Tag Archives: Mycroft Holmes

The books of Jasper Fforde

fforde_setI just finished reading yet another Jasper Fforde book, I think the 9th one I’ve read.  While not a household name, Fforde has a very devoted following among certain sects of peculiar readers.  The sort of people who can read Bronte and Dickens, then switch over to Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett without batting an eye. His books are often re-workings of classic stories, fairytales, even nursery rhymes. He has no fear when it comes to taking well-known characters and stories, and changing them.  It’s the sort of thing that might be posted on a fanfiction website in a strange corner of the internet, if it weren’t actually in book form.

While not Nabokov or Proust, Fforde has a few qualities that make his books extremely interesting and very different from what you normally find on the bookshelf.  For one thing, he’s a world-builder.  Like J.K. Rowling, he can introduce a new set of rules and parameters, a new way of looking at a familiar place. There are always rules to his worlds, and they make sense in your brain.  Suddenly, you begin to think it could all be a possibility, the same way you think, maybe if you stand in the right place in King’s Cross, you can see someone disappear into Platform 9 3/4.  His most famous character, Thursday Next, becomes part of a police force that operates inside books.  Jurisfiction, it’s called.  Thursday can travel inside books, right into Netherfield or Manderley or Thornfield Hall.  Of course, if I had this ability, it would be straight to Hogsmeade for me.  But I digress.  Fforde is very good at establishing these worlds, their rules. Just strange and nonsensical enough to be new and exciting, just familiar and rational enough to make it relatable. Fictional characters can easily jump from their own books to visit others.  But if someone is reading their book, they have to stay put and play their parts.  Apparently, a 1st person story is much harder on the protagonist, since it demands that his/her words, actions, and thoughts match those written in the book. A 3rd person story allows the characters much more freedom. It’s like an acting job they can never quit, in that sense.  Very interesting way to think about it.

Thursday Next has starred in 7 books so far: The Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost Plots, Something Rotten, First Among Sequels, One of our Thursdays is Missing, and The Woman Who Died a Lot. During that time, she alters the ending of Jane Eyre, her brother Mycroft becomes Sherlock Holmes brother, and Thursday spends some time in a half-written, long-forgotten novel, stored in the Well of Lost Plots, inside the ‘Great Library’, where all the books are stored.

Another series Fforde has written/is writing, is called the Nursery Crime series.

148809A detective named Jack Spratt (who could eat no fat; his wife could eat no lean) investigates the deaths of nursery rhyme characters. His first case, called The Big Over Easy is the apparent suicide of Humpty Dumpty, who took a fall. His next case involves the death of Goldilocks, and is called The Fourth Bear.

These plots sort of mirror the Thursday Next series, delving into the world of fictional characters and finding new ways to look at old stories.

The book I just finished was called Shades of Grey. Not to be confused, ever, with 50 Shades of Grey. This book takes place in a world where human beings can only see one color, rather than the entire spectrum. The social hierarchy is entirely dependent upon what you can see.  Purples rule the roost, because they fall at the good end of the Roy G Biv color spectrum.

shadesofgreyGreys are colorblind, and are the serfs of this society.  The society is also very 1984, with a pretty serious, if totally nonsensical, set of rules. No new spoons can ever be made–that’s probably the weirdest one. No one can marry a complimentary color (red/green), I believe because of the fear of any offspring being Browns.

Fforde’s other enduring quality is his humorous turn of phrase.  It reminds me of Douglas Adams, but not quite as wonderfully strange–but no one is quite as wonderfully strange as Douglas Adams. He does have a quirky way of looking at the world.  Here are a few quotes from his books:

Books may look like nothing more than words on a page, but they are actually an infinitely complex imaginotransference technology that translates odd, inky squiggles into pictures inside your head.

there is no problem on Earth that can’t be ameliorated by a hot bath and a cup of tea.

the Real-World was a sprawling mess of a book in need of a good editor

In my opinion, the key to enjoying a Fforde book is a pretty extensive knowledge of literature in general.  These books were written for book lovers.  If you can’t appreciate a reference to Miss Havisham’s yellowed wedding gown or understand why Heathcliff won the ‘Most Troubled Romantic Lead’ award without some googling, you won’t get these books. They aren’t for you.  They’re for people who would, let’s just be honest, prefer to live in the world of a book than to live anywhere else. Shades of Grey doesn’t rely as heavily on that sort of book knowledge, which might make it easier for a beginner Fforde fan to get into.  On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others, partially because there weren’t so many winks and nods I felt pleased to understand.

I mentioned the adoring Fforde ffans, yes?  They’ve started a quasi-yearly event in Swindon (Thursday Next’s home, near London), called the Fforde Ffiesta. Fforde shows up and gives readings, but mostly people re-enact strange customs from his books. Favorites include ‘Spot the Lobster’, ‘Celebrity Name that Fruit’, and speed reading of Hamlet. I’m not quite that extreme (look, if I’m going all the way to the UK, I’m not going to go to Swindon), but I think it’s all quite lovely that people a-read his books, b-like his books, and c-embrace the strangeness of his imagined worlds so fully that they want to make it real.  As someone with a wand and a Ravenclaw scarf, I can comprehend that idea all too well.

 

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Book Review(s) – Enola Holmes Series Books 4-6

I really enjoyed reading the first three books in this series.  Yes, they’re for kids, and not exactly the most challenging reading. But what they are is well-written, engaging, quick, and fun to read. I had high hopes for the remaining three books of the series.

Unfortunately, these last books didn’t quite meet my expectations. They followed the same pattern as the first three books, which started to wear on me for a while.  The first book deals with a young woman being forced to marry against her will, the second deals with a kidnapping, the third with another missing person.  I’m sure there were a great deal of mysteries in 1880s England, but these books all seem to focus on a missing person. I suppose having your 14-year-old protagonist in a book for kids investigate murders is a little untenable. Still, it’s always a missing person, in some form or another.  And the answer almost always seems to involve breaking or sending messages in code.

I like the Victorian era setting, and love all the period details and historical facts thrown in. I even enjoy the fact that the books are set in the world of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, who Enola spends the first four books outsmarting and avoiding, and the fifth and sixth books attempting to forge bonds with.  It all gets wrapped up a little too neatly and easily in the final book.  This is a problem with reading material for children, and I’m not sure it should be.  It’s a thin line for adult fiction to walk — a concise and neat ending is unbelievable to anyone with real experience in life, whereas a non-concise ending that leaves all the ends loose is about the most annoying thing in the world.  Children find it easier to believe in the happy ending, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean we should always give it to them.  Not that the end of this series was all sunshine and daisies, but it was neat and clean and hopeful in a way that I wasn’t sure the characters had earned. Not for the books to be considered realistic, anyway.  But, they’re for kids.  I am looking at them with my adult eye, but that’s not what they were made for.

I’m glad I read them, but I was unsatisfied by the end.  Also, can we marvel at how great the covers for these books are? I love the design.  I found some other covers, which I think might have been the UK covers. They are much less cool, and feature a rather ugly pug-nosed girl reminiscent of Pansy Parkinson. She also looks more like 12 than 14, especially considering the fact that Enola passes for an adult for the majority of the books.

These books aren’t life-changing, or instant classics. But they do feature a strong, smart female heroine who is continuously underestimated by her male-dominated acquaintances. If that’s not a good example for girls, I don’t know what is. They are also quick, clever, and entertaining. If you have a little girl, buy them for her.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I finally got to see the latest of the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, and to rewatch the first one.  Warning, past here, there be spoilers.

I remember when the first movie came out, I really enjoyed it.  I thought it was a really fun movie and loved RDJ, as always.  But…now that I’ve seen Sherlock, it is hard to think of these movies in the way I once did.  It is difficult to compare them.  The BBC version is modern, taking place in 21st century London.  But in many ways, it is far more true to the ideas and the characters of the original stories than any other adaptation I can think of.

My problems with the RDJ movies mostly come up when I compare them to the BBC series or to the original stories. Starting with RDJ as Sherlock Holmes.  There are some parts that work–the boredom, the erratic behavior, the somewhat co-dependent relationship with Watson.  But much of what they do in the movies does not work. For one thing, RDJ seems to be mostly playing himself. Or he’s playing Tony Stark, who I imagine to be just like him.  Arrogant, strutting, egotistical and self-aware simultaneously.  In many ways, a petulant child. In the BBC series, on the other hand, Benedict Cumberbatch (and the writers, obviously) portray him more as someone who lacks empathy, a ‘high-functioning sociopath’ with no time for details (or people) who detract from his desire to occupy his mind with a mystery.

Another problem I have is that there is very little of the actual deductive skills on display in these films.  In the first, the most obvious example is when Holmes meets Watson’s fiance. In the second, his meeting of Madam Simza (played by the kick-ass Noomi Rapace) is the best example of his deductive skills.

In the BBC series, we see multiple examples in every episode of these deductive skills, displayed both through dialogue and through text on the screen to indicate what, exactly, Holmes can see when he looks at people. The closest to this that we get in the RDJ movies is the prescience he has about physical combat.  They spend time in every fight scene (and there are multiple per movie) to display Holmes’ ability to know what will happen before his opponent moves. This is the most powerful of his abilities in the movies.  And even when he is fighting Moriarty, the big climax between two brilliant men, their incredible powers of deduction lead them to…be able to anticipate the fighting skills of the other.

And what of the enemies, the arch-nemeses of Moriarty and Holmes?  I do like Jared Harris as Moriarty, perhaps because he was such a good baddy on Fringe.
But the movie barely features him, and his grand evil plan is…to acquire guns, money, and power. To make war in order to sell the implements of war? How common. Boring.  I didn’t feel any of the tension that came with the Moriarty and Holmes of the BBC series.  Those two seemed evenly matched.

So in comparison to the BBC series, obviously I find the RDJ movies severely and incredibly lacking.  But…on the other hand, if I do not compare them, then I can tolerate the movies much better.  If I do not think of these movies as in any way affiliated with the Doyle stories or the Holmes characters, then they are quite good.

I like the cinematography and the amazing job they did recreating 19th century London for the exteriors.  RDJ is entertaining to watch, even as he is being goofy and ridiculous.  Jude Law is awesome as Watson, and I even like him with a mustache. (A side note that I prefer the vulnerability of Martin Freeman as Watson, but I digress). And the sequel even had Stephen Fry as Mycroft!  He was nothing like I would expect Mycroft to be, and he was shockingly nude for much of the time, but I love Stephen Fry no matter what he does. These are great comedy/action films, and that is high praise from someone who normally doesn’t like any action films and not a lot of comedies ever. If you’re in the mood for a little mindless fun, they’re perfect.  My only problem is that Sherlock Holmes is the last person who should ever be associated with mindless fun.

Enola Holmes series

I came across these books while searching for some new historical fiction to read.  They are middle grade level, which can sometimes be quite tiresome as the characters are oversimplified for the children that read them.  I was pleasantly surprised by these books however.  It’s not Proust or anything, but I enjoyed reading them and they fed my current obsession with Sherlock Holmes.  Nancy Springer, the author, has been nominated for a few Edgar Awards, so that is always a good sign!

First, let me say to anyone who thinks it’s ridiculous for a grown woman to read books for children: 1-I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading ‘children’s’ books. 2-Many of the classics of English literature have teen/tween protagonists–David Copperfield, Huck Finn, Scout Finch, Holden Caulfield. 3-I think to keep your interest and imagination as a reader (and as a writer), it’s vital to embrace variety.  Last month, I reread Slaughterhouse Five and finished two modern classics that were challenging and rewarding intellectually.  But it’s also important to view reading as entertainment.  I went through a period in my life where I only read things that were intellectually challenging, and in the end you are burnt out and you don’t want to read anymore.  I like to switch between challenging works and works that are rewarding and entertaining.  These books fall, as do most of the YA I read, into the latter category.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to my review!

I was a bit skeptical of these books when I heard the premise: Enola Holmes is the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft.  In the first book, The Case of the Missing Marquis, Enola’s mother walks out of the house on her birthday and doesn’t come back.  Mycroft tries to enroll Enola in a restrictive boarding school, a harsh change after a carefree youth spent in the country, so Enola runs away.

The thing that I ended up really loving about these books–besides the kickass covers–is Enola herself.  She’s 14 when the first book starts, but she is incredibly smart, brave, and honest about her feelings.  She’s a really rare type of heroine and I liked her immediately.  She has the fragility of every 14-year old girl, but she is incredibly self-aware for her age.

She spends the next three books trying to evade her brothers as they search for her, and also trying to fulfill her dream of becoming a ‘scientific perditorian’ or a seeker of things lost. She solves a mystery in each book, though I have to say that her mystery solving is less exciting to me than the fun/challenge of outwitting her brothers. She idolizes Sherlock, but she refuses to fit into the restrictive feminine life that would be her fate if she turned herself over to her brothers.  Because of Victorian law, she cannot control her own destiny until she is 21 years old, so they could do anything they want with her, regardless of her feelings.

Enola has two huge advantages that her brothers don’t really get.  One-she is a female.  She understands things about female life that they would never know.  For example, when she is preparing to run away, she stocks ‘bust enhancers’ and other corset accessories meant to augment a lady’s shape with things like money and food, extra clothes, etc. Ladies of the time had a lot more hiding and pretense in their lives than men did, nor did most men (particularly her bachelor brothers) know how much artifice goes into making a woman beautiful.  She uses that to her advantage.  Two-she is habitually underestimated.  Her brothers always see that she must be desperately in trouble because she is a young girl in the big bad world.  An example: Sherlock attempts to lure her to meet him at one point by sending her a message supposedly from their mother.  She sees through his ploy, and takes the opportunity of breaking into 221B Baker Street while she knows he is off trying to catch her.  She is able to repeatedly slip out from the fingers of both her brothers because she knows how to disguise herself, and because she devotes a lot of time to thinking about what they might be thinking about her.  As I said, she is very self-aware.  She knows they think her an unattractive young girl with a beaky nose, so she disguises herself as a beautiful woman at one point, and fools them both utterly.  It’s a rare 14-year-old that can think of herself so objectively.

Obviously, these books are not for everyone.  But as someone obsessed with Victorian London, going through an extreme Sherlock Holmes phase, and always in the mood for YA Historical Fiction, they were perfect for me.  They are short, quick, and give you a really good perspective on some aspects of Victorian England not usually seen in more straightforward novels.  A lot of fiction from that time was made by men or does not include some ubiquitous parts of society, like the different colors of sealing wax women used to seal letters–each had a meaning, apparently.  I liked the attention to detail, the quick format, and I really loved the heroine.

There are 6 books total, but I have only read the first three so far: The Case(s) of the Missing Marquess, Left-Handed Lady, and the Bizarre Bouquets. The first book mostly revolves around Enola’s escape from her brother’s plans for her, though she is also looking for the eponymous Marquess.  The second book involves another missing noble, a lady who secretly drew portraits of London’s poorest occupants.  The third book revolves around John Watson going missing, and Enola’s attempts to help find him. In each book, she also has to avoid her brothers, always searching for her. I’m looking forward to reading the next three once I order them from Amazon–I haven’t been able to find them in local bookstores.