If you’re the kind of person who appreciates the joys of paper and ink in a digital age, head over to Hickory Nines and read this fantastic post by my colleague Lisa. It’s a lovely read and I think you’ll agree that she has a wonderful way with words.
A colleague sent me this the other day. See the above link for some truly, truly awful book covers featured. I may have to think twice before claiming a cover is the worst I’ve ever seen in future.
I loved the above post on Anni Cardi’s blog, which links you to a charity Doedemee selling posters of redesigned book covers to help raise money to fight illiteracy.
Guess where I’m shopping this month! I think I’ll probably get the Wuthering Heights design for myself, because it’s completely gorgeous AND one of my favourite books.
The posters for Alice’ Adventures in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Wind in the Willows, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atonement and Northern Lights are also amazing. I might ask for some for my birthday/Christmas.
Lucille Turner’s debut novel Gioconda imagines the untold story of Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Man, from his upbringing as the bastard child of a notary, through his training as an artist, fleshing out the facts of history to explain why the Mona Lisa, or La Gioconda, was never delivered to the family who commissioned it and was instead inherited by one of Leonardo da Vinci’s pupils upon his death.
The novel is fluidly written, with few historical markers making it hard for the reader to judge at exactly which point in history the narrative occurs which aids the author in condensing the events of what is potentially a fifty year period into a relatively short novel, and allows the reader to focus on the polymath’s genius rather than on incident. For me, that’s where the difficulty of this beautifully written novel lies, the author seems to be trying to force a love story out of a true story which is already brilliant. For me, the intrigue in this novel was learning about Leonardo’s dissections and studies which were considered heretical and very dangerous- his relationship with Lisa seemed almost incidental. His character was too focussed on his work and too rational to make the desire to paint Lisa convincing, or the ending of the novel, which links back to the opening chapter, satisfactory. The Leonardo of the opening chapter and the Leonardo of the rest of the book seemed like two very different characters.
Gioconda is a good read, but not a great read. The strength of the novel lies in colourful descriptions of da Vinci’s artistic and scientific works. So while Turner’s attempts to convince me of a relationship between Leonardo and Lisa may not have been wholly successful, I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for a really nice edition of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.
Check out this portrait of Emily Bronte which is up for auction. She’s so beautiful, though I’m not sure how realistic it can be- I’ve never seen eyes like that outside a Disney film. If I were rich and had a suitable wall to hang it on, I’d definitely be tempted!
Alice in Wonderland seems to be very much in vogue at the moment, as evidenced by the exhibition at Tate Liverpool. You can check out some of the images on display on the BBC website. I’m afraid that’s all I’ll be able to do while this exhibition lasts, since as my operation and two week hospital stay starts tomorrow, little short of holding a nurse hostage is going to get me there.
I might just have to get my private Alice collection out to make it up to myself. If you’re very good I might share them with you.
I had the afternoon off work on Monday after visiting an author in London and before going to watch Penn and Teller Fool Us being filmed (it was amazing) so I popped to the V and A for a browse.
I especially liked the Medieval Europe section which had a massive light filled room filled with Italian and French religious sculptures, huge doors etc. but in a darker room I found these sexy little beasts. Sorry the quality isn’t great, I took them on my phone and obviously didn’t want to use my flash.
I wrote a post the other day about my first favourite book, and I was saying that part of what I liked was that the pictures allowed me to tell myself the stories even before I was able to read. It seems that medieval artists had a similar idea because these ivory carvings show stories from the Bible to help illiterate worshippers access the stories.
But being a bit of a magpie, what really caught my eye was….
The manuscript dates from 1025-1050 AD and was said to be a gift to Sion Cathedral from the Emperor Charlemagne, so they decided to honour it by blinging it up in this gold, enamel and jewel binding around 1180-1200. Amazing.
How much will one of those set me back?
I’m not a philatelist (stamp collector, but how cool is that word?) though I did once buy the royal mail Dracula and Frankenstein stamps to decorate my diary. I was about 9 at the time, and stamp prices weren’t quite as ridiculous as they are now. It was a short lived obsession, and while I do appreciate a nice stamp, stamps are not a major obsession for me.
However, I think I might be forced to rethink this after a colleague in work showed me these amazing book related stamps on The Royal Mail website.
I don’t know if I mentioned that I’ve decided it might be time for me to go back to old fashioned correspondace, but I have started sending a lot of letters to my friends living elsewhere, because who doesn’t love a proper letter? I think I might have to buy these.
An artist, Robert Oliver, is admitted to a psychiatric hospital having desperately attacked a painting at the National Gallery in Washington. Refusing to speak he spends his days obsessively painting a mysterious and beautiful woman. The novel follows Marlowe, a psychiatrist, as he struggles to treat Oliver, with nothing more to go on than his observations of the patient and conversations with Oliver’s ex-wife and lover, which hint darkly at the insanity which is consuming the artist. Who is the dark lady he paints? And what is the significance of the ancient letters that Robert keeps so close at all times?
Personally I found The Swan Thieves somewhat slow to start as the author was overly keen to establish relationships between minor characters that didn’t really enhance the story, possibly because of a fear of being seen to “tell” the story rather than “show” it. I found the split narrative perspectives lacked cohesion which left the story with a fragmented feel, especially given that the author frequently inserts letters to replace elements of the narrative prior to developing a sequence of chapters which are set in the late 1870s. There are those who will probably attempt to claim that this unity is a clever technique meant to reflect Oliver’s inner turmoil. If so, it’s pretentious, as well as fussy and irritating. It prevented any real sense of urgency developing; something which made Kostova’s debut novel The Historian so enjoyable.
Kostova has clearly researched the art scene carefully, and her presentation of both the modern artists and impressionists are convincing, if not truly engaging. Despite the beautiful language use, her characterisation in this novel is generally poor. The voice of the three main narrators was too similar, and as a result I didn’t believe in the characters. Even when Kostova switched to the third person to narrate the events of Paris in 1870s, I was left with a feeling that the slow progress of Beatrice and Olivier’s relationship was lacking passion and conviction.
The most convincing characters in the novel were the minor characters that were observed by the narrator without a voice of their own, save in sparse dialogue. As the focus of the novel’s quest for truth, Robert Oliver grew in complexity and developed sufficiently to appeal to the reader’s curiosity, though for me this was ruined by the novel’s hurried ending, which was over simplified and somewhat trite.
I have to admit, for me this novel is far too reminiscent of Kate Mosse’s Sepulchre (another disappointing second novel). The time switch in the narrative, the descriptions of painting and the lack lustre characterisation all pulled me back to this. I was incredibly disappointed, as The Historian suggests that Kostova is the more accomplished writer when developing a unique and compelling story. However, this novel was a far cry from its excellent predecessor.