December Book Reviews

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am a disgrace. This month I give you a review of the Fantastic Beasts screenplay.. that’s right, the actual screenplay. I’ve never been more repulsed by myself. Also this month: more regency dandies and frolics in Hyde Park as well as a cruise with the Royal Navy on a Nelsonic man-of-war. So all in all, I’m back to average sensibility.


Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling

I will preface by saying this: I never intended to buy this screenplay. Further to this preface, I despised the people who put it in print, had visions of murdering the capitalists who found a way to charge 30 AUD for this utterly disgraceful manipulation of the consumer and abhorred at the thought of a perfectly sane Potter fan sinking so low as to not only condone the release of the screenplay but to actually purchase the thing. And then I watched the film.

It is probably easy to deduce that I enjoyed this film and I think anyone with a heart beat would be able to as well. It by no means brought me the same intoxicated joy as the original series and is not without its faults. I left the cinema happy, curious, relieved and most of all, I left feeling like I wanted more.

The problem lies within the screenplay itself. We know this is Rowling’s first screenplay and I can probably assume that it is also her first attempt at a screenplay. I say this because if you open the published work it reads nothing like a screenplay; this thing is brimming with detail. So much detail that there is no room left for direction. To me, it is almost a novel. But is this a problem? Not for me, but then, I am not David Yates.

The other thought I had as I left the cinema was that the dialogue was unexpectedly colourless, it is less intelligent than I expect from Rowling. All the brilliance seems to have gone into framing the scenes with description. It was interesting to see how wonderfully the actors interpreted the lines they were given and thankfully they all do a beautiful job. The plot was new and fresh, engaging but could be livened more; the conflict was scattered too thin in parts. The ’round up’ of the beasts that had escaped the case was delightful to watch on screen but absolutely useless when reading the screenplay. However, a scene like the first dinner with the four main characters plays out boringly on screen but wonderfully in the screenplay.

Above all, I was completely won over by Newt Scamander’s character. The credit for this belongs in equal amount to Rowling and Redmayne. I applaud Rowling for pushing a character like Newt into the lime light, and I tip my hat to Redmayne for very properly realising it.

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian starts very soundly; the two splendid characters meet in a fascinatingly memorable way. Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin are both in the flat of life when the latter rebukes the former for beating in a half measure ahead of time of the evening’s concert. When Aubrey is promoted to Commander, he happens upon Maturin again and they both enjoy each other so immensely that you wonder why they had any misunderstanding at all. Not only is this a memorable opening to the novel, but it must be a sparkling thing to come back to when one has read the entire twenty book series.

Captain Aubrey takes on Stephen Maturin as ship’s surgeon aboard the HMS Sophie. Each facet of sea life is depicted so beautifully in a classic but elegantly simple prose. As with Stephen, you are dragged into this intricate life. Many of the first terminologies introduced pass way over to leeward (pun very much intended), but with time, all this chaos and complexity turns into a very entrancing and simple life aboard. The Sophie is sent on convoy and on cruise and Aubrey opens your eyes to the world of prize taking, the laws of which are very interesting when juxtaposed with the character of Dillon.

I am astounded and petrified that O’Brian could dive so deeply and know so thoroughly of not only the historical aspects regarding the Royal Navy and the Nelsonic man-of-wars, of the terminology of sailing, of science, of medicines, of foods, but that he knows– truly knows what the people of the time would have behaved like. O’Brian characterises people by their behaviour, how they seek to manage other people, and how others affect their modes of thought. These people are instinctual, it’s as if a knot is carved out of the stone each time a character experiences a new conflict. By the end they become so clearly formed and realised, yet we know along the way that each are left with definable knocks and bruises, they are tainted, they are worn and that makes them real. The characters of Aubrey, Maturin and Dillon in particular are so well realised that you do not question for a moment that you are not reading some true life account.

I am very excited that this piece of literature exists. It is singlehandedly the best historical fiction I have ever read in that it has provided me with everything I could have asked from it and more. For instance, I have learnt a lot of things that I did not ask to be taught at all! If you are like me and are slightly obsessed with ships, make sure you give it a read. Master and Commander is a love letter to ships.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is unbeatable’ says the blurb of my edition. If anyone else is enough of a ‘cake’ to suggest otherwise, I would have to give them a good ‘boxing about the ears’. Heyer is most definitely not of the beatable persuasion.

The leading heroine Sophy is a gun-wielding, phaeton riding Emma Woodhouse– but on LSD. She is left into the companionship of the Rivenhall household after her father, Sir Horace, leaves once more on diplomatic business to Brazil. Unlike Emma, she has been abroad of England for most of her life, having lived in Spain, Vienna and Brussels. Sophy is meddlesome, hopelessly devious, stringently unyielding and proficient in being as un-ladylike as humanly possible. As such, she becomes to the Rivenhall household what Nanny McPhee is to the Brown children. She is immediately aware that everyone in the Berkeley Square House needs fixing, especially Charles the eldest, who is her tyrannical and short tempered cousin.

I have already declared this month that I had read the best historical fiction but Heyer wins on heart. Her knowledge of the regency ton knows no bounds—truly! In the three that I have now read of her, (Frederica, The Convenient Marriage and The Grand Sophy), each have had their own completely unique set of characters, plot and insurmountable fun. Above all of this, Heyer is still able to retain her wonderful narrative voice throughout. The Grand Sophy is unequivocally the best of these three again, and, in typical regency fashion, is not to be found short of exclamations (!), monkeys, phaetons, scandals and balls. Heyer provides nothing less than torrential fun and cyclonic entertainment.

If you have read any of these novels, I’d love to know what you thought of them. Talk to me down in the comments or over on my Twitter, you can click here to magically apparate there! Are you as obsessed with Georgette Heyer as I am? Tell me which one I should read next!


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