“The Song of Roland” [A Review]

Eight stages of The Song of Roland in one picture

Not the book's cover but it is depicting a scene from the poem. --Image via Wikipedia

Few things make you feel better about yourself then realizing that you just picked up an eleventh-century Norman poem for light reading. And can I just say that The Song of Roland (my edition was put together by Glyn Sheridan Burgess) is extremely light reading. In fact, if I was to translate it into cinema terms I would say that The Song of Roland is the, I don’t know, Transformers of books. Yes, it’s fun, but it’s also pretty mindless, full of action, and with very clearly defined bad vs. good guys.

As opposed to Autobots vs. Decepticons The Song of Roland gives us Emperor Charlemagne’s Franks versus King Marsile’s Spanish Arabs, or, as the poet likes to refer to them, the pagans. As the story begins, Charlemagne and his army, who, according to this poet, took over the British Isles, are in Spain, trying to expand their territory. The protagonist of the story is Roland, a relative of the Emperor, and a loyal knight, with one hell of an ego and a scheming uncle. Due to some duplicity on the part of Roland’s uncle, Roland is asked to lead the rear-guard, the knights who will soon be attacked by the Spanish Arabs. There’s some fighting, people die, and then the Franks run through the Spanish. (In all fairness there’s more to the underlying structure of the story- for example, its political implications- but since I’ve done little reading about this time in history I’m sticking to the literary appeal. I would strongly recommend reading the introduction to the book as it provides some fascinating back story. Though there are some spoilers in there, so if you might want to read it after reading the poem itself.)

Perhaps my favorite part of The Song of Roland is realizing that though we’re separated by a thousand years or so, we humans are barely different then the humans of Roland’s day. The poem reads like a cheap political rally, I could just hear the cheering crowds listening to the descriptions of the Frank supremacy. Rather similar to a crowd shouting: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! In fact, if you substitute the word “Frank” for the word “American”, who basically have a season of 24, complete with Arab stereotypes. It was rather comforting for me to be reminded that narrow-mindedness and a tendency to generalize the “enemy” aren’t new phenomena- Throughout the poem it is asserted that the Muslims worship “Muhammad” and “Apollo”.  Another great example of this is the fact that the leaders of the Arabs refer to their own followers as “Pagans”.

That little spiel shouldn’t deter you from reading The Song of Roland. My point wasn’t to make you think, “Racism, let’s not read that.” I was just pointing out an interesting anthropological perspective that should enhance your reading experience. Mr. Burgess also does a fantastic job of translating it into understandable English so if you’re worried about a language barrier of any kind, don’t. If you’ve got a day, and trust me, at 128 pages of poetry this won’t take longer, and you want some fluff I’d recommend this with a smile.

3/5 stars. 

The Song of Roland. Edited by Glyn Sheridan Burgess. 1990. Penguin Groups.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under The Bookshelf

“The Thirteenth Tale” [A Review]

Cover to the first edition

Image via Wikipedia

A proper book tells a tale which sweeps you up, tumbles your emotions around, and then sets you down hours later, a changed reader. Dianne Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale does just that, and it does it in the twisting style of the Victorian Gothic story.

Set sometime in the 20th century (I thought ’50s, an online reader felt it was the ’70s, you can make your own call),  the story is as straight forward as a Fusilli Bucati Corti noodle, sure it’s got a direction but it’s got its twists along the way. Margaret Lea is a youngish woman who’s grown up in her family bookstore, a childhood that has left on her the mark of the weight of the stories we tell. A few pages in, her quiet, almost sad, life is shaken to the core when she receives a request from Vida Winter, the most popular writer in the world. Now the novel begins to spin the life story of Ms. Winter, a story in the vein of the Brontës and their contemporaries. As the story of the octogenarian writer unfolds itself, so does the story of Maragaret Lea, a personal, tragic, Woolfian story.

Now, I will not say that Ms. Setterfield is a particularly brilliant writer (as one reader pointed out on Goodreads– she’s quite fond of repeating phrases, particularly “hot, sweet tea”) but she does have quite the intricate brain in her skull. The myriad of subtle twists and turns that Ms. Winter’s personal history takes, the secrets that are quietly revealed, are cunning  and full of misdirection.

She also does something that I personally feel is quite important when writing mysteries. I don’t know about you, but I think that writers need to let us figure somethings out for ourselves. Not the whole enchilada, of course, just little plot points that, when worked out, make us go, “Oh! I am clever, aren’t I?” For example, the information revealed to us on page 349 was something that I was speculating at a few chapters earlier, though the true implications completely shocked me. The fact that I was able to guess made me feel all the more engaged in the novel, made it more relatable.

You really can’t read a review of The Thirteenth Tale without hearing comparisons to the great Victorian Gothics and it does raise the question of whether it’s a worthy comparison. Well, I’m going to cop out of answering that by saying: It’s worth making your own call. I mean, it has the style and personally I found it gripping, but I don’t want to assert anything that I can’t prove. So, pick it up, read it yourself, make up your own mind.

4/5 stars.

The Thirteenth Tale. Diane Setterfield. 2006. Atria Books. 

1 Comment

Filed under The Messy Drawer

Sunday Steals (5/22/2011)

Well, I’m back. Isn’t that smashing?

Hobbes and Bacon & Hobbes and Bacon II

Let’s face it: Calvin and Hobbes is one of the greatest things ever. That’s a fact. And if you’re like me then you miss it quite a bit. What we have here is an online cartoon’s look at what Calvin’s life would be like twenty years after that beautiful cliff-hanger. It’s quite funny and I feel it’s a nicely done homage.

Perfect In Every Way

You know what else is great? That’s right, Dame Julie Andrews. For all you fellow Andrews-Fanatics out there (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) here’s a Tumblr account dedicated to the lovely, graceful, talented, elegant, Ms. Andrews.

Right now, that’s all from me today but just so you know, I’ve got a few books reviews in the works and some other pieces up my sleeve. See you all on Tuesday.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Messy Drawer

Yet One More Memo

When I said that this blog would return on May the 9th what I should have said was this:

Lady Jane will get her rump in gear and start producing work that will be used for the next week.

I personally like to have a few “rainy day” posts saved up before I launch myself into blogging again. And with three of my classes finished between last Wednesday and midnight tonight I will suddenly have time to write again.

Rest assured that I am creating a “Sunday Steals” for the 15th and will be blogging again in no time.

I’m sure there are hordes out there that have been waiting with bated breath to hear this.

Leave a comment

Filed under The Messy Drawer

Memo:

This blog will return on May 9th.

3 Comments

Filed under The Messy Drawer

“Freak Show” [A Review]

Cover of "Freak Show"

Cover of Freak Show

When Perez Hilton gives a book a rave review (or at least a rave blurb on the back cover) my neck-hairs go up. It’s not that I don’t like Perez Hilton, it’s that I don’t see us having many similar interests (besides men). As it turns out, it wasn’t a bad thing that I didn’t put down James St. JamesFreak Show but if I had, I wouldn’t have missed anything big.

I’ve always felt that the GBLTQ* community has been underrepresented in books, particularly the TQ portion and specifically in the young adult genre. As books about gays, lesbians, bisexuals have increased books about gender diversity have stayed fairly marginal. There was Julia Anne Peters’ lovely 2004 trans-focused Luna and there was of course… er, none else spring to mind. So what I’m saying is that we need more gender-diversity centered books for teenagers.

Freak Show bravely steps into where few other books go and it does it with feather boas, glitter and deliciously campy references. The story it tells is of Billy Bloom a, well, he’s not a cross-dresser or a transvestite (as Billy makes very clear on page 212) so we’ll use one of my favorite descriptions he uses: GLITTEROID! As a young male who sews his own costumes that screw with gender Billy really doesn’t fit into his Floridian high-school into which he was recently replanted after an episode with his mother. The plot meanders around during the first two-thirds of the novel but in the final bit it turns into an empowering story that skews the traditional school outcasts rebelling against the status-quo.

While the story is endearing I found Billy Bloom to be… I wanted to throttle him. I’m a fairly no nonsense sort of Lady and so dealing with Bloom’s hyperbolic narration (it was like being shouted at) was something that I personally found grating. Now I will say that Bloom is written to have mood swings which Mr. St. James pulls off wonderfully, though it will sometimes result in a brain cramp as you try to keep up with his highs and lows. My slightly homicidal feelings for Bloom did wear off during the climatic student rebellion during which point I was cheering him and his posse on.

There were some delightful scenes that made me chortle happily, particularly the ones full of references to various dramatic woman that have inspired homosexual America (Liza Minnelli, Martha Stewart, Zelda Fitzgerald, etc.) And when you come across lines such as:

I LIKE THE WAY THIS DAME THINKS! (201)

Really! How indelicate! In front of Flossie! And giving Flip an eyeful, I’m sure! (108)

He’s got that white-hot blond hair, with those killer bangs…a nose like a ski slope…those blazing, dragon green eyes…and  smile so white and so bright, it guides Santa’s sleigh in dense fog! (119)

you can’t help but chuckle.

Despite having a frantic pace and an off-the-wall narrator that’s hard to pin down the story is sweet with moments of  charm that are pulled off in a sometimes vulgar manner. Not one of the decade’s great books (though it was among this year’s Green Mountain Book Awards finalist) Freak Show is a fun read if you’ve a few hours to kill or if you feel the need to get in touch with your inner fabulous, fierce, flaming Queen.

3.5/5 stars.


*Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning. I’m aware that there are many variations on this acronym but for simplicity’s sake I’m afraid I’ll be brief, explaining all the various pairings of letters can go on for years.

4 Comments

Filed under The Bookshelf

It’s National Poetry Month!

Emily Dickinson

Image via Wikipedia

Happy April! Happy National Poetry Month! And if you live in Northern Vermont: Happy Still Having Several Feet Of Snow In Your Yard!

Let’s ignore that last one and focus our attention to poetry. I’m not going to lie, I’m about to weasel out of writing a big post. The fact of the matter is that school’s a bitch right now and updating my blog is important but will not help me get straight “A”s (if you get an “A” in a subject you don’t need to sit for the final exam which means less time in a room thinking about how I know how Harry felt when sitting with Dolores). So here are some of my favorite poems from:

Emily Dickinson

(Who kicks ass all around)

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,

One clover, and a bee.

And revery.

The revery alone will do,

If bees are few.

——————————–

I taste a liquor never brewed –

From Tankards scooped in Pearl –

Not all the Frankfort Berries

Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of air – am I –

And Debauchee of Dew –

Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –

From inns of molten Blue –

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee

Out of the Foxglove’s door –

When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –

I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –

And Saints – to windows run –

To see the Tippler

Leaning against the – Sun!

——————————–

Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,

Impatient of no Child —

The feeblest — or the waywardest —

Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —

By Traveller — be heard —

Restraining Rampant Squirrel —

Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —

A Summer Afternoon —

Her Household — Her Assembly —

And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles

Incite the timid prayer

Of the minutest Cricket —

The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —

She turns as long away

As will suffice to light Her lamps —

Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —

And infiniter Care —

Her Golden finger on Her lip —

Wills Silence — Everywhere —

———————————-

Best Witchcraft is Geometry

To the magician’s mind —

His ordinary acts are feats

To thinking of mankind.

————————

Witchcraft was hung, in History,

But History and I

Find all the Witchcraft that we need

Around us, every Day —

—————————

They shut me up in Prose —

As when a little Girl

They put me in the Closet —

Because they liked me “still” —

Still!  Could themself have peeped —

And seen my Brain — go round —

They might as wise have lodged a Bird

For Treason — in the Pound —

Himself has but to will

And easy as a Star

Abolish his Captivity —

And laugh — No more have I —

——————————-

Thanks to poets.org and americanpoems.com for helping me get the full text to these non-copyrighted poems.

4 Comments

Filed under The Bookshelf