Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains."
That's how it begins. And that's pretty much how the whole book is written. You will excuse me for delaying the reading of the third part of His Dark Materials, but I just could not help myself falling into this rewritting of Pride and Prejudice when I got it as a Christmas gift. This book features Jane Austen's original text, to which the co-author Seth Graham-smith added violent and bloody battle scenes including brand new zombies and even ninjas.

It begins in Meryton, a small village in the zombie-infected England. A strange plague has been transforming people into brain-eating creatures for years and it is no time for piano playing and fancy drawing. In this novel, ladies a renowned for their fighting skills and their ability to behead creatures with their Katana swords. The Bennets are a family of five daughters (all of them being great warriors although only the two elder got brains) whose mother truest whish is to have them all settled with rich husbands. When news are spread that Mr. Bingley, a young and handsome rich man from London has rent rhe neighbouring property of Netherfield, Mrs. Bennet immediatly fancies about marrying him with one of her daughters. Indeed, her eldest Jane and Mr. Bingley seemed to be very attracted to each other. The same cannot be said for Bingley's friend Mr. Darcy and Jane's sister Elizabeth who despise each other. Follow an intricate story about love, pride and prejudices framed into scenes of zombie fighting and defense of the crown.

Of course, you encounter the very good story of Jane Austen. As in many of her books, her main characters are sweet girls very good-tempered and smart. They are independent when they need to be and have wit. Pride and Prejudice also includes the famous inversion of characters. Those you thought were good often end up being mean, and those you thought were bad often are the nicest and the smartest. It is a good lesson about not judging people before knowing them and only according to hearsay. Plus, it is, according to me, her funniest novel. The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet often leads to laugh and there are some quite good-humoured ideas.

That being said, let's talk about Graham-Smith's adding. At first, I was a little unhinged about the changes in the story. You have to get used to Elizabeth encounters with zombies once in a while. But once you did, they are very funny and entertaining. Plus, they make many references to Japanese arts and philosophy which add an exotic side to the story. Then, there are also some alterations to the story which at first made me uneasy. An example would be Charlotte's catching the plague and being half a zombie. My mind would at first stick to the original story and say "That's not what's supposed to happen!", but once you get over it, you realize that the alteration respects the essence of the novel and add nothing but more fun to the story. I would say that for people who have never read Jane Austen, this novel will probably be very entertaining. For Austen's fan, it might take a little adaptation and openness. To conclude: I am sincerely looking forward to the movie starring Natalie Portman may the rumors be true!

Verdict: Definitely to read if you like Austen's stuff and fantastic, and enjoy parody. To avoid if you really like Austen's style and would not tolerate variations and/or dislike zombie stuff.

Further readings: if you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, you can also follow with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Monday, December 20, 2010

La tour des anges, by Philip Pullman

Obviously, what follows Nothern Lights in my readings is its sequel, The Subtle Knife. In this novel, we discover Will Parry, a 12-year-old boy who lives in our world. He takes care of his mentally-ill mother and runs away from strange men from the secret services who seek information about Will's mysteriously disappeared father. As he is fleeing, he discovers a passageway, or rather an opening in the space that leads to a new world. In Cittagaze, gangs of children live together, without any adults because of the Spectres, bad creatures who attack matured people only (the dementors in Harry Potter, you know? Pretty much the same thing). Lyra and Will teams up and travel to Will's world in order to get more information about the Dust. Lyra is told by the Dust that her new mission is to help Will find his father. Meanwhile, we can follow the actions of some other characters such as Lee Scoresby and Serafina Pekkala and we hear a little more about the famous apparently-not-dead explorer Stanislas Grumman. Plus, Will became the bearer of the Subtle Knife, a powerful arm which can cut doors through the different worlds and can destroy anything. As the time goes by, Will gets to have an important role to play in the war Lord Asriel is launching against the Authority.

I think the very best thing about this sequel is the appearance of the character of Will. He is such a lovely boy. If I were 12 years old, I'd be madly in love with him. He is so young and has so much responsabilities. He is very caring and thoughful and courageous. I could go on like this for a couple of lines more, but that's not the point of my message. We can add new creatures that can be very frightful (the Spectres).

Then, the different worlds are very nice to discover. I think Pullman did a very amazing job in creating how they function and how you can go from one world to another using the Knife. I also like how he relates the sudden changes in their worlds that followed Lord Asriel's bridge to the climatic changes we observes in our world currently. We this sequel, we're also getting more into action and the war against the Church (or the Authority) becomes more real and imminent. Once again, we have some good philosophical content about morality and religious authority. We also get into Eve and the original sin. Should she have eaten the fruit or not? Should we have Knowledge or not?

Verdict: To buy. It's as good as its predecessor. A good reading for children as well as for adults. If you are very religious, maybe have a little talk about religion, reality and fiction with your children before letting them read the book.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Les Royaumes du Nord, by Philip Pullman

First of all, I have to say that I am so excited right now. I have just finished the book and I know what's going next and I need to read the sequels. I am still in that reading fever I get every time I fall into a very good book. I hope it is going to tell you how much I love this novel. I read it when I was in high school. I remember I could only stop to get some food and it was making my mother crazy (the same happened with the Harry Potters). I really loved it, but with the years passing by, I forgot why. Now, I remember.

So, it is the story of Lyra Belacqua, a young girl living in a parallel world in which people have deamons (small animals that are half of their souls and that they can't part with). She is an orphan who lives with the school staff of Jordan College in Oxford. Her life is filled with battles with the city children and with days of discoveries alongside her friend Robert. However, one day, she is unwilling witness of a conversation with her powerful uncle Lord Asriel and the staff about the Dust, a strange phenomenon which seems to scare the Church and the institutions of Knowledge. At the same time, the Gobblers appear in England and kids start to disappear mysteriously. When her friend Robert disappears too, Lyra's world changes abruptly. She receives a special gift from the master of Jordan College and leaves for a wonderful, but dangerous trip to the North where the Gobblers would keep the kids. There, Lyra will meet witches, speaking bears, and other mythical creatures and discover the truth about the Dust and the Gobblers.

I think what I like the most about this novel, except the amazing world the author created and the very endearing characters, is how the author brings up very interesting philosophical subjects such as the role and power of the Church. It is a very good insight to the behavior of the Church toward Galileo and other philosophers which were labelled heretics. I am not really into dissing religious institutions, but I think it is important to think about these subjects and to question their authority when necessary. The book also offers a good reflection about what's good and evil. Is it alright to do something evil when it's for a greater good? It is especially brought up by the unethical experiments of the General Oblation Board. I think it is a very good book to introduce children to philosophical thinking (as much as The Giver, I'll write about this one someday). Plus, the whole fantasy side is very entertaining and help to develop a little bit of creativity.

I also have to mention that the character of Lyra is very loveable. You can't help loving her. She is very smart and courageous. She's a good positive leader ans she fights for what she thinks is good. In brief, a good model for young children.

Verdict: Definitely to add to your personal library, especially if you have children.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ceux qui vont mourir te saluent, Fred Vargas

Ceux qui vont mourir te saluent (Those who are about to die salute you) is one of French writer Fred Vargas' first novels. It is also the first novel from that author that I read. I must say I fell into it right after the first page. It is the story of three young mens living in Rome who all wear Roman emperor names. Claude, Tibère and Néron. Claude's father, Mr. Valhubert hears about an unknown work from Michelangelo which appeared on the public market and which can only come from the Vatican Library. He comes to Rome and is immediatly assassinated. There begins a complicated inquiry in which Valence, a French jurist has to find the truth in what the three emperors and their protectors may say. The story is full of manipulation and the reality is often distorted. The whole book is tinted with the Roman Catholic Church. Through the author's writing, we have access to some aspects of the higher scales of the Church without going too much into useless details. It is definitively not a book about church and religion.

I liked a lot the direct genre of the author which is always straight to the point, unpretentious (although the characters are pretentious!). Chapters are sometimes long, sometimes only a page. It keeps the reader alert. As for the characters, I think the three emperors are very charming in their peculiar way. Neron's self-esteem and weird habits are worth the reading. He is the guy who doesn't think. He only sees. It reminded me of that song from Iggy Pop, the song about the thinking fish. Anyway, Neron is too intellectual to even think. The characters are all very nice and well-developed. However, I must admit I did not get why they are all so obsessed with Laura (Claude's stepmother, you'll see, she seems to be quite the hot bomb). Too me, she has a very tiny role in the novel and do not deserve all the attention she gets.

Verdict: a very good polar to read on the bus. If you are really into polars, buy it. I'll definitely read other stuff from Fred Vargas from now on. If you usually don't like that type of books, try it nevertheless. You might realize you like it!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Let's start by the beginning

First of all, I did not choose English as the language of my blog just for fun. I love English, and writing in English. Plus, it will be a good opportunity to practice a skill that should be useful in my future career. Also, it is true that nowadays, English is a global language and that most people can read it. However, I don't think that should matter since I will probably be the only one reading this blog except for some close friends. But who cares? Ifever some people I don't personally know end up here, let's French not be a reason not to communicate.

You might wonder why I named my blog The Shop around the Corner. I should say it is absolutely not an allusion to a specific Christmas movie in which a lady holds a bookstore around the corner. The lady reads stories to children in the shop and discusses literature with a penpal of hers. Of course, there is some love included in the plot. All great stuff. You ought to watch this. But the most important thing is that it talks about books. And I decided to do my own shop around the corner here. So unless I get really crazy with school stuff or forget that I have a blog, I should come here and tell you about the books I have been reading or intend to read. I also invited some friends to write here, because I know they love to read. So I hope they'll be willing to participate to my new fancy :D

Enjoy it and feel free to leave comments as long as it is not too mean!!!