Emma.

Emma., from Autumn de Wilde and based on the Jane Austen novel, is wonderful. It is staged and costumed is style and well acted all around. It has pretty much everything that a good adaptation is supposed to have.

Emma. stars Anya Taylor-Joy as the title character, and she fully carries the film. The supporting players, with people like Bill Nighy, are also excellent. While this is the director’s first film, Emma. feels incredibly confident all around. This movie knows exactly what it is and what it wants from every scene, every shot.

Emma brings to mind two recent literary adaptations. The movie that most comes to mind is Whit Stillman’s recent Austen adaptation, Love & Friendship. While the works that were the bases for these two movies are very different, the movies show how to make engaging Austen adaptations; treating the subjects with enough irreverence. Emma is possibly Austen’s most overtly comic novel, and Lady Susan, the basis for Love & Friendship, was a deliberate inversion of such stories. Emma is a character who is never in any kind of danger; unlike the characters of most Austen novels her place in society, and that of her family, is not reliant on her making a good marriage. Emma’s problem is Emma. By putting the focus on her and letting her highlight the small hypocrisies of eighteenth century society, and contemporary society in some ways, it lets the novel be more comic. The movie plays this up. Emma is clever and well meaning, but she is also flawed. The movie focuses on those flaws, and still finds a way to make her charming. She may cause disaster after disaster, but since the movie makes her well meaning intent clear it is easy to forgive her. Since there are genuinely no stakes, it makes it easy to just go along. Love & Friendship had greater stakes, as Lady Susan and her daughter were in a precarious social situation. That movie revelled in how much Lady Susan was allowed to get away with because of the politeness of society. Emma is in a similar situation, but with less of reason to flout rules but a better motive in doing so.

Another movie that comes to mind is last year’s Little Women from Greta Gerwig. The movies share a modern sensibility applied to a classic work. Little Women did more to make the story its own with the structure of the movie, interweaving the two halves of the novel into one cohesive storyline, while Emma is much more a straight adaptation. But there is something in the attitude of Emma that feels more modern. The structural and thematic changes to Little Women were part of why it was so well received. Emma will likely not get such a rapturous reaction, but it was just as entertaining of a film.

Emma. is the first great movie I’ve seen this year. It is pretty much everything one could want out of a literary adaptation. If you have any interest in these sorts of adaptations, you owe it to yourself to see this.

****1/2

What I Read July 2018

I read two books again in July. I’d hoped the summer would free my time up some, but it really hasn’t. I might manage more in August than July, but I wouldn’t bet on such a proposition.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon is Entirely Vindicated

Whit Stillman

This is the adaptation of Stillman’s movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, which is included in this volume. The books sets itself up as a rebuttal, written by a relative of Lady Susan’s, to the Jane Austen story. It takes spins things to show that Lady Susan was good and thoughtful person subjected to gossip and innuendos from the stuck up De Courcy family. It is hilarious. The fictional author does his best to make Lady Susan look good, but it is clear who and what she is. The more interesting revelations about are about that fictional author, whose pathetic state are eventually revealed. It is mostly just an amusing supplement to the excellent movie. Speaking of which, if you haven’t seen Love and Friendship, you should really do so. The book sparkles with the same wit as the movie, as well as echoing its re-framing of Lady Susan from the villain she is in the original book.

Master and Fool

JV Jones

The final book in Jones’ trilogy with the most generic of all possible titles: ‘The Book of Words.’ This kind of feels like Jones didn’t really leave the character’s where she needed them at the end of the last book, so a lot has to happen at the start of this one to get things in place for the main thrust of the story. I feels a little forced, but it is mostly enjoyable, even if things don’t really link up as well as they might have. Mostly, I liked this book. While it is an ending, it doesn’t really feel like a final book. It leaves most of the characters in place for what could have been (maybe have been, I haven’t read any of Jones’ other work) more adventures.

I do have problems with the book. For one, it takes the female lead out of the picture pretty early on and gives her nothing to do for the bulk of the book. She isn’t exactly sidelined, but she doesn’t have anything to do other than to wait for the other characters to come back and save her. Another problem is how much time the book spends with the corrupt, plotting priest whose name I forget. He is a menacing yet comical character, but his machinations never really amount to anything. Other than providing updates on the rest of the world, he only really matters to about two chapters. Why is he there so much? He constantly feels like he is laying the groundwork for something that never materializes. All the pages wasted on that priest kind of highlight how rushed the rest of the story is. The book is enjoyable and fine, but it could have been better. I would read more by JV Jones, though.

What I Read in May

 

I know I’m way behind on these. I’ve been writing at them on an off, but I just wasn’t able to get any finished. The same goes for just about anything I’ve tried to post lately. I have a hard drive rapidly accumulating half-finished blog posts and various reviews. But with some time off work, I decided to hunker down and acutally get some work done. Luckily, or not depending, the change in work schedule that left me with less time to write also left with less time to read, so I don’t have as many books to review as usual after May.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Mary Robinette Kowal

Shades is a fantasy version of Jane Austen, which sounds like a great thing to me, at least. Unfortunately, when adding magic Kowal somehow managed to lose all the wit and vitally that Austen characters generally possess. What is left is the unremarkable romantic plotting and a fairly interesting magic system.

Protagonist Jane has a talent for glamour, the magic of this series, but doesn’t really possess any real vitality one the page. She faints through the plot until it comes to a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Her sister Melody never rises higher than being a nuisance. Jane’s biggest dilemma stems from her needing to choose between the largely decent Mr. Dunkirk and the ill-mannered artist Mr. Vincent.

The plot plays out with a readable slowness that Austen got away with due to her wit. Kowal focuses on the magic, and it is a well-thought out, interesting magic system, but there is no life in the narrative. Shades of Milk and Honey isn’t precisely bad, but it does show the dangers of hewing too close to a classic source.

Persuasion

Jane Austen

Reading this just after Shades of Milk and Honey made me more aware of Shades’ flaws. Persuasion isn’t Austen’s best, but there is certainly more going on here than in that read alike.

This feels like a novel that Jane Austen wrote for herself, where a somewhat older woman, by those times’ standard, ends up writing the wrongs of her life and living happily ever after. Plus, the supporting characters spring right off the page, with amusing faults and larger than life personalities.

Persuasion is a little more straightforward in the plot department than most of Austen’s other novels, with no big surprises along the way. It really shines on the strength of the incidents it contains. Weak Austen is still better than the best facsimile.

Something Rotten

Jasper Fforde

This is the big final to the first section of Fforde’s Thusrday Next novels, tying up all the loose ends from the previous three books. I loved those books, and I love this one.

It really does tie the whole series together, even the sections that seemed entirely superfluous on my first reading. It is still kind of messy, but that is where the charm to this series is. The rules, for better or worse, are pretty well established by this point, but Something Rotten still manages to have some fun. Hamlet is great, as are the book visits. I don’t know what to say other than I like this books a lot and want to keep reading them forever. The Thursday Next series are books for people who love books, and I am one of those people.

The Thin Woman

Dorothy Cannell

This is a book I have some history with. My mother had a beaten to death old copy of this and I happened to pick it up and start reading. Unfortunately, it was beaten up enough that it was consigned to the garbage, and I was unable to finish it. So with my new Kindle in hand, I used the internet to find the title, my mom’s copy was short a cover, and found the book. While it isn’t one of my favorites, it was pretty good and finally being able to know how it ends was worth seeking out.

Hefty Ellie hires an escort to go pose as her fiancé at a family get together and in an absurd turn of events must play out the ruse, as well as lose weight, in order to get an inheritance. She also must solve a mystery involving the house left to her. Once past the ridiculousness of the premise The Thin Woman is a good mystery.

What I Read in April

This is not what I read last month but the month before because I kind of got distracted and didn’t finish in time. Then I went on vacation and still didn’t get it posted. Books for May will come later in the week. I read five books in April, 3 of them were really good. I’m mostly satisfies with my reading pace this year; I should manage to read more than fifty books this year, which was my goal. Getting on with it:


Emma, Jane Austen

Jane Austen was the master of the novel of manners, and Emma may be her masterpiece. Personally, I’m slightly more fond of Pride and Prejudice, but it is a near thing.

Unlike Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, the protagonist of Emma, Emma Woodhouse, is often the target of the comedy. We are not reading just her reactions to the hypocritical, pompous or foolish actions of those around her but also seeing her act the same as those around her. She constantly makes mistakes or misreads situations, but still the reader sympathizes with her. None of her mistakes are out of any sort of malice; she merely overestimates her social abilities. Elizabeth Bennet mostly stands apart from the stupidities of those around her, like her mother or Mr. Collins. They may affect her, but she does not partake in their foolishness. Emma, though, is just as capable of foolishness as anyone in her story is. She is a highly entertaining character.

What puts Pride and Prejudice over Emma, for me, is the near complete lack of plot in Emma. Things happen, to be sure, but there isn’t much of a central plot to tie everything together. Also, Emma is half again as long. I have no complaint with long books, but combined with Emma’s lack of plot it is a slight problem. Emma is a classic for a reason and a classic that is still worth a read today simply for the enjoyment of it.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
In not exactly anticipation, more like serendipitous recognition, I read Water for Elephants just before the movie came out. I did not see the movie, and have no plans to, though I wouldn’t avoid the opportunity if is arose, but the book was all right.

The parts that are about the circus are genuinely enjoyable. Gruen does a great job of making the setting real. While circuses are no something I’ve ever really cared for, I can see why running away to join the circus was a thought of young boys for a long time in this book. And I can see even more clearly how dangerous and treacherous circuses were. The setting in this book is an astounding combination of wonder and ruthlessness. The setting alone is a good enough reason to read this book.

That is a good thing, because the love story that makes up the central plot is mostly lifeless and dull. Once the players are on stage anyone who had ever read a love story can tell how it will play out. There are no surprises or twists, just a tale of falling in love centered on the two least interesting characters in the novel. Still, I would give Water for Elephants a tenuous recommendation.

The Devil’s Eye, Jack McDevitt

I am not familiar with the writer of this book at all; I found it on the clearance rack at Books-a-Million and thought it looked interesting. The Devil’s Eye was a surprisingly good read.

The book starts as a Sci-Fi Detective novel, which is great. Chase Colpath and Alex Benedict try to solve a mystery involving the disappearance of a horror writer by following her trail at the last place she was seen. It has a great mix of Sci-Fi action, with alien monsters and space travel, and regular mystery solving. It is obviously not the first story starring the intrepid investigators, but The Devil’s Eye doesn’t skimp on letting the reader get to know these characters. For as long as the mystery was being solved I thought this was going to become a new favorite of mine.

The problem arises when, about two-thirds the way through, they solve the mystery and then must deal with the aftermath. It could be an interesting way to go about ending this book. The protagonists never really consider the implications of rooting out the mystery and whether or not it was right to (it absolutely was) until after it is too late. However, the aftermath part ends up lending an importance to the main characters that rings false. When they are investigating a disappearance and discrepancies about it, they role makes sense. Later they seem to have world changing power. It is as though a police detective started hanging out with the President. It just makes no sense.

All that said The Devil’s Eye is still a fine read. I’ll be looking into McDevitt’s other works, but my enjoyment of this one did take a big it as it floundered to it end.

Pemberley Shades,  DA Bonavia-Hunt

A couple of months ago I had the bright idea to read what was basically published Jane Austen fan fiction. I purchased three books (I have to note that I got them for pennies) and the two I read went over about as well as one should expect. I had that third one just sitting there, so I decided to go ahead and read it so I could get rid of it and be done with this disaster of an idea

I wish I had read this one first, because it is actually not bad. For three quarters, it is almost good. Pemberley Shades is another sequel to Pride and Prejudice, though fortunately it reads more like the continuing life of the characters from the book and not new people who happen to share their names. The new characters fit right in to Austen’s milieu as well.

Unfortunately, as the book concludes you begin to realize that while the characters are mostly right, the author did not actually have a story to tell. Things that felt like they were building fizzle unsatisfactorily, motivations change for no reason and then it just sort of ends. I would not recommend this. I am not sure why I read it.

The Bellmaker, Brian Jacques.

This is where my re-read of the Redwall series ends for now. Not because I’m not liking the books, far from it, but because they are all so similar to each other that reading them in rapid succession makes them all run together in my mind.

The Bellmaker is, as far as I can tell, one of the few Redwall books to be a sequel that features the same cast as an earlier book. This one is again about Mariel and her cohorts. Though it is titled The Bellmaker, Joseph the Bellmaker has little to do with it. It has all the hallmarks of the other Redwall book; swashbuckling action, dangerous but cowardly villains and larger than life heroes. It also focused more on seafaring than most of the previous books. It is present in most of them to one degree or another, but it is more prevalent here than in any others. The Bellmaker is not the best book in the series, but neither is it out of line with the general quality.

Last Month in Reading

It’s time for the monthly review of the books I read last month.   Quite the variety in terms of subjects and quality.  Still a good month for in terms of number of books read.

Opening Atlantis, Harry Turtledove

The first of Turtledove’s trilogy of Atlantis alternate history novels, Opening Atlantis is an adequate read.  It is not mind blowing or anything, but it is sufficiently competent and entertaining to be worth reading.  The novel tells the story of an alternate history where a large island, or small continent, (I’ve since realized that it is the East Cost pulled off of America) sits between Europe and America.  Dubbed Atlantis by its discoverers, the novel follows it is colonization up through its equivalent of the French-Indian War through the eyes of the original English settler and his descendants.

One problem with it is that it covers too much time and is too much of a history to really develop the characters.  This is very much a novel of plot and not character, but the viewpoint is too close to the characters to give a wide, history like view. Another problem is that Atlantis’ history too closely mirrors America’s.  What is the point of an alternate history when it sticks so close to actual history?  This is more of a mild disappointment than a big problem, though.  With all of history to use as a canvas, Turtledove transplants what we already know with some cosmetic changes.  I hope the latter books deliver on the promise that Opening Atlantis nearly squanders.

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