Reading report, Monday February 27, 2017
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I finished three books last week, a travelogue and two novels.
While the first two books could hardly be more different in terms of content, they do have two things in common: a poetic quality and a melancholy tone.
Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thubron. The author revisited his old haunts from two previous books and followed one of the many trade routes that are collectively referred to as the Silk Road, following it from Xian in China to Antakya in Turkey. He blends in snippets of history, and imagines conversations with a long-dead Silk Road trader who points out to him the futility of his quest - if he indeed has one, because it is never explicitly stated why he set out to trace this journey*.
Also, I got really sick and tired of his descriptions of women, who he always describes in terms of how attractive they are. After a while, one gets the feeling he was evaluating them for a beauty contest.
*After I wrote the first paragraph above I discovered I had a second copy of the book, an American paperback edition which, unlike the British edition I read, does contain explanations of Thubron's motives and reasons for making the journey. This doesn't change my opinion of the text, and I think that such an experienced and skilled author should have had the forethought to work his motives into the text of the book instead of giving them in an afterword clearly requested by the publisher. It would, for one thing, have made the journey seem more purposeful. Now, I am agonizing over which book to keep: the British edition with the lovely cover art, or the less visually interesting but more complete American edition. Maybe I'll just cull both of them - I don't see myself rereading this book and therefore there really is no need to keep it, unless it be as company for my other Thubron books.
A middle-aged spinster, left alone in the world, brings her childhood imaginary friend back into her life so successfully that the girl becomes visible and solid and starts to change and grow up. When a young man comes along and falls in love with the young woman she has become, his selfish feelings for her (he wants to "possess" her) become a threat to her very existence. It is written in simple, gentle, poetic language, and could be seen as a parable for motherhood, from birth to the bitter letting-go of one's child.
Here, any similarities with the other two books ends. This story is joyful and wondrous, lovely and exciting, a near-perfect read - not one of those books you wish would never end, but one of those one closes and returns to the shelf with a knowing smile, already looking forward to rereading it. This is one of those novels that anyone interested in fantasy literature should read, as Dunsany was one of the early masters of the genre and many of his themes and ideas have made their way into modern fantasy literature. I also recommend his short story collections, e.g. the The Gods of Pegāna, The Sword of Welleran and The Book of Wonder, to name but a few.
I woke up on Sunday morning to find an even layer of snow blanketing the city, some 51 cm (20 inches) deep, according to the Met office. Most of the roads out of the city were closed, and my hiking trip was therefore cancelled. This is not the deepest snow I have seen here in southern Iceland (and I have never seen snow as deep here as it gets in the north), but certainly the deepest even snow cover I remember. It's more usual for the wind to be blowing when it snows here, so we get drifts that can get quite deep, but last night it was clearly still enough to create a winter wonderland (click on any photo to see a larger version):
|It came up to my knees.|
|My car, with clean-up under way.|
|The view from my balcony.|
|View from my balcony.|
|I have never seen so much snow on the steps.|
|A neighbour's car.|
|Trees were turned into strange sculptures.|