Two book reviews

I know I said I wasn’t reviewing any books this month because I’m concentrating on my novel but I got to 43000 words yesterday so I took some time off to finish reading an ARC I’d got from http://www.netgalley.com and another book I’d borrowed from the library. My reviews follow.

Review: ARC Writings on the Sober Life: The Art and Grace of Living Long by Alvise Cornaro

Edited and Translated by Hiroko Fudemoto

Forward by Greg Critser

Introduction and Essay by Marisa Milani

Published by Toronto University Press

26th November 2013

 vita sobria covertitle page vs ac

This e-book contains new translations of several treatise and letters by and about Alvise Cornaro, and followed by and essay concerning the fate of his work Vita Sobria in the English-speaking world. As a young man the Renaissance (he was born in 1484) Venetian gentleman – who always claimed to be the descendant of a much nobler house – lived a hedonistic life. By his 40th year he had uncontrolled diabetes and wasn’t far from death. He was suffering the effects of ‘crapula’ and a disordered life. After advice from doctors and the desire to live as long as possible he gave up his excessive sensual pursuits to live an ordered and sober life.

His treatise Vita Sobria, here translated by Hiroko Fudemoto, was the result. He published it in his seventies (although he claimed to be much older). He uses the treatise to explain how his ordered and sober living had cured his ills and prolonged his life, as well as carrying him through events that would have depressed other men with a clear head and a cheerful outlook. He was convinced of the benefits of his lifestyle and endeavoured to ‘convert’ friends, family and total strangers to the ordered life, especially after seeing so many close and talented friends die before their time from illnesses he was convinced were the result of ‘crapula’.

The dieting industry is usually considered a product of modern society; this translation shows that concerns about the effect of diet and lifestyle on individual health and society as a whole is not a new phenomenon, although I doubt people will be reading books about current fad diets in 450 years’ time. As an example of this sort of historical document – a social, medical and paramedical treatise – it is an absorbing insight into medical thought in Renaissance Italy. The glossary and bibliography provided by the translator/editor are helpful for those wishing to understand the times better, and the essay by Marisa Milani is fascinating.

Review: The Baker Street Phantom by Fabrice Bourland

Translated by Morag Young

2010 – Gallic Books

First published in France as ‘Le fantome de Baker Street’ – 2008 – Editions 10/18

 

Genre – Supernatural/Crime

 cover bsp

Andrew Singleton and James Trelawney, young, educated Canadians obsessed by Victorian literature and detective stories specifically, meet while studying in Boston in the 1920’s. Deciding, after finishing their studies, to set up a detective agency, they find life as detectives is not all they’d hoped. Becoming bored of lost pets and adulterers they decide to move to Europe. In 1934 they settle in London, taking lodgings round the corner from the British Museum.

Life is no more exciting in London than it was in Boston, until three months after their arrival when Lady Conan Doyle arrives to ask for their help.

It seems that the renumbering of streets by the local council may have stirred up trouble, more specifically the extension of Baker Street. The creation of 221 Baker Street, before only a fictional location, has brought about some unusual events. In short Lady Conan Doyle believes it is haunted. And that the haunting is related to a series of vicious and bloody murders taking place all over London.

Singleton and Trelawney are sceptical but start to investigate as they have nothing better to do. Their first port of call is the famous house itself. There they meet Dr Dryden, nephew of the owner and a prominent member of The Society for Psychical Research, a spiritualist society; he believes the house to be haunted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

They discover that the truth is more fantastic than they could have believed.

In a race against time to prevent Victorian literatures most evil creations from wreaking mayhem and murder on London, Singleton, Trelawney, Lady Conan Doyle, Dr Dryden and his colleague the occultist Dr Kirkby, and the spirits of Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes, cross London in the search to pin down and return Dracula to the nether world where fictional characters and the dead hang out. Their travails lead them to Highgate Cemetery, where they find more villains than they expected and a solution to the mystery.

It’s nice to see Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson back, although in spirit form. It does make one question how much beliefs affects reality – imagine all those monsters from films brought to life by the collective belief of audiences! It’s not the first time I’ve come across the concept, or narrative device if you will, that with enough belief, ‘psychic energy’, an idea can gain an independent existence – the best example I can think of off the top of my head is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Small Gods’. But that’s by the by, I’m reviewing another book.

The main characters of Singleton and Trelawney are well drawn. The novel is narrated in the first person by Singleton, as the original Sherlock Holmes stories were narrated by Dr Watson. Naturally we are reading this character’s impressions, and all perceptions are incomplete. Lady Conan Doyle is at first considered to be, and presented as, the credulous dupe of the spiritualist movement, and Dr Dryden a fraud bent on making his fortune through the fame of Conan Doyle’s characters. Singleton views them through his own prejudices; experience and events change his opinion and thus his perception of the other characters. It could be said that Andrew Singleton is the only character in the novel – the others are present to show his growth.

An entertaining and quick read; take this book on a train journey and it might just get you from Leeds to London. It won’t leave any lasting impression though.

And that’s my reviews. Back to the novel now,

Bye

Rose

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