Live and Let Die

The more I read these books, the more I wish that when it comes to the movies, they would stay as close to the original stories as possible, as yet again, we have a masterful story being told here. I would put it slightly below Casino Royale in the excellence stakes, but it is still excellent reading. I'm just annoyed that it's taken me so long to discover these books. I shall make up for lost time!

I don't wish to give much away, but in this tale Bond goes up against a Voodoo God, or at least that's how the enemy frightens the life out of his followers. There's action, girls, sharks and pirate gold in this tale. Now if that's not enough to make you want to read it...

Chaos and Night

The main character of Chaos and Night, Don Celestino, is an anti-hero of sorts. Frequently mentioned by the author in the same breath as the legendary Don Quixote, we are informed that Celestino is a man who has set fire to napkins in a restaurant in order to better express his feelings, a man who pees in wash-baisins if he believes his bill is too high, and a man menaced by a bumble-bee at night. We are also see that he is paranoid, owing to his past as a Republican in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's forces.

This past has led to Celestino to live in exile in Paris for twenty years, along with his daughter. De Montherlant creates a vivid Paris, where every child is named Jean-Claude (or so it seems), and old women throw their teeth at pigeons when they run out of food for them. Celestino however lives in fear of his past catching up with him, much to the chagrin of his daughter. To him, Spain is dead. When yet suddenly he receives word of his sister's death in Madrid, and together with his daughter, he decides to go back to settle the estate, defying, as he sees it, the political forces that will be out to get him there...

Chaos and Night is split into two seperate parts. The first part is set in Paris, where de Montherlant introduces into the increasing crachety Celestino and his manner of thinking. This first part of the book is an effortless read, the descriptions flowing off of the page and into the imagination. Humorous in places, intriguing in others, the more that is read about Don Celestino and his world, the more is desired to know. One of de Montherlant's strengths is seemingly to create an interesting world out of nothing; one or two lines may be all that a certain background character had to occupy in the tale, but they become real due to a strange quirk or description from the author. The Paris of Don Celestino is deep and satisfying, and a joy to explore.

The same cannot be said for the second part of the story. Set in Madrid, it concerns Celestino's fears about returning to Madrid, and the subsequent events that take place there. For some reason, it seemed as if the tale sizzled out a little in this second half. Certainly, the humour was not as apparent as it was in places in Paris, and there was notably less development of the world around Celestino, with the exception of bull-fighting, to which there is a whole chapter devoted. The Madrid section of the book seemed to sap the energy a little in places and reading almost became more of a chore, rather than a pleasure. The pace picks up a little in the last chapter, but overall, the second half of the tale is found to be lacking a little when compared to the first.

The actual book itself is wonderful. Published by NYRB, who were kind enough to send me an advance copy, the translation is excellent and has the odd helpful note to explain something obscure, but nothing like the hundreds of points that can obliterate a translated classic. The type is of a good size, not too tiny as you occasionally find, and not obscenely large either; it is easy on the eyes. The paper too is of good quality - not for this novel the pages that begin to dry up your fingers after an hour or two of reading.

Given the split between the two parts to the book, should the reader bother to take the plunge? The answer is yes. For want of a couple of plodding chapters, the second part of the book does develop the character of Celestino further, and there is the mystery to be solved of whether his paranoias of returning to Spain are unfounded or not. De Montherlant created an intriguing character in Celestino, and an imaginative world indicating his genius as an author. It is well worth submersing oneself into this world and enjoying what it has to offer, and so Chaos and Night is to be recommended.

Aesop's Fables

If this book was a holy book, it would be interesting to see what types of extremism would result. Nevertheless, given the teachings that are on offer in Aesop's Fables, it probably should be just as revered as the Bible or the Koran. For here we find advice on all manners of things: how to live your life, human nature, business, war.

When I am older and retired and have the time, perhaps I will one day sit down again with this book and jot down my personal interpretations of the fables to give an indication of my philosophies. But for now I will content myself by being awed by just how many of our sayings today have their root with Aesop. Sayings such as:
  • Notoriety is often mistaken for fame
  • Honesty is the best policy
  • Necessity is the mother of invention
  • Don't count your chickens before they're hatched
  • You cannot believe a liar even when he tells the truth
  • Do not attempt too much at once
  • Quality, not quantity
  • Pride comes before a fall
Other sayings that I thought rather poignant were:
  • Look and see which way the wind blows before you commit yourself
  • Betray a friend and you'll often find you have ruined yourself
  • Persuasion is better than force
  • Better poverty without a care than wealth with its many obligations
  • Misfortune tests the sincerity of friendship
  • Do not waste your pity on a scamp
  • Evil tendencies are early shown
  • Give assistance, not advice, in a crisis
  • They complain most who suffer least
  • A hypocrite deceives no one but himself
  • All men are more concerned to recover what they lose than to acquire what they lack
Occasionally, there was a tale that completely baffled me, like the one recounted below.

The Moon and her mother
The moon once begged her mother to make her a gown. "How can I?" replied she. "There's no fitting your figure. At one time you're a new moon, and at another you're a full moon; and between whiles you're neither one nor the other."

I suppose this could mean don't ask for the impossible.

Overall, I found that some of the themes in the fables were repeated, but this is a wise book to read and an even wiser one to follow.

The Knight of Maison-Rouge

The Knight of Maison-Rouge follows the tried and tested formula of the majority of Dumas's work. A great romance, revenge, conspiracies and heroic deaths all litter the landscape. In this book, the two heroes reminded me of those from La Reine Margot. I'll leave out the reasons why, in case I give anything away. The Knight... is typical Dumas, but I would not go so far as to say that it is Dumas at his best. Even so, he remains irresistibly readable, creating a slick world which the reader is easily sucked into, caring about the fates of the heroes with a few twists along the way.

A lot of the time in the works of Dumas, women play a strong part in the fortunes of the main characters. Perhaps this evident when Lorin quotes Francis I of France when he says:

"Woman is so apt to change
Whoever trusts her is completely deranged."

My major complaint is to do with the ending; I think that perhaps the wrong person was revenged upon, or perhaps more revenge should have been meted out. But, if heroic romantic adventure novels are your thing, or like me, you hunger for any new Dumas tale to dig your teeth into, then by all means, give this a try. If you are not sure whether to take the plunge, here is one of my favourite exchanges in the tale:

"He's threatening me!" cried Simon. "Guards! Guards!"
"I am the guard," said Lorin. "So I wouldn't call me if I were you, because if I come any closer to you, I'll exterminate you!"


Candide by Voltaire is an amusing satire regarding pretty much anything that had annoyed Voltaire up to the point of his writing. Reading through it, it is easy to see why it is still in print today. It reads well and pokes fun at many different areas of life that are either still relevant today or are notable from history. It is also full of interesting lessons (or at least the notes in the Barnes & Noble Classics edition was), such as the origin of the word bugger - derived from Bulgarian owing to the association of Bulgaria with the medieval sect the Bogomils, who were accused of sodomy - and that Catholics used to regard marriage with a godparent as incest and burn people at the stake accordingly. A good deal of material in Candide does actually concern the church, and as it is an easy topic that requires no additional explanation (as opposed to some of the other satirical targets) and the fact that I am feeling lazy, I will give two examples of the wit of Voltaire as reasons to read this book:

  • It having been decided by the University of Coimbra that burning a few people alive by a slow fire, and with great ceremoney, is an infallible secret for preventing earthquakes.
  • "What!" says Cacambo, "you have no monks among you to dispute, to govern, to intrigue, and to burn people who are not of the same opinion as themselves?"

Philosophy In The Boudoir

Philosophy in the Boudoir is a curious book. At first it starts off interesting, indeed it had me thinking to recommend it. But after a while, the same scenes over and over again begin to be tired out (unless you are into that sort of thing I suppose), and then just as you reach breaking point, an interception! Except that this is a 40 page solemn declaration about how Frenchman can be better Republicans, not exactly the interruption that I was wanting. Normal service is then resumed, with a particularly horrifying ending.

Reading this made it easy to see how the Marquis de Sade got his reputation, as previous works of his that I have read such as Incest did not really strike me as worthy of this. I think it's safe to say that now I get it. But it is not all bad. There may possibly be the earliest mention of Lucky Pierre in print. There are further Biblical proofs offered that incest is a celestially ordained function, using the argument 'Could the families of Adam and Noah have survived in any other way?'. And finally, there is a quite humourous interpretation of Christainity, portions of which I shall repeat below.

I can't quite remember what brought me to want to read this book. It may have been enjoying Incest and wanting to read more. Now I am not sure if I will read another of his work, save Betrayal. The subject matter is fairly obscene, and I think a lot of people would probably find it offensive one way or another. Still, if you are looking to broaden your horizons...

"The imbecile guarantees that it was to save us all that, albeit God, he became flesh in the bosom of a human child; and the dazzling miracles that he works will soon convince the universe! At a feast of drunkards, the scalawag is indeed said to change water into wine; in a desert, he feeds a couple of ne'er-do-wells with hidden provisions that his followers have prepared; one of his comrades pretends to die, and our imposter resuscitates him; he climbs a mountain and, in front of only two or three friends, he carries out a hocus pocus that the worst trickster would be ashamed of today."

"Bizarre rites were established under the name of "sacraments", and the most unworthy and most abominable of all is the way a crime-ridden priest enjoys the virtue of several magic words that enable him to make God arrive in a piece of bread."

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is even better than the film. High praise indeed but I preferred the way the story unfolded in print as one or two of the twists in the film did not take place that for me made a better tale... that's not to say that the casting of the film was not great, as the characters really do seem to fit with their portrayal on screen. The story itself is enthralling, and is read with a hushed urgency as you want to see what happens next. It's also made me want to play Baccarat! More than anything, it's annoyed me that I did not read these books earlier in life. After all, this where 007 started.

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace shares a name with a Bond film, but apart from the portrayal of Bond, that is where the similarities end with this novel. Not that that is a bad thing, as this collection of short stories featuring 007 are an excellent read. My favourite was Risico, but none of the tales were dull or boring. Ian Fleming wrote in a captivating way that makes picturing what you read in your imagination an easy task. Because of this, I am now aiming to read all of the Bond books over the next couple of months - high (and worthy) praise indeed.

In short, it's James Bond, it's very good and you should read it.

A History Of The English-Speaking Peoples: The Birth Of Britain

The Birth of Britain is the first part in Winston Churchill's history of the English-speaking peoples of the world. This first volume deals with the Island pre-Roman times to the fall of Richard III, and includes an awful lot of information. Churchill choses to pick one or two key points from the reign of each monarch, those events that signify for better or worse the evolution of England (and ultimately Britain). This method makes for an interesting read as the narrative makes it so that the reader is not bogged down in minor tribulations. This is no ordinary history book either. Churchill's famed command of the English language makes itself apparent here, with the language often more colourful than the usual. Reading Churchill railing against certain actions as "diabolical" or "very wicked" for instance helps create a vivid picture in the mind. Churchill also is a master of using anecdotes gleamed from the past that help to add to the picture of the characters that we meet. I shall include some examples of my favourites below.

Given the topic, this is not a book that you can sit down and plough through in one setting (unlike a good novel for instance), but Churchill's work is well-researched and written, and a brilliant introduction for anyone looking for an overview of the history of Britain.

Now for those anecdotes:
  • King Offa, of the 8th Century, established a mint at Canterbury. One of the coins issued "tells its own quaint tale. It is a gold dinar, nicely copied from an Arabic die, and is stamped with the superscription Rex Offa. The Canterbury mint evidently regarded the Arabic as mere ornamentation, and all men would have been shocked had they known that it declared 'There is no God but one, and Mahomet is his prophet.'"
  • Halfdene, the Viking leader, departed. The tortured, plundered Church requited his atrocities by declaring that God punished him in the long run by madness and a smell which made his presence unendurable to his fellows.
  • When Philip of France learned that the German Emperor was to release Richard the Lionheart, he sent a message to John, Richard's brother: 'Have a care - the Devil is unloosed.'
  • A strong, capable King (Edward I)... was succeeded by a perverted weakling (Edward II).
  • Louis XI must have rubbed his hands in the same glee as when he visited his former Minister, Cardinal Jean Balue, whom he kept imprisoned in an iron cage.
  • In 1460, Warwick the King-Maker had branded Queen Margeret's son as a bastard or changeling.

Copyright © 2008 - Gavin's Book Log - is proudly powered by Blogger
Blogger Template