Sunday, 27 May 2018

"Like watching Eastenders for 3 hours"

 Just 3 freebies over these past few weeks but they were the most time consuming freebies ever. I can't even be mithered to write about the free Monster Energy water given away at Piccadilly Rail Station or the excellent safety and tourism stuff at the same place. Pretty pictures of them at Insta, instead. As ever, the book reviews are from my Goodreads profile.

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (Six Tudor Queens, #3)
I read this for free thanks to The Pigeonhole.

That Henry VIII was a lad, eh? Married his brother's widow and stayed that way for over 20 years albeit with a bit of philandering on the side. Then his eye is turned by young woman with some sexy French methods of seduction and off he sets on a new career of serial marrier.

Jane Seymour was the third of Henry's wives and previously a maid in waiting to Queen Catherine and then Anne Boleyn. Her ambitious family hustled to get Jane into court to further the family's standing. Jane would have preferred to go into a quiet life of prayer but circumstances find her up close tot he politics and scandals of the day and then she catches the King's eye and next thing you know she's the Queen and [spoiler alert] Anne a sword through her neck. Can't say I'd have fancied getting involved myself but with a pushy brother and, well, the King working at you you can't really say no can you?

From this book Jane does genuinely seem to have loved Henry and he likewise. If you don't know your British history then this would be a spoiler but I'll assume you know these basics. Jane died several weeks after giving birth to the son Henry longed for and must be the wife he loved most (we don't find out because the book is all from jane's perspective and ends as she dies).

The good thing about Weir's books is that you don't need to read them in order. Each is self-contained and meticulously researched. A decent epilogue from the author explains where she has made assumptions and used artistic licence but generally the book is factually based.

It is a novel, of course. This isn't a history text and it reads as a plotted story. One gripe of mine is that it is very heavy on dialogue which has to be based on assumption rather than fact. It's not a big deal but I did fancy a bit more description of life at court and Tudor surroundings at times.

If you've read Alison Weir before you'll know what to expect. This is the third or fourth book I've read and won't be the last, I'm sure.

View all my reviews

A Long Day's Journey into Night by Eugene O' Neill at HOME, Manchester.

Oh boy. At the end of 3 hours my head dropped to the back of the seat in front in exhaustion. You know the kitchen scenes in Eastenders? Imagine one of those that lasts 3 hours. 4 main characters and bit part character for 3 hours, arguing relentlessly. The smallest word out of line sends people into a flying rage, about 4 bottles of whiskey are consumed, spittle flies across and apologies are made and everyone calms down.

For 40 seconds, then someone else takes umbrage and the cycle starts again. Jeez. Theatre isn't escapism when it's like this - I could have just stopped at home. We've swapped Albert Square for Connecticut and the modern era for the early 1900s, but the atmos remains a trifle tetchy.

But I'm most likely wrong. this is a Pullitzer Prize winning play that has been performed countless times and I've not found a bad review yet. Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson were in the first movie adaptation - it's obviously a well thought of piece of work. I just couldn't cope with the endless negativity and searched for metaphor, underlying meanings and back stories - I failed. I read some notes after watching this performance and it seems I hadn't misunderstood anything, it just isn't my cup of tea (or glass of whiskey in this case).

But that's just the play. That's my personal view of Mr O' Neill's masterpiece. How about his performance? HOME never disappoints on that part.

I've said before that set deign fascinates me and HOME is special. No curtain and no changes of scenery requires considerable artistry in manipulating the space. In this case the designer (Tom piper?) manages to create an entire house that we can see through, from attic to sitting room with music room and dining room thrown in. The sound changes as people move from one space to another, it really is worth sitting through anything to admire this.

And then the acting. Incredible. George Costigan is one of our most talented actors and has a ball here as James Tyrone, the has been actor sinking into a miserly retirement of drink and worry. He's a good, if flawed man. Sam Philips as his elder son has come a long way since Hotel Trubble and sneers, shouts and lazes into the midnight drunken state that marks the end of the journey that starts at breakfast that morn. Brid Ni Neachtain (no, I don't know how to say it either) and Dani Heron are fine as Mary Tyrone and the maid, Cathleen. Was I the only one to laugh out loud at hearing Irish Cathleen speak first? No other fans of Sir Stevo Timothy in the audience, I suspect.

Finally, a special mention for Lorn Macdonald as the younger Tyrone son, the only character that does attract sympathy. In one scene with his mother this younger actor started on a rant that ended with tears welling in his eyes and then streaming down his cheeks. I've never seen that on stage before - this was a small cast packed with talent. I'm sure they loved the challenges of this play and I appreciated their efforts. This blog was all about me learning more about life, myself and the world around me on a budget and I've done that. I learned I'm probably not a fan of Eugene O' Neill but definitely love HOME more each visit.

Paul McCartney - the biography by Philip Norman.

I found this book. £25 worth and someone left it (with other books) for people to enjoy so I took advantage. My review is posted on my Goodreads profile.

 Paul McCartney: The BiographyPaul McCartney: The Biography by Philip Norman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You may have heard of James Paul McCartney. He is from a place called Liverpool in the land of England and was in a popular group called The Beatles. They sold lots of records and made lots of girls squeal. With his band colleague John Winston Lennon he wrote tunes which lots of people remember and some people still listen to.

This is a huge biography that covers the legend's life from birth until relatively recently. Despite losing his mother at a tragically young age Paul was blessed with having a wonderful father and wider family that contributed to a childhood that appears quite, quite happy. Throughout his career Paul has always thrown nostalgic songs and lyrics into the collection and the Beatles songs that had a 1920s jazzy feel are mostly down to Paul's father's influence - himself an accomplished musician.

From the first meetings with George, then Paul and eventually Ringo (via Stuart and Pete); from the Quarrymen through the Silver Beetles and from the Beatles to Wings - everything is covered in this tome. The detail relating to the Beatles is always fascinating but my personal enjoyment was the detail given to each album (solo as well as band albums) and the influences and production of each.

It's incredible to remember that Paul was just 28 when The Beatles split and several decades of suing and counter-suing ensued. To achieve as much as The Beatles did in such a short space of time is testament to why this band is the single most important band ever. In just 10 years and 13 albums they reinvented pop, gave the world classics such as Yesterday (one of Paul's, though credited, like all of their songs, to Lennon-McCartney), Hey Jude (mostly Paul's again) and Let It Be (yep, you see where this is headed). At 28 Paul was wealthy, world famous and still full of creativity but tied into many lawsuits relating to business and music rights. His clashes with the law also included a 9 day prison stretch in Japan for possession of marijuana - another of Paul's loves in life.

As well as the music, the relationship commentary makes this compulsive reading. Despite their troubles, the Beatles all did have a respect for each other and the many side characters such as Linda, Yoko, Brian Epstein and George Martin have a huge impact on their lives.

A particularly gruesome chapter relates to Paul's relationship with Heather Mills after his long and close marriage to Linda. It's a cringeworthy story where nobody comes out looking good.

The book is not an authorised biography but did receive Paul's approval prior to it being written. From that the author was able to speak to friends of Paul's and get insights he may not have got otherwise.

I've just realised that I have referred to the subject as 'Paul' and not 'McCartney'. Despite his many faults being displayed, I must have felt a certain affinity with someone who will be a genuine legend for centuries.

View all my reviews

617 Squadron - the Dambusters at war by Tom Bennett (book review)

  This review is from my Goodreads page 617 Squadron: The Dambusters at War by Tom Bennett My rating: 3 of 5 stars This was given freely ...