Three Little Words “fit the bill” in Wolf Hall

I am completely enraptured by the BBC production of Wolf Hall.  At times I call it Wolf Hall for Dummies as it is so easy to understand – I didn’t finish the book.  Much as I enjoy most historical novels and biographies this one wasn’t to my taste.

But that is beside the point.  It is the language  in the novel and the TV production  which interests me.  At no time in the written word or on the TV screen did I feel uncomfortable with the language.  It was so natural I didn’t even stop to think that this was not necessarily the type of speech that was used in the early 1500s.

So I found it surprising to read in English newspapers  the complaints about a word which nowadays is not acceptable in polite society but in the time of Henry VIII was in fairly common usage.  I didn’t even have a flicker of discomfort .  It was perfectly OK in a bit of man talk for those times.

But, and it’s a big but, I lost the thread and my jaw dropped when Jane Seymour said she would find a prayer which would “fit the bill”.  Fit the Bill.  To me that is completely out of character.  Modern English is used  in the novel but to me it is modern English devoid of any really quirky sayings which don’t really” fit the bill” for a story about Cromwell. This would have been used  in the second novel which I didn’t buy but I presume the saying was used by Hilary Mantel.  The saying  originally cropped up in a written work early in the 1800s but is still widely used today.

The Oxford and Cambridge English Dictionaries are a good source of information  for the using and  meanings of words  in classic novels or in  period pieces written more recently. .They do a wonderful job of getting back to the  original meanings of words instead of just parroting current usages as many of the contemporary dictionaries do.

And so back to the BBC and the wonderful portrayal of Cromwell, You see the story through Cromwell’s eyes and Mark Rylance’s subtle portrayal  is so good that you can almost tell what Cromwell is thinking.

So I will forget “fit the bill” and go back to adoring the BBC’s Wolf Hall.  I didn’t even notice the white teeth which niggles with some people as reported in The Guardian

In the meantime full marks to the designers and their choice of a  colour palette.  Combined with candles it is just  perfect.

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December – From the Libraries – Nesbo, Galbraith, Rankin, Mankell, Hornby and Miller

Some months are good for reading and some aren’t. When you’re enjoying a book you can find plenty of time for reading but if the pages are dragging then daily reading time dwindles. December was a good month and here are my reactions   You can find out more about the stories elsewhere in WordPress blogs, written by people who specialize in doing that.

Police by Jo Nesbo

I was just finishing this book at the beginning of the month.. You either like crime novels or you don’t.  You either like translations of Scandivian crime novels or you don’t.  I do, and this book was no exception. And a lot depends on the translator to produce a fluid translation in the new language. This was the tenth book in the Harry Hole series and didn’t disappoint.  I’ve been interested to note that  Nesbo is now working on a couple of new novels under the nom-de-plume of  Tom Johansen.

Cuckoo Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J.K.Rowling

I go to the library to collect books that I have decided I want to read but I always have a quick look at the Returned Books Shelf.  You never know what you might find there.  On one such day Cuckoo Calling was displayed prominently.  Now I am full of admiration for J.K.Rowling for her ability to write books that children want to read.  But I found her first adult novel, Casual Vacancy, very disappointing and had decided never again !  Famous last words. There it was, sitting on the shelf mocking me, Cuckoo Calling, so down it came.  And the inevitable happened, I just loved it.

That wasn’t my reaction in the first three pages where she set up the crime which is going to need solving.  My prejudices were there and I was muttering words like Adjective Junkie, and, Any High School kid could do better than that. Bees humming AND buzzing in the same sentence,  Not the bees that I know.   But once she starts the real story she is off and running, a real story-teller.

There is the suitably dishevelled, highly intelligent but damaged detective, struggling to make a living.  He is assisted by a delightful, resourceful and tactful Secretary who he gradually comes to realize that he couldn’t do without. (I’ve already cast the delightful Scottish actress Kelly McDonald in the role of the Secretary ! )  It sounds familiar, doesn’t it and I wonder if Rowling had a smile on her face some of the time while writing.

The end is such that further stories could be written.   How they would fare I do not know as even though I enjoyed the books the characters don’t have the depth, that you find in a Henning Mankell or Jo Nesbo book,  which you need for a lengthy series.

Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin

Knots and Crosses is another  random choice book, displayed front and centre on the Returned Book shelf,  just waiting to be taken home for a visit.  Over the years I have seen TV interpretations of the Rebus series.  I remember enjoying the series when John Hannah played Rebus but when a different actor took over the role they became just another cop show of no particular interest, I even read a couple of the novels.  But that is all in the past and the details were fading from the memory  so I was a bit amazed when I found myself enjoying Ian Rankin’s first novel far more than I expected to.  Rankin’s words and my imagination renewed my interest in  the characters I remember seeing  on the small screen. Further interest came from filling in the earlier life of Rebus.

The Pyramid by Henning Mankell

This book got renewed twice at the library before I finished reading it. This was possible as it is a series of five  shorter Kurt Wallander mysteries which progress through his life from his beginnings as a detective, through his marriage, fatherhood and  the breakup of his marriage. But it wasn’t written until eight of the main Wallander mysteries had been written and helped to fill in the back story.

As well as wallowing in crime stories there were a couple of light pieces from the library on my mini ipad, used for late night or coffee shop reading.

How to be Good by Nick Hornby – a bit of fluff

Lovesong by Alex Miller  With an inter-country marriage how do you cope with the family ties pulling in different directions.

One thing I don’t lack is a choice of bookmarks for each of my reads.

Bookmarks 2

Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

“He came on a November day, a cold wind blowing, the fields soaked with rain.”

With this first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, then the second page , I knew I was starting a book I would enjoy

Apart from Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel I haven’t found much to interest me in period stories set in Italy, such as Medici stories.  But this rather tragic tale is unforgettable.

I hadn’t heard of it until one night recently it was discussed on the Book Show on Australian ABC TV and now having read the book I went back and watched their comments again more carefully.  To them it seemed the love story was secondary to the Gothic, the darkness, the evil, the religion and politics.  But I’m a people person and the meeting and the gradual involvement of the sculptor and the beautiful young girl was what it was all about. .  It is set in the less affluent parts of Florence  and the countryside with the brief ventures of the sculptor into princely circles.

Because it was set in late C17th Italy how a relationship developed depended on the laws and the morals of the time., and this historical background floats along underneath the characters of the story.  There are also some fine descriptions of how sculpture in wax was done in those times and some unforgettable minor characters along the way.

Then there are the secrets.  We all have our little secrets which we don’t reveal to casual acquaintances. And it is these secrets held by different characters  in the book which lead the story to its conclusion.

It wasn’t until I had finished the book that I found out that Zumbo was a real person who spent his life fleeing foom his home in Sicily.  He really did make the wax sculptures depicting the plague. This has made the book even more fascinating in retrospect.

The boy-girl story and the secrets were but the dominant factors of the book to me.  I enjoyed the background, it was a necessary part of the story, but it wasn’t the story itself.

But, I found a different interpretation of the book in the Australian ABC TV’s Book Club.  For the discussion the three regulars were joined by authors Junot Diaz and Sarah Dunant.  I don’t think I’ve read anything by either of them but after listening to them talk I certainly intend to remedy that.

The background seemed to be everything to them -evil, hell-hole, darkness, gothic, pious, sordid were some of the words they used.  True, but what did they expect in C17th Florence and was it very different to what is happening in different parts of our world and which we read in our papers and hear on the TV news each night.

I don’t think the panel made any mention of the title, Secrecy, which is such an  important part of  the story.  As secrets are revealed so are actions determined.  Knowledge determines how we react to a situation.

Soo…we all liked the book, but with different interpretations and  for different reasons. My appreciation of the book was enriched by listening to these two discussions, the first from the ABC Book Club and the second from an interview with the author Rupert Thomson.

Book or screen version -Austen, Tolstoy and Shakespeare

Twas  early in March and all through the town

Windows were closed and blinds were pulled down

For didn’t you know that this day our fate

Was  for the temp to actually  rise to three eight

The refrig iwas loaded with salads and water

The air con was humming the way that it oughta

It made me feel all at sixes and sevens  *

So as this heat wave rolled on what was there to do but sit around and loaf and read and play with the blogs, that is after I’d rescued that dear little young rabbit from under car wheels on our street.  Such a pretty little grey thing who is now with the local vet and hoping that someone will come forward and claim him.

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But because of several blogs that I have read it has got me thinking, did I really like a classic book, or am I really just talking about a screen version

In the Comment section of blogs so  many people  refer to their favorite screen version and how wonderfully a certain actor portrayed the hero. I do it all the time.  Did I like Pride and Prejudice.  Of course, bu I I just loved  Jennifer Ehle, she was perfect for the role  in the BBC series.  How dare that Knightly woman think she could play that role. ( And I also loved Jennifer Ehle in Camomile Lawn  – I wonder if that was a book I could read.)  Which set me thinking as to how do we know that we really enjoyed the book or are reacting to the screen version.

I read One Day by David Nicholls without having seen the movie.  I was aware that Anne Hathaway had been cast for the role of  Emma  so her face floated across the page the whole time I read the book.  Her looks were perfect for the role. But I didn’t enjoy the movie.  It just didn’t seem to be cohesive the way the book was.

Sometimes, however, seeing a well-done screen interpretation can be a great help in re-reading.  Take War and Peace for example.  Audrey Hepburn as the elfin Natasha is just perfect. The images  my mind stored from the movie were a great help when  I again read the book.  I usually prefer to let my imagination run  riot but perhaps I needed a little help with mid C19th  Russia – those broad landscapes, a curving staircase, the magnitude of the war scenes. In fact I wouldn’t mind if some books were illustrated with a few  paintings or photos to illustrate possible settings

Remember. I’m talking about do I know I really like the book or am I influenced by what I have seen on the screen.

If you were to ask me if I like this or that play by Shakespeare I would probably wobble my hand from side to side in a take it or leave it motion. But if you should pick on one w here a stage or screen version  had helped me to understand and enjoy the play and sent me back to read the script then you would get a resounding Yes, I liked it.

This was true when I recently watched the latest offering of Richard II, part of the series The Hollow Crown. I have always found this play a bit boring  but now I am a great fan.  The help I needed this time was not with the backgrounds but with the way the words were spoken, the phrasing and the pauses to get the meaning from the words.  Ben Wishaw as Richard II did this perfectly, in fact he IS Richard II.  So still of body but with such subtle facial expressions you can read what Richard is thinking.

Last night our local TV had an episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, this time on Richard II, presented by the admirable Derek Jacobi.  There were many excerpts from productions long past, but even though the words were familiar none of them moved me the way the present version did..  It is living history.

In the end, does it really matter ? Book or screen version or the beautiful meld of both, which give me so much pleasure.  So thank you Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tolstoy et al.

* With apologies to ….whoever.

Semple, Hanff and Audrey Gordon

I wish I were more adept at finding the past posts which had led my reading choices so that I could give credit where credit was due. About a month ago someone wrote about Maria Semple’s  “Where’d you go, Bernadette” and the description was enough to make me decide to read it.  It certainly wasn’t the garish cover which attracted me.  But there was something in the blog which made me deviate from my usual conventional reading pattern. I started it today and have read fifty pages.  By the time I got to page 10 and Ollie-O I was hooked.

Ollie-O has been brought into a school to motivate the Parents Association to raise money to encourage a better class of people to the school and to shift the location of the school away from the next-door wholesale seafood distributor. Families are divided into Subaru parents and Mercedes parents.  Well, a Lexus is acceptable !

Because this is an American writer satirising  her own American society I can laugh long and loud which perhaps I wouldn’t do if it was written by a non-American.  I would have you all down on my head like a ton of bricks if I were to be so cruel to you !

When reading about Ollie-O I soon had a face and a voice for her. Some of you may know Audrey Gordon, the celebrity chef, with her snobbish and racist comments on TV. I’m  sure Ollie-O looks and sounds like an American verion of Audrey.

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But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is written in various voices  in different forms of communication between the characters in the book – an extension of the idea used in Helene Hanff’s delightful “84 Charing Cross Road”, an exchange of snail-mail letters between a customer and a bookshop. In fact in the pre-internet days when I used to  order books from James Thin booksellers in Edinburgh at the other side of the world  I was quite sure I was going to become the new Helene Hanff !

But Ollie-O is only a small part of the book which is about a bright student and her bright parents.   I am so looking forward to reading more.

Choice of school – for a better education or for social climbing ?

From Persephone Books to TV

My appetite for books takes  me in many directions and recently that has been in the direction of Persephone Books with its charming collection of reprints – neglected novels mostly from the middle of the twentieth century – beautifully presented paper-backs.

My first read was” Family Roundabout” by Richard Crompton, well known for her Just William stories. Set between the two wars it tells the story of two families and their contrasting matriarchs, one domineering and the other gentle. I thoroughly enjoy drifting back into that era, knowing that the writer has lived it, that the details are accurate and not imagined and researched.

Then came “The Making of a Marchioness” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden. First published in 1901 it has now been chosen by ITV as a suitable TV series.  And herein lies my problem.  They have renamed it The Making of a Lady. Why ? Why ? Why?  It is so disrespectful of the author.

As I understand it to be a Marchioness you have to the wife of a Marquess, one step down from a Duke and Duchess,  whereas a lady can mean many things.  For all you know I am a lady – I know which knife and spoon to use, I can conduct myself decorously and make polite conversation about safe topics like the weather when the mood takes me. So you could call me a lady.

I can be a lady without belonging to the British nobility and using the title Lady, which  even then doesn’t  indicate to which rank I belong.

In this novel, by her conduct,  the heroine is already a lady, poor but skilled in all the social graces.. To be made into a Marchioness she has to meet a Marquess, attract his attention and marry him, which is the basis of the story.  She is becoming a Marchioness, not a lady.

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So I can’t help being cynical and saying oh my, what a big word is Marchioness, much too big for the export market to cope with.  We can’t use a word the non-Brits  won’t  understand .  Let’s just make the title meaningless instead.

There is much about the movie and TV world which puzzles me, such as the remakes of perfectly good shows.  Take the Wallander series with Kenneth Branagh as an example.  If you haven’t read the Henning Mankell books or seen the original TV shows with sub-titles it’s a perfectly nice, pretty little series, but it is not a patch on the original.   Brannagh’s stubble doesn’t make up for the grittiness of the original.  And apart from re-writing story lines they have introduced a new character called Scenery so that we can have lengthy views of beautiful scenery to pad out the series. It’s just another British cop show with a bigger budget. Take out the name Wallander and call him Smith or Jones and you wouldn’t even know it was a Danish story. I really am cheesed off !

And the dramatic Danish Dragon Tattoo trilogy – Daniel Craig might be gorgeous but in my humble opinion  the original sub-titled films were better – and so it goes on.  No doubt “The Bridge” will be the next in line for conversion. They’ve already destroyed “The Killing” by transferring it over to New York.

Please, TV-land, give up the re-hashing and make your shows from original books or stories as the BBC did with its adaptation of P.D.James’ “Death in Holy Orders” and “The Murder Room”.  They were a while ago now but when things are well done you don’t forget them.