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Showing posts from January, 2009

Revolutionary Road - the film

After putting in a paltry two and a bit hours at the British Library this morning I packed up my laptop, having had enough of Victorian Manchester, to go and immerse myself in post-war Connecticut and watch Revolutionary Road. And I am so pleased to report that I wasn't disappointed, because there's always the chance with an adaptation - even more so when the adaptation is from a novel in which the prose style is so crisp and spare and relies so much on the inner existential angst suffered by the characters.

Set in 1955 it focuses on the story of Frank and April Wheeler, a young married couple who had believed for so long that they would be able to live different lives than their parents - that they were above the hum-drum conformity and monotony that becomes so especially prevalent in the fifties and which gives birth to the 'organization man' and the suburbs. This is shown well as the direct reference is made to Frank's deceased father, who had worked at Knox M…

The Secret Scripture not flawed says judge

Writer Lisa Jewell has written quite a passionate piece in The Telegraph in defence of claims that Sebastian Barry's Costa winning novel, The Secret Scripture, was 'flawed' and, in any case, what isn't flawed? That reminds me, yesterday afternoon I was mooching around Highgate and entered a bookshop where the woman who worked in there and a male friend of hers whom she obviously wasn't that close to, and in any case hadn't seen in ages, had popped in with his dog and were chit-chatting politely but with that slight undercurrent of strain. The shop was so quiet that I couldn't help but overhear their entire conversation. After him trying to chat her up, then her tell him that she was already seeing someone now after getting rid of her last feckless boyfriend, and then him quickly backtracking, then her trying to make him feel better for having asked in the first place, and them him resenting her trying to make him feel better for having asked, they quickly…

Barry wins the Costa!

You see, he DID deserve it. After being cheated out of the Booker Sebastian Barry has won the Costa prize, beating (not literally, god forbid!) 91 year old Athill, debut novelist Sadie Jones, children's writer Michelle Magorian, and poet Adam Fouldes. Much reference to what critics claimed was a 'flawed' masterpiece, and an unfulfilling ending, but I didn't really get that at all, although I could quite easily find the flaws in all my favourite books. By the time I finished it last year I just felt that it had been an overwhelmingly poignant journey. Full news here.

Reading...

Today I bought one of those OUP 'A Very Short Introduction...' to Heidegger. Yes, another (some would say questionable) German existentialist slowly revealing the profundity of good faith/authenticity.

Updike no more...

John Updike, author of over 50 books, today died from lung cancer. Strangely, the Washington Post and The Guardian are using the same copy, here.

1857 and all that...

I don't know whether to prepare myself for the cold I know I'm going to catch after spending a day in the British Library, surrounded by polite but still irritating sneezers, or run out and drink bottles of Echinacea in the hope of keeping it at bay. Anyway. I am making what feels like painfully slow progress on my nineteenth century work-in-progress - it requires so much research, but research that needs to be read and digested and fit into the complex context and yet not necessarily incorporated into the work itself! What I have found fascinating today, however, is the news of the world banking crisis. Of 1857! See here. The similarities with today's is alarming, yet everyone, meaning the news researchers, automatically hark back to 1929. Go further back, I say, and then reel them all off, every single global economic crisis - because there have been many - and still hardly a lesson learnt.

Tomorrow will see the announcement of the winner of the Costa Book Awards. The Gua…

Lessing is moreing

I want to know more about Lessing. Not Doris, but Gotthold Ephraim, the 'central author of the German Enlightenment' and the subject of a lengthy biography piece by Ritchie Robertson in this week's TLS. Entitled 'Fighter on all fronts' it also reviews Hugh Barr Nisbet's new biography of Lessing, with much head scratching as to why it was published in German from the MS and not in English, and then ends with the adamant statement that it would benefit all non-German reading eighteenth-century scholars! I would buy it if it were and I'm not even an eighteenth century scholar! Lessing's 'prodigious range of work', it is claimed, was the main strategy for attempting to keep at bay both the boredom and depression 'that constantly threatened him'. The very titles of Lessing's works seem far ahead of his time. We are told that he attacks misogyny in 'The Misogynist' and in The Freethinker (1749) he is at pains to demonstrate tha…

Held together with safety pins

Expect many of these biographical pieces on Richard Yates to spring up now that Revolutionary Road has hit the big screen. Having wrote my degree dissertation on him a few years ago I already felt as though I knew this terrible shambles of a man better than I know some of my friends! Hypersensitive, lonely, obsessive, bleak... all are apt descriptors of him, none of which makes for your typical hero! If I met him in the flesh I'd have run a mile in the opposite direction. But there's something self-seeking in the way I, and I suspect many other fans, have studied his life and works, as though trying to seek a way of understanding our own neuroticisms and also, perversely, trying to seek solace in the bleakness of his vision, as though it provides evidence of 'how life really is'; unvarnished - his clear prose style a testament to a life with scant ornamentation. Here's another article on him by Daphne Merkin for Book Forum in which she says he seemed to be 'hel…

Credit crunch crass

Toby Young has written in The Spectator on the reaction of people like psychologist Oliver James and George Monbiot to the credit-crunch. James, as was clear from his fairly recent book,The Selfish Capitalist, merely a re-working of Marx's Estranged Labour, welcomes the credit crunch with both arms, claiming that it will force people to reassess their values in what had become a culture of conspicuous consumption, valuing the wide-screen TV and latest white goods over human relationships. It can't be denied that James makes valid points as to the solace many of us seek in material possessions or 'stuff' - many of us now using them as indicators of how well we are doing in the workplace, (encouraged by the glut of advertising and various other messages that bombard us) or more often as 'rewards' for sticking what are often unsuitable jobs. However, Young also makes the important point that many of those who will be 'forced to reassess' the important non…

TV Scriptwriter's disillusionment turn to prose

Script writer Matthew Hall explains why he turned to prose with his debut novel, The Coroner. It gives a very interesting insight into a complaint I've heard from a couple of TV scriptwriters and read about many more that, apart from the few big hitters, creativity seems increasingly sidelined and they are frequently kept in the margins as though nothing more than amanuenses, seemingly powerless over the creative development of projects. It is so incredibly depressing that, in most 'creative' fields the fear of keeping fed the need-to-be-sedated masses is given priority instead of giving free reign to a more thoughtful approach. After all, no-one person knows 'what works' as even formula frequently does not, so why not let the reigns loosen a little? Hall's background is also interesting, he started out as a barrister, trying to defend teenagers from being locked up for years on end which he describes as 'brutal'. It is first-hand experience such as Ha…

Favourite quotes...

I was going through an old note-book this morning, of which I seem to have many, many containing no more than bits and bobs, and oodles of doodles. I came across these quotes I had noted, the first one a reminder of the recent death of the king of the pregnant pause, Harold Pinter:

Samuel Beckett said to an actor in one of his plays, apropos a pregnant pause, "you're playing two dots at the moment, the script says three..."

"I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it." Toni Morrisson

"The trouble with fiction is that it makes too much sense, whereas reality never makes sense." Aldous Huxley

In a nutshell...

Andrew O'Hagan has written a brilliant essay (The George Orwell Memorial Lecture) in today's Guardian asking What went wrong with the working class?

"There is an aversion in England to organised or even personal resistance, a frightening bend towards compromise. There have always been good causes worth fighting for, but seldom, in the modern era, has there been the common volition to fight for them."

Whore?

I loved the comments in this morning's Independent asking whether the credit crunch has a silver lining for literature. Geoff Dyer's comments were first class:

"Anyone who has an eye on the market is not a writer but a whore. Nothing wrong with being a whore, of course – just don't try to make out you're a writer...I have this existential conception of writing not as a career but as a back-against-the wall option, the thing you turn to when you've got no other way of making a mark on the world."

Most of those asked agreed that literature can only benefit from a greater depth and avant-garde approach as many writers will realise that, if they aren't going to make money from writing, then they might as well start writing what they truly want to write, and from that position readers will benefit by connecting with a greater sincerity.

Devil and saint replaced by celebrity and voicemail

This story deserves a chuckle. The Bishop of Norwich has 'blasted' the Oxford Junior Dictionary for leaving out words such as 'devil', and 'saint' and introduced 'celebrity' and 'voicemail'. Good to see the OJD keeping up with the times. As much as most right-thinking people must be of the opinion that most celebrities don't seem at all real, even more must no longer believe that devils and saints are any more so! To hell with them! Voicemail certainly is real enough though.

Costa Book Awards

The winners of the Costa Book Awards individual categories have been announced as:

Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture Diana Athill Somewhere Towards the End Sadie Jones The Outcast Adam Foulds The Broken Word Michelle Magorian Just Henry

I am so pleased that Barry won the novel section of the prize for Booker-robbed The Secret Scripture. The winner will be revealed on 27th January.

A sense of place - drawing on the Home Town

I need to be up in less than six hours and I can't sleep. Knowing this only makes it worse. So I read. I know everything I've said in some previous post about hating 'how to write...' handbooks, having been through so many in years gone by and concluding that they count for little except as a nifty side-line for struggling or mid-list writers. Perhaps I should also have mentioned that most of those 'How to...' books were American, written in that homey kinda way; not just that but also seem to use titles like 'Use Killer-Diller Detail....' as though the key to believing what the writer is writing is in the diller, whatever the diller is! And then there is, to my mind, many American 'How to...' books that are so adamant that it's formula, formula, formula. Two of my books on writing, American, seem to be dead set against writing anything literary or any other aesthetic considerations. This is the way the market works, they seem to say, …

Per Petterson

Guardian Review today ran an interview with Norwegian writer, Per Petterson, whose novel, Out Stealing Horses, was internationally acclaimed and which I praised to high heavens. I then claimed to have felt colder towards In the Wake and To Siberia. This is where it helps to know more about the author's life, especially when it informs the work as much as it did in In The Wake because, like the story itself, Per lost his parents, his brother and a nephew when the ferry they were on sunk. Why does it matter? Because it warms one to the huge significance of those events - it may blur the lines between fiction and fact and narrator/author but I don't give a fig. I love the way he comes across here, especially in relation to growing up in a staunch working-class family, and also about knowing if he wasn't going to write that he was going to be miserable. He also dislikes Ibsen, which seems to be rather common amongst the few Norwegians I know. Also, luckily I think, he li…

Crawling at Night, Nani Power

Just like the beginning of 2008 I have begun 2009 with a corker of a book, Nani Power's Crawling at Night (Grove/Atlantic Monthly, 2001). Power takes the term 'creative writing' to mean just that - writing, creatively, and I found it such a treat to read something that I wasn't bored by for a second. The two main characters are Mariane, a fading alcoholic waitress who had originally escaped her alcoholic mother when she was just sixteen, but who ends up tragically recreating more of the same. She works in a Sushi restaurant where she sneaks regular top-ups of sake, watched over, and admired by the second main character, Ito, the sixty-year-old sushi chef who feels an affinity with her. They both harbour dark secrets that slowly unravel throughout the story. Each chapter is sub-titled with a menu and the rich art of sushi is revered throughout. Alcoholism is not just seen here as a condition in itself, an addiction, but as symptomatic of deep reservoirs of grief -…

Burns the Republican...

The Guardian are beginning 2009 with the news that Robert Burns was really a Republican who favoured the French Revolution. This is hardly news. He was a Scot writing in his native dialect and for many that meant he became a radical the minute he set quill to parchment. The actual newsworthiness may lie in the fact that Prof. Robert Crawford of St. Andrews came across a journal written by a contemporary of Burns, James MacDonald, who was one of the last people to have met Burns along with a friend. MacDonald later recorded that they 'were both staunch republicans'. Researching the working-class movements such as The Chartists and its organs of communications, such as The Northern Star, and it becomes quickly apparent that many workers idolised Burns and the Romantics. The Chartist newspapers published regularly the imitative attempts by working men keen not only to become poets also but to follow Burns et al in their attempts to glorify their own dialects, thereby stickin…