Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Wordy Wonders

At the end of last week, and into the weekend, I felt pretty rough. Tired, and washed-out, and hardly fit to string a sentence together. It felt, more or less, like I’d been squashed flat. Not a lot of fun.

However, it did have one upside, and that was this: I finally got time to watch a few old episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, which (I hate to admit) I haven’t been following right from the start. I’d only seen series three up to last Saturday, and one of my Christmas presents to myself was the box set, which includes every episode so far. So, over Saturday and Sunday I settled in with series 1. And it was good.

Now, there’s plenty to like about Sherlock. The cracking dialogue, and the excellent characters, and the clever plots (and, if you’ve got any familiarity with Arthur Conan Doyle’s original novels, the little references and nods, here and there, to the stories as they were originally written), and Mrs Hudson (who is just the best), and sweet, awkward Molly, and the deliciously unhinged Moriarty. Not to mention, of course, the main attraction.

Photo Credit: ashleigh louise. via Compfight cc  Every time you clap your hands, Sherlock and John get a new case!

Photo Credit: ashleigh louise. via Compfight cc
Every time you clap your hands, Sherlock and John get a new case!

Whoever cast Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson needs a knighthood (or damehood, or whatever). Their dynamic is perfect, and their acting superb, and just… yeah. I’m fangirling now, so I’d better rein it in.

Anyway. All of this is leading to a point, I promise.

During one of the episodes, Sherlock (not a man who chooses his words with anything less than precise, elegant care) drops ‘meretricious’ into a conversation about a recently discovered corpse. In surprise, Inspector Lestrade replies ‘and a happy New Year’, looking a bit confused. I laughed at that, not just because of the funny dialogue, but because of the sheer wonder of the word ‘meretricious.’ I repeated it out loud to myself a few times (which probably means it was lucky I was alone), enjoying the sound, and spent a few moments being glad that I’m a person to whom words are important.

Meretricious. Try it. You might find you enjoy saying it as much as I do. You may even find cause to use it in a sentence today, despite the fact that ‘tawdry’ or ‘tacky’ would do very well in its place. They just don’t sound the same.

You can’t help but admire a character who uses a word like ‘meretricious’ in a sentence without even thinking about it, can you? As a kid, I was often told I’d swallowed a dictionary, because a word with fourteen syllables would always be my first choice (despite the fact that a word with three syllables, which meant just the same thing, would have done equally well); I also had the classic reader’s problem of mispronouncing things, because I’d only ever seen them written down. I really admire a character who is written in a way which appeals to my vocabulary-loving heart, and it got me thinking about some of my other favourite words.

Pusillanimous. ‘Timid’ or ‘weak’.

Pulchritude. Meaning, slightly ironically I think, ‘beauty.’

Prestidigitation. Sleight of hand.

Susurrus (I share the love of this word with Tiffany Aching, which makes me proud). ‘A rustling, rippling, whispering noise.’ Or, if you’re Tiffany, ‘an immediate incursion into your world by another, and time to get out the frying pan.’

Mellifluous. A rich, honeyed, pleasingly musical sound.

Zaftig. A German borrowing, meaning ‘curvaceous and attractive.’ This word was used of me, once, before I knew what it meant, meaning I had to make a quick judgement call as to whether it was an insult or not. (It wasn’t). Sometimes I wonder whether my ignorance had a role to play in the way my life has subsequently developed. Oh, well. No harm.

Palimpsest. A manuscript which bears the faint traces of other, earlier words, either words which have been erased and written over or words which were impressed or embossed upon the parchment through a heavy-handed scribe leaning on another sheet.

Propinquity. A tendency, inclination, or attraction, or the nearness of things to one another.

There are many more, but here I must draw a line for fear of instilling boredom. I’m struck, while compiling this list, how many words I love the sound of begin with the letter ‘p’ and/or end in some version of an ‘s’. Strange, and inexplicable, and rather interesting – at least, to me. Words in all their loveliness please my nerdy little heart. I’ve often meant to compile a proper list of my favourites, and keep adding to it as I learn more – but that’s a job of work for another day, I feel.

Do you have a favourite word, or a Top 10? Frankly, I’ll be less inclined to like you if you don’t. Just saying.

 

 

 

Book Review Saturday – ‘Rooftoppers’

It might not come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that I, S.J. O’Hart, am rather a fan of the actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

I am using this image because it's actually rather apt, and not at all because it's of said actor. Holding a baby.  Image: celebitchy.com

I am using this image because it’s actually quite apt in relation to the plot of the novel under discussion, and not at all because it’s of said actor. Holding a baby. *wibble*
Image: celebitchy.com

Anyone who has seen this erudite gentleman’s work will know three things: he is rather tall; he has a mellifluous voice, and he is – or, at least, he gives the impression of being – quite intelligent. For all these reasons, he is, and shall remain, my mental image of the character of Charles Maxim, one of the central players in Katherine Rundell’s sophomore novel, ‘Rooftoppers.’

Image: goodreads.com

Image: goodreads.com

The aforementioned Maxim is a 6’3″ tall 36-year-old bachelor and scholar described as having “a voice that sounds like moonlight, if moonlight could talk.” He is a passenger on the ‘Queen Mary’, a liner which – as the novel opens – has just finished the process of sinking. He rescues a tiny baby from the water – she is floating in a cello case, which becomes a central image in the novel – and immediately decides to love and care for her as though she were his own. He names her Sophie, because it seems apt, and he holds on to her despite the disapproval of the National Childcare Agency and their continual attempts to remove her from him. Under his gentle, eccentric and utterly loving care, Sophie grows into a tall, confident and intelligent twelve-year-old who only has one thing lacking in her life – her mother, of whom she has distinct and inexplicable memories despite the fact that she was barely a year old when she last laid eyes on her.

Eventually, the National Childcare Agency issues an ultimatum – surrender Sophie to them, or face punishment. So, naturally, Charles and Sophie decide to skip the country. From a clue accidentally discovered, they decide to go to Paris as – they hope – Sophie’s mother may be there. Charles, like most other adults, believes that Sophie’s mother went down with the ‘Queen Mary’, and that Sophie couldn’t possibly remember her, but, as he has taught Sophie throughout her life, ‘never ignore a possible.’ So, he resolves to overcome his own doubt and help Sophie in her search.

They approach the Parisian authorities and get nowhere, but they do manage – through tracing the cello which they know Sophie’s mother owned – to find out her name. Using this information, they attempt to have her traced as a missing person, but they run up against legal and jurisdictional issues all over the place. Eventually, for fear of being sent back to England, Charles asks Sophie to stay in their hotel room, hidden, while he carries on the search – but she meets a young boy called Matteo, who is a Rooftopper, or a homeless child who lives ‘in the sky.’

And thus, Sophie’s career as a rooftopper begins.

Image: theyoungfolks.com

Image: theyoungfolks.com

Now, there was so much about this book that I loved. I can’t say enough about how much I adored Sophie and Charles’ relationship, which was – very clearly – a parent/child relationship, but also one between equals, wherein Sophie’s intelligence, agency and independence were respected. I adored Katherine Rundell’s use of language, which shines with beautiful, polished, exquisitely realised turns of phrase. I loved the use of music, both that played on the cello and that sung by human voices, and I really enjoyed the world she creates on the rooftops of Paris.

But. But. There were things that spoiled the novel for me, too.

Firstly, there’s so little logic in Sophie’s search. She works out, for instance, where the records for the ‘Queen Mary’ are probably being held, but – instead of going straight there, with Matteo’s help – she spends ages learning the life of a rooftopper, eating pigeon and walking on tightropes and so on. In some ways this is amazing; in others, it’s annoying. Sophie is incredibly intelligent, so the fact that it doesn’t occur to her to search for the ship’s records for so long is irritating. Then, there’s the fact that the end happens so suddenly, after such a long and lyrical build-up, and it’s so incredibly unrealistic. Now, I know the whole book is rather like a dream or a fairytale, filled with whimsy and delicate beauty, and I accept all that, but the first half (perhaps even three-quarters) of the book is so beautifully paced (despite Sophie’s slowness in putting the pieces of her puzzle together) that the end feels like a slap across the face.

I just – I really didn’t like the end. Some people think it fits with the fast pace of the novel overall, and feel that it fits with the musical theme of the plot, but I was left frustrated by it.

But, the book is filled with life lessons like ‘Never underestimate children,’ and ‘Do not underestimate girls,’ and ‘Books crowbar the world open for you,’ and ‘there are people who would come out in a rash at the sight of a broken rule.’ It is filled – stuffed – with some of the most gorgeous language I’ve ever read, including some of the most startlingly original metaphors I’ve ever seen, which I delighted in. I loved all the characters, though I really thought some of them were underdeveloped. I’d have read a book about Matteo and his friends, alone – which is, of course, a good thing.

In short, it’s a definite recommendation, but I’ll warn you now that you’ll fall in love with Charles Maxim. It’s impossible not to. In fact, you’ll fall a little in love with all the characters in this book, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Artist: Terry Fan Image: society6.com

Artist: Terry Fan
Image: society6.com

Katherine Rundell is a great talent. ‘Rooftoppers’ is not a perfect book, but it’s not far off.

Some Eyeball-Tickling Links

Today’s post, dear ones, is a wail of desperation from the uttermost reaches of my very soul.

Image: flashpacker.com

Image: flashpacker.com

Writing today’s post has been a challenge.

First, I tried to draft a piece about how I will, in all likelihood, miss a submission deadline today because my brain feels like a pumpkin at Halloween, but I failed to complete said post. In short: I have written five pseudo-stories for this particular competition, and none of them will do. The deadline is tomorrow. Draw your own conclusions.

Next, I tried to draft a few hundred words about how I’m feeling re. waiting to hear from some of the places to which I have submitted work, but I also failed to complete this post. In short: I have no fingernails and very little hair left and I’ve started drinking caffeinated coffee once more, having been on a healthy ‘decaf’ kick for some weeks (but then, this was sort of inevitable.) Again, with the conclusions thing.

Finally, I considered, briefly, writing about the blasted landscape of my thoughts but soon gave that up as a bad idea.

So, instead, I have done something dreadful. I have stolen an idea – brazenly, and shamelessly – which I have seen several other bloggers use, and one which I’ve always thought looked like far too much work to be bothering with. I’ve rounded up some links to the stuff I’ve read recently which I found interesting, hilarious, touching, scary, airpunchingly brilliant, or otherwise emotionally affecting.

Turns out, it’s not that much work at all, and it was rather fun.

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same. Image: franceinlondon.com

Not as much fun as this, admittedly, but pretty good all the same.
Image: franceinlondon.com

First, the emotional stuff.

Foz Meadows is a writer and blogger who I turn to whenever I need a shot of intellectual brilliance, clear critical thinking, and perfectly constructed argument. This utterly incredible, elegant yet rapier-sharp blog post (a response to an infuriating sexist who made the most inappropriate remarks I’ve ever heard to a bunch of schoolgirls) made me want to weep with pride. It’s long, but really worth a read.

In fact, while you’re there, stick around and have a pootle through Foz’s past posts. There’s always something worth reading – and most of her posts are masterclasses in how to write, too.

FGM (or Female Genital Mutilation) is something which exercises my indignation, and I try to follow developments relating to it in the media. This article from the UK Guardian made me very pleased when I read it the other day, and very glad that there are young women like Fahma Mohamed willing to stand up and say ‘FGM is wrong, and needs to stop.’ I am not a fan of Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Education (for so many reasons), but I am glad he’s listening on this issue.

I was sort of torn about the next link, because while I fully and wholeheartedly support the idea that adults should support children’s reading at all times and in all ways, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to shape what they read. I know the tone of the article is light-hearted (and I think the book choices are excellent, for the most part), and I realise that a child encouraged in such a way would grow up to be a very interesting, well-read and broad-minded person indeed, but still… shouldn’t they read what they want? Plus, I’m not sure I agree with keeping children away from Jane Austen – once they’ve reached the appropriate age, of course.

Anyway. I’m still not sure what I think about this article, but it was interesting, and I’m still thinking about it, so it’s included. What do you think?

I love the blog of Maureen Eichner. She is a wonderful book blogger and reviewer, and a huge advocate of children’s books and the importance of good writing for young readers. I turn to her words at least once a week for guidance and inspiration. One of her recent blog posts about fairy tales, and their retellings, has stuck in my mind because I love fairy tales (as does any right-thinking person), and it’s great to have a resource like this list to hand. So, thanks to her for compiling it.

It can’t have escaped your attention that, in recent days, an article was written exhorting J.K. Rowling to stop writing because – and I quote – her books have ‘sucked the oxygen from the entire publishing and reading atmosphere,’ thereby making life impossible for any other emerging or ambitious authors. I don’t want to link to the article itself because, quite frankly, it’s bonkers – and I can’t understand how anyone who works as an author could write such a piece – but I thought this open letter to J. K. Rowling was interesting, so I’ve included it instead. As far as I’m concerned, Ms Rowling can keep writing until the sun falls out of the sky. End of story.

All Hail! Image: telegraph.co.uk

All Hail!
Image: telegraph.co.uk

And now for a bit of fun.

‘Frasier’ was an amazing TV show, as I hope you’ll agree. Recently, I’ve caught a few old episodes of ‘Cheers’, and they’ve aged extremely well. I was a bit too young to appreciate ‘Cheers’ first time ’round, but its spinoff ‘Frasier’ was a huge part of my cultural life. I found this post on Buzzfeed which gives you a list of quotes from ‘Frasier’ to cover any possible social situation – so, you’ll never be stuck for a pithy comeback ever again.

You’re welcome.

And finally – the best one of all.

I love the work – and the blog – of YA author Kristin Cashore. She seems like an awesome lady with excellent taste in everything from books to holiday destinations to nail polish to TV shows, and she recently posted up some footage of Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street. If this doesn’t make you laugh – or, at least, entertain you even a small bit – there’s something deeply wrong with your insides.

So, there you have it. A blog post entirely pilfered (at least, in principle) from other people. Let’s hope my brain feels a bit less like someone has set fire to it and scraped out the ashes by the time tomorrow morning rolls around.

Adieu!