Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Poisoned Island (2013) by Lloyd Shepherd

Buoyed by my enjoyment of The Age of Wonder, I spent Christmas in the grip of a fixation with the Georgian period. As I’ve said before, it’s not a period I’ve been traditionally particularly interested in. It’s the Victorian age that still rules my heart, don’t worry about that. But while the Georgians might have lacked fashion sense and pseudo-modern technology, they sure knew how to conquer other countries; and as such, they built the model of Empire that the whole world was soon to tremble to during the Victorian age.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Ghost Hunters (2013) by Neil Spring

Borley Rectory is, for me, the ur-haunted house. The original. The most 'pure' manifestation of the idea of the 'haunted house.' When I close my eyes and think of a haunted house, it's that Victorian red-brick monstrosity I see, its twin front windows staring malevolently. Before there was Hill House, before there was the Belasco House, there was Borley Rectory. I can't even hear those two words without being forcibly yanked back to my childhood: a childhood filled with 'real-life' books about ghosts and hauntings that I collected obsessively.

And those books were filled with Borley Rectory.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes (2008)

The Age of Wonder sat on my to-read pile for over a year. I go in and out of periods of enjoying non-fiction, and it wasn't until this December that a Christmas reading of Treasure Island got me interested in the18th century again, and I thought that it was time to dust off this tale of Enlightenment science. It's a setting that's a bit earlier than my usual period of interest. Traditionally I've been fascinated by the Victorian period, partly because I love their dress sense, and I've always been turned off by anything involving powdered wigs and ridiculous-looking breeches and high socks. But I remembered reading through the first chapter previously and being struck by the tale of the first Europeans visiting Tahiti, so I cracked into the book for real this month.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Patriot (2000)

Some bad things get worse the better they're executed- and I think that propaganda is one of them. And I'm sorry to bring up some pretty heavy examples, but Birth Of A Nation and Triumph Of The Will are both all the more terrible for being particularly well-made movies. Nobody takes a bad movie seriously; in particular, nobody takes the message of a bad movie seriously. So when a movie that had a dubious message is well-made on a technical level, it becomes all the more troubling. Which brings me onto The Patriot, which, while not as reprehensible perhaps as those two movies, is still pretty problematic.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

I live near Michael Caine. I just wanted to say that.

I seem to review a lot more books here than movies. There's definitely a paucity of British-Empire-themed movies compared to books, and the movies that have been made are sometimes pretty hard to come across. Though I had virtually no knowledge of this particular film before someone gifted it to me, it's considered something of a classic. Well, who knew? I didn't know just how much I needed to be reminded of why I own a pith helmet.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds (1978)


Deep breath… and now, an exorcism of sorts.

A piece of classic 19th-century science-fiction - and one that probably stands as my favourite – that I’ve steadfastly refused so far to review is H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (WOTW, as I’m going to call it). I’m not really sure why this is. Perhaps I’m just scared of getting bogged down in a marsh of Wells’ metaphors. WOTW is after all a thematically rich story that manages to comment on science, evolution, religion, colonialism, and the human condition. I have a lot to say about the book. It’s not easy to write an effective piece of commentary on such a dense work by scribbling furiously on the back of a beermat in the downtime between organising interplanetary smuggling runs and solving supernatural-related crimes for beautiful widows, all over the course of a burboun-soaked weekend (that’s how I’d like you to imagine I write all my reviews).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Khyber Connection (1986) by Simon Hawke

I really ought to like Kipling – as the so-called ‘bard of Empire,’ he represents the personification of the jingoistic colonial attitude that both repels and fascinates me. As a son of British India, and a writer who chronicled its zenith, he should be right down my street. But for some reason, I don’t enjoy much of his prose. I think it stems from a problem common to some fiction from times past: contemporary writers of the Victorian period weren’t trying to give their works a Victorian flavour, and as a result, readers today used to period fiction, with an interest in Victorian settings, are left wanting. For me, I find it strangely difficult to get a feeling for what life might have been like during the British Raj by reading Kipling… either he neglects to mention aspects of culture, or he overloads the reader with alien phrases and concepts without explaining them. Don’t get me wrong, I know my jemadar from my pukka-wallahs, but when but when a barkandaze and a havildar go out for a chukka on the maidan, well that’s where I check out.