Review: The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

A crime novel set in an alternate world where some parts of history happened different from ours while others didn’t The Eyre Affair manages to utilise both archetypes and tropes in a highly entertaining way.

We follow the adventures of Special Agent Thursday Next, part of the section for crimes against literature, as she tries to track down diabolic arch-villain Acheron Hades. As we go we are presented to a world were England is on war with it’s Welsh neighbour, not to mention the 100+ year armed conflict with Imperial Russia over the Crimea, and where classic English literature is an integral part of what shapes the English national identity.

The result is an absurd but well written and very witty mystery cum comedy. I didn’t laugh out loud but I smiled almost continuously for all of the nearly 400 pages.

It helps if you’re well read on the English Classics, including Shakespeare, but it’s not a prerequisite. I recommend reading it!

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Review: Gender in the early medieval world, edited by Leslie Brubaker

This book is a collection of essays offering a view on late ancient/early medieval societies, centred on the remnants of the former Roman empire. By applying a gender perspective to a diverse range of disciplines and sources the collection offers an added and in some cases new perspective on previously held ‘truths’; other items just confirms earlier research.

It is of course close to impossible to review a book consisting of 16 different essays only sharing a loose framework of time, place, and gender perspective. Inevitably there are pieces both good and not so good included. Some were laugh out loud funny. Not intended, I’m sure.
The good stuff is in majority, though, and I recommend the book to anyone interested.

I’m sure at least some of the essays will resurface later on, in further musings, here and otherwise.
The first half of the book also made me want to revisit Sarantium, a fictional Byzantium created by G. G. Kay. This will have to wait, though, as next read will be The Eyre Affair, for the Green Dragon group read.

Art as discourse? Or – A walk through the desert…

The last month Stockholm has seen two controversial expressions of art – first the student who faked an attempt to suicide, and now the revelation that a newly examined M.A. vandalised a subway car as part of his final project, a 120 second film titled “Territorial Pissing”.

I think both of these cases took things too far, and the school – Konstfack (University College of Arts, Crafts and Design) – have expressed regret in the second case and initiated an internal investigation in the first. Both cases are linked to the Department for Fine Arts.

Taken one by one each case have elicited strong reactions from everyday people. Together… well, let’s just say that more than one want the design school closed. One person said “where art goes in sanity walks out” (translated from Swedish, any errors are mine).

I cannot help but reflect that maybe this is were the fine arts stands today – outside society, without any relevancy to anyone but the personally involved, and desperate for attention it’s practitioners screams at the top of their lungs, to get a reaction.

But I don’t think the art and design schools should be closed. On the contrary I think they are needed, and that the people screaming murder have no idea what the schools are about – Konstfack examines, among others, industrial designers. But maybe the person in question don’t feel they need microwave ovens possible to use without a hefty manual?

What I think is needed is a discussion about what fine arts is supposed to be – what need they fill in our society, and what they could be to us. Because at the moment it is clear that the Fine Arts are not only alienated from the main body of people but also from the movers and shakers. And when no one feels an ownership except the few with an academic interest, the genre fails.

Witness the recent debacles, if you don’t believe me.

Spending or saving?

So, do any of you people out there try to get this ship on even keel again by infusing your money into the economy? Or do you look at your wallet thinking we may be up for a rough time so better save the money for later?

I definitely belong in the latter camp, and so do a lot of other people that I know.

Because it’s not only the financial crisis – this recession – but also the policies pursued by the current government. In Sweden and elsewhere – it would be hypocritical to assume that what goes on here isn’t a reflection of policy-making in a worldwide perspective.

In my personal case these policies has affected my situation at work. The company I’m with has gotten more heavy-handed (and short-sighted), even more focussed on near-term financials than on long-term survival. This means anyone, even people who regularly turns in a profit or in other ways enables it, can be sacked on short notice just because they did not return a profit this single quarter.

Add the national policies placing the burden on the individual rather on the society – as in a sharing (or not) of the costs for education, health care and such – and I know I’ll have to sit on my money, to ensure I can afford to get a cast if I or someone in my family breaks a leg in the future.

The Swedish government are trying to put some artificial fire in the economy by subsidising different ‘home services’ and home repairs for house-owners and owner-tenants. Such boasts are deemed to be short term, and can only be seen as populist flirting with the electorate.

We have some rough going ahead of us, I’m pretty certain. I’m not going to spend money until I can see a change in policies. Because who knows where my tax-funded pension money are when it’s my time.

Quest for knowledge

I’m on a quest. It’s a personal one – I try to learn at least one new thing every day.

I’m not always successful, but I do try.

Some things don’t qualify, even if I didn’t knew them before. The retail price for a bed frame is, as an example, exempt. So are knowledge of events, like the recent wild fires in Australia.
There’s a fine line in there somewhere, and I think the rules don’t stand scrutiny. But still – I try to learn new things.

The day I resign from this quest I could just as well kiss life goodbye. Because getting to know and understand things are parts of what makes life interesting.

Today I learnt one new word. Adduced. It means ‘offer as proof/evidence’. I have seen it before, but it wasn’t until today that I actually checked its meaning.

Yesterday was void of learning, and thus a lost day.

Tomorrow hopefully brings something new.

Zombies? No thanks.

Today at work we got to talk about zombies, and I realised that’s another area were my willingness to suspend my disbelief is not enough. Why, you ask. Are they too scary?

On the contrary. Zombies are up there with werewolves and goblins as so totally unbelievable as to make me laugh. I just can’t take them seriously. Maybe that’s why the only instance when I find them acceptable are the Discworld books, because most things in there are not what they seem but more importantly they’re set on DISCWORLD, which is the opposite of our world, and thus a mirror, nothing else.

Zombies in OUR world? Excuse me. Just don’t believe.

Not that I find wizards any more believable. Possibly that’s the reason I just can’t stand Urban Fantasy. I need real good world building, High Fantasy style, to believe anything beyond FTL (Faster Than Light) (which by the way also is quite unbelievable but I want it to be a possibility, so humankind can go to the stars some day. And NASA’s putting money that way, so maybe??? *holding thumbs*).

So, no, while some of my colleagues at work seemed to think I Am Legend was a good film I don’t think I’ll watch OR read it.

And no, I don’t think Dracula or Nosferatu, in any incarnation I’ve seen or read, are scary, either. They’re interesting, though, especially when contemplated besides each other, for the different views they afford us on how we’ve handled the Other through time.

This might be the reason why such stories are so popular – a manifestation of our collective need to come to grips with the fact that large parts of the world is NOT like me and you, whatever ‘me’ is. These stories provide the tools to disseminate and analyse and channel, however unconsciously, our fear or distrust of the other. A need that grows more pressing in times when we are supposed to like and embrace that which is not like us.

At least, that’s one way to look at it. This don’t make me like zombies any better, though ;-)

Why do I have to be so curious?!?!

I’m eagerly waiting for the start of next Foreigner story arch. Official release date is April 28th, and as the second instalment is finished I may be able to read that as well before the year is to an end.

I know this because I follow the diary notes published by the author, C.J. Cherryh. I read these notes because I’m curious. I want to know what she’s working on, and maybe get some hints on what will happen. But I also know she loves to tease her readers, so why was I caught unaware?!?!

Because in her note for February 7th she, or Herself, as she is called at the fan-site dedicated to her fiction, tells us Bren (the main character) is in trouble. Just in passing. I didn’t realise it was there until my eyes had conveyed the information to my brain for digestion. And obviously the mention referred not to Conspirator, which is the first in this arch, but to Deceiver, which Herself just finished.

Now I have to wait FOREVER before getting to know what this is about!!!

GAAHHHH!!!

The dangers of curiosity, transparency, reading, and the internet… ;-)
In this case I’d rather had been kept in the dark.