No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

2017/03: History Play: The Lives and After-life of Christopher Marlowe -- Rodney Bolt

‘The question confronting a young man in [Elizabethan times] was not, am I heterosexual or am I homosexual, but where do my greater loyalties lie, with other men or with women.’ The answer for Kit was ‘with both’.
Reread, for a paper on Christopher Marlowe in Historical Fiction that I was unable to give (due to ill health) at the Historical Fiction Research Network conference. My earlier review is here.

I still think it's a delightful bit of historical play: I suspect I caught some more in-jokes this time around: and I found myself more intrigued than before by the ways in which 'Shakespeare's' sonnets, read in particular sequence, can be made to tell a story. (It's like tarot cards: put 'em down in any order and construct your narrative.)

Reading on Kindle made it easier to search and match up different threads, characters, themes: however, it also made the footnotes harder to follow (impossible, in fact, on my old Kindle 3, as the footnote refs didn't seem to work as links: I ended up having footnotes open on my phone's Kindle app, and reading the main narrative on the Kindle itself.)

Plenty of sound scholarship on the known events of Marlowe's life, and the lives of those associated with him: plenty of playful invention regarding a life in exile. Still highly recommended.

Friday, January 20, 2017

2017/02: Her Majesty's Will -- David Blixt

Kit considered for some little time. "It is a plan both reasonable and wise."
"And therefore you loathe it."
"Exactly. But I see little choice in the matter." [loc. 1856]
A frivolous and light-hearted novel, based on the premise that Shakespeare met Marlowe in the 1580s and got caught up in the world of Elizabethan spycraft: with, as they used to say in the Radio Times, hilarious results.

There are occasional anachronisms and the authorial voice is sometimes intrusive -- but this was a fun read with a nice frisson between stolid, more-or-less sensible Will and mercurial Kit.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

2017/01: Hammers on Bone -- Cassandra Khaw

"You're the only one who can help." "What makes you say that?" "Because you're a monster too." [loc. 47]
It is not immediately obvious that the office of John Persons, PI, is in Croydon. This is because he speaks, and narrates, in typical gumshoe noir: his client has a look that could 'carve Harlem sunsets', and Persons would 'tip a trilby to his folks'.

His client is a ten-year-old boy, Abel, who wants Mr Persons to kill his stepfather before the stepfather kills Abel or his little brother James.

Mr Persons does not balk, or throw up spurious legal arguments. This is because, contrary to appearances, Mr Persons is not actually a hardbitten PI from a Golden Age detective novel. That's just the meat-suit he is wearing. He comes from a different genre of Golden Age pulp ...

Those who, like me, are not that familiar with the Lovecraftian mythos do get some clues: and I'll argue that actually -- as in all the best crossover (fan)fiction -- you don't need to know the details of the original work. It's sufficient to be aware that Persons is, on the inside, an inhuman monster, and that there are other such beings walking (slithering?) the mean streets of Croydon.

Persons is a monster: McKinsey, the wicked stepfather, another. But the true monsters in this story are not eldritch, but shriekingly banal. They are poverty, domestic abuse, misogyny: they keep Abel's mother in an abusive relationship, and McKinsey in a safety net of laddish co-workers, and Abel and James in a state of helpless miserable terror.

Detective noir is a stereotypically sexist genre (Khaw writes about that here). Persons -- whose life, before the narrator moved in, must have been a surreal blast: was he really a black PI spouting noir banter in Croydon? -- is casually sexist, a constant low-level stream of 'skirt' and 'dame' and 'frill'. But not all the female characters in Hammers on Bone can be dismissed so easily: Sasha calls Persons on an uninvited intrusion, and Sasha's boss calls Persons on ... well.

I liked this very much, and then I looked up the Lovecraft references and reread it and liked it even more. Khaw's writing is excellent, tough and poetic and pretty gruesome in places: I'm hoping for more Persons.