Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Shelter ~ James Everington

The Shelter is a novella by the independent writer James Everington in the style of Stephen King's The Body which resonated with me in the fact that it is about a group of children (in this case four boys) getting up to no good during a school summer holiday.  Set in England, it brought back memories of those long six week holidays, with not much to do except going exploring with friends.  It is something we probably don't let our children do today but, without Foxtel, Apple, X-box or PC's, our options for entertainment back when I was a teenager in the late 70's and early 80's lay in the outdoors.

The story of The Shelter is related by a thirteen year old Alan Dean who, with his best friend Duncan and two older boys that he knows from school, goes in search of an old air raid shelter that supposedly lies outside of their village.  When they get there it's location seems a bit bizarre with the shelter being located in the far corner of a field, the atmosphere changes too with the incessant buzzing of wasps and a feeling of rising anger that threatens to overwhelm the boys themselves.

Driven by excitement and fear, and wondering if this is the resting place of Martin, a local schoolboy whose disappearance has dominated the news reports lately, they open the metal lid that covers the entrance to the shelter.  Everything appears normal until a simple prank leaves Alan in a terrifying situation and open to a supernatural event.  But did it really happen?  

As children we are ready to accept the unknown, and in a state of heightened terror we can imagine any amount of horrors.  Yet for all those nights of being too afraid to look under the bed, or in the closet or at that bundle of clothes thrown on the chair that looks like something unimaginable.......... did any harm ever come to us?  This then brings doubt and cynicism into the mind of the adult, and the realisation that there never was anything there at all. This is the thought that the older Alan will ponder as he reviews the events of that summer.

The writing style does need some polishing, and the idea itself of using a group of bored children to propel the story along isn't all that original - just read Stephen King and Dan Simmons - but I found that I really liked it because of the memories that it stirred up for me and I almost (almost mind you) felt a pang for a genuine English Summer.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

As I Lay Dying ~ William Faulkner

There's something about Faulkner that I really like, but I can't put my finger on it.  I've only read two of his novels but I guess it's the quirkiness of the characters, and the secrets that come out during the telling of the story, that grabs my attention.

Addie Bundren is dying, her husband and children are waiting around for her to die, which is her wish. Her son Cash is out in the yard making her coffin which is also her wish.  Her final wish though is to be buried in Jefferson with 'her people', and basically this is what the novel is about.  We follow this hillbilly family to Jefferson to bury their mother, but it's not an easy journey and Addie will be several days dead before she is finally laid to rest.

During the journey we find out that Addie and her husband Anse were not happily married nor great parents, that one son is not Anse's biological son, their only daughter is not as pure as she seems and another son is dangerously mad.  

As I lay Dying is told from the viewpoint of fifteen different characters, including the deceased Addie.  I'm not usually a fan of using different narrators, but it works in this novel especially when the antics of the family are viewed by a more sane narrator.  It is by turns both funny and sad.

Jame's Franco's movie adaptation of the novel is quite stunning.  Using the split screen device he is able to capture the multi-narrator point of view for several of the scenes, and in others he has the characters staring into the camera narrating a monologue to the viewer.  My favourite monologue is that of Cash as he describes the build of Addie's coffin.  

What I like best about the movie is that it barely detracts from the novel at all,  which is a rarity these days, so I guess Franco's not just a pretty face after all!

After enjoying this so much, and also The Sound and The Fury, I look forward to reading some more Faulkner later this year.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Roadside Picnic ~ Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Roadside Picnic is a novella by Russian sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and was adapted for the screen as Stalker.  The movie and the book are very different but there are enough similarities to make it recognisable as the same theme.

The story centres on 'The Zone', an area made uninhabitable since an alien visitation destroyed it. It is illegal to enter 'The Zone' without the appropriate authorisation and protective clothing, but people do. These people are known as Stalkers, and they make their money from the items that they bring out of 'The Zone'.  Successful Stalkers become legendary as many don't make it out alive, and if they do then some are not always in one piece. The one thing that they all wish to obtain is the 'golden ball' for it is said that it will grant your innermost wish.

The novella follows a Stalker called Redrick Schuhart, who is known as 'Red' by his peers. It is well known that the wives of stalkers bear deformed children, and Red's daughter is no exception.  Nicknamed 'Monkey' there is mention of golden silken hair on her body but, as the story progresses Monkey's hair darkens and her face becomes sunken, and she becomes disassociated from her family.

The title of the story relates to the alien visitation, which is likened to a roadside picnic. When we have a picnic we disturb the area that is home to the various creatures living there - insects and birds etc.  We eat our food, play some games, leave our rubbish and then drive off without giving a second thought to the place again.

In the movie (directed by Andrei Tarkovsky) it is many years since the alien visitation and a stalker is taking two men into The Zone to find a room that will grant their wishes.  This is an extremely beautiful and atmospheric movie to watch. Some of the scenes are like watching a painting.  The music is gorgeous and captures the feel of the location perfectly.

More philosophical than the book, it asks the question: What really is our heart's desire?  You might know what your dearest wish is but your innermost desire might be something in your subconscious ie you might wish for peace on Earth but subconsciously you might desire your brother dead............when the Stalker and the two men find the room this question plagues their consciences.

Stalker is a movie that you can watch on many levels.  I love watching it just for the visual images,  I like to watch it without any subtitles so that I can soak in the sound of the Russian language, and I watch it just to enjoy the soundtrack.  This is certainly a beautiful piece of movie making.