Quite a weird experience. Half the time I had no idea what the author was on about – and yet I read on. Because the brazen playfulness with which he treated (some might say mistreated) the format was amazing. There were features I thought to have been ‘invented’ in the second half of the last century by writers like Joseph Heller or Kurt Vonnegut – yet this book was published in the second half of the eighteenth.
Some tricks I even never saw before. Example? How about just giving two following chapters numbers, leaving them otherwise completely blank; later mentioning (but not explaining) “the necessity I was under of writing the 25th chapter of my book, before the 18th” and then having the two chapters ‘bona fide’, as it were?
Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;—they are the life, the soul of reading!
Not bad as a 19th-century semi-historical adventure book for boys. No match for, say, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow, but no worse than George Manville Fenn’s novels, and better than his own The Black Douglas.
My only complaint is about the first, fairly long, scene in Sawny Bean’s cave. Quite ‘Gothic’, but as of course it was obvious the heroes would survive so they could marry and live happily ever after, it was almost unbearably boring, rather than thrilling.
Tolerably captivating, and featuring some favourite Hawes themes like the post-Soviet East or the main hero’s fear that his life passes too fast, but nowhere near the geysers of hilarity and ordinary-life observations that were A White Merc with Fins and Rancid Aluminium. The best feature for me was one of the characters explaning something I had long been convinced about myself: you can plan your life as you will, but something brutal and quite unexpected by any average citizen (in his case the Yugoslav Wars, incidentally my favourite example) can always be just around the corner.
I can’t say I was bored, but of the three novels by the author I’ve read so far this one was the weakest. The ‘historical’ hero doesn’t seem able to decide whether he wants to be a martyr for his faith or to save his skin at any cost; the reasons for the interest a particular contemporary of his takes in him are unclear (they were to me, anyway); and although I could find some similarities between the ‘modern’ hero and myself, there were not enough to enable me to really relate to him. So while not bored, having finished the book I didn’t even look the main characters up to see which, if any, were based on real historical persons, as I would normally do.
Very good. A concise account of the Friends’ past and present: if I had this book a few years ago, when first becoming interested in the topic, it would have saved me a lot of time and effort spent on gleaning all the information therein contained from divers internet sources. Also, the author being British, Liberal Quakerism is given a bit more space than the Evangelical and Conservative traditions. (Incidentally his name is really Ben Pink Dandelion, poor soul.)
It is what it claims: a description of the few Tudor kings and queens, neither too short nor too long. (Although perhaps longer than ‘very’ short, unless you really take is as an ‘introduction’ into a topic you want to study in more detail later. I don’t.)
A bit of a disappointment. The problem was, partly at least, that I had the book recommended by Terry Pratchett (in A Slip of the Keyboard), which led to the mistaken belief it was a comic fantasy like the Discworld novels. In fact, despite the ocassional wisecrack, it’s about as comic as a Philip Marlowe mystery. (Also, a lot of the cultural allusions/references were lost on me.) In fact, I enjoyed best the part when the hero goes to lie low for a time in a small Wisconsin town – an almost slice-of-life part. And the ‘end’ drags on and on like the end of Planxty Noel Hill . . .
No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other’s tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, remember, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature.
(Mr Ibis, p 322)
I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative.
(Sam(antha) Black Crow, p 394)
Despite the title, the book is about medieval England; Wales and Scotland are only mentioned in the context of English wars with them and English attempts at colonising them – there’s as much about Ireland and more about France. But given that English history of the period was what I was after, having had tolerable knowledge of Scottish history from other sources, I wasn’t disappointed.
There seems to be a pattern to late Discworld novels: They begin as mostly jokes, wordplay &c, but gradually the fun is being sidelined and some ethical allegory takes the centre of the stage.
No excuses. He’d promised himself that. No excuses. No excuses at all. Once you had a good excuse, you opened the door to bad excuses.
(of Sam Vimes, p 138)
Vimes tried to think. Don’t think of it all as one big bucket of snakes. Think of it as one snake at a time. Try to sort it out. Now, what needs to be done first?
All right, try a different approach.
Home was where you had to feel safe. If you didn’t feel safe, it wasn’t home.
(of Sam Vimes, p 341)
Aussi bon, aussi drôle que je me suis souvenu (je l’avait lu, en traduction anglaise, il y a un quart de siècle). Et comme toujours dans une telle situation, le plaisir de comprendre des blagues dans une langue étrangère ajoutait à la drôlerie.
Trì seann sgeulachdan à Earra-Ghàidheil. Fìrinn innse, mur eil ùidh mhòr agaibh ann am beul-aithris agus/no mur eil sibh gu math fileanta, cha chreid mi gun còrd an leabhar ruibh mòran. Chan eil an dàrna (agus as giorra) sgeulachd dona, ach tha a’ chiad tè ro mhì-reusanta eadhon mar fhairytale, agus an treas tè làn briathrachais co-cheangailte ri calanas.
Probability was one of the three courses I actually enjoyed at college (the others were English and one particular semester of railway building; poor result for a civil engineering institution). But as they say, “use it or lose it”: I’ve forgotten nearly all I’d learned then. Hence a decision to refresh my memory of the basics at least.
The beginning was all right, but soon came a moment when even after being told and ‘explained’ the solution I sometimes didn’t understand the explanation. And once the author got to TV games and suchlike, I often failed to understand the question, let alone follow the explanation.
Now the book did remind me of some things I’d half-forgotten, and tell me some I never knew; but while not a complete failure, I have to admit it was a bit of a disappointment. (Of course, I realise that the problem may be more on my side than the author’s. But that doesn’t help me.)
 Eg, “Two guys play the best of five games, but have to finish when the score is 2-1. How do you divide the prize justly? Count the numbers of possible outcomes giving the overall victory to either if they did play on and make the ratio. Thus one should get 3/4, the other 1/4.” Eh? The posssible scenarios are: from 2-1 to 3-1, or to 2-2 to 3-2, or to 2-2 to 2-3. How do you from 3 possibilities, 2 winning for one side, 1 for the other, get to quarters?
 For instance, the way something called The Colour of Money was described, I had no idea what a possible decision of the player would result in immediately, not to say in the long run.
 Like, “She played the King. That means that if she had King alone, she had to play it, but if she had both King and Queen, she might have played the Queen.” I’m not willing to go and learn the rules of whist just to understand that.