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I studied Othello for my Leaving Certificate examinations. I really like that play, so drama studies was one of the few classes I looked forward to. Our teacher decided to take us to see a production of Othello showing in the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin. The director had made an interesting choice. While a white actor in blackface played the Moor, he cast the part of Iago with a black actor. This was intended as a comment on the racial politics surrounding productions of the play in the past. Thankfully it is rare to see a Royal Shakespeare Company production featuring a white actor in the main title anymore. Unfortunately the overall play that we saw was fairly mediocre. I will never forget the actress playing Desdemona slipping into her native D4 accent mid-speech: “O-thell-looah”. Yikes.

I will always remember that play though, as it showed a certain bravery in attempting to reinterpret Shakespeare, who has become a sacred cow that we mere mortals are not allowed to doubt. I love the language of the plays, the sonnets, I love the mystery as to the Bard’s own identity, I love his use of propaganda in the historical plays – but above all the work of William Shakespeare was intended to be entertainment. Its richness and wit were part of the package, but in the years since his work has been raised on a pedestal, become abstract, divorced from the sense of fun often present in the plays. His writing is full of profundity, but it also was intended to get a laugh.

By divorcing the ‘genius’, of Shakespeare’s plays from the content – be it frivolous, thrilling, or indeed a ‘weepie’ – we have done his memory a huge disservice. He is the dry, dusty voice of academic lectures, while the height of wit enjoyed by the likes of his audiences has been replaced by: Hallo ladies, Look at your man, now back to me, now back at your man, now back to me, sadly he isnt me

“Hey Mike, get this Bill Shakespeare on the blower, I think we have the purrfect guy for that Othello part!”

McCreery and Del Col’s story begins with the history of Prince Hamlet. Exiled from the castle of Elsinore following his murder of Pelonius, his friend Rosencrantz confesses to him that he and Guildenstern have been commanded by King Claudius to make him a captive of the King of England. Before Hamlet can decide on a course of revenge, he is visited by a dreadful vision, which in turn is interrupted by an attack of pirates.

The ship lost, his friend dead and Hamlet barely escaping with his life, he comes to on the shores of England. He is welcome by King Richard III (notice anything) who informs him of a prophecy by three witches (nudge, nudge) that he is to kill an evil god known as Shakespeare (meta!). Richard promises Hamlet that if he does this his father will be returned to life and his evil uncle Claudius dethroned. The Danish Prince agrees and accompanied by the king’s aide Iago (eep!) sets off on his quest.

This book is great fun. Shakespeare’s villains including Richard, Iago, Lady MacBeth and Don Jon conspire to destroy their own creator, whereas rebels known as ‘prodigals’, such as Juliet Capulet, Othello and Falstaff seek to prevent their enemies from succeeding. In this ‘England’, Shakespeare is a literal god, whose power is represented by a talismanic quill that Richard wishes to possess. The villains of course plot and scheme against one another, while the ragged band of heroes try to convince Hamlet to do the right thing and protect the innocent country folk harried by murderous soldiers in service to the king.

There are a number of other books out there, such as Mike Carey’s The Unwritten, or Bill Willingham’s Fables that are similar to this, although I imagine Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, particularly the Midsummer Night’s Dream storyline, is the primary inspiration for this mash-up of ‘high’, and ‘low’, culture. My personal favourite example of this trope is Bugs Bunny abridging Wagner’s Ring Cycle to seven minutes!

However, this book earns bonus points for making Othello bad-ass. Check out that panel up top.

Here’s a fun, unpretentious mash-up of classic literary figures and an action/adventure story. Great fun.

I felt like I was trapped in one of those terrifying nightmares, the one where you have to run, run till your lungs burst, but you can’t make your body move fast enough. My legs seemed to move slower and slower as I fought my way through the callous crowd, but the hands on the huge clock tower didn’t slow. With relentless, uncaring force, they turned inexorably toward the end–the end of everything.

Lady, I hear ya.

It’s almost been a year since the events of the first book and Bella Swan’s birthday has come round. Turning eighteen only serves to remind her that she is growing older, while her vampire boyfriend Edward remains seventeen. And a high school senior! So things are already not proceeding that smoothly for the ‘teenage’ couple when they decide to celebrate Bella’s birthday at the Cullen family household. Then Edward’s adopted brother Jasper is sent into a frenzy at the sight of Bella’s blood caused by a small papercut. As this confirms the worst fears of Bella’s vampire swain, he decides to leave her and the town of Forks, taking his family with him to some unknown destination.

Abandoned by Edward, Bella falls into a deep depression, only surfacing when she reacquaints herself with Jacob Black, who still nurses a crush on her. She enjoys his company and so tries to insist that their relationship is simply a friendship. Jacob proves to be extremely persistent, taking her gentle refusals with good humour and puppy-dog eyes. Still she cannot forget her passionate obsession for Edward Cullen and even begins to experience hallucinations of his presence when her life is in danger. Eventually Jacob’s warmth and affection slowly wears away her resolve and she starts to think of a life without Edward. Until one day he simply cuts off all contact. Feeling lost and bewildered she wanders into the forests surrounding Forks, only to meet Laurent, a member of the vampire pack that had hunted her the previous year. He brings her a message from Victoria. They’re going to kill her and with the Cullens gone, there is no one to protect her. Bella’s fate seems sealed, but then a pack of werewolves arrive to defend her. One of them even looks familiar to her. Are there any boys in Forks that are not mythical monsters!

Are we sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin. Perhaps my description of the plot implies that this is an exciting tale of danger. Well, it’s not. Not be a long shot. There are upswings of excitement in the narrative, but they come few and far between. I hate all the male characters. I am sick of the endless descriptions of Edward’s perfection and in this book Jacob’s muscular frame also heaves into view. The only other things Meyer seems interested in are cars! There’s a major disjunct in the story after the Cullens leave, with the plot of the first book seeming to repeat itself when Bella discovers yet another clan of fantasy creatures living nearby. As for the main character, I dislike how what little description of Bella we get show her to be a clumsy clod, a ‘magnet for danger’ and completely unable to cope without a man in her life. The religious subtext of the books also bothers me. Worst of all, Bella’s rejection by Edward leaves her an automaton, focused on being a ‘good girl’ for her dad, cooking, cleaning and keeping her grades up. She never feels any anger towards the vampire, which usually helps when you’ve had your heart broken.

On the other hand… I don’t like these books, but lots of folks do, so who am I to throw the first stone? After all I just reviewed Brandon Sanderson purely to get a bead on how he would finish up the Wheel of Time series and they are terrible books. Maybe the kids reading Twilight will grow out of them and find Jodi Piccoult. Or if they’re fans of the beefcake, maybe they’ll discover Anais Nin? Also if the Volturi are a dig at the Church of Rome, well I’m not too bothered by that. Hell it reminded me of a Bill Hicks quote. So I guess live and let live is my conclusion. I’m tired of all the obnoxious complaining about Twifans, as it only led to this.

Furthermore…Team Alice? Oh Meyer, you cad!

‘Gentlemen,’ he said gravely. ‘We must partake of the game of the people – from whom, I might add, we derive. Has any of us, in the last few decades, even seen the game being played? I thought not. We should get outside more.

Football. Football, football, football! Right, that’s that over with. The game of two halves, jumpers for goal posts, all that, has landed in the city of Ankh-Morpork. Of course this means disaster is just around the corner.

The wizards of the Unseen University have discovered that essential funding for the faculty (mostly spent on their multiple breakfasts, lunches and dinners) is tied up with an arcane law that requires them to play a single game of foot-the-ball. Unfortunately the game has been made illegal and is played on the back streets of the city. Well not so much played, as fought. Often to the death. Of course Lord Vetinari the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork has a plan.

There’s also the matter of the mysterious Mister Nutt, a goblin with a dark secret. Hidden beneath the University, employed as a dribbler (which is somebody who dribbles candle wax on the wick to give that perfect eldritch look that wizards require in their light sources). Seen as a posh sort, for having a vocabulary of more than seven hundred words, Mister Nutt is an unlikely candidate for such a dreary job. Yet he seems harmless enough and is taken in by Trev Likely and the kindly Glenda Sugarbean. Unbeknownst to them, their new friend’s past is about to catch up with them all. He is not just any ordinary goblin. The city has become a home for dozens of races, trolls, dwarves, even vampires. Mister Nutt is different, a pawn in a dangerous game of Vetinari’s to resolve centuries old racial conflict. It just so happens he’s chosen the game of foot-the-ball to resolve these issues.

The danger in reviewing Pratchett books is the temptation to try and be as funny. Of course, this is impossible. Also Unseen Academicals contains his usual mixture of satire and commentary. The Discworld novels may be set in a world of mythical creatures, but Pratchett introduces more and more contemporary issues into the mix. Of late the multicural mix of Ankh-Morpork has been given a great deal of attention.

Glenda Sugarbean is yet another strong Pratchett heroine, the only one who sees Mister Nutt for who he really is. As a cook working in the Unseen University, she is privy to the discussions on gentrifying football and resents the manipulation of the working class by ‘the nobs’. Vetinari’s plan is to make the city more progressive, no matter what anyone thinks. The men who play foot-the-ball in the backstreets are being chewed up by mob violence and their wives and daughters are trapped at home hoping for opportunity to snatch them away from their dreary lives.

Pratchett throws in references to Romeo and Juliet, women’s magazines and useless football commentators to keep the joke quotient high, but at the same time what’s most striking is his interest in people, how they think, how they act. Yes this is satire, but more a gentle ribbing of our weaknesses and failings. If ever you’ve read Pratchett before, you already know he’s a master of this kind of thing. If you haven’t, Unseen Academicals is a perfect introduction.

They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other’s defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor, unknowing actors set to play the parts of Juliet and Romeo by a director who had concealed the fact that tomb and poison were already in the script.

I am woefully ignorant of the history of the Italian state. It has always been a source of great curiosity for me, though I have yet to take the time to educate myself. Di Lampedusa’s novel offers a sop to the one desire, describing the advance of Garibaldi’s republican forces and the history of the island colony of Sicily, while also inspiring a new fascination with the life of the author. The Leopard was published post-humously and is one of two books available to modern readers by the writer, the other a collection of critical essays.

The novel describes the slow demise of the Italian aristocracy, faced with the twinned forces of a republican uprising and a burgeoning nouveau riche upper middle class. Prince Fabrizio of Salina presides over his remaining family estates and shrinking interests, attempting to gauge the movement of history. The story begins in the summer of 1860, with the prince paying tribute to his king and afterward granting audience to his own tenants and peasantry. Rumours are growing of an invasion by Garibaldi’s armies. Fabrizio takes council to determine if his interests are threatened by the soldiery. His own nephew Tancredi, for whom he has guardianship, announces that he has joined the red-capped revolutionaries. In him, Fabrizio sees the future of his family line, siding with the tide of modernity that will wash away the Italian fiefdoms and principalities.

The prince has that fatal quality of tragic heroes, being more intellectual and disinterested in his own fate, allowing younger men to take charge. The novel links the passing of old traditions and class with the encroachment of age. Fabrizio’s interest in astronomy is described as a scientific echo of long-dead Roman paganism. He yearns for a more concrete sense of an unchanging, eternal world, seeing only upstarts and vulgar soldiers becoming the new architects of society.

One such bourgeois, Don Calogero Sedara, has a daughter. The rakish Tancredi, returning from combat, spurns the interest of Fabrizio’s daughter Concetta for the more ravishing, and wealthy, Angelica. He entreats his uncle to make the match between the two families. While Fabrizio is wary of elevating the Sedara family’s station, he admires his nephew’s cunning and opportunism. Tancredi’s own father wasted his inheritance and left him penniless as a young man. In this marriage he seeks out a stronger position for himself, just as throwing in his lot with the republicans ensured he was not on the losing side of the conflict. Fabrizio finally agrees to the match, conscious that in doing so the Salina family’s decline is assured, though the young man he regards as a son will thrive.

It is gratifying that this translation of Di Lampedusa’s manuscript by Archibald Colquhoun retains so much of the original’s wit and wordplay. The free association of Roman gods and the starry sky at night; the prince’s retainer describing how Angelica’s grandfather was known as Peppe Mmerda, fertilizer which eventually led to Tancredi’s beautiful fiancé; the allusion to Shakespeare quoted above, as well as references to Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin. Luchino Visconti’s film of the novel was itself a study in opulence confronted with low vulgarity, with the leonine Burt Lancaster in the central roll.

The story itself continues on into the 20th century, showing the eventual fate of the once mighty blond prince’s family, whose feline intelligence is passed on to his embittered spinster daughter Concetta. The significance of the title is a reference to Fabrizio’s nickname, as well as to the fair-skinned, light hair of the Italian nobility. The prince explains to an emissary of the newly formed Senate at one juncture how Sicily is a much conquered colony, having hosted Moors, Spaniards, even the English, yet takes a perverse pride in its permeable heritage. The republican movement unknowingly is simply yet another authority, an aristocracy in all but name, which will be tolerated by the people of the island as every other invader has been.

This is a poignant study of mortality, both of the aging Leopard himself and his entire class’ way of life. A sublime classical work of historical fiction.

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