Lately I’ve been averaging finishing one book, one audiobook, and a movie per week, which seems to suit me fine as my thoughts are kept a flutter amid the three. Note: this is the last week before the Academy Awards airs next weekend, so if you’re trying to see something before then, the time is drawing near. Luckily I’ve seen a bulk of the nominees, which I hope to talk about sometime next week in my Oscar post. Meanwhile my husband and I are leaving for our “spring break” trip next Saturday, so there’s a lot to do before then. For now, I leave you with a few brief reviews of what I finished last week.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis, published by Coach House Books, 2015, 175 pgs
This short novel won the Giller Prize in 2015, Canada’s top literary award, and I’ve been meaning to get to it for a long while, especially since it includes dogs. But it’s not your typical dog story; oh no, this one seems to have quite a bit to say about the human condition, perhaps it’s a bit reminiscent in this way to George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm.” “Fifteen Dogs” is about what happens to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet clinic who are granted human intelligence and language by the gods.
The dogs of course escape the clinic and make a beeline for the beach and park, enjoying their newfound freedom and lives. But things aren’t exactly rosy amid their pack. Some of the dogs want to resist their new awareness and consciousness and go back to their old dog ways, while others want to embrace the change and form their own language. There’s a struggle over this, and it gets hairy! Some of the dogs become exiled, while others are attacked and killed; it’s truly a dog-eat-dog world for them. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to follow all of the cast, but soon the story focuses on a few of the dogs, notably Majnoun, an exiled black poodle who becomes close to a human couple who takes him in; Bengy the conniving Beagle who wanders from house to house; and Prince, a mutt who’s exiled from the pack for composing poetry.
It’s an interesting construct of a story, which unfolds with you waiting to see whether getting human consciousness has doomed these dogs. The interactions within it, too, are revealing in what they have to say about language, happiness, and love. It made me think about consciousness in new ways and I wondered this week what my own dog was really thinking. While I found the story interesting and cleverly done, I can’t say it was exactly a pleasure read. Its view of the dogs is quite grim and dark (except for a couple of them) and not nice and sweet like you normally think of these animals. The story had a little “Lord of the Flies” quality about it, but it made its point for me: dogs are much better off without our own baggage apart of them. But what does this story say about us?
The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore, published by Random House, 2016, 368 pages
This is quite a wild tale — it’s historical fiction that’s based on true events — which I listened to as an audiobook on long walks this past week. I had first heard about the novel from Judy over at the blog Keep the Wisdom who had a lot of great things to say about it. Though I wasn’t sure as I started it, if I would be kept truly interested in a story about the legal battle between Thomas Edison vs. George Westinghouse over the light bulb patent in the late 1880s. Come again? What did I care about following the main protagonist, a young lawyer (Paul Cravath) as he tried to win the patent case for his client Westinghouse? Wasn’t it just two bigwigs battling for prominence?
Sure enough I didn’t know anything about this and had a lot to learn. It didn’t take long before I was engulfed in Paul’s story and all of its particulars. There is so much more to it than I ever imagined — and of how high the stakes were — more to the rivalry of Edison and Westinghouse, more to the science and the times, more to what it was all about. Along the way, there’s interesting glimpses of inventors Alexander Graham Bell, financier J.P. Morgan, and the introduction of the electric chair, which is simply grisly in what happens as depicted in the book.
“The Last Days of Night” brings the history and real characters wonderfully to life. Who knew, about the maneuverings and alliances, the backstabbing and betrayals, and the turns and twists of fate that accompanied the powering of light. It’s like a consuming soap opera. Surely I did not know, nor did I know much about the inventor Nikola Tesla, who plays a quirky and major role in the story. He seems to hold the key for Paul in defeating Edison, or does he? There’s also Paul’s love interest, Agnes Huntington, an opera singer, who is also not all what she appears to be.
Will the case be won, or lost, or will all go bankrupt? You have to stay tuned to the end to find out. The novel has quite a bit of science in it (about alternating currents versus direct currents), yet it’s written for laypeople to understand, which helped me get by. The chapters are short and snappy, which keeps the pace moving. I thought the storytelling was superb, though it didn’t surprise me that an award-winning screenplay writer, Graham Moore, who won an Oscar for “The Imitation Game,” wrote this novel, as it seems written a bit like a screenplay. And sure enough, apparently Eddie Redmayne has signed on to star in the adapted movie of it in 2018. So we will see if “The Last Days of Night” translates well to the big screen. For now, go for either the book, or the audio; both are — shall we say — pretty illuminating. 🙂
The Crown — TV series on Netflix
We finally finished watching the first season of this series. Duh. It took me a while. I liked seeing how the reigns of power passed from King George to Queen Elizabeth, and the behind-the-scenes interactions within the royal family and with Winston Churchill are particularly interesting to watch.
The performances of Claire Foy as the Queen and John Lithgow as Churchill are excellent, though at times I thought the pace of the episodes was a bit glacial and a few times I fell asleep. I kid you not. “The Crown” did wonders for me catching up on a few zzzzs.
I know it’s terrible of me, but I woke up for the parts about Princess Margaret, who seemed to have more life about her than the rest of them put together. It was enraging that the Queen gave her word twice, and yet Margaret was foiled from marrying Peter time and again. Good grief, what torture. Let Margaret be!
Despite my small gripes, I look forward to Season 2 of this six season show, which apparently will cover from the Suez Crisis in 1956 through the retirement of the Queen’s third Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, in 1963. Claire Foy will be back to star as the Queen once again.
Hidden Figures — based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly
I’m glad I finally got to see this movie about a team of African American women mathematicians who worked for NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. Despite all the obstacles they faced, including racism and sexism, they persevered and contributed to helping NASA win the space race. It’s an uplifting and inspiring film based on true events and real people whose lives and jobs were not well known about before Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book came out about them.
After the movie, I picked up a copy of the book, which I’m interested to see how closely it correlates to the film. I particularly liked the photos at the end of the movie of the real women whom the three actresses portray. They seemed amazing in their talents and diligence and it brought it all home for me, as the photos similarly did at the end of the movie “Loving.” These were real women, who made a real difference in the 20th century. Kudos to their efforts, I’m glad they have been honored with their story in this way.
What about you — have you read these books, or seen these films and if so, what did you think?