Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

What I read on my holidays II

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In A Glass Darkly: Sheridan Le Fanu
House of Many Ways: Diana Wynne Jones
City at the End of Time: Greg Bear
History of the Middle Ages: Various (audio)

In A Glass Darkly: Sheridan Le Fanu

This is a volume of four or five Gothic novellas written in the mid-Victorian period, but mostly set during the Regency period. I had read one of these before ('Green Tea'). Fans of vampire stories will want to read the highly influential 'Carmilla' which is a fairly explicit lesbian vampire shocker.

But what struck me most forcibly about these stories is the strong influence I think Le Fanu must have had on Susanna Clarke. I am in no way diminishing her fantastic and unique achievement in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by finding some precursory atmosphere in these gothic tales. To my mind the link is stronger than that to Jane Austen, to whose work JSaMN is frequently compared. In particular 'The Room at Le Dragon Volant' made me think of Jonathan Strange. Even the title sounds like a story by Susanna Clarke (cf 'The ladies of Grace Adieu'). It's a very thrilling mystery story, set in Northern France just after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo; the protagonist is an idiotic but quite endearing English dandy, being outmanoeuvred by the dastardly French. None of the characters are Fairies (of course) but they easily could have been.

House of Many Ways: Diana Wynne Jones

Set in the Universe of Howl's moving castle. A children's story, probably designed for those about 10 years old? Quite nice in its way. Not her most demanding work, but I enjoyed it well enough. Wholesome and cheerful.

History of the Middle Ages: (audio)

This is very long - 20 hours or more (I've almost but not quite listened to it all). I haven't been able to find this precise title/authorship anywhere except as an audio, but I don't think it was specially written for the format. I think it has been compiled from sections from diverse volumes of Mediaeval History. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am fairly ignorant of this period and it was nice to find out a bit more about, you know, the way the Byzantine Empire worked and who Barbarossa was. Although it is a long long audio it obviously had to romp quite quickly through a thousand years of change.

I think it was written in the sixties, and it is a fairly traditional type of history - political, economic, cultural. A modern history would talk more about epidemics, family structures, the impact of new crops etc, I think.

City at the End of Time: Greg Bear

I haven't finished this yet. Will write another post as I have just been asked to go to lunch.
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