‘Little’ by Edward Carey is a fictionalised account of the early life of Madame Tussaud who founded the famous waxwork museum in London that bears her name. Born Anne Marie Grosholtz in 1761 and orphaned as a young child, she is employed by Swiss wax sculptor, Doctor Curtius, who makes anatomical models in his studio and names his young apprentice ‘Little’ on account of her small stature. When Curtius’ financial difficulties finally catch up with him, they move to Paris where they take rooms with widow Charlotte Picot who helps transform the business and set up popular exhibitions displaying wax replicas of the heads of noblemen and famous murderers. She banishes Marie to work in the kitchen out of jealousy but following a surprise visit by Princess Elisabeth, the youngest sister of King Louis XVI, Marie is invited to become her wax modelling tutor at the Palace of Versailles. However, with revolution on the horizon, nobody associated with the Royal Family is safe from the threat of the guillotine. Continue reading
The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced last month. While ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Washington Black’ by Esi Edugyan appeared to be the favourites to win among bloggers I follow, ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns triumphed in the end. I’m undecided about whether or not to read it. There has been a lot of focus on the experimental prose style and the question of its “readability” with its unnamed characters and paragraphs without breaks. However, when chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said “I spend my time reading articles in the Journal of Philosophy so by my standards this is not too hard”, I wasn’t sure he really succeeded in selling it to a wider audience. On the other hand, it should be noted that the actual sales figures since Burns’ win tell a different story and it will be interesting to see how it is critically received in the long term. Do let me know what you think of ‘Milkman’ if you have read it. Continue reading
I went to see ‘Wise Children’ at the Old Vic theatre in Waterloo last week after Rebecca of bookishbeck won a pair of tickets and very kindly offered her spare one to me. I also managed to track down a copy of the book from the library and read it this week. ‘Wise Children’ is Angela Carter’s final novel published in 1991 a year before her death and the stage adaptation is Emma Rice’s first project with her new theatre company (also called Wise Children) since leaving her role as artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2016.
Dora and Nora Chance are the illegitimate twin daughters of one of the great Shakespearean actors, Sir Melchior Hazard, whose twin brother Peregrine is believed to be dead. As Dora and Nora celebrate their 75th birthday towards the end of the 20th century, Melchior is about to turn 100 (and possibly Peregrine too…). The story is narrated by Dora who looks back on the sisters’ humble beginnings in south London brought up by the eccentric Grandma Chance and their career as a double act as chorus girls in the weird and wonderful world of Hollywood, theatre and music hall variety shows. Continue reading
It’s been almost three years since Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith was published and it has been a very long wait to find out what happens following the cliffhanger ending of ex-military policeman and private detective Cormoran Strike’s late arrival at the wedding of his agency partner Robin Ellacott and her insufferable fiancé Matthew Cunliffe. The prologue of the fourth book in the series published last month, ‘Lethal White’, picks up exactly where ‘Career of Evil’ left off and the story then jumps forward a year later to the summer of 2012 when London is hosting the Olympic Games. A mentally distressed young man named Billy Knight arrives at Strike’s office and then flees again shortly after claiming to have witnessed the murder of a child many years ago. Strike is subsequently approached by Jasper Chiswell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who has been receiving blackmail threats from Geraint Winn, husband of the Minister for Sport Della Winn, and Billy’s older brother, Jimmy Knight. Continue reading
Medieval Bodies: Life, Death and Art in the Middle Ages by Jack Hartnell makes a convincing case against the widely held perception of the Middle Ages as a bloodthirsty and violent period of history where beliefs about medicine were guided primarily by superstition. Instead, the reality is shown to be very different in Hartnell’s examination of how medieval people experienced their physical selves. Each chapter of this lavishly illustrated book focuses on a different part of the body and explores their cultural significance and how medieval attitudes towards them were shaped by a range of influences.
Drawing on art, medicine, literature, science, politics, history, philosophy and much more, I think Hartnell sometimes tries to tackle too much here. The geographical range of sources spanning across Europe and the Middle East is impressive but the scope is so wide that it is a lot to grasp for non-expert readers, whereas I think those who are more knowledgeable about this period of history may find the analysis too thin in some areas. However, Hartnell’s evident passion for his subject is infectious and I think ‘Medieval Bodies’ could be a possible contender for the next Wellcome Book Prize longlist. Continue reading
I read ‘The Little Stranger’ by Sarah Waters over seven years ago before I started my blog and reread it this month when the film adaptation was released in the UK. Set in the Warwickshire countryside in the late 1940s, Dr Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, a once grand now derelict stately home where his mother once worked as a maid and which he has long viewed with fascination since he was a child. Occupied by the Ayres family for more than two centuries, the house is now in decline with just Mrs Ayres and her two adult children Caroline and Roderick struggling to manage the estate on their own. Roderick sustained serious injuries during the war and when Faraday offers some treatment for his leg, his regular visits to Hundreds Hall see him become increasingly more involved in the family’s affairs. Continue reading