Saturday, April 25, 2009

At the Annual Trinity Book Sale

I picked up the following books for a tenner at the Trinity book sale on Thursday.
1. An Apology for Roses by John Broderick: an Irish writer I read about recently. Blurb on the back is amusing - "Marie Fogarty is very much alive, very much aware of her need for men. In a small Irish village, Marie spurns guilt and gossip for the damp-warm odours of the flesh".
2.The Organization Man by William H Whyte: a study of the American white collar worker from the 1950's which was referred to in an article in the Atlantic Monthly I read about ten years ago called 'The Organization Kid', a survey of the conformist business like approach university students were then taking to their study and personal lives. 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates is perhaps a fictional expression of the same subject.
3.Dam-Burst of Dreams by Christopher Nolan:As a thirteen year old in 1987, I vividly remember Nolan winning the Whitbread prize and from that point on developed the idea that his work was extremely complex, almost impenetrable and hence I never read it.
4.One-Dimensional Man by Hebert Marcuse : I watched the Baader Meinhof film last week and that no doubt influenced the purchase of this 1960's indictment of the repressive character of modern society by a Frankfurt School critical theorist. Apparently it was the book to have under one's oxter in the 60s and 70s but is now seen as somewhat dated by today's critics, none of whom of course I can identify.
5. Notes from a Turkish Whorehouse by Philip O'Ceallaigh: The first collection of short stories by this critically acclaimed Irish writer who lives in Bucharest, a fact that for some reason resonates.
6. Articles on Britain by Karl Marx and Friederick Engels: After this week's Budget in the UK, the right wing press claimed Labour had started a 'class war' against the rich, one paper superimposed Darling's head on Lenin's battlng the bourgeoise. Seemed like an apposite time to flick through these articles.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Books: The Colour of Blood by Declan Hughes

I read this Ed Loy crime thriller for the following reasons:
1. I recall a trendy acquaintance going to see 'Digging for Fire', a play by the author, back in the early 90's. The title was taken from a Pixies song; the aura of cool has for me clung to Hughes ever since.
2. I like Hughes' contributions on 'The View' on RTE- he usually has something more considered to say than the other panellists.
3. The Irish Times carries a round up of crime fiction almost every week and even the 'great' John Banville has stooped to get in on the action. I was curious as to what all the fuss was about.
4. At €5.95 in Tesco it really was a bargain.
In the event, while still retaining respect for Hughes, 'The Colour of Blood' is an absurd book that left me at times utterly confused as to what the hell was going on. If about half the plot twists were excised, there was more of a focus on the vaguely Ballardian protagonist, and somehow the temptation to explain everything that happens in Ireland by reference to child abuse was avoided, then perhaps this novel would be more significant.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Books: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

At a public interview in Vicar Street a few years ago, Ian McEwan said that he liked the idea that his fiction could be read in one, maybe two, sittings. Although the novel, Atonement, he was publicising at that time might be harder to digest so summarily, it is no doubt true that most of his other books are capable of being read in a couple of hours. McEwan's skill is to hit the ground running - the balloon falling to earth in 'Enduring Love', the kidnapping at the supermarket in 'The Child in Time' - establishing a pace to the narrative that holds the reader's interest until the close. But it's a sort of confidence trick because once you think more deeply about them, the books often seem contrived (I know it is fiction) and, well, ridiculous. 'On Chesil Beach' isn't any different: it's 166 pages long and opens with the proposition that it was impossible for young couples to discuss sex in England of the early 1960's, an idea based on the Philip Larkin poem about sex beginning sometime between the DH Lawrence trial and the first Beatles LP. From this starting point, the novel relates the disastrous wedding night of Edward and Florence, a pair of twenty-two year old university graduates who seem blessed with all the good fortune McEwan likes to give to his younger protagonists - think of the preternaturally gifted children of Henry Perowne in 'Saturday'. The problem centres on Edward's desire to fuck Florence and her wish to abstain. But what is intimated to be a sensitive rendering of the difficulties that the pre-hippy generation had with sex, is in reality a fairly crude clash between Nature and Culture. For how else could you account for Edward's unusual penchant for acts of casual violence, his love for the orgiastic sounds of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, his interest in the crazed millenarian cults that Norman Cohn wrote about in 'Roots of the Millennium' and his rather upfront behaviour in the cinema when he tries to put Florence's hand on his erect knob? And what of Florence? How are we to reconcile her hatred of the sexual act with an all-consuming passion for classical music and the reverence with which she treats Wigmore Hall, scene of her most heightened engagements with the great composers? She's Culture, calcifying, deadening and ultimately as Gide wrote in 'The Immoralist', a 'suffocating second skin'. When Edward provides her with an actual second skin - the drying semen he spurts over her stomach - the marriage finishes.
'On Chesil Beach' feels at times slightly deranged but McEwan, with his attention to detail, manages to keep these wilder aspects from capsizing the story at least for the duration of its reading and there are a few touching passages towards the end as an older Edward returns to his father's home but in the longer term, I can't help thinking this will be regarded as one of McEwan's more bizarre books.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Television: Prosperity

'Prosperity', the new RTE drama series, which, given its theme of urban poverty and despair, is bizzarely bookended by glitzy sponsor ads for a car manufacturer, started last night with a day in the life of an unmarried mother as she drifted from B&B to the Welfare to the chipper to her sister's and eventually to the canal to booze. In between these destinations, Stacey hangs around a shopping centre with her child, looking to recharge her mobile, striking up an unlikely friendship with a gormless security guard and waiting for her shit of a boyfried to call her. To say it is boring and repetitive and exhausting is probably some kind of praise for the filmakers because no doubt the intention here is to show the mind-numbing routine of a life excluded from 'our' national narrative of success and, naturally, prosperity. Amidst all the tarmacadam, concrete, hedge funds and financial controlling, what does 'real life' amount to in Ireland today? 'Prosperity', in the first episode, doesn't really answer that instead it offers a gallery of monosyllabic victims all of whose sentences seem to end in 'anyways' and 'is all' while at the same time failing to resist stock types like the buffoon in the shopping centre, who could have been Freddie in 'The Dead' in another life. They are making a point about the invisibility of these lives but if Abrahamson et al wanted it to be realistic, why add an occasional soundtrack intended to heighten the viewer's sympathy for Stacey's plight? Perhaps some loss of nerve.
Dramas like this often end up condescending their subjects. It is always other people who live 'lives of quiet desperation' and they rarely make mainstream television programmes. It is fundamentally an issue of class and it is why I wouldn't watch 'Adam and Paul' and found the most affecting scenes in 'Prosperity' those in which the characters joked about babies being ugly and talking dirty. The rest skirted too close to handwringing.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Books: Utterly Monkey by Nick Laird

'Utterly Monkey' is too long by about one hundred fifty pages, reads at times like Laird took pages out of his diary and reworked them into fiction (a Nordie solicitor working in a big London firm who decides to ditch the law for literature and falls in love with a beautiful coloured girl) and is politically so unlikely - a loyalist plot to blow up the Bank of England, which in the book happens exactly almost a year before the real terrorist attacks of 7th July 2005 - that I wondered what the point of it all was. No doubt Laird can write and I retained some 'local interest' because I have met similar types in college and work but it was slight. And completely lacking in humour.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Film: The War on Democracy & Queimada

UTV screened John Pilger's documentary 'The War on Democracy' last night at eleven pm. I think the time is relevant because clearly the schedulers decided it would only appeal to a minority of viewers but this seemed to defeat the film's purpose. Even for someone like me who has at best a superficial knowledge of the subject, there was nothing new on offer - for example a lot of the Venezuela section was already dealt with in 'The revolution will not be televised', the Irish documentary that chronicled the failed 2002 coup - so I can only surmise Pilger in the style adopted intended an introduction to the widest possible audience. How strange, and how heartening and of course how unlikely, it would have been to see it put on three hours earlier after Coronation Street. As for the content, irrespective of his allegiance, as a journalist, Pilger should have given Chavez a harder time on the issue of poverty which he easily side-stepped with aspirational stuff about giving people dignified lives. And I was surprised that Pilger allowed himself to be bullied by the obnoxious retired CIA man, who came close as it was possible to get to a carciature. You could imagine him popping up in 'Dr Strangelove' screaming about the world needing to recognise that America was not going to take 'any messing.'
For a subtler dissection of imperialism, I would recommend Queimada, which was shown as part of the Marlon Brando season at the IFI last weekend. Directed by Gilles Pontecorvo (Battle of Algiers), and set in the 19th century on a fictional Caribbean island, Brando plays Sir William Walker, an emissary of the British Crown, who has decided it is in its economic interest to foment a slave revolution on the island so as to undermine the Portuguese ruling class. Walker selects Jose Dolores, a street wastrel, to lead the charge but once the Portuguese are ousted, Walker persuades Dolores to throw down his arms and accept the rule of the businessmen who export fruit and sugar from the island. Dolores and his men are freed but they have to return to work on the plantation. Ten years later, Walker is back: this time, at the behest of the fruit company that controls the island, to stamp out another Dolores revolution. The slaves are free but as workers are treated like slaves and worse. The rising, which threatens the value of shares in the export company, is vanquished in the same way that the Portuguese initially wiped out the indigenous people - with a scorched earth policy. What I found remarkable about the film was the manner in which Walker instills ideas of freedom and dignity in Dolores in order to achieve an economic end. Dolores is dared to dream of the rights of man and civilisation while Walker is taking care of business, and when the economic rationale shifts, those dreams of freedom and equality are quickly jettisoned. Naturally there is a contemporary resonance to all this, as is witnessed in the fluctuating relationships between imperial powers and their client states. Ennio Morricone provides an unusual score for the film and Brando is excellent.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Books: The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

The only part of 'The Inheritance of Loss' by Kiran Desai that I liked or is likely to remain in the memory is the section when one of the characters, Biju, works for a time in a bakery on La Salle and Broadway on the upper west side of Manhattan, a place I went to a couple of times when I visited New York for a summer ten years ago. The bakery was just about to close when I was there but Desai, whose story is set in the mid-80's, describes it accurately, even down to the detail of its speciality apricot pastries, a delicacy I recall indulging in with pleasure. Another memory of that summer was coming out of the apartment late one Saturday evening to be told by our neighbours that 'Your Queen is dead' and then hearing on the taxi radio as we headed down to the Scratcher bar in the East Village the news that Diana Spencer had been killed in Paris. She wasn't our Queen but she was dead.

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