Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Review: Funeral Of Figaro

Funeral Of Figaro by Ellis Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funeral of Figaro, by Ellis Peters, was first published in 1962 as "operatic whodunnit", as it says. It tells of the events at Leander Theatre, near London, and the murder of one of the best Figaros in the world, right during the fourth act. The theatre company are a very tight-knit group, held together by Johnny, who started all this after the war. It's his war activities, smuggling goods and people, and not always strictly for his country, that bring him trouble with this Figaro, who doesn't belong to the original crew. That Johnny's teenage daughter seems to be interested in the man, who is as old as her father, doesn't simplify matters at all. But those are not the only motives for the murder, and Johnny certainly isn't the only suspect...
Detective Inspector Musgrave, who was in the audience as the crime happened, dives head-first into the investigations, using his time at the theatre to comment on the plays probably more than he comments on the case. No wonder everyone is happy to see him go once all is cleared, the man who prefers Wagner to Mozart!

Yes, I took another break from my Terry Pratchett quest. I found Funeral of Figaro at a jumble sale and, being a huge fan of Ellis Peters, was delighted to learn that she was British and I could include her in the British Books Challenge.
If you'd ever care to ask me for my favourite author, I'd have to name three: Terry Pratchett for his wit and the wisdom in his words, Oscar Wilde also for his wit and for almost making me cry in public, and Ellis Peters (or Edith Pargeter), whose talent with words and descriptions I deeply admire.
I read Funeral of Figaro during two five-hour train rides, almost unable to put it down to get some rest. If you've never read one of Ellis Peter's novels, but want to give her a try, this might be a good place to start.

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Friday, 22 June 2012

Review: Witches Abroad

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Witches Abroad was first published in 1991 and is the twelfth discworld novel. As you can probably guess from the title, this novel is third in the witches line. It focuses, like Wyrd Sisters before, on Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.

This time, old Desiderata Hollow, who was not only a witch, but also a fairy godmother, dies and leaves her wand to Magrat, asking her to travel to a faraway city called Genua and prevent a story from happening. Knowing the older witches, Desiderata forbids them to go and help her, so that they do exactly that.
Throughout their travels, the three witches get famous - in a way that makes the people they've met a lot more careful around "helpless" old women. Closer to Genua, they also get involved in stories - animals and people acting unnaturally to fulfil their roles in different well-known fairytales. They prevent the stories from happening and instead help the people. Genua, though, has been turned into something resembling a fairytale kingdom by Lilith, Desiderata's sister fairy godmother (they always come in pairs), whose real name is Lily... no, I won't say.
Now the witches have to help Ella, who doesn't want to marry the prince, but the story requires she should. Magrat replaces her at the important ball, where it turns out the prince is actually a frog. Magrat flees in terror, of course leaving a glass shoe behind. Luckily, that shoe doesn't fit her, but Nanny Ogg...

To give you a short overview: We have three witches travelling to foreign parts (with Nanny Ogg speaking "foreign"). We have Magrat as fairy godmother who doesn't know how her wand's supposed to work. We have a voodoo witch, the best gumbo cook in Genua. We have animals turned into humans and humans turned into animals. We have Casanunda the dwarf and Death as guest stars. We have a showdown between headology and mirror magic. And we have stories.
Terry Pratchett has a lot to say on the subject of stories, and quite a bit of it is done through Granny Weatherwax. The witch doesn't like stories. They force you to be something you are not. They expect animals to think, they expect people to be happy all the time. They are dangerous and hard to stop once someone feeds them...
Stories are a parasitical life form, warping lives in the service of only the story itself.

I think I was reading this fast, right? I enjoyed it quite a bit, too. The witches are fun, and I loved the guest appearances.
There's a lot to be learned from Witches Abroad, about magic and stories and how to best help people (and about Granny Weatherwax). Stars don't care for your wishes, and magic doesn't make things better.
The invisible people knew that happiness is not the natural state of mankind, and is never achieved from the outside in.

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Friday, 15 June 2012

Review: Reaper Man

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought Reaper Man at a jumble sale, last year or maybe the year before. This is the third time I read the book, and I couldn't put it down. In cases like this I think that not being able to put down a book isn't necessarily caused by wanting to know how it ends. For me, it's knowing how it ends and wanting to read - no, experience - it all again. Really good books can do this to you.

Reaper Man is Terry Pratchett's eleventh discworld novel, and was first published in 1991; it's also the second in the Death story line. In it, the so-called auditors of reality decide that the death of the discworld has to be replaced, seeing that he has developed a personality. So, when Death finds his own life-timer counting the seconds to his ceasing of existence, he leaves his realm to spend his remaining life time with the living (to great dismay of his servant, Albert). Under the name of one Mr. Bill Door, Death is hired as help on the farm of old Miss Flintworth, just in time for the harvest. Here, he experiences feelings, and sleep, and dreams, for the first time.
While he is away, though, things start going wrong all over the discworld. With no one to take the dying to the netherworlds, life force is building up, finding outlets wherever possible. One person extremely affected by this is the wizard Windle Poons (whom we've met in Moving Pictures as the oldest wizard at Unseen University), whose time has come to go. Upon dying, he ends up in a blackness, with nowhere to go except back to his dead body, which he does. Being a zombie isn't easy, though: you have full control over all bodily functions (by the way, how does the spleen work?) and when you've been looking forward to being reborn as a woman, spending the afterlife in your own dead body is no alternative. The other, alive, wizards at Unseen University are more than willing to help Windle die, but as none of their approaches work, he ends up at the Fresh Start Club, with other un-deads and people generally un-welcome in society.
Finally, while Death confronts the new death (wearing a crown!) to reclaim his job, Windle, the Fresh Starters and the wizards have to save the city of Ankh-Morpork from the consequences of superfluous life force.

Terry Pratchett is good at humour. It's what he is most famous for.
How often do people mention his talent for suspension and drama, though? Reaper Man is one of the discworld novels with this dramatic, touching, heart-breaking turning point that is so important for a good story.
The secret is, he won't leave you with that. A discworld novel always ends with something funny, relaxed, witty. For the balance of things.

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Monday, 11 June 2012

Review: Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Moving Pictures is the first in the so-called "Industrial Revolution" line of discworld novels. It was published in 1990, the same year as Eric, and is a wonderful satire on Hollywood and the film industry.
Main characters in this story are Victor Tugelbend, who devised a very intelligent system to fail exams at Unseen University "good enough" not to be thrown out, and Theda 'Ginger' Withel, who just wants to be herself, as big as possible. They are both drawn away from their day-to-day lives by a wild (and dangerous) idea - the same idea which helped the alchemists invent the 'clicks' (as in movies) and which made Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler a very successful producer (because he knows how to advertise). They all meet at Holy Wood, a hill between dunes and close to the ocean, which hides from them a civilisation long gone...
Victor and Ginger notice that something is wrong about Holy Wood (and it's not because of the talking animals that hang around there). Well, them and the wizards in Ankh-Morpork, who have a device that shows where reality is unravelling, and how much. Only they don't know what it does, and like Victor and Ginger they only figure it out at the last moment - just in time to save the discworld from the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions?

Having finished with the tenth discworld novel now, I must say that what I love and admire most about the whole series is the recurrence of characters. I've met CMOT Dibbler, and of course Detrius, before, and the next novel puts old Windle Poons right in the middle of its plot, after he's been introduced in Moving Pictures. Discworld characters are - in general - a weird and funny bunch, and it's great fun meeting them all again from time to time, as minor characters to another story.

For a conclusion on Moving Pictures I want to mention that I definitely didn't get all the movie references, and probably misunderstood a lot of them (after all, the book is 22 years old). Nevertheless, the novel made me laugh a lot, and the grand final was again grand.
I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the book: "Just when you need to save the world, there's a world for you to save".

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