4Dec P The Water Horse by Julia Gregson** Well written and well researched but thoroughly grim and depressing. After the death of her mother, Catherine, a Welsh farmer’s daughter, leaves home, and her drover sweetheart, to join Florence Nightingale’s nurses in the Crimea. There is romance in Catherine’s future, but it is so overshadowed with the horrors of war and army hospitals that I was unable to read the book from start to finish without rests to read magazines and fanfic for light relief. I’m sure the war sections were very realistic but they were, of course, gruesome. I wanted to know what happened but was very glad to reach the end. Probably my least favourite book of the year.
14Dec E A Season for the Dead by David Hewson****. Gruesome but intelligent and absorbing crime story set in Rome. The murders involve senior churchmen and the city’s churches in the hunt for a serial killer. There is tension between the state police and the diplomatic immunity provided by the Vatican. The young policeman at the centre of the case is apparently to figure in a series and I might look out for more.
21Dec E My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday**. Ms Friday collected information about women’s sexual fantasies and wove them into a book interspersed with her own opinions on the subject. There is also an afterword by a psychiatrist. He and the author both claim that the book will allow women to admit to having sexual fantasies. I think this argument makes the entire project seem very old fashioned, and yet it’s possible that this was one of the works that led to some more liberal thought. The author does not claim to have a complete record of the subject; her collection is limited by the people who responded to her advertisements and talks. One criticism of the book is that it is a kind of porn and at first I was tempted to agree but then realised that if it was, it was very inefficient. I could certainly have done without so many long descriptions of fantasies, but mainly because they were boring. I think my major finding was that other people’s sexual fantasies are not a turn-on. Even if they are shared, there are bound to be details that change them and decrease their power. What was really interesting was the extent to which people indulge in fantasy, their motivations, and the stimuli for the different types of fantasy in the first place. An fascinating concept but I had to force myself to finish the book.
I have apparently read so little this month! That’s not the whole truth but I haven’t read many novels. I have been distracted by all the online ficlets that I mentioned in my post on novels and shorter writing. I ought perhaps to give particular mention to Josh Lanyon’s codas. Every other day he gave his blog followers a coda or short glimpse of Christmas for a pair of characters from one of his novels or novellas. It was a lovely idea, and the codas were very satisfying, linked to the main story and giving an extra ‘ending’. There has also been an Advent Calendar of fanfic recommendations on one of the communities I belong to on Live Journal, and to my surprise, almost half were stories I had not read before. As a result of all this, my usual reading habits suffered!
132 books in a year – about 11 per month, so around 3 a week. But I probably doubled that with fanfic reading, a lot of which is novel length.
6Dec Magic Mike** The film was billed as a story of a young man shown the ‘ropes’ as a male stripper by an expert. I expected – well, I’m not sure, but probably sexy moves and perhaps some comedy. Something like The Full Monty. The dance routines were incredible, but the plot was quite dark, and the filming was dark, too, with a lot of the action taking place seen through windows, curtains, etc. and in sepia-style colours. I found a lot of the dialogue hard to follow – the southern American accents plus a lot of dialect and idiom didn’t come across well for an English viewer. Disappointing.
14Dec Snow White and the Huntsman*** Very beautiful and quite dark, as befits the underlying story. However, the main characters were insufficiently developed and there were minor plotholes in the retelling. I was faintly disappointed, having looked forward to this for some time.
19Dec The Hobbit***** For once, we went to the cinema. The computer graphics really do need ‘space’ and although we have a DVD projector we felt a need to see the film on a bigger screen and as soon as it came out. The only possible criticism is the slowness of the way the plot develops. Of course, Jackson made Lord of the Rings in three films from three long volumes, and has now decided to make three films from the comparatively short one volume book of The Hobbit so the pace was bound to be different. It was very well done, though at time he took liberties with the story for cinematic effect. He has chosen to insert things from The Silmarillion to explain things – it wouldn’t have worked in the book but perhaps it was needed for a film. Some of the family thought it improved in the second half; I was satisfied right from the opening scenes. The hobbit hole is perfect! We supported our local independent cinema and now need to see the film again in 3D!
20Dec Eyes Wide Open**** This story about two very religious Jewish men in Jerusalem who desire each other and question their sexuality is absorbing and ultimately (inevitably?) sad. The underlying themes of homophobia and the question of sin within a religious context are interestingly presented but I think the main fascination of the film was the detail about daily life in Jerusalem in an Orthodox neighbourhood. I have been to Jerusalem and recognised some aspects of it but found the glimpses ‘behind the scenes’ illuminating. It was also, for me, something new to watch a film (subtitled, of course) in Hebrew.
22Dec The Mystery of Edwin Drood**** A BBC period drama that adapts and completes the Dickens story. Extremely well acted. The switch from Dickens to BBC was seamless! One strange aspect of the film was that although most scenes were shot in apparently normal locations, and not a studio, there were no ‘extras’, no people around other than the cast.
23Dec Loving Miss Hatto***** An extremely well acted and filmed BBC drama scripted by Victoria Wood. It tells the true story of a classical music hoax and of the love story behind it. I didn’t intend to watch it but was hooked from the first scene.
24Dec The Snowman and the Snowdog*** Sweet but unmemorable ‘sequel’ to The Snowman. It lacked the novelty of the original and the soundtrack wasn’t anywhere near as exquisite. I have since watched a documentary about the way it was made, and that was intriguing.
24Dec In Bruges* I was talked into watching this (over two nights) on the understanding that it was a dark comedy with a good ending. Nothing could be further from the truth and it was not something I would have chosen to watch on Christmas Eve. Tense, violent, and sad. Extremely well acted but I don’t that makes up for the drawbacks.
25Dec Room on the Broom*** Another children’s film based on the story by the author of The Gruffalo. Beautifully produced but perhaps without quite the endearing quirkiness of The Gruffalo.
25Dec The Snowmen: The Doctor Who Christmas Special.**** I suspect a lot of future snowmen will have evil features so perhaps it’s a good job it was raining here over Christmas. The doctor gained a new companion who is a bit of a mystery. The episode was slightly unsatisfying as we have no way of solving the mystery until the new season starts, which isn’t immediately. Presumably it’s meant to hook the audience into watching the new season, though surely that can’t be necessary.
27Dec The Birds** I honestly thought I’d seen this Hitchcock ‘classic’ but it turns out I hadn’t – just clips – and of course I was familiar with the Daphne du Maurier story it’s based on. That made quite an impact when I first read it. I wasn’t impressed by the film – too glossy and unreal, too long-drawn-out, etc. The way actresses in films of that era kept their hair and make-up intact provokes giggles rather than admiration.
28Dec Restless*** A BBC spy drama – a three hour film shown over two nights. Much better than The Birds in terms of acting and direction but it had numerous plotholes and some huge continuity errors.
29Dec Men in Black III**** I still think the first film in the series was the best but the sequels are very enjoyable. Perhaps it’s the lack of novelty that makes them less, somehow. Once you’ve seen the underground offices full of aliens, you’ve seen them, after all. I love Will Smith, and I liked the way the plot linked itself to the original moon launch, way back in the month I got married – I could really relate to all those people watching on their televisions! And the villain was quite original. Not five star, but still very good.
30Dec Moon** A sci-fi film that BBC billed as Film of the Day. Very long-drawn-out story about workers on the moon discovering that they are clones. They didn’t exactly have to spend much on sets or cast. Boring!
Early December viewing was pretty sparse then things came thick and fast over Christmas! I won’t be watching any films on New Year’s Eve so that’s it for 2012.
This has been an interesting exercise but I think next year I will only review things that you need to know about, because they are either extremely good or extremely bad. I might add fanfic to the mix. I will also try to review in more depth though I will, I promise, avoid my pet hate – plot spoilers within a review. However I organise my reviews, there won’t be a monthly post.
Meanwhile, Happy New Year!