The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett – review for The Telegraph

The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, review: ‘a magnificent sign-off’ (27 August, The Telegraph)

One of the most endearing peculiarities of the Discworld, Terry Pratchett’s bestselling fantasy series satirising the beliefs and behaviours of Earth, is that witches know the precise hour of their death. Some hold their funerals in advance so as not to miss out on a good party; all tidy their homes beforehand, ready for the next occupant.

Pratchett may not have known the hour of his death – which in the event took place in March this year, when he was 66 – but having suffered what he called “the embuggerance” of Alzheimer’s since his diagnosis in 2007, he knew it was coming. But there will be no future mastermind of the Discworld. His daughter, the award-winning writer Rhianna Pratchett, once rumoured to be taking it on, has rightfully said that nothing further should be done. And yet in this, his 41st Discworld novel, now his last, Pratchett gets his house in order beautifully.

This isn’t just a great Discworld book, it’s extraordinary; a proper send-off for Pratchett and this mammoth series. It is shot through with an elegiac tone, you have a sense of it being his own “play’s last scene”. If this wasn’t intentional, it’s a bloody good coincidence.

Earlier themes and characters return for a last hurrah (impressively without once feeling like an episode of This is Your Life) anchored by one of Pratchett’s most popular recent characters, young witch Tiffany Aching. Now at the height of her powers, while still very much eligible for a Young Person’s Railcard, Tiffany is forced to confront her old enemy, the elves.  Longstanding Discworld readers first encountered them 25 years ago in Lords and Ladies, a magnificently creepy reinterpretation of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream with much nastier fairies. They have not improved over time.

Their reappearance calls for a convocation of witches, which means a welcome return for one of Pratchett’s earliest creations, Magrat Garlick, now queen of the hilly kingdom of Lancre, and opera singing Agnes Nitt, sadly AWOL since 1998’s Carpe Jugulum. Pratchett’s trademark footnotes  are filled with references to past stories, and new readers may struggle to keep up – but after all, this is a finale, not an introduction.

Never one to avoid tackling the elephant in the room, Pratchett confronts mortality early on with the death of one of his most cherished characters. Discworld regularly deals with death, but rarely with cornerstones of that universe. Lord Vetinari, Granny Weatherwax, Samuel Vimes: Pratchett’s creations, like the author, feel eternal. That any should die is unthinkable and I will freely confess to sitting dumbly over my book, crying.

Pratchett has never been a sentimental writer, but there is an expansiveness here that is new and reflective.  He introduces a new kind of magic, “calm-weaving”, an extreme form of likeability seen in a boy called Geoffrey who wants to become a witch. Thus the idea of a girl becoming a wizard, first explored in 1987’s Equal Rites, is echoed here with the reverse idea, bolstering Pratchett’s principle that the most impressive magic of all is “headology”, or understanding the human psyche.

Having spent the last 30 years raising an amused eyebrow at the quirks of human nature, Pratchett uses his final novel to examine the power of humanity. Even Pratchett’s most ghastly creation, Letice Earwig (pronounced “ar-wij” ) proves to have something worthwhile underneath her pretensions. There is the potential for decency in all of us, he says.

Touching on 2001’s Thief of Time in which a seemingly inhuman creature develops a soul, an elf has a similar awakening here. Change is happening in Discworld: there is no place for elves and their mindless cruelty. Even trolls and goblins serve a useful purpose, to which I find myself grimly thinking, “if only Pratchett had been in charge of the internet”.

continue reading at The Telegraph


When Pratchett died, I wrote a tribute for The Telegraph: Terry Pratchett: just think of it as leaving early to avoid the rush


A chapter by chapter review of Grey by EL James – The Telegraph


When the new Fifty Shades book, told from Christian Grey’s viewpoint, was released, I live blogged and tweeted reading it. I anticipated being done by lunch. I was not finished by lunch. This terrible book goes on for days.

Grey by EL James – live blog (June 18, The Telegraph)

Chapter One 

Monday, May 9, 2011 

Anastasia got stuck with plain old “Chapter One”, “Chapter Two” in the books written from her viewpoint, but Christian, being an exotic man of mystery and also an excellent diary keeper, gets dates.

Will Grey start with that incredible first sentence from Meet Fifty Shades, the short story at the end of Fifty Shades Freed? Let us recap: “‘Tomorrow,’ I mutter, dismissing Claude Bastille as he stands at the threshold of my office.”

No! No it doesn’t. It starts with a dream in which Christian remembers being with his drug addled biological mother, who calls him “Maggot” (meaningful!). There is a lot of glorious repetition for emphasis, and child Christian sounds like someone’s idea of a child rather than an actual one.

There’s some blather about Christian choosing to go to “my gym” instead of for a run outside (Christian, like cats, hates getting wet) and then we launch into that glorious Claude Bastille line. The entirety of Meet Fifty Shades is pasted in. James must have been thrilled that she’d got that to hand.

I think the chapter is ended but no! There is a strangely formatted but essential background check on Anastasia (she got 2150 in her SATs, FYI).

Later, Christian uses this info to stalk Anastasia to her job at the American equivalent of Homebase. This is no longer Monday, May 9, 2011 – a week has passed but presumably Christian is too brooding for correcting dating protocol.

Oh, hang on, this is actually Chapter Two. Saturday, May 14, 2011 was sneaked on top of the background check and I was too engrossed to notice. Never mind, this is still basically Meet Fifty Shades. There’s some extra paragraphs tagged on to the end of the stuff we’ve already read before, which sees Christian doing admin. Exciting!

Last line: “How the hell am I going to close this deal?” Christian Grey, sex businessman.

Best lines from Chapters One and Two

  1. “My green car is fuzzy. Covered in grey fur and dirt. I want it back. But I can’t reach it. I can never reach it. My green car is lost. Lost. And I can never play with it again.”
  2. “‘Mr Grey.’ His handshake is limp, like his hair. Asshole. ‘Wait up – not the Christian Grey? Of Grey Enterprises Holdings?’ Yeah, that’s me, you prick.
  3. “Peace? I haven’t known peace since Miss Steele fell into my office.”

Chapter Three 

Sunday, May 15, 2011 

We’re at the photoshoot that Anastasia has arranged so that her university newspaper can get some original photogaphs of Christian. Side note: it may be that I went to university 11 years ago when there was never any budget for anything, but who expects their CEO megabucks interviewees to attend photoshoots? I clearly wasn’t ambitious enough. This is after all the work of Ana’s flatmate Kate Kavanagh, or to give her her full name, “the tenacious Kate Kavanagh”.

Then it’s off to have coffee, from Christian’s POV. This was a very chatty scene in the first book, so all there’s really to do here is reprint the dialogue and include some comment in italics from Christian – who seems mercifully free of inner gods or goddesses, dancing lambadas or otherwise. Some examples:

  • Oh, Miss Steele, Game on.
  • Yes, You asked me if I was gay.
  • Interesting.
  • Books.

I’d forgotten about Anastasia’s love of “British literature”. To helpfully underline Rochester/Darcy comparisons, first Ana lists the books, and then Christian spells out the heroes. I’m amazed Robert Pattinson isn’t listed.

I’d also forgotten about Anastasia’s weird relationship-free adolescence which turns her into an absolute fruitcake when Christian tells her he doesn’t do girlfriends, and then again when he warns her to steer clear of him. This is all very silly given that he has taken her for coffee and insisted on holding her hand a lot – oh, and then there’s the moment when she falls into the road and is nearly hit by a cyclist. Sweet, breakable, clumsy Ana!

Ana – I am not on friendly terms with this woman, but it is driving me nuts having to type out that name each time – has an overreaction on a nuclear scale. They have met barely three times! I don’t care if she smells of orchards and has a fabulous ass, Christian, she’s clearly a nutbar. Oh thank God, it’s the end of the chapter and Anastasia has disappeared in a cloud of grammatically improbable metaphor.

Last line: “She disappears into the building, leaving in her wake a trace of regret, the memory of her beautiful blue eyes, and the scene of an apple orchard in the fall.” Anastasia, pour Homme ou pour Femme.

Best lines from Chapter Three 

  1. “My hair is wet from my shower, but I don’t give a shit.”
  2. “‘This is my favourite tea,’ she says, and I revise my mental note that it’s Twinings English Breakfast tea she likes.”
  3. “Her eyes widen. They really are beautiful, the colour of the ocean at Cabo, the bluest of blue seas. I should take her there.”
  4. “But why England? I ask her. ‘It’s the home of Shakespeare, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Thomas Hardy. I’d like to see the places that inspired those people to write such wonderful books.’ It’s obvious this is her first love. Books.
  5. “That means I’m competing with Darcy, Rochester and Angel Clare: impossible romantic heroes.”
  6. “She has a fresh, wholesome fragrance that reminds me of my grandfather’s apple orchard.”
  7. “‘I’ve got this,’ she says, disappointment ringing in her clipped tone.”
  8. “She regards me dispassionately and regret flares in my gut.”
  9. “Whoa. She’s mad at me, pouring all the contempt she can into each syllable of my name. It’s novel. And she’s leaving. And I don’t want her to go. ‘Good luck with your exams’.”

Chapter Four 

Thursday, May 19, 2011 

Breaking news! Christian has a security guard called Barry! This is amazing. Has anyone in the history of America ever named their child Barry? Perhaps he came over on the security guard exchange programme.

Christian has had more terrible dreams, which require staring hatefully at himself in the mirror, drinking a glass of water, and then leaving it in the sink for the housekeeper to clear up. You’re a grown man, Christian, put your own damn cup in the dishwasher.

Wonderful, glorious scenes of him picking out exactly which first edition to give to Anastasia “I love books! British literature!” Steele. This is brilliant. Never had I thought I needed an in-depth description of how a billionaire businessman chooses which “blank notecard” to write a note in, but now I know.

He also replaces the first editions with more first editions because he is minted.

Most of Christian’s staff fancy him, probably because he insists on hiring “tall willowy girls with a pretty face” who really fancy him, but walk around looking sad about it. This is fairly boring. Christian has not been anywhere near his Red Room of Pain, not even to change the batteries.

Last line: “Dismissing the thought, I wonder if that will be the last I see of the books, and I have to acknowledge that deep down I hope not.”

Best lines from Chapter Four 

  1. “She’s an incurable romantic who loves the English classics. But then so do I, for different reasons. I don’t have any Jane Austen first editions, or Brontes, for that matter, but I do have two Thomas Hardys.”
  2. “‘You sound like the ultimate consumer.’ Her judgmental retort from the interview comes back to haunt me. Yes, I like to possess things, things that will rise in value, like first editions.”
  3. “‘We could always air-drop.’ ‘Christian, the expense of an airdrop – ‘. ‘I know. Let’s see what our NGO friends come back with.”
  4. “I take one bite of tuna to assuage my hunger, then reach for my pen.”

(continue reading at The Telegraph)

Weekend Reading: Blankets and Please God, Find Me A Husband!

A stack of library books

Goodies from the library

In preparation for doing a juice fast (more on that story later: spoiler! It’s like having your own butler bring you feelings of smugness and health) I went to the library and carted a stack of books home.

One of the best things about our new office is that it’s just up the road from John Harvard Library, which has a varied graphic novels selection. I’d gone in hoping that the entirety of Fables would be patiently waiting for me, but luckily they weren’t. I got a bunch of new stuff: 100 Months, which I’d seen at the British Library’s Comics Unmasked exhibition; Blue is the Warmest Colour (because so far I’ve entirely failed to watch it on Netflix); some Alison Bechdel (never read her books, only panels accompanying Bechdel Test posts); Blankets by Craig Thompson which rang a bell for some reason, and Please God, Find Me A Husband! by Simone Lia which had lovely illustrations and opened in Leicester Square. Continue reading

Shelf Esteem: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino


OH HI GUYS, I’m back! Shelf Esteem, previously housed at Domestic Sluttery, is now on my own doorstep, which means I can write each review while doing helpful things like bothering Cat Brown and de-candle waxing the mantelpiece (that last is not a euphemism but something I actually did last weekend, but wouldn’t it be a great euphemism?). Continue reading