Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico - Javier Marias
Language is a dangerous commodity. How we use it can determine our fate. It is a vessel for memory. It can be used not just to decide what happens, but also what happened. So when it is decided that Elvis never went to Mexico to shoot some scenes from Fun in Acupulco, so it is. This however, threatens the very being of our narrator, for whom his time in Mexico with Elvis was a lifechanging experience.
Friday, 26 August 2011
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
I didn't have any idea what to expect from this book but it certainly wasn't the missing link between P G Wodehouse and Mervyn Peake. That is however, what I got.
The book opens with a foreword dedicated to "Anthony Pookworthy, Esq., A.B.S., L.L.R." Gibbons bewails the years she has spent as a journalist "learning to say exactly what I meant in short sentences." Now, to "achieve literature and favourable reviews" she must learn "to write as though I were not quite sure about what I meant but was jolly well going to say something all the same in sentences as long as possible." His "books are not ... funny. they are records of intense spiritual struggles, staged in the wild setting of mere, berg or fen." It is clear that she finds them laughable and that Pookworthy represents a type of author who is to be wickedly lampooned in what is to come.
Sunday, 21 August 2011
John Peel's All Time Top Ten 1981.
Click on the image for a Youtube playlist of the songs.
Taken from the very great blog Like Punk Never Happened, which simply uploads editions of Smash Hits from thirty years ago. Simple but giving me hours of browsing pleasure. I had a subscription for years and used to love collecting the magazine in the local newsagent and seeing my surname in the top corner.
At the time there was a lot of crossover between Smash Hits and John Peel. More than one would imagine. Check it out.
Can't wait until it gets to my plea for penpals, which got around two thousand replies. One day we got an actual sack full of post delivered to our house. Wish I had them still. I could scan one every day and run a complementary blog.
Friday, 19 August 2011
The Hothouse by the East River - Muriel Spark
This is an odd book. A couple (Paul and Elsa) live in an old overheated apartment looking out on the East River. Their talk is obtuse, disconnected. She looks out the window while talking to him and there is something wrong with the orientation of her shadow. "He sees her shadow cast on the curtain, not on the floor where it should be according to the position of the setting sun from the window bay behind her, cross town to the West Side. He sees her shadow, as he has seen it many times before, cast once more unnaturally. Although he has expected it, he turns away his head at the sight."
Thursday, 18 August 2011
A E Housman's poem that gives James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover its name could just as easily provide an epigraph for this.
"Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad; when the journey's over
There'll be time enough for sleep."
This is a sweeping tale set in China, almost a fable, although underpinned with startling pictures of reality. It tells of a rural family and their struggles to survive and even prosper through good times and bad. It brought to mind a mixture of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath and Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, although not quite as political as the first nor tragic as the second.
Saturday, 13 August 2011
"Scripture-pure veracity and scandal-rag content."
This is a study of, and exercise in, obsessions, compulsions and persistence. Sometimes it's hard to separate Ellroy's persona and history from his characters. Certainly Donald Crutchfield, the character who ties this book together shares peccadilloes with the author. He is a 'peeper' who has stolen women's lingerie. He has a missing mother who he searches for. He is also the narrator, him and his paper trail.
(Ellroy's mother was killed when he was a child and he did time for peeping/stealing women's lingerie.)
The book opens with a brutal heist, in the description of which are scattered a few very biblical imprecations to "Mark it now". This is the King James version of history, delivered in a declamatory style all Ellroy's own. Short "staccato™" sentences that borrow from police reports and gossip columns constantly invite you to join the dots and create a labyrinthine plot that takes in everything from the long decline of J Edgar Hoover to the mystical power of emeralds in Haitian voodoo (traveling from one to the other on (Howard) Hughes Air in the company of law ENFORCERS and lawbreakers a plenty). They also take in the assassinations of the Kennedy's and King. Indeed all Ellroy's work can be seen to revolve about the murder of his mother and the murder of the American Dream in the guise of the Kennedys and King.