Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Charles Gidley, The Raging of the Sea.

I started reading this one while helping Lesley to do some house-sitting a few weeks back. The homeowners kindly loaned their copy to me, and I now need to return it. Next week, when I'm back in Ontario, I'll do that.

This book seemed quite promising at the beginning. It's the story of a naval career: an officer dies during World War II, and his son just barely born enters the Navy when he comes of age. The book offers an epic sweep, showing the modern navy from the early sixties through the late eighties, but it never quite delivers.

The story is that of Steven Jannaway, living a life that's defined by his career in the Royal Navy. His personal life, so bitterly personally disappointing to him seems at first eclipsed by his professional life, until that too gradually slips away from him.

The weak story lines aren't really enough to hold much of an interest for the reader, which explains why this book is out-of-print, I fear. The book is really more a meditation on why the Navy is not what it should be. It's about why and how the Navy is exploited for political purposes by the leaders of the country. Why the people with real ideas, who are willing to try new things and to learn from mistakes will never--the sort of people you want to innovate and to lead--are sidelined and ignored. Why the Navy promotes and is run by the safe, the unimaginative. Why the Falklands was profoundly wrong and wasted the lives of good sailors, as far as the main character is concerned.

This was a book that just barely held my interest enough after the first hundred pages. Not one I'd recommend that people look out for.
Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, 2005.

So, first of all, I haven't blogged in a while. Sorry about that. I've got a bit of a backlog built up now.

This one I read in mid-July, and greatly enjoyed the first two thirds of it.

The premise is neat: the main character, Yambo, awakes from some form of collapse--and he's forgotten nearly everything. What's odd, though, is that the memories he's lost are those closest to him--his wife, children, and parents. What he does for a living. And yet his memory of many books and poems remains intact, perfectly usable.

His wife is unable to bring back these memories: she can only describe what she knows about his life, and so Yambo retreats to his family estate, largely abandoned, near Solara. He finds the books, the comics, and the music that he grew up with, and is able to slowly remember more and more details, is able to make the mental connections work again to remember what his life was. It's a weird form of time travel, growing up in Italy during Fascism in a family that was waiting for Facism to die, listening to the BBC during the war.

He finds a secret room with his treasures, finds the comic book that introduced him to his ideal woman, almost exhausts himself in the quest to become himself again. In many ways, it's a neat description of how a life is shaped by the cultures around it, and it's a neat description of the media of the time.

In other ways, though, the book is profoundly weird. From the re-discovery of physicality on the part of the main character to the stroke episode that leads to the disjointed, odd dream-marvelling that makes up the last third or so of the book, the book lacks the consistency and fun of Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose.

It was an interesting read, but one I was glad to put down. Throughout the first third, I was looking forward to recommending it to people, but I really can't do that. The dazzling array of beautifully woven allusions to literature and music were really very well done indeed, but the attempt to muse on what memory means, what memory is, just doesn't quite work.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Eugene Ehrlich, Amo, Amas, Amat and More: How to Use Latin to Your Own Advantage and to the Astonishment of Others, 1985.

A cute little book with every Latin phrase you're likely to encounter in English use. Dated idiom, but a useful reference book. The kind of thing that's fun to dip into from time to time, rather than to read from cover to cover.