Books: Gibraltar reading (part 2)

(Part one is here.)

The book: Scruffy, by Paul Gallico

The edition: Penguin paperback, 288 pages

About the book: a fictional account of ape history in Gibraltar during World War Two, of the people who cared for them, and of the efforts made to safeguard them. Includes an extremely misbehaved ape, a love story, two births, several deaths, a drunken pilot and a very big firework. (Can’t say more without spoilers, but hope it’s enough to pick your interest.)

My thoughts: hilarious. Probably the funniest book I read this year. No, really, you may think “it’s just an ape story, nothing much”, but it is a jewel! And it does something strange: it has characters that are at once stock figures, and very lively. I cannot explain it, because they are all mostly stereotypes, but still they really come to life through the page. Recommended? Definitely yes, go check it out this minute!

The covers you can find online are less pretty than the ones I have. Too bad the picture quality here is so bad 😦

The book: The Rock, by John Masters

The edition: Sphere paperback, 383 pages, including bibliography

About the book: this book is strange in format and hard to define: half history, half fiction. Each chapter includes historical information about a period of Gibraltarian history, followed by a fictional episode set in that period. The narrative is not continuous, although there are elements (especially families and their histories) that return again and again.

My thoughts: such a peculiar format is hard to make right. I don’t think the level is the same throughout the book, there are some parts that stick better than the rest, and I do have a small doubt about the accuracy of the non-fiction part. Still, as a whole it works very well, the author is a good narrator and history makes sense in his stories. Recommended.

_______

Bottom line: two authors I want to read more from. If you know them, can you recommend any titles?

Advertisements

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Steven Pressfield

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from the first pages of Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, and although they are quite understandable from context I thought I would share them all the same.

*****

The first preamble ends like this:

Inscribed as submitted this sixteenth day of Ululu, Fifth Year of His Majesty’s Accession.

And then, the first chapter begins:

Third day of Tashritu, Fifth Year of His Majesty’s Accession.

So what are Ululu and Tashritu? Clearly, they are months names, and I found out they are from the Babylonian calendar. There are equivalences to Hebrew month names too.

*****

In those two sentences there is another interesting word:

Accession: n. 1 the attainment of a position of rank 2 the formal acceptance of a treaty or joining of an association 3 a new item added to a collection of books or artefacts.

*****

And finally, one more:

The captive was brought in upon a litter, eyes cloth-bound so as to dissanction sight of His Majesty.

I wasn’t able to find a definition, but clearly to dissanction means something like to forbid, to prohibit.

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday: John Masters

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

This week I found my new word in The Rock by John Masters.

*****

All the soldiers — infantry, artillery, and even the engineers-artificers — are like madmen! I saw a dozen soldiers barbecuing a pig over a fire of pure cinnamon, worth near £200. I watched a corporal of the Highlanders eat 8 lbs. of beef in ten minutes. Others took the Virgin out of the Roman Catholic church and put “her” into the whirligig, as is done to loose women.

At first, I looked for a definition of whirligig and found nothing suitable for this context:

whirligig n. 1 a toy that spins round, e.g. a top or windmill 2 another term for roundabout 3 a process or activity characterized by constant change or hectic activity 4 (also whirligig beetle) a small black water beetle which typically swims rapidly in circles on the surface.

A whirligig — but not the one Masters meant. Photo credits: Brit on Flickr

Then after a Google search I ended up finding the explanation on Wikipedia:

A whirligig is a punitive or torture contraption comprising a suspended cage-like device. The victim would be placed in the cage, which was spun violently in order to cause severe nausea.

This was used as a military punishment, as by the British Army. For example, in Tangiers, the whirligig was reportedly used on women, by whom it was more feared than the pillory, stocks and wooden horse.

Yuck! Definitely not something I would like to try!
(You can find a picture on this page.)

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Ken Follett

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

My words for this week come from Fall of Giants by Ken Follett.

*****

They were the same height, but Otto was heavier, and bald, and his mustache was the old-fashioned soup-strainer type, whereas Walter had a modern toothbrush.

soup-strainer mustache: n. a mustache that entirely covers the mouth, giving the impression that it acts as a strainer when drinking or eating soup.
*This definition comes from UrbanDictionary

So basically Otto had the same style of mustache as his namesake Bismark, while Walter had the one later made famous by Hitler:

Both images from Wikipedia

*****

“My father is…” He searched for words, something that was unusual for him. “Cock-a-hoop,” he said after a pause.

cock-a-hoop: adj. extremely pleased.

*****

There was a cheval glass in Ethel’s new bedroom.

cheval glass: n. a tall mirror fitted at its middle to an upright frame so that it can be tilted.

Cheval glasses are very nice in a vintage environment, but wall-mounted ones are more functional, and I prefer the latter 🙂

Photo credits: Silk Road Collection on Flickr

*****

The opposing armies sat in their trenches day after day, eating bad food, getting dysentery and trench foot and lice.

trench foot: n. a painful condition of the feet caused by long immersion in cold water or mud and marked by blackening and death of surface tissue.

*****

In the years she had worked there she had come to love the gracious old furniture. She had picked up the names of the piece4s, and learned to recognize a torchère, a buffet, a armoire, or a canterbury. As she dusted and polished she noticed the marquetry, the swags and scrolls, the feet shaped like lions’ paws clasping balls.

torchère: n. a tall ornamental flat-topped stand for holding a candlestick.
canterbury: n. a low open-topped cabinet with partitions for holding music or books.
marquetry: n. inlaid work made from small pieces of variously coloured wood, used chiefly for the decoration of furniture.

Above: examples of a torchère
and of marquetry from
Wikipedia. To the right: a canterbury,
from Antiques on About.com

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday: Charles Dickens (4)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

This week I bring you mu fourth and last (finally 🙂 ) harvest of words from Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

*****

They tended their locks severely in buckram and powder

buckram: n. coarse linen or other cloth stiffened with paste, used as interfacing and in bookbinding.

I find this curious, because this is a character describing the portraits of a noble house, and even if he is describing them as shepherdesses, the “coarse linen” sound out of place. The whole description is a bit strange, though, and goes on like this:

and put their sticking-plaster patches on to terrify commoners as the chefs of some other tribes put on their war-paint.

So I guess the strange tone is part of it.

*****

… says Richard, sitting down again with an impatient laugh and beating the devil’s tattoo with his boot on the patternless carpet

tattoo: n. 1 an evening drum or bugle signal recalling soldiers to their quarters 2 Brit. a military display consisting of music, marching, and exercises 3 a rhythmic tapping or drumming.

Actually, did you know that this is the first meaning for tattoo?

*****

… to have to do with you is to have to do with a man of business who is not to be hoodwinked.

to hoodwink: v. deceive or trick

*****

The Indiaman was our great attraction because she had come into the downs in the night.

Indiaman: n. historical a ship engaged in trade with India or the East or West Indies, especially an East Indiaman.

*****

Apart from debts and duns and all such drawbacks, I am not fit even for this employment.

to dun: v. to importune (a debtor) for payment
dun: n. 1 one that duns 2 an importunate demand for payment.
*This definition comes from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language via TheFreeDictionary.com

So I guess he means “all the debts and all the creditors asking for payment”.

*****

… two young ladies are occasionally found gambolling in sequestered saw-pits and such nooks of the park.

gambol: v. run or jump about playfully.

*****

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)