Philip Pullman – Northern Lights reread
Book Reviews / June 27, 2016

Growing up Northern Lights Philip Pullman, Scholastic, 1995 (Warning: this review contains spoilers for the Harry Potter series.) For approximately three years after the release of The Golden Compass, the 2007 Hollywood adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, I was expecting news of a sequel. Then I, like most of the rest of the world, forgot about it. All things considered, the film—bowdlerized and in some places quite clunky—was a disappointment, but it could well have led to something better. After all, the two Columbus-directed Harry Potter films are, even seen through the prism of nostalgia, a bit rubbish. But the films that followed were excellent, marked by skilful direction and increasingly good acting. The His Dark Materials trilogy got no such chance to redeem itself—until now, that is: the BBC have announced that production has begun on a miniseries based on Pullman’s novels. As much as I am excited by this development, I can’t help but feel a little sad that we will not again see Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra, Nicole Kidman as Mrs Coulter, or hear Ian McKellen as Iorek Byrnison. But as wonderful as those actors are, the real star of any interpretation of His Dark…

Marilynne Robinson – Gilead
Book Reviews / June 27, 2016

Small town story Gilead Marilynne Robinson, FSG, 2004 If I had to choose a vocation in literature, I would not choose that of the ‘good man’. If that is your role, you are faced with two options: 1) suffer terribly and, preferably, die (the Christ model), 2) bore the pants off your readers, normally acting as a foil to more complex characters (the Alyosha Karamazov model). Readers are very rarely saints ourselves, and we identify more readily with flawed characters. So it is a testament to Marilynne Robinson’s skill that she is able to sell us a protagonist whose struggles are, for the most part, internal and not make this read like a philosophy student’s LiveJournal. Robinson’s narrator, a pastor named John Ames, has tended his flock in Gilead, Iowa for several decades. The reader joins him as he is approaching the end of his life, struck down by an undefined illness and soon to leave behind a younger wife and an infant son. The novel takes the form of a letter to his son—really a fragmentary series of narratives—which jumps ably between the present day and Ames’s childhood and later life. The third in a line of ministers, Ames…