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I find writing notes on what I read can clarify my thoughts and it also helps to jog the memory on plots and characters that would otherwise be all too quickly forgotten.

I’ve just stumbled upon a notebook of short handwritten reviews written between 1983-1993 which goes to show that I was blogging even before I had the internet! Rather than simply let them gather dust again, I am turning into a short series of blog posts so this is the first of a baker’s dozen (that’s 13 for all you non-bakers out there!).

DYING, IN OTHER WORDS by Maggie Gee (Harvester Press, 1991)

This is an ambitious novel with death as the obsessive theme.

Characters are introduced and, almost without exception, killed off. Some deaths are violent, some are tragic and many are farcical. The black humour makes the point that the most savage joke of all is death itself.

Because our demise is a certainty and may come at any time Maggie Gee makes the valid observation that there is nothing at all to gain from putting off our ambitions; as she puts it: “saving life is the quickest way to die”.

The characters in the novel include dreamers, murderers and millionaires. Most have dark secrets or fears which are kept hidden so each seems remote from the other.

The biggest fear of all is that after death the person will be forgotten:“And over this death looms another; the death which might come voicelessly, senselessly [..] dying with no words”.

The author’s main influences are undoubtedly Samuel Beckett and Franz Kafka. The final section is made up of poems based on the characters in the novel and a series pf excellent short essays denouncing the 9 to 5 routine and bureaucracy with Kafkaesque accuracy.

There the first novel’s classic error of writing for effect when a simpler statement would be more forceful.

Gee has admitted that many details of the girl Moira’s life are autobiographical and said that the fragmented and, at times, incoherent structure of the novel was deliberate. As a self-consciously experimental work, it is not always successful but the author’s honesty shines through.

WARHOL – Palazzo Cipolla, Rome 

FRIDA KAHLO – Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome 

Andy Warhol Self-Portrait 1986

Andy Warhol Self-Portrait 1986

Frida Kahlo - Self Portrairt With Thorn Necklace And Hummingbird  (1940)

Frida Kahlo – Self portrait With Thorn Necklace And Hummingbird (1940)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the face of it these two artists have little in common but after seeing the exhibitions of their works  in Rome back to back I got to thinking about the similarities in their distinctive styles.

Neither are what you would call classically good-looking but both are immediately recognisable through their self portraits, most of which feature them staring, straight-faced at the viewer.

“I am the subject I know best”, said Frida Kahlo while Andy Warhol brazenly presented himself on a par with the other celebrities he idolised.

They made no attempt to airbrush out the flaws in their appearance. Kahlo’s amazing eyebrows and visible moustache challenge conventional notions of female beauty while by donning silver wig and maintaining an impassive expression Warhol seems to be saying ‘Yes, I’m a freak – what of it?’

Kahlo and Warhol both created their own realities and , at the same time, each cultivated an enigmatic air of mystery. They anticipated what anyone who craves their 15 minutes of fame now takes for granted,  ie. the fine line between success and failure depends on how well you are able to control and manipulate your public image.

In their lifetimes Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón and Andrew Warhola achieved a cult following.

In death, exhibitions like these in Rome ensure they respectively maintain the kind of iconic status you suspect they individually knew was theirs by birthright.

sad-brazil-fanI don’t normally blog about soccer but the unprecedented events of last night throws up issues that go beyond the so-called ‘beautiful game’.

Brazil’s astonishing 7-1 world cup defeat at the hands of a merciless German team was nothing short of a disaster not only for the team and the nation but also for the corporate interests behind the orchestrating this sporting event.

The hope, and expectation, was always that the home country would triumph so that it would end in one gigantic Samba street party.

The massive expenditure needed to stage such global happenings are enough to potentially bankrupt even the richest countries. The huge investment in the construction of soon to be redundant stadiums and facilities can only be justified if they bring wealth to the country in the form of sponsorship deals or increased tourism.

Anti-government demonstrations against high taxes, poor services and political corruption have been violently quelled leading up to the tournament and Brazil’s ignoble exit will only serve to reignite the debate about these spiralling costs. View full article »

UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK,USA, 2013)

ScarlettThe greatest movies are those that discretely change your perception of the world. Inspiring auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch play upon the voyeuristic nature of cinema and their strength of their vision lies in drawing the viewer into the kind of dark and sinister worlds ‘normal’ citizens would go out of our way to avoid. Jonathan Glazer can safely be added to this exclusive director’s club.

Under The Skin is loosely based on Michel Faber’s brilliant and disturbing debut novel. The operative word here is ‘loosely’ because so much of the plot has been changed it almost amounts to a different story entirely. The Scottish setting is the same but otherwise the divergences far outweigh the similarities. Even so, the movie captures the essence of the novel by being faithful to the atmosphere if not the details.

In the novel the alienated alien, Isserley, is described as “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady” which is hardly a description that applies to Scarlett Johansson who still manages to look sexy despite wearing a scraggy black wig and manky fur jacket. In fact Glazer makes sex the chief way in which the solitary males are lured to their fate; they don’t have to be drugged.

The movie is seriously creepy although not as explicitly horrific as the book. The victims disappear into a strange liquid, a symbolic and seemingly painless death which is a happy death compared to the nightmarish process of being turned into braised meat that Faber describes. View full article »

UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber (Canongate Books, 2000)

The first time I read this novel, I found it mildly disturbing and extremely distasteful. After having just seen Jonathan Glazer’s loose but still remarkable movie adaptation, I decided to give it another try. This time around I got it!

I can now appreciate what a powerful and brilliantly sustained piece of writing it is. At the same time I can understand what I initially found so off-putting.

Faber’s precise, clinical  prose is emotionally detached to the point that he challenges readers to use their own moral compass to decipher the grotesque story of a freakish female extraterrestrial named Isserley who assumes human form to prey upon unsuspecting hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands.

Initially you think that her motives are sexual as she seeks out muscular men and flashes her surgically enhanced boobs at them. It transpires that her intentions are far more sinister as these beefy men are quite literally wanted for their meat value.

It takes a while to realise what Faber calls human beings are actually fox-like alien creatures from Isserley’s homeland while we Homo sapiens are downgraded to ‘vodsels’ whose grim fate is to be processed into “thin fillets of braised voddissin”. View full article »

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