Thursday, December 01, 2005

Alan Garner; Jasper Fforde; Poetry News

I've had an unintended absence from the Blogosphere this week - largely the result of recalcitrant computers (and not mine for once !). As a result I've two book reviews and a news item to share.

Red Shift - Alan Garner

Alan Garner's novel, Red Shift seems to me, to be the most complicated of his novels. It is a complex combination of three story threads: Macy, a Roman soldier in ancient Britain, has deserted and gone tribal; Thomas, lives in the violent period of the English Civil War; and in contemporary times, teenagers Tom and Jan share a troubled relationship. The three story threads are linked, overtly, by an axehead (which Thomas calls a "thunderstone") and the constellation Orion, but there are many other connections between object, place and vision.

If you've ever read the book and struggled with it, or are considering reading it, you might find Charlie Butler's article 'Alan Garner's Red Shift and the Shifting Ballad of "Tam Lim"' helpful. Originally published in the Summer 2001 issue of the Children's Literature Association Quarterly it is now available on Robert Mapson's unofficial website. Also available on the site is an article on The Red Shift Code.

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The Big Over Easy - Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde's novel The Big Over Easy is the newest in the FFordean canon. It is linked to his Thursday Next novel The Well of Lost Plots. In The Big Over Easy Fforde brings all the apparatus of the tough crime thriller to bear on nursery rhymes. Minor baronet Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III has been found dead (and in pieces) beneath a wall in a less salubrious area of Reading. The perpetrator appears to be his ex-wife, but she has killed herself. Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his colleague Mary Mary are assigned to the case, and soon find themselves knee-deep in money-laundering, bullion smuggling and a major problem with a beanstalk.

This isn't quite the same Ffordean mixture as before, although he has previously favoured a crime angle for his plots. Readers will appreciate the wordplay and witty imagination that Fforde offers here, and most readers will be more than happy to encounter detective Inspector Jack Spratt (and his contrary sidekick kick Mary Mary) again and again. The follow up novel, The Fourth Bear, will be out in July 2006.

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Poetry News

This article on the BBC News website will be of interest to poetry lovers. Historic recordings of poets such as Yeats, Tennyson, Sassoon, Kipling and Betjeman are going to be made available through a new online initiative. The Poetry Archive also aims to ensure current leading English-speaking poets are recorded reading their own work for future generations. The free archive has been created by UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and recording producer Richard Carrington. They say the website will prove invaluable for students and teachers.

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