Matilda the Musical

Når vi var i London i februar virket det som en opplagt ting å gjøre å ta med eldstemann på musikal. Jeg ga hen valget mellom Lion King (hen har selvsagt sett filmen) og Matilda (vi hadde nettopp lest boka). Ikke overraskende valgte hen Matilda, og jeg gikk til innkjøp av billetter.

Jeg vet ikke helt hva jeg hadde ventet meg. Med utgangspunkt i en bok jeg elsker og med sanger av Tim Minchin burde jeg jo egentlig være overbevist på forhånd, men jeg må innrømme at jeg ikke helt klarte å se for meg hvordan det skulle funke på scenen. Dennis Kelley er kreditert med «book», så jeg går ut fra at det er han som er ansvarlig for frihetene Matilda the Musical har tatt seg med Roald Dahls historie. Og all ære til ham for det, for det funker. Minchins tekster er selvsagt, hadde jeg nær sagt, geniale og en bok som i utgangspunktet består av mer prat enn handling er blitt til en overbevisende og forrykende musikal.

Det er vanskelig å velge når jeg skal prøve å si noe om HVA som var bra. Sceneelementene og kulissene var flotte, som skapt for å appellere til oss bibliofile og ble utnyttet forbilledlig i koreografien. Skuespillerprestasjonene var det ingenting å utsette på. Miss Trunchbull spilles av Alex Gaumond, et grep som føyer seg pent inn i Britisk pantomimetradisjon der «the dame» alltid spilles av en mann, men det føles slett ikke pantomimeaktig her (og sjuåringen skjønte ikke at det var en mann, heller, og ble svært overrasket når det ble nevnt etterpå). Han gjorde en fantastisk jobb. Både han og Matildas foreldre (James Clyde og Kay Murphy) ble forresten buet (og, må det understrekes, applaudert) når de kom ut for å ta i mot appluasen. Det har jeg aldri opplevd før, men det føltes helt rett (og jeg går ut fra at de tar det som et kompliment, det betyr jo at de har overbevist i rollene).

I tillegg til meg og sjuåringen var mamma med, og hun har ikke engang lest boka, men også hun var begeistret for forestillingen, så det er altså ikke nødvendig å være svoren Matilda-fan heller. I det hele tatt: Musikalen anbefales på det varmeste.

Moon over Soho – Ben Aaronovitch

Moon_Over_SohoHaving read Rivers of London, not going straight on to Moon over Soho was an impossibility, so I did, disregarding all other plans for January reading (the two books appearing between this one and Rivers of London were actually read in 2013).

At the novel’s start, PC Peter Grant is back to his regular training programme at The Folly, and Lesley is at her parents’ house, recuperating. Peter goes to visit, driving from London:

At the end of the road lay Brightlingsea, lining the coast – so Lesley had always told me – like a collection of rubbish stranded at the high-water mark.

I keep loving the way Aaronovitch uses language and the impossibly charming hate-love relationship with London and Britain he displays. Not to mention the cultural references:

At this very moment astronomers are detecting planets around distant stars by measuring how much their orbits wibble, and the clever people at CERN are smashing particles together in the hope that Doctor Who will turn up and tell them to stop.

Aaronovitch is also conversant in corporate newspeak:

‘Are you SIO on this, ma’am?’ I asked. The Senior Investigating Officer on a serious crime was usually at the very least a detective inspector, not a sergeant. ‘Of course not,’ said Stephanopoulos. ‘We have a DCI on loan from Havering CID, but he’s adopted a loose collaborative management approach in which experienced officers undertake a lead role in areas where they have the greatest expertise.’ In other words, he’d locked himself in his office and let Stephanopoulos get on with it. ‘It’s always gratifying to see senior officers adopting a forward-looking posture in their vertical relationships,’ I said, and was rewarded by something that was almost a smile.

He is also not afraid to call out institutionalized and internalized racism:

Outside the big cities, my very appearance can sometimes be enough to render certain people speechless. So it was with Harold Postmartin, D.Phil, FRS, Curator of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library, who had clearly been expecting Nightingale to introduce someone ‘different’ as the new apprentice. I could see him trying to parse the phrase but he’s coloured in a way that wouldn’t cause offence, and failing. I put him out of his misery by shaking his hand; my rule of thumb is that if they don’t physically flinch from touching you, then eventually they’ll make the adjustment.

Ok. Enough of the quoting (I think). I’m just trying to show why the books are such a joy to read. The plot is good, too, but it’s hard to say too much without major spoilers, and so  I’ll refrain. If you’re not interested in reading the book, a synopsis would be no use to you, and if you are you don’t want the plot spoiled.

The one negative thing I have to say is that the novel could have used a continuity check, preferably one that aligned with Rivers of London. There are some odd incongruities, most so vague that it’s hard to put your finger on what feels wrong, and some cases of things being explained in the wrong order, so to say. A fact being presented in such a way that you feel you must have missed a connection piece of narrative, only for that connecting piece to show up a little later. It may even be deliberate, but it dosn’t work. Not for me, anyway.

However, on the whole the books are so good that it’s easy to forgive the few flaws. Now on to Whispers Underground!

Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers_of_LondonRivers of London has been on my list for a while, not least because the husband has read and enjoyed all four of the PC Peter Grant books that have been published so far, and thus they have been available to me for a while. Towards the end of last week I found myself unenthused with the books I’d been planning to read during Bout of books, and someone, somewhere mentioned Aaronovitch, and it occurred to me that as we are going to London in just a few weeks, this might just be the perfect time to read them.

In one way it certainly was, Aaronvitch has his story firmly grounded in place and reading this without imminent plans of visiting the city would be frustrating, to say the least.

In Rivers of London PC Peter Grant is coming to the end of his probationary period and is hoping to be assigned to real detective work. His friend, and crush, Lesley May is at the same point in her career. The wikipedia entry sums up their superior officers’ view of the two neatly: Lesley is «expected to go far», Peter is «expected to do paperwork». That is, until they are on watch to guard a murder scene from the general public, and while Lesley pops off to buy coffee and Peter meets a ghost who claims to have witnessed the murder. When their assignments are handed out, Peter finds himself assigned to a generally studiously ignored branch of the Met, the section that deals with magic and the supernatural. His superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale has been the sole employee of this section, and Peter finds himself sworn in as the first apprentice wizard in fifty years, and lodged in The Folly, the section’s headquarters, which is clearly dimensioned for a rather larger contingent.

There follows a tale of riotous rebellion and magic, where Peter finds himself trying to solve two very different «cases». One is the murder that starts the book off and those that follow in a grisly, yet inventive, serial killing spree, the other is a conflict between Mother and Father Thames, the river gods, and their children (the tributaries) and entourage.

Aaronvitch draws on history, mythology and folklore, picking both famous and obscure pieces and sewing them neatly together to form a coherent whole which spellbinds the reader (well, this reader, anyway). There are explicit, if ironic, echoes of Dr Who (which Aaronvitch has written for) and Harry Potter, but I was also reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and of Jasper Fforde’s novels, the latter especially in the way Aaronvitch’s minor characters all beg for a google search. Take Isis, also known as Anna Maria de Burgh Coppinger, wife of Father Thames’ son Oxley: Google her, and you find that there is probably at least another novel there, just in her life story. I love this stuff. And then you have the famous dudes:

Beyond the booth, flanked by two neoclassical pillars, was a marble statue of a man dressed in an academic gown and breeches. He cradled a mighty tome in one arm and a sextant in the other. His square face held an expression of implacable curiosity, and I knew his name even before I saw the plinth, which read: Nature and nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said ‘Let Newton be’ and all was light. Nightingale was waiting for me by the statue. ‘Welcome to the Folly,’ he said, ‘the official home of English magic since 1775.’ ‘And your patron saint is Sir Isaac Newton?’ I asked. Nightingale grinned. ‘He was our founder, and the first man to systemise the practice of magic.’ ‘I was taught that he invented modern science,’ I said. ‘He did both,’ said Nightingale. ‘That’s the nature of genius.’

The inclusion of Newton is another thing I like about Aaronvitch’s universe, though magic is magic Peter takes the scientific approach, and the answers he comes up with seem to confirm his instincts; even magic depends on physical laws.

I like Peter Grant. He’s a good guy, and may even have the makings of a good cop, even if he is too easily distracted. I like Lesley May, too, and I especially like how Peter and Lesley are portrayed as friends. Even if there is an element of «this might progress to more than friends at some point», you still get the feeling that they are friends first and foremost and that they will remain so whether progression happens or not.

Then there’s the language, and the linguistic relation to time and place:

Neither of us could face the horrors of the kitchenette that morning, so we found shelter in the station canteen. Despite the fact that the catering staff were a mixture of compact Polish women and skinny Somali men, a strange kind of institutional inertia meant that the food was classic English greasy spoon, the coffee was bad and the tea was hot, sweet and came in mugs.

There’s plenty for a hopeless anglophile to «squee» about, there is wit and dry humour and there is, occasionally, something akin to slapstick. There are blink-and-you-miss-them cultural references by the score.

Would it kill us to have an official branch of government that handled the supernatural?’ ‘A Ministry of Magic?’ I asked. ‘Ha-bloody-ha,’ said Tyburn.

Where the novel falls short is in emotional engagement. Yes, I like Peter, and I certainly root for him, and I am gripped to the point of considering sneaking off to a quiet corner at work to polish off the last 50 or so pages when the bus ride yesterday morning proved too short for the task. However, the perfect book is the book that puts me in the emotional quandry of wanting to get to the end to see what happens but also wanting the book to last forever. Rivers of London fullfills the first, but not the second. I will allow that there is a chance that I will feel differently at the end of book four, when the prospect of having to wait for another installment starts looming large. I’ll get back to you on that. I’ve already started on book two.

Aaronovitch has a blog: Temporarily Significant, and there is also a website for the series: The Folly.


Så vidt jeg kan se har ingen norske forlag (eller svenske, for den saks skyld) grepet fatt i Ben Aaronvitchs bøker. Det er synd, for selv om en forkjærlighet for London og Britisk humor, historie og mytologi sannsynligvis er et pluss for lesere av disse bøkene er det jo ikke slik at sånne preferanser nødvendigvis følges av engelskkunnskaper gode nok til å lese firehundresiders romaner i orginal. Oppfordringen er klar: Oversett disse!

A little bit of shopping – London and Mammut

Well, for once I did not come home from London with a suitcase full of books. In fact, the sum total of bookshops I visited in London per se was zero, zilch, not one. I hear your gasps of shock and horror, and I agree. But we were there to be touristy tourists to please a certain six-yearold, and shopping was not something we really got around to (well, excepting Hamleys, but that’s not so much a shop as a toy museum where you can buy the exhibited toys. Or something).

Anyway, at the not very impressive but I make do whith what I find newsagent at Gatwick, I purchased John Green’s The Fault in our Stars. Even I have to read Green sooner or later, though I wonder if it can live up to the hype. I sure hope it can, because it sounds lovely. Since it was «Buy one get one half price» I also purchased Underground Overground: A Passengers History of the Tube by Andrew Martin. It sure looks interesting – and I love the vintage feel of the cover:

undergroundOg så var det Mammut. Jeg har notert meg en lang liste over norske romaner som jeg har tenkt å se etter om det blir noe halv pris på Mammut-pris eller noe slikt, men siden jeg egentlig helst vil ha paperbacks for tiden gidder jeg ikke kjøpe hardbacks til 149,- og oppover. Det vil si, jeg sikler på Askildsens samlede, og ender vel med å kjøpe Jo Nesbøs Gjenferd, siden jeg har alle de andre i hardback…

Men noen barnebøker ble det, og noen få til oss voksne også:

  • Mattemagi – Håvard Tjora
  • Charles Darwin og Beagleekspedisjonen – A. J. Wood
  • Speil for tidens ansikt: Gullvågportretter 1979-2009 – Harald Stanghelle
  • Charlie og sjokoladefabrikken – Roald Dahl (pop-up bok)
  • Klaffeatlas – Alex Frith & Kate Leake
  • Kunstdetektivene 3-i-1 – Bjørn Sortland (ekstratilbud på Ark Trondheim Torg)
  • Moi om kvelden – Endre Lund Eriksen & Khim Tengesdal (ill.)
  • Mannen, menneskets beste venn – Karine Haaland
  • Tambar og sjøormen – Tor Åge Bringsværd & Lisa Aisato (ill.)
  • Kollektivet: Kollektivt sammenbrudd – Torbjørn Lien
  • Alvin Pang og en søster for mye – Endre Lund Eriksen & Olve Askim (ill.)

Katie in London – James Mayhew

katieinlondonI keep meaning to blog more about the books we read with the lass, so while I remember:

I was tipped off about Katie in London, and I’m very glad I was. The plot is hardly revolutionary: Katie goes to London to see the sights with her little brother and her grandmother, but before they really see anything, grandma wants a rest on a bench at Trafalgar Square. Katie and her brother therefore travel around London with one of the lions instead. They see St. Pauls, the Tower, Tower Bridge, the London Eye, the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.

Like most kids (and some adults), the lass tends to enjoy something more if she’s heard about it a lot. So reading books about a place before going there is good. The internet, and especially YouTube is good too.

From that point of view, this book fulfills its purpose beautifully. And while it is not great literature, neither is it bad in any way, it fits its audience without being (too) tedious for the grown-up who has to read aloud.

London – Edward Rutherfurd

london_edward_rutherfurdI’m finally done! And the reason it took so long is really none of Rutherfurd’s fault (well, except in writing such a thick book, though I’ve read worse), but simply because life, really.

Anyway, I liked it. I felt I learned quite a bit, which is nice, though I must admit my head is not made for remembering dates, so I got confused several times and had to search backwards to a page with a date on it. Several people on Goodreads have complained that since it spans such a lot of time and events there is no time to get to know the characters, but I found that to be a minor problem – and I do tend to dislike being rushed on to a new set of characters just when I’ve gotten interested in the present set. This is why I’m not a major fan of short-stories. But Rutherfurd’s trick is to stick to a few families, and to give them somewhat hereditary traits – not just physical, but also of temperament – so that one the whole you can tell from the name of a character whether he/she will be a «hero», a «villain» or someone bumbling but generally well-meaning for example. Well, towards the end the families intermarry and intermingle and it all gets somewhat complicated, but by then I was hooked anyway, and there was still a sense of «I will root for you since your grandfather was so nice» or perhaps «I will root for you since your father was so shitty».

I had one small, but niggling quarrel with the book, though. I may have mentioned that I’ve learnt pretty much all the history I know from novels, which makes this a perfect fit. And more than anything, I love the little daily-life details. The «how a Roman forged coins», for example. Interesting stuff, I tell you. But I need to trust the author, I need to believe he (or she) knows what he (or she) is talking about. And therefore passages such as this one throws me:

But Dame Barnikel was happiest of all when she was brewing ale, and sometimes she would let young Ducket watch her. Having bought the malt – «it’s dried barley,» she explained – from the quays, she would mill it up in the little brewhouse loft. The crushed malt would fall into a great vat which she topped up with water from a huge copper kettle. After germinating, this brew was cooled in throughs, before being poured into another vat.

(Page 524) Except barley (or any grain) won’t germinate after it’s been milled. In fact, «malt» isn’t dried barley, it’s barley that has germinated and is then dried, and there is a crucial difference. «Dried barley» is just a grain whereas the germination means the «malt» is bursting with sugars which is what the yeast later feeds on in the process that actually makes alchohol. What happens after you mill is quite rightly that you add hot water to the «coarse flour» (called «grist»), but that water is meant to extract the sugars (and partly set off enzymes that convert even more of the starches into sugars to be extracted, if you want to get really technical) in a process called mashing.

And I know it’s a very, very small detail and not at all important to the story, but it grates, and it makes me wonder where else he’s tripped up and which details I now think I’ve learnt turn out to be less than accurate.

But let’s return to happier thoughts, because I really did like the book, and end with a quote which is really a much better representation of Rutherfurd’s skill:

And so with confidence he could give his children these two important lessons: «Be loyal to the king.» And perhaps profounder still: «It seems that God has chosen us. Be humble.»

By which, of course, he really meant: be proud.

(Page 787)

London – Tor Åge Bringsværd

london_bringsværdNå har jeg i alle fall lest den ene London-boka. Siste halvpart av Rutherfurd får bli med på turen (ja, jeg har begått bokmord, jeg har splittet den tjukke paperback’en i to med papirkniv). Men Bringsværd hadde jeg jo lånt på biblioteket, så han får bli igjen hjemme (hel og fin).

Det var et hyggelig gjensyn. Dette er ikke en reiseguide, akkurat, selv om du sikkert kan legge opp en tur helt og holdent etter Bringsværds anbefalinger. Her er anekdoter, pubanbefalinger og historieforelesninger i et herlig sammensurium, akkurat slik jeg liker det. Og nå GLEDER jeg meg til å sitte på pub i London og bare være der. Ok, det gledet jeg meg vel til uansett, men jeg gleder meg enda mer nå. Kanskje kommer jeg til å føle at Tor Åge Bringsværd er med meg i ånden, så kan vi prate litt om Brumm og om Themsen og slikt mens vi sitter der. Det blir bra.

En dag her i Kew Gardens er en glitrende avkobling – selv for dem som ikke tror de er interessert i hager … for det å sitte ved et utebord ved Pavillion Restaurant (avmerket med nr 31 på gratiskartet du får ved inngangen), drikke kaffe eller hva vet vel jeg, se barn som leker på gresset under skyggefulle trær – og innimellom la øynene hvile på en gigantisk kinesisk pagode som ikke har noen som helst dypere mening, men bare er satt der fordi det passet seg slik … jeg mener, mye kan man si om en slik dag, men bortkastet er den i hvert fall ikke!

(s. 259)

Well, it’s good to have plans

I guess.

In two weeks we’re going to London. This, of course, is worthy of a big squeeeeeeeee.

The main purpose of the visit is for the lass to get to ride on the top deck of a double decker bus. As good a reason as any for going to London, methinks. No?

I am also looking forward to a ride or two on a routemaster. And to showing the lass London in all its glory. Or fogginess, perhaps, it will be February after all. So to prepare we have been searching for books to read her, knowing from experience (namely Copenhagen and Karsten og Petra i København) that anything you recognise from a book is more fun than anything you don’t. The pickings are meagre, but we have a children’s guide to London and an I Spy London, which are both excellent for having lots of pictures, and a Paddington in London picture book, which is charming, but not really very fit for the purpose. However, I just ordered Katie in London from Adlibris, which looks very promising.

So I got to thinking perhaps I, too, should read something Londonish? So I went to look for Bringsværd’s London book on the shelf, but alas, it is not there. I have no idea where it has gone! Disaster! I solved the immediate problem by getting it out from the library, but seriously: Where is our copy? The library also furnished me with Doktor Proktor og det store gullrøveriet, which is partly set in London. Or so the librarian told me.  She suggested it for the lass, but we haven’t read the first Doktor Proktor books for her yet, so I think it will have to wait. I might read it myself, though, since I have read the others.

And from our own shelves: London by Edward Rutherfurd. So there is that.

Three books then. I started Rutherfurd, and it is good. It is also almost 1300 pages, so in order to finish it by the time we leave I have to read an average of 100 pages a day or so. So far I’ve been averaging 30 or so. So much to do, so little time. Not looking too good, in other words. I can do it if I don’t do anything else (like finishing the 2012 photo book which I’m working on and which will be a late Christmas present for the grandparents – as well as for ourselves, but I suppose it could wait). We’ll see.

But, anyway: London!