Category Archives: Books

Thoughts on the death of Terry Pratchett

For those of you who visit this blog regularly it won’t come as a surprise that I feel a deep sense of loss at the passing of the great man that was Sir Terry Pratchett. I didn’t know him personally of course, but there are many out there feeling sorrow who likewise never were lucky enough to meet him, and were instead simply touched by his words, his stories, and his characters. I have been absent from this blog for a little while, and his passing has brought me back. I need to talk about Terry Pratchett.

Credit: The Telegraph

He was, and remains, my favourite author. I looked forward to every new Discworld book that was released, excited for the clever satire, the gentle puns, the sarcastic asides. Mr Pratchett created some of my favourite fictional characters, and it hurts that I will never read another one of his original tales.

Like many people, my favourite strain of Pratchett’s world were the stories that followed the Nightwatch of Ankh Morpork, especially when there were scenes that featured Commander Vines and Patrician Vetinari (extra points for when Carrot and his seeming inability to lie were involved). Terry Pratchett created worlds seemingly effortlessly, with political structures and ways of life portrayed in such a casual way. His casual dismissal of democracy, viewed in Ankh-Morpork as no way to run a civilised society, was in fact one of my favourite things about his fictional world.

Completely removed from Discworld, Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett wrote with Neil Gaiman, is in fact my favourite book (tied with the much darker Catch-22), again because of the excellent characters and easy wit. Crowley and Aziraphale are maybe two of my favourite literary creations of all time.

And of course no one can mention Terry Pratchett and not mention how he seemingly re-created Death (or should that be DEATH?) – he managed to make the spectre of doom awkward, likeable and even relatable, as when Death tries to work on his customer service skills or takes time off from his job of collecting the deceased.

His passing is greatly saddening for me. I will miss his work, his campaigning and what he brought to the genre of fantasy. Let the legacy of this great author live on.

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Little Women

Bah! No internet again (or at least, very, very, very bad internet) has it’s pros and cons. Con: I can’t watch any films or TV (Dear White People, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, wait for me) and obviously I have been having trouble blogging. But pros: I have been doing so much reading. I am finally making my way through Harry Potter in French, which I had been distracted from because it’s difficult and, you know, Youtube. I’ve read Band of Brothers and am trying to decide between the book and the television series as to which is better. And, longest of all, I read Little Women. (Spoilers ahead.)

What struck me most about this book was how dated it was. Usually with classics, despite being set in an older time, they’re different for their time – think of Jane Eyre‘s modern look at women, or the way Jane Austen and Charles Dickens mock or challenge society in their works. This is not Little Women. It’s moral, religious, and while women can be independent, there are still very much set gender roles. This was surprising for me, and despite the fact the book was enjoyable I did find these things distract me from the story: I would find myself, instead of being swept along with the plot, stopping to think about how out-dated this or that idea was.

Some things were modern, Jo being the most obvious example. The way she turned down Laurie and just generally lived – wanting to travel, writing her books and compromising herself in order to earn money – were novel. When she changed to writing only what she wanted to, this was a decision that made sense to me, but other such changes didn’t. This was actually true for most of the characters’ development – all of the women seemed to become ‘perfect’ almost instantaneously, especially Jo and Amy. At the beginning of the book they all had their flaws; by the end they all had none. It particularly irritated me that Jo gave up her writing dreams as soon as she got married – it wasn’t a case of her deciding to settle, she just no longer cared, just like that. It made no sense to me.

I did like the different writing styles Louisa May Alcott used – letters, newsletters, plays, poems – as well as prose. And please don’t misunderstand me; I did really enjoy the book! The way it dealt with death was refreshing and I liked a lot of the religious themes and conversations as it isn’t often you read books where the characters are that open with their religion. But it isn’t my favourite classic, and there were problems with it, the character development being a particular issue for me. I don’t think I’ll revisit it for a while, but maybe it improves upon second viewing. And if the internet keeps up the way it is at the moment, I might have to resort to a reread sooner than I previously thought!

Good Omens: The Radio Version

For anyone who’s interested, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens has just been aired on BBC Radio Four, and is available to listen to worldwide. Yes, that’s right. Worldwide. That means little old me in France didn’t have to suffer the crushing disappointment of having my favourite book be turned into a radio series and not be able to listen to it because I was in France; no, instead geography did not stand in my way and I was able to listen to every episode. It was glorious.

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For anyone who has been following my blog since June, you may have realised I love Terry Pratchett, probably because I stated, more than once, that I love Terry Pratchett. I think he’s great, and, yes, Good Omens is my favourite novel (tied with the equally brilliant but quite different Catch-22). Therefore I was worried this radio series would be a disaster – surely it wouldn’t live up to the greatness of the book! Well, it didn’t, but it tried really hard and was very entertaining.

I was tied between think that Peter Serafinowicz and Mark Heap were perfect for Crowley and Aziraphale, and then at some points thinking they were not quite right. I know the book so well so maybe some of the line readings weren’t as I had pictured them in my head. However their chemistry as the frenemy demon and angel was insanely good.  Anathema and Newton were great, as were Shadwell and Madame Tracy. All their scenes I just loved.

Less convincing, for me at least were the Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse and the Them (Adam, Pepper, Wensleydale and Brian). In the novel they are such big characters I was underwhelmed, I think. But that’s the thing about adaptations, especially ones that haven’t been adapted for such a long time since they were released, that I have read over and over and over again until I know it off by heart, and whose characters I had such vivid images of, at least some aspects were always going to disappoint. It was the same with the Harry Potter series when they were turned into films – they would just never live up to the books (especially when the first few missed out bits that seemed insignificant but would prove to mean a lot more later on, but I digress).

As it was with the characters, so it was with the scenes. Some scenes were just spot on, like the opening scene with Crowley and Aziraphale at the gates of Eden, and when they fed the ducks (and again, this is what made these two characters work despite some different line readings – Serafinowicz and Heap had such chemistry). Once more, it was the Horsepersons’ scenes that underwhelmed, maybe because they varied from the book and I wanted everything to be the same, even though I knew it couldn’t be. The biggest disappointment for me though was the scene where Agnes was burnt – nothing about it worked for me, and I can’t quite place my finger on why. Again, it may simply be line readings, though I think the pacing was off too.

Despite my  rather wishy-washy attitude to the whole series, I enjoyed each episode and looked forward to the next one being released the next day. Honestly, it was never going to be able to live up to the book that I hold so dear, but I liked it anyway. If anyone wants to hear it, it will be on BBC iPlayer (available worldwide!) for the next 3 weeks.

The Golden Notebook

(SPOILERS ahead.)

The Golden Notebook, perhaps Doris Lessing’s most famous work, is deep. Heavy-going is to put it lightly. It really takes it out of you.

It’s also not at all what I was expecting. I came into The Golden Notebook pretty much unaware of anything about it, including the plot. I bought it because I was about to start a three day long train journey halfway across America and it was on offer on Kobo (£1.99 – bargain!). Light travel reading it is not, not only with the subject matter, but also with the length, and also with the structure.

Anna, an author of a successful book which has provided for her since its release (and our protagonist), has 4 separate notebooks, each one used for a different purpose – a red one to note her dealings with the communist party, a yellow one to write potential new stories, a black one to remember and document her time in Rhodesia and a blue one in which is recorded her thoughts, feelings and dreams. These notebooks, along with a section called Free Women, make up the beginning of the book, and as such give it an unusual structure. You spend hours reading about Rhodesia, and suddenly your in the middle of a fictional story written by Anna, a warped version of her real ruined and ended relationship. It really takes some getting used to, but the disjointedness is intended – Anna can’t put her whole life together successfully, and that is demonstrated just through the structure.

More than anything else, this is where Doris Lessing shines. She could tell us the whole story in the third person, or even have Anna just writing one single diary, but through throwing the plot around, as well as the style in which Anna writes, it creates far more discomfort and confusion than could be created through mere text alone.

Anna’s journey is uncomfortable. It’s amazing how some elements of her life seem like universal truths to women, both of that time, and of now, and how some of them are very exclusive to Anna. She is very much her own person, but she is also so relatable that when she starts to lose her focus on reality it can be very discomforting to read. There were times where I would feel like I was going mad because she was, a very strange sensation indeed. I’m not sure if that would be the same if I were a man reading this book – more than any book I have read The Golden Notebook seems to be very feminine, even more so than Jane Eyre; there are events, or even feelings, that she has that just seem to sum up certain aspects of being a women (though she also has some that are very alien to me). Even just her talking with her best friend Molly is so accurate of how women talk with each other – even if I have never spoken on the topics about which she speaks to Molly with my own friends, I can appreciate how they talk, how comfortable they are with each other, and the manner with which they speak.

I still have not finished it as I’m not sure if I will enjoy where Anna’s journey ends. It is a difficult book to read, and much like The Handmaid’s Tale it is disturbing, essential reading – especially for women – and has affected me quite strongly, to a degree that I was not really expecting. I would highly recommend it.

What I’m watching, reading and have viewed: Part 2

What I’m watching: The Fall

The show that follows a serial killer, and the police investigation that’s trying to catch him.

What’s it about? Gillian Anderson is a MET Detective Superintendent sent to Belfast having been assigned to review the investigation into a single high-profile murder, but who ends up heading the hunt for serial killing Jamie Dornan. You see both her investigation, his daily life, but also the things that do happen in a murder case that you don’t usually see on a TV show – the finding of the body, the heartbreaking call to 999, the simple logistics of attending a crime scene (“stepping plates where applicable”).

Why watch it? It is the latter point – the things you don’t usually see – that have drawn me into the The Fall. In most police procedurals, even those about people whose job it is to collect evidence from a crime scene, there isn’t much evidence of the procedure actually happening, it’s all about the mystery. I do like the pragmatic air this show has in that sense. On the other hand, The Fall is insanely creepy – Jamie Dornan has given me nightmares. Don’t watch if you’re going to be sleeping home alone.

What I’m reading: Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d’Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

It’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban … but in French.

What’s it about? If you actually need to ask what Harry Potter is about, I may have to ask where you have been living for the last decade and a half. Even living under a rock wouldn’t excuse you from not knowing about the phenomenon that is J.K. Rowling’s series about the boy wizard. The Prisoner of Azkaban is the third in the series though, really, you should know that already.

Why read it? The PoA is my favourite of the Harry Potter series – I adore this book. Reading it French then was a no brainer for me, as it would help me to know what is actually happening while trying to negotiate French idioms. (Who knew that to ‘pick’ a lock translates into ‘crocheting’ in French? Not me.) It’s also fun to see how the names and places that are so recognisable in English are changed in French – Snape is now Rouge, Hogwarts is Poudlard, and – my favourite – Hufflepuff transforms to Poufsouffle. A lot of fun.

What I’ve viewed: Wadjda

Watch a young girl negotiate the streets, her school and her home in Riyadh.

What’s it about? The first feature length film to come out of Saudi Arabia, this story follows Wadjda who desperately wants a bicycle so she can race her friend Abdullah, and is told by almost everyone that girls don’t ride bikes. She decides to enter the Quran reading competition in order to win the money that will pay for the beloved green bicycle she has set her eye on.

Why see it? This is such a heart warming and sweet film. All the actors are great, even – especially – the kids, and the story is so engrossing. The film is much more than just a sweet story, though, especially on repeat viewings. For example, in a country that seems to be so restrictive for women there are surprisingly few men in the story – three in fact, and and only one is a main character. It is worth seeing the film to watch how women are complicit in restricting themselves: for example, everyone tells Wadjda that women don’t ride bikes, but the shop sells girls bicycles, and Wadjda is desperately worried her chosen green one will sell. This is one example of a plot that is much deeper when you look past the simple story, and forget some of the pre-conceived ‘facts’ of Saudi Arabia.

Also, Abdullah is adorable. Watch just for the scenes between him and Wadjda.

Where I’m travelling: France. In less than two weeks I’ll be working in the Alps -I’m so excited/nervous!

Have you seen any of these? Does The Fall become even creepier? (I have trouble believing that’s possible!) Let me know.

Reading en Français

Yesterday was my birthday,  and I was given one of the best gifts I have ever received. You know those gifts where it’s obvious that the person both really knows you and has thought about the present they’re giving you – this was one of those.

It was my favourite book Good Omens – in French.

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I didn’t even know they had translated Good Omens!

I love French. I used to be able to speak it quite well but have become rusty, and in about a 5 weeks I’m going to live in France for six months, hoping to get it back up to scratch. In the meantime I’ve been using Duolingo like a fiend to try and remember all the vocab that I have lost.

Reading a book in French will help to prepare me I hope. Unfortunately, Good Omens may be too tricky a translation for me to start off with. Luckily though, my sister bought me the third Harry Potter book (my favourite one!) as well. Best get reading!

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Are these good translations? Do you even like reading translations or do you prefer original works in whatever language you enjoy reading? Let me know.

‘On the Road’, on the road

I’m unsure as to whether I can really call reading On the Road while stationed and working in one place ‘on the road’, but I was away from home so I’m going to claim that it counts.

It was funny; while I was reading it, I didn’t think On the Road had had any effect on me other than providing some enjoyment and making me feel frustrated with Sal (just get away from Dean, for God’s sake Paradise!) But following the end of camp I spent two weeks on a road trip and, bizarrely, I started wanting to experience the thrills Sal Paradise had travelling with Dean Moriarty. I wanted to experience that kind of wild thrill, that electric excitement, that’s possible only when your with someone who’s on another plane of energy and is willing to live life freely, be damned the consequences.

Feeling so American #usbling #ontheroad #usliterature #kerouac

A post shared by Frances (@los_carrasco) on

Dean is a character I loved to hate. In the book he came off as so insincere, for me at least. I didn’t believe in how he could feel life the way he did, feeding off the jazz and the excitement of being selfish; it was a show, a cry for attention. Any time Sal got back together with him I groaned for this naive individual who couldn’t see that his idol was so selfish and unthinking and shallow. However, some time after reading the book – and I’m talking months after – Dean starts to seem like someone you would maybe follow, even if only for a day or two. It could be almost automatic. Because even if his love for life is fake it must be amazing to be around someone who just let’s go and doesn’t care, when usually there is so much to do and think about.

It is a book that lures you out of your everyday life, making you want to travel crazily just as they did. You want to rent a car and do their crazy route across America. When I was doing my two week road trip I felt slightly disgusted and disappointed in myself that I couldn’t drive for 24-hours straight like Dean could.

Maybe that’s the true latch of On the Road. Despite knowing that Dean’s crazy and will leave you dying at the side of the road (or in Mexico) if the circumstances suited, we all want to be a bit crazier, a little more selfish. We want to be able to throw off everything and do stupid stuff just like Dean, in spite of the fact that being an accomplice – Sal’s role – can be so very dangerous.

(Sidenote: A book that I really read while actually on the road was All the President’s Men, which some may know from the screen adaptation starring Robert Redford and Dennis Hoffman. It’s about two journalists journey uncovering the Watergate scandal and coverup and it really is a very good read and highly recommended. I also reread Catch-22. Damn. That book is even better than I remember it.)