THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers (First published, 1940)
This has to be one of the best titles of all time and is widely regarded as one the great American novels.
It is certainly a remarkable achievement especially considering it is the debut work of a writer who was just 23 years old when it was first published.
Full of worldly wisdom and compassion for life’s underdogs, it suggests that Carson McCullers was writing from her own bitter experiences. Continue reading
ALL THE LIGHT YOU CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr (Fourth Estate, 2014)
"Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever"
This engrossing novel follows the parallel lives of a young German boy (Werner Pffnig) and a young French girl (Marie Laure) caught up in the mayhem and confusion of the second world war.
The novel’s year zero is 1944 and the complex yet brilliant plotted story shifts back and forward in time.
Short chapters give the urgency of a thriller yet patiently piece together the threads that briefly and movingly bring these two blighted lives together.
Doerr unsentimentally shows us how ordinary lives are corrupted by the horror of war.
One of the real strengths of the novel is that our sympathies lie with both of the main characters even though conventionally speaking they are mortal enemies and Werner is alined with the morally depraved Hitler youth. Continue reading
BRIDGE OF SPIES directed by Steven Spielberg (USA; 2015)
As a self-confessed movie nerd I can’t get enough of the ironic post-modernism to be found in directors like David Lynch, Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. I identify strongly with the cynical and often surreal gaze they direct towards the modern world.
In my book, The Coen Brothers fit squarely into this category so it comes as something of shock to find Ethan and Joel’s names (alongside British playwright Matt Charman) on the screenwriting credits for Spielberg’s very conventional drama. Apparently, their remit was to add some zip to a story which, with shades of Fargo, is “inspired by real events”.
Lawyer James B. Donovan played by Tom Hanks is the decent, upstanding all American family man appointed to defend the devious Russian spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in what is initially conceived as little more than a show trial.
I suspect it is the Coens who came up with the best line in the movie when, in response to Donovan’s comment that Abel never seems to worry, the spy asks “Would it help?” This is funny the first time around, but when he poses the same question on two further occasions, it loses its novelty value. Otherwise, the script is tight and workmanlike although has none of the wisecracks or lively verbal exchanges you come to expect in Coen Brothers movies. Continue reading
ROOM directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Canada/Ireland/UK, 2015)
Joy and Jack look for light in the darkness.
Room is the story of survival. The main victim is Joy Newcombe ( which evokes the idea that he is the devil in human form. While in captivity he has fathered Joy’s 5-year-old son Jack and you imagine that sexual abuse is the prime motive for his actions.
There is always a morbid curiosity to uncover the dark secrets that drive this kind of depraved behavior. A weakness of the movie is that we learn so little about this man’s background or what happens to him after being apprehended. We hear of, but never really see any physical abuse and only the sound of a creaking bed tells us that he is repeatedly raping her. Continue reading
RABBIT, RUN by John Updike (Penguin Books, First published, 1971)
Powerful works of fiction are not dependent on the nobility or likability of the characters.
Two of my favorite fictional creationd are Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov from Crime And Punishment and Mervyn Peake’s Steerpike from the Gormenghast trilogy. Each are prime examples of men behaving badly motivated by a bitter and twisted ambition. Their ruthless and murderous actions are deplorable but they are both fascinatingly complex characters.
Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom is in a wholly different kettle of fish. There is nothing endearing about him and the very banality of his failings mean that he barely qualifies as an anti-hero. He is not a killer, nor does he crave power but his selfishness, random lustfulness and frustration are ugly traits that infect the lives around him.
A one time basketball star, he is unable to come to terms with a humdrum life with a dead-end job and a dismal marriage. He wants out but has nowhere to run.
Updike’s cynical depiction of the human condition is so absolute that we are pitched into the mire of Rabbit’s squallid affairs without a moral compass. We are not required to condone or condemn his actions nor to sympathize when he hits rock bottom to the point that : “He feels underwater, caught in chains of transparent slime, ghosts of the urgent ejaculations he has spat into the mild bodies of women”. Continue reading