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Maggie Thatcher and Hilary MantelThe best kind of  killer is one who can hide in plain sight  and  is able to pass unnoticed in a crowd.

Hilary Mantel does not look like an assassin. On the contrary, she seems so prim and proper.  I’m sure she often gets mistaken for a Tory.  She is always well turned out, wears pastel shades and her hairstyle is not so dissimilar to Thatcher’s.

This is what makes her short story The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983,( published in The Guardian) seem so out of character.

It has caused a minor storm in a tea-cup among those who still misguided enough to argue that Thatcher saved, rather than ruined,  the nation. To those who merrily sang Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead las year, Mantel is an unlikely heroine. View full article »

GIRL IN TRANSLATION by Jean Kwok (Riverhead Books, 2010)

girl-in-translationAs a compelling, at times shocking, account of a young immigrant’s life in America this book has many merits. As a convincing work of narrative fiction it leaves a lot to be desired.

The episodic nature of the novel is problematic in that the story has a disjointed quality. As the author jumps from one event to the next, the reader is left with more questions than answers.

In the opening chapter we learn that the mother of the first person narrator, Kimberley Chang, had suffered from tuberculosis in China but her state of health is something which is barely mentioned therafter.

Later on, at the age of 18, when it is clear that Kimberley (Kim) needs to obtain U.S. citizenship, she applies and studies hard for naturalization but we are never told how the actual test went. The cumulative effect of these gaps is disorientating and infuriating. View full article »

linklater

Richard Linklater

BEFORE SUNRISE (1995), BEFORE SUNSET (2004)

+ BEFORE MIDNIGHT (2013)  directed by Richard Linklater

There’s a fundamental difference between being older and acting older. This came out strongly in Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ and is also a strong feature of the characters of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) in the director’s consistently marvelous ‘before’ trilogy.

What makes this such a mighty cinematic achievement is the absence of what I would call Hollywood moments. You know those scenes where couples break up and make up during a freak downpour or in a public place where the emotional (melo)drama is absurdly heightened.

Hawke and Delpy are so completely in their roles that there is never the sense that we are watching stars pretending to be ordinary. There is a genuine lack of artifice which makes their love story both romantic and moving without ever being cloying or sentimental. You don’t feel manipulated into taking sides. View full article »

The sixth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years. 

WORKING-CLASS CHILDHOOD. AN ORAL HISTORY by Jeremy Seabrook (1982)

When I was young, the children ran around barefoot. Now it’s their hearts that are bare”. This quote is that of an old man from Sheffield and establishes the main theme of this book.

Drawn from a wide variety of sources, Jeremy Seabrook explores the changes in society between the 1930s and 1970s mainly from the perspective of children, though mostly taken from the memories of older interviewees..

The hard, often cruel, upbringing in the pre war years prepared kids for the harsh world of adulthood. Discipline was strong and communities close-knit as people faced up to the common threat of poverty.

Seabrook highlights the way the increasing dependence on material wellbeing has brought many benefits but has  fundamental drawbacks; he writes: “All the talk of change turns out to be changing people so that they fit the modified needs of cold economic processes; the only revolution turns out to be the revolution of the fixed wheel”. View full article »

The fifth in a series of 13 book reviews from my pre-blogging years.

STEPPENWOLF by Hermann Hesse (1927)

steppenwolf The Steppenwolf of the title is Henry Holler, a tired intellectual living a solitary life in an attic flat in a cosy bourgeois home. He is 50 years old and weary of life to the point of contemplating suicide. The nephew of his landlady observes that “the root of his pessimism was not world contempt but self contempt”.

Holler thinks of himself as a kind of Jekyll & Hyde figure with the wolf in him representing the pleasures of the flesh. Despite his book learning he finds no enjoyment in the spiritual life and finds himself  “outside all social circles, beloved by none”.

In this desperate state he meets Hermine who is a member of a Magic Theatre advertised as being ‘For Madmen Only’. She teaches Holler to laugh, dance and enjoy sex without guilt.

Above all, she despises his patronizing attitude to those he regards as uneducated:  “You learned people and artists have, no doubt, all sorts of  superior things in your heads, but you’re human beings like the rest of us, and we too have our dreams and fancies”.

Through Pablo, who plays in the theatre company’s band, Holler learns that music is not something to be felt with the heart not something to analyse or philosophise over.

The moral of Hesse’s novel can be summed up by the criticism of what he calls the “never-ceasing machinery” of everyday life which can prevent people from being “the critics of their own lives and from recognizing the stupidity and shallowness, the hopeless tragedy and waste of the lives they lead”.

What he advocates as an alternative is to “learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest”.  

I second that emotion.

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