Category Archives: History

Harkness, Deborah: Shadow of Night (All Souls) (2012)

NPG 5994; Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke by Nicholas Hilliard
watercolour on vellum, circa 1590: NPG 5994
Only for non-commercial use

A Discovery of Witches was one of the many books that my librarian, Ragnhild, recommended to me. I loved it and was highly motivated to read Shadow of Night. Now I have, and am left with a feeling of a book well-written. Deborah Harkness manages the difficult art that putting music to text is. Shadow of Night was one of those books that leaves my husband and children frustrated. I had trouble putting it down and being there for them. Sometimes I wonder if there ought to be a Books Anonymous.

One of my favorite things about Shadow of Night was the knowledge that Deborah showed in her telling of the tale of Diana and Matthew in 1590 Europe (especially England). There was a sense of reverence in the treatment of the milieu. Another excellent thing was my learning a new word. I don’t often have to use a dictionary while reading, but this time I got to. I love that. Her word was so perfect in its context as well (termagant). Thank you for that gift.

Being a 21st century Western woman in Elizabethan England was not easy for Diana. The world for women was so different back then. Being property cannot have made life pleasant for most. Diana left the modern world to seek help in mastering her magic and peace from persecution. What she ended up with was a world where humans were hunting witches.

While Matthew belonged to the richer part of society, Harkness also showed us the poorer side of these times. This was a time of changes in England. Farmers were losing their livelihood, people were moving to the cities seeking employment and poverty was rising. In fact, we are looking at the perfect recipe for a time where scapegoats were looked for. By now, wise women were equated with witch/devil/plagues/curses. Being different was dangerous and no-one was as different as a vampire and a witch together.

Looking for traces of Ashmole 782 turns out to be an extremely difficult task, hindered in part by Diana’s own challenges. Fortunately for Matthew and Diana they have Matthew’s friends (George Chapman, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Harriot, Sir Walter Raleigh and Lord Northumberland – Henry Percy) from the School of Night to help them.

Diana becomes acquainted with Mary Sidney (Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke). Together they work on Sidney’s alchemical projects.

Along with their own challenges in finding peace and education, Matthew’s role as spy for Queen Elizabeth and son of Phillipe de Claremont will bring them face to face with their own demons.

Flagg, Fannie: Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (1992)

Cover photo: Corbis

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man was first published as Coming Attractions in 1981. I just had to add the cover for Coming Attractions because it represents coming of age so perfectly. That is in part what Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man is about – coming of age. Daisy Fay gets a typewriter from her grandmother. For those of you who are too young to understand the concept, this is what a typewriter looks like:

I learned to type on one of these and I imagine Fannie Flagg did too. That was what we had to work with in 1981.

What Fannie Flagg does this time is take us into the life of Daisy Fay. Idyllic is not exactly the word I would use for it. Instead we are shown a resilient girl that grows up in a troubled family. Her way of coping with the realities of her life bring us hilarious and sad situations. She gets into trouble time and again. Sometimes with good cause and sometimes due to the idiocy of the adults around her.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man is yet another example of the quality of Fannie Flagg’s writing. I think this is the one that my dad liked the most, probably because of the similarities to his own life. Reading Fannie Flag leaves me with hope for a better future and love for the characters I have just said goodbye to.

Flagg, Fannie: Standing in the Rainbow (2002)

Cover photo: Corbis.

As a character in this book I can tell you that everything in it really did happen, so I can highly recommend it without any qualms whatsoever. With this quote from Mrs. Tot Whooten we are once again brought into the universe that one of my favorite authors has created for my and your pleasure.

Fannie Flagg has the gift, the gift I tend to on and on about without being able to define exactly what it is. Most of us have probably experienced the Author Gift at least once. You know those times when you are dragged into a piece of writing while struggling to keep yourself IRL at the same time. What a wonderful time to be a Reader.

Me, I love Aunt Dorothy, our radio-host, and source of information about the happenings in Southern Missouri. She is as complex and well-rounded as a written character can be. Finding her own way around her experiences has made her into the loving and straight-forward (Southern style) person that she is. There is something about the Southern style that is appealing even to this Viking-hearted Norwegian.

The winner!” screamed Ward McIntire and the audience was on its feet applauding. What glory. What a triumph. Five minutes later Bobby ran into the Trolley Car Diner with gum still sticking to his eyelashes and ears, waving his free-pass book in the air, yelling, “JIMMY … I WON … I DIDN’T GET RATTLED. I WON!” But before Jimmy had a chance to congratulate him he had to run out the door, headed for the drugstore to tell his father. When he got home his mother had to use kerosene to get all the gum out of his hair, and he used up all twenty-five passes in less than a week taking everybody to the movies but he didn’t care. He had blown the biggest bubble in the history of the contest, people said. Maybe the biggest in the entire state. From that day on he felt special.

How can you not love characters like that. Tot, Bobby, Aunt Dorothy, the Oatman Family, Hamm, Charlie and Anna Lee are all characters that interact and add to the quality of Standing in the Rainbow. I hope you get as much pleasure out of reading Standing in the Rainbow as I did.

Flagg, Fannie: Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! (1998)

Fannie Flagg is four years younger than my mother and six years younger than my dad. As such, many of their experiences have been similar. Technological advances have followed the same tempo even though they are from different countries.

Cover photo: Elliot Erwitt/Magnum

The jump between the media world in the 1940’s, represented by Aunt Dorothy’s radio program, and the media world of the 1970’s, represented by Dena Nordstrøm’s television job, is immense yet non-existent. Gossip and social mores are often more important than politics and the “larger” issues.

Once again Fannie Flagg takes us to the lives of people living in the South of US. This time we visit Missouri and the phenomenon “passing”. Racial passing refers to a person classified as a member of one racial/social group attempting to be accepted as a member of a different racial/social group (Wikipedia).

It is one thing for me as a whiteish woman to sit here wondering at a world that makes so many of its citizens feel they need to hide their origins. To me it is an abstract exercise. For others it is not. People (probably myself included) attach shame to attributes that come with birth (whether these be physical or sociological). Imagine the fear of discovery of that “terrible/uncivilised/evil/…” quality. Sometimes these fears are founded and sometimes (fortunately) they are not.

Unravelling the mysteries of the past brings about surprises and feelings of betrayal, loss and love with the characters of Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! Fannie Flagg gives us an opportunity to face our own prejudices in a manner that brings us into the world of gossip and suspense that media is (whether it be new or old). As with Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! is “utterly irresistible” (Time). You will miss something truly wonderful if you choose not to read this novel.

Flagg, Fannie: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1987)

My first meeting with Fannie Flagg (or Patricia Neal) was on the film-creen. I am trying to remember just how far back she and I go, and I believe I might have a tentative meeting period set at Grease the movie (with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta).

When I encountered her literary work I had become an adult. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe became a movie. I got to meet the two friends Idgie and Ruth whose experiences made me laugh and cry.

Cover photo: Arthur Rothstein

Another few years down the road, I picked up the novel and fell in love again. Fannie Flagg became one of my favorite authors just a few pages into the book. And now, just a few weeks ago my dad fell in love as well, and not just with Fried Green Tomatoes. Having read one of her novels, he just had to borrow the rest of the Fannie Flagg novels I have in my library.

Part of his love for her work lay in the time period described. These were tough times in the US and the rest of the world. They weren’t called the depression years for nothing. Alabama struggled with recognizing women and non-christians/whites as equals.

I would have wanted Idgie for a friend. Her love, fierceness and loyalty toward Ruth is priceless. Ruth needs someone like Idgie to be able to see beyond the prison that life made for her.

I love the humour in the novel. When the search for Frank Bennett is on and Sheriff Kilgore eats at the cafe is priceless. Another moment occurs right after when the Sheriff steps into the beauty parlor with his men and gets thrown out all embarrassed at having overstepped the gender boundaries.

The story of the storyteller, Cleo Threadgoode, and her listener, Evelyn Couch, is heart-warming and uplifting. I still carry the images of the changes in Evelyn from the movie in my head. Her change in the novel are just as immense.

Flagg managed the job of jumping between the storyteller and her memories. Her writing flows, boy does it flow. If you want to read a novel about life, then Fannie Flagg is the author to read.


The film Fried Green Tomatoes came out in 1991 and is based on the novel.

1992:

  • Oscars: Nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published
  • American Comedy Award: Nominated for Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture (Leading Role) and Funniest Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
  • Golden Globe: Nominated for Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
  • USC Scripter Award: Nominated
  • WGA Award (Screen): Nominated for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • GLAAD Media Award: Won Outstanding Film
  • Wise Owl Award: Won Television and Theatrical Film Fiction
  • USC Scripter Award: Won

1993:

  • BAFTA: Nominated for Best Actress and Best Actress in a Supporting Role
  • BMI Film Music Award: Won
  • Young Artist Award: Won Best Young Actress Under Ten in a Motion Picture

Ford, Jamie: The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (2009)

Wow. Sad in a happy way this novel. I’ve read the Norwegian version of it. There are a couple of translation hiccups but the translator has done an excellent job.

People are strange and we have a dark side, a side we seldom like seen in the light of day. The treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII illustrates this dark side of humanity. Letting ourselves be ruled by our fears is incredibly tempting. I cannot count the times I have allowed my own fears to rule my decisions.

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives an excellent account of what it must have been like to be a child during this time. Henry (Chinese-American) has to watch his father be completely ruled by his old hatreds and fears of the Japanese. Seeing him forget that people who just happen to be of Japanese heritage are also Americans was difficult for Henry. Falling in love with Keiko and having to stand up to his father while 12/13 years old must have been horrifyingly difficult for a young boy. Yet Henry did.

Such courage.

The beauty of this novel lies in Ford’s touching depiction of a difficult subject. While the novel is fiction the internment was not. Panama Hotel is there and people were placed in camps with razor wire around them and soldiers pointing at the prisoners with armed weapons. This is also who we are.

Pratchett, Terry: Dodger (2012)

Premerie of Terry Pratchett's Dodger - Adapted by Stephen Briggs
Studio Theatre Club presents “Dodger”

YES! I’ve read Dodger. Genius once again. Way to go Terry!

While reading Dodger, it is easy to see where Pratchett got his inspiration for the Discworld from. We get a behind-the-scenes look at the various fictional and real characters that have shown up in various forms in his novels.

I am certain there is a whole sleuth of People out there waiting to catch Pratchett and his Alzheimer out. Phooey.

Dodger from 22 to 26 January 2013

Terry attacks Dodger in the same way he has written most of his other books: With a great sense of humour and tons of warmth.

Pratchett’s portrayal of Victorian London leaves out nothing when it comes to poverty and the struggle for survival. Not everyone who came to London met with good fortune. In fact, most were probably on the wrong end of dark deeds done and would themselves have preferred to be on the other side of that act.

Stench, filth, disease and poverty were rampant in the less than lovely city of the 1800s. However, it does make for an excellent backdrop to Dodger’s dealings with fictional characters and characters from history books. Not all of them belong in the era portrayed, but Pratchett isn’t exactly known for writing historical novels. As the quote on his page states: “In the bathtub of history the truth is harder to hold than the soap, and much more difficult to find…”

Dodger is a delightful character (as well as being the title of the book). He ties the various stories together in his fight to keep the mysterious love of his life, Simplicity, out of the hands of her assailants. This tosher uses his place of work to aid in his heroic deeds. The sewers of London have never smelled better.


EXTRAS

Stage adaptation by Stephen Briggs