Although as artful in its own way as The Collector, and philosophically richer, The Magus is less emotionally sophisticated; just as tense, but not as deeply involving (although there's something to be said for the idea of building your first novel -- and it was his first novel, though it was published after The Collector -- around an intelligent yet typically selfish, solopsistic and somewhat narcissistic man in his 20s; it's smart, as such a character provides a fine jumping off point with plenty of safety nets.) The Magus nevertheless is the more layered of the two, and seems more finely crafted, probably owing to the many years he invested in it; as I'm here paraphrasing, and possibly in error, I can't remember who said that if it doesn't take a long time to write, it isn't worth reading... Hemingway, perhaps?
Fowles's evocation of rural island Greece is sharp and immediate, a sparely sensuous and striking complement to the story. He's no Byron -- even Maugham's Mediterranean musings are superior here -- but he nevertheless acquits himself handily.
He's also mildly Kafkaesque in his account of the convoluted masque, and The Magus is glancingly reminiscent of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which it predates and which by comparison seems de trop. Then again the touch may be light because the plot is so incidental -- providing, by the way, little in the way of visceral satisfaction, a hallmark of decent literature -- as style and form take a back seat to the travails of seldom-sympathetic Nicholas Urfe and his remarkable emotional and intellectual growth through the course of Conchis's godgame. A recommended read, although I would have been more swept away had I dove in during my early 20s.
Battlestar Galactica, season finale: A sterling episode (oddly, I found third banana Felix's audacious and disheartening perjury the biggest stand-out shocker.) My grumblings are mostly subjective: the trial scenes could have been abridged, as I personally am fascinated more with the intertwined Final Five, "So who else is a Cylon?", and search-for-Earth subplots. One grumbling, however, is pretty well-grounded: an indignant WTF at that ridiculous song ("...said the joker to the thief"? Starting at Ravi Shankarish noodling and what, ending with Wolfmother?), and indeed, the last several minutes' promise of Starbuck as deuce ex machina -- an echo of the goofy "Ships of Light" storyline, as Michelle Forbes was a chilling reimagining of Lloyd Bridges's blustery Admiral Cain? Still, I'm willing to withhold judgment on all that until next year, when they find Earth.
And after more reflection I finally realized precisely what I found so disappointing in those first couple of episodes. Battlestar Galactica is a dour, almost entirely humorless teevee show (the scant exceptions: waggish Gaius Baltar, Laura Roslin in her better moments, and -- very occasionally -- a couple of Cylons.) This dearth is excusable during highly tense and dramatic stretches, but is tedious during otherwise dramatically inert episodes, and even, in almost purely nail-biting installments such as last night's, during those scenes in which characters interminably drag out dialogue and what the creators browbeat us into believing are key scenes -- what's wrong with the writers that they cannot throw in any crackling, snapping banter, or perhaps an appropriate momentary surrender to obvious absurdity? Pack a bowl already, and spark that bitch up! This unrelenting gloominess, for all the show's overwhelming quality and quantity of virtues, is its gravest flaw.
Oh, and "Battlestar Galactica will return in 2008"? Do they know it's March? For shame, jerkwads, for shame.
The Simpsons: Back on track? I was rather pleased, as I always am with any episode showcasing Homer. And Lenny in Seven Of Nine drag was a truly special treat. One wonders if that, as well as the easy skewering of Hollywood, will bring Jonah back into the fold, so ample it is...
Joseph W. Valentine's A Book of Clichés: A delightful little volume, and a ten-minute read tops. I'm sure there's enough scholarship and research out there that it could support a vast expansion and still be eminently readable, but this is fine. And who can say no to James Mackey's too-cool-for-the-snapping-Beat-circle charcoal illustrations?
I'd particularly like to see Benjamin Franklin turn his wry gaze and curtly pursed lips to the Bush Administration's revealing misappropriation of his Poor Richard's Almanack proverb; in their version, a "bad apple" implies an isolated incident, a tumor that can be excised with some hope as it has not metastasized; Franklin, on the other hand, who lived fairly closer to the earth, knew full well that one was indicative of rot throughout the bushel, a systemic problem.
Otherwise, I was a rustic, turning soil, weeding, burning tumbleweeds. The parsley's bursting, the dill's sprouting, and the chives are about ready to bolt. I do have a life you know.