Archive for December, 2012

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)

December 19, 2012



So this was another Try Books! choice, and it was supposed to be suitable for both adults and children–at least there was a version as above on sale in the (adult) fiction section of Waterstone’s in Charing Cross.

The basic plot is that young Conor O’Malley has a mother who is dying of breast cancer and a number of other issues to contend with as well.  Then he finds himself visited at night by a monster who is also a yew tree.  That at least saves him from the unspeakable nightmare.

Unlike the rest of the group, I had serious problems with the book.  For a start, parts of it seems to be written in American, for no very good reason.

–No, sweetheart, his mother called back, weakly.  I’m kind of used to it by now. (p46)

That sounds like what my mother would have said in the circumstances, in pure Canadian.

The monster seems to be a Disney-speaking monster:

The farmer’s daughter…was beautiful and also smart…(p73)

with a fondness for Yiddish turns of phrase:

Because what she was not, was a murderer (p83)

What you think is not important.  It is only important what you do. (p225)

This could of course just be the giant as Conor expressing his anger in the kind of language he knows from Disney films, but he also gets to use a very American expression himself:

I’ve been thinking it for the longest time (p221)

Apart from those problems with the monster, I thought the whole thing was put the wrong way round.  I think that fairy tales are effective and enduring because they allow children to deal with themes like loss of a parent and their own abandonment at a safe distance, but here this was all in the plane of real life then the giant limped along to deliver some ineffective moral tales.

There were a lot of issues shoehorned in as though the book was making itself available for many children’s book prizes (which I think it did very effectively).  There was the separation of Conor’s parents and the jealous antics of the new wife and Conor being bullied at school and him not getting on with his grandmother but having to go and live with her anyway.  I thought that Conor’s persecutors would have more likely got a fearsome beating from their own parents and from the rest of the school, but never mind…

The book seemed to me to show a parent’s anger at dying and not being told the truth about it transposed to a child, and it wasn’t convincing.  What a child feels is guilt, and guilt about something stupid like stepping on the cracks between paving stones or not eating his greens that caused all of this.  And the unspeakable nightmare was just too straightforward and logical to belong to a child, or any other kind of a human being in fact…

When people asked me whether there was anything I liked about the book, I was able to reply with the scene where Lily Andrews sends Conor a note:

I’m sorry for telling everyone about your mum
I miss being your friend
Are you okay?
I see you.

Some real feeling and expressed in something believable…but only for a moment…

An Index for ‘Mastering Arabic’

December 12, 2012


Since my (quite old) edition of Mastering Arabic (as pictured above) doesn’t have an English index of topics, here’s one I’ve done myself in case anyone else finds it useful.

Subject Page
Accusative 126, 163
Adjective, colour, feminine 142
Adjective, colour, pattern 141
Adjectives, agreement of 55
Adjectives, composition of 85
Adjectives, definite 85
alif maqsura 76
Article, definite 55
Article, definite, elision of vowel 61
Case endings, broken plurals 143
Case endings, colours 144
Collective nouns 83
Comparatives 244, 246
damma 4
Dictionary, using a 161
Diptotes 144
Dual number, nouns 40
fatha 4
Feminine adjective for non-human plurals 124
Form I 235
Forms II, III, IV 236
Forms of the verb 235
Forms V and VI 256
Forms VII, VIII, X 269
Future tense 263
Genitive 78
Hamza 17, 60, 74
Hamza as root letter 184
Hamzat al wasl 60
Hollow verbs 252
idafa 32,79
idafa and adjectives 194
kasra 4
Letters group 1 1
Letters group 2 10
Letters group 3 22
Letters group 4 35
Letters group 5 48
Letters group 6 63
li with possessive endings 125
madda 218
Moon letters 70
Nationalities 107
nisba 107
Nominal sentences 19
Nominative 46
Nouns of place 231
Nouns, formation from verbs 248
Number 11+ and singular 179
Numbers 1-10 114
Numbers 11-100 170
Numbers 20, 30…like SMP 179
Numbers 3-10 plus genitive plural 127
Numbers, feminine, 3-10 119
Past negative 238
Past tense summary 157
Plural, sound, feminine 43
Plural, sound, masculine 43
Plurals broken Pattern 1 134
Plurals broken Pattern 2 134
Plurals broken Pattern 3 168
Plurals broken Pattern 4 168
Plurals broken Pattern 5 184
Plurals, non-human, feminine singular 137
Possession 32
Present negative 238
Present tense 222
Quadriliterals 193
Questions 154
shadda 7
Sun letters 70
ta’ marbuta 28
Telling the time 208
Verb always singular before subject 192
Vocabulary learning 9
Vowels, long 14
Vowels, short 4
Weekdays 181
Word order 191

Russian authors on the London stage 2012/13

December 1, 2012
Name Appearances
Chekhov 14
Gogol 4
Tolstoy 3
Dostoevsky 3
Bulgakov 1*2
Pushkin, Nabokov, Leonid Zorin, Alexander Galin, Gorky, Leskov, Arbuzov 1 each

The table above shows the results of a tabulation I carried out on the basis of the data here as it was in August.  What we see of course is that everyone feels they have to give us their Chekhov–I have the feeling that Chekhov and Euripides are the two non-English-language playwrights who are recognised on the English stage.  Otherwise, there are an awful lot of adaptations of non-dramatic works, even in the case of Gogol and Bulgakov who were of course dramatists.  On that basis, the regrettable absentee would be Alexander Ostrovsky, who did actually write plays, though they probably require some knowledge of traditional Russian life on the part of the audience to be successful.   Of course, putting non-dramatic works on stage is a disease that is very prevalent in Russia.

More generally, among shows listed in London for 11-17 August (a very uncharacteristic period of course) I found 96 plays and 11 adaptations, with the only authors appearing more than once being Shakespeare (8) and Euripides (2).  The source languages were:  English 93, French 3, Greek 3, Russian 2, Spanish 2, Others 4.

So at least we tend to escape the plays that aren’t!