Archive for England

the buried giant [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 10, 2015 by xi'an

Last year, I posted a review of Ishiguro’s  “When we were orphans”, with the comment that, while I enjoyed the novel and appreciated its multiple layers, while missing a strong enough grasp on the characters… I brought back from New York Ishiguro’s latest novel, “The Buried Giant“, with high expectations, doubled by the location of the story in an Arthurian setting, at a time when Britons had not yet been subsumed into Anglo-Saxon culture or forced to migrate to little Britain (Brittany). Looking forward a re-creation of an Arthurian cycle, possibly with a post-modern twist. (Plus, the book as an object is quite nice, with a black slice.)

“I respect what I think he was trying to do, but for me it didn’t work. It couldn’t work. No writer can successfully use the ‘surface elements’ of a literary genre — far less its profound capacities — for a serious purpose, while despising it to the point of fearing identification with it. I found reading the book painful. It was like watching a man falling from a high wire while he shouts to the audience, “Are they going say I’m a tight-rope walker?”” Ursula Le Gun, March 2, 2015.

Alas, thrice alas, after reading it within a fortnight, I am quite disappointed by the book. Which, like the giant, would have better remained buried..  Ishiguro pursues his delving into the notion of memories and remembrances, with the twisted reality they convey. After the detective cum historical novel of “When we were orphans”, he moves to the allegory of the early medieval tale, where characters have to embark upon a quest and face supernatural dangers like pixies and ogres. But mostly suffer from a collective amnesia they cannot shake. The idea is quite clever and once again attractive, but the resulting story sounds too artificial and contrived to involve me into the devenir of its characters. As an aside, the two central characters, Beatrix and Axl, have hardly Briton names. Beatrix is of Latin origin and means traveller, while Axl is of Scandinavian origin and means father of peace. Appropriate symbols for their roles in the allegory, obviously. But this also makes me wonder how deep the allegory is, that is, how many levels of references and stories are hidden behind the bland trek of A & B through a fantasy Britain.

A book review in The Guardian links this book with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I fail to see the connection: Tolkien was immersed for his whole life into Norse sagas and Saxon tales, creating his own myth out of his studies without a thought for parody or allegory. Here, the whole universe is misty and vague, and characters act with no reason or rationale. The whole episode in the monastery and the subsequent tunnel exploration do not make sense in terms of the story, while I cannot fathom what they are supposed to stand for. The theme of the ferryman carrying couples to an island where they may rest, together or not, sounds too obvious to just mean this. What else does it stand for?! The encounters of the rag woman, first in the Roman ruins where she threatens to cut a rabbit’s neck, then in a boat where she acts as a decoy, are completely obscure as to what they are supposed to mean. Maybe this accumulation of senseless events is the whole point of the book, but such a degree of deconstruction does not make for a pleasant read. Eventually, I came to hope that the mists rise again and carry away all past memories of “The Buried Giant“!

the 39 steps

Posted in Books, Kids, Mountains, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2015 by xi'an

I had never read this classic that inspired Hitchcock’s 39 steps (which I neither watched before).  The setting of the book is slightly different from the film: it takes place in England and Scotland a few weeks before the First  World War. German spies are trying to kill a prominent Greek politician [no connection with the current Euro-crisis intended!] and learn about cooperative plans between France and Britain. The book involves no woman character (contrary to the film, where it adds a comical if artificial level). As in Rogue Male, most of the story is about an unlikely if athletic hero getting into the way of those spies and being pursued through the countryside by those spies. Even though the hunt has some intense moments, it lacks the psychological depth of Rogue Male, while the central notion that those spies are so good that they can play other persons’ roles without being recognised is implausible to the extreme, a feature reminding me of the Blake & Mortimer cartoons which may have been inspired by this type of books. Especially The Francis Blake Affair. (Trivia: John Buchan ended up Governor General of Canada.)

a war[like] week

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Running, Statistics, Travel, University life, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2015 by xi'an

crossbThis week in Warwick was one of the busiest ones ever as I had to juggle between two workshops, including one in Oxford, a departmental meeting, two paper revisions, two pre-vivas, and a seminar in Leeds. Not to mention a broken toe (!), a flat tire (!!), and a diner at the X. Hardly anytime for writing blog entries..! Fortunately, I managed to squeeze time for working with Kerrie Mengersen who was visiting Warwick this fortnight. Finding new directions for the (A)BCel approach we developed a few years ago with Pierre Pudlo. The workshop in Oxford was quite informal with talks from PhD students [I fear I cannot discuss here as the papers are not online yet]. And one talk by François Caron about estimating sparse networks with not exactly exchangeable priors and completely random measures. And one talk by Kerrie Mengersen on a new and in-progress approach to handling Big Data that I found quite convincing (if again cannot discuss here). The probabilistic numerics workshop was discussed in yesterday’s post and I managed to discuss it a wee bit further with the organisers at The X restaurant in Kenilworth. (As a superfluous aside, and after a second sampling this year, I concluded that the Michelin star somewhat undeserved in that the dishes at The X are not particularly imaginative or tasty, the excellent sourdough bread being the best part of the meal!) I was expecting the train ride to Leeds to be highly bucolic as it went through the sunny countryside of South Yorkshire, with newly born lambs running in the bright green fields surrounded by old stone walls…, but instead went through endless villages with their rows of brick houses. Not that I have anything against brick houses, mind! Only, I had not realised how dense this part of England was, this presumably getting back all the way to the Industrial Revolution with the Manchester-Leeds-Birmingham triangle.

My seminar in Leeds was as exciting as in Amsterdam last week and with a large audience, so I got many and only interesting questions, from the issue of turning the output (i.e., the posterior on α) into a decision rule, to making  decision in the event of a non-conclusive posterior, to links with earlier frequentist resolutions, to whether or not we were able to solve the Lindley-Jeffreys paradox (we are not!, which makes a lot of sense), to the possibility of running a subjective or a sequential version. After the seminar I enjoyed a perfect Indian dinner at Aagrah, apparently a Yorkshire institution, with the right balance between too hot and too mild, i.e., enough spices to break a good sweat but not too many to loose any sense of taste!

Oxford snapshot

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , on April 28, 2015 by xi'an

marine

fare well, Paula!

Posted in pictures, Running with tags , , , , , , on April 26, 2015 by xi'an

a marathon a day for… a year?!

Posted in Kids, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2015 by xi'an

“I think a lot of people do not push themselves enough.” Rob Young

I found this Guardian article about Rob Young and his goal of running the equivalent of 400 marathons in 365 days. Meaning there are days he runs the equivalent of three marathons. Hard to believe, isn’t it?! But his terrible childhood is as hard to believe. And how cool is running with a kilt, hey?! If you want to support his donation for disadvantaged children, go to his marathon man site. Keep running, Rob!

a mad afternoon!

Posted in pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2015 by xi'an

An insanely exciting final day and end to the 2015 Six Nations tournament! on the first game of the afternoon, Wales beat Italy in Rome by a sound 20-61!, turning them into likely champions. But then, right after, Ireland won against Scotland 10-40! In mythical Murrayfield. A feat that made them winners unless England won over France in Twickenham by at least 26 points. Which did not happen, in a completely demented rugby game, a game of antology where England dominated but France was much more inspired (if as messy as usual) than in the past games and fought fair and well, managing to loose 35-55 and hence block English victory of the Six Nations. Which can be considered as a victory of sorts…! Absolutely brilliant ending.

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