Literary Excursions: The Sherlock Holmes Museum

“Under such circumstances I naturally gravitated to London, that great cesspool into which all the loungers and idlers of the Empire are irresistibly drained” – Dr. Watson, A Study in Scarlet

Much like my dear colleague Moz, I too recently upped sticks from the west of Ireland and moved to London Town. Many trips back and forth over the years cemented my love of the city and I felt the best thing to do on my first full weekend as a new inhabitant would be to combine fond childhood memories with beloved literary idols – which of course meant a trip to the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street.

outside-museum
Front of Museum

I first visited the museum over ten years ago having stumbled upon it by accident. Cast your mind back, dear reader, to a time before Robert Downey Jr’s and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayals, and the Holmes museum was not as big a draw as it proves to be this day. In fact I only happened to find it as they had an actor dressed as Watson loitering outside of Baker Street tube handing out business cards with the museum’s location to mostly ambivalent commuters. Not so the case in this day and age, as the intervening decade or so has made everything Homes related a very hot commodity indeed – as seen by the queue of people looking to gain access to the museum and gift shop on my visit last week.

The museum itself is a treasure trove for Holmes fans, both casual and ardent. The creaky narrow staircase guides you to the first floor where Holmes’s bedroom and living area have been lovingly imagined and recreated. Deerstalker hats are aplenty and visitors get the opportunity to take a closer look at Holmes’s belongings. There are some lovely additions here for Holmes fans – a personal favourite being Watson’s diary left open on a writing desk to reveal his handwritten notes from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

 

Some things to note for visitors however – the museum is not for the claustrophobic. It is incredibly narrow and the rooms are quite small so some manoeuvring is required to see everything without bumping into people. Also, if you have a fear of waxworks the third floor isn’t for you! Seminal characters from the short stories have been recreated and are housed here, but some are lifelike enough to cause momentary panic!

moriarty
Professor Moriarty – reports that I jumped in fright thinking he was a real person remain unconfirmed

If the £15 museum entry fee proves too steep for you however, it is worth a trip to see the gift shop alone. Everything any Holmes fan could possibly want is featured here at a variety of price points. I have made frequent trips just to the gift shop in the years since my first visit to the museum (however for my own sake, I’d rather not think of all I’ve spent there!)

When making your way back to the Baker Street tube, I recommend stopping by the statue of Sherlock that stands in front of the entrance. If you look behind the statue you’ll notice there’s a web link that allows you to receive a “phone call” from Homes himself as he tells you all about the statue and its sculptor John Doubleday. I found it utterly delightful.

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(Pinterest via Google Images)

Lastly, no Sherlock day out is complete without a quick stop to the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Street (short walk from Charing Cross tube). With its casual food and drink – and even an opportunity to try their Sherlock or Watson ales! – it was a perfect end to the day. Whether a die-hard fan or a casual observer, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most iconic literary figures ever created and as lovers of literature (which I imagine all of you are if you’re visiting this humble blog) you owe it to yourself to pay homage to this most charming of creations.

sherlock-holmes-pub

 

(All images Die’s own unless otherwise stated)

Roald Dahl – A Brief Word from a Devoted Fan

“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray! Go throw your TV set away! And in its place you can install a lovely bookcase on the wall”

I learned this morning that today is Roald Dahl day, something of which I was previously unaware (although to be honest, if we can have “Talk Like A Pirate” and “Ask A Stupid Question” day, this is the very least the man deserves)

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Image courtesy of @roald_dahl

It got me thinking about the profound impact the writing of Roald Dahl had on my childhood and the intense love I have for his works. This year saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s long awaited adaptation of Dahl’s beloved The BFG. While I found myself utterly charmed in the immediate aftermath of the film, my love for it has grown the more I think about it and it was further evidence of the timelessness of his writing.

As a child I remember feeling quite hard done by that Dahl died the month before I was born. Such was my love for the man that the idea that I never got to live during his lifetime was something I considered extremely unfair. However I made do with reading and re-reading his classics with an ardent fervour and he became such an important part of my childhood that trying to dissect what it is that makes his writing so appealing feels almost impossible.

For me, and I like to think for a lot of children it, it came down to the characters. These incredible, visceral characters that could inspire and thrill and made even the skinniest and most uninteresting child (cough me cough) feel capable of the extraordinary. Dahl never took children to be idiots, capable only of handling stories of fluffy kittens, princesses and happy endings. There are extremely dark elements to his stories but he put his faith in children (and adults alike) to understand that anyone can triumph over adversity (side note – I do however think he was a little wide of the mark with The Minpins because JESUS CHRIST ROALD THAT BOOK TERRIFIED ME HOLY GOD).

While the books are obviously the most glorious representation of his genius, his work has been adapted into some fantastic films over the years. Danny DeVito’s Matilda was such a crucial film for my childhood that I am still capable of quoting 85% of the film from memory (much to the disdain of those who have the misfortune to be watching it in my presence). Spielberg’s The BFG (mentioned above) is so effective at recreating the scratchy, iconic illustrations of Quentin Blake that it truly is like watching the book come to life. And the sad passing of Gene Wilder last week really brought home his incredible performance as Willy Wonka – a performance so good people have had the good sense never to try it again (“Wait Die, I think they did?” No. They didn’t. “You sure they…?” Don’t say it. “Johnny Depp?” Shut your mouth and never speak of this again.)

Dahl means so much to so many that I’m in the unique experience of having so much to say but not being able to find the words to do those feelings justice. I recommend reading Sophie Dahl’s beautiful post in The Guardian today about her grandfather (http://bit.ly/2cnRQP2) A lovely reminder that the man we desperately wanted to know was as wonderful as we could have expected.

So from this devoted fan to the undoubtedly many others that may stumble upon this post, I wish you a very Happy Dahl Day. I hope you found my babblement scrumdiddlyumptious and not too squiff-squiddled around.

 

Multiple Choice: A Score Sheet

Testing but never trying, Zambra has written the best exam of the year.


Title:
Multiple Choice
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Published by: Granta (UK Publisher)
Available: 13th Oct, ask in your local bookshop for details.
Result: A1 (5*)


wp-1473750662240.jpegEarlier this year, I read for my book club The Vegetarian by Han Kang, the winner of the International Man Booker this year. That book on its own is a whole other post which I hope to get around to soon, but it did make me think about the kinds of books I was reading and made me want to cast my net a bit further into the field of translated reads. Luckily, Portobello Books, the publisher of The Vegetarian were there to fill that need and recommend that I read a new book coming our in English for the first time (this side of the pond): Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra.

I have never read anything quite like this book if I’m honest, discounting of course those bizarre exam papers I still dream about in which none of the answers are right. The book begins with a simple Excluded Term type exam in which the reader must eliminate the word unconnected to the question word and the others. The prospect of using this in a novel isn’t one I would ordinarily admire as I’m a bit of a pedant for traditional structures. However, this initial section although it’s literally a multiple choice exam, manage to strike up an atmosphere just as effectively as 20 pages of dense paragraphs. Zambra’s technique kind of crept up on me and immersed me in the world of the novel unexpectedly.

The following sections of the exam-cum-novel ask the reader to complete Sentence Order, Sentence Completion, Sentence Elimination and Reading Comprehension tasks. There are no descriptions I can give here that won’t spoil the book, or in some way hamper your experience. Just think back to those dreams we mentioned earlier in which the exam paper morphs as you read it and begins telling a story.

Indeed, throughout the novel Zambra does manage to create  a rich and evocative story using the incredibly prescribed medium of a test as a commentary not only on the constraints of Chilean dictatorship but also on the constraints placed on us socially though family. Even the condensed characters, whom Zambra uses so effectively, do not suffer greatly from being flattened into the even more 2-D space of a multi-choice test. The two main characters manage to intertwine and blur the lines of good and bad choices as we begin to choose the answers most likely. Quite an achievement for a book weighing in at just 101 pages!

Truly I would regard this as one of my favourite reads so far this year, perhaps because I’ve read it just as I’m launching into quite an academic sphere in my personal life, but mostly because it’s an excellent translation of what could be called a genius use of form in literature. (See? I told you I was in academia again).

How would I rate Multiple Choice?
a) 1*
b) 3*
c) 5*

d) all of the above
e) none of the above

TL;DR: Answer the questions find the story. Turn in your answer sheet.

-Moz

Review: Bonfire of the Vanities

Greetings to you ardent Cracked Spine followers! My name is Die, a somewhat infrequent collaborator on this here blog who manages to shoehorn in her scattered musings when Moz isn’t hogging it with flowery reviews and carefully posed Instagrams of books and coffee. I suppose I should introduce myself properly with a “my favourite book” post a la my cohort however that’s a post for another time and I’m in one of those rare moods where I’ve finally finished a book that has excited me to such an extent I simply had to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the case may be) and share my enthusiasm with everyone who happens upon this post.

13988765_10207576536834383_65743728_nSimilarly to my partner-in-reading, I am not very good at keeping up with the newest reads and tend to stumble upon books years after everyone else has ceased raving about them. Almost two years ago my aunt, upon learning of our shared love of reading, recommended Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” to me. She had tried to encourage my uncle (her brother-in-law) to read it however, at over 700 pages, it was a good 500 too many for him and he politely declined. I however felt more up for the challenge and, a mere two years after it was initially recommended to me, I have finally turned the last page on this incredible novel.

Continue reading “Review: Bonfire of the Vanities”

Review: The God of Small Things

This book is not new to most readers, it has graced the shelves of many since winning the Booker in 1997, and has become a name one might often see on lists of books people just love.

A garden doesn’t grow unattended. It needs love, care, dedication, tenderness, and then in the winter, to be cut back, pushed to the edge of living by a zealous shears in the hands of the ardent gardener. In much the same way a story does not just grow on its own, it also needs the attention and pruning, the care and the ruthless razing. To prune only the right leaves and passages while allowing others to thrive takes skills. Roy proves to us that she is as adept an author as the pivotal character Baby Kochamma is a gardener in this stunning novel The God of Small Things.

The plot centres around Rahel, a prodigal daughter, returning home to the Indian town of Kerala where she finds her old house in a state of dishevelment. Slowly, as Rahel spreads herself throughout the overgrown garden and into the house, we peer into the past that has lead the house to become so dilapidated. We see flickers into a funeral of a drowned cousin, Sophie Mol. The plot unfolds from here, how Sophie Mol came to be the drowned cousin, how the once proud gardener Baby Aunt Kochamma came to be a broken couch potato wasting away watching Hulk Hogan glisten in leather and spandex on TV, and how Estha (Rahel’s non-identical, two-egg, twin brother) came to be mute.

Continue reading “Review: The God of Small Things”

A Means of Introduction: My Favourite Book

You can get the high-brow readers, who only drop names like Vonnegut or somesuch pretentious-in-isolation author, but who couldn’t tell you the name of a book released in the last 5 years. And that’s no fun, living so narrow a life.

Good evening, afternoon, morning, and goodnight to you, whoever you may be, reader. This is Moz of The Cracked Spine Blog and (coming soon) Podcast. Welcome to our first post on any medium, isn’t that exciting?

women-1421096_960_720By way of introductions, as the title suggests, let’s delve into discussion on our favourite books! It can often be quite telling when a person reveals their favourite novels. Be they guilty pleasure reads or tough literary fiction, you can learn a lot about a person by the books they tell you they love.

You can get the high-brow readers, who only drop names like Vonnegut or somesuch pretentious-in-isolation author, but who couldn’t tell you the name of a book released in the last 5 years. And that’s no fun, living so narrow a life. There’s also the other extreme of well-I-watched-the-film-that’s-the-same-thing “readers”.  What a shame to miss the depth of feeling on pages. I am, I hope, a happy medium between the two of these extremes being as ordinary as can be in most other areas, I think this is a fair assumption. Learn what you can from my favorites, if you find out which kind of reader I am let me know. It would make choosing the next book that little bit easier!

bridget-jonesThe first book I should reasonably mention is Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s DiaryI first
read this book after seeing (and loving) the film. From start to finish I laughed at every page at least once, much to the despair of those who lived with me, a night-time reader. There are those who would criticize this novel as enforcing all the stereotypes modern feminism has fought for, but I would politely disagree and regard it as a parody of everything women’s magazines spout. And, perhaps, I see a little of Bridget’s bumbling in myself. Ok, I see a lot of myself in Bridget’s antics and less than ideal choices. That said, I have never made it to cracking the bindings on any of the sequels just yet, so maybe I fit into the second of the two categories of readers mentioned above… just a bit.

Speaking of movies and books colliding and crossing over, long before Game of Thrones was the last word in TV shows to watch I had hoped Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy would be adapted to the silver screen. Starting with Assassin’s Apprentice, the trilogy tells the story of a royal bastard and his progression into court life in the fictional world of the Six Duchies. So taken with the characters and setting that my friends very quickly tired of hearing about these books. The sheer misery of some parts of the novels left many wondering how I loved these books enough to forego studying in order to finish chapters for the second and then third time. I can’t comment on that myself, but I’m sure you all have your own feelings towards the fantasy and misery-lit categories.

18143977Which brings me neatly, and conveniently, onto my final choice of favorite books: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, yet another somewhat poignant book which divided opinion in our book club. It would be too easy to sing this book’s praises as it gained such critical acclaim in 2013 when it was released, so I will say little other than that Doerr wrote an amazing plot incorporating the fantastical and real-life history of WWII. Given my predilection for fantasy this was right up my street although our own Die would disagree that the magical elements of the story were strictly necessary or interesting.

I could tell you I love other novels like Kafka’s works or read only Man Booker Winners, but then I’d be shoe-horning myself into that dreaded first category of readers under falsehoods. I’m an ordinary reader through and through, give me a little bit of what’s popular and a little bit of what’s on sale and I’m happy. So, reader(s; I’m not too optimistic with the first post), what do you think, are we similar in our tastes? Or totally at odds? Let us know what kind of reader you are in the comments!