A blog for people hooked on books, and plays, and poems, and films, and songs, and ....

Sunday, January 14, 2007

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

I liked On Beauty so much I rushed out and bought a new copy of Howard's End by E M Forster. I'm glad I did, as I'm enjoying the homage Zadie Smith has played, and I'm enjoying Howard's End all over again.

On Beauty has a large cast, all well drawn and all with a role in the pacey plot. I particularly liked the comment on race and nationality woven deep in the novel. Sometimes just heroes and heroines playing out their part - other times a black American, a rich black educated girl, an English academic man, a poor American black boy, a very poor and political Haitian man. Most of the characters ask at some point - how does being Black identity them and change their lives?

Forster would have enjoyed the pomposity of the characters, they all make mistakes, no-one is right - although most of them think they are most of the time. It's a challenging novel in that way, there isn't a character who acts as the reader's proxy showing the way to the right thoughts and conclusions. They all make mistakes.

The plot is about two families - with opposing view points (conservation and liberal, Christian and Aetheist) - whose lives cross and re-cross, starting (as in Howard's End) with an engagement that is called off as suddenly as it begins. It takes place in Wellington (a kind of Boston suburb) and London. It is about infidelity, relationships, teenage angst, black politics, art, academia, poetry, love, beauty. It was funny too.

I liked it. And I liked it more than White Teeth.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince was not exactly an obvious follow on from Confederacy of Dunces but (having just re-read it) there are some links. Perhaps they are only 7 basic plots as some claim so similarities should be easy between many stories.

The two heroes are looking around at the behaviour of mankind to presumably find the best way to live your life. Each is surprised at the folly he sees. But there I have to admit defeat in seeking out any similarity. The prince is gentle and kind and thinks of others, Ignatius doesn't. The Little Prince has a very clear ending, Confederacy storms out. End of comparison.

The Little Prince may be dated (ie out of date) because of its gentleness but I found that if you can get past the first few pages and ignore that it claims to be apparently for children then it does toughen up. It looks at the battle between good and evil (written during WWII), the emptiness of wealth or power, the unfocused rushing around, the fragility of love, the pain of friendship and the search for happiness. And it ends with a Shakespearean suicide by snake bite in a starlit desert. So not totally or only addressed to children. In France this may be less relevant anyway since philosophy is a compulsory subject in schools. So philosophy may not be assumed to be only for one age group.

Almost certainly the book must be better in French: "It's a little lonely in the desert", "It's also lonely with people" and "Anything essential is invisible to the eyes". The book is full of these rather simple and true statements perfect for pinning on your student bedroom wall.

And you can read it in less time than ...... almost any other book.

papiermache for blooked

Monday, November 13, 2006

"A Confederacy of Dunces' John Kennedy Toole

"A Confederacy of Dunces" follows Ignatius Reilly, described by Walter Percy in his foreword as "slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one".

Ignatius is a colourful character surrounded by colourful characters, he is a man on a mission and yet he is lacking a mission. The one thing that does happen, his mum crashing her car, leads him to haphazardly stumble into working life (much against his will) where he has far-reaching impacts on the lives of those who get caught in his cross-fire. One such person is Mr Levy his ex-boss who turns out good in spite of (or because of) Ignatius leading his factory workers into revolt and writing to the companies biggest customer and ending the letter with, "if you molest us again, sir, you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.

The characters surrounding Ignatius are equally as intriguing. Jones, Myrna, Miss Trixie. They are such developed characters that I could talk about them for ages, maybe I will in a separate post. The author had obviously spent a lot of time on those surrounding Ignatius' life, I feel like I know them personally.

Ignatius' dis-association to and isolation from modern life is a shared feeling amongst many people in our world today. He is my spokesman for that part of me which feels this way about certain things, politics, celebrity, corporate blah. And yet he continues to put himself into these situations, like his trips to the cinema when he shouts "What degenerate produced this abortion?"

I have also read John Kennedy Toole's other book which he wrote for a literary competition when he was sixteen. Sixteen. His story is a sad one. Depressed by what he saw as failure for not getting his manuscript published he killed himself at the age of 32. "A Confederacy of Dunces" was published years later (thanks to his mother) and it went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 12 years after the author's death.

In the words of Jones "aint this the shit, ooo-wee!"

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Summer with Monika by Roger McGough

"i spent the summer with monika and monika spent the summer with me". It's a poem about passionate, can'tgetenough of it love, parananoid love, and settled and comfortable love. When I first read this poem I was a virgin and I knew about this love (from Austen, Salinger, Scott Fitzgerald) and that I'd know it when I saw it (and felt it, smelt it, tasted it). When I was in labour with my second child I argued with my husband that I wanted to call our baby Monika - so she could know the passion of Summer with Monika; luckily he was a boy.

It starts with that wonderful summer of love:
"for i locked a yellowdoor
and i threw away the key". It's a summer where they spend their time making love and being together. McGough turns their home into their world - "picnicked on the banks of the settee" - because, when you're in love you only need eachother. Day and night merge as the world is one long series of love making.

Then there's the paranoid, the madness, the jealousy. Is it pre-menstral tension? Lots of moon references. Actual madness or depression? Or just passion going in the wrong direction?

Then there's the final, normal love:
"we no longer eat our dinners holding hands
or neck in the backstalls of the television
the room nolonger a place for hideandseeking in
but a container that we use for eatandsleeping
in"

McGough makes it all seem so easy. So merseybeat. But it's dead clever and he's very seductive. And I love the "commonorgarden" "saturdaymorning" "ticktock blanketness" "issuchsicklysweetness" of it all. It's out of print - but find a copy and read it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Saturday by Ian McEwan

I thought a fat book about just one day couldn’t sustain my interest – but it did. Saturday is situated in one time and one place. It’s a date between the fall of the twin towers and now (after three years of occupation in Iraq). Saturday is situated in a time when a million people thought a demo would stop a war. The place is London; it's Saturday 15 February 2003. It's a day in the life of upper middle-class, neurosurgeon Henry Perowne.

I like reading Ian McEwan, he makes me uncomfortable. I can’t settle down. I want Saturday to be about tranquillity (like weekday London, quiet and peaceful at the weekend) but it’s about violence. The book starts with a normally quiet and sleepy early morning punctuated with a burning plane in the sky. What should Henry do? Is it important enough to do anything? This is followed by the quiet streets disturbed by the distant demo, the gangsters in their flashy car, the squash game, surgery, the fight, the resurrection. Phew! I love the waiting, tasting the context, feeling the anticipation and then experiencing the rush and bursts of actions.

I didn’t like Henry Perowne – but I like books which challenge my romantic assumption that the protagonist should be my fantasy best friend. I don’t know why the squash game goes on for so long. Henry has two children, one of whom is a brilliant poet and the other an awesome jazz musician – that’s just too fantastical, and too Hamstead.

I enjoyed McEwan’s language and the page-turning suspense – a good story well told. But most of all I liked the challenge of Saturday, the discomfort of it, it made me question my middle-class self. Would I phone the police about a burning plane? Would I save a dying man who had harmed my family? Did I do anything to stop the Iraq war? The answer’s not brain surgery!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why are we blooked?

We love talking about books but we don't have time to meet up, and we've got friends in other towns and countries who want to talk about books too. This blog will have one or two postings for each month, and we'll let you know ahead of time what we're reading and what we're going to be talking about - so you can read it too. For October we're reading "Saturday" by Ian McEwan and "Summer with Monika" by Roger McGough. Join us at the beginning of October when we'll be talking about these books and let you know what we're reading for the rest of the year.