Blogging has been very light round here for the last week or so — I have been travelling a lot, with some unexpected wrinkles and last-minute changes of plan, am behind in bookblogging and also in the middle of three very thick books. But I will break my silence with notes on a couple of screen adaptations which I watched today of texts which I already knew in another form.
They are colossally different in quality. One should be a little charitable because a lot of effort is exerted to set up the major recurring characters — Lovejoy himself, Tinker, Eric and Lady Jane Felsham — and the TV show is only starting to find its way in terms of tone, whereas by this stage the books were confident if not always on target.
But even so, I think fans of the books tuning in hopefully back in would have been bitterly disappointed by this adaptation. It can't quite decide how violent the show is going to be, it can't decide how sexy it is going to be, and several crucial scenes from the novel are completely defused for the screen — Lovejoy prevents the burning of the firefly cages, there is no desperate struggle for survival on the sea fort, and the final explosive scene is played for laughs rather than allowing the bereaved donkey to exact her hideous revenge.
Not very many of the TV episodes are based on the novels, and it's probably just as well; the tone is completely different and it was better to let the two continuities find separate levels. Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus is quite a different matter.
I was strangely fascinated by this play when I listened to it three years ago, and commented then that "An inspired director and actor could no doubt make something memorable of it, but it's tough material to work with. The show is almost stolen by Vanessa Redgrave as Coriolanus' electrifying mother Volumnia, but all the others are pretty good too shouts to Brian Cox as Coriolanus' friend Menenius, Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus' wife Virgilia, and especially Gerard Butler as the Volscian leader Aufidius, who clearly has an erotic fascination with his enemy-turned-ally.
Coriolanus himself is a bit one-dimensional as a character, but Fiennes makes up for it with fantastic visual direction, and also by playing the pivotal dramatic points in the play so effectively that, although you pretty much know what must happen next, you are able to suspend your disbelief. Very strongly recommended. I'm really surprised that it is not a better known play. He must be able to recite it in his sleep by now.
Lovejoy goes to Ireland this time, lured into a particularly implausible though for once fairly comprehensible scheme involving fake gold copies of a Celtic torc, and Lovejoy becoming very entangled with the women behind the scheme. As with the Hong Kong of Jade Woman , this Ireland is of an earlier time period than the one the book is ostensibly set in; but also as indeed in most of his work Gash largely avoids ethnic stereotypes.
This is my sixth Lovejoy book in my current run, and the first of those which is set entirely in East Anglia. It helps me get to sleep at night reading a few pages before lights out. At least I think so; will continue the experiment for the five Lovejoy books still on the shelves. But there are a lot of interesting observations about the madness of a film set, particularly involving stunt men, and the thought experiment of trying to raid the British Museum is an intriguing one; anyone who knows that corner of London at all well will end up scratching their heads at the complexity of the problem.
This book also has a moment which makes the classification of the series as non-genre rather than fantasy very difficult. But here, Lovejoy actually detects a genuine antique within a sealed container, unable to see it, but it makes his heart beat faster just to be near it. But I have a lingering doubt. The internal chronology of the Lovejoy books must be pretty convoluted.
This one was published between writing for the web Jade Woman and The Great California Game , but cannot be set between them as one flows directly from the other via a trans-Pacific plane flight which would not normally include East Anglia or the British Museum. I suspect that The Very Last Gambado may be a jump back to an earlier point in the timeline.
I will keep an open mind. Completely by chance, the next in the random selection of Lovejoy books I have picked up recently takes place immediately after Jade Woman , which I read earlier this month. Lovejoy has escaped Hong Kong and arrives penniless in New York, where he soon gets sucked into a group of sinister plutocrats involved with raising questionable money as their stake in the Great California Game. The second half was less good; en route to California Lovejoy and his rapidly acquired assistants encounter various American regional stereotypes, while Lovejoy demonstrates a hitherto-unseen talent for actually making money from his possibly supernatural gift for telling real antiques from fakes, and there is then a rather hard-to-swallow twist at the end.
And surprisingly it is almost halfway through the book before Lovejoy gets together with any of the various women who as usual throw themselves at him. So, a book of two halves really. And I am beginning to wonder how many of the Lovejoy books are actually set in East Anglia, or even England? Another Lovejoy book with a particularly implausible plot, allowing Gash to place his hero in Hong Kong not contemporary s Hong Kong, but the s city that the author clearly knew well and loved for fun with organised crime, sex work and inventing a previously unheard-of Chinese Impressionist painter.
But the mechanisms for getting him to Hong Kong in the first place, and then out again in the end, are hopelessly contrived.
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Generally good fun though. Hope to catch up soon. My current run of Lovejoy books continues with another story in which he is pulled from cosy East Anglia to wilder climes, if the Isle of Man counts as wild. This is an earlier book in the sequence than Paid and Loving Eyes ; Lovejoy is even more obsessed with antiques here, and slightly less with women, in that his affections are concentrated on Jane Felsham played by Phillis Logan on TV, who like Ian McShane was about ten years older than the characters in the books.
And there is loving description of the scenery of the Isle of Man, and discussion of how the Romans invaded; a scenario not supported by mainstream history, but this is a work of fiction. Generally good fun, apart from the budgies. Just when I was in paradise the phone rang. Moonspender Gash, Jonathan. The gondola scam Gash, Jonathan. Pearlhanger Gash, Jonathan. Firefly gadroon Gash, Jonathan.
The grace in older women Gash, Jonathan. The tartan sell Gash, Jonathan. Spend game Gash, Jonathan.
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