Sunday, December 30, 2012

"Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon" by Jane Austen

I decided to round out my year of reading Jane Austen by reading her unfinished works too.  My mom gave me this collection for my birthday, and I managed to polish it off over the last couple of weeks.

I liked "Lady Susan" the least of these three -- it is finished, while the other two aren't, but I didn't like any of the characters, especially not Lady Susan herself, who is particularly disagreeable.  I enjoy the epistolary format as a whole, so that didn't bother me.  It concerns the selfish, wanton Lady Susan who spends the whole book trying to marry her daughter off to a rich, foolish man that her daughter despises.

I liked "The Watsons" the best, for it had characters I genuinely cared about and wanted to get to know better.  It seemed to be following a plot line similar to Pride and Prejudice, with an unwealthy family's daughters catching the eye of men of more money and position.  We do at least know how that one would have turned out, thanks to Jane Austen telling her sister Cassandra her plans for the novel.

"Sanditon" reminded me more of Emma, with a whole host of hypochandriacal characters similar to Mr. Woodhouse.  It's not long enough for its heroine to really gain shape, and was the least satisfying read, since there's no record of how Jane Austen intended it to end.  Here's something funny:  for years, I thought the title was "Sandition" -- it wasn't until I started reading this book that I noticed it only has one 'i.'  Silly me.

This is my last book review here on Hamlette's Soliloquy -- from now on, they'll be on The Edge of the Precipice.  I'll still be talking about movies and everything else that strikes my fancy here, though.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Porgy and Bess" (1959) -- Initial Thoughts

I watched Porgy and Bess with my mom over the last couple of evenings, the first time either of us has seen it.  I don't know what she thought of it, but I must confess to being a bit disappointed.

I've wanted to see this musical since I was in high school and learned, while doing a research paper, that George Gershwin wrote it while living on Folly Beach in Charleston, SC.  Folly Beach is one of my family's favorite vacation spots, you see.  I know a few of the songs from it -- I love "Summertime," I like "Bess, You is My Woman," and I've never liked "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'."  And I'm well acquainted with Bobby Darin's version of "It Ain't Necessarily So."  But I'd never heard them in context, and really knew very little about the story line other than that it involves a crippled man named Porgy and a woman of ill repute named Bess.

A few years ago, I read a biography of Otto Preminger that discussed the making of this movie, though I remember very little of it anymore.  But I do recall that Sidney Poitier didn't really want to make this film, and that Preminger worked with the cast to change some of the dialog so that it was less offensive.  Remember, the operetta itself is based in the early twentieth century and was first performed in 1935 -- by the time the movie was made in the late 1950s, people's attitudes and behavior had changed a great deal.  

But anyway, why was I disappointed in this movie?  I felt a lack of emotional oomph in it, if that makes sense.  And it's not the storyline's fault, because the plot of two outcasts, the kind, sweet man who takes in the woman no one else wants anything to do with -- that's right up my alley.  But I never got really caught up in the story, never felt anything more than a half-hearted sympathy for any of the characters.  I've really enjoyed the other Sidney Poitier performances I've seen, particularly in Blackboard Jungle (1955), Pressure Point (1962), and In the Heat of the Night (1967).  Perhaps his unwillingness to play the role kept him from fully engaging in it, or perhaps it's just the lack of chemistry between his Porgy and Dorothy Dandridge's Bess.  Or perhaps the characters just aren't all that well-rounded -- we never learn more about Porgy than that he's sweet, kind, understanding, and crippled.  And we never learn more about Bess than that she's an addict and has a taste for the wrong kind of men.  The other characters are equally thin -- Sammy Davis Jr.'s Sportin' Life is only around to tempt Bess back into drugs and sin, Pearl Bailey's Maria is the Strong Black Woman, Brock Peters' Crown is the Uncontrollable Black Man --  none of the main characters had any real depth to them.  Since this is the only version of this story I've ever seen, I don't know if the original operetta digs into the characters more, or what.  

I have to say that my favorite character in the movie, and the most interesting, was Claude Akins' Detective, who was clearly out of his element in the black neighborhood, but trying to do his best in a thankless job.  He runs the gamut from uncomfortable to patient to exasperated to weary, and I kind of wished we could just follow him around and see what his life was like instead.  This might be partially because I admit I have a soft spot for Claude Akins, but still, it felt to me like he was doing more with a tiny role than the principals were doing with all their screen time.

The sets, the costumes, and the staging I have no quibbles with.  There was one scene I really liked a lot, where Bess changes an orphan's diaper while Porgy watches, his eyes shining with love for this beautiful woman who has brought his life so much joy.

Both characters felt very real, very alive, and very in love in this scene, and if the whole movie had been like it, I would probably have loved it all.  But I am very glad I got to see Porgy and Bess, and I hope I will get the opportunity to see another version some time, to see if I connect better to the characters then.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Jane and the Wandering Eye" by Stephanie Barron

This is the third Jane Austen Mystery, and I think I liked it a teensy bit better than the previous book, Jane and the Man of the Cloth.  It had more of Lord Harold Trowbridge, the Gentleman Rogue who keeps joining the fictional Miss Austen in her adventures, and I'm becoming very fond of him.  Here, his nephew is accused of murder, and Jane and Lord Harold sort out the tangle of deceit and intrigue that obscures the truth.  I don't have much else to say about it, other than that I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

I think I will be posting ONE more book review here, and then posting all new reviews only on my book blog, The Edge of the Precipice, starting at the beginning of next year.  So be ye warned:  if you want to read more about what I'm reading, go follow that blog too :-)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

"The Black Arrow" by Robert Louis Stevenson

I must confess that I have owned a copy of this book for nearly five years, but only now managed to read it. I'm not sure why, as I love the other three of Stevenson's books I've read (namely Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and the somewhat clunky sequel to the latter, David Balfour, also called Catriona just to be confusing).  I guess I just haven't been in the mood for this sort of adventure novel until now.  Now, however, I'm deep in the throes of writing my first YA western, and it seems I wanted to read something exciting that young adults might enjoy, to help me figure out pacing and such.

So anyway, The Black Arrow:  A Tale of the Two Roses runs in the vein of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe and things like that -- it's about a young man named Richard Shelton who learns that the man who became his guardian long ago when Richard's father died is actually the man who murdered said father.  This happens just when the Lancasters and Yorks are engaging in what's called the War of the Roses, battling with each other for England's throne, as was their wont.  Richard runs off and joins up with these guys known as the Fellowship of the Black Arrow who are sworn to kill off four evil men (Richard's ex-guardian included) and are headed up by none other than Richard's dead father's best friend.  But Richard doesn't care much for them, as they're involved in a bit too much thievery for his taste, so he runs off again and joins up with someone else, and falls in love, and has lots of adventures.  This was originally serialized, so it has that Dumas thing going on where we have a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter/installment, and lots of excitement throughout.  Anyway, Richard ends up fighting side-by-side with the future Richard III at one point.

If you like rousing adventures where everyone says "ye" and "anon" and "by the Mass!" and "forsooth," this is quite fun.  I happen to like such things, so I quite liked this.  It's not of the same caliber as Kidnapped or Treasure Island (or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I expect, but I haven't read that yet), but it's quite enjoyable. I'm always trying to learn more about England's history, as it's all a bit fuzzy in my head, so this is helpful there too.

"Garment of Shadows" by Laurie R. King

The Novel Book Ratings blog has posted my review of Laurie R. King's latest Russell/Holmes mystery, Garment of Shadows.  You can read it here.  

Cowboy and I have started rewatching some of the Jeremy Brett versions of Sherlock Holmes movies, and I'm thinking that next year, I'm going to try to read/reread all of the original Sherlock Holmes stories.  We shall see.