Review – The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

 

002

Late in the year 1327 Brother William of Baskerville, a Franciscan monk, and Adso, a Benedictine novice, arrive at a monastery in Northern Italy. Winter is rapidly approaching, and so is both a legation led by a notorious inquisitor and another that contains that inquisitor’s implacable enemies. William is to speak in intercession between them.

But once they arrive at the monastery, a series of brutal murders begins, and, at the request of the Abbot, William and Adso are drawn into the investigation.

Every detective story needs a detective, and in The Name of the Rose it is William of Baskerville, who indeed uses logic and observation to make deductions, much like a medieval Sherlock Holmes.

Untitled-Grayscale-01

As the plot develops, there are long theological debates centred around both the poverty of Christ and the question of whether Christ laughed. Questions I have little knowledge of, but which read as authentic to me. But these debates are central to the plot. On the interpretation of Christ’s poverty alone, men and women are accused of heresy and burnt at the stake.

But everything is centred upon the monastery’s library. This library is the greatest library of its time in Europe, containing innumerable rare, important and beautiful volumes. At the centre of the story lies a mysterious and forbidden book, and this book lies at the centre of the labyrinthine library where only the Librarian and his assistant are permitted. But are the murders being committed to get hold of this book or is there another reason? Could they, in fact, be connected with the predictions in the Book of Revelations?

Untitled-Grayscale-02

This is such a well-known book that I found I forgot it was a translation from the original I was reading. Much like the Bible, of course, which point is salient to the monks, and certainly in medieval times this interpretation was a matter of life or death to thousands.

But the translation of  prose does not pose the same problems as the translation of verse, and I don’t suppose the English translation is any different from the Italian original. But the potentials made me smile

As a long book, it provides a canvas for long descriptions, both of the abbey and the associated buildings – essentially a castle – and of the long debates between the monks and the other players. At times there is undoubtedly a temptation to skip some of these, but the reader is adequately rewarded for persevering in that the descriptions paint a powerful picture of the place and time, while the debates tell much about the importance of religion and the ridiculous interpretations of every word of the Bible that quite literally governed the lives and deaths of everyone at that time.

A word about the pace of the book, though. Some readers may find it a little slow (although if those readers skip the debates and longer descriptions it is as fast-paced as any other), but remember it is not just a detective story, it is also a historical novel and moves at the pace one would expect of a book of that genre.

I read this a very long time ago, and although I remember it as having been a very good book, I had forgotten just how good. I will unhesitatingly give it five stars.

And the meaning behind the title? Well, you need to wait until the end to find out, and then you need to understand Latin…

Advertisements

From Genesis to Tribulation (and Beyond!)

Making Friends with the Crocodile was born early one morning – around 4 a.m. – in a Stream of Consciousness that demanded I get up out of bed and write page after page of notes on scenes and characters and the plot development.

P1050097

The whole novel was written in much the same way. Generally, I write as a pantser rather than a plotter – I’m terrible at planning out my writing, preferring instead to dive in and see where it takes me. But Making Friends with the Crocodile was written linearly, and other than the grammar and general tidying up, very little was changed in edit.

The book I’m working on now, though, had a far more troubled genesis. Maybe everyone has this problem with the second novel, unless it’s the second one of a planned series. I knew I wanted to write another novel that ‘said’ something, and that I wanted to set this one in India, too, but after that I went blank. I had decided to write about the English in India, or at least one of them, but had no plot.

We went on holiday, and for much of the week we were away I took a few hours out each day to work on the plot, filling my notebook with ideas and characters and working up a central theme, and once we were home again I started work on the novel.

But as I wrote, I found I was dissatisfied with the central plot. It seemed rather unlikely and, frankly, not that interesting. I didn’t even like my working title (I wonder how important that can be, psychologically?) I changed a few bits around, and turned the sub-plot into the main theme, and carried on. Eventually, I realised that I had lost interest in the whole project, despite the thirty thousand-odd words I’d written, and returned to an earlier, shelved project.

I worked on that for a while, but every now and again had ideas for the one I’d just abandoned, duly noted them down, and carried on. About three months later, I spent an afternoon going through notes and suddenly had an idea for two new sub-plots and a couple of new characters. These I liked Very Much Indeed.

I returned to the Abandoned Novel With the Uninteresting Working Title and got stuck in. I even had a new working title: A Good Place. It now stands at around seventy five thousand words, and the first draft is almost complete. There are a few gaps to fill in, but otherwise it is almost ready to put aside for a few months ready to edit.

So exciting!

Starless and Bible-Black – Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

009

After my previous post, it seems entirely apt to post a review, today.

Writers rely upon reviews to sell books. To spread the word. And I am conscious how bad I am at leaving reviews – mainly because I’m not very good at writing them. But I Shall Try To Do Better!

To start with, this is the review I left on Goodreads some time ago for a book that is already very well-known.

This book begins, then, full of rich, playful language as it sets the scene and gradually introduces the players.

To begin at the beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’ -and -rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfounded town are sleeping now.

I have heard poems by Dylan Thomas read by Richard Burton – the actor, not the nineteenth century explorer – and his warm, mesmeric, lilting tone suits the poetry like no other voice I could imagine. Now, I cannot read any Dylan Thomas without hearing it read in his voice.

(I want my work read like that. There is a man I know with a wonderful voice; mellifluous and rich and deep, like Burgundy and dark chocolate. Not Welsh, but very English, who I shall attempt to trick into reading one of my poems or short stories out loud, one day.)

So, to the poem, or play, if you will, for it is a play, first and foremost, told as a prose poem. The play is full of wonderful voices, the voices of a plethora of small-town characters; all of them realistically drawn with their dreams and vices and foibles, and depicted with great humour, but also with sadness. Sadness, for there is resolution for most of the characters, and for some their dreams come true, but others are disappointed.

All of these characters love and hate and desire each other, they reminisce, they have ambitions. In this play, they all have their day. In this place, each one gets to tell their story, or have it told for them.

From the very beginning, the language is rich like double cream and brandy butter; too rich, perhaps, for certainly by the time I had begun to near the end it had become too much. I found myself yearning for more plain, simple language. I wanted a few bread and water phrases.

But the words invite you to savour them slowly – in fact, they demand it. Perhaps the secret, then, is to read this little and often; to dip into it and immerse yourself in the language.

I really wanted to give this masterpiece four and half stars out of five, but without that option, I give it five, although with the caveat above.

Who’s That Trip-Trapping Over My Bridge?

It’s a troll!

Okay, I know. The troll was under the bridge and it was the Billy Goats Gruff doing the trip-trapping.

Whatever.

IMG_0032

Where was I last post? Oh yes, poor quality self-published books.

A little while ago a blogging friend of mine reviewed a self-published book on Goodreads, and gave it three stars out of five, on the basis that the book was full of editing errors. For this, she was then trolled by another member – not the author in question, but I suspect she was a friend of the author, although it is not impossible it was just someone out to cause trouble.

This troll was furious that anyone would mark down a book for being poorly edited and poorly formatted. She then went on to personally attack the reviewer. I don’t know the outcome, but I certainly hope a complaint was made and the troll blocked from Goodreads.

I wonder, have we really got to a point where it is considered perfectly acceptable to publish something of poor quality and no one is allowed to point out this fact? Is this another consequence of the self-publishing phenomenon coupled with many people’s unwillingness to tolerate any views other than their own?

Back Again

Well, I am back.

018a

I never seriously contemplated abandoning my blog, although I admit there were times I felt tempted. And although I regularly visited my Facebook account, I didn’t post anything to my author page and only really visited to stay in contact with some people.

My sharp-eyed viewer will notice a couple of new pages on this blog. There is now a page with links to all the short stories I have published, to make it easier to locate them should you wish to read or re-read them.

There is also a page of links to all the poems published on here – I had no idea there were so many!

You’re welcome.

There was a lot going on in my life and I needed a lot of space to just try and sort some of it out. Some of it is still on-going, but I think I’m in a position to come back and give a reasonable amount of time to blogging.

But, as well as doing life, I have been busy writing. Probably the main thing I have managed to do is take my stop-start novel set in a fictitious hill station in Northern India from around 35,000 words up to the point where it is an almost completed first draft of just over 70,000 words. And I have a working title for it: A Good Place.

I’ve half-written a few blog posts, although I had intended to prepare lots more. Oh well. For the moment I will go back to posting roughly twice a week and see how that goes.

And I’ve faffed around a bit with a short story. All in all, other than the novel, not a lot. But I am pleased with the novel so far. I sorted out the sub-plots and brought in a number of new characters. And it is finally at the point where I can allow myself to think ‘Yes, almost there!’

And I don’t think until now I’d really understood how absolutely driven it was possible to be when writing; how the Work In Progress can come to utterly dominate your waking life – incessantly thinking about it and tweaking and refining the plots and characters, almost to the exclusion of all else.

Clearly, I need to get it finished.

Stories From Anywhere

I am proud to announce…Tah…Rah!! A book of short stories from Tunbridge Wells Writers.

cover 3a

My regular reader may be interested to learn that the collection includes a fairly long short story of mine, World’s End, and I’m reasonably proud to point out that the cover is also designed by me.

A dozen stories in total, this is available at the moment as a paperback on Amazon (the link is here), and it will be published as an e-book on Kindle fairly soon. Once it is, I’ll put up a new post.

From the blurb on Amazon…Twelve writers, twelve stories. From intrigue in Colombia to bizarre adventures in Italy, from an unusual protest to a prison break in Chile. Get ready for an exciting journey with this collection from Tunbridge Wells Writers… 

Here, This Is For You – NO! Don’t Touch It!

Now, here’s a thing.

A blogger posted recently that he was offering one of his books for a week or two as a free download.

Later, he posted angrily that lots of people had downloaded his book for free and why the devil could they not have bought it from him?

I do wonder whether I am missing something here.

The debate rages (I say ‘rages’, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration) over whether we should give away books for free to promote ourselves, or to promote other books in a series.

053

Now here’s a thing.

On one side, there are those who say that people are attracted to free downloads, and this will help to get the author’s name known. Then after the book has been read for free, the reader might be more likely to buy another book by that author.

On the other side, there are those who say that most free downloads languish on disks and are never read, and that they create an expectation that writers will give away their work for free, thus making it less likely that the reader will buy more books.

At times like this, I do what I always do when I need advice and guidance.

I ask Bob.

‘Do I want a free book?‘ he asked me. ‘Of course I do! Have you got it with you now?’

‘I’m afraid it was a rhetorical question, Bob, but I note your reply. What if you were the author, though. Would you give it away?’

‘Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous!’

‘Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Isn’t that rather a contradiction?’ He shrugged.

‘Maybe. But you asked me the questions, so I answered them.’

‘Fair enough.’

‘But no wonder your friend was cross,’

‘They’re not my friend, Bob.’

‘Whatever. No wonder they were cross, if they offered their book for free and lots of people had the cheek to take up that offer.’

‘But that doesn’t make any sense either, Bob. What would you have done?’

‘Me?’

‘Yes’

‘I’d have taken the book.’

‘But would you have offered it in the first place?’

‘No, of course not.’

I knew I had been reminded of someone when I read the original posts.

It could have been Bob.

Writing Update

Monthly update, I called my post a couple of months ago. Monthly, indeed. Ho ho. I should know myself better than that.

Untitled-Grayscale-01a

So I’ll call this ‘Writing Update’ so as not to create any false expectations., especially as I have rather less time on my hands at the moment than I’ve been used to.

I aim to publish a book of short stories in the next few months – possibly around Christmas, although that’s more by accident than design. At present, I intend to call it A Dozen Destinies. My wife is currently beta reading each story, and I am editing based on her observations. Once that is done, I will look for one or two other beta readers to cast their eyes over them

I have made steady progress on my still untitled novel, set in a fictitious hill station in the Indian Himalaya, which is currently somewhere around 50,000 and 55,000 words long (I haven’t counted recently).

The Assassins Garden…sitting in a metaphorical drawer at the moment. I’ll come back to that in due course.

And the picture above? Well, most people who tinker around with photo manipulation programs aim to produce the perfect picture – colour and composition and this and that and the other. I’ve become interested in taking them down to a rather more stark, basic place.

Not to everyone’s taste, I guess.

Resources for Writers – #1

A long, long time ago (heavens, it seems an age!), I wrote a post about the difficulties of historical accuracy facing writers.

Really? So kind of you – it’s here: HERE

Gosh, people are so kind.

Anyway, I have a number of books which I find invaluable when I am writing, so just to mention a few:

I have a first edition of Chambers’ Encyclopaedia; two volumes, published 1848, which I got for a song many years ago. Of course, anyone who has ever heard me sing will know that cannot be literally true – the only thing I might get for a song would be a heavy fine or a spell in prison. Or a slap. But enough of that.

001

Referring back to my post on historical accuracy, I argued that even contemporary accounts of history are suspect – possibly even more so than many later ones – but as a snapshot of the world as it was seen by a group of British writers in 1848, my Chambers’ Encyclopaedia is invaluable. It gives me their view of other nations and religions, their understanding of science and commerce, and many other topics. A story set in 1848 or thereabouts, would use much of that information.

And 1848 in Europe was known as the year of revolutions – a good setting for a story or ten.

Equally, I set a long short story in 1920’s England, and many of the travel books of the time (I have a guide book to Dartmoor published in 1920) carry adverts for food, drink, hotels, buses, etc, which give a lot of the detail I needed.

Finally, Lonely Planet. My current novel, for which I still don’t have a title – don’t judge me – is set mainly in the India of 1988-ish. The 1986 edition of West Asia on a Shoestring while not being a great deal of use to the traveller of 2017, is incredibly useful to me when writing my book. I can easily get a sense of the price of everything that my English traveller of the story will encounter, and also a sense of what is available – where buses or trains might run, what sort of facilities are to be found in small hill towns, and many other things.

Obviously, our old chum Google is always at hand to help us out with our queries, but resources such as these are not only more accurate, they save us having to sift through many sites that may provide inaccurate information.

And God help the writer that uses that.

Jim’s Newbie

Some further nuggets from my special guest, Mr Webster! Over to you, Jim…

photo of Jim Oct 2015

‘Did I ever tell you about Chik, who used to sell spiced eggs from a stall on
Tithetakers Lane?

‘Chik was by heart a gambling man and he was fond of a wager. One of his
favourites was that you couldn’t eat four of his spiced eggs, one after the
other. If you accepted the challenge he would take your money for four eggs
and then lay them out on his counter, already shelled. Very few people ever
managed it. Some of this was that, to be frank, it is comparatively easy to
have too much spiced egg. But also because Chik would ensure that the third
egg was one to which he’d added extra spice. When you bit into it you could
feel your lips burning and by the time you’d finished it you were breathing
with difficulty.

‘The only person I ever saw defeat Chik was Flobbard Wangil. He did not bite
into the eggs but due to an almost obscene flexibility, managed to swallow
them whole. Still I shudder to think what the after effects were when his
digestive tract started to attack the four eggs.

‘Now you might ask how Chik made any money from his wager. Admittedly he was
paid for any number of eggs that nobody would eat, but that hardly amounts
to a grand sum. The real money was made by Chik’s lady wife who had the
stall next to him and sold an over-priced and somewhat thin ale in large
tankards. It’s amazing how much beer you had to drink to cleanse your mouth
after the third egg.

‘Or there was Esnard, sometimes called Esnard corpse-salesman. As you know,
there are lots of temples scattered around Port Naain. Some once stood in
their own grounds, but now have been swallowed up by the expanding streets,
and many are now little more than shrines visited only occasionally by a
celebrant.

‘Yet many of these shrines had crypts and other burial places. This is where
Esnard came in. You might ask why unchancy folk from the darker parts of
Partaan wanted corpses. You might indeed wonder at their willingness to part
with good silver for old bones. Not Esnard. When the call came for somebody
who was willing to work to satisfy this demand, Esnard was not found
wanting. When he discovered another lost shrine, he would visit it nightly
to pour oil on hinges and into locks. He was willing to do this for weeks if
need be, until finally he managed to get the door to open. Then he would
enter and work his silent way through the shrine like nothing so much as a
particularly methodical ghost.

‘In a back room of his house on Queercoats Lane he had his merchandise laid
out for discerning purchasers. Whole cadavers here, next to them skulls
lacking bodies; then on another series of tables, piles of mixed bones,
heaps of grave loam, and even a heap of leaden sphincter clasps.
Obviously his trade wasn’t widely popular and there were various groups
within the city who disapproved. Ghouls were apparently a problem, as were
officials from the municipality attempting to levy a business rate. Finally
Esnard was forced to slay a particularly unrelenting ghoul and found to his
evident pleasure that nailing the ghoul’s head to his front door not merely
kept other ghouls away but also deterred the forces of petty bureaucracy.
It may be that you might not realise that Tallis Steelyard has just produced
his second book of stories and anecdotes. This is book, ‘Tallis Steelyard, a
harsh winter, and other stories,’ is available from the first of June.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071LH1THB

‘Were Tallis less busy he’d doubtless remember to thank me, Jim Webster, for
the efforts I make on his behalf. But you know what it is with someone like
Tallis who is constantly in demand. So I just get on with writing his stuff
down for him and from time to time making collections of his wit, wisdom and
jumbled musings available for a grateful public.

‘Tallis does have a blog, it is apparently de rigueur now for all writers. It
is available at

https://tallissteelyard.wordpress.com/

‘Riding in on his coattails I’ll merely mention that my own books can be seen
at Jim Webster’s Amazon page.’