Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Last Kingdom a terrific diversion

24. The Last Kingdom, Bernard Cornwell, 3-12, pp. 329

Books engender a great many responses. Perhaps the greatest response any book can evoke from a reader is disappointment that it’s ended. And that’s exactly what I experienced after reaching page 329 in Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom.

This is not a great book. It is not a piece of enduring literature. But, boy, is it fun. To the degree that it is a finely executed piece of historical fiction, The Last Kingdom recalls the Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte, but only to a degree. There are differences. Some superficial – it’s longer. Some significant—Purity of Blood was set in Spain during the Inquisition, The Last Kingdom is set in ninth century Britain.

The biggest difference is this book is more fun. Purity of Blood is terrific, but Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste is a gloomy fellow. The hero of The Last Kingdom is, well, Conan. OK, that’s not his name, it’s Uhtred, and it’s all sword, no sorcery, but Robert E. Howard would feel comfortable around these pages.

It’s better written than anything by Howard, well researched and purposeful. It’s also a rollicking saga that I didn’t want to end. The good news it didn’t—the sequel, The Pale Horseman, was released earlier this year. Cool.


In a column in The Guardian, author Annie Proulx takes Oscar voters to task. Proulx is disappointed that Brokeback Mountain, the movie based on her terrific short story, didn’t win the Best Picture Award. Her disappointment is understandable. The tenor of her comments isn’t.

Proulx decries the "atmosphere of insufferable self-importance" at the Oscar ceremony. She writes that the event was "reminiscent of a small-town talent-show night." She also calls Best Picture winner Crash “Trash.”

Whoa! A little harsh Annie. I liked Crash. I didn’t think it was a perfect film and it probably wouldn’t be my choice as best picture, but it generated a great deal of conversation between my wife and I over the period of about a week, which compares favorably to most films which are forgotten by the time I've reached my car. Any film that can promote ideas, and generate conversation, has something going for it.

I haven’t seen Brokeback Mountain. I admire the short story and I do plan to see the movie. Still, I am disappointed in Proulx and her response. Anyone who has watched the Oscar ceremonies recognizes that the best pictures don’t always win the Oscar. It a political process and it’s a subjective process too. Book awards aren't much different.

Two thumbs down, Annie.

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