Magic realist, graphic nove review: The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe

The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe, a graphic novel, words by David Camus, pictures by Nick Abadzis

When you see a title like The Cigar That Fell In Love With A Pipe you know you're going to read it sooner or later. Then, when you do, you find it was such an easy, flowing and short read you wonder why you hesitated.

The story takes place in the mansion of Orson Welles, who is about to break up with Rita Hayworth although he doesn't know it yet. He has just finished making a film and is sent a box of cigars as a thank you present. He loves cigars. His first impulse is to smoke his way through them. The next morning, when there are only three left, he begins to realise just how special these particular cigars are. They have been rollled by a very famous cigar roller, Conchita Marquez. Cigars rolled by her are the most prized of all the cigars in the world.

From there, we are taken into the story of Conchita, how she met a sailor, and from there to the story of the sailor, and so finally back to Orson Welles in his mansion.

It's a sweet, sad, quirky story and I can recommend it.



A Science Fiction Graphic Novel, the Astro Boy spinoff "Pluto"

Pluto is a manga series by  Naoki Urasawa, set in the Astro Boy universe, with the permission of Osamu Tezuka, the Astro Boy creator. It's not like the cheerful TV series I remember. Instead, it's a suspenseful, possibly even a psychological thriller, as the robot Gesicht tries to find out who is killing the great robots of the world, and why.

First thing to learn when reading manga: start at the back, and read right to left, but top to bottom. Fortunately, this is one of those comics that are laid out well enough that, once you've got the hang of it, the sequences are easy to follow.

Astro Boy turns up in this story as one of the world's great robots, but his name here is Atom. Apparently most people who are familiar with Astro Boy already know this. 

There are eight books in the series. I've only read seven of them because that was all the library had, Maybe another day that eighth one will be there.

Once I figured out how to read Pluto I quite enjoyed it. Some of the sequences are actually beautiful. Mixed in with these episodes is the growing question of what is going on with Gesicht, Is something missing from his memory? Is there a problem with his program?

I can't give you spoilers because I won't know the answers myself until I find the eighth book, but I do recommend this series just because some of the sections are beautiful little short stories by themselves.


Historical Fiction Review: Bring Up The Bones by Hilary Mantel

Bring Up The Bones is a sequel to Wolf Hall and continues the story of Thomas Cromwell, adviser to Henry VIII. Henry is married to Anne Boleyn, but she only gives him a daughter. Then she has a miscarriage. Henry is getting desperate for a male heir and Jane Seymour is looking better every day. This being so, Cromwell gets the job of getting rid of Anne.

Cromwell has his own agenda. His mentor and father figure, Cardinal Wolsey, had been cast off years earlier, in Wolf Hall, and treated disrespectfully. Now Cromwell can take revenge under the guise of carrying out the king's wishes.

Mantel's writing has a beautiful texture. Curiously, then, I found my attention often wandered. What I wondered was how much of what she'd written was drawn from her research? Had Cromwell left lots of letters and diaries behind? Were the thoughts she attributed to him actually written by him somewhere? Then she had a scene describing how paper was rare and valuable, and therefore used and reused over again. So how could anything be left?

It helped when I came across this interview with Mantel on Radio Australia for the Perth Writers Festival. Hearing her brisk voice and the way she talked about things helped me see how her Cromwell might be a very practical man,  not a bad man, but a man who could do well in the times he lived in, and surrounded by people whose vision was not as far reaching as his. In one section, Cromwell considers the need for better roads together with the fact that parts of the population need more work, but he can't get the nobility to listen. Listening to the interview I began to see how Mantel's Cromwell might have evolved from her mind.

I have a couple of caveats with these books. One is that you need to know the history already in order to follow the story. The second is that the third person subjective narration isn't quite mastered. That's odd in a Booker prize winner. Reading Wolf Hall, I had to get used to 'he' usually referring to Cromwell even when the subject still appeared to be someone else, eg Henry. In Bring Up The Bones the 'he' sometimes gets followed with 'Cromwell', sometimes when it's already quite clear that it's Cromwell we're talking about. Why not just say 'Cromwell'? Well, presumably, just saying 'he' keeps the reader in that beautiful, warm-bath immersion that is the writing's great strength. On the other hand, I noticed in another present tense, third person subjective story I read, that use of the protagonist's name did not jar me out it. So why is 'Cromwell' different? Maybe someone with better editing skills than I have could answer. Maybe when I get around to reading it again I won't even notice a problem. (It happens.)



Fantasy: Saladin Ahmed's Paranormal Adventure novel: Throne of the Crescent Moon

All the while I was reading Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon I was picturing it as a movie. It's a very visual book and the characters would come across well on screen.

The main character is Dr Adoulla Makhslood, serves the world by killing ghuls. Fortunately those are increasingly rare as he really feels he is getting too old for this kind of work. He would have been killed on his last case if his assistant, the straight-laced, weapon of God, Raseed, had not managed to save him.

Suddenly, it turns out that there are a lot of ghuls out murdering people, and there has to be someone very powerful behind them. Dreams of his city awash in blood add to his sense of urgency.

Throne of the Crescent Moon provides a wonderfully filled-in, lived-in bit of world building. Admittedly, my first impression was of a "here we go again" with the prisoner of a mysterious, but powerful, figure, and so on, but soon I was charmed by the plight of the overweight Adoulla, getting too old and puffing out too quickly still going out to do what he alone can do, yet again.

I wouldn't say the book is flawless. For me, something about the Prince of Thieves type character doesn't seem quite thought through. On the other hand, the scenes where he is using magic to enhance his voice and the crowd's vision of him is one of the things that would work well in a film, being a parody of the way films already treat swashbuckling heroes. It is in the final battle and the ending, when he just a man, that something doesn't quite work for me. It's like the pieces are there, but they don't, quite, come together.

Really, though, it's an engaging read.

As a bonus, I see I enjoyed and reviewed short story by Saladin Ahmed a few years ago at my old blog.



Easy reading: The Collected Works of AJ Fikry

The Collected Works of AJ Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin, is a pleasant novel about a bookshop owner, AJ Fikry, whose life could be better. His wife has died. His first edition of collected poems by Poe, which he only has because he hopes it will fund his retirement, is stolen, and someone leaves a baby in his store. How is a novel a 'collected works'? The answer is in the conclusion Fikry comes to as his life progresses.

Throughout the book are some of Fikry's own book reviews. He's clearly not someone who just follows the crowd.

This book is recommended as one of those pleasant, easy to read without being brain-dead kind of books.

Historical Fiction review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen is Philippa Gregory's sequel to her enjoyable biography of Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen. Elizabeth Woodville was the wife of Edward IV and the mother of the twins in the tower who were so famously murdered possibly/probably by their uncle Richard III. It was the War of the Roses, the cousins war. Everyone wanted the king's title, despite the fact that their family, being royal, already had the power.

One of the pleasant things about The White Queen, apart from the happiness of Elizabeth and her husband, was the fantastical element, the blood of a river goddess being said to flow in her veins and which allowed to her sometimes to summon elemental help.

The Red Queen is not a continuation of the story, but a parallel to it. It is about Elizabeth's rival Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII.

In the book, Margaret begins as a young girl obsessed with the idea of being like Joan of Arc. However, as a girl she receives no training whatsoever in anything that would help her achieve this. In fact, she doesn't even seem to realise that she would have to learn, for instance, to ride a horse. Being very young, she thinks her greatness will simply be recognised and she will be a mighty leader. No one, though, even looks at her, never mind recognises anything great in her. She is told what to say, briefly has a nice dress to wear and finds herself married. When she's barely old enough is sent to bear a son for a husband.

It's a strange book to read because the character of Margaret is not particularly likable, and seems that the author didn't like her either. There are many excuses for her: She is young, no one notices her let alone loves her, there's no one to give her kindly advice. She is important the one time she becomes pregnant, but once the child is born she is separated from him, her husband dies, and she has to marry someone else to advance Henry's cause.

Gregory, the author, suggests Margaret should be recognised for her intellectual endeavors, her efforts to get an education in a time when women were not taught anything. However this doesn't really come across in the novel which focuses on Margaret's ambition for power and has little to say about her intellectual efforts. We learn that she translates scriptures and gives out pamphlets to her servants. We don't learn if her servants could read, but we do get the impression that Margaret was just an annoying kind of person.

It might have been a sadder, maybe sweeter story, if it had been about someone who was not brilliant, or even particularly clever, but did yearn for knowledge and did manage to get some despite the obstacles. Instead, it's about a not very clever person who has no thought of the good of the country but encourages war just wants to be able to sign herself with an R for Regina, the queen.

The Red Queen is recommended reading mainly for the depiction of the lot of women in 15thC England.


Napowrimo day 8

The napowrimo challenge today is to write a love poem to an eggbeater.
It occurred to me that the love didn't have to be between me and the eggbeater. It could include another utensil. a bowl springs to mind. Then I decided to make the poem a cinquain, which has a pattern of 2-4-6-8-2 syllables per line.

I didn't want to take it too seriously.

Wire frames
Bend in and out
In graceful curves, twin balls
That fill my bowl change the mess to

Meanwhile, its Camp Nanowrimo, and April is a much easier month than busy November to do such things. So there are a few challenges around for writers to enjoy at the moment.