I can’t say my time back in Newcastle recently was exactly fun: the decorators took about twice as long as I’d expected, making me start the final putting-down-the-laminate-flooring stage of the renovation very late. I spent much of the week in a dirty, dusty, almost empty flat, living on cold baked beans from the tin. No TV, Internet, radio, Internet, or Internet. My mobile phone’s battery broke too. In the end we almost finished the flat in time (with the help of the tenant-to-be) but it was close enough that he could move in.
The silver lining of this grim exile was that I finally got round to reading Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. It’s absolutely superb, although not without minor flaws. Reviewers have often compared Pullman to Tolkien, but the only real similarity to Lord Of The Rings is that the action speeds up so much towards the end - by the end of the first book I got the feeling that there was enough material for dozens of novels, but the third book just rockets towards the conclusion. I’m a fan of Alan Garner and Michael Moorcock, and to me ‘His Dark Materials’ seemed like a strange hybrid of Garner and Moorcock at their best. The sheer heresy of the book was great fun, but best of all Pullman doesn’t patronise the reader, and doesn’t stop the story to explain things, he expects the reader to think, teases with snippets of information, and then rewards the reader with explanations later.