Tales from the Hidden Grove

Tales from the Hidden Grove
"Amongst the finest short story writers in the UK right now" ~ Black Pear Press

Monday, 18 April 2016

30 Weird Books I Have Read



Yesterday, I read this excellent blog post by Liberty Hardy (aka @MissLiberty) on Bookriot, listing 100 strange and unusual novels.
I was rather disappointed that I'd only read three-and-a-bit out of 100 (I'm actually in the middle of one right now!) But then I remembered that I've read plenty of other bizarre books. And enjoyed most of them -I do love a bit of weird! So I thought I'd make my own list in response, beginning with the original four and going on from there. Sadly, I could only come up with 30 at short notice (it's Monday morning!) but it's been fun to reminisce.

30 Weird Books I Have Read

1. Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre
I believe Bookriot described this as "if David Bowie wrote historical fiction."
2. The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen
So, this author vanishes in a flurry of snow, and...
3. Brave Story by Miyuki Miabe 
A little boy disappears into what is basically a video game. A really weird video game.
4. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan 
A world of sea and islands, with a floating circus and strange death rituals. Kind of like Earthsea on acid.  This is the one I'm reading now.
***
5. The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist 
Not quite sure what I was eating when I read this one.
6. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift 
Classic weird. Talking horses, flying islands, extracting sunbeams from cucumbers...
7. The Boy With the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick 
Everyone lives in a giant castle and has invertebrate-like deformities. Except for the kid who cries blood...
8. Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany 
This essential collection of short stories by the master includes such titles as, "Why the Milkman Shudders When He Perceives the Dawn," and, "The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolater."
9. Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill 
This was extra weird because I didn't even read the first book in the series. Seem to remember a miserable guy who's offended the fairies, and an Australian dreamwalker.
10. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman 
Set in "London Below," in which all the names on the Tube Map (Blackfriars Bridge, The Angel Islington etc.) are taken literally.
11. Phantastes by George Macdonald 
The grown-up sister of Alice in Wonderland. More symbolism than you can shake a symbolic stick at.
12. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde 
Or indeed anything by Jasper Fforde. Time travel, cloned dodos, Japanese tourists inside Jane Eyre...
13. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn 
Someone is stealing letters of the alphabet, so each chapter has one less to work with.
14. The Year of our War by Steph Swainson 
So, there's this druggie who's the only guy whose wings actually work. (Yeah, other people have wings, too.) And there's this - like - circle of power...
15. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones 
Don't know which is the more weirdly brilliant between Diana Wynne Jones' original novel and Hayao Miyazaki's anime adaptation. This version has a portal to Wales, John Donne's "Go and catch a falling star," and the whole thing might be an 80's computer game.
16. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe 
The best thing about being a pirate is the ham. I especially like the old-school comprehension questions at the end.
17. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 
In which the author constantly interrupts himself to tell you why the next bit's not worth bothering with. Even funnier than the film.
18. Orlando by Virginia Woolfe 
An Elizabethan courtier lives for 400 years, and turns from a man to a woman during one night in the Restoration period. Seems remarkably unfazed by it all.
19. Broken Harmony by Roz Southey 
For some reason, a crime series set against the backdrop of Newcastle's 18th-century music scene also needs ghosts and alternate realities.
20. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen 
Very sweet, sad story, set on an island with five people on it. Plus a dog and a dead body.
21. Perfume: The Story of A Murderer by Patrick Süskind
Story in which the main character wants to control/kill everyone with the power of scent.
22. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka 
Man wakes up as a giant cockroach. As you do...
23. The Boy With the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu 
Actually based on a concept album by a French band. A boy's heart is replaced with a cuckoo-clock, which means he cannot fall in love. He falls in love.
24. I Am a Cat by Sōseki Natsume
Imagine Diary of a Nobody transferred to Meiji era Japan. And narrated by a cat.
25. The Ringmaster's Daughter by Jostein Gaarder 
The entire literary world is buying story ideas from some weirdo called Petter.
26. Encyclopedia of Snow by Sarah Emily Miano 
Sort of random chapters. About snow.
27. Baudolino by Umberto Eco 
So, we've got a lying narrator, Prester John's Land, ten heads of John the Baptist...
28. The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake 
Everyone lives in a giant castle. Again. Only this is the original.
29. The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter 
Had to read this for my degree. Mainly remember a man being forcibly turned female, and a black fertility goddess with six nipples.
30. Swiftly by Adam Roberts 
Like a sequel to Gulliver's Travels, only weirder. In fact, I'm not sure it even makes sense.

As a postscript, I must add that, during the making of this blog, autocorrect threw up the magnificent title, Gulliver's Trowels. I think I'll write that one next...



Friday, 1 April 2016

The Fool Beloved

    

Some time last year, I was in a second hand bookshop, when a title leapt out at me: The Fool Beloved by Jeffery Farnol.  Regular readers will know how much Robin Hobb's Fool, Beloved, means to me.  So, I simply had to buy the book, just because of its title.

I asked Robin Hobb on Twitter if there was any connection between this book and her work, and she said she knew nothing of it.  But she would like to know what it was about.  Now, there is a challenge!  I set about reading the book and finding out what I could about its author.

According to Wikipedia:

"Jeffery Farnol (10 February 1878 – 9 August 1952) was a British writer since (sic) 1907 until his death, known for writing more than 40 romance novels, some formulaic and set in the Georgian Era or English Regency period, and swashbucklers. He, with Georgette Heyer, founded the Regency romantic genre."

The Fool Beloved was published in 1950, so was a late novel for Farnol.  It seems quite old-fashioned for the 1950s, but I suppose that if his readers enjoyed his style, there was no point in changing it.  The book is dedicated to the memory of his brother, Ewart, who was killed in action aged 19, at Vieskraal, Africa, in 1901.

So what is The Fool Beloved all about?

Well, it's an historical romance set in the Renaissance, that reads like a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and Sir Walter Scott.  The Fool of the title is actually a young aristocrat named Angelo, whose brother is murdered by the villain, Gonzago.  (Actually, Gonzago tried to kill Angelo as well, and was only foiled because Angelo had conveniently swapped clothes with a friend.)  Determined to clear his name, solve his brother's murder, and win back his true love, Duchess Jenevra, from Gonzago's advances, Angelo disguises himself as a jester or fool.  He can then go about the ducal court, popping up in gardens with his bells jingling, offering all sorts of cryptic warnings and tender advice to Jenevra, while everyone thinks he's dead.  He also gathers a team of allies who know his true identity, including a friar, a strong man and a page boy.  Angelo succeeds in making Jenevra fall in love with the Fool, but will she love noble Angelo in the same way?  And Gonzago always has one last trick up his sleeve to delay the happy ending.

It's an action-packed tale, full of coincidences, misunderstandings, grisly goings-on and heaving bosoms.  The language is pretty archaic, and some of the supposedly witty conversations make you think the author is actually trying to be Shakespeare.  For example:

"Jenevra, beloved, shame not thy noble love for shame of this motley."

Or:

"Tush, my Lord; fie on thee, Sebastian!"

All in all, though, it is a fun and entertaining novel, that you don't need to take too seriously.  And, given the dedication, it's quite touching that it should concern the story of two brothers, one living and the other dead.