Monthly Archives: April 2012

Trilogies, Millenium and His Dark Materials

Reading a blog entry about whether to read the Millenium Trilogy back-to-back or with breathing space, I replied with:

“The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo works as a stand alone novel quite well. I read it and had an interlude between that and the remaining two. I found his writing style quite dense and whilst I enjoyed it as a book and loved the character of Lisbeth there wasn’t a huge impulse to devour the others. They sat on my to-read shelf for perhaps a couple of months.

Fire, however, gripped me. I loved Larsson’s courage in reintroducing us to Lisbeth for about fifty pages and then letting her disappear from the story. Along with Blomquist, I ached to see more of her and that alone propelled me through the slightly monochrome overly detailed (perhaps, yes, journalistic) style of writing. And what a cliff hanger! I went straight from Fire to Hornets’ Nest within the same sitting. Treat these two as a single book split in two (which seems very in vogue at the moment, isn’t it Mr George R R Martin?) and enjoy!

On the subject of reading trilogies, I read the brilliant His Dark Materials literally simultaneously. I started with Subtle Knife, left it at home one day and picked up Northern Lights and left both at home another day and picked up Amber Spyglass. They needed re-reading afterwards to sort out!!!”


Word of the Week: banal

Okay, so posting two words of the week within two days does display both my utter disregard for the rules of mathematics and time keeping and also my awareness of my own limitations: I figured a word a day would be far too much for my limited brain; a word a week was a manageable minimum!

Anyway, let’s take a step away from such banal topics as myself and onto the word itself: banal.


What a word!

How utterly and unashamedly judgemental does one have to be to use the word banal to describe anyone else’s opinion, work, writing, appearance or existence. And just to be clear, I have no objection to being judgemental!

From the initial plosive /b/ with which this word is spat out at the poor unsuspecting victim, months of disappointment and despair behind it; to the shift from the initial short /æ/ to the long, sneering, corner-of-lip-raised /a:/ it is a word that encapsulates all that is supercilious, contemptuous and haughty. It is pronounced to rhyme with snarl which is the most appropriate facial expression to be adopted whilst using it.

Banal words function as a feeble phenomena that fall into their own mental bogs of meaning.
Robert Smithson

In science, all facts, no matter how trivial or banal, enjoy democratic equality.
Mary McCarthy

The etymology of the word is equally unfortunate. It derives from Old French “ban” which was used to describe those things which were open and accessible to the general populace, more specifically ovens and mills according to the world wide web, as well as compulsory military service. I can imagine that there was a potential for its meaning to become widened into a word that suggested something like “democratic” or “universal” in the same way that Catholic does. Unfortunately, it came instead to mean “common” and “trite” and “valueless”, the lowest common denominator of moral or intellectual or cultural experience. It is a word that conjures up the questionable joys of a somewhat legendary television show that (I am informed) offers the opportunity for viewers to watch in realtime and at any time the inanities of the frequently undereducated and overinflated egos that populate a mythical and guarded House from which they are not permitted to leave until voted out. It is currently showing on BBC Parliament Channel.

Word of the Week: viscera

Viscera… One of those wonderful words that sounds so much better than the things it describes.

I love the brevity of the initial /Ī/ vowel and the final short vowels that almost seem to elide together around the /r/, ending the words in a gentle exhalation, a sigh, a breath. And then the length of the /s/ in the middle that seems to linger and lurk around the whole word, writhing like a snake… or like the coils of the intestine.

Which leads us to the meaning of this beautiful word: all the guts and spleen and liver and gall bladder and bladder-bladder and pancreas and bloody wriggling boiling organs that keeps these frail human bodies working. There is something very physical, honest and brutal about the images that this word conjures up.

I am epileptic and both photosensitive and audiogenic. When I hear loud, rhythmic, heavy beats in music it can generate such a strong urge to run that visceral is the only word to describe it: it is deep wrenching panicked urgent need to flee deep in my gut.

The word itself derives from Latin viscus which is pluralised to viscera meaning the internal organ(s) of a body. The adjectival form visceral is such a great word to describe those things that affect us physically in art, cinema and watching the latest Twilight film, Breaking Dawn, for example, after the initial 90 minutes of utter tedium, I found viscerally repulsive in the birthing scene; the lovely Mrs P had an identical reaction to Alien vs Predator; visceral is a wonderful word for my students to use in analysing Wilfrid Owen’s poetry redolent with a personal response to literature and words.

The Giant, O’Brien

I picked up The Giant as a free book when pre-ordering Bring Up The Bodies, Mantel’s sequel to the wonderful Wolf Hall.

I wasn’t sure what to expect: the blurb identifying the setting of the book in 1782 didn’t inspire me: with the exception of Wolf Hall historical fiction has never really been my bag. But on the strength of Wolf Hall and it’s appeal to my impecunity, I took a punt.

The Giant of the title, Charles O’Brien, however seems to have stepped out of Irish mythology and the Tuatha Dé Danaan and the Sidhe. The concerns that I have about most historical fiction (that the depth of research and shoe-horning in of faux authenticity – yes, I’m aware of both the pretentiousness and oxymoronic nature of that sentence!) fell away!

The Giant is a story teller and Mantel creates this wonderfully evocative passage in which he starts to tell a tale in exchange for shelter and food.

“The Giant hesitated, looked deep into the smoke of the fire. Outside, most gathered on the mountain. Shapes formed in the corner of the room that were not the shapes of cattle and were unseen by Connor, Jankin and Claffey; only Pybus who, because of his youth had fewer skins, shifted his feet like a restless horse and lifted his nose at the whiff of an alien smell.”

Stunningly beautiful passage!

I love the sensuousness of the depiction of the tale as smell; the sense of otherworldliness of the alien presence of the story; the power of words and narrative to do more than describe and narrate but to create or invoke; I love the image of men wrapped up in so many layers of skins that they become blind to the magic and power around them which only children can see!

Magical !