Finished Cold Skin by Albert Sanchez Pinol. Reads kind of like Yann Martel meets William Hope Hodgson. It's about a disillusioned ex-revolutionary, who in an effort to escape from civilization takes a job as a weather recorder on a remote island. He rapidly finds out that the island is under constant attack from aquatic monsters, and his only hope is the island's other inhabitant: a belligerent lunatic holed up in a fortified lighthouse.
Even in translation it's very compelling. The details of the situation are worked out impeccably, and it's a real page-turner as the protagonist sinks further into desperation and brutality as the ammunition runs out and the attacks continue.
It also appears to be an allegory of some kind, though it's very hard to pin down what it's an allegory for. Maybe it's just allegorical in general. Thought for a while that the characters might be an id-ego-superego thing, but that doesn't really make sense; or that the attacks by the monsters symbolize the struggles of life, but that seems over-generic. It might just be a parable for the corrupting nature of violent struggle. Anyway, well worth reading. Review, review, review
What I'm Reading 2
Also got through an audiobook: the second volume of Simon Schama's "A History of Britain" British Wars 1603 - 1776. Liked the first one, but this is even better: covers a much shorter length of time which allows him to focus a lot more closely on the details. Has a lot of detail on the slave trade, and battles of the British-French war in North America. He skips out most of the details of the American Revolution, not going into the military side of things much. Didn't miss that myself since I'm already moderately familiar with it: he might be short-changing some history newbies that way though.
It's pretty thorough over the Civil War, Restoration and Glorious Revolution though. Schama manages the very difficult trick of explaining and balancing the various actors and movements within it. He takes the modern approach of considering the Civil War as the British Wars; rather than the traditional approach of the English Civil War plus various side-shows. This volume has a lot more detail on Scotland and Ireland than the first one, which largely ignored them. Schama is suitably condemnatory over Cromwell; acknowledging that Cromwell was particularly brutal in Ireland for example.
If anything, Schama seems a little too disparaging towards Cromwell. He seems to present the Protectorate as being created almost on a whim; not rating him as being particularly religiously fanatical, which doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Also, if Cromwell's takeover was gratuitous, why did things fall apart so quickly when he died?
It seems to me that to explain Cromwell at all satisfactorily, you have to see him as someone who very much wanted X, but was forced by the desperately unstable post-Charles politics to compromise greatly. You can see him either as a religious fanatic who was forced to compromise into pragmatism; or as pragmatist who just wanted stability but was forced to compromise with religious fanaticism. Schama seems to lean towards the latter, but that doesn't seem really sufficient to explain why Cromwell took power from Parliament in the first place.
Overall though: thorough, lucid and interesting. Takes a while to get through in audiobook though: this volume's 18 CDs, while the first was a mere 14. The third and final volume is another 18: will leave it a while to get my breath back.
Well, for only the second time in my life I've a lost a library book. Annoyingly, it was "Cold Skin" which I left on a bus after getting two-thirds through it. Was desperate to know the ending. so took another bus back to Charing Cross Road and bought another copy in Foyle's (had a nasty moment when Borders didn't have it). Hopefully the library will accept this one: it's the same edition, but they only had one copy left and the cover's a bit battered.
Only the Central Line was down this weekend: North London line was running fine. However, tried taking the number 7 bus straight home from Tottenham Court Road again which was fairly quick last time, and just got stuck in a nightmare of traffic along Oxford Street. It goes a lot faster after Marble Arch when it gets off the main roads: will take the Tube up to that point next time. Got incredibly frustrated as it took about half an hour to cover the last few hundred yards to Marble Arch. Even with plenty of space, two books, an Interzone, 8,000 MP3s, a water bottle and a notebook and pen it practically drove me batshit insane.
Tried to take a picture with my cameraphone but you can't really see the masses of buses ahead. Need a proper optical zoom. And a bus without a greasy front window.
Some other snapshots: someone flying a kite on Parliament Hill, the Post Office Tower, Camden and some sky.
Coming soon in Theophile Escargot's Diary
Consumerism: Why trousers that unzip into shorts are not actually the answer to all ankle-to-waist fashion needs. Watching: "Twelve Angry Men". "Bleu Cheese": what the fuck are USians on about, why it's not a generic product, how it relates to "blue cheese" and "fromage bleu". Museums: "Rebels & Martyrs: The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century".
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