Monday, March 29, 2010

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wife

I just finished Kristin Lavransdatter II: The Wife and is still fascinated with Medieval Norway, more so than after book one, which was great. Here Undset takes Kristin to Husby and her husband Erlend's other estates. She knows no one and the estates are in complete disarray because Erlend is such a poor manager. In time she wins the respect and affection of the servants and things fall into place. Yet she does face great hardship from childbirth, which was hazardous at the time, and dealing with her own guilt and complex feelings about her marriage and her past. In addition, there's political turmoil in the land, which Erlend gets caught up in. He opposes the king and gets involved with a scheme to depose him. In time this is discovered, through Erlend's own stupidity.

Undset describes the era and emotions with authenticity and art. Great reading.

Alice in Wonderland

Over the weekend I saw Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. I went excited to actually see a film in a theater and to see fantastic eye candy. There was plenty of eye candy, but I thought it actually overwhelmed the film. The make up, especially the darkened eyes that made some of the characters look like they had TB, was quite distracting. There was a continuity problem with Alice's eyes as they randomly alternated between darkened and not.

The classic tale is framed by Burton's addition of a story of Alice's life. In the first scenes she's about 5 or 6 and nightmares wake her. She asks her father if it's normal to see Madhatters, etc. I just thought what young child is concerned with "normalcy." None I've met and some I know are very imaginative and eccentric. Later we see Alice getting pushed into an engagement with a simpering wimp with good family connections and prestige. I wished the story had something I hadn't seen over 100 times in various forms. There are other ways in which society makes women conform.

The computer graphics were well done, but the narrative was weak. The showdown in the end was particularly lazy. To prove a young woman is strong, must she slay a dragon? Does she have to prove that she's manly? Can't someone be more creative? I hope someone else does another version in a few years that uses this story in a novel way. Give me more than just eye candy.

This book looks good.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Northanger Abbey

This month my book club read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. I have to join the majority of Austen's fans and say that while it's not her best work, as it's her first novel though she rewrote it a few times as her writing got better, it's a fine read. It's like okay chocolate. It's not the best, but why complain about eating chocolate?

One thing I loved was the essays and extras in the back. This book has a lot of conversation in defense of novels. Nowadays it's hard to imagine that reading novels would be seen as a waste of time (some sure, but all, no). In the back of the book, readers are treated to a few of the rantings against novels. Here's an excerpt from Coleridge:
For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensibility; while the whole material and and imagery of the doze is supplied ab extra (from without) by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one man's delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer this species of amusement--(if indeed those can be said to retire a musis, who were never in their company, or relaxation be attributable to those whose bows never bent)--from the genus, reading, to that comprehensive class characterized by the power of reconciling the two contrary yet co-existing propensities of human nature, namely indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy.
What a snob. He continues, but you get the point. Wordsworth also felt novels blunted the mind. They never got to read Proust.