Thursday, 24 January 2019

The past is a foreign country

The Go-betweenIn The Go-Between, Leo Colston, aged 60, finds his childhood diary and through its pages relives a traumatic event that impacted the course of his life. It was during the hot summer of 1900, when, approaching his 13th birthday, Leo spent three weeks in Norfolk with his schoolfriend, Marcus. He is eager to please Marcus's sister Marian, admires the rough masculinity of the farmer Ted, and is deferential to the aristocrat, Hugh.

L.P. Hartley has so beautifully crafted the character of Leo that it's impossible not to feel sorry for the youth. He is a self-conscious boy, ruled by the unspoken codes that ensure his survival at school. Unfortunately these do not transfer to the world of grown-ups. Leo's naivety leaves him utterly confused by the language and social mores of the world in which he finds himself, and leads to a fateful misapprehension of the complexities of adult relationships.

It's perhaps inevitable too, that the misunderstandings provide some humour in the story. An exchange between Leo and Marian is a worthy predecessor of The Two Ronnie's Fork Handles sketch :
Hugh asked me to tell you -
I asked you to tell me?
No, not you, Hugh.
Not you, you, [-] I can't understand a word you say.
No, [-] Hugh, you know, Hugh.
Yes, of course I know myself.
It's not you, it's Viscount Hugh.
Oh, Hugh. [-] How stupid of me.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Fast-paced page-turner for horror aficionados

Rosemary's BabyA creepy castle, a woman in distress, disturbing dreams and much, much more. Rosemary's Baby is a classic gothic horror story that takes place, not in the middle of nowhere, but right in the heart of New York City.

It starts with a young, married couple, the Woodhouses, moving into The Bramford apartment building, much in demand for its period features, "weird, gargoyles and creatures climbing up and down between the windows." Rosemary is a little insecure, having been rejected by her large, Catholic family because she moved away from home and married a Protestant. Guy, her husband, is an ambitious actor, full of self-confidence. Everyone seems envious of their good fortune in obtaining a flat in The Bram, except for Hutch, Rosemary's paternal, English friend. However the couple ignore Hutch's misgivings and are soon getting to know their strange neighbours.

Ira Levin published the story in 1967, and 50 years on, some of the characters' actions, as well as the plot machinations, teeter on the verge of incredulity. Initially, much of it relies on Rosemary's unwillingness to appear unfriendly, her choosing to ignore Guy's "signals of a shortcoming in his love for her," and his frankly appalling idea of sexual "fun." Nevertheless, it is a well-written, fast-paced page-turner of a book and a must-read for aficionados of horror.

Friday, 11 January 2019

What happens when the ones we love are enemies of the state

Home FireThe ones we love ... are enemies of the state, writes Kamila Shamsie in the epigraph to her book Home Fire. The story then, is about what happens when a family member joins a group of people whose actions are seen to be dangerous to society. It is also a contemporary telling of the ancient Greek tale of Antigone.

In the opening pages, Isma, a young woman, is stopped at the airport on her way to America on a student visa. We find out that when her parents died she had to abandon her studies in order to raise her sibling twins, a brother and sister.

The story is told from the points of view of Isma and four other characters: Eamonn, a young man and distant relative of Isma; Parvaiz, Isma's nineteen-year-old brother; Aneeka, his twin sister; Karamat, Eamonn's father. It is a tragedy about a naive boy manipulated into fighting for ISIL, believing that he will discover the truth about the father he never knew. In addition, it raises questions about the corrupting influence of power and ambition, the dangers of keeping secrets, grief, love for family, and what it is to be a man.