83. *Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House (script, 1879; trans. Michael Meyer 1968; ed. Non & Nick Worrall, 2008)
84. Jeune Femme (film, dir. Léonor Serraile, 2017)
85. Redoutable (film, dir. Michel Hazanavicius, 2018)
86. Wonderstruck (film, dir. Todd Haynes, 2017)
87. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Lolly Willowes (novel, 1926)
88. Amin Maalouf, On Identity (non-fiction book, 1996; trans. Barbara Bray, 2000)
89. St Andrew's Castle Museum
90. Adam Roberts, The Real-Town Murders (novel, 2017)
The good news - and it's taken about eighteen months, so hooray - is that my reading mojo seems to have come back. I keep a note of everything I read, and have done for years, and 2017 is the first year in a full decade where I read less than a book every fortnight. There are all sorts of reasons for that - a swing towards non-fiction; a few hefty projects; a couple of sizeable swings towards malaise. A lot of what I read last year was children's literature - Alan Garner and Diana Wynne Jones and T. H. White - and that's all very well, but there are really only a few writers I can read during the bad months, who I know will help me get back up to speed again.
Those writers are Dorothy Sayers and Adam Roberts. Sayers is comfort reading for me; I've yet to meet a Peter Wimsey novel I didn't like, and even when her essays are imperialist nonsense of the worst kind (like in Unpopular Opinions), I can't help but love her turn of phrase. A nice bit of cognitive dissonance to keep the old critical faculties sharp.
As for Roberts, I come back to his writing time and again, and every time it feels like I have to jog to keep up. I love it. It feels like a rarity at the moment, finding writers who are more interested in concepts than in people, in stringing ideas out and slamming them together than in eliciting sympathy. Adam Roberts is a one-man Large Hadron Collider of ideas, and I am here for it. In a bashful kind of way I feel like we think alike, in the sense of having a hundred different fascinations and a tendency to slurp up information about a dizzyingly wide range of subjects. Privately (and tangentially) I feel like that kind of intellectual generalism is the path of least resistance for me; like of course I do it, because if I didn't life would just be so much worse. It's bigger than that, of course: that's the very tip of an iceberg of scholastic motivation that nevertheless I see echoed back to me in books like Bête, like Jack Glass, like Twenty Trillion Leagues under the Sea. Maybe that's fanciful. I read The Real-Town Murders on a day trip to St Andrews, which is an uncanny sort of place, and an excellent backdrop for proofreading articles on archaeology and burning through two thirds of an extremely good book. The mystery format is a pretty good one for Roberts, who often (I think) seems more interested in the set-up than a satisfying conclusion. This time, he nailed the landing, A+, spectacular dismount. Read this goddamn book.
I've read some great things in the last few weeks. Let's take a breather and talk cinema. Michel Hazanavicius directed The Artist (which I have not seen) and OSS 117, which you have probably not seen, but which is a Euro spy thriller spoof staring Jean Dujardin and which is low-key one of my favourite films. Redoutable is about Jean-Luc Godard, in the style of OSS 117. It's bright, it's stylised, its tongue is firmly in its cheek. I saw it three times at work, and I would do it again.
Nobody else saw parallels with Phantom Thread - which I also loved - but I am interested in the fact of two films about creative male geniuses within a year of each other; that both of them are portrayed as dickheads, which is terribly progressive of them and a turn up for the books from, say, Whiplash; and also the fact that both films were ones I loved. Wouldn't it be nice to spend your life being exuberantly creative, telling other people where to stand, and then getting taken out for dinner and asked your opinion?
Jeune Femme is fine, but ultimately not terribly memorable. Three stars, you go Jeune Femme. (These opinions are my own and not the opinions of my employer.) I bet Wonderstruck is an excellent book which eleven-year-old me would have adored. As a film it is a wasted opportunity, made all the sadder by the fact that Todd Haynes made Carol which means he is definitely capable of, you know, pacing.
Back to the books. I actually read A Doll's House a few weeks back to teach it - I like it so much better than Hedda Gabler, which I think is the point of Hedda Gabler. That you can make good art with good points, without the characters having to be likeable. I am forever surprised that Ibsen was writing in the 1870s - he is so far ahead of his time. Teaching A Doll's House was a masterclass in how to talk to seventeen-year-olds about the patriarchy, and stagecraft, and the separation of author intention from audience response. Oodles of fun. Would certainly teach again.
What's left? Lolly Willowes and On Identity. I have thoughts about them both, collectively and individually, which I would like to give a little space to breathe. So I'll save them for another post.
Other things I have seen/heard/read this week: about 200,000 words of fanfiction, no I am not telling you what of. Quite a bit of Steve Reich and associates. And some British civil war history because I swear to you I have not forgotten it exists, and actually I'm doing quite a bit of work on it at the moment. Just very quietly.