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Well, The Strain – where to start?

OK, so a plane lands in New York and kind of just sits on the runway, totally blacked out, no sound, no nothing. Quite creepy. The CDC are called when the plane is opened and everyone on it is found to be dead and nobody knows why or how. Except of course there are one or two who have survived but things don’t look good for them for long. Or indeed for the ones that are already dead.

Then there’s the really big box with the strange carvings and filled with smelly earth which disappears behind everyone’s backs.

Is there a new kind of virus rampaging through New York or is this a more insidious and ancient evil making itself felt?

What do you reckon? Yes, its “Dracula on a Plane”!

Which does seem a bit unfair given I read the second half of this in one sitting on the first Saturday of my holiday and enjoyed it sufficiently to know that I will almost certainly get the sequel when it comes out in paperback next year.  You can see the Great Guillermo’s paws all over the plot and the biology (which is lovely and gruesome), and it’s all incredibly easy to visualise.

But it isn’t as original as it thinks it is. Though to be fair maybe it doesn’t think it’s original and is just happily getting on with re-telling an old story in a modern setting with a thriller twist.

And all the thriller elements are definitely here:

  • the troubled hero with family problems (divorce, custody battle, on the wagon after manful struggle with alcoholism) tasked with finding out just what we are dealing with here;
  • the attractive co-worker who has been/almost certainly wants to continue being more than a friend;
  • the old man who is more than he appears, with esoteric knowledge they need, a haunted past and a plan that just might work if only someone would listen to him;
  • an ancient evil from the Old Country who is more powerful than you could ever imagine (some great puny mortal moments);
  • a man with far too much money and a debilitating illness who will do anything to live forever;
  • the friend that isn’t totally on their side and no one finds out until it’s just too late, dammit;
  • oh and a range of bureaucrats who do the whole “I can’t believe what you’re telling me, will you listen to yourself” schtick and not much else until it’s all beyond our control.

I can see the mini-series galloping towards me, probably on SyFy. It will be gross if done properly. It will be silly if not. I have already started casting this in my head.

If I was participating in RIP  V, then this would have been my first read.

I have been a huge fan of Posy Simmonds for many a long year; used to read her strips in The Guardian on the women’s page when I was a student, and have a number of her children’s books because I love her drawing style so much.

Tamara Drewe also appeared in The Guardian as a serial but it has been reworked for publication as a graphic novel, and is a very enjoyable look at the lives of the chattering classes in a countryside setting, where the members of a writer’s retreat are affected by the reappearance of Tamara after her nose job and with a successful career as a newspaper columnist. Tragedy strikes, as it inevitably must.

I’m not sure I really liked any of the characters much, and I’m not sure whether I was supposed to or not. The writer’s retreat lot were very middle class, pretty smug and deserved most of what they got. The locals, especially two teenagers, Jody and Casey, are also caught up in all the stuff around Tamara, and what happens to them is not so deserved. But it’s enjoyable as a black comedy, well written and looks fabulous.

If I was still taking part in the Graphic Novel Challenge 2010 then this would have been a read for that, but to be honest the reason I picked this out of the stacks where it has been languishing for a while is that Silvery Dude and his Good Lady saw the film version (fluff, forgettable but not awful was I think what he said), and thought I’d prefer the source to the movie.

And I’m probably right.

I finished reading this memoir a few weeks ago and have been mulling it over in my mind since then, trying to decide what I want to say about it.

The problem is the one I always have when trying to discuss a book that is all about a real person by themselves. It’s almost impossible, unless you are going to be extraordinarily cautious, to talk about this sort of memoir without seeming to be reviewing the their life rather than how they have written about it.

So this might be a bit disjointed (why change the habit of a lifetime, I hear you ask).

First things first, Candia McWilliam is the author of three (I think) novels and a book of short stories. I have these in my possession and have read them all apart from (I think) the short stories. I really like her work, it’s difficult to describe in terms of style but the best way to put it I suppose is that it isn’t simple; she was often picked on by Private Eye for being pretentious, for example. So its been a real shame that she hasn’t published anything since the 1990s.

But What to Look for in Winter is really about the blindness which she developed from 2006, a condition called blepharospasm where vision isn’t impaired in terms of the eyes themselves, but you cannot open them. It’s about dealing with a condition that prevents her from indulging in the one thing that keeps her going – reading. It’s also about her life, her marriages, her children, her alcoholism, the things that influence her and what she goes through to find a way of seeing again, and the operations that are designed to allow her to open her eyes.

I found it incredibly moving and at times almost impossible to read because of her pain over her failed relationships and how she views herself, but it was also difficult to put down. It’s not what I would call a misery memoir, it’s hard going in places but it is also really worth persevering with, although the thing that stuck with me is how connected she still is with the past. She shares a bond with the fathers of her children which I understand but they are so heavily involved in her daily life, even before her blindness, in a way that I found very strange. I’m not sure I could keep such a close connection with people whom I had hurt or who had hurt me in the ways that she describes. But as I said at the beginning, not for me to judge, though i did get a bit impatient with her occasionally.

So rewarding, but not a light or easy read.

Postscript: an interesting review by Andrew Motion in The Guardian can be found here.

Time once again to mop my fevered brow as work has come to an end for three weeks at least and I am now on holiday. Which explains why it has been so quiet around here recently and as I tried to get myself in a good place with work responsibilities so that I could go off with as clear a conscience as possible.

And three Cosmopolitans in a nice hotel bar with one of my best friends on my last day certainly started me off on the right foot.

 So apologies for not visiting blogs, not leaving comments (which I’m usually rubbish at anyway) and not posting recently. Will aim to clear my review backlog before I go, and will be taking my trusty laptop away with me so hope to blog my hols as I did last year.

And of course there is the book bag, which contains (in no particular order):

Which, when you add the book I’m currently reading (which is The Fleet Street Murders by Charles Finch) looks like a reasonable haul.

Hit the road tomorrow; Derbyshire here we come!

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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October 2010