The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L. C. Tyler – A Book Review.

I am getting behind in my book a week aim. I blame jigsaw puzzles. I have banned myself from starting another puzzle until this review is written so here is my book review for this week, only a few days later than planned.

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The Herring seller’s Apprentice is a novel by L. C. Tyler. It is considered to be in the genre of comic crime fiction and is the first in the Elsie and Ethelred Mysteries series. Contrary to my initial intention this book is similar in genre to last week’s The Fugitive Pidgeon by Donald Westlake which leads me to the possibly unfair pronouncement that it is not as good. The two leads in the book are Ethelred, a writer of crime fiction and Elsie his agent. The plot focuses on the apparent suicide of Ethelred’s ex-wife followed by Elsie’s desire to play sleuth and Ethelred’s apparent disinterest in the whole thing. The blurb on the back perhaps gave a little bit too much away, and the pronouncement on the front that it featured P. G. Wodehouse-like characters I consider overly complimentary having now read the book.

I’ve already mentioned that it wasn’t as good as last week’s read however it did have good points. The characters, though not what I would consider P. G. Wodehouse-like, are well formed and on the whole both Ethelred and Elsie are likeable. I found Elsie’s bullish but well-meaning manner not dissimilar to M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin but far less infuriating. In fact I think she is my favourite part of the book.

Throughout the book there are moments of competent comic writing but I found the book had a far more sinister feel to it than I would expect from something professing to be comic crime fiction. In fact the ending was anything but light and fun, the only explanation I could come up with is that it is the first of a series and the ending will be more satisfying when seen in context of the series.

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If I forget the fact I was expecting something lighter and more quick witted the book had a few things besides its main characters going for it. The book was intriguing; when I was two thirds of the way through I still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. The writer essentially tells you, with a certain bluntness, it’s not what you think, whilst never explaining in what way. Also by the end the book does provide you with all the information you need to figure out exactly what is going on, which is satisfying in a crime fiction novel.

Unfortunately the book seemed clumsy. The awkward bluntness that the reader is informed of some important information, and some very simplistic sides to some characters seems almost amateurish. The tone and style of writing though clearly an attempt to be satirical, light and caper-ish, as Wodehouse is, doesn’t really reach its mark and instead comes across as either indulgent or a poor impersonation.

I may be being a bit harsh, particularly as I was intrigued at times, but I think the ending disappointed me enough to taint any review I could give. I specifically avoid reading other people’s reviews or any information of the author before writing my review so that it will be more honest in my opinions. Having now looked up this series and seen this book and others of this series have been up for awards some of which they won I’m hopeful the series improves. Despite my slightly negative comments I’m not averse to the idea of checking out another in this series. Most of the issues I had with the book seemed more related to a lack of polish and perhaps inexperience in novel writing. Now that I am aware this is his first book I am inclined to believe later books would be better.

I will finish with a couple of quotes I did enjoy:

‘I offered to drop Elsie off in Hampstead, but that, as she pointed out left her car stranded in in Findon. Since it would be too late, once in Findon, for her to drive back again to London that night, we agreed that one or other of us would have to sleep on the sofa, while Elsie slept in my bed.’

‘We gave our condolences to Ethelred and Charlotte, on the grounds that there was nobody else to give them to and we didn’t want to take them home with us.’

Synaesthesia, Or The Crossing of Senses.

Most people would likely agree that we have 5 key senses. We see with our eyes, we hear with our ears, we smell with our nose, taste with our tongue and feel through touch. It seems straight forward enough, however for some of us, that’s not exactly what we experience. There is a neurological phenomenon called synaesthesia in which there is some confusion between senses. For example some people taste sounds, or see pain.

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Some of the better known types of synaesthesia are as follows:

Grapheme-colour synaesthesia – where individual letters, numbers or words induce the experience of a colour.

Chromesthesia – where sounds induce the experience of a colour

Spatial sequence synaesthesia – where numbers and sequences exist in space

Auditory-tactile synaesthesia – sounds induce a sensation associated with touch

Ordinal linguistic personification – sequences, such as numbers, week-day names, and alphabetical letters exist as personalities

Mirror-touch synesthesia – where observation of another person experiencing touch induces the same sensation in themselves

Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia – where sounds induce the sensation of taste

Spatio-temporal synaesthesia – where time is experienced as a spatial construct like a map of the year.

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There are other forms not mentioned, and in fact very little is known about most. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia is considered the most common, where as those forms related to taste and touch are considered rarer. What differentiates synaesthesia from mere association is the consistency and lack of thought that goes into it. You can ask someone years later what colour the letter H is and it will likely be exactly the same to them. It can’t be learnt, taught, or got rid of, it is simply the way some people brains are wired.

General consensus on synaesthesia is that it is not a handicap, and can in fact be very helpful specifically in memory related tasks. People with spatial sequence synaesthesia generally have great chronological memory. Grapheme-colour synaesthesia, or ordinal linguistic personification provide you with an extra idea you can latch on to remember things by. However in extreme cases people can struggle with sensory overload.

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There are some online tests you can do for some of the more common forms of synaesthesia but for greater reliability they need to be taken multiple times years apart. The one I have completed a few times is for grapheme-colour synaesthesia at synesthete.org. It gives you a full colour range to select the colour you experience for different letters and numbers, testing for consistency and speed; my results are below.

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I myself experience two main types of synaesthesia. One is grapheme-colour synaesthesia, generally considered the most common, and the other is ordinal linguistic personification which is less known about. I had no idea that this wasn’t how everybody experienced life until I was in my late teens. My mum and I could hold conversations about what colour certain letters or numbers were (it seems she has a mild form of synaesthesia also), or when naming cars or any object really rationalising the name by saying it was a red name or a blue name. My red and chrome MG BGT was called Archie for obvious reasons to my mind. It was only when I happened to catch a documentary about the phenomenon that I realised that it wasn’t the standard view of the world.

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When I say I experience things visually I mean for example that the number 4 is a pillar box red, I don’t associate it with red, I don’t mentally link it with red, it just is red, there is no thought that goes into it; it just is. Similarly other letters, numbers and words they have a different visual existence for me than their basic form.

The ordinal linguistic personification I experience most strongly with numbers. The number 6 is awful, like a black hole, controlling and evil, tainting and overpowering everything around it. The number 9 in contrast is like a slightly gloomy, geeky, teenage boy; tall and lanky with spots. The number 7 is my favourite, he’s like a loveable rogue, a con artist but only going after bad guys. They also have colours and this on the whole I find useful. In fact I memorised my bank card pin by colour and have a sense of whether a number is right or wrong by the colour I experience and whether it matches what I remember.

The only problems this has ever caused me is when certain object aren’t really the colour the I experience when thinking about them, or when letters and numbers are all together like post codes or number plates. For example the Olivine is a white word, however the mineral is green. The word Quartz is a black word however the mineral is white. When you’re studying geophysics and have to take exams on mineral properties this can get very confusing. I also get the number 4 and the letter A confused as they are exactly the same shade of red.

There is a novel I intend to read called A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass that follows the life of a 13 year old girl with synaesthesia. I believe it’s quite well known in America but harder to get hold of here in the UK.

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Daily Doodle – 8 Day update

Below are my drawings for the last 8 days. I started the week well then had real difficulty thinking up something to draw. I think I pulled it back towards the end. Most of these were very late night dawings; I think I need to try and get something on paper a little earlier in the day.

 

 

Christmas Crafts Revealed

Before Christmas I mentioned I was working on some Christmas crafts, and after flicking through a few old posts and photos I realised I haven’t shared the results of my efforts, so here they are. These were all given as gifts, one was commissioned by a friend; the others I made for my siblings.

 

The Fugitive Pigeon by Donald E. Westlake – A Book Review

I have a fascination for fairly old books that smell like books, but more importantly with quirky titles. I will buy a book purely for fulfilling these criteria even if it isn’t a book I would normally enjoy. Perhaps the rational is that if the title manages to grab my attention or amuse me then surely the book will also. This collection started with a book titled ‘Eating People is Wrong’ by Malcolm Bradbury first published in 1959; despite my love for this book I haven’t actually read it in its entirety. I tried once a few years back and it seemed over my head and not wanting to lose my love of the book I stopped reading intending to read it another time; I’m thinking soon.

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A newer addition to my small collection is ‘The Fugitive Pigeon; by Donald E. Westlake first published in 1965. This was a charity shop find, the book itself is in great condition, hardback and still in its original sleeve; it smells incredible too. It has a wonderful quirky cover and somewhere in the back of my mind I was sure Westlake was an author I ought to remember.  I bought it a while back and have only just got around to reading it and I’m so glad I did.

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Westlake it turns out has over a hundred pieces of written work to his name, fiction, non-fiction, and screen plays. There are several movies based on his work as well, films including Payback and Parker. I knew I knew that name.

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The novel is firmly in the comic crime fiction genre, it’s light, clever and fast moving. There’s some great imagery without long winded descriptions. Some people may disagree but I would say Westlake’s description style has a lot in common with Wodehouse, the humorously insulting manner seems to echo Wodehouse, perhaps not as refined or clever, but still entertaining. For example the following delightful descriptions:

‘Uncle Al is a big hefty guy, about two-thirds bone and muscle, about one-third spaghetti.’

‘Up till then I’d assumed that “Gross” was the man’s name, but it was his description. He looked like something that had finally come up out of its cave because it had eaten the last of the phosphorescent little fish in the cold pool at the bottom of the cavern. He looked like something that had better keep moving because if it stood still someone would drag it out back and bury it. He looked like a big white sponge with various diseases at work on the inside…’

It’s the sort of book you could read all at once. The novel is written in first person as the lovable but unambitious and inept protagonist Charlie Poole tries to clear his name with a crime syndicate he inadvertently gets involved with. The characters are really likable and human with a hint of caricature about them. The plot romps along at lightning speed, there’s never a dull moment and there are plenty of light-hearted insights from Charlie.

‘Making a getaway by subway is not good for the nerves. The train just barely gets rolling pretty good when it slows down again, and stops, and the doors slide open in a very ominous way with nobody near them. Two killers do not get on board, and the doors close, and the train starts forward, only to go through the whole thing again two or three minutes later.’

The only negative I found with this book was the over use of place name’s throughout New York. Perhaps it’s because they are meaningless to me as one who has never been to New York, and quite probably it would add a whole new level to the book if I understood the references. One thing I found particularly impressive about this book, is how well it has aged (not just physically). It doesn’t seem at all dated, apart from a distinct lack of using technology everything else seems perfectly plausible, there’s no reference to events of the time that anchor it to a date, it could easily be set much closer to current times and that is quite an impressive feat for a 50 year old piece of crime fiction.

This is yet another success for my weekly book goal. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and am going to look out for more of Westlake’s work which is really the highest compliment that can be payed to any author.

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Daily Doodle – 8 Day Update

The last 8 days of doodles. I’ve been experimenting with some new pens which have been great for bright colours. In fact this whole batch are more bold and confident, odd how that happens, who knows how next week’s will turn out.

 

Jigsaw Puzzles

I have a cold, I have had it for a few days now, consequently I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself and hibernating to a degree. During my cosy house week I have completed a few jigsaw puzzles, one was a family present off some friends, another an old one out of the cupboard that I’d not attempted before. I’m never really interested in completing a puzzle I have done before for some reason.

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I often forget how much I enjoy jigsaw puzzles; creating order out of chaos is very soothing. I go through phases where there is always one on the go, then maybe a year or so in which I forget they exist. My sister and I started the family jigsaw together, this has the potential to be less soothing as our approaches can be quite different depending on the puzzle, fortunately we both appreciate a clear space, no random pieces abandoned in the middle of the puzzle and so we got along merrily.

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In my experience there are two main jigsaw solving approaches; depending on the type of puzzle one or the other is more effective. Both naturally start with completing the edges, anyone who doesn’t think this is worthwhile is a bit daft to my way of thinking. Continue reading

Daily Doodle Update – 11 Days Into the New Year

Below are my doodles so far for this year. Some are bit half hearted but overall I like them. I intend to go back and finish some of these off another time, we’ll see.

Yes Man by Danny Wallace – A Book Review

One Little Word Can Change Your Life!

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I enjoyed last week’s book Back Story by David Mitchell (review here) so much that I wanted to stay in a similar genre for my evening walks. I chose Yes Man by Danny Wallace, I’d had the audiobook for a while but hadn’t listened to it, then the other day I came across the book in a charity shop and had to buy it. Danny Wallace is a comedian/presenter/author that sometimes crops up on TV; less well known than David Mitchell, but still I was aware of him. And now I could switch back and forth between reading and listening as convenience dictated. What happened in practice was I started the book, was enjoying it so I switched to the audiobook for my walks and enjoyed it even more. It wasn’t until I began to write this review I realised the audiobook was an abridged version and that I’d missed all sorts in the actual book. I will have to read the whole thing another time. So this is in essence a review of the audiobook abridged version of Yes Man (audible link here).

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The book is an elaboration of his diary over the better part of a year as he undertakes the role of Yes Man. After a chance encounter on a bus when someone inadvertently tells him to say yes more, Danny Wallace embarks on an adventure to not only say yes more, but to say yes to everything. This is hugely entertaining, the strange encounters, odd experiences and unexpected successes are both ridiculous and believable.

This book has something for everyone, there’s a challenge, a nemesis, UFO groups, Maitreya, money, a love story and an unexpected nursing degree to name a few highlights. Continue reading

Back Story by David Mitchell – A Book Review

Not that David Mitchell, this is the British comedian, star of Would I Lie to You, Peep show and That Mitchell and Webb Sound amongst others. This is his biography. I bought this on a whim when I was looking for an audiobook to accompany me on my evening walks, coincidently the book is structured around David Mitchell going on a walk. I am a David Mitchell fan, his awkward and repressed persona coupled with his extremely quick wit, sarcastic, cynical rants and wonderfully expressive turns of phrase never fail to either amuse or impress me. That being said I am not usually one for biographies, however as he was narrating this version  I thought I’d give it a go. (Audibe link here)

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I loved it, I would say it’s my favourite audiobook ever, but I realise I’ve said that before and would likely say it again. Often when I’m completely enjoying a book I can’t imagine enjoying another book as much, I can’t compare them, I am in the world created by the author and no others exist. I think this is the greatest compliment you can give a book, and it applies here. I loved it so much I have now bought it in book format, feeling slightly low at the prospect of trying to fill my evening walk with some other audiobook.

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This biography was touching, clever, amusing and so very David Mitchell. Continue reading