Roaming Review: Murder in the Library – An A-Z of Crime Fiction

brit lib 3brit-lib-4Britlib

What: Murder in the Library – An A-Z of Crime Fiction. A FREE exhibition curated by The Folio Society presenting the famous figures and themes of literary crime past and present.

Where: The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB

Why: My reason was three-fold:

1. I am a massive fan of Agatha Christie – one could say I have a small addiction to Miss Marple.

2. I had never been to the British Library before and was intrigued from photos I had seen.

3. FREE – and since January is an epically long and depressing month you need to find some entertainment.

Refreshments:It’s a Library and also an exhibition so refreshments are probably frowned upon. However, a nice cup of coffee in the Library cafe is a good idea especially when you’re overlooking a beautiful, massive wall of books!

Review:

I had heard about this exhibition through many social and printed mediums and so, on a rainy January afternoon a fellow book loving friend and I braved the weekend TFL and visited The British Library.

The exhibition was on the upper floor and presented by The Folio Society.  This was extremely apparent in the colourful nature of the attractive, yet small presentation which resembled their trademark ‘Beautiful Books’ down to a tee.

There were different sections of information for each letter of the alphabet comprising original manuscripts, like Sherlock Holmes ‘The Retired Colourman’, first editions and author notebooks.  These were fascinating, especially when you could read the author’s doodles and notes in the margins demonstrating thought processes and even title ideas.

Even those who live and breathe nothing but Crime Fiction may find they learn a few handy facts for a pub quiz. I for instance was thrilled to find out two titbits about Agatha Christie, one being that the character Miss Marple was based on her own mother. The other being that she once described Poirot as an, ‘egotistical creep,’ and never wanted anyone to draw him – my sentiments exactly such a smug Belgian, although annoyingly readable.

I also delighted in learning that Crime Novels used to exist (and maybe still do?) in the form of both Crime Dossiers and Puzzle Tales. The reader would be made to either solve the crime with clues attached throughout the book or to piece a jigsaw together to reveal the image of the murder.

The exhibition was a treat, however for me personally, I would have liked there to have been more, of everything – but for those with small attention spans it’s perfect.

As well as the exhibition we ventured into other sections of the library, when in Rome , and discovered the ‘Treasures of the British Library’ in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This room is full to the brim of centuries old texts, from the Magna Carta to early drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. The exhibition is one of the permanent galleries of the British Library and is well worth a wander around whether your interest ranges from the Arts to Science. Unfortunately, for us we’d arrived at the library at 3pm and only had two hours to spend exploring, however, if you do go I’d definitely give yourself more time to admire the rest of the building.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the exhibition and the library and would recommend a visit to this exhibition before it closes on the 12th May, if not to just remind yourself how lovely libraries are.  Plus there’s a challenge in it for you:  there’s a small grammatical error in one of the commentaries – Go find it!

Rating: 8 out of 10

Advertisements

Book Review: The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared by Jonas Jonasson.

100 yr old man

Title: The hundred-year-old man who climbed out of the window and disappeared.

Author: Jonas Jonasson (translated by Rod Bradbury).

Genre: Crime Comedy Fiction.

Publisher: Hesperus Books.

Publication date: 12th July 2012.

Paperback: 400 pages.

Stand alone or Series: Stands Alone.

Why did I choose to read this book?: How could you not read something with such an amazing title – plus the author described it as ‘an intelligent, very stupid book‘.

Where to read?: Although I didn’t, this would be a perfect travel companion when Interrailing around Europe.

Refreshments: Crisps and bottles of Corona.

Review:

This novel centres on the life of centenarian Allan Karlsson who we first meet sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, waiting for the birthday party he doesn’t want. Everyone will be there, including the Mayor of the town, Allan however, has other plans and decides to escape out his window through the garden to begin his final adventure

And so we follow him on his madcap and unbelievable journey involving organised crime, accidental murders, a suitcase full of cash, incompetent police, all conducted in his slippers. While his exploits unfold we are treated to snippets of Allan’s extremely colourful life. In between chapters, we learn he has met some of the greatest political figures and played a key role in world-changing events of the 20th Century.

Allan is an epic character, likened by some to Forest Gump.  He shares all the character traits of any stereotypical old man. He doesn’t want to be told what he can and can’t do, to the extent that he hides alcohol in his room, even though it’s banned. He is also the most unassuming individual who doesn’t seek excitement but finds himself in the most unlikely situations and takes them all in his stride. He provides one of the best and most likable protagonists, helped along the way by his band of misfits, comprising: a thief, a hot dog vendor, a feisty red-head and an ex-circus entertaining elephant, to provide legitimate laugh out loud moments along the way.

Due to the twists and turns of Allan’s adventures both in the past and present you feel that you’re reading a diary of someone’s world travels. In one moment you’re discovering the countryside of Sweden to instantly find yourself upturned and dumped into the Middle East with a short stopover in Spain. It’s a whirlwind, but Jonasson writes so skilfully that you never feel lost and confused, like you can in other similar fiction.

My history cravings were also satisfied whilst reading this book. Being a centenarian, the intermingled chapters of his earlier life also act as a social and historical commentary on what happened in the world during the 20th century. We follow Allan as he fights in the Spanish Civil War, on both sides, makes friends with General Franco. We learn Allan that is gifted in explosives (blowing up his house being the reason he’s in the residential home in the first place!) and helped design the A-Bomb whilst drinking Vodka with Truman. So as well as an outlandish story it does to a small extent teach you a bit of history too!

All in all this was a most enjoyable read that made me want to quit my job, pack a rucksack and jump on  the first plane or train that came along. It’s both inspirational in the way it makes you realize that opportunities aren’t going to come knocking on your door but also that things happen for a reason. I don’t read self-help books but I think this would make a good addition to those bookshelves!

NOTE: This review does not do the book justice largely because if I said too much it would ruin it for you!

Rating: 9 out of 10 – film adaptation coming soon!

Theatre Review: The Magistrate

Magistrate

Title: The Magistrate

Author: Arthur Wing Pinero

Director: Timothy Sheeder

Genre: Victorian Farce

Actors: John Lithgow, Nancy Carroll and Joshua Maguire.

Why: I was attracted by the colorful posters that were advertised on the London Underground.

Where: The National Theatre , running until February 2013 – Buy Tickets

Refreshments: Pre-show tapas in the Terrace Bar , including artichoke tortilla, calamari, roasted broad beans and olive tapanade washed down with a carafe of Merlot

Review:

This Victorian farce centers on the key theme of age, in this case the pressure of a woman to be forever youthful.  Something that is keenly felt by widowed Agatha Posket when she inadvertently shaves five years off her age on the eve of her second wedding to Magistrate Posket. Not a massive problem apart from the fact that she has to pretend that her son Cis is 14, whereas he is nearly 20.

The unexpected arrival of Cis’ godfather sends Agatha, sister in tow, to the Hôtel des Princes to warn him of her deception. Unfortunately it’s also where her son has persuaded his otherwise sensible stepfather into joining him for a binge on champagne and deviled oysters. High-spirited partying and misunderstandings leads to a police raid and a night of outrageous mishaps culminating in court the next day where a disheveled Posket must preside. 

The cast were excellent especially the actor playing Cis Posket whose five foot, boyish frame and carrot-colored perm stole the show. He was full-on and in your face as he indulged his love for gambling and girls to the detriment of his step-father. Mcguire’s posh dandy accent never falters throughout and his high-kicks and scandalous behavior, for an ahmmm 14yr old make him the most entertaining presence on the stage.

In second place was the understudy playing Agatha Posket, Nancy Carroll was ‘indisposed’, whose strained facial expressions when facing the audience and hysterical outbursts suited the farcical genre superbly. Her comedic solo song debating the problem of a woman’s age also lends itself well to the central plot, her voice especially emotive due to her current predicament. I was also a little envious of her beautiful dark green and fuchsia gown and hat which she wears with aplomb.

One of the most striking features of the production is the set, designed by Katrina Lindsay; it appears as a series of circular cardboard cut outs each trimmed with the outline of the city of London. The spiraling angles and movements reflect the farcical drama beautifully as we follow the thread of lies on a madcap journey throughout London,  humorously supported by a singing group of dandies who knock out some witty musical interludes to introduce the next part of the play.

Unfortunately, due to it being Winter and the season for flu John Lithgow, one of the main attractions for me, was also ‘indisposed’, so I was already a little disappointed before the play even began. However, there were laughs and I was genuinely entertained by the actors as they delivered a traditional and heavily stylized farce.  Nevertheless, at 160mins running time, by the end, I was getting slightly tired of Posket’s whining which resulted in me feeling a little relieved when the cardboard went up for the final time.

Rating: 7 out of 10 – disappointed that the headline actors weren’t present.