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Brief reviews this month, due to November. Click the links to see what other people thought, and more details about performances etc.

07-OCT-16: Don Giovanni, English National Opera
Utterly splendid production, which managed to introduce a twist! Several twists, actually, including Donna Anna being complicit in her own seduction: I'm not sure this entirely makes sense. Beautifully staged, too: a highlight was Masetto, perfectly silhouetted by stark light, tipping over one of the two figures on his wedding cake. Maybe a new translation of the libretto? I'd surely have remembered 'let my peasant eat my pheasant' ...

15-OCT-16: The Libertine, Theatre Royal
I know this play quite well, having seen it performed live at least once (maybe this performance) as well as owning the DVD of the film starring Johnny Depp. There were a couple of innovations (or possibly things I misremembered) in the Theatre Royal version: I was especially taken by the theatre scene ('play within a play', ha) near the beginning, where it became obvious why Restoration actors relied so much on exaggerated gestures and poses: their audiences made such a racket, there was little chance of anyone hearing the actors declaiming their lines.
Sadly, Dominic Cooper didn't really work as Rochester, at least not for me. He lacked not only the charisma, but the requisite air of danger: and it never felt as though he actually enjoyed the company of his friends, or felt like one of a group. In this production, Billy Downs wasn't central enough, so Rochester's friendship with and abandonment of him lacked impact.
The Theatre Royal is a beautiful building, and this play still makes me laugh: but it could have been better.

21-OCT-16: Bach - Mass in B Minor, Milton Court
'Like being wrapped in a velvet devore shawl," I wrote, '(and slowly smothered?)' The slower movements were beautiful, if ... relaxing: but oh, baroque brass and kettle-drums! The Gloria and the Sanctus Spiritus both sparked exclamation marks in my notebook. The sheer attack on the Resurrexit was like electricity going through the room. And the gradual slowing at the end of the final movement worked very well.
Milton Hall, which is part of the Guildhall School for Music and Drama, is smaller than the Barbican's main concert hall and has great acoustics: I like it, and hope to see more concerts there.

22-OCT-16: Welcome to Night Vale, London Palladium
Not nearly as many women in the audience as the last show I attended. And it didn't seem, from my sparse notes, to appeal to me as much either. Some interesting lines, but the show's accomplishment was the slow build of Cecil's ghost story. Excellent opening act Eliza Rickman: I loved her cover of Let's Dance and recognised the chords before she started to sing.

25-OCT-16: Doctor Strange, Odeon Leicester Square
Not very far up my ranked list of MCU films: it's visually spectacular, but the character arcs don't make much sense, and Cumberbatch is an oddly uninteresting Strange. (Or perhaps Strange is uninteresting? Compare and contrast to the first Iron Man film for how to introduce a new, engaging character.) Some nice lines: 'What's this?' asks Strange in a Tibetan hideaway. 'My mantra?' 'The wi-fi password.' I liked Stan Lee's cameo, reading The Doors of Perception. Tilda Swinton: awesome as ever. The best bit was the first credits scene. Also, is that a new Marvel title sequence? Does not want.
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2016/54: We Have Always Lived in the Castle -- Shirley Jackson
... all during those days when the change was coming Jonas stayed restless. From a deep sleep he would start suddenly, lifting his head as though listening, and then, on his feet and moving in one quick ripple, he ran up the stairs and across the beds and around through the doors in and out and then down the stairs and across the hall and over the chair in the dining room and around the table and through the kitchen and out into the garden where he would slow, sauntering, and then pause to lick a paw and flick an ear and take a look at the day.[loc. 679]


Mary Katherine Blackwood -- Merricat -- is eighteen. She lives with her cat Jonas and her elder sister Constance in a grand old house. All the rest of her family are dead, except for enfeebled Uncle Julian, confined to his wheelchair and obsessed with the events of the night when the rest of the family died. To Merricat falls the task of going to the village to buy food: the villagers hate her, and it's mutual. Merricat has also assumed responsibility for protecting the house: her methodology includes burying teeth and jewellery, nailing a book to a tree, establishing magic words, et cetera.

But one day her efforts fail, and Cousin Charles shows up. He has their best interests at heart, but he and Merricat take a more or less instant dislike to one another. Cousin Charles is an agent of change, and Merricat does not want anything to change: so Cousin Charles will have to go.

I have never really understood why We Have Always Lived in the Castle is described as a horror novel. There's certainly that sense of claustrophobia, of being trapped, that I associate with the genre. It is true, too, that an act of mass murder looms large in the background of the novel: but that is not the focus of the story. Nor is magic: Merricat, for all her rituals and observances, is probably not really a witch (though I could make a case for a degree of solipsism). She is not a reliable narrator, either: the slow unfolding of this novel is especially intriguing because of the things that Merricat never thinks to tell her audience.

This was a reread after many years: I was (as usual) surprised by what I remembered -- Jonas' stories, the spider in the sugar bowl, the house on the moon -- and what I'd forgotten. I think when I first read this novel, I felt as though I might have a certain amount in common with Merricat. Those familiar with the novel will be pleased to hear that I no longer feel that way.
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2016/53: Kingfisher -- Patricia A. McKillip
Rituals with letters, rituals with cauldrons, a bloody gaff, a missing knife, everyone in a time warp, looking back at the past, wishing for the good old days, hinting of portents, speaking in riddles, knowing things but never saying, never explaining — [loc. 760]


Pierce Oliver is sorting crabs on the pier, for his mother's restaurant Haricot. Along come three knights in a black limo. Their shadows reveal their ancestry, though they seem surprised that he can see those shadows. They're somewhat bemused, too, about where it is they've ended up. Cape Mistbegotten, says Pierce. If it's not on the map it's because my mother hid it.
not specifically spoilery )
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2016/52: The Trespasser -- Tana French
I was doing exactly the same thing as Aislinn: getting lost so deep inside the story in my head, I couldn’t see past its walls to the outside world. I feel those walls shift and start to waver, with a rumble that shakes my bones from the inside out. I feel my face naked to the ice-flavoured air that pours through the cracks and keeps coming. A great shiver is building in my back. [loc. 7950]

slightly spoilery maybe )
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2016/51: A Darker Shade of Magic -- V.E Schwab
Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible. The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. [loc. 66]


There are several Londons, in different worlds: the one we might think of as 'ours' is Grey London. Kell, an Antari blood-magician raised as a prince's foster-brother in Red London, is one of the few who has travelled to Grey London (where mad King George III reigns) and White London (the latter a starving post-apocalyptic wasteland) and knows the stories of Black London, destroyed by the magic it embraced. not significantly spoilery )
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2016/50: The Obelisk Gate -- N. K. Jemisin
It shouldn’t work at all, that willpower and concentration and perception should shift mountains. Nothing else in the world works this way. People cannot stop avalanches by dancing well, or make storms happen by refining their hearing. And on some level, you’ve always known that this was there, making your will manifest. This … whatever it is. [loc. 1543]


The Obelisk Gate starts where The Fifth Season stopped: Jemisin doesn't provide a recap, so it is worth reminding oneself of what happened in that novel. non-spoilery review )
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A quiet month: two lectures, one gallery opening. Read more... )
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2016/49: The Essex Serpent -- Sarah Perry

'It’s a sort of blindness, or a choice to be mad – to turn your back on everything new and wonderful – not to see that there’s no fewer miracles in the microscope than in the gospels!’
‘You think – you really think – that it is one or the other: your faith or your reason?’
‘Not only my reason – there’s not enough of that to set against my soul! – but my liberty.' [loc. 1604]

no spoilers! )
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2016/48: The Many Selves of Katherine North -- Emma Geen

The shiver of my cheeks is slowly becoming more pronounced. When I turn my head from side to side, it’s as if the water varies in excitement. And there – my whiskers fizzle, hitting the zenith of a gradient but what that means, I don’t know. Understanding a new sense can take hours, sometimes days; in the end all you can do is get on with the work. I push along the line of agitation. About me, water dances in a lime glow; the disturbed silt a cascade of stars. [loc. 1948]
unspoilery for majority of plot )
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2016/47: It -- Stephen King
Home is the place where when you go there, you have to finally face the thing in the dark. [loc. 1605]
not very spoilery, maybe some structural spoilers )
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2016/46: The Watchmaker of Filigree Street -- Natasha Pulley
‘Well, I know that light is fascinating and full of scientific mystery, but mostly I use it for not walking into objects, and mostly I use ether for not walking into events. It’s there, it’s useful, it’s … not something I can study for more than ten minutes at once without falling asleep. I like mechanics. I’m not the right person to ask for mathematics.’ [loc. 4163]
not significantly spoilery review )
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First came Nine Worlds: love the new venue (Hammersmith Novotel) and felt much less frazzled than in previous years. My Historical Headcanon (concerning Christopher Marlowe) seemed well-received and I was on a couple of interesting panels about historical fiction, fanfiction, writing, etc.

Then to Edinburgh to skew my monthly averages for various types of Culture. I like the shorter-than-usual performances (they averaged an hour): leaves plenty of time for climbing the hills of which Edinburgh is composed, and pausing for refreshment at each summit.
theatre, gigs, circus, literary stuff, opera, comedy )
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The Foxhole Court
The Raven King
The King's Men
Neil realized he was happy. It was such an unexpected and unfamiliar feeling he lost track of the conversation for a minute. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this included or safe. It was nice but dangerous. Someone with a past like his, whose very survival depended on secrecy and lies, couldn't afford to let his guard down. [The Raven King, loc. 1050]

some spoilers but not for plot events )
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Queens of Syria, Young Vic, 8th July
Read more... )

Derek Moss, Open Studios -- Cambridge, 17th July
Artwork made from bog oak, driftwood, bronze, teeth, bone ... all displayed in a hot sunny garden with the sound of bees and the scent of roses. Beautiful work, though some of the descriptions were hard to unravel.
website here

Ghostbusters, Greenwich Picturehouse, 23rd July
Read more... )
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2016/42: The Silence of the Sea -- Yrsa Sigurdardottir 18JUL16
 
Ægir had become fired up by the idea; this might be their only chance to sail the ocean in a luxury yacht, and the voyage would also solve a specific problem that had been troubling him. [loc. 373]


A repossessed luxury yacht crashes into the harbour wall at Reykjavik. It turns out that there's nobody on board at all. So what has happened to the crew of three, and to the family of four -- banker Ægir, his wife Lára, and their twin four-year-old daughters Arna and Bylgja -- who have sailed from Lisbon to Iceland? Thora Gudmundsdottir, engaged by Ægir's parents, is determined to find out: not just because it's an intriguing case, but because she wants to secure the future of the third daughter, Sigga Dögg.

It's a classic locked-room mystery and Sigurdardottir unravels it in two parallel strands: the events on board the yacht, and the investigations of Thora and her team in Iceland. Is the yacht cursed, as some believe? Is there some supernatural force at work? Why did nobody radio for help? And where are the missing persons?

The mystery unravels slowly and in a generally satisfactory way (though I have to say I found Ægir, in particular, annoyingly stupid). I was less interested in Thora and her domestic, social and professional relationships: perhaps if I'd read other novels in the series I'd be keener to see how these evolved. 
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2016/41: Arcadia -- Iain Pears
The English were a different matter. As their lives were so dreary and constrained, the fanciful exuberance of the human spirit was forced to take refuge in the imagination, which was the only place it could exist without attracting disapproval. [loc. 2553]

slightly spoilery )
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2016/40: Carry On -- Rainbow Rowell

"I thought it was a myth."
"One would think, after seven years, you'd stop saying that out loud."
"Well, how am I supposed to know? There isn't a book, is there? All the Magickal Things that Are Actually True and All the Ones that Are Bollocks, Just Like You Thought."
"You're the only magician who wasn't raised with magic. You're the only one who would read a book like that." [loc. 834]
not significantly spoilery )
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2016/39: The Good, The Bad and The Furry: Life with the World's Most Melancholy Cat and Other Whiskery Friends -- Tom Cox
Nobody ever asked the question ‘Who Let the Cats Out?’ in a pop song because the answer is obvious: it was the same person who let them in again two minutes later, and out again two minutes after that. Doors are a classic example of that ‘I hate this – it’s fucking great!’ mantra that seems to be part of the permanent internal monologue of all cats. [loc. 1350]


Occasionally very moving, frequently very funny, and capable of bestowing a warming sense of schadenfreude on any reader who lives in a household where cats do not outnumber humans. Also, several instances of 'thank god it's not just me / my cat'.

What can one say about a book of cat observations, interspersed with anecdotes about the author's (delightful) parents? Reminds me of the best fan writing. This is a compliment.
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2016/38: The Outcast Dead -- Elly Griffiths
... bodies and treasure are often found buried in marshes, to mark that boundary. Was Liz stuck in her own liminal zone, dazed from sadness and lack of sleep, unable to distinguish between dreams and reality? [loc. 1405]

non-spoilery )
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2016/37: The Raven King -- Maggie Stiefvater
It was a far more terrifying idea to imagine how much control he really had over how his life turned out. Easier to believe that he was a gallant ship tossed by fate than to captain it himself.[loc. 4176]


I don't think I can write an interesting and critical review of this final novel in the Raven Cycle without spoilers. ye be warned )

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