Friday, February 26, 2010

Yet another call to arms

I hate to have to harp on about these leaders of Muslim countries and Muslim preachers who advocate hatred and violence, but this latest declaration by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi gets my goat well and truly. As far as I can tell, he’s got on his high horse and called for jihad against Switzerland because:

a. His esteemed, reputable and human-rights loving son Hannibal Gaddafi was detailed in that country for beating up his own servant – to which I can only say, well what else could ol' Hannibal do if the servant was not being servile enough or not jumping quickly enough to obey his orders? Servants are like, you know, possessions. Why should you be arrested for dealing with your possession however you deem fit?

b. Switzerland refused to let Muslims build minarets on their mosques. Note this - they did not ban the building of mosques, just the minarets. Still, I guess they proved, yet again, that this country in particular, and the world in general, has it in for Muslims and does not respect Islam as much as everybody should. (Gee, one wonders why.) One also wonders why the Swiss do not wish to be serenaded five times a day from the minarets and, most of all, why they think they can set down the law in their own country.

Seriously, I’d like to see what the Muslim leaders and radicals would say if the non-Muslims in their Islamic States (of perfection, natch) demanded to build temples and churches and synagogues, and what’s more, demanded to play their religious songs/prayers from loudspeakers. I really would like to see their reaction, but I fear that the people demanding rights similar to what Muslims demand for themselves in the West would end up jailed or booted out... which last option really would not be the worst one, imo.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A book review

If you are a dog person, you like ghost stories, thrillers and the occult (to some extent), if you are happy to suspend your disbelief and not ask too many "but whyyy???" questions, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle", by David Wroblewski, is going to make you a happy person. Oh, and you also need to like reading really fat books - the edition I read ran to over 550 pages, and the print was really, really tiny!

So anyway, I'm the sort of person described above - all I ask for is a really good read, and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle was a good read, for the most part. I took the book from my library because it was satisfyingly fat, the print wasn't large and a random peek into it gave me the idea that it would be interesting. Other than that, I'd never heard of the book or the author, and had no idea of the storyline.

The story is set in some part of Wisconsin, timeline 1970s (ish). Not that I could see how it mattered because I didn't get an idea of any particular time in the story... I just got caught up in the narrative, and it could have been anywhere, anytime. On the other hand, I didn't grow up in the backwoods of Wisconsin in the '70s, so what do I know.

Edgar Sawtelle is a mute boy born to dog-breeding and training parents (Gar and Trudy) who live on a farm. Edgar might be mute, but he's very intelligent and picks up sign language at the age of 3 or 4. He uses sign language to communicate not only with humans but has even evolved it to communicate with and train his dogs. "Sawtelle" dogs are distinctive in their intelligence and ability, and are the finest in the country. Almondine is Edgar's "special" dog, almost like a nanny, who looks out for him - like a combination of Nana and Lassie.

All is well until Edgar's uncle Claude, his father's younger brother, comes to live at the farm. The brothers arent as brotherly as they could be - Gar is resentful of Claude (I didnt really understand why) and Claude is deeply envious of Gar, and constantly needling him about the past. The problem is that while Gar is the quiet, scholarly type totally engrossed in keeping records of generations of dogs that he has bred and trained, Claude is a manipulative, sly sociopath. Edgar doesn't like Claude from the start, but doesn't have a reason for it other than portentous dreams.

One fine day Edgar finds Gar in the barn, dying, and is devastated when he cannot summon help for him, being mute. Gar's mysterious death affects the boy and his mother deeply. They try to help each other out of their grief and try desperately to keep the farm going, but it's extremely hard work for a woman and a boy. And then Trudy falls seriously ill with pneumonia, so Claude steps in to help on the farm and with training the dogs. Edgar doesn't like this, but he accepts that they need his help. His suspicion that Claude killed his father are confirmed when Gar's "ghost" indicates as much to him during a storm. (Shades of Hamlet very much evident in the storyline.)

When Claude and Trudy get together, Edgar tries his best to convince his mother that Gar was murdered by Claude who injected him with a mysterious poison. He tries to set a trap for Claude, but it is the old family friend and veterinarian, Dr Papineau, who dies instead.

Edgar flees with three of his dogs, leaving behind Almondine, with whom he is furious (because he found her lying contentedly at Claude's feet and considered that a betrayal of him). He meets a man called Henry who helps him, and eventually leaves two of his dogs with the man (actually, the dogs choose to stay with Henry) before returning to the farm to confront his uncle.

I won't reveal the ending, in case someone wants to read this book after reading my review, but I will say that it doesn't end happily. That much should have been obvious from the trend of the story, but I still didnt like how the book ended. It was a bit disappointing (and depressing), not to mention somewhat hurried. Really, it all seemed a little too Gothic, more worthy of a Stephen King novel than a story about a boy and his many dogs and the bond of loyalty, understanding and protectiveness that can prevail between humans and canines.

Still, like I said, a cracking good read. And if there is a somewhat more about selective dog breeding than the average reader would care to know about, if there are a few unexplained mysterious happenings in the story and the ending is not neatly structured, those have to be accepted as flaws just as the many beautiful passages in the book are accepted as good writing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Starting trouble

Say you decide to do some free-form grumbling on paper (or rather, on the computer) to see if a bit of inspiration can't be coaxed into showing some signs of life - rather like a reluctant car engine that doesn't want to start in the cold.

And then you discover that you can't even think of anything to grouch about in writing! That was Shock 1.

Shock 2 came about when I began to wonder if I had changed, without even realising it, from cynical and sarcastic to a beaming ray of sunshiny good nature who can find nothing at all to complain about. Oh the horror!

That shock prompted an internal review of my general outlook. (Yes ok, it wasn't an exhaustive review, or a precursor to any changes in the general policy. Kind of like a government committee.) Anyway, no, I felt as grouchy as ever about plenty of things - it was just that I didn't feel able to put my various grumps into words.

The problem, then, is that I seem unable to externalise (to use a detestable expression) my complaints in writing.

So what's the remedy, folks? What do I write about? Any ideas out there that feel the need to come home to roost?

Oh, by the way, happy 2010 to all.