Miscellaneous Memoranda

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler turns fifty this year and The Smithsonian Magazine has a great article about the true story behind the book. Really, that book is the only reason I’d ever want to visit New York (although sadly, the bed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art that Claudia and Jamie slept in and the fountain they bathed in are no longer there). And did you know there was a film made in 1973 called The Hideaways, starring Ingrid Bergman as Mrs Frankweiler? The trailer looks … not very good. Has anyone seen the film?

– And speaking of beloved books, did you know that I Capture the Castle has been made into a musical?

– Here’s an interesting article about the day jobs of various famous authors. Did you know that Dorothy Sayers worked in advertising and devised the ‘Toucan’ Guinness ads? And that Jack London was an ‘oyster pirate’, and Vladimir Nabokov a butterfly curator in a museum, and Harper Lee an airline ticketing clerk?

– Sadly, authors need to scrounge for money because “celebrity deals are shutting children’s authors out of their own trade”.

– Regarding Nabokov, apparently his favourite word was “mauve”. A new book by Ben Blatt reports on the statistical analysis of thousands of ‘classics’ and contemporary bestsellers, concluding that while women write about both men and women, men write overwhelmingly about men; that the writers who used the most clichés were all men and those who used the least clichés were all women; and that Tolkien really liked exclamation marks.

– Finally, here are instructions for how to turn your boring conventional shoes into shoes that look like pigeons. (My favourite part of the story is that Kyoto Ohata created the shoes because she was worried her regular shoes were upsetting the pigeons she encountered on her daily walks.)

What I’ve Been Reading : Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

For various reasons, I haven’t felt up to reading anything new lately, so I’ve been working my way through old favourites from my bookshelves. This has included a whole shelf of novels and short stories by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. I find her work consistently engrossing, although I’m not sure why, because she wrote the same story over and over again. Generally a Westerner – someone from America or Britain, usually with German parents or grandparents – arrives in India with great enthusiasm and is either gradually or suddenly disillusioned. Often there is a guru involved, who may or may not be as benevolent as he initially seems. In her later work, the setting is New York or London and the master is a tempestuous Central European musician or psychiatrist or academic, but the theme is the same – that the characters must efface themselves to reach true fulfilment, which rarely turns out to equal true happiness.

Her fiction always seems very autobiographical and in her introduction to Out of India, entitled ‘Myself in India’, she wrote:

'Out of India' by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

“I have lived in India for most of my adult life. My husband is Indian and so are my children. I am not, and less so every year […] There is a cycle that Europeans – by Europeans I mean all Westerners, including Americans – tend to pass through. It goes like this: first stage, tremendous enthusiasm – everything Indian is marvellous; second stage, everything Indian is not so marvellous; third stage, everything Indian abominable. For some people it ends there, for others the cycle renews itself and goes on. I have been through it so many times that now I think of myself strapped to a wheel that goes round and round and sometimes I’m up and sometimes I’m down.”

She was particularly interested in religion and “whether religion is such a potent force in India because life is so terrible, or is it the other way round – is life so terrible because, with the eyes of the spirit turned elsewhere, there is no incentive to improve its quality?” The heart of her problem, she said, was this:

“To live in India and be at peace, one must to a very considerable extent become Indian and adopt Indian attitudes, habits, beliefs, assume if possible an Indian personality. But how is this possible? […] Sometimes it seems to me how pleasant it would be to say yes and give in and wear a sari and be meek and accepting and see God in a cow. Other times it seems worthwhile to be defiant and European and – all right, be crushed by one’s environment, but all the same have made some attempt to remain standing.”

'The Nature of Passion' by Ruth Prawer JhabvalaThis author is probably best known for her Booker Prize-winning novel, Heat and Dust, and her Academy Award-winning script writing for the films of Merchant and Ivory. I like Heat and Dust, a book that contrasts historical and modern British attitudes towards India, and the film is pretty good, too. But my favourite Ruth Prawer Jhabvala novel about India would have to be The Nature of Passion. It’s a clever, droll, beautifully constructed story about a family in New Delhi in the 1950s. Lalaji is one of the new super-rich, a man who has acquired millions of rupees by a combination of ruthless scheming, graft and sheer hard work and believes his security lies in sticking to traditional Hindu values. His youngest offspring, however, have opposing ambitions. Chandra is trying to establish a squeaky-clean career in the Civil Service, Viddi wants to travel to Paris to be an art critic, and beautiful Nimmi longs to be modern and independent and marry for love. A crisis looms for Lalaji when a politician begins a campaign against bribery and corruption:

“Bribery and corruption! These were foreign words, it seemed to him, and the ideas behind them were also foreign. Here in India, he thought, one did not know such words. Giving presents and gratifications to Government officers was an indispensable courtesy and a respectable, civilised way of carrying on business. It was a custom, a tradition even, and hence should be respected; not tampered with by upstart Deputy Ministers who had been abroad and brought home unsuitable ideas.”

For those who prefer short stories, Out of India is a good representative collection of her work, although I also like A Stronger Climate because it divides the stories into two useful categories, ‘The Seekers’ and ‘The Sufferers’. I also enjoyed My Nine Lives: Chapters of a Possible Past, in which the nine stories, set in India, America and Britain, explore fictional “alternative destinies” for the author.
'Shards of Memory' by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

When it comes to her novels set (mostly) outside India, the one I keep returning to is Shards of Memory, a family saga involving a wealthy Anglo-German-Indian family living in New York and linked to a mysterious spiritual Master. I don’t know why I like it so much, because it’s certainly not flawless (for one thing, it ends too abruptly). I think it must be the characters, who are so complicated and eccentric and oddly endearing. I especially like Henry, the young man who reluctantly accepts his destiny as the Master’s heir, and Henry’s grandfather Graeme, a cynical British diplomat – and also, possibly, a spy…

Castle Stalker

A Brief History of Montmaray

The bleak castle depicted on the hardcover edition of A Brief History of Montmaray may seem like the work of an illustrator, but I recently discovered it’s an actual castle.

Castle Stalker by Norrie Adamson
Castle Stalker. Photo by Norrie Adamson, licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Licence.

Okay, the book cover designer made a few adjustments to make it look as though the island were in the middle of the Bay of Biscay. But Castle Stalker is a real place that you can actually visit (if you happen to be in the general vicinity of Appin in Argyll, Scotland). And not only does Castle Stalker have a splendid name, it has its very own published Brief History, which is even more violent and dramatic than the history of Montmaray. It begins:

“In 1463 Sir John Stewart was keen to legitimise his son by getting married to his Mother, a MacLaren, at Dunstaffnage when he was murdered outside the church by Alan MacCoul, a renegade MacDougall, although he survived long enough to complete the marriage and legitimise his son, Dugald, who became the First Chief of Appin. The Stewarts had their revenge on MacCoul at the Battle of Stalc in 1468 opposite the Castle when the Stewarts and MacLaren together defeated the MacDougalls…’

There follows several centuries of Stewarts, MacLarens, MacDougalls and Campbells killing one another in various colourful ways. The Stewarts had a particular knack for getting murdered, even when they weren’t actually in Scotland – for instance, Duncan Stewart was appointed Governor of Sarawak in the 1940s and was assassinated a couple of weeks into the job. The Stewarts also weren’t very good at betting and lost the castle to the Campbells in a drunken wager. Unfortunately for the Stewarts, they’d fortified their castle walls so strongly that when they later tried to win it back from the Campbells by force, “their 2lb cannon-balls merely bounced off the walls”.

A couple of centuries later, the Campbells finally lost interest, abandoned the castle and allowed a Stewart to buy it back, and the process of restoration began. I would love to take one of the tours, but alas, I don’t think I’m likely to be visiting Scotland any time soon. I did do the virtual tour, which is pretty entertaining. And if you’re wondering where else you might have seen Castle Stalker, it makes an appearance in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the Castle of Aarrgh.

‘The Leopard’ by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

I feel slightly foolish rhapsodising about this novel. It’s rather like saying, “I saw this great play last night! You should see it! It’s called Hamlet!” because apparently, The Leopard (or Il Gattopardo, the Italian title) is one of the most famous novels ever published in Italy. However, as I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago, when I read a reference to it in a travel article1 about Sicily, then I’m guessing at least some of you may not be familiar with it, either, and you ought to know about it because it’s WONDERFUL.

'The Leopard' by Giuseppe Tomasi di LampedusaThe ‘Leopard’ is Don Fabrizio, the head of an ancient noble family of Sicily in 1860, which is not a very good time to be a Sicilian prince. Should Don Fabrizio continue to prop up the disintegrating Kingdom of the Two Sicilies or should he support Garibaldi and his Red Shirts as the rebels attempt to unify Italy? Don Fabrizio’s handsome, charming nephew, Tancredi, has no doubts. “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change,” declares Tancredi. Then he rushes off to join the Red Shirts, gains a heroic (but not very serious) wound, and swaggers back to the family’s country estate, where he falls in love with the mayor’s beautiful daughter, to his cousin Concetta’s dismay. A further dilemma for Don Fabrizio! Should he permit, even encourage, this marriage? The mayor, Don Calogero, is vulgar, devious and violent, the very opposite of a nobleman, but he’s rich and powerful and the marriage would allow ambitious Tancredi to prosper in this new regime. But what about poor Concetta’s broken heart? Will she continue to spurn Tancredi’s friend, the shy but devoted Count? Will the hapless family priest, Father Pirrone, ever manage to convince Don Fabrizio to take religion seriously? Will Paolo, Don Fabrizio’s useless son, ever turn into a worthy heir? And will Bendicò, Don Fabrizio’s affectionate but destructive Great Dane, ever stop digging up the flower beds?

The plot provides no great surprises, but the delight of this novel lies in the rich descriptions of characters and settings and particularly, in Don Fabrizio’s droll, sardonic reflections on life and the decline of the aristocracy. Imagine if Anthony Trollope had written a Sicilian version of Brideshead Revisited and you’ll get some idea of the tone of the novel. Don Fabrizio observes the rebels with mild interest, too intelligent and cynical to believe they will benefit Sicily, but too fatalistic (and lazy) to try to stop them. When they offer him a post as senator in the new government, he turns it down, saying, “In Sicily, it doesn’t matter about doing things well or badly; the sin which we Sicilians never forgive is simply that of ‘doing’ at all”, going on to claim that “Sicilians never want to improve for the simple reason that they think themselves perfect; their vanity is stronger than their misery”. He winces at Don Calogero’s vulgarity but reluctantly comes to admire the mayor’s ability to solve problems, “free as he was from the shackles imposed on many other men by honesty, decency and plain good manners”.

I loved Don Fabrizio’s descriptions of the stark, arid Sicilian countryside where he spends summers at one of his immense, deteriorating palaces, Donnafugata, in which there are “apartments and corners not even Don Fabrizio had ever set foot – a cause of great satisfaction to him, for he used to say that a house of which one knew every room wasn’t worth living in”. There are also gorgeous descriptions of his palace near Palermo and of a grand ball at a friend’s mansion, at which Tancredi anxiously introduces his future wife and father-in-law to Society.

The Leopard seems such a glorious nineteenth-century kind of novel that it comes as a shock to read that the grand ballroom, with its ceiling painted with “eternal” gods, is destined to be destroyed by “a bomb manufactured in Pittsburgh, Penn” in 1943. The author, the last Prince of Lampedusa, wrote this in the 1950s, after his own palace had been destroyed in the war2. The character of Don Fabrizio is based on his own great-grandfather and the settings of the novel are so beautifully, authentically described because they were the author’s childhood homes. As David Gilmour writes in the introduction to the English translation3, “So much of Lampedusa’s life, his wisdom, his learning and his sensibility, were distilled in its pages that it is doubtful whether he could have written a second novel of similar quality and intensity. The Leopard is a masterpiece because its author waited so long before writing it.”

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  1. In which, from memory, the travel writer stayed in a palace belonging to Lampedusa’s family and actually met his adopted son, who served as a model for Tancredi.
  2. Lampedusa died before his novel found a publisher, so he didn’t ever see The Leopard become a bestseller, win the Strega Prize and become an acclaimed film.
  3. I read the translation by Archibald Colquhoun, who seems to have done an excellent job, apart from a couple of jarring phrases coming from the mouths of peasants – but I expect it’s pretty difficult, translating Sicilian slang into English.

Book Recommendations, Please

I know the people who regularly visit this blog are widely read, highly intelligent and have excellent taste, so could you please recommend me some books? But not just any books. I am looking for some very specific books – namely, books set in England, preferably London, in the 1950s or early 1960s, about middle-class or upper-class schoolgirls. The books can be novels, memoirs, biographies, autobiographies (or chapters of biographies or autobiographies) – I don’t mind, as long as they centre on the lives of schoolgirls and the author really knows what he (or preferably, she) is writing about. To be even more demanding, I’d prefer to read about girls at day schools, rather than boarding schools. A 1950s or 1960s version of A Long Way From Verona or The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, set in London, would be perfect.

Here are some of the books I’ve recently read, or re-read, that didn’t quite meet my requirements:

An Education, a memoir by Lynn Barber, included some chapters describing how Lynn, a bright but naïve schoolgirl, was courted by a much older con man who convinced her (and her parents) that she should leave school and marry him. It was also made into an excellent film, written by Nick Hornby and starring Carey Mulligan.

Girlitude: A Portrait of the 50s and 60s, a memoir by Emma Tennant, looked promising, but wasn’t really about her life as a child. It’s about how the author, a spoilt, rich member of the aristocracy, drifted through the fifties and sixties, picking up and discarding husbands, lovers, friends and houses, dumping her child on her long-suffering parents, and occasionally deigning to work for a few months at a time at some fashion magazine or other (the jobs arranged for her by her family, as she’d left school at fifteen and had no qualifications or apparent skills).

I also read, or re-read, a few Noel Streatfeild children’s books, including the ‘Shoes’ novels (Apple Bough/Traveling Shoes remains my favourite), Caldicott Place (which was okay) and Gemma (which was dreadful). Then I read some grown-up novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard, All Change and Love All, as well as The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, which included schoolgirls as minor characters.

Any other suggestions, readers? Has anyone read the World’s End series by Monica Dickens or any of Mary Treadgold‘s children’s books, and would you recommend them? My only other proviso is that I’d prefer the books to be readily available. (For example, I’ve been intrigued by reviews of Antonia Forest‘s Marlow books for a while, but they’re in copyright yet out-of-print, and the last time I went online looking for a second-hand paperback copy of End of Term, it was listed for SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS, which is beyond my book-buying budget.) Thanks, everyone!

‘The Montmaray Journals’ Optioned For Film and Television

I’m happy to announce that the film and television rights to The Montmaray Journals have been optioned by an independent US production company. Here’s a statement from producer Lucy Butler:

Book One: 'A Brief History of Montmaray'

“Roommates Entertainment is excited to have optioned Michelle Cooper’s trilogy of novels entitled ‘The Montmaray Journals’ including ‘A Brief History of Montmaray’, ‘The FitzOsbornes in Exile’, and ‘The FitzOsbornes at War’. We feel passionately that the journey of the young, soul searching and strong female protagonist, Sophie, forging her way in life in the era of WW2, will not only be dramatic, visual, informational but upmost inspirational, and will be a magnet for the audiences young and old.”

Having a book optioned is merely the first step in what is usually a long and convoluted journey from the page to the big (or small) screen. However, Lucy’s enthusiasm for the Montmaray books and her understanding of their historical and cultural background convinced me that she would be the right person for the job, and I’m hopeful that any film or television series that results will be true to the spirit of the books. I wish the production team all the best as they get started on this project, and I’ll keep you posted about any further developments.

Yet More Of What I’ve Been Reading

'A Favourite Author' by Poul Friis Nybo

I tend to blog only about books I like1, because why would I want to draw attention to books I hated? But until now, I’ve avoided discussing books by contemporary Australian authors, even books I’ve loved. I was worried readers would think I was only praising the book because I was friends with the author. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, now that I think about it (especially as I don’t actually know many other authors). So I’ve decided that I will talk about these books from now on, but I’ll add a disclaimer explaining my relationship with the author, so readers can judge for themselves whether my opinion of the book is impartial or not.

(Note to self: Why am I bothering to go on about this? Hardly anyone reads this blog, anyway. And those who do are well aware that Memoranda is not The New York Review of Books.)

(Note to any Australian authors who may be reading this: If I haven’t written glowing praise of your latest work, just assume I haven’t read it, which is almost certainly true.)

On to what I’ve been reading:

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

DISCLAIMER: I’ve never met Simmone Howell, but she once asked me to write a guest post for her blog and we exchanged emails about this and we sent each other copies of our novels (this is like exchanging business cards, but involves a lot more reading). I loved her first novel, Notes from the Teenage Underground; I liked-with-reservations her second novel, Everything Beautiful.

I think her third novel, Girl Defective, is brilliant, and I’m predicting it’ll be on all the award shortlists next year (oh, I hope I haven’t jinxed it now). This is a smart, funny, warm-hearted novel about a flawed but loving family, made up of teenage narrator Sky, her odd little brother Gully, and their alcoholic dad, who runs a record shop2. Sky’s mother has abandoned them, and, as if Sky didn’t have enough to do looking after Gully, she’s worried she’s losing her only friend, a cute boy has started working at their shop, and mysterious graffiti art featuring a missing girl has begun appearing all over their suburb. There was so much I liked about this book. Gully’s detective work! The vivid portrait of St Kilda, which is almost a character in itself. All the great lines (“Sending Nancy texts was like sending dogs into space. Nothing came back.”) That Sky’s discoveries about love are as much about family and friendships as about sex. That the interlocking mysteries are revealed at exactly the right pace, without any implausibly neat endings. That it’s gritty and dark, but not without hope. In fact, it’s a testament to how good this novel is that it involves a variation of one of my least favourite YA tropes ever (Slutty Self-Destructive Teen Girl Dies So That Teen Boy Can Grow Up And Learn Stuff About Life) and yet I still loved it. A warning for SqueakyCleanReads fans: this book probably isn’t for you, given all the sex and drugs and rock-and-roll, some of it under-age. For other YA readers, Girl Defective is highly recommended. It came out in Australia earlier this year, and will be published by Atheneum in the US next year.

Births, Deaths, Marriages: True Tales by Georgia Blain

DISCLAIMER: I’ve never met, talked with or emailed Georgia Blain, but we were once meant to appear on the same panel discussing YA literature at a literary festival. The organisers inexplicably scheduled the YA talk for nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, then required bookings from anyone planning to attend, then were surprised at the subsequent lack of bookings and cancelled the event at the last minute. I was quite relieved about this because a) they’d neglected to tell me what, exactly, we were meant to be discussing (surely the existence of YA literature is not, in itself, a topic of discussion), and b) I didn’t really want to get up at dawn on a Sunday to trek across Sydney. So, that is the sum total of my connection to Georgia Blain, who, for non-Australian readers, is a well-known Serious Literature person who’s written one YA novel, which I didn’t like much3, plus some grown-up fiction and non-fiction.

Births, Deaths, Marriages is a thoughtful and moving account of the author’s childhood, which looked perfect from the outside (a bright, pretty child with rich and famous parents, living in a lovely house in a beautiful part of Sydney) but was actually riven with conflict. Her father seemed to have some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder and was verbally and physically abusive (“it was the threat of what he might do that kept us tiptoeing, scared, around him”) and her elder brother got caught up in a life of crime and drug abuse, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and died of an overdose. Her mother, the writer and broadcaster Anne Deveson, was a talented, strong-minded individual and a passionate feminist, but it took her years to decide to leave her abusive marriage, and this book is particularly good at describing the conflicting loyalties and societal pressures that turn us all into hypocrites: “I had absorbed my mother’s success, her ideological beliefs, and her years of appeasing my father in equal measures . . . we are all capable of holding many selves in argument with each other.” Not surprisingly, given the chaos and trauma of her early years, the author turns into a perfectionist adult, over-analysing everything, including her happiness. Her relationship with her loving partner is fraught; when she achieves her longed-for pregnancy, she spends the whole time panicking about how she’ll cope with the birth, then is overwhelmed by the reality of caring for a helpless infant. I was really impressed with both the quality of the writing and the brutal honesty involved in this memoir, although I couldn’t help wondering how those close to the author felt about being the subject of her gaze. (Of course, she wonders about this at length, too: “How can I write about the people I know? What gives me the right to expose them?” But then she does it anyway. Although she’s much harder on herself than on anyone else still alive.) Recommended for those who like memoirs, especially those interested in the lives of Australian women.

Oh, good, I don’t have to write any more disclaimers, because the writers are all either dead, or living on the other side of the planet.

The Flight of the Maidens by Jane Gardam

This was a great coming-of-age novel set in post-war England, about three Yorkshire schoolgirls who win scholarships to university. One is a Jewish refugee who escaped Germany in 1938 and has no idea if the rest of her family survived the Holocaust. Another is a doctor’s daughter wondering how to sustain her relationship with a working-class boy. Meanwhile sweet, innocent Hetty, who never expected to get into university, worries about her academic ability, struggles to become independent of her smothering, tactless mother, and falls in love with a very unsuitable aristocrat. Really, there’s enough in any one of these girls’ stories for an entire novel, and so the author resorts to leaving some very big gaps in the narrative, which didn’t always work for me. However, I loved the emotional honesty in the descriptions of the family relationships and enjoyed all the clever, sharp descriptions. For example, Hetty, holidaying on a farm, observes “a brindled cat and kittens [which] lay in a cardboard box by the fender, the kittens feeding in a row like a packet of sausages . . . Their eyes, still shut, bulged under peanut lids.” But this is Jane Gardam, so you know not to expect sentimentality, and sure enough, two paragraphs later, a lamb has died and “the cat started eating it. Still warm, but they know. It’s Nature. Now, what’s wrong with Hetty? . . . She’s gone white.” Poor Hetty. Anyway, this is a very good read, as is Bilgewater, another coming-of-age novel by the same author.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Yes, I do actually read books written by men. I picked this up because I recently watched (and liked) the film by Tom Ford. This novel was beautifully written, with a lot of insightful commentary on relationships, ageing, death and grief, as well as some sharp satire targeting American consumer culture and 1960s homophobia. Unfortunately, there was also some really vile misogyny, and I wasn’t sure whether this was purely the opinion of the protagonist (a clever and endearing man, whom we’re meant to admire) or of the author as well. I suspect the latter. The writing was otherwise wonderful – lucid and often very funny – so I will probably read some more of this author’s work – perhaps the book that inspired the film, Cabaret. I must say, though, the film version of A Single Man had so little in common with the book that I’m surprised the film-maker gave his work the same title. (The film, for those who haven’t seen it, looks like a glossy fashion advertisement, so I’m not sure Tom Ford noticed the anti-consumerist message of the book at all. The film also gives the main character an entirely different story – the main character plans his death, which focuses his attention on all the beauty and love that remains in his life, despite the loss of his partner.)

The Works of Emily Dickinson

She goes on about God and Death a little too enthusiastically for my tastes, but she really could pack a punch into a quatrain, couldn’t she? I hadn’t read many of her poems before, and I was knocked sideways by the power of the images she conjured. Some of my favourite poems in this collection were The Inevitable, Childish Griefs, A Thunder-Storm, Apocalypse and Loyalty.

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  1. The exception being my Dated Books series.
  2. Yes, records. Those dusty round vinyl things full of music that people used to play in the olden days. Actually, the shop reminded me of Championship Vinyl in High Fidelity.
  3. Darkwater, which involved one of my least favourite YA tropes ever (see above), a bland protagonist with almost nothing at stake, a mystery so obvious that even I’d figured it out within the first few chapters, and some really clunky expository dialogue. However, it also contained some beautiful descriptive writing and a great depiction of a mother-daughter relationship. And lots of readers loved it, and it was a CBCA Notable Book, so check it out if you think it sounds like your sort of book.

Giant Squid Makes Film Debut

Yes, Memoranda brings you all the important news. Scientists from Japan’s National Science Museum have filmed the giant squid in its natural habitat for the first time, in the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean. Scientist Tsunemi Kubodera described the creature as “shining and so beautiful”, and estimated it would have been eight metres long if it hadn’t been missing its two longest arms.

By an amazing coincidence (well, not all that amazing, considering my interest in giant squid), I was only yesterday reading about Pierre Dénys de Montfort, the French naturalist whose claims about a “colossal octopus” that attacked ships were dismissed by his peers as sensationalist nonsense. Poor Pierre! Well, okay, maybe some of his illustrations were slightly exaggerated . . .

Pierre Denys de Montfort's 'Colossal Octopus' 1810
Pierre Dénys de Montfort’s ‘Colossal Octopus’ attacks a merchant ship, 1810

Favourite Books And TV, Plus A Book Giveaway

The Book Smugglers kindly invited me to write a guest post about my favourite books and TV of 2012. My chosen favourites won’t come as any surprise to regular readers of this blog, but you can read my post here. The Book Smugglers are also giving away a copy of the Vintage Classics edition of A Brief History of Montmaray, with entries closing on January 13, 2013.