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The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge is the first Patricia Duncker book I have read, though I do have another novel and a book of short stories somewhere in the stacks, and I got a hold of this one via the good offices of the very nice people at Bloomsbury ages ago. So something I meant to read and review a while back but the Curse of the Slump took hold, and here we are months and months later finally getting around to reading it.

So, it’s New Year’s Day 2000 and hunters in the Jura region of France find bodies lying in the snow, the result of what appears to be a mass suicide by a cult, not the first time this particular group, The Faith, has done something like this. The investigating judge, Dominique Carpentier, a specialist in religious sects both real and fake, is determined to get to the bottom of this though in some ways, apart from the tragic deaths of the children, it isn’t clear whether any crime has been committed. In pursuing this, Dominique comes across the composer Friedrich Grosz who knows more than he at first lets on. And a battle of wills gets underway.

I absolutely fell in love with Dominique, a woman of intellect and strong convictions, and at first it seems strange when she falls under the spell of Grosz, but he is also a fascinating and powerful character and I could absolutely see why she might be drawn to him.

This is a hugely enjoyable and clever (in the right way) novel which I found difficult to put down. The sense of place is very strong, especially when we are on Dominique’s home turf, and the mixture of religious belief, astronomy and music is very seductive. I wished the ending had been different but it absolutely made sense.

Beautifully written and very enjoyable, I’ve been recommending it to the Book God and Silvery Dude and frankly anyone else who will listen to see what they might think of it. No takers as yet, though.

For another perspective on this book you should visit Paul Magr’s blog where he talks through his reaction.

So this is the third of my planned re-reads for the summer. I’ve enjoyed revisiting these books so much that this is likely to trickle on into the autumn in an unstructured way as befits what I said in this post.

Espedair Street is a great novel about a rock band. I have to put my hand up to say that I would love to have called this one of the great rock novels but to be honest I haven’t read many (actually, I can’t think of another one) so the statement would have been based on no evidence whatsoever. It’s still brilliant, but.

So, the background to this re-read is a random thought that popped into my head on the train into work one morning that Silvery Dude, who shares some of my musical taste, might actually enjoy reading about the rise and fall and possible rise again of Daniel Weir and Frozen Gold because (a) it’s rock’n’roll and (b) more importantly, it’s Scottish rock’n’roll.

So I bought him a copy. I happen to know (because I check regularly in a not-nagging-honestly big sister kind of way, just out of interest, have you got round to it yet?) that he still hasn’t read it (I’m sure he’s saving it for a rainy day or something). Anyway having forced this on him I thought that it would be nice to read along; however, as explained a sentence ago, that very quickly turned into  reading it by myself, not necessarily a bad thing.

The surprise for me was that when I went to check my stats (for yes, I keep stats on what I read, have done since June 1980, thirty years and quite a lot of books ago) I had only read this once, back in July 1992. I’m sure this is a mistake because chunks of the book have stuck in my head, but perhaps that just goes to show how powerful a story I found it to be, and besides, the stats never lie.

So, why is this so brilliant?

  • a large chunk of it is set in my home town of Paisley, so the setting is entirely recognisable (and in fact when I was a toddler we used to live near the actual Espedair Street, plus my Mum grew up in Ferguslie Park) and when I was a student we would occasionally go to the student’s union at Paisley Tech where Daniel meets his future band mates
  • it’s seems to be about the kind of prog rock band that I actually followed (and if I’m honest still do – hello Rush, Genesis, Pink Floyd et al); there are concept albums and drum solos for goodness sake
  • I can quite happily visualise Fish from Marillion (another favourite band) as the lead character (although not now that he doesn’t have the hair)
  • it has the full panoply of rock and roll excess – the drink, the drugs, the fast cars, the paranoia, the more-money-than-you-know-what-to-do-with – but at it’s heart is just about a bloke trying to come to terms with himself and his past
  • Frozen Gold is a great name for a band

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this, intend not to leave it for another 18 years before I pick it up again.

And at least now when Silvery Dude finally gets round to reading it I can talk to him about with greater clarity than I would have done otherwise.

Signing up for the 2010 Graphic Novel Challenge gave me the perfect excuse (in case I really thought I needed one) to re-read the Neil Gaiman Sandman series from scratch, alongside the fascinating-and-occasionally-dipped-into-but-never-properly-read Sandman Companion by Hy Bender. And of course you start at the beginning, with Preludes and Nocturnes.

The thing about the need for an excuse is that my TBR pile (which with my tendency to be unable to avoid buying books plus all the stuff the Book God has in his possession) has actually become a TBR room, if not taking over the whole house, and so any re-reading has to be carefully thought through because there are just so many new(ish) books waiting for me to pick them up.

This is a problem that will not go away for two reasons:

  • the Book God and I currently have a combined age of 106, and if you assume that we both started buying our own books as teenagers (let’s say arbitrarily 15) then that’s potentially 76 years of book buying

Which brings me to reason number 2:

  • I am constitutionally incapable of getting rid of anything vaguely book shaped. At all. So I almost certainly have just about everything I have bought since I was a teenager

So you can see my problem.

Nevertheless the draw of Sandman was irresistible and I ploughed on, really enjoying the opportunity to get back inside a world that I have always enjoyed. And then  another issue hit me – how do I review this? I mean, I can’t really review this as if I have come to it fresh, because I haven’t, and it is such a well-loved series and so many other bloggers have written about it all so eloquently. So I’m not going to attempt the feat at all.

I love it still, and if you haven’t read the series I urge you to have a go.

———–

I’ve also had a couple of relatively rare outings this week (I don’t count cocktails with Silvery Dude and friend on Wednesday because in my simple little mind that’s the sort of thing I should be doing every day); no, this is proper going out for the evening stuff, involving:

  • on Thursday, the Birmingham Royal Ballet performing Sleeping Beauty at the London Coliseum – wonderful stuff with costumes based on the court of Louis XIV and a classic fairy tale on stage the way it should be done
  • on Saturday, The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers at the Royal Albert Hall, with the full score performed live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra – and lovely to see Howard Shore, the composer, take a bow at the end.

And then home to Dr Who and River Song. What more could a girl want?

fotr-liveIt seems only fitting that during Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge (when my mind is on all things fantasy) I had the opportunity to experience something really quite unusual – a screening of Fellowship of the Ring with Howard Shore’s complete score performed live by the London Philharmonic Orchestra  at the Royal Albert Hall. The film was shown on a huge screen with subtitles so you could still follow the dialogue, and I don’t think I can find the words to describe just what a fantastic evening it was. From where I was sitting I had a clear view of the conductor’s podium, and could see the laptop giving the musical cues that allowed Ludwig Wicki to bring the orchestra and choirs in at the right time. Magnificent stuff and if any of you get the chance to see something like this you should really go along. They are planning to perform The Two Towers next year and I’ll definitely be there if I can.

btt2This week’s Booking Through Thursday is about songs, because they have words too.

The question is: What songs, either specific songs or songs in general by a specific group or writer have words that you love? Why? And do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them?
This is a hard one as I listen to a lot of music and have quite a few favourite songs (about 140 that I would classify as favourites on my iPod) but the two stuck most in my head at the moment are:

“Upside Down” by Barenaked Ladies

“Fearless” by Pink Floyd

About thirty years apart but both little gems of perfection. And I have been known to sing along with each of them very loudly (and mostly out of tune).

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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