Month: August 2012

Charles Dickens’ House: Closed for refurbishment during the year of his 200th anniversary!

This year marks the 200th year of the birthday of Charles Dickens.  Though I don’t claim to have read ALL of Dickens’ novels, I have read many.  I am a fan.  I am also a literary tourist: i.e. if I should be in a city or place that has been graced with the birthplace of a famous writer, or scene from a famous novel, I make the effort to visit the landmarks and museums and what not.  I’ve been to the Bronte Parsonage, I’ve done the Bronte Walk, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, the Writer’s Museum in Edinburgh (which features the writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott).  I lived in Dorset long ago (Weymouth), and next time I visit will go and see Thomas Hardy’s house.
When I lived in London in 2005, I lived quite close to Charles Dicken’s house, which is now the  Charles Dickins Museum.  It is located at 48 Doughty St London, near Russel Square Station.  Not far from 343 Euston Road (where I lived).  But I didn’t make it there during that time.  There is so much to do in London, its easy to neglect seeing things you want to see, and experiencing things you want to experience, because you have it in the back of your mind that you’ll do it eventually.

I saw the film ‘Hereafter‘ (2010), starring Matt Damon, which featured three interwoven stories of characters who experience glimpses of the ‘after-life’ .  The film was set in 2005;  it follows a tsunami survivor (from the 2004 Boxing day tsunami disaster), the London bombings (one of the characters ‘just’ misses catching an underground train whilst scuttling about on the platform  for a hat blown off his head by the force of his brother’s deathly spirit) and Matt Damon’s character – who has come to London to take a break from the difficulty of life back in America where he feels cursed by his ability to communicate with those who have passed away from life.

I only lived in London for six months in 2005 , and unfortunately Dickens’  house is something I missed out on (one of the things I would get round to … eventually!).  Seeing ‘Hereafter’  re-invoked the shock of the day that the London bombings happened ( my experiences is written about here).  And Matt Damon’s character goes to visit Charles Dickens’ house –  and so I have promised myself, I will eventually do the same.

Here in Australia, I was surprised that the ABC (broadcast station that schedules BBC adaptations of everything!), did not schedule anything ‘Dickens’ on the date of his birthday (February 7th).  About two months later the latest adaptation of ‘Great Expectations’ was aired.  At the Melbourne International Film Festival, a handful of Dickens themed evens will be on, and the Melbourne Writers Festival, happening over the next two weeks, will include a keynote opening address by Simon Callow about Dickens (Callow published a book this year celebrating the life of Charles Dickens).

I was lucky enough to visit London again this year (2012) in May, and was determined to go and see Dickens’  house.  I made it to the door.  But the place was being refurbished, no entry!  I couldn’t believe that of the possible sights to go and see that morning, I went all the way up to Russel Square, walked to Doughty St, and the museum was closed!  Fortunately there are plenty of other things to see and do, but I haven’t been able to cross this one off my list.    I almost went to The Old Curiosity Shop when I found out that such a place actually existed, but wasn’t sure what would be there.

Next time I’m in London I will go to Dicken’s house!  Such a pity that with so much happening in the year of the celebrations of his 200th Anniversary, the museum dedicated to him should be closed!


Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 : may finish reading before I finish PhD.

In conclusion, the book is very long.

If you are a PhD student, or someone blessed with the opportunity to work on a long term, ALL-TIME-CONSUMING project, that you don’t get paid much for, you may find that you have somehow re-prioritized activities that you did daily or weekly down to the bottom of the pile.  For me one of the biggest things I have ‘given up’ is reading fiction.   I didn’t mean for it to happen; somehow each time I sat down to a book in the evening when I got home, I felt that I shouldn’t do it.

I felt like I should be reading papers (related to my research).  Or brushing up on my lack of programming skills.  Or working on some other aspect of my PhD project.

Yet I managed to fit in a good fitness regimen – training for soccer twice a week, playing up to two games each week, going to the gym, running.  Your physical health must not suffer during such a stressful time as a PhD!  And a social life – I kept that going too.  But for some reason, in the hours on my own, I had replaced reading fiction time, with wasted time online and procrastination.

At the end of 2011 I decided enough is enough (had barely read anything since the start of 2009, when I started as a PhD student)!  I read the latest book reviews in the weekend paper and one title caught my eye: 1Q84, Haruki Murakami.  Not 1984, George Orwell.  My interest was piqued immediately.  I had read and reread and absolutely loved 1984.  I had also recently seen the film ‘Norwegian Wood’,adapted to screen from the book written by Haruki Murakami.

I was intrigued by the outline of the plot.  The book is long.  About 1000 pages.  It has several interesting elements: an oppressive spiritual cult, disparity of the perception of time, a parallel time (the year 1Q84 as opposed to 1984), a female heroin who is a stealth assassin, the yearning for a long lost unrequited love, a world where the narrator suddenly notices that there are now two moons up in the sky.  Is it science fiction? Is it fantasy? Is it a thriller? It is certainly high concept, but fits into neither genre.

You will probably find it in the ‘Literature’ section of your bookstore.  Why? The way it is written: Murakami pains over every small detail – the music playing in the background and its significance to the character, the taste of the food at the table, the smell of the air about you, the feeling of the clothes you wear, the innuendos and subtexts of a conversation with another character: each is described in minute detail.  It would have been enough to have been written as a Thriller.  But that is not Murukami’s style.   And that is also what makes it so sumptuous.

Two moons: this conjures up an image from the film ‘Melancholia’ (released 2011), where another planet is hurtling towards the earth, but appears harmlessly and beautifully in  the sky.

Anyway, back to my point.  The book is long – but not frustratingly so, it is a pleasure to read.  But six months has passed and I am only 650 out of 1000 pages through!  At this rate I am not sure what will take longer – finishing my PhD, or finishing the book.  In a way, I thought that buy buying and reading the book, I would take up an activity I did on a daily basis once again.

This was not the right book for ‘getting back into reading’.  The book is too bulky to carry about in my handbag, or in my backpack (amongst my laptop and other items), to make it worthy of carrying in the chance that I’ll be caught waiting somewhere with dead-time (i.e. at a bus stop, before an appointment, etc).  I guess this is where I should almost give in to purchasing an e-book reader.   I’m at a loss.  I can’t just start another book, because I’m too far in.
So here I am, six months later, I still haven’t quite been able to take on the habit of reading fiction.  But if anyone asks, I tell them I’m reading a book by Haruki Murakami called 1Q84.