Love & Friendship (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen’s Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated, by Whit Stillman (2016).  Director Whit Stillman has written a novelization of his recent movie Love & Friendship, starring Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny.  (Although I never read it, he did the same for his movie The Last Days of Disco, also starring Beckinsale and Sevigny.)  I can’t say the novel really adds much to the film, but it is an adequate and enjoyable enough retelling of the schemes and machinations of the unscrupulous Lady Susan.  The novel’s narrator is Lady Susan’s nephew, who desperately attempts to make his aunt look like a victim of slander instead of the schemer she so clearly was.  As an added bonus, Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan is included in the appendix, so you can see the bones that Stillman built his movie and novel out of.  The package is enjoyable enough, but it’s nothing to get too excited about.

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A Deeper Vision (book review)

The Movie Snob submits a book review.

A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, by Robert Royal (Ignatius 2015).  I don’t know exactly what Robert Royal’s background is, but he is amazingly knowledgeable about the Catholic Church and Catholic theology.  This big old chunk of a book (588 pages) proves it.  The first part of the book focuses on the trends and trendsetters in Catholic theology in the twentieth century, with special emphasis on Vatican II and the Church’s gradual embrace of modern techniques of Scripture study.  That’s a lot of ground to cover in 357 pages, but it didn’t feel too superficial to me, and I found the discussion of Vatican II particularly interesting.  The second part of the book is about Catholic writers of the twentieth century, mainly British and French.  Most of the British folks were at least somewhat familiar to me—G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Graham Greene—but the French fellows were mostly unknown to me.  Anyway, the book is not light reading, but if you have an interest in the topic, I think you will find it an excellent and well-written resource.

The Little Paris Bookshop (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George (2015).  I saw a glowing review of this novel, so I picked it up.  Although it was apparently a runaway bestseller in Europe a couple of years ago, and then it was a bestseller in the good old U.S. of A., I thoroughly disliked it.  It’s about a Paris bookseller named Jean Perdu.  He’s 50ish, and he has been nursing a broken heart for 20 years because the woman he loved suddenly left him without so much as a good-bye.  But now things are happening that may finally break Perdu out of his long grief.  How to summarize the things I did not like about this book?  The characters are unbelievable and behave unbelievably.  Coincidences pile up to make things happen right.  The pages drip with neo-hippie philosophizing and cloying descriptions of food and landscapes.  And the more I learned about Perdu’s mystery lover, the more I loathed her.  I kept hoping the book would get better, but it never did.  I urge you to give this one a pass.

White Sands (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

White Sands: Experiences from the Outside World, by Geoff Dyer (2016).  I’d never heard of Dyer until I read a favorable review of this book, but he’s a Brit, now living in Los Angeles, who has won a whole passel of awards for his writing.  I thought this book of essays, mainly about travel, was okay.  It had some good bits, like the story about the trip he and his wife took to Norway in mid-winter in an attempt to see the Northern Lights.  And the story of the time they picked up a hitchhiker in New Mexico about a minute before coming to one of those big warning signs about not picking up hitchhikers because there are prisons nearby.  The final story about a minor stroke he suffered at age 55 was pretty good.  But other parts are less memorable, and there’s a fair amount of hippie-ish mumbo-jumbo that I could not appreciate.  And I was put off by the book’s forward, in which Dyer says that the book is a mixture of fiction and non-fiction without explaining why he added the fiction.  Well, there’s something that sounds like an explanation, but I didn’t get it.

Art: A New History (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Art: A New History, by Paul Johnson (2003).  This 750-page tome is about the size and shape of your old college art-history textbook.  But, because it is by Paul Johnson (Churchill), it is probably much more enjoyable to read.  Johnson sets out to survey the whole history of art, starting with the surviving fragments of prehistoric art, spending lots of time with the Greeks and Romans, and then gradually working his way up to the present day.  Well, maybe not the WHOLE history.  The focus is overwhelmingly on Western art; there is very little on Asia, Africa, Australia, or any part of the Americas other than the good old US of A.  Subject to that limitation, he covers an amazing number of artists—although “cover” is probably too strong a word since only the really big names like Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Picasso get more than a paragraph or two.  But rest assured that you will meet, however briefly, a vast array of interesting artists.  There are plenty of color pictures in the book, but Johnson mentions so many more artworks that you’ll probably want to have a tablet handy as you read so you can look up some of the paintings he describes that aren’t reproduced in the book.  He also covers architecture in fair detail, which I found interesting.  An enjoyable read if you have an interest but no real background in art.

News from Berlin (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

News from Berlin, by Otto de Kat (English translation 2014).  This slim novel is by a Dutch author, of all things.  The year is 1941.  Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur is posted in Switzerland with vague duties.  His wife is back in London; his only child, Emma, is living in Berlin with her husband Carl—a “good German,” working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  One day, Emma and Carl make it to Geneva, and during her brief visit with her father, Emma drops the startling news that the Nazis are going to invade the Soviet Union on June 22.  What should Oscar do with this information?  How will it affect his family?  I thought this 148-page story was interesting and well written (or well translated).  If you like WWII stuff, I think you’d really like this book.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Stealing the Mystic Lamb: The True Story of the World’s Most Coveted Masterpiece, by Noah Charney (2010).  I had the pleasure of visiting Belgium a while back, and one of our tour guides strongly recommended this nonfiction book about the work of art known as the Ghent Altarpiece.  Painted by Jan van Eyck and finished in 1432, the altarpiece is an immense, multi-part work, and this book describes the artwork, its creation, and several of the times it has been stolen in whole or in part.  Alas, I found the book disappointing.  The reproductions of the paintings in the middle of the book are too small, and the reproduction of the interior of the altarpiece goes across two pages so that the central features of the work disappear down into the spine of the book.  The writing is not particularly good, in my humble opinion; it is repetitious in some places and obscure in others.  A good chunk of the book, at the end, is given over to the tale of the altarpiece’s recovery from the Nazis, some of whom intended to blow up this and many other priceless artworks in the waning days of WWII.  There’s some interesting stuff in this book, but on the whole I really can’t recommend it.