Schubert, octet in F, D803. I believe this piece was written
as a vehicle for a clarinettist friend of Schubert's.
Certainly the clarinet has a prominent role.
- Joseph Conrad, The
This is Conrad's last novel, and one I enjoyed a lot.
It probably helped that the central character, Peyrol,
was competent and basically good-natured, as opposed to
the pathetic Almayer in my previous Conrad. The novel
is set in Napoleonic France, and is about the last stage
in the career of the rover Peyrol, an experienced
sea-man who has spent most of his time in waters far
from Europe. He returns to France to retire, and hooks
up with a dysfunctional household in the country-side
Toulon is being blockaded by the English fleet, and
after a little while, a naval lieutenant turns up with a
plot that will require the rover's help. So, Peyrol
gets drawn back into one last naval adventure. Yes, the
plot is a bit stereotypical, but it's well done. It
seems pretty clear that an old Conrad identified a bit
with his Peyrol character, and he is drawn
sympathetically. (Conrad began his seaman's career out
- Philip Pullman,
The subtle knife.
This is the second book in Pullman's His dark
materials trilogy. It's very exciting, and
reveals more tantalising details about the nature of the
cosmic struggle that the main characters are becoming
involved in. Again, I'll hold back on further comment
until I've read the whole trilogy. Still, I think I can
see why one reactionary claimed that Pullman was “the
most dangerous author in the UK”.
- Granta 77: what we think of
This issue of the literary magazine is dominated by a
series of 24 brief essays written to the title
What we think of America, by a variety of
authors from all around the world (one Australian, even,
but no New Zealanders). There are five other normal
length pieces in the issue, and the usual photo
The 24 essays on America were inevitably a mixed bag. I
Buruma's and Michael
Ignatieff's for example, and thought Harold Pinter's
ridiculously over the top. In general, I thought the
essays very much of their time. Now, six months later
than publication, the general impression is of
staleness. The story of the war on terrorism and
America's place in the world has moved on, and I want to
hear specifics about what's happening now. I'm not sure
that a literary magazine is the right place for current
affairs editorials, even if they are written by literary
The other pieces in this issue were all good. Francis
Spufford's description of learning to read while
bedridden with the mumps is very effective, even if I
doubt its detail (this being my standard suspicion of
child-hood memoirs). I enjoyed Blake Morrison's
exhumation of his parents war-time love letters, even if
it did feel a bit voyeuristic, and Ziauddin Sardar's
description of getting out of Saudi Arabia is quite
enthralling; easily enough to convince me that it's
somewhere I don't want to go.
Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and daughters.
Last week I was away at the tenth European SIGOPS workshop, in
St. Emilion. This is a very pretty village in the Bordeaux region,
and famous for its wines. A good time was had by all. On
returning to the UK, I was soon struck down by a nasty cold. Thus I
make my excuses for the paucity of entries recently.
Yesterday was my last day as the Heller Research Fellow at St. Catharine's College.
Yesterday we also paid the full amount for our tickets to
Australia. The world is a-changing.