For some reason, it took me ages to read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I’ve been told it’s been very popular in book groups and it’s been shortlisted for a few literary prizes. It was one long read, but not because it was boring or dreary, far from it, I had settled into a reading malaise and just didn’t read very much.
This is Hannah Kent’s first novel and it is based on fact. Burial Rites tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last person to be put to death in Iceland, in 1829.
A servant with a past as bleak as an Icelandic winter, Agnes is found guilty for her part in the murder of two men, one of whom was her employer and in the book, her lover as well.
The author has used a great deal of factual information and certainly done her homework to make details as accurate as possible, but also filled in the emotional details and made a sympathetic case for Agnes’ innocence with fictional aspects. Agnes is regarded still today in Iceland as an evil woman of almost witch-like proportions.
I loved the book, it was very evocative of the landscape, time period and people, and Agnes became very real to me, a woman whose circumstances overwhelmed her control over her own life and future. Knowing it was based on a person who existed and met such a tragic end, made it all the more riveting.
Since becoming obsessed with Vikings through the television series, and Danish crime dramas such as The Killing, The Bridge and Borgen, anything set up there in the cold Northern climes piques my interest. The intense, dark and never ending winters, the hard lives and meagre existences hold a great deal of fascination.
On 23 April 2016 it will be 400 years since William Shakespeare died. He is believed to have been born on 23 April 1564. Certainly in the English language, few writers will have left such a legacy as this most celebrated of playwrights.
As an actor as well as a playwright he performed his own material, and in the four centuries following his death this material has continued to be performed, reinterpreted and reimagined in a huge variety of ways. His language can seem impenetrable, at least at first, but its richness, uncanny relevance, profundity and humour make it all worthwhile.
Some of his plays are performed with great regularity – who hasn’t seen a fluffy version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream performed in some lovely gardens on a pleasant summer evening? (No, MSND is not one of my favourites) Others are far more obscure – King John, anyone?
The best actors in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited.
Hamlet Act 2 Scene 2.
As for my favourite Shakespeare? Hard to say – I find Troilus and Cressida fascinating and wish I could have seen the Te Reo Māori version at the 2012 International Shakespeare Festival in London. I love Richard III – a masterful and still influential piece of Tudor propaganda that works just as well played for comedy as deadly serious. Who cannot love Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing – a star truly did dance when she was created.
It’s so hard to choose – Macbeth is so fast paced and profound, and as for Hamlet. Hamlet’s soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 4 might just be my favorite piece of his writing – but what about Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2:
Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever woman in this humour won?
(Note to reader: This post starts with housework but is actually about kids’ DVDs.)
When it comes to housework, I tend to be a bit all or nothing. Weeks and weeks can go by, and I’ll just do the barest minimum, and then I go crazy-mad and clean just about everything in sight. Like, the other day, I walked into the bathroom just intending to give the vanity a quick wipe, and ended up not leaving till I had cleaned the ceiling, scrubbed the floor, and attacked just about everything else in between. And as if that wasn’t enough, I then walked into the living room, took one look at the couch, which looked frighteningly like this couch* —
— and realised I couldn’t live with it a single moment longer and cleaned that too.
It seems I’m a bit the same with blogging…no posts since before Christmas, then all of a sudden, three posts in (almost) as many weeks!
Anyhoo…this post isn’t actually about housework**, it’s about kids DVDs. See, I noticed something the other day while I was popping DVDs back on the shelf… a whole cohort of the TV heroes and heartthrobs of my youth have taken to making — (wait for it… )
— pony movies and shaggy dog tales. Ya huh.
Remember Luke Perry from Beverley Hills 90210? Well, he’s swapped dreamboat for dad inBlack Beauty (a modern retelling of Anna Sewell’s classic story — though Miss Missy and I thought the stories don’t have that much in common apart from the title). I know he was a teen heartthrob and all, but really, Luke Perry makes a better dad anyway — remember Dylan’s prematurely receding hairline and wrinkled brow? Luke Perry also stars in A Fine Step and K9 Adventures.
Does anyone remember Ricky Schroder from Silver Spoons? My big sister had a bit of a crush on him, as I recall. No more spoiled rich kid for Ricky, now he’s playing the rugged cowboy father in Our Wild Hearts.
I was too young to actually watch Miami Vice, but nothing says ’80s TV quite like Don Johnson in a white suite, pastel t-shirt, and shades. Well, he’s dropped the white suit, but he’s still wearing shades in Moondance Alexander. Although it’s a pretty a typical girl-finds-horse-overcomes-odds story, Miss Missy and I did enjoy watching it.
Lastly, even though it’s not a pony story, I have to tell you about A Little Game, which stars Ralph Macchio, otherwise know as The Karate Kid (sorry folks, we don’t have the original at the library, we’ve only got the Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan version). There’s no “wax on, wax off” in this one, but it’s a similar tale of a young protégée and an older mentor, but instead of teaching karate, he’s teaching chess — and of course a few life lessons along the way.
So if the kids are getting bored over the holidays (especially if the rain keeps up!) why not give one of these movies a try? We’ve got plenty of new DVDs for kids, and they’re free to borrow!
*Minus the books propping up the corner. Of course I would never do that, what kind of librarian do you take me for? BTW, if you liked the Crappy Picture, you might enjoy Amber Dusick’s ebooks
When I lived in the UK as long as there was not a Tube delay due to “man under train”, bomb threats, mechanical failure or leaves on the tracks I would normally watch the BBC news. I would just get in the door in time for the familiar Beep, Beep, Beep which always comes just before the start of the news. I loved the BBC news as it was my time to collapse after work and the presenters would soothe me with their proper pronunciation, quality news reporting and interesting television. To me the BBC has succeeded in its royal charter where it must – “inform, educate and entertain”.
There can be no denying that as well as news the BBC has produced some amazing television over the years and we are now in a position to gather together some of its most viewed documentaries in one place with the BBC Video Collection. So far I have set up a personal account so I can create a playlist which includes Sister Wendy’s Grand Tour and Terry Jones’ Barbarians. This quick list I made will guarantee that as the evenings get darker and colder I will not be reduced to watching dating or cooking shows on our own TV networks. If history is not your thing, do not despair as there are titles on engineering, music, health, business and science and a multitude of other interests. All you need to do is search, watch and relax. If Christchurch traffic tests your nerve endings much like the Tube did mine then you too can escape into the world of the BBC.
Even Mr Beecrafty was so star struck that he lamented having to wash his hand after shaking hands with the beautiful Betazoid heroine! Marina (yes, we’re on a first name basis now) was just lovely, so warm and funny despite saying that the hardest things about conventions was having to be nice to people for so long! We were all amazed to hear her British accent, so different from her screen persona’s voice. I asked her whether she thought Riker was more handsome with or without the beard – she preferred without, while I preferred with which she said was no surprise when she saw my bewhiskered husband. I admitted that the Young Lad actually preferred Star Wars, as I haven’t fully indoctrinated him yet, and we left to her cry of “Bad parent, bad parent!”
All in all, as Miss Missy put it, it was the best day ever. So, in honour of this momentous fangirl experience, I have scoured the catalogue for all things Trek. Naturally we have Star Trek on DVD, and plenty of Trek fiction of course. But wait, there’s more!
I’ll have to take a look at Star Wars Vs. Star Trek – even though we all know that Stormtroopers are the worst shots in the Galaxy, not to mention their susceptibility to Jedi mind tricks would surely mean they’d be no match for the Vulcans. Now to convince the Young Lad…
If you are like me and only have poor person’s TV (not SKY) then you are constantly channel surfing and finding yourself stuck with cooking, renovation and dating shows. Well, surf no more – the library can now connect you to a new eResource – Access Video. It has over 10,000 world-class documentaries, award-winning educational films, and helpful instructional videos on every known subject.
Personally I am in heaven, as though I may not have access to the History Channel I can now watch a number of history documentaries from a variety of sources including the BBC. I have even set up my own account so I can save videos I want to watch in future. Now don’t roll your eyes at the thought of “educational” films as they can be entertaining too. I defy you to open this eResource and not find something that takes your fancy. I had a wee look at a documentary on “Animals in Love” and went all gooey over the Orangutan kissing his partner’s eyes and the capuchin monkeys that throw rocks at the boys to get their attention … is that what I have been doing wrong?
This eResource will be a source of information, entertainment and mirth for all. What else can I say but lights, camera and action!
Despite having lived in Christchurch for six years now, somehow I’ve never quite made it to Armageddon Expo, the annual celebration for pop culture geeks: always something else to do, somewhere to go, or something else to pay for… But this year it falls on my birthday, so I am going instead of just dropping off the teenagers.
But to get the best out of it, I need to do my homework. So :-
Also need to watch Stargate again, three guests are from that series, and I only ever saw a few episodes when it was on TV (raising children is hazardous to your TV viewing!)
Re-read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. When I first read it, was one of those “un-put-down-able books” that I stayed up all night reading
Find out if any TV/Movie producers will be going, and aim to convince her/him that Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan would make the most AMAZING film! Could have it’s technical challenges, of course, but I’m sure Weta Workshops would be up for the job!
As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later shelf. This time she reports back on some of the titles that have graduated to her Completed shelf.
Some lovely books that have come off the For Later shelf recently.
Robert Kime by Alastair Langlands. Matthew Dennison, author of a great book about Vita Sackville-West, reviewed this in that madly aspirational magazine World of Interiors. He said that Kime can “claim to devise schemes that genuinely appear ‘undecorated’: stylish but lacking obvious contrivance, with nothing matchy-matchy and not too much strangulated coordination”. An irresistible recommendation and the book did not disappoint.
For me holidays are always an opportunity to consume, not merely Christmas dinner leftovers and far too many Ferrero Rochers, but also culture. The books, movies and TV shows I haven’t had time for during the year get their chance over the festive break. It’s always a struggle, of course. There’s simply too much to get through.
So how did I do this year? Not too badly actually. Here’s what I managed to cram into a week and a half of public holidays and annual leave.
I made a real effort this year to grab a bunch of movies I was curious about but never got around to watching. Results were patchy.
Housebound – I’d heard good things about this Kiwi horror-comedy and they weren’t wrong. High on the creepy factor but plenty of laughs too. Haunted house meets awkward mother-daughter dynamic. Highly recommended.
Spirited Away – Critically acclaimed Japanese animation from Studio Ghibli. I’ve never really been into anime and this movie didn’t change my mind. Just a bit too weird and fantastical for me.
Never Let Me Go – I really like Carey Mulligan but when the other two points of a love triangle are Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley, I’m going to struggle. A beautiful film to look at (if you like the colour brown) but quite slow paced. Do not watch if you’re in a bad mood already, as it’s a bit of a downer (based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro).
They Came Together – I really, really wanted to like this. I’m a massive Amy Poehler fan and I adore Paul Rudd but this attempt to subvert the cliches and tropes of the rom-com failed to hit the mark. I couldn’t help thinking this would have worked brilliantly as an SNL sketch, but just couldn’t stretch to a whole film. Some fun moments but not enough of them, unfortunately.
Turbo Kid – Canadian/NZ co-production that had a lot of buzz at last year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. A retro-futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, BMXs, extreme cheesiness, that guy off McLeod’s Daughters, and what must have been an absolutely massive fake blood budget. What’s not to love? With knowing nods to everything from Soylent Green, to Mad Max and Cherry 2000, this pastiche/homage to sci-fi was a lot of fun to watch (though sometimes through your fingers because INTESTINES).
The White Queen – On a whim, for a bit of escapism I started watching this series based on Philipa Gregory’s historical novels The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker’s Daughter and ended binge-watching the whole thing. It covers the turbulent period during which the houses of York and Lancaster were battling for the throne of England, the War of the Roses. It begins with King Edward IV falling for a fetching Lancastrian widow and portrays the power grabs, manipulations and betrayals of his reign and beyond. It was this period of history that inspired George R. R. Martin’s Song of ice and fire novels and this series is similar, in bloodiness, intrigue, and, er, nudity. Not a bad substitute until the next season of Game of Thrones turns up (if you’re into that kind of thing).
Truths, half truths & little white lies: A memoir by Nick Frost – Often memoirs of famous people give you the impression that from a young age they were destined for stardom and great things. Nick Frost’s book has you marvelling that he managed to leave the house, let alone have a successful career, what with all the drugs and not being very confident and having a traumatic upbringing. It’s the story of an ordinary man who has struggles and demons just like everybody else and not in a “oh, I’ll just book into The Priory for a bit of rehab, dahling”, showing off kind of way, but the unglamorous “everything’s gone a bit terrible” way. This made me want to read Simon Pegg’s Nerd do well again and compare flatting anecdotes.
Concrete Park vol 2 – More violence, betrayal and sci-fi adventures on a prison planet. Waiting not very patiently for volume 3.
So how did you do over the break? Get a few titles ticked off your To Read (or To Watch) list?
I have just completed the second series of the Danish television drama The Legacy. The Legacy tells the story of four adult siblings dealing with the repercussions of their mother’s death. Their mother was no ordinary woman. She was an internationally renowned artist who let her children to lead chaotic lives and this has continued to impact them in adulthood. It is only their mother’s death that brings them all back together. If you add a love child, adultery, fraud, drug abuse and suicide to an already fraught situation what you have is addictive viewing.
Then there is another personal favourite Borgen. A political drama series about Birgitte Nyborg the fictional first female Prime Minister of Denmark. A political drama that is riveting? Believe it. After watching all three series, you will never look at politicians or political announcements the same again. This series takes you behind the scenes – to the spin doctors, the compromises that have to be made and the destruction such exposure can have on your family and ideals. This is not dry, predictable drama. When you see Nyborg struggle to get into a skirt due to recent weight gain, you fall a little in love with her vulnerability and then you cheer her on as she tries to convince other political parties to form a coalition government. She is magnificent.
I can also recommend The Bridge. This crime drama begins with a body that has been cut in half and placed precisely on the border between Denmark and Sweden. This results in the cooperation between two unique detectives, Saga Norén, from Sweden, and Martin Rohde, from Denmark. Again there are no predictable plots here, and much of the drama comes from the interactions of the lead characters. You have Martin with his troubled private life, and Saga who has difficulty in social situations due to an unspecified almost Asperger-like condition. Together they make for fantastic viewing.
So what is it about Scandinavian drama? Well, to me it is about the quality of the acting and the unpredictability of the storylines. Combine that with relatable characters and strong female leads and I am won over – despite subtitles.
If you are looking for an evening more interesting and entertaining than another cooking or DIY TV show, then you need to get your hands on these DVDs. A friend of mine told me she hates subtitles as she didn’t come home after a hard day at work to “read the TV”, but I have even managed to convert her! Are you next?