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Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
Halloween has been and gone, but I think we can squeeze in one more spooky recommendation. Especially when it’s as good this one from safereturndoubtful on the subject of The Vampyre by John William Polidori:
Published in 1819, it was the first English vampire story ever written, and influenced much that came after it, notably Bram Stoker. I’ve been keen to read it for a while, expecting it to have dated, but interested in its own origins, and exactly what Polidori had to say.
It’s a gothic tale that concerns a veteran wealthy and orphaned young man, Aubrey, who arrives in London and meets the mysterious Lord Ruthven. The two men become friends, and upon discovering that Lord Ruthven is planning a trip to Europe decides to take his grand tour at the same time and travel with him. Slowly, he realises Ruthven’s true character.
It certainly deserves all the positive reviews it has received; the only comment I can add is that she does for this character from Greek mythology, what Robert Graves did for the Roman emperor Claudius: to take an almost blank canvas and to create an entirely believable person knitted so well into existing mythology that it made one wonder how Homer could have missed the obvious connections that linked the Golden Fleece, Scylla and the Minotaur.
It tells the stories of Glikl, a Jewish woman living in Germany; Marie, an Ursuline sister living in Québec; and Maria, a Dutch emigrant to South America. What binds them is that each woman left a remarkable account of their life. I’ve just finished Glikl’s story. What comes through most strongly is a reminder of history’s disconcerting ability to be both intensely familiar, and deeply strange and alien. History at its best has a great power to make us ask questions of our own lives as we reflect on the lives of others. I’m looking forward to the rest very much.
I love a long read and it is 945 pages. The book doesn’t glorify cowboy/ranger stoicism; rather, it illustrates the financial and emotional poverty from whence it came. And there are lots of exciting blood-curdling scenes, death by many snakes and a grizzly bear versus bull fight, for instance. It doesn’t shy from unpleasant realistic detail and the descriptions of the landscape take you straight there.
Professor Lidenbrock, a geologist in Hamburg, discovers a hidden document from a long dead alchemist, detailing the path to the globe’s inner core. The impulsive academic and his nephew set off immediately to Iceland to the extinct volcano specified by their predecessor. My edition is one of the excellent translations by William Butcher for Oxford University Press, doing justice to the claim that Verne’s works in their original French are of a much higher quality than they are represented in the English-speaking world. Lidenbrock himself is a lovely creation, his impatient character summed up by the anecdote that he tugs his plants to try and make them grow faster.
Published in 1909, it is the funniest book I have read this year, indeed probably one of the funniest books I have ever read. The narrator is Baron Otto von Ottringel, a Prussian nobleman and army officer, and a most extraordinary character he is; conceited, parsimonious, lazy, greedy, misogynistic, snobbish and, worst of all, completely without insight into his effect on other people who he unhesitatingly blames for anything that goes wrong.
The Baron has been inveigled into joining in a group caravanning holiday in England (picturesque Kent and Sussex to be precise), so much cheaper than going to Italy or Switzerland … Needless to say he can’t adjust to English attitudes and behaviour at all, stumbling from one hilarious misunderstanding to another.
“Like it or not, we’re all post-structuralists now living in a Derridean nightmare.” Ron Charles on the Ukraine call transcript.
“What is Hitler doing in this book?” Christopher Clark on Knausgaard and the enduring stench of the Nazi leader.
Apparently, Herman Melville used to enjoy bowling.
“We have reached peak witch” – or so says The New York Times.
“The story of Atlantis is not without its mythic elements”: Jason Horowitz on Santorini’s famous bookstore.