Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ransom ~ David Malouf

Ransom is a beautifully written re-imagining of one of the stories from The Illiad.  

Patroclus is dead and the grieving Achilles, who has taken his revenge on Hector, is tormenting Hector's father King Priam by dragging the body behind his chariot around the walls of Troy.  Each night the gods restore Hector's body so that Achilles must repeat the process day after day.

There is no honour in what Achilles is doing, the body should and must be given up for decent burial rites but Achilles is in deep distress and feels that the gods are mocking him by restoring Hector's defiled flesh each night.

King Priam cannot stand to see his son so treated and decides to talk to Achilles face to face, man to man, and ransom Hector's body.  At first his advisors are against this, feeling that someone should go in his stead, but this is something Priam must do  himself, and not as a King but as a father.  He decides to remove all trappings of his wealth and wear just a white robe; a simple carter, his wagon, and his two donkeys are hired to carry Priam and his ransom to Achilles.

What happens on the way is no less a surprise to Priam than it is to Somax the carter, which gives him a story to tell his grandchildren and great grandchildren in the years to come after Priam has fallen at the hands of Achilles' son.

I absolutely loved this little novella. Having read The Illiad a couple of years ago, it was wonderful to find myself back in this classic story.


Family Matters ~ Rohinton Mistry

When the elderly Nariman Vakeel breaks his ankle his world, and that of his immediate family, changes forever.

Set in Bombay, it appears Nariman is lucky for he lives in a spacious apartment with his adult step children Coomy and Jal, but after the accident Coomy struggles to deal with Nariman's daily toileting to the point she feels he cannot live there any more.  He is taken by ambulance to live with his biological daughter Roxana who lives in a two roomed flat with her husband and two young boys.  Already lacking adequate space the only place they can put 'Grandad' is on the living room couch.  The couch and the living room is Nariman's world for the next few weeks.

I absolutely loved this story, you are quickly drawn into the lives of this family.  The bitter Coomy, the hard of hearing Jal and the beautiful Roxana who must keep the family together despite the daily trials.  

I felt so many emotions whilst reading it - I felt absolute love for Roxana, the imposition put upon her by Coomy only makes her stronger.  She takes care of her father and all his needs without complaint.  I felt anxiety at her husband Yezad who makes some terrible decisions to improve their financial situation so that they can buy the necessary medicines for Nariman, who also suffers from Parkinson's.  I felt anger too at Yezad who will not stoop to help his father-in-law with his toilet requirements and will not allow his two sons to help either.

Nariman's story unfolds through torturous dreams and you feel sorrow for this man who was once a professor and who now suffers his illness and situation with the greatest of dignity.

This is a very thought provoking novel as there are many other secondary characters that are wonderful but tragic, like Mr Kapur the owner of the Sporting Goods Emporium where Yezad works. He loves Bombay as a woman, and hates to see her falling from grace beneath the corruption of those in power.  His strong opinions and Yezad's own deviation from the straight and narrow will be Mr Kapur's downfall.

This really is a wonderful read, and I felt sorry to say goodbye to Roxana and her beautiful boys on finishing the novel.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Middlesex ~ Jeffrey Eugenides

Not content with the emotional impact, nor the anatomical insight, contained in a diary written by an intersex convent girl in the 19th Century Jeffrey Eugenides decided to write a novel instead that would satisfy the reader's inquiring mind.

Middlesex is loosely based on the author's life and his own Greek heritage, however, Calliope/Cal (the protagonist) is his own creation and therefore the novel is not autobiographical.

I loved this book!!  Not only does it explore the themes of nature vs nurture, rebirth and the impact of a recessive gene on three generations of one family, but it also chronicles the life of two immigrant silkworm farmers from their isolated hillside home in Greece to their new life in prohibition era Detroit.

Calliope, their grand-daughter is born a hermaphrodite; however this is not discovered until she/he reaches puberty.  Told retrospectively, and commencing from the womb, Calliope takes us back to when her grandparents were young and how the recessive gene which is quite often found in isolated in-bred groups of people begins to rear its ugly head.

Really, this novel could have been distasteful however we are introduced to a wonderful group of characters with great personalities and eccentricities trying to make a success of their life in a new country, not knowing that their life choices are taking them down a road that will cause the teenage Calliope untold anguish.  Calliope suffers from the usual female teenage angst..... when will her period start?  Why is she so flat chested when her classmates are developing?  Why does she have a crush on her best friend?  Being of Greek heritage other tell tale signs are missed as she grows older .... the unwanted hair on her upper lip that needs waxing, the husky voice and the beginning of heavy set features.  I truly felt for Calliope as she brought back memories of my own insecurities as an introverted teenager.

One thing I didn't get was why Calliope's brother was called Chapter Eleven.  All the way through the novel I was hoping it would reveal itself.  It does actually, but very subtly and being Australian I didn't pick up on it.  American's would get it.  I won't spoil it here, read the book and if you are still in the dark you can Google Eugenides' answer.  It's quite clever.


Friday, August 15, 2014

The House of Mirth ~ Edith Wharton

Whilst Jane Austen used her knowledge of drawing room conversions as inspiration for her novels, Edith Wharton has drawn upon her experiences as a member of New York’s Upper Class Society for her novel The House of Mirth.

This book was wonderfully written, with the conversations between each character feeling completely natural.  Wharton shows the fabulously wealthy as being conceited, shallow and condescending, where their only good advice is to make sure that you ‘marry money’, where ‘breaking in new people’ is tiresome and where the most laborious job of the year is going through your furs.

Lily Bart, the novel’s protagonist, is a popular and beautiful member of New York’s Upper Class Society around 1890.  She has no money of her own and her parents are deceased, but her Aunt takes her in and as she is very wealthy she makes sure that Lily has the best clothes to wear for any occasion. Lily’s mother and her Aunt have groomed her to be a beautiful ornament, but whose arm she is to hang off remains to be seen.  At 29 years old she is under pressure to marry, but she cannot make up her mind.  She loves Lawrence Selden but she would be stepping down in the world if she made that match, and he definitely could not afford her extravagances.  Percy Gryce is fabulously wealthy but he’s a mother’s boy and Lily’s smoking and mounting gambling debts scare him off.  Simon Rosedale, a Jewish suitor is distasteful to her, but he begins to be her only option as time goes on.

Whilst she ponders her future, Lily finds herself in more than one compromising situation; although totally innocent on her part they spark malicious gossip about her that will not go away.  When she is accused of trying to steal away the husband of one of her friends, Bertha Dorset, whilst holidaying on the Dorset’s yacht the scandal ruins Lily’s status.  Lilly is innocent of course, but Bertha is trying to deflect possible gossip about her own indiscretions with a poet.

As the rumours circle round Lily’s Aunt is appalled by her apparent behaviour and in the final weeks before her death she disinherits Lily leaving her only a small legacy which will just cover a debt which is hanging over Lily’s head like a black cloud. The payment of the legacy is withheld for almost a year until legal problems with the Will are ironed out, and Lily is forced to find work.  Having been groomed for nothing but ornamentation Lily’s work output is poor, she is let go and her health and state of mind begin to suffer.

No longer needing to aim so high for social standing, Lawrence Selden is once again a possible match, but fate will see to it that they can never be together.

What a tragic figure Lily Bart is, and this novel highlights once again how social conventions of the time make life extremely difficult for young single women.  Thomas Hardy shows us time and again with his novels, and now we see that it cannot be escaped even with the wealthy.

As for the title, it comes from Ecclesiastes 7:4: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth”.

A great read.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Chimera Vector ~ Nathan M Farrugia

I was contacted by the author on Good Reads requesting a review in exchange for a free copy of this book.  I’d read a few Matt Reilly’s and this was touted as being a comparable novel.  To be fair, I haven’t read a Matt Reilly in a while and my tastes run towards 19th Century fiction these days, but I read the novel in its entirety and what follows in my honest review.

The Chimera Vector is a science fiction action novel which proposes that the economy and politics of the world are run by psychopaths (possibly a correct assumption) and a group of re-programmed Fifth Column operatives aim to break this stranglehold on humanity.

So far so good, but the story is much more complicated than this.  The theme is inspired by current events (being the ‘War on Terror’). The premise is that the war on terror is a façade manipulated by the secretive agency ‘The Fifth Column’.  I started writing down key points as they came up, but I must confess that the book lost me in the end.  Encryptions and viruses, counter encryptions and viruses, double agents, triple agents, quadruple agents …… an Axolotl vector which enables the carrier to heal like a Salamander and a bad guy who has found the fountain of youth……. I can only suspend my disbelief so far.  That is not to say that this book isn’t well written, it is, but I felt it tried to be too clever by half. 

It wasn’t as fast paced as a Reilly, and it wasn’t as much fun.  I didn’t care about the characters and ‘Damien’ and ‘Jay’ didn’t work for me as major character names.  It’s not until three quarters of the way through the novel that the pace actually picks up but I had trouble visualising the scenes and locations as there’s not much in the way of descriptive writing.

This is Book #1 of the Fifth Column series and will, however, probably gain a following from the target audience (which I believe would be young adult males who are into a bit of techno action) - it just wasn’t for me.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ Thomas Hardy

Bathsheba Everdene is a strong spirited girl, and whilst she thinks she knows her own mind she has not a clue with regards to the workings of a man’s mind.

Farmer Boldwood is a confirmed bachelor and even the beauty of Miss Everdene can’t turn his head at market. Bathsheba’s maid points out Boldwood’s indifference to her so, out of fun or maybe girlish spite, she sends him a Valentine Card sealed with a stamp marked ‘Marry Me’. 

This frivolous throw away moment changes everything. 

Boldwood becomes a man desperate to possess her, and presses her for her promise to marry to the point of breaking her spirit. Bathsheba had already turned down a proposal of marriage from the kindly Shepherd Oak when she first arrived in Weatherbury and Oak’s status looked like it was improving but, as her own situation improves by taking on her late Uncle’s farm, Bathsheba is in no hurry to lose her independence.  Unfortunately, during her unwanted courtship with Boldwood, she is dazzled by a rake (Sergeant Troy), who has already ruined one young woman, and the chance of future happiness begins to unravel for all.

Through this emotional drama Shepherd Oak remains a staunch and loyal friend, putting aside his own feelings to manage Bathsheba’s farm and trying to morally guide her.  In a time when propriety means everything, he has to withstand gossip from the neighbourhood which insinuates that he’s just hanging around Bathsheba and ‘biding his time’.

Set in Wessex, I loved the country setting and also the minor characters that work the farm.  Their dialogue and actions hark back to simpler times which consisted of manual labour, cider and gossip.

This novel highlights the fickleness of young women in matters of love. In an era when a promise is a promise, and solemnly binding, there’s no room for mistaken feelings. I’m not usually sentimental but Bathsheba’s realisation of Oak’s true friendship towards the end of the novel, and Oak’s realisation of his one dream, had me fighting back tears.

As for the title of the novel, it was taken from the following:

                      Far From the madding crowd's ignoble strife
                      Their sober wishes never learn'd to stray;
                      Along the cool sequester'd vale of life 
                     They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
                                                        Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard by Thomas Gray

Throw away your bodice rippers, and read a love story with real class!


Monday, July 7, 2014

Dying Embers ~ M R Cosby

This is the first time that I have waited in anticipation for the release of a book by a home grown author. Knowing that the style was inspired by one of my favourite writers, Robert Aickman, I was very keen to read it.

Aickman has the ability to unsettle your nerves when writing about everyday events that at first appear normal then go slightly off kilter.  I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed. These short stories are very well constructed, and the unsettling nature of each varies in degrees as does the strangeness. 

Abraham’s Bosom was one of my favourite stories as it brought to mind how I felt on my recent visit to Rangitoto Island.  My partner and I had walked off the beaten track looking for lava caves and I became increasingly alarmed when I couldn't hear any of the other trekkers and was unable to orient myself to where we should be on our map.  This story of a jogger becoming separated from his running mate and experiencing a supernatural event reminded me not only of Robert Aickman but also of Alfred Noyes’ Midnight Express by the last passage.

Building Bridges I found to be a nice cloying story about a father wanting to reconnect with his family however forces move against him during a visit to a museum exhibit. 

The Next Terrace is the perfect opening story and lays the foundation to what can be expected within the following pages and Playing Tag I thought was a beautifully written story which really evoked the grounds of an English stately home.

La Tarasque was probably my least favourite of the collection but mainly because I couldn't identify with any part of it, and I’m still trying to work out the title of the last story (Fingerprinting) although I did really enjoy the story itself.  I’m staying in some obscure small towns at the end of the year on my first ever Aussie road trip, so I shall bear this story in mind!

This whole collection has been put together very nicely; Some of the stories are very subtle whilst others grab at you, but what I liked most about these stories is that they are very identifiable as being Australian (although you can’t take the P.O.M.E. out of the collection either – just like me!)


Monday, June 23, 2014

A Revelation

“……., it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire,
and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.”      
 (Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847)

Through the ages there have been plenty of stories about mad women. I have often wondered how come there were so many scapegoats during the witch hunts, (I had put it down to schizophrenia but surely there could not have been that many schizophrenics back then?).  I have also wondered why did seemingly well-to-do 19th Century women turn to Laudanum and in the process become opium addicts?  And there's recent times too, I'm sure we've all heard about a Mrs so and so back in the 60’s and 70’s who had just had 'a breakdown'?  

At the moment I’m reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and in it he speaks of the previous nuns of the Petit-Picpus convent, two of whom went mad in their middle years.  It’s all a bit weird don’t you think?  Well, these past two months have been an eye opener for me and all I can say is thank goodness I am a 21st century woman and have been saved from the fate of these poor women.

It started quite insidiously really - I just noticed that I was sleeping less.  At the beginning of January I went from being an 8-10 hour sleeper to around 6 hours a night.  No big deal, I felt ok and it was good to get stuff done on the weekend as I had more time by getting up nice and early.

Then I started waking around 4am to go to the loo.  I put this down to getting older but as long as I could get back to sleep again I wasn't worried.  Only, I stopped being able to get back to sleep again, so I cut out my evening cup of tea but this barely made any difference.  Then I started steadily waking up earlier and earlier  by the half hour – 3.30am, 3.00am, 2.30am, 2.00am.  I was starting to feel a bit alarmed by what was happening by this time.  I tried counting back from 100,  I downloaded meditation apps (which I would listen to over and over again in one night but to no avail), and I even tried an astronomy course of lectures – but even they couldn't send me to sleep. 

Last month I went away for the weekend with my partner.  I wasn't feeling great, I was feeling totally strung out from lack of sleep, but I was hoping a change of bedroom for a couple of nights would take away the fear I was beginning to feel every time I got ready for bed.  On the first day we had a big day of walking and eating and didn’t end up going to bed until midnight – I woke up at 1am.  The next night I couldn’t even fall asleep, by the morning I was quite distraught.  What was happening to me?  Had I ruined my ability to sleep because I'd been sleeping elevated due to my BPPV?  Or was it due to my dieting habits? I had been under a bit of pressure at work but I wasn't worrying about it at night.  I obviously couldn't go another night without sleeping so I called my doctor’s but my usual doctor was on holiday. ......I had a specialist appointment that afternoon so I decided to ask if I could have a script for sleeping pills to get me through the week until I could see my doctor. 

Just talking to the specialist about how I was feeling took a major load off my shoulders, ‘no problem’ she said ‘ I’ll give you a script on the proviso you talk to your doctor about starting HRT’.  HRT??  It had never occurred to me that this was a symptom of going through ‘The Change’. I had been suffering horribly with hot flushes but that was all I knew about starting menopause.  Not only is insomnia a common symptom, it is also the best kept secret.

The sleeping pills helped me fall asleep but I would wake around 2 – 3am.  Frustrating, but at least I was getting some sleep.  I told my boss what was going on as I was really struggling with my concentration and mood, but he was very understanding (another weight off my shoulders).

Finally I got to see my doctor and a blood test showed that my hormones were low and I started HRT three weeks ago.  I still can’t fall asleep without the sleeping pills – this could take another couple of months, and I still wake up around 2-30am but I am starting to fall back asleep again.  Yippee!  I feel human again, and I can function normally again, and not only that - no more hot flushes.

Every day I think about what those poor middle aged women went through without today’s medical knowledge.   I’m not happy that I need HRT given the long term risks but really what is the alternative.... madness?


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Going Retro

Sick and tired of the quality of most TV programmes these days, I started looking back at the shows I used to enjoy. The ones that had a decent story to tell, where characters weren't constantly yelling at each other, and children showed respect for their parents.

I had to go way back unfortunately, but what I did remember and have now re-watched brought back fond memories and I was very surprised how the quality of the shows stood up. Yes, there is a kind of innocence about them but I do feel that they hark back to better times.


This is a series that I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching. Initially all I could remember was a fair haired boy sitting crossed legged in a cave with the most amazing blue eyes. A quick search on Google and I found the DVD. Sky is in fact a God modeled very much on David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth who needs to get back to his own time and dimension. The synthesized soundtrack adds to the eeriness of this series and as a kid I loved it.  The benchmark was set for my future viewing habits

The Changes

This was a favourite of mine when I was about 9 or 10. Something causes society to turn against machines. Cars, tractors, radios etc are destroyed or locked away never to be used again. Set in the south west of England one young girl is separated form her family as they try to flee to France, this is her story of survival. Forget zombies.... when society moves back to a simpler way of life, pagan beliefs and superstition become a dangerous foe. 


All I could remember about this series was the episode The Other Window, I don't know how old I was when I first saw it but it scared the hell out of me, even just thinking about the ending frightened me for a long time.  Of course, re-watching it with adult eyes it isn't frightening at all.  This is a really good award winning macabre series for children that ran for three seasons.

The Outer Limits

I always preferred the original series of The Outer Limits to The Twilight Zone. It brings back memories of babysitting on a Saturday night and waiting for 11pm so I could watch this show. It's definitely dated to watch now, but it's messages aren't. My favourite episode is The Architects of Fear. I even think this episode inspired Bill Clinton judging by a report I read recently about his term in office. Scary.

Tales of the Unexpected

Finally how could I forget this one. With a wonderful theme tune and originally based on works by Roald Dahl the later episodes were by various well known writers, and acted by some very well known stars. The stories at times are a little predictable but they all have a wonderful twist. Whether you guess the twist or not matters little as the quality of each show is a joy to watch. For the record my two very favourite episodes are The Flypaper and The Man at the Top.

Children of The Stones

I've only just got a hold of a copy of this one, and have watched the first episode.  It's a shame that kids these day watch such violent shows, or rubbish like Home and Away where there's no respect between any of the characters.  They're not learning anything except how not to speak to people. Programmes like Children of the Stones have a real sense of time and place, with a focus on the history and beliefs of the area.  I love the opening title!

Another series I'm quite enjoying is The Crow Road based on the novel by Iain Banks which I have just read.  But, that's a post for some other time :)


Friday, April 11, 2014

Chris Eaton, A Biography ~ Chris Eaton

Have you ever Googled your own name and wondered about the people that you share it with?  Well, Chris Eaton has and the result is a work of fiction centered around the lives of various male and female Chris Eatons along with a few other quirky characters.

Perhaps we all know, have met, crossed paths with, a Chris Eaton in our own lives?  I know I have, he's a charming Englishman who works at our Sydney head office and briefly worked with me in Queensland a few years ago.

You won't find a linear story here, but what you will find is your life paralleled with one of the Chris Eatons within the narrative.  Encompassing a broad spectrum of lives lived, this is by turns a funny but thought provoking novel.  At various points I did think that I was re-reading Moby Dick with the amount of facts and figures being presented on a multitude of topics, whether true or not I'm not sure as I don't think that the narrator was altogether reliable at times, but some of it was very interesting.

I did, to my surprise, find myself really enjoying this book.  It was very well written, and I was interested in many of the topics (punk rock, salt ...... otoliths).  I could not believe the book included the obscure otolith!  These little buggers are dominating my life at the moment, causing me severe vertigo at their worst and light headedness at their best, and no-one around me has ever heard of them, yet here they were speaking to me from the page (Kindle) LOL.

There were many thoughts, feelings and interactions in this novel that I could identify with, and it made me realise that we are ALL THE SAME.  We don't need to share the same name to experience the same hopes, fears, loves and life lessons.

This really is something different to read, and I can recommend it as a well written thought provoking independent novel.


Ps: I Googled my own name and I found mostly obituaries which was rather disconcerting!

Monday, April 7, 2014

1Q84 ~ Haruki Murakami

*Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers*

Two moons, little people, a cat town, an 'Air Chrysalis' and parallel story-lines that merge at the end.  Sounds surreal and mystical doesn't it, and just my type of read from an author I usually enjoy.  I didn't expect to be so wrong!  This love story between Aomame, a cold blooded assassin, and Tengo, a ghost writer, could have been intriguing but instead it was distasteful, boring and extremely repetitive.
I had several problems with the writing which totally frustrated me.  For one, I couldn't understand why there was such an in depth description as to the type of head a man must have for Aomame to sleep with him.  This was a ridiculous story-line to begin with, but being constantly told that it must be a certain shape and slightly balding didn't make sense as Tengo, her supposed soul mate, clearly did not have this head type at all, so what was the point?

When we were first introduced to Tengo he was in the grip of a disturbing vision/memory of his mother. These visions stop him completely in his tracks, he cannot function, and we are told in great detail that this happens on a regular basis (a bit like me and my BPPV!).  Yet it is barely alluded to for the rest of the novel.

The writing (or maybe it was the translation?) came across as very unprofessional. When you have only two characters in a scene and they are conversing you don't need to say for example "Tengo said”.  We know who’s talking.  and when one of the two characters repeats the other character’s line (which happened way too much in this novel I can tell you!) you don't need to say for example “Tengo repeated”. Aaaaagh, it was too much!

There were in depth histories of several secondary characters which served no purpose to the story, and sequences involving a ghostly NHK fee collector who we must suppose is Tengo's comatose father which also served no real purpose whatsoever.

I did enjoy the character of Ushikawa, but the amount of time spent with him was wasted as he was killed off. I didn't get it, why did I have to spend so much time with this secondary character and learn about his past, his flaws and hear his inner thoughts, only to have him die and achieving nothing in the way of propelling the story in any meaningful way?

My biggest gripe though is the fact that there was way too much repetition over-all in the novel, especially the constant recapping of the story thus far and dumb explanations of what was going on by various characters so much so that I found it pretty insulting to me as the reader.

I was so hoping for something magical like Kafka on the Shore, but this novel could have easily been cut by a third and I think we should demand a re-write – especially that of Aomame’s character, dialogue and motivation as that side of the novel was just plain awful.

I'm a very disappointed Murakami fan.


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.


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Review: The Battery

Every so often an independent movie comes along which has you thinking about it long after you have watched it.  The Battery is one such movie.  

I think that we are all agreed that the Zombie genre has just about been done to death, but if you are a fan of The Walking Dead, and enjoy watching the survivors play out rather than reveling in zombie gore, then you will appreciate this movie.  Fans of baseball will understand the title and, for the rest of us, it is revealed about half way through the movie.

The premise is a simple one; two baseball players find themselves on the road trying to survive not only zombies, and other survivors, but also themselves.  They weren’t friends off the baseball field, and on the road their personalities clash more often than not. Ben will do whatever it takes to survive, but Mickey is more of your squeamish new age sensitive type.

Set in Connecticut the two keep on the move staying off the main roads scavenging food, and other items, along the way. They pick up a couple of walkie talkies from an abandoned house, and whilst trying to reach out on the airwaves Mickey stumbles across an obscure conversation between a man and a woman.  Mickey is convinced that they will find sanctuary with these people but he is told in no uncertain terms that they are not to come looking for them, and that they are not welcome. Mickey becomes obsessed with trying to contact the woman, and his reluctance to let it go bodes ill for the future.

The soundtrack to this movie is awesome, and I guarantee that the standout scene for anyone watching it will be Ben (played by Jeremy Gardner who is also the writer and director) singing and dancing to Anthem for the Already Defeated by Rock Plaza Central. 

If you are serious about your zombie viewing, this is a movie not to be missed!