A Book Review Blog

Category: Tragedy

Last Dance With Valentino by Daisy Waugh

I cannot for the life of me remember buying Last Dance With Valentino, but I’m pretty sure it must have come from the second-hand book stall that they had at uni. It seems like the sort of thing that I’d pick up on a whim and judging by the order of the reading list, that makes most sense. As for why I picked it up, it’s probably to do with my weird sort of fascination that I have with the interwar period. There’s something about that whole doomed youth thing, living on the edge because they’ve survived what they think must be the worst that life can throw at them, unaware that worse is around the corner. Plus, you have to love the whole early Hollywood glamour thing.

Last Dance With Valentino follows a young Englishwoman named Jenny Doyle in the ten years after she comes to America with her father in an attempt to escape the hardships of Britain in World War I. The storyline focuses on her decade-long love affair with an Italian immigrant dancer Rodolfo Guglielmi, who later becomes beloved by millions as the silent actor Rudolph Valentino. It switches between two plotlines, one starting in 1916 where their budding love affair meets with a series of tragic events stemming from their involvement with the de Saulles family, while the other starts in 1926 and focuses on the pair trying to reignite their relationship, unaware that further tragedy is on the horizon.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t really familiar with Rudolph Valentino or his work, but I’m sort of fascinated to find out what a sex symbol from the 1920s must have been like. Because I didn’t really get to see much of Valentino considering that he’s our narrator’s love interest. Instead of a tragic love story, it seemed more like an experiment on how much misery the author can pile on one person within a set ten year period. Honestly, it got really tiring because there’s only so much suffering that one character can go through before you need something to lighten the mood. And there wasn’t really anything like that in Last Dance With Valentino. It was more moving from one source of unrelenting misery to another source of unrelenting misery. I think the author tried to add light moments in the form of Jenny getting work as a photoplay writer and being surprisingly good at it, but when you compare it to the death, abuse and addiction problems that she has to deal with it seems utterly paltry in comparison. Honestly, it’s a real shame, because the author does have a fair amount of actual writing talent, with a really good ear for dialogue and great skills with settings. But the balance just wasn’t right for me.

Not really my sort of thing. An interesting enough premise, just spoiled by the fact that there’s a bit too much tragedy to get you properly invested. If you don’t have the bright moments as contrast, the dark tragic moments just make everything a murky shade of grey. Well-written, but I wouldn’t read it again. Maybe something to pick up if you’re a fan of silent movies. 3/5

Next review: The Winter Queen by Boris Akunin

Signing off,

Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

I was quite looking forward to this. Much as I like things with a bit of subtext to them, I am also a bit of a fan of gore and violence on occasion. So, with one of the goriest of Shakespeare’s plays in front of me, how could I resist? 

The plot of Titus Andronicus starts in the days following the death of the Roman Emperor, with the deceased’s sons, Saturninus and Bassanius, arguing about who should inherit their father’s throne. Returning from war with the Goths with prisoners in tow, the eponymous Titus breaks up their argument, lending his support to Saturninus who is then crowned Emperor. So far so good. The newly crowned Saturninus then makes known his desire to marry Lavinia, Titus’ daughter; at this point, Bassanius absconds with her, stating that she was already betrothed to him, accompanied by Titus’ four sons. Bereft of his bride, Saturninus decides that instead of Lavinia, he will marry Tamora, the Goth Queen amongst Titus’ prisoners. The same woman whose son Titus sacrificed in honour of his dead sons. I’m sure you can see why the prospects of Titus and his family aren’t great from that point onwards. 
If you are going to read Titus Andronicus for anything, then I would say that it should be for the character of Aaron, Tamora’s Moorish lover. He is unashamedly evil, adding to the suffering of the Andronici with obvious glee. Highly unpleasant, but an absolute joy to watch: why else would he get all the great speeches? This is amply shown in Hugh Quarshie’s performance in the BBC adaptation, so much so that I almost wanted him to win. Not quite, but almost. 
The adaptation overall was pretty solid, with decent make-up effects and very solid acting, especially from figures like Trevor Peacock and Edward Hardwicke. There was an odd focus on the largely incidental character of Young Lucius, although I can see that they were trying to show how much damage is done to the Andronici through him. I thought it was kind of moot though, considering what happens to Lavinia in the course of the play. 
Definitely worth watching or reading, so much so that I will be looking to get the Julie Taymor adaptation with Anthony Hopkins. Possibly not for those with weak stomachs, and especially those for whom rape is a no-go area. Otherwise I would definitely recommend it to Shakespeare fans. 4/5 
Next review: The Baker Street Phantom by Fabrice Bourland 
Signing off, 

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