Friday, 25 April 2014

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates

Where do we to to to find authenticity in our lives? Artistic expression; meaningful work; love and marriage; family; children ... And what do we do if what we find there seems little more than cheap artifice or a momentarily shared delusion?

The opening of the novel largely concerns the unsuccessful staging of an amateur production of The Petrified Forest*. The play actually pre-empts much of the storyline of the novel, with dreams of escaping to France and artistic creation clashing against drear mundanity.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Death of the Heart

Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen

This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I was finally encouraged to pull it from my shelves by a list by author Yiyun Li of five books that she rereads.  It seems to me to be a masterpiece, an essential book. I have read The Last September and thought it great but this is even better. At times the writing is exhilarating in its cumulative virtuosity, even when the insights are speculative and eccentric. Or maybe because they are eccentric and speculative.

The book tells of a period of time in the life of the orphaned Portia Quayne,  a sixteen year old girl who is staying with her half-brother Thomas and his wife Anna, who have no children of their own and little time or sympathy for Portia. Portia was born when Thomas and Portia's father had an affair which brought an end to his marriage, after which he and Portia's mother lived in a succession of second rate accommodations around Europe. Thomas remembers her as a young girl who "stared at him like a kitten that expects to be drowned." It was their father's deathbed request that Thomas take Portia for a year. They feel that it would be bad form not to accede to a dying man's wish.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Top 102 Albums Minus 14 - Fire of Love

Top 102 Albums Minus 14
Fire of Love - The Gun Club
"I'm going to buy me a graveyard all of my own
and kill everyone who ever did me harm"

Hank Williams staggered from the bar onto the dusty highway. StEaling an aXe from John Henry he chopped down electricity poles and JACKed up on electro convulsive blues, as a WOLF drove past in a tattered limousine HOWLING some artery rippinG pUNk yarn discovered rotting in a bootleggers shack by Harry Smith .

Stripped back, shredded roCk that stands beside bands Like The Stooges, The Birthday Party, Einstürzende NeUBauten in the intensity of its exorcistic orgies.

Friday, 4 April 2014

How's the Pain?

How's the Pain? - Pascal Garnier
(Translated by Emily Boyce)

"In which part of Africa was it that people greeted each other every morning with the question "How's the pain?" Simon could no longer remember."

I was inspired to read this by a list of favourite noir books selected by John Banville, and it was not a disappointment. It has many of the reflexes of a genre novel but is also a humdrum existential meditation on death.

An older man, Simon arrives at Val-les-Bains, a spa town in rural France. He strikes up a conversation with Bernard, a simple young man and invites him out for dinner. He then offers him a job driving him to a seaside town and back. He offers good money. There has to be more to it than first appears and, of course, there is.

Indeed we know that it will end with Simon hanging himself and leaving everything to Bernard. For we begin at the end, the first short chapter being Simon's preparing to hang himself in his hotel room. And the second chapter lets us know that Bernard will assist him.