The Double

      13 Comments on The Double

The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Published: 1846
Translated By: Jessie Coulson (from Russian in 1972)
Length: 144 pages

Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin is a government clerk, a faceless bureaucrat, who is struggling both in work and in his social life. After a particularly emotional encounter at a party, while walking home through a cold night’s fog, he finds himself face to face with his double, a man identical in look, background, and even name. At first, they becomes friends. Golyadkin even shares his home with him, but before soon his doppelgänger begins to take over his life. Golyadkin is awkward with people, but this double is charismatic and popular. Golyadkin isn’t getting anywhere in his career, but the double is working with his superiors and advancing within the organization. He’s everything Golyadkin has tried and failed to be.

This was my first Dostoyevsky novel, and I really had mixed feelings about it. I like the premise and how the story was structured, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style. The dialogue, in particular, was a bit painful to get through. Golyadkin’s incessant repeating of each character’s name while speaking to them was a bit too much for me. I don’t think it’s a translation problem, Jessie Coulson seemed to do a fine job on the rest, but rather a style choice made to show how the character was struggling to hang on. It did successfully convey that feeling, but it wasn’t fun to read. When characters weren’t speaking, I found myself enjoying the story much more.

I was surprised by how darkly funny this was at times. There were scenes that were awkward to the point of slapstick, a weirdly tragic slapstick that I thoroughly enjoyed. I especially loved how Golyadkin would struggle with getting the nerve up to do something, standing outside a party for the better part of three hours for example, and as soon as he’d decide to abandon the plan he’d immediately turn around and go through with it. It felt like the physical version of an internal monologue that many introverted people will know all too well.

At the end of the novel, Golyadkin is driven away to an asylum. This business with his doppelgänger was all in his head, and it ends with him being locked away. I was still thinking there really was a double at that point, mainly because we see the hallucination conversing with people in the office and at parties, and it’s written very much as if they’re two different people.

Looking back now, I do really like the idea of his double being a delusion. I’ve often heard people with social anxiety describe social situations as feeling like they’re an actor playing a part, so the idea of that stress manifesting itself like this makes a kind of sense. Golyadkin feels so out of character that it’s like watching a completely different version of himself.

There is a scene in which Golyadkin asks his co-worker if the new hire reminds him of anyone, and it takes a while but does eventually dawn on him that Golyadkin and his double look remarkable similar, and I don’t really understand how that works with the idea of Golyadkin going insane. I suppose you could write that whole conversation off as a hallucination, but that seems a bit easy. There are a couple of moments in the story, looking back, that don’t seem to really fit with the ending.

So, I’m still not sure about Dostoyevsky, but I will give him another go at some point. I have Notes from Underground as well, so that may be the next one. The Double was one of his first published novels, so maybe I’ll enjoy his later work more. Even though I was lukewarm on this one, I am interested in giving it a re-read at a later date. I think it would be really interesting to see each scene again, knowing how it ends.

His Bloody Project

      6 Comments on His Bloody Project

His Bloody ProjectHis Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Published: 2015
Narrated by: Antony Ferguson
Length: 10:22 (280 pages)

It’s 1869 and Roderick Macrae, a young man from the Scottish highland village of Culduie, is being held in jail after a gruesome murder. He’s a smart young man, shy and insightful, and he never denies committing the act. The question is what drove him to do it.

This is a novel composed of found footage, essentially. First we’re shown police statements taken from the residents of Culduie, some praising Roderick as a wonderful kid and others calling him a animal-abusing lunatic. The story ends with a transcript of the trial and various other documents, such as his medical assessment. The largest section of this book is comprised of Roderick’s written account of his life in the village and the events leading up to the murder. He’s a genius, held back from his scholarly potential by his depressed and aggressive father, and it’s a detailed and eloquent retelling.

This was very well-written and gripping from start to finish. I really enjoyed the story, and I loved the historical setting of 19th century Scotland, particularly on audio. We get a glimpse into the early days of using psychological assessment in law, as well as the now, thankfully, outdated use of physiognomy. I’ve seen the book criticized in how unrealistically intelligent and level-headed Roderick Macrae appeared to be, but I thought that added an even greater sense of eeriness to the story. His somewhat detached retelling of what happened is reminiscent of The Stranger, where his personal morality, however at odds with society’s, left him confident that his actions were justified. He’s the narrator of his story and has a very sincere tone, so the reader is left wondering how reliable that narration truly is, and whether anything was omitted or altered. The trial at the end manages to be suspenseful, even when knowing the outcome going in. It brilliantly sheds light on Roderick’s memoir in subtle and surprising ways, presenting certain revelations and leaving them for the reader to interpret.

This was on last year’s shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, which some people did not like at all. Not because it’s a bad book, but because they felt it fell outside of the literary fiction genre. This could be seen as crime fiction, and some people argued that the purpose of the Man Booker Prize is to expose contemporary literary fiction to a wider audience, and that it was a disservice to include a novel outside of that genre. I can see the reasoning, but I think a large part of the problem is that the genre of literary fiction is just so vague. I love reading it, but I think it needs a new name and a reworded definition.

Literary fiction is described as having ‘literary merit’, which is a term I just hate. How anyone can argue that the involvement of a detective or a castle or a spaceship can somehow wipe a story clean of any realistic emotional complexity or its ability to comment on the human condition is beyond me. I can understand not enjoying certain settings, but to write off those books in that way seems so snobbish and unimaginative to me. I personally don’t see a problem with including a vaguely crime-centric novel in the prize nominations, but as someone who reads across most genres, I guess I just don’t care as much about those divides as someone who limits themselves to just literary fiction.

Anyhoo, it made it to the shortlist. I can’t say whether it was well-deserved or not, having not read the other longlisted novels, but I found it to be an engrossing read. Graeme Macrae Burnet wrote another book a few years prior to this, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, and I’ll definitely pick up a copy of that when I come across it.

March in Review

      2 Comments on March in Review

Books Acquired:

Books Read:
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Room by Emma Donoghue
Company Town by Madeline Ashby

Not a single book bought or stolen or conjured up this month. My favourite used book sale is only about five weeks away now, so I’m saving myself for that. We have limited shelf space left here, and we usually both go a bit nuts at that sale.

It’s been a fairly busy (but also lazy) month, and as a result I’ve fallen quite behind on these posts. I haven’t written about a single novel that I read in March yet, but I do hope to start plowing through those soon. It has been quite a good reading month, however. Five books finished, and one finished just after the month ended, and I really enjoyed everything I read.

Here’s a random video of my dog, Paisley, and her version of what she considers ‘fetch’.

Paisley's still trying to figure out the whole fetch thing.

A post shared by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

Goodbye winter. Won't miss you one bit.

A post shared by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

The weather has finally taken a turn for the better. I’m hoping this keeps up. The better the weather, the more audiobooks I’ll hopefully get through.

Movies watched:
10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) – This was fantastic! Perfectly handled suspense and great acting. I remember watching Dan Trachtenberg, the director, a lot when he hosted The Totally Rad Show, so it was very cool to see him go from hosting that to directing a big film like this.

The World’s End (2013) – Despite loving Edgar Wright, I never got around to watching the third movie of the Cornetto trilogy. This wasn’t my favourite film of his, but it was a lot of fun. I loved the premise and how it played out, but some of the humour felt a bit strained.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – They did a great job with this. It’s probably been about twenty years since I watched the last one, and I’d forgotten how catchy the songs are. I also went into this somewhat blind, as I knew my girlfriend (who loved it) would be pulling me into the theatre for this no matter what, so I was happy to find such a stellar cast. They really made it feel like a seamless live-action Disney movie, rather than a bunch of actors surrounded by cartoons and CGI.

Night Train to Lisbon (2013) – Great locations and great actors, and I love that it’s a movie about a guy obsessed with a book, but it was a bit dull. The beginning setup was weak and underdeveloped, which made the main character’s actions throughout the movie seem a bit silly.

TV watched:
The Mind of a Chef: Season 4 (2015) – I absolutely love this series. It follows two chefs a season, one for the first half and another for the second, as they present and uncover recipes and food preparation techniques that explain how they approach food in their restaurant and throughout their life. This season had Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch. Both were great, but I really enjoyed Gabrielle Hamilton’s episodes. So much so that I looked her up to see if she’d written any books, as I just loved the way she described food, and I was happy to discover that she was the author of Blood, Bones, & Butter, a food memoir I’ve almost picked up multiple times in the past, so I’ll definitely be reading that soon.

Games played:
Torment: Tides of Numenera (2017) (PC) – This should almost count as another read for the month. A dialogue-heavy role-playing game, heavy to the point of almost having no combat so far, and it’s extremely well-written. I took a break and never returned, but I’d like to get back into it this month and finish it off.

Rocket League (2015) (PC) – They came out with a new update for this, so I’ve been playing again. Great fun.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

The Classics Club: Completed!

      11 Comments on The Classics Club: Completed!

Five years ago, I decided to join an online challenge called The Classics Club, the goal of which was to read fifty classic novels in a five-year period. For the purposes of this list, I defined a classic as any book written mid-century or earlier. I always enjoyed reading classics in school, but I went almost my entire twenties without reading anything older than a decade or two, outside of university assignments.

I didn’t really expect to finish this, or even still be blogging by this time, but here we are. I actually read the fiftieth book about half a year ago, but I decided to carry on to the five-year mark, ending with 56 novels read and reviewed. I’m so glad I took part in this. I can’t say I was very active in the community, but having that little goal in the distance really did spur me on to pick up more classics, and after five years of doing that it’s permanently changed my reading. It’s no longer a conscious decision to pick up a classic novel; they’re just naturally a part of my to-read queue now.

Here’s the final list:

  1. The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues by Plato (~399 B.C.)
  2. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1817)
  5. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (re-read) by Mary Shelley (1818)
  6. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin (1833)
  7. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)
  8. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  9. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (1876)
  10. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)
  11. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
  12. King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard(1885)
  13. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  14. She by H. Rider Haggard (1887)
  15. Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
  16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  17. A House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde (1891)
  18. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
  19. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895)
  20. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
  21. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  22. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (1898)
  23. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  24. In the Ravine and Other Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (1900)
  25. The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)
  26. The Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle (1913)
  27. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
  28. The Great Gatsby (re-read) by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  29. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  30. Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov (1932)
  31. The Hobbit (re-read) by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  32. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  33. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  34. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942)
  35. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
  36. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck (1945)
  37. Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949)
  38. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951)
  39. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (1952)
  40. The Kraken Wakes by John Wyndham (1953)
  41. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (1955)
  42. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  43. Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert A. Heinlein (1958)
  44. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  45. Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham (1960)
  46. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  47. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)
  48. Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (1961)
  49. Solaris by Stanisław Lem (1961)
  50. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
  51. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
  52. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
  53. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (1966)
  54. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)
  55. Chocky by John Wyndham (1968)
  56. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980)

I’m pretty happy with the list, despite completely dropping the ball on reading at least one Shakespeare a year. I’ve discovered so many new authors during this time and returned to a few old favourites that I’d forgotten. I loved The Chrysalids in high school, but I didn’t even realize John Wyndham had written anything else. I finally read some Mark Twain, Vladimir Nabokov, Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck, and now I’m excited to read the rest of their work. I hadn’t even heard of Jerome K. Jerome, and Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was one of my favourite novels I read during this.

I started with quite a different list and swapped out novels as I went. Here are the novels I wanted to read originally but didn’t get to:

  1. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (1623)
  2. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (1623)
  3. King John by William Shakespeare (1623)
  4. Othello by William Shakespeare (1623)
  5. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  6. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
  7. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
  8. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1888)
  9. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1920)
  10. Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft by H. P. Lovecraft (1921 – 1936)
  11. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)
  12. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (1933)
  13. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934)
  14. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (1939)
  15. The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler (1949)
  16. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
  17. Moonraker by Ian Flemming (1955)
  18. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut (1959)
  19. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway (1964)
  20. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine by Kurt Vonnegut (1965)

So now there’s the question of whether I should start a new list and start again. I do like making lists…

Ex Libris

      No Comments on Ex Libris

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common ReaderEx Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman
Published: 2000
Length: 162 pages

I love books about books, but this is probably the first time I’ve read one so purely about the love of reading. Ex Libris is a collection of essays about the reading, storing, and sharing of books, something I imagine many people would find incredibly dull, but I love it. If you’re someone who spends their spare time reading book blogs, you probably will too.

It begins with one of my favourite essays, Marrying Libraries, which recounts the compromises and sacrifices that go into the merging of two personal libraries. The bookshelves in the Loose Logic household are still currently segregated, but our reading doesn’t tend to cross-over into each other’s books very often, so it still works for us.

#CurrentlyReading Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Loving this so far.

A post shared by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

That essay was also an interesting look at the personal connections people can develop with certain editions, and the pain of having to choose which copy to keep when both people own the same book. I don’t think I have many specific editions that I’d have a hard time giving up, although if forced to make the decision, I might feel differently. There are a few signed copies, but almost none of those were signed in person, so that probably doesn’t matter. The main books I wouldn’t be able to give up are my tattered Lord of the Rings novels that my father used to read to me and my siblings. In fact, I already have two separate copies of the trilogy on the shelf, because those books from my childhood are starting to fall to pieces.

I loved hearing the bookish stories of Fadiman’s childhood, as so much of it reminded me of my own. She describes her childhood house as having thousands of books covering the walls, and how naked other people’s houses felt to her when they lacked bookshelves, and I remember feeling that as well. She had a father who wasn’t precious with his books, who would let her build forts out of them, and I can remember huddling under a propped up blanket, peeking out from behind walls of science-fiction hardcovers. My love of reading largely developed from being surrounded by books as a kid and watching my father sit down with one every single night. He never once urged me to read; it was just something I picked up through osmosis.

There must be writers whose parents owned no books, and who were taken under the wing of a neighbor or teacher or librarian, but I have never met one. My daughter is seven, and some of the other second-grade parents complain that their children don’t read for pleasure. When I visit their homes, the children’s rooms are crammed with expensive books, but the parent’s rooms are empty. Those children do not see their parents reading, as I did every day of my childhood. By contrast, when I walk into an apartment with books on the shelves, books on the bedside tables, books on the floor, and books on the toilet tank, then I know what I would see if I opened the door that says ‘PRIVATE–GROWNUPS KEEP OUT’: a child sprawled on the bed, reading.

This was such a joy to read, and I know I’ll be returning to it from time to time in the years to come.

Gourmet Rhapsody

      8 Comments on Gourmet Rhapsody

Gourmet RhapsodyGourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Published: 2000
Narrated by: Full cast
Translated By: Alison Anderson (from French in 2009)
Length: 04:03 (160 pages)

A renown Parisian food critic, the greatest alive, is on his deathbed. He’s lived a life of eating, where food mattered more than the people around him, and in his last hours he strives to find comfort in that passion by tracing his memories back to the truest taste of his life, in an attempt to experience it again before he’s gone.

This is presented as a series of vignettes, short scenes from his life. Half of the chapters are from his point of view as he scours his memories for that taste he can’t quite recall, a defining bite of food from his past. The other half, every other chapter, are each from a new character’s point of view as they describe their own memories and relationships with the man. These characters include, but are not limited to, his family, past loves, house staff, and the pet dog.

Through these memories, both his own and the others’, we quickly discover how awful a person he is, how neglectful he was as a father and a husband, and how much of a bully he was to nearly everyone around him. His life was about his work and the power that came with it, the power to crush or advance a restaurant with a single review. Most of the memories others have of him are quite negative, although not all, and it’s an interesting look at the complexity of life-long relationships and how one man will affect a variety of people throughout his life, in both insignificant and major ways, but it’s handled in a lighthearted and funny manner.

I personally really enjoy reading about nasty people. Maybe that reflects badly on me, but there’s something about the freedom of expression of being a complete douchenozzle that is just fun, heartbreaking, shocking, and often hilarious to read. I don’t like to be around assholes in real life, but they’re a blast on the page.

[…] for I only ever knew how to spoil my own children — spoil in the strictest sense of the term. I caused them to rot and decompose, those three children who emerged from my wife’s entrails, gifts I had negligently given to her in exchange for her decorative wifely abnegation – terrible gifts, when I think about it today, for what are children other than the monstrous excrescences of our own selves, pitiful substitutes for our unfulfilled desires? For the likes of me – people, in other words, who already have something which gives them pleasure in life – children are worthy of interest only when they finally leave home and become something other than one’s own daughters or sons. I do not love them. I have never loved them, and I feel no remorse on that account. If they expend all their energy hating me with all their strength, that is no concern of mine; the only paternity that I might lay claim to is that of my own oeuvre. And the buried flavor that I cannot find is beginning to make me doubt even that.

I picked this up mainly because I love reading about food, and I was not disappointed in that regard. Barbery writes vividly about the tastes, textures, and experiences of eating, and while it definitely borders on, and sometimes casually shuffles past, the line of self-indulgence with prose so purple it could have hung in Prince’s closet, it will almost certainly hit the spot if you’re in the right mood.

True sashimi is not so much bitten into as allowed to melt on the tongue. It calls for slow, supple chewing, not to bring about a change in the nature of the food but merely to allow one to savor its airy, satiny texture. Yes, it is like a fabric: sashimi is velvet dust, verging on silk, or a bit of both, and the extraordinary alchemy of its gossamer essence allows it to preserve a milky density unknown even by clouds.

As a whole, I found the narrative disjointed, and it took me nearly half the book to find the story’s rhythm. Once it clicked, I started to really enjoy myself, but it sounds like her later book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, is where her storytelling really comes together. I’m still deciding whether or not I’ll read that.

Sleeping Giants

      No Comments on Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1)Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Published: 2016
Narrated by: full cast
Series: Themis Files #1
Length: 08:28 (304 pages)

A young girl falls through the earth and lands cradled in a giant metallic hand. Seventeen years later, that woman is now a brilliant physicist leading a research team to discover the mystery behind the discovery. When they find another body part buried in another area of the world, there’s a new goal: to reconstruct.

I really enjoyed this. It’s written as a series of interviews, similar to World War Z, except the interviews take place as the story progresses rather than looking back afterwards. Some chapters are solo journal entries or radio recordings, but most are interviews conducted by a mysterious, unnamed man who oversees the entire project. I’ve always been a fan of the epistolary format, so this was perfect for me, and I thought Sylvain Neuvel really brought the characters to life in those chapters.

The success of a novel like this is to keep the reader guessing while not keeping everything from them, and the balance here was just right for me. I wanted to know more, but it still felt as though I was learning with the research team, and the pace felt very natural. It was smart to mix interviews with the occasional journal and recorded radio call, as it let Neuvel interject some action into the story. Instead of everything being explained just after the event, the reader still gets to be present during some of the more exciting moments.

In a way, this felt more like classic science fiction, where the central plot device is more of a background to the human stories it affects. John Wyndham did this a lot. The Day of the Triffids isn’t really about the Triffids or the meteor shower, but rather the effects those had on society. In The Kraken Wakes, there’s only one scene that actually features the invading aliens, and the rest of the book is how the world, specifically the two protagonists, deal with the long-term threat.

This was structured similarly. When giant robots are mentioned, I think for most people that conjures up images of epic battles that leave cities in rubble, and there’s not much of that action in this. This is much more a personal story of the team working on this project than it is a story about giant robots, but it feels like the sequel (out in April) could be quite different, as the story hinted at big things to come. It can be a bit disappointing when none of those big things come to fruition in the book you’re actually reading, as it makes this all feel a bit like a first act, but I actually usually enjoy the personal side of science fiction more than the action anyway, so it works for me.

I listened to this on audiobook, and I thought the narrators were great. It’s read with a full cast, which works really well with the interview and journal format. It’s a fun novel, and I’m interested to see what happens in the next book.

February in Review

      7 Comments on February in Review

Books Acquired:
Jesting Pilate by Aldous Huxley
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Books Read:
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

I hadn’t heard of Jesting Pilate before, but it’s a travelogue from Aldous Huxley that details his trip through multiple countries, from India to America (I believe). Classic travel writing can be a lot of fun (travel before planes or hotel reviews, shock and horror), so I’m looking forward to this. Acceptance I picked up to complete the trilogy, although I still haven’t read the second book yet, so it’s admittedly a bit premature.

And lastly, The Magic of Reality was left in our condo lobby (I’m assuming as a free offer to whomever wanted it), so I snatched it up. I’ve only read Dawkins’ The God Delusion, so this should be a nice introduction to his other work.

The most exciting thing that happened this month is that we bought a new vacuum cleaner. This may seem like no big thing to most people, but after living with terrible vacuums my entire adult life, this has been a revelation. Literally life-changing!

These are some chunky snowflakes.

A post shared by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

We had two separate snowfalls this month, which is really unusual for this area. The first one unfortunately prevented us from making a trip to see Run the Jewels in Vancouver, due to canceled flights, which was annoying, but I do enjoy it when it’s not ruining my plans. The image above is from yesterday. The snow was falling in giant chunks, but it was almost entirely gone by the evening. Very odd weather this year.

Paisley in the snow a few weeks ago.

A post shared by Rob McMillan (@mcmillan) on

Movies watched:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) – Maggie Smith was fantastic in this, but a lot of the subtlety of the book was lost.

Rogue One (2016) – We finally made it out to see this, two months after release. We were the only two people in the theatre, so it was our own private showing. Very fun and a great cast of characters.

Finding Vivian Maier (2014) – Really loved this. A documentary about a retired nanny who passed away and left behind thousands upon thousands of film negatives. It digs into her hidden life, her photography, and also considers (briefly) the moral ambiguities of doing this after her death.

TV watched:
Avec Eric (2015) – A food travel series hosted by Eric Ripert. Not mind-blowing, but still enjoyable.

Games played:
The Elder Scrolls Online (2014) (PC) – I had that itch for an MMO game for some reason. I can’t explain it. This has been really fun, even playing it solo. Good writing and excellent voice acting.

Oxenfree (2016) (PC) – I loved this. A group of kids stay overnight in an abandoned island town for a graduation party and uncover some strange happenings. A short game with a lot of impact.

For Honor (2017) (PS4) – This is a bit of a bug-ridden mess at the moment, but when it works the gameplay is very exciting.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

The Vintage Caper

      4 Comments on The Vintage Caper

The Vintage CaperThe Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle
Published: 2009
Series: Sam Levitt #1
Length: 223 pages

I love Peter Mayle’s Provence books, where he details his life after moving there from England. He apparently also has a series of detective novels that focus on food and wine, a combination of two things I enjoy quite a bit, so I thought I’d give them a try.

Mayle’s a strong writer, and that does come through here, but the story itself was a bit silly. This follows Sam Settler, a once-thief now working as a private detective, as he tries to track down millions of dollars of stolen wine. I imagine his alliterative name is a throwback to Sam Spade and the golden era of detective fiction, but that’s really where the comparisons stop.

My main problem with this novel is that there’s just no reason at all to care. I think, in detective fiction, readers want to see the crime solved for the following reasons:

  • Sympathy for the victim – The victim here, the wine collector, is portrayed as a complete douchbag. He’s an entertainment lawyer who treats everyone around him with contempt, who values impressing others above all else. You are meant to hate him from the first page of this novel.
  • Seeking justice for the crime – The crime itself is serious, the theft of something worth millions, but it isn’t a murder. If the thief is never caught, the wine will just have a new owner, potentially even one that will appreciate it more. I supposed if you felt really strongly about wine collecting, the idea of this happening would sting, but I doubt most people would lose sleep over it.
  • The detective’s life is threatened – In many detective or crime novels, the detective’s life may be at stake. They may need to solve the crime to prove themselves innocent or to bring down the criminals who may now be targeting them after getting involved. At the very least, it’s a crime from the past that went unsolved and has haunted them ever since. Sam is under no pressure in this. If he’s not investigating, he’s just having nice dinners or sightseeing.
  • The detective’s livelihood is threatened – Most detective or crime fiction protagonists need to solve these cases in order to continue paying rent, whether that’s keeping their job in the police force or just making money as a private consultant. They need to get paid. Sam Settler is independently wealthy from his previous life of crime, so he really doesn’t need to solve this. He travels to France with a first class plane ticket and eats caviar multiple times.

Mayle did try to get creative with the ending of this novel, but it instead just felt ridiculous. The rich man who stole the wine is a nice guy, which they determine by his reputation and having met him for five minutes, so instead of turning him in they decided to commit a crime themselves and re-steal the bottles of wine, some of which may or may not have been stolen.

One of Sam’s partners in the theft is a journalist, so the plan was to leave the wine somewhere and have the journalist find it through an anonymous tip, thus finding the stolen goods, returning them to their owner, taking the blame off the nice rich man, and providing a great story to publish.

Not only do they put themselves at risk to protect someone they met for five minutes, but they hide the wine on land the journalist’s family owns, and no one brings this up as being a bad idea. I’m assuming the sequel will take place in prison, because I don’t understand how the police wouldn’t make that connection.

It feels a bit weird reading someone’s fiction when you know them for their non-fiction. I imagine it feels a bit like watching a friend act on stage for the first time, making it harder to see the character rather than the actor, but it didn’t take too long to adjust. As I said, Mayle is a very good writer. I especially enjoyed any scene in which the characters were eating. This feels like food travel writing with a fictional plot thrown in, which I would absolutely love if it was done well.

If you’re the sort of person that complains about George R.R. Martin spending too much time describing food, I’d avoid this. Even though I was disappointed with the plot, I might give the next book a try. He might have just been finding his footing with this one, and I really want a detective series full of food and travel writing.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

      2 Comments on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Published: 1961
Narrated by: Miriam Margolyes
Length: 04:45 (150 pages)

I’ve been trying to read a bit more Scottish fiction in the last year or two, and this is a novel you’ll find on every Scottish list around the Internet. I had heard of Muriel Spark, but to be honest I didn’t know anything about her, not even that she was Scottish, so I picked this up as blind as one could be.

Miss Jean Brodie is an unorthodox teacher for a group of ten-year-old girls in an Edinburgh school in the 30’s. We follow the group as they progress through Junior School, under miss Brodie’s tutelage, and carry on to Senior School. There they are taught by other teachers but are still under Miss Brodie’s wing, meeting with her every week or so for tea or golf.

Miss Brodie would often spend class lecturing on her own life, her trips to Italy and her past love affair, asking the students to hold up their class books to fool anyone who might wander in uninvited. She wants to teach them about life and about themselves, at least her idea of what they should be, and there is a worry that they will not learn the subjects in the official curriculum, but the whole set of them seem to come out of the class as top students in the school. They even seem better adjusted as individuals, in a way, so the early years seem innocent enough. It isn’t until the students are older that we really see how potentially destructive Miss Brodie can be.

I really enjoyed Muriel Spark’s writing. This novel is hilarious at times while also being quite dark in places, and I was genuinely surprised at what was happening in the second half of this. What I found most interesting, though, was how she jumped around in time. That is not, by any stretch, an uncommon device in fiction, but she uses it in a very satisfying way. For each girl in the Brodie Set, she would often hint at what they would be ‘famous’ for in the years to come – Rose being famous for sex, Jenny famous for her beauty, Monica for her mathematics – and at one point, in the middle of a fairly innocuous moment, the story flashes forward twelve years or so to show the death of one of the more unfortunate girls in a scene that was both hilarious and horrific, and which was also cruelly foreshadowed in an event during the next school year. It’s easy to lose the reader hopping about in time like that, but she handled it flawlessly.

Miss Brodie is a character I won’t soon forget. At the beginning of the novel, she seems so in control. She is clever and articulate and charming, with a biting wit and a strong passion for what she does, but as the years pass we begin to see her in a less positive light. She’s manipulative and dangerous, a bit sad really. She could have had a much different life if the war hadn’t taken the love of her youth, but instead she’s been left broken. She tries to regain control by dedicating herself to her girls, keeping them in line with her their dictator.

It’s a strange thing to grow up and suddenly see the flaws of your idols and authority figures, these people who always had the answers and worldly knowledge. This novel captures that feeling brilliantly, as well as the aftermath of trying to relate to those early feelings of childhood reverence as an adult.

We watched the 1969 film adaptation with Maggie Smith last night. She was amazing in it, and it was fun to watch, but everything felt so exaggerated. One thing I really loved about Muriel Spark’s writing is that she didn’t explain every theme and every character intention. The movie, however, did not take that route. Also, Teddy Lloyd wasn’t as rape-y in the book, whereas his portrayal in the movie was just ridiculous. We enjoyed it overall, though.

Miriam Margolyes’s narration of the audiobook was a bit over-the-top, but was otherwise incredible entertaining. Muriel Spark, without a doubt, an author I’ll be returning to in the future.