGulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is a dull day when we don’t learn something new. Gulp presents us with a new something at the turn of every page.

My Goodreads friend, Ann Logan, recommended Mary Roach’s books to me and now I am searching for them. Roach is an entertaining and educational writer. Her lightness of touch belies the scientific research behind the stories. I do admit to thinking (occasionally) “Too much information!”. However, as the cover blurb says, “… her trademark laugh-out-loud style …” kept me reading on.

I was particularly interested in the different fads that have happened over the centuries. Some of these are covered in graphic detail. This brings to mind some of the trends that are happening right now. For example, the notion of ‘cleansing’ by using juices (that deny the body essential vitamins) and so on and so forth.

I have read and reviewed Giulia Enders book, Gut subtitled ‘the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ’. Enders also writes in an easy-to-read and informative manner. Both authors are happy to share personal experiences in an informal way and this makes things more easily understood and much less distasteful.

I hope that these books allow readers to be more accepting of this integral part of our biology. After all, the gut needs to be recognised for the important part it plays in our health and wellbeing.

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Review: Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

Review: Messenger of Truth

Messenger of Truth (Maisie Dobbs, #4)Messenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another wonderful story from Jacqueline Winspear. Although #4 in the Maisie Dobbs series, the book is perfectly able to stand alone. The only book in the series that I feel should be read in sequence, is the first one: Maisie Dobbs.

Shelved as a detective novel in my local library, Messenger of Truth is also a book that covers historical and social aspects of the the time between the Great War and the Second World War. Taking place in 1931, the great depression (1929-1939) is documented here with empathy and sadness. In regard to another novel I read recently, White Houses by Amy Bloom, the great depression in the United States of America is also, albeit briefly, shown in the light of returned service men and women suffering inhumanity and cruelty at the hands of the government. However, I found Messenger of Truth to be more gritty and stronger than Amy Bloom’s book. Winspear addresses the minutiae of life in the historical context. She shows the clothes, the food, the decor – all in focus.

I have to say, I have learned a lot from Maisie Dobbs – about all sorts of things.

I still have a couple of books in the Maisie Dobbs series before I catch up with the latest one.

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Review: Messenger of Truth