Report on Fabulous Monsters

Fabulous Monsters by Alberto Manguel inspired great discussion last night and – as all good choices – it struck various chords and resonated differently with all readers. In this it was a fine choice, even if it may not have passed the Wilson test for all readers, nor have encouraged all readers to finish.
Thanks to BM for a very thorough and thoughtful review of the book. Discussion of the various characters and allusions within the chapters raised the wider realisation of how very diverse and wide-ranging Manguel’s content was. Although for some this does, and has, inspired further reading to investigate references and characters, the obverse is to some it read as rather disjointed and scattered. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Further discussion of the volume identified that there may have been issues around the editing and the very fine line that this work walked between being academic-oriented versus having popular appeal. The illustration by the author were widely appreciated and Joe I believe that you raised the value of reading this in physical form where it encouraged random reading of chapters and not being constrained to a Kindle-enforced sequence. There seemed little arc to the sequence as was pointed out … the chapters themselves seemed to stand each on its own as an essa
A further issue was raised as to whether the book lived up to its promise or that maybe certain readers raised their own expectations to unattainable heights?  However, I think all agreed that the premise/question:  why certain fictional characters can have a deeper impact on our lives than those flesh and blood ones that we share our existence with – was unique and something worth exploring. Whether the author actual accomplished this is the bigger question. There was an opinion put forward that the vast number of characters and related characters introduced in the book came across, not as a deeply reflective piece, but more as pure vanity on the part of the author – a demonstration that he was well-read and could pull references from a massive range of classic and multi-cultural literary sources. The emergent theme in the writing was that Manguel was raising the awareness of lesser recognised but particularly important characters in literature and calking for these fabulous monsters to be remembered and considered.
As Jim said, it would be amazing to attend a lecture by this fellow and in fact possibly, if we were able to hear his voice in these various mini-lectures that is the best way to contextualise and enjoy this book.
So enough attempts to try and remember what we may or may not have said last night in our cosy cellar. I hope I caught at least some of the notes of the discussion.

The scores for the record (and entered into our ledger) were:

Brian M – 7.5
Jim – 6.0
Joe – 6.0
Declan – 5.0
Fergal – No Vote Cast
Ruairi – 5.0
Brian C – 3.5
Shawn – 4.0
Mike – 5.0
For an average of 5.25 and a cheaper night for Brian M than he started to fear ;-)
Thanks Brian for the recommendation.
So…on to January
We had three books suggested:
Shawn: Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Mike: Rebecca by Daphne de Maurier
Brian M: Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan.

The voting here was as close as it could be (and I will note that I had Mike verify my math on this and it seems to have held up this morning).

With votes of 19,18,17 the read for the coming month is Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan.

I wish you all the very best for the season and now return you to yr regularly scheduled programming. Take care and as always cherish your esteemed collegiality and look forward to the coming year.

Review of The Allure of the Archives

I am very unsure that I can craft a review that does any justice to the sheer lyricism of this book. 
It is to be savoured. The narrative exists ob a variety of levels from the small anecdotal insertions of individual experiences of the archives to the wider reflection on the role of the historian, the exuberance of finding lives otherwise hidden and doing justice to the lives reflected in the authoritative remnants of the past. 
This pure treat is a faceted nugget of personal reflection crafted in a way that demands absolutely and willing engagement. I was drawn to connect this work with the same passion that came from Jules Michelet’s own reflections on his drive to establish the foundations of the Franch National Archives. 
Farge could not be more pervasive is capturing this engagement with the lives that embody the fragments of the French criminal archives but supremely conveys how the role of the historian extends beyond reflection and in reading but demands intrinsic emotional empathy.

Review of The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted from the Journals of John H. Watson, M.D.

I didn’t warm to this novel initially and it took a good chunk of the book before I became rather engrossed. However, the Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols by Nicholas Meyer grabbed my attention after 20% and there was no turning back.
This is a very clever, well-conceived and true to form hommage to Arthur Conan Doyle. This mystery involves foreign espionage, travels and a telling look at the origins of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Beyond that, the familiar characters of Sherlock Holmes, Dr John Watson return along with some equally distinguished characters from history. The tale is gripping, fullsome and wonderfully historically engaged. Meyer is adeptly able to adopt the voice of Conan Doyle and spin a tale that resembles the shape of the Victorian hero we have all come to know. The biggest challenge to this is the wide variety of actors who have portrayed these same characters. In this, you get to choose who you see when you read.
Meyers skills are well demonstrated and fans of ACD as well as Meyers’s own creations will find this a superb read.
Heartily enjoyed and recommended!

Review of Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

A book club alternate this month, I am always looking for a few more suggestions and this one was a great read. Despite promises of post-apocalyptic grittiness and Atwoodian overtones, I chanced a delve and was well rewarded.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is a 2014 novel that flits skilfully between the days (and years) leading up to a global pandemic that reduces the world’s population by 99% in the space of days. and in subsequent decades surviving stragglers cope with life in a brutal world. The tale focusses on a number of individuals who all shared connection to Arthur Leander, an actor who suffers a heart attack just as the world faces the pandemic.

St John Mandel weaves the individual characters’ stories and timeshifts with particular aplomb that really sets this novel apart. The writing is evocative because it pointedly has the characters facing hard choices and verbalising what this world reduced to a medieval state would feel like and force people to as a means of survival. This renders things stark and shocking. And it makes you think – this is why it is a clever and superb piece of writing.

The characters seem absolutely believable, knowable, relatable and genuine. We get to know them and we can see ourselves in their number. It’s not a didactic novel though. I am sure that there is much that I miss, but the overwhelming lesson seems to be to cherish your time and the relationships in your life. There is a sense that fate drowns the world and its population, much like the graphic novel’s cosmic aquatic world that is woven into the storyline. Set in perpetual dusk or dawn that reflects the state of the world after the pandemic, a quest for ‘the Light’ puts the survivors broader plight into a wider perspective. In this the end or beginning, the dusk or dawn? There is the good in people that emerges and there is the weakness that can be preyed upon by those with malevolent intent. That’s an older story, but St John Mandel seems to question how much individuals and are the product of their past, their experience and how these colour their behaviour.

Ultimately the novel is a satisfying meal that provokes thought and engages the reader in a compelling tale. It is far less dark than I initially feared. I would fulsomely admit that I enjoyed and am glad to have read it and would highly recommend it. I found it unique both in conception, approach but especially in how well the characters are formed and deployed. A good tale told especially well.