Monday, February 25, 2019

Cornwell's artistry on full display in Sharpe's Escape

Bernard Cornwell is extraordinarily skillful at recounting a great battle.  He is especially adept at introducing a small detail (drums bouncing down a hillside) that suggests the broader scope and horror of war.

Those skills are on full display in Sharpe’s Escape as Cornwell guides the reader through the Bussaco Campaign.  In that campaign, which took place in Portugal in 1810, the Portuguese and their English allies administer a sound drubbing to the over-confident French. 

As stirring as this battle scene is (and it’s an excellent piece of work by the author), it is only a side show.  The main story concerns Cornwell’s hero of the book’s title, Richard Sharpe, an English soldier.

In the course of assiduously carrying out his duties, Sharp incurs the anger of a wealthy Portuguese thug. (An odd characterization, I know, but one which fits this unsavory brute.) Sharp wins one round. The thug wins another.  Their sparring escalates as each seeks revenge upon the other.  

From  the novel’s opening to its satisfying finish, Sharpe’s Escape is a delicious read. No one writing today can match Cornwell’s artistry in blending history with a rousing adventure story. 

I didn’t mean to read Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking, or to buy it.  I’d already bought it. Already read it. A discovery I didn’t make until well into the novella, which gives the book its name. 

This seems familiar, I thought.  I’ve read this before. At first, I wondered if, perhaps, I’d read a section of the novella in The New Yorker or some other magazine.  But, no, there was the book on my shelf.   There was nothing to do now, but forge ahead.

Thirteen Ways of Looking is composed of a novella and three short stories.  Elements of loss, brutality and man’s fragility inhabit these stories, which are steeped in a stark and sober atmosphere.

McCann is a talented writer. The best introduction to that talent is found in his novel Let The Great World Spin.

Will Eisner is widely considered the father of the graphic novel.  Works, best described as graphic novels, pre-date Eisner, certainly, but both the volume of his work and his efforts to codify the graphic novel establish his credentials as the one individual who has does the most to shape the combination of art and text into an art form.

Comics & Sequential Art is a handbook for anyone who wants to create comic strips, comic books or graphic novels, or just to understand them better.  It is highly technical and detailed; encompassing imagery, timing, the frame, expressive anatomy and more.

The casual reader is best served by perusing one of Eisner’s graphic novels.  A Contract With God, Life On Another Planet, or Dropsie Avenue are all excellent introductions to this brilliant creator. 

One sidebar: No one much likes the term graphic novel. Eisner preferred the term sequential art, but it never caught on, perhaps because it sounds so technical.  As a description of the genre, graphic novel is clumsy and inaccurate, because graphic novels encompass fiction and non-fiction. Under this broad category you will find adaptations of novels, tales of superheroes, science fiction and horror, as well as biography, autobiography, and history. As a term of art, it falls woefully short, but it seems we’re stuck with it until something better comes along. 

Books read -- January
1.   Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens
2.   Voodoo River, Robert Crais
3.   Yossel, April 19, 1943, Joe Kubert
4.   Lie In The Dark, Dan Fesperman
5.   A Canticle For Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
6.   Flash, The Making of Weegee The Famous by Christopher Bonanos
7.   Neptune's Brood, Charles Stross
8.   Perish Twice, Robert B. Parker
9.   The League of Regrettable Sidekicks, Jon Morris
10. Casino Royale, Ian Fleming
11. Mrs. Palfrey At The Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor

Books read -- February
12. The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Alan Bradley
13. The Problem of Susan and Other Stories, Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell
14. The Rhesus Chart, Charles Stross
15. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
16. Shrink Rap, Robert B. Parker
17. Wish You Were Here, Graham Swift
18. The Big Fella, Babe Ruth and the World He Created, Jane Leavy
19. School Days, Robert B. Parker
20. The Boats of the Glen Carrig, William Hope Hodgson
21. The Professional, Robert B. Parker
22. Distrust That Particular Flavor, William Gibson
23. Flannery O'Connor, The Cartoons, ed. Kelly Gerald
24. Comics & Sequential Art, Will Eisner
25. Sharpe's Escape, Bernard Cornwell
26. Thirteen Ways Of Looking, Colum McCann

Currently  Reading --
Late In The Day, Tessa Hadlley
Slowhand, The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, Philip Norman
Dreyer's English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, Benjamin Dreyer

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