Clarissa and Sherlock


I said I’d report monthly on my progress on Clarissa and the Holmes stories, but I don’t think I’ll do that, after all.   Who wants to read 12 reviews of Clarissa?   As surprisingly readable as I’ve found it, not a whole heckuva lot happens.   Clarissa is now keeping her correspondence with her best friend secret as is her correspondence with her non-lover Lovelace.  At least, she maintains she doesn’t love him, but simply writes to him in secret because her family has treated him so abominably.   I don’t think much of Clarissa.  Pretty sure that’s the feeblest excuse I’ve ever heard for going against your families wishes.   If you don’t like the guy, don’t write to him and don’t accept his letters.   It sends the wrong impression.   That is not to excuse what will be his presumed future horrible behavior, but she’s an idiot.   If even her own best friend thinks she’s in love with the guy, everyone else will think the same thing.  In other words, I find the set-up of this book pretty contrived.  And if you like a plot that moves along, don’t look here.


The Sherlock Holmes stories, which I’m reading in the order of the Challenge, but not at the pace of the Challenge.   I’ve finished week 12 – The Second Stain.  I’m enjoying them, but don’t really have much to say.  Holmes and Watson have been so much read, filmed, parodied, homaged, and generally absorbed into the culture that it’s difficult to think of anything worth saying.   They are very much like the Jeremy Brett shows from years ago.  In fact, I remembered a critical part of the solution of The Speckled Band from watching those years ago.  The only thing is Holmes and Watson should be younger than they’ve been portrayed, though they don’t read as young as they presumably are from the description early on.  They read like middle aged bachelors.  I was quite impressed with The Yellow Face.   Quite a modern attitude, Doyle displays.  Refreshing in a time where so many people are displaying the opposite.



Crazy Pavements

How’s that for a promise fulfilled?  I forced myself to read Crazy Pavements by Beverly Nichols, which I was half-through and isn’t long.   It just felt long.  It’s the story of a young handsome gossip columnist who meets the subject of one of his columns and falls head over heels.  Because he is so very good looking Lady Julia takes him up for the season and her creepy so-called friends do, too.  This is in the days of the Bright Young Things between the wars drinking and dancing their lives away. Brian is deliciously new and naive and causes a sensation for about a minute.  Sadly, the people are quite tiresome – none of them like each other, they require constant stimulation, and yet it would be far too gauche to enjoy anything.   Julia actually seems to fall in love a bit, but then that’s even more tedious.  There’s also an unnecessary racial epithet and a dubious portrait of Lord William’s servant.

It started off all right.  Brian is likeable and his approach to his job is amusing, but then the collection of poor little rich boys and girls is more sad than sparkling.  Brian’s love for Julia is difficult to sympathize with as it seems to be based entirely on looks.  While she’s apparently intelligent enough to see how shallow and worthless her supposed friends are, she’s not bright enough to escape and find something worthwhile.  Whether the beautiful young man is destroyed by this new life or not is the extent of the plot.  I will try reading another book or two from the same time and see if the same thing happens.  I always thought I would enjoy this sort of novel a great deal more than I did.


It fulfills the #1 slot of the Wild Goose Reading Challenge and I guess can be my first book in the Reading Round the World challenge —  England.  Not exactly branching out, half my reading, maybe more, is British, but it’s a country, in the world, so might as well count it.

Endless Night

So, somehow I’m reading things, but not finishing things.  Then a couple weeks ago a Marple was on that I hadn’t seen before: A Caribbean Mystery.   It wasn’t bad.  Stuck pretty close to the book from what I remembered.   So I looked it up and found two more episodes in that season – Greenshaw’s Folly, which I’d seen before and found so un-Christie that I read the stories to compare (huge liberties taken) and Endless Night which I hadn’t seen.  I looked at the description and thought ‘that’s not the plot of the book’ then realized I was remembering Pale Horse,  Also realized I couldn’t remember Endless Night because I hadn’t read it!  Somehow I skipped it.  Don’t ask me how.  I was using a checklist and all.   What can I say?  It’s a talent.  So I read Endless Night and watched Endless Night and the verdict is not bad, either one.

The book:  Mike Rogers, a devil-may-care young man moving from job to job and girl to girl as he likes.  Until one day in a country town he finds a lovely piece of property followed shortly by a lovely rich girl and soon he possesses them both.  Flies in the ointment: her family, a menacing gypsy and her best friend Greta who’s too controlling, but it’s nothing he can’t really handle.  It takes ages for an actual crime to be committed.  The book is two thirds over before anything happens.  But then it all unfolds pretty rapidly.  Overall, not a bad one.  Not quite the usual thing either which you might consider a plus or a minus.


The show:  The major change (ha, it’s a pun) is that Miss Marple replaces Major Philpot.  She’s in town visiting her friend Mrs. Philpot conveniently at all the critical moments during a story that takes place over a year.  Not that this bothered me much, nor the other changes which actually tighten the story a bit.  The architect is not a guy he met while being a chauffeur, but a young man Mike grew up with and brother to the young boy who died when he fell through the ice when they were kids.  This scene they melodramatically show four times, which was annoying.   There are other changes, but they would be spoilers so I can’t share.  The end, with Miss Marple in it, is kind of ridiculous.  No, not kind of, it’s totally ridiculous, but otherwise it’s not a bad adaptation.

I’ll make it a goal to finish something else soon.

Clarissa: Readathon Pt. 1

Clarissa – an enormous epistolary novel from the 18th century on many lists of classics, but which few have read.   I joined up this year long project to read Clarissa.   I’ve done this also with Sherlock Holmes and have started Proust.   At the end of the year, I’ll probably have read 4 books.    Since I’ve started it and gotten through the first six letters which was the January assignment, I figured I’d at least report on that.   The book is a livelier read than I expected, but Clarissa is not exactly a personality for the modern day.   According to her friend, she’s Miss Perfect, but she seems pretty far from perfect to me.   Standards were different then, naturally, but it seems all too easy to read this in two different ways – first, take it at face value: Clarissa Harlowe is a little saint with a horrible family and it’s no flaw in her that she reports quite thoroughly on all the flaws in her highly flawed family to her best friend in letters, turns down every suitor, despises her admittedly jerky brother, and will somehow get entangled with this bounder Lovelace despite her professed disdain and her family’s abhorring him.   This came as a surprise to me.   It should be easy not to get involved with someone your family and you both profess to hate.  If her family loved him, I could see that being a problem.   If she loved him, I could see that being a problem, but hell all she has to do is sic her hotheaded brother and uncles on him and be free.   But maybe she will and he kills them all.   I’m not very far yet.

So far, what’s happened.   She’s just filled her BFF in by letter on the sitch.  To wit: first her sister and now she is receiving the attention of one Lovelace, a hotheaded jerk her sister liked and then pretended not to when he didn’t really woo her.   He didn’t because he was into Clarissa.   Clarissa disdains him though occasionally writes to him because she’s too refined not to for some 18th century reason.   Her family first liking him takes against him and her brother and Lovelace duel.   The brother is wounded, but nobody dies so we have hundreds of pages to go.   Clarissa’s uncles are also trying to fight with Lovelace.   Lovelace wants to have his way with Clarissa and behaves quite well around her — for now.   She’s about to go visit her BFF and I’m sure trouble will arise.


The second way is, of course, to take everything she says with a grain of salt, but perhaps later on she won’t seem so The Lady Doth Protest Too Much.   I don’t see why she had to write him at all even if she did write very little.

Here’s hoping I can keep up with this, Sherlock, Proust, and actually read some other books as well.   I’m being so ambitious this year, aren’t I?

Studies in Scarlet and Pink

So for the Holmes in a Year readathon the next thing up was A Study in Scarlet.   I wasn’t going to read it, because I read it a couple years ago and didn’t think that much of it, but I reread my lousy review  (okay, I don’t think it’s lousy, I just re-reread it and said much the same as now) and that and the fact I couldn’t remember it after only two years I decided to read it again.   It’s pretty short.   A fastish read.   And it starts off great – we meet Holmes and Watson and they meet each other.   A body turns up in an abandoned house in Brixton and Holmes does his thing to the admiration of Watson.   LeStrade apparently looks like a weasel.  There are two Scotland Yard detectives who follow the wrong paths while Holmes follows the right one.   It’s quite enjoyable though any number of his deductions are dubious at best.  Study in Scarlet is the first Holmes book, though we’re reading them not as Doyle wrote them, but as Holmes presumably lived them.  And he springs to life fully created.   The Holmes we all know and love is right there from the opening pages.   My problem with this book is the long chapters in the second part that fill in the back story in tremendous and, to me, tedious detail.   It goes off a cliff when it switches abruptly to 50 years earlier in the American West.   A man and a young girl are saved from imminent doom in the desert by the Mormons heading out to found Salt Lake City.   The Mormons are willing to save them if the man and his adopted daughter follow their creed.   So they do, but they don’t really believe it and this leads to trouble down the line.  But the Mormons are not to be trifled with.  They are portrayed as pretty darned evil and the root cause of the murder 50 years later.

Having Scarlet fresh in my mind I rewatched a Study in Pink – the first Sherlock episode.


Very interesting to see what was kept and how it was used in the modern story.   There’s the obvious – an Army doctor wounded in Afghanistan and the world’s only consulting detective – but there are less obvious things.   People being poisoned, but how.   In the new one they are apparently suicides. There’s the letters r-a-c-h-e  written at the scene of the crime.    There are the pills — which I can’t talk about because it’s a spoiler for either one, but I like what was done with that idea in the new version even though in both versions it’s basically unbelievable.   (I was going to say ‘hard to swallow’ but I restrained myself.   Aren’t you lucky?)

So, overall, A Study in Scarlet is half entertaining, maybe two-thirds.   A Study in Pink is highly entertaining although actually ludicrous as well.   So, if you haven’t seen it, stop reading, but I need to note these things down for myself if for no one else.  [Spoiler] The point where the police are there and they figure out the phone is there too and no one pays any attention to the cabbie that just pulled up is moronic.   I realize everyone but Sherlock is supposed to be not all that bright, but they’re not complete idiots and yet… there they are. [/Spoiler]

So both have flaws, but both are worthwhile if you cut them some slack and particularly if taken together.

Hollow Crown: Richard II

Four years late I started watching The Hollow Crown, the complete (now) history plays of Shakespeare from Richard II to Richard III which may not sound like much unless you know there were a bunch of Henries and hundreds of years of war in between.   And all I can say is, well!  It certainly makes an impression, but that impression is all over the map.  Gorgeously shot with some of the UK’s best actors doing their best acting, a fey and whimsical Richard you won’t forget soon, but… oh. my. god. the cheese.   The director decided to not simply highlight parallels to Christ’s martyrdom (parallels I don’t think are there unless you actually believe in the divine right of the king to be as big an asshole as he likes), he lays it on with a bulldozer.  He’s barefoot and riding a horse that may as well be a donkey.  He’s holding his arms out in crucifixion style all the time.  Then finally he’s killed like St. Sebastian.  Richard II was no saint.  I don’t know what made him make so many bad decisions, but sanctitude was not it.   Truly awful, these choices, both Richard’s and the director’s.

This is a shame because many of the actors, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, almost everyone, is fantastic.  I’m also pissed off they changed the play.  Scenes are cut, lines given to other people.   I tend to think it completely unnecessary and am twice as glad I went and saw Henry VI parts 1-3 complete and in person.  They were great.  Lively, action filled and the troupe packed in as much humor as they could.  A thing almost completely absent from Richard II, except where I’m laughing at it.

Just like Jesus.  Not.

Now I have to read the play to see what I missed.  And I hope I haven’t put you off entirely.  It is worth watching as 1) you’ll never forget this Richard, 2) it sets up the whole next 200 years and 3) Stewart and Suchet are fantastic.  Plus all the rest have other directors, so, hopefully less cheese and maybe less mucking about with the script.

Sherlock for a Year

I’m not sure if knows I’m doing this.  I can’t comment on most Blogspot blogs.  It is a project to read all of Holmes over the course of 16 months.  I, of course, would rather do it in a year, but my ambitions generally outweigh my actual deeds so maybe I should stick to the schedule.   I have so far, having read The Gloria Scott and The Musgrave Ritual, the latter being more interesting because of being mentioned in the final episode of season 4 of Sherlock a show I have mixed feelings about.     I’m not reading A Study in Scarlet because I read it two years ago.  Although now having re-read my so-called review, maybe I should.   I didn’t even remember then why it was called A Study in Scarlet.   All I remember now is early Mormons, probably because I was so surprised a Holmes story should be about them at all.

The Gloria Scott is Holmes’ first case.  He’s still in college and actually has a friend.   It is the friend’s father who is the victim in the case and it’s a fine lesson in not panicking, but otherwise not, to me, a remarkable story.  The Musgrave Ritual, as I said, was interesting because it is mentioned more than once in The Final Problem, the 4th episode of Sherlock’s 4th season.   This is a show I love so much when it’s good.   Unfortunately, only the middle one was really good.   The first one was plagues with gratuitous torture and was, as someone put it, more James Bond than Sherlock Holmes.   Though the last one was like that too complete with villain’s underground lair.   No, Mr. Holmes, I expect you to die.   Playing cat and mouse with a sadist always bores me a bit.   And the deductions are pretty much incidental.    The whole plot is ridiculous really.   And it all has nothing to do with The Musgrave Ritual that I can see.


The Musgrave Ritual is the first case Holmes had as a professional.   He is called to a sprawling mansion of great antiquity to solve the disappearance of two of the servants under mysterious circumstances.   This one is much better.   Holmes actually deduces things and solves the mystery and reveals things even the owner hadn’t guessed.   It’s a good story, but there’s only so much I can say about a story.   I have this problem with short stories.   There’s not enough meat in most of ’em.   You start it and 20 minutes later your done.   It’s like an appetizer.   You’re still hungry and unsatisfied.

I’m thinking once a month is enough and maybe more than enough to report on my Holmes progress.  So the question is now whether to re-read Scarlet or move on to the Speckled Band.  Oh, and I suppose it wouldn’t make too much sense to only watch The Abominable Bride (which I’ve seen lumped in with season 4, but could be viewed as a stand-alone special) and The Lying Detective, but that’s what I’d recommend.

Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.