Tag Archives: Sherlock

Obligatory 2nd anniversary post

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Yesterday was my 2nd anniversary of starting this blog. In the last two years, this blog has racked up over 40,000 views, which is approximately 38,000 more than I ever thought it would.  Last year, I confessed my addiction to the Stats page, watching my view count tick up, and especially my need to fill in all the countries on the map.  I made a lot of progress on that last goal this year. My number one goal last February was to get an elusive view from Mongolia.  I did not get a view from Mongolia; I got 17! Life = complete!  I also got a host of views from new countries this past year: Bolivia, Paraguay, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Madagascar, Liberia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Yemen. Plus a host of small countries/territories/islands that happened to find my blog one or 2 times: Grenada, the Seychelles (love your flag, Seychelles!), Palestine, French Polynesia, Martinique, Syria, New Caledonia, the Maldives, Faroe Islands, St. Lucia, El Salvador, Macao, Haiti, Andorra, Guadeloupe, Malawi…the list goes on.

Of course, I’m still hoping for a real dictatorship/censorship state to get through.  Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Cuba…join the party! I promise to corrupt you with my western ways!

My most popular posts, by far, are the informative posts about British vs American stereotypes, education systems,

In this year’s edition of weirdest search terms that led to my blog,

images‘Martin Freeman Naked’ is still the overwhelming winner.

Followed by these strange and terrifying combinations of search terms:

‘van buren facial hair’

‘stove kettle’

‘truck drivers heavy breakfast’

‘kristin scott thomas ice queen’

‘alec guinness brown face’

‘men alone in the house images’ —this one scares me

‘thranduil erotic’ —also scary

‘i have a list of paraphrased quotes in my book, can i use a bibliography?’

That last one might be my favorite, b/c this person has no idea how to use a search engine.  But the most terrifying one I’ve seen in a while is this one:

‘harry potter feet fetish’

Nope, nope, nope. Not even going to think about it. Wait, I just found a worse one:

‘soldier vomit’

Words cannot adequately describe how much I am frowning right now. Moving on…

This blog is mostly just fun for me, and a way to organize my thoughts about British cultural exports. It will never be the sort of blog that rakes in sponsors, or makes anyone any money.  Which, I think, is preferable.  I plan to continue offering up my thoughts on movies, tv, and books from Blighty, throwing them out into a totally ambivalent world.  I will be here to comment on Lady Mary’s 37 suitors, Sherlock’s confusing plot twists, and (of course) everything Harry Potter, including the new movies and the play coming to London.  And books.  tons and tons of books. I will continue to make this face

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when new Doctor Who episodes air, and will respond to any additional comments

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about the authorship of Shakespeare plays as follows…in fact, consider this my official response to anyone who believes the Oxfordian theory:

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To another good year wasting my time on the interwebz!

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The Paradise – season 1

Ladies-Paradise-TV-tie-inPBS just finished airing season one of this series, although season/series 2 has already started in the UK.  Given the subject matter (a Victorian era department store in England), comparisons between this show and Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. For the first two or three episodes, I found myself comparing them, and it gave me an unfavorable opinion of the Paradise.  Over the course of the 8-episode season, however, the show really grew on me. I forgot to compare it to Mr. Selfridge, and could enjoy it much more for that fact.

The Paradise centers around the eponymous department store in 1875 in Northeast England.  The show is a re-interpretation of an Emile Zola novel set in France during the same period. The store is owned and run by the handsome Mr. Moray (Emun Elliott), who started from humble roots and is slightly obsessed with expanding his empire.

paradise2Moray is loosely-tied to Katherine Glendenning, a spoiled rich girl who is pretty obviously trying to tie him down in marriage.  Moray is still grieving over the loss of his first wife, and dithers over decisions about this relationship.  Both Katherine and her father prove themselves, over the course of the season, willing to do anything to get what they want.  This includes manipulation of people and circumstances to their own favor.  They’re pretty terrible people.

The other main focus of the show is Denise (Joanna Vanderham), a girl from the country who has just arrived to work in her uncle’s draper shop.

denise_06_crop_648x327Unfortunately, the competition of the Paradise on his street has dried up her uncle’s business. He doesn’t have enough money to support Denise, nor enough work to keep her busy. Having few options, Denise seeks employment at the Paradise.  She proves, very quickly, that she is smart and creative, full of new ideas for how to improve the business in the store.  Mr. Moray takes a shine to her almost immediately.

This is an ensemble cast, with a lot of characters.  Besides Moray, there are other managerial figures with their own minor storylines (Dudley is Moray’s 2nd in command; Jonas is in charge of ‘security’ and is a pretty intimidating figure; Miss Audrey is Denise’s boss, the head of Ladieswear).  There are other sales associates in the store (Sam, the flirt, Clara, the mean girl, Pauline, the nice girl).  I think the show does a good job of balancing the main characters with these side stories.  I think everyone’s acting was very good, and that really helps you to care about characters that are not always in the forefront of the show.

My only complaint is that the relationship between Moray and Katherine isn’t always clear at the beginning of the season.  Part of that is his inability to make up his mind, but the show doesn’t always make it clear who or what stands between them, or what brings them together.  It’s very clear by the end of the series how they feel about each other, so that may be why I enjoyed the later episodes more.

As I said, the comparisons with Mr. Selfridge are inevitable. But this show really grew on me over the course of the season, and I quite enjoyed the last two or three episodes especially.  I hope PBS decides to show season 2 next year, but I fear it will be late next year if it comes to the US.  PBS has a pretty full schedule in Spring, with Downton Abbey and Sherlock coming soon.

The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley CircleThe Bletchley Circle aired on PBS during April & May, though it aired in the UK in 2012.  Just a few weeks ago, iTV announced that they would be making a second series of the show.

Like Sherlock, this series (season) consists of only 3 episodes, 1 hour each.  Really, it’s more of a miniseries, and I was entirely prepared to describe it that way until I learned about a second season.  Miniseries don’t have further seasons, so I guess it is a drama series.

The show follows 4 women in 1950s London.  All four worked at Bletchley Park, the center of code breaking intelligence for the Brits during WWII.  Due to the Official Secrets Act, everyone had to hide their involvement in wartime divisions, etc., until something like the 1970s.  So these characters lead normal, horribly dull lives. No one knows that they’re code-breaking savants and were very important to wartime efforts.  They don’t get any recognition, even from family and friends.

It’s no wonder that Susan GraySusan Gray, the main character, is desperately in need of something to do. She has a dull husband and 2 kids, and is chained to the stove like any good ’50s housewife. After hearing reports on the news about a string of unsolved homicides, she can’t help but see some patterns in the details.  At first, she tries to go directly to the police, but she can’t work out all of the specifics of the crime without enlisting her 3 friends–whom she hasn’t seen since the war ended–to help her read the patterns. Gray would, if born today, end up an engineer, a statistician, a math professor. She’s exacting, efficient, a little too meticulous, a little boring.  She’s played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognized from her roles in Bleak House (Esther Summerson) and North & South (Bessy Higgins).  I think AMM does a great job of portraying someone totally trapped by gender norms, who allows her life to be decided by feelings of what she should be doing.

In her determination to solve the puzzle and find the murderer, she enlists her three wartime compatriots:

Bletchley Circle MillieMillie, the free-spirited, world traveling, modern woman. She lives on her own, she’s tough, she takes care of herself.  You can tell how modern and independent she is because she is the only one who wears pants.  She is my favorite, obviously.

Bletchley Circle LucyLucy is the youngest and most naive.  She is very useful, though, because she has an eidetic memory.  Unfortunately, she also has an abusive, douchebag husband.  Lucy is maybe the most reluctant of the four. The violence they encounter during this investigation is probably worse than anything she’s ever imagined.  After all, they didn’t even have CSI back then–not even the original CSI.  They weren’t used to seeing dead bodies dissected and splashed about.  She explains that it’s also worse for her because her memory allows her to see bad things over and over again in perfect and horrible recollection.  That would not be my superpower of choice.

Lastly, there’s Jean.

Bletchley Circle JeanShe is the bossy older one, and she’s a librarian.  She looks and seems everything dowdy and unattractive at first.  There’s a quiet, assiduous power about her, though.  She is integral to the group because she has contacts in other libraries and with other intelligence workers that they use to dig up info on their killer. Jean is more reserved and less emotional, but she’s competent and hard-working.  She’s a Hufflepuff, in essence.

The ladies use their code-cracking skills to see other patterns in the killings–the girls were all on a journey, which they eventually narrow down to one specific train from St. Pancras.  He must be on the train too, then.

They discover over the three episodes that the man is a necrophiliac (they don’t use this word, but it’s made clear that each of the victims is raped after she’s killed).  They realize he has struck before, in other areas of England, and always pins the crime on someone else.  Shortly afterward, he does the same thing with his victims in London, but the girls (especially Susan) are adamant that the police have the wrong man.

It all comes back to the war. They discover the real killer is a man who was trapped underground during the blitz–trapped underground with a dead woman.  God only knows what he did with her body while he was down there, but it’s clear he’s trying to relive that with his victims.

As with any good mystery (as opposed to a police procedural), the authorities refuse to listen/believe what is truly going on.  The girls are on their own.  Susan, in particular, ventures too far in her search for the killer.  All the girls end up in peril, but Susan is alone with the man twice. He follows her home, threatens her family. I won’t say more about what happens next.

Primarily, I think this was a show about women.  In some ways it reminded me of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was originally titled Men Who Hate Women. You have these horrible murders, all perpetrated against young women by a man.  You have strong female character(s) determined to stop them.

Of course, they’re radically different in setting and style, but the theme of misogyny and violence toward women is a commonality.  The Bletchley Circle shows the lives of very smart, capable women.  In their best circumstances, they are under-utilized and bored as housewives/waitresses/librarians.  More often, they are ridiculed by other men, criticized or hit by their husbands.  Even Susan’s husband, who is the most empathetic man in the show, doesn’t understand why Susan can’t just stay home with the children like a good wife would do.  Everywhere they look, they’re told to conform to what society believes they should be and do.

At the same time, these four women work together remarkably well, care about each other, and are deeply committed to solving this crime.  To saving other girls from this horrendous fate.  Not to sound totally ridiculous, but it is about women protecting women.

The people who worked on this show did a great job recreating a particularly bleak time in English modern history.  While America was having a huge economic boom in the late ’40s and early ’50s, the Brits were still whipping out their ration books and dealing with economic crises left and right.  It was a really austere place and time, even when you don’t consider the losses of the war (people, but also entire buildings and neighborhoods destroyed in the blitz).  The show captures the dull lives, the last lingering period of tradition before the upheaval of the ’60s.  The director even said they avoided sunlight when filming. They wanted to capture the lack of saturation, the lack of bright color that seemed to pervade the national consciousness during that time.

This wasn’t the greatest show in the world.  There were parts of the plot that were thrown in and then cast aside without much explanation.  The resolution didn’t make things precisely clear.  The bad guy ends up dead, but it’s not clear to the audience that the women have enough evidence to prove he was the one who killed those other girls.  I found myself wondering if they would be believed when they told their side of the story.  And what happened to the man falsely accused of the crime? Last we heard, he was scheduled to hang for it.  Now what? I suppose I’m supposed to have good faith and just assume it all worked out, but the justice system isn’t like that and I worried that despite the killer being dead, the nightmare was far from over.

On the other hand, I think it was a unique and interesting story.  I like period dramas as a rule, I like women protagonists as a rule.  If this had stretched for 10 episodes, I might not be as fond of it, but I’m definitely up for another 3-4 episode season (series).

Spies of Warsaw

Spies of WarsawBBC America aired this 2-part miniseries in April, though it aired in the UK in January.  The miniseries was based on a spy novel by Alan Furst, and takes place in Poland (obviously) and throughout central Europe in the late ’30s. David Tennant plays Colonel Mercier, a French aristocrat and spy. Janet Montgomery plays Anna Skarbek, an official with the League of Nations and Mercier’s love interest.

I can’t say I loved it, to be honest.  I think there are a number of reasons for this –some my own preferences and some general problems with the miniseries–and I’ll run down them briefly.

First, I’m not crazy about the subject matter.  Almost all thoughts of World War II make me so upset as to be nauseous. The only thing that terrifies me more than Nazi uniforms are Hitler Youth uniforms.  But this is my own personal preference, and doesn’t reflect on the quality of the series.

Second, the format left something to be desired.  This was two 2-hour episodes; 2 full movies in other words.  I think there could have been a lot more tension built around the characters’ fates if it was split into maybe 4 parts.  I wasn’t entertained enough by it to focus solely on it for two entire hours.  And this isn’t just my attention span that is the problem–each episode of Sherlock is 90 minutes long, and I’m riveted for most every second.  I couldn’t fathom picking up my iPhone and doing solitaire while watching that.  I spent good chunks of my viewing time for Spies of Warsaw playing a geography game on my phone.  Hey, anyone need to know where Guinea-Bissau is? Because I’m hoping that knowledge will bring me the big bucks in life.  The point is, it was too long and moved too slowly for 2 hour blocks at a time.

I think that the miniseries has something in common with Parade’s Endwhich was on HBO a few months ago.  Each dealt with the lead-up to war.  Each featured a smart, strong male lead convinced that war was coming.  Both protagonists struggled to make their compatriots understand the catastrophe Germany was about to unleash upon Europe.  Stylistically, both featured long (long for a modern film audience) shots of not much action, interspersed with more tense and action-filled scenes.  Each had good acting and good writing, and yet each suffered from the problem of not quite connecting emotionally with the audience.  And I’m not enough of a film student to comprehend what about each fails to really move me.  I liked Parade’s End a lot at times, but with Spies of Warsaw, I found it difficult to care much about what was happening.  I think my apathy came partially from not having a vulnerable or relate-able main character.  Mercier sees what his coworkers do not, he’s a great spy, he cares about people, he is too good and too capable.  It takes away from the tension of what might happen to him, because even in moments of distress and danger it seems impossible that he won’t come out of it just fine.

I will say that these two miniseries (plus Casablanca) have utterly convinced me that love affairs are really difficult in situations of World War.  Note to self.

David Tennant’s acting is great. I’ve seen him play serious before (Hamlet, for example) and he’s really good.  The female character, Anna, has almost no personality in it, so they didn’t give Janet Montgomery much to work with. In response to finding out her new boyfriend is a spy, she…doesn’t say anything, really.  I would have liked both characters to be far more flawed, unsure, stumbling along through ridiculous times.  It does an audience no good to think of anyone existing at that time as a paragon.

I remember watching a great but horribly violent movie, fittingly titled A History of Violence.  Viggo Mortenson plays some sort of ex-mafia criminal who starts a new life in a small town and is completely reformed.  When someone tries to rob his restaurant, instinct kicks in and Mortenson’s character kills the robbers in self-defense.  From that moment, his past starts to come back to haunt him. His wife (Maria Bello) finds out who and what he was, and she has an incredible reaction.  Vomiting, shouting, running out of the room, and then they have this crazy, scary, exciting sex scene.  It’s a real and varied and unnerving response to finding out your beloved is not who or what they said they were.  When I think about Anna Skarbek’s character, I don’t expect the same reaction, but it almost seemed like there wasn’t one.  She finds out her new beau is a spy and she….just kind of accepts it and moves on.  I suppose you could argue that everyone in the series is someone other than who they pretend to be.  After all, if you were inclined to disagree with Germany (or Russia, for that matter), you wouldn’t be inclined to advertise it.  Perhaps Anna is used to it, but I found it off-putting that she had such a monotonous emotional landscape.

To her credit, she does get properly angry with Mercier later when she thinks he ordered the French to turn her defector ex-boyfriend over to Stalin.

Confession: I am not a spy novel aficionado.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a spy novel. Maybe that’s part of the problem–I don’t speak the lingo.  On the other hand, I’ve seen Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and at least one other Bogart movie.  And I followed those just fine.  I think they were just better.  Also, I really liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which falls right in there with great spy films.   Spies of Warsaw has the music of a great spy film, and some of the quintessential visuals, but none of the tension.  And tension is everything.  Have you seen Strangers on a Train?  Hitchcock can make a tennis game the most tense and suspenseful thing in the world.  This was no Hitchcock, unfortunately.

They did a great job recreating a bleak and terrifying Central European landscape for this miniseries.  Security checks and random searches, the Poles sandwiched unhappily between the Gestapo on the west and the Russian NKVD (later, the KGB) on the east.  France being still (at this point) a relaxing place nicely separated from all the riff raff on the other side of the Black Forest.  Parties in Paris…but still a feeling of the doors closing in, for the Jews particularly.  The costuming, the set design, and the cinematography all made the world really believable.

I think the fault must lie in the pacing and the writing (two things that I imagine are closely intertwined when writing a movie/mini-series).  There’s not enough tension or enough direction in the plot.  It feels disconnected at times, and the ending is thoroughly confusing.  It tries to make you feel uplifted that they’ve escaped Poland (which is good, obviously) with a bunch of Polish gold to keep it from the Germans (also good).  But they’re headed to France, so the modern audience knows that this isn’t the end; this isn’t a happy ending, even though they almost literally walk off into the sunset.

Also, it is a bit confusing for an American audience to have two Brits with British accents playing a Frenchman and a Polish woman.  I kept forgetting Mercier was French.  Maybe this wouldn’t bother me if the actors were American, because I wouldn’t register their accents as something already foreign.  I doubt it bothered Brits.  Still, when you have David Tennant playing a French man with a British accent meeting an English aristocrat with an English accent, it’s difficult to remember they are supposed to be from different countries.  Others, like the Russian ex-boyfriend has a proper Russian accent.   Tennant explained the action choices in this Joycean quote:

There is actually an internal logic to the concept. Since the main character is French, but the audience is English-speaking, we hear him speak with a sort of a neutral English accent, and anyone else speaking English is actually speaking French, and the other nationalities speak English but with their natural accents, and the Germans speak German with English subtitles – which I suppose makes [the subtitles] French. I can see your eyes glazing over.

I think my brain just glazed over.  Sorry David, I love you and I don’t blame you, but this just wasn’t very good.

One-year blog anniversary

blog-anniversaryThis year marks one year since I began to write this blog.  I’d like to say I’ve learned and grown a lot as a writer and blogger during this year, but I have to say most of what I have learned is how addictive the WordPress ‘Stats’ page can be.  I check it about 10 times per day, just to see the view count tick up.  This isn’t the sort of blog that I imagine will ever garner lots of attention; there just aren’t many Americans interested in my views on Downton Abbey, even among the subset of Americans that are interested in Downton Abbey. But I still get a thrill from anything that gives me a lot of hits.  I find one thing the most addictive–the WordPress map.  I desperately want to fill in all of the countries! I like the idea of my blog being read round the world.  So far, I’m doing pretty well.map

There are some countries I’m fairly certain I won’t ever get to fill in.  Internet access is tightly controlled, and often unavailable at all, in places like Iran and North Korea.  I don’t know a lot about, say Madagascar, but given their tiny population I doubt they will be visiting anytime soon.  I’m holding out a lot of hope for Mongolia, partially because it’s such a big country. I don’t understand why Greenland is not colored-in, because Greenland is technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark.  And I’ve got Denmark, so I think I should have Greenland.  *cough-WordPress-are-you-listening-cough* And it’s huge!

Not surprisingly, my blog is most popular in the US and the UK, with the rest of Europe and some other post-colonial countries (Australia, India) not far behind. But I have a lot of 1-offs, where one person from an entire country has deigned to visit my blog.  I’m always thrilled when I have new countries on the list, so thank you to the one of you from the Bahamas, Jersey, Uganda, Cyprus, Honduras, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritius, Uruguay, St. Lucia, Grenada, and Nicaragua who have wandered in and then wandered back out.  Next time, tell your friends!

Other amusing pastimes include obsessively monitoring why people found my blog–what they searched for that lead them to my little corner of the internet. My most popular topic (more popular than all of the rest combined, I would wager) is any variation on ‘English Stereotypes’.  That makes up most of my traffic.  But when you get down to the end of the list you get to the more amusing keywords.  WHY were people searching for this stuff? WHY does searching for it lead to my blog?! Here is a sample of the weirdest searches:

Martin Freeman naked/nude (more popular than Benedict Cumberbatch naked, so Martin should be happy about that)

Benedict Cumberbatch + sloth OR ice age

bike mustache chops.   ????

Albus Dumbledore read Pride and Prejudice

Jane Eyre the hoes of these moves

bluffball did you see that ludicrous display last night

my possible favorite,

what is “wagger pagger bagger” slang for in England?

Excellent question, but one my blog does not answer.  There are also some that are less PG rated, including several people wanting to search about Fred Weasley performing certain sex acts, and something related to horses, dolls, and sex.  Yikes! For the record, my blog came up for that last one because of my review of Anna Karenina, which has a sex affair, a character named Dolly, and a horse race.  But I googled that same string of words and my blog was the second result, right behind a fetish porn site.  So…awesome.

I have learned that all publicity is good publicity.  I’ve had two writers retweet/link reviews that I posted.  In fact, the busiest day my blog ever had was when Steven Grasse linked to my review of his book.  If you didn’t read it, be aware that my review can be summarized by three words “Worst. Book. Ever.”  He seemed to find it amusing that his terrible book almost caused me to have a stroke.  I have to say that him personally linking to my scathing review means he has a better sense of humor than any of his humor book seemed to display.  Luckily, my other retweet came for a positive review.

I don’t mind being a small blog.  I think the best part of this blog is finding other like-minded individuals. I now follow a lot more people on WP, on Twitter, etc., who are interested in British TV and culture, who are British and are interested in TV and culture, and just people who are interesting.  I find that the most rewarding part, since it involves interaction and a conversation rather than answering misspelled Google queries.  It’s almost as rewarding as it will inevitably be when someone from Mongolia visits my blog.

Tsherlock and john laughingo the next year!

 

Book Review: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

I probably picked up this book because I am increasingly obsessed with anything Sherlock Holmes.  No idea why, since I don’t find the original texts to be that good, personally. They are very…masculine. I suppose I mean that there isn’t much in the way of character development or emotion. Masculine in the old-school, totally ridiculous definition. I think a lot of what we associate with Sherlock Holmes now has been added later, filled in by movie- and show-runners and writers. But what a character that Doyle managed to come up with. The idea of Holmes far outlives and outweighs Doyle’s lackluster storytelling.  The character is massively important to the history of mystery fiction, and has obviously been incredibly influential to everything from books to TV to movies. Anyone who’s been paying attention can name at least 5 characters that wouldn’t be possible without Holmes.
So this is an interesting idea for a mystery novel.  The book is split in two, each chapter alternating between present day characters who are Sherlock Holmes fans, and Arthur Conan Doyle, in the period between his killing Holmes off and Holmes’ resurrection 8 years later.  The timing is particularly interesting to me, since we are currently (in terms of the BBC series Sherlock) occupying that very depressing interregnum.

In the modern part of the story, we follow Harold White, a newly inducted member of the Baker Street Irregulars (a group of very intense Holmes fans), as he investigates the murder of one of his own, Alex Cale. Cale had recently discovered the long-lost diary of Doyle, covering that same period in the late 1890s, after Holmes is killed off and until he is resurrected. Then, he turns up dead (Cale) and the diary is m.i.a. Harold White, a speed-reader and slightly ridiculous (he wears a deerstalker. in public.) totally-amateur detective, takes it upon himself to solve the mystery.
In the 19th century part of the story, ACD is surprised by a letter bomb in his post one morning. Upon discovering how truly useless Scotland Yard is, he takes it upon himself to discover who is trying to kill him. His case gets wrapped up in one where young girls are being murdered, and of course he needs to solve that too.  His friend, Bram Stoker, accompanies him on his adventures, and ACD attempts to put Holmes’ theory of deductive reasoning to use in reality.

There are interesting ideas in this book. It’s obviously well researched. I found it particularly interesting to consider how ACD thought of his creation. After he killed off Holmes, readers were so upset and indignant that they wore black arm bands in his honor, and were none too happy with ACD.  Doyle felt that Holmes always overshadowed him (probably true), and that people thought Holmes was real and ACD was more of a Watson figure, documenting everything.

The title, The Sherlockian, refers to a group of people among Holmes fans that believe that Sherlock was real and that…I’m a little unclear on whether they think ACD was Watson or ACD was Sherlock.  Either way, it seems a bit loony.  Then again, anytime I call a theory loony (*cough*Shakespeare not writing his own plays*cough*), I have people hounding my blog for weeks on end trying to prove me wrong.  So, in that case, it seems like a totally solid theory but I’ll hold back judgment until there is more evidence.
The book, unfortunately, just didn’t have a big impact on me. I didn’t care much about Harold or his girl Friday. I found the bits with ACD and Bram Stoker far more interesting, but I don’t think they were burdened with over-accuracy. I found the ending totally ridiculous.  I found much of it totally ridiculous. It was borderline farcical, which meant that all of the serious scenes were missing any weight or depth.  At one point, Bram Stoker and ACD have to dress up in drag to infiltrate a suffragette meeting.  Really?

Also, as often happens with these novels, it seems sort of homeless. Harold is from LA, but we never see him there.  The bulk of the action takes place in NYC, London, and then Switzerland.  But it doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere. You can’t picture the places in your head, and even when I came across places in the book that I’ve seen in real life, they didn’t have any familiarity.  Doesn’t anyone care about setting anymore?

I like the idea of this novel, I like the setup. The flipping back between stories didn’t bother me.  In the end, it just wasn’t very well written. It’s hard for me to say very disparaging things about books, because I’m a writer and I know how sensitive I am.  But, I don’t recommend this one. I kind of it enjoyed it while reading, but my enjoyment went down as I got to the end of the book. I let it sit in my brain for a few days afterward, and all of the details sluiced out. I was left with something of a distaste for it.  Now I’m kind of irritated by it.
On the other hand, if you ever do have an interest in reading about ACD and his life, I can recommend one book whole-heartedly.

Arthur and George is adapted from a true story. A man named George Edalji is accused of a really terrible crime that I would not like to think about right now.  Anyway, he’s essentially accused because he’s an odd guy, and he’s a little antisocial (Asperger’s comes to mind, from a modern perspective), and (this is probably most of the problem) he’s half-Indian. Arthur Conan Doyle hears about what’s happening to him and personally helps him to beat the charges against him.  It’s a really interesting portrayal of a totally weird friendship and alliance. And it also, if I remember correctly, deals with the period between the two Holmes timelines.

Most importantly, it’s written by Julian Barnes, who I have discussed multiple times, whose book The Sense of an Ending, I raved about earlier this year.  He’s a great writer, and it’s a really interesting, far more believable, far more satisfying read.

 

The Last Enemy–BBC Miniseries

First, I need to say that I really tried to like this show. I watched it because Benedict Cumberbatch is the star, and I’m obviously a fan of his work on Sherlock. The subject matter doesn’t much appeal to me, but I gave it a chance.  Unfortunately it wasn’t particularly good.

The plot is very reminiscent of 1984; it all revolves around government forces spying on everyday people, vast conspiracies kept from the public, etc etc. Benedict plays math genius Stephen Ezard, who returns to the UK after a long absence because his brother has just died.  The action revolves around him, his former girlfriend, his brother’s widow, and a cast of political figures and assassins.  There are lots of intertwining plots, all of which revolve around evil government actions, from incredible surveillance databases to genetically engineered viruses. All of this in the name of protecting the civilians from the threats of terrorism. The show technically takes place in a Britain of the not-too-distant future, and it’s easy to see (especially as they have increased their security measures for the Olympics) how that level of surveillance could become a reality.

Benedict does a really good job playing someone who is incredibly smart but not particularly capable at human interaction–sound familiar?

There are a couple of other really good actors in the show. Anamaria Marinca, a Romanian actress, plays Yasim Anwar, who is both Stephen Ezard’s love interest, and his brother’s widow.  I don’t think she’s been in much else, but I thought she was really good in this. Robert Carlyle, from Trainspotting, and most recently Once Upon a Time, is also in it.  He plays some sort of assassin with a secret bunker very similar to Gene Hackman in Enemy of the State.

The concept of the show is interesting, but it does make me wonder about the UK.  Between this and Orwell, I just don’t really get the obsession with government invasion of privacy. It’s not something that really is an issue in the US, or at least not in my opinion.  In the UK, they definitely have way more cameras, from private security cameras to the public CC TV cameras. Those are everywhere.  It never bothered me when I was there–in fact it was comforting when I was walking alone at night to know that anyone that tried to rape/kill me would be caught on camera. In these conspiracy stories it’s always the government going beyond surveillance to use their knowledge for nefarious purposes. Nineteen Eighty-Four is more about the total takeover of an entire culture by Big Brother. The Last Enemy is subtler; the voting public is sold on the idea of new ID cards and further surveillance because of the threat of international terrorism.  They have no idea the lengths to which the government is already going to track people.  But the endings are similar–re: not happy.

Truth be told, the show is incredibly depressing. It doesn’t end well, for anyone. And the public is none the wiser, just like in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Depressing endings don’t always mean bad stories, just look at Casablanca.  But this show is no Casablanca. It’s too convoluted and I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, and what part they all played in the conspiracy.  The show was too complicated and there were too many characters. I didn’t have the energy or the memory to care about all of them.  The themes weren’t very clear and all of the complications to the plot just made it lack emotional punch in the end.  So, all in all, mediocre at best. Unfortunately. It is available on Instant Netflix, but I would only recommend it if you’re a real fan of conspiracy theory/government control/electronic surveillance oeuvre works.