Saturday 13 May 2017

Whatever happened to Depeche Mode?

I'd completely forgotten about Depeche Mode, and I didn't bother to refresh my memory because by the time I made enquiries about the gig at Nice's Stade Ehrmann it had sold out.

The Man wanted to see them. He said they were one of his favourite bands, and lucky for him, we got two tickets that were going spare because his mates' girlfriends decided they didn't want to go.

I wasn't sure I wanted to go either, so I did a bit of browsing to find out what the Essex band's top hits had been, and what their recent output was like. A YouTube search followed, to see if I recognized anything.

And the memories came flooding back…

Saturday 29 April 2017

The price of a fur coat or thereabouts

Stamboul Train "[-] chastity was worth more than rubies, but the truth was it was priced at a fur coat or thereabouts."

I'm reading and re-reading, in chronological order, books by Graham Greene, one of my favourite novelists. Stamboul Train is new to me, published in 1932. It focuses on the lives of several travelers on what is more commonly referred to as The Orient Express (Agatha Christie's crime novel came out a couple of years later). Social norms have changed somewhat in the past 80 years and perhaps this explains why I initially found many of the characters in the book unsympathetic; the bullying female journalist, the dancer who felt herself to be under a sexual obligation, the prejudices that were shown by many.

But as the players interact and the story develops, I started to enjoy it more. About half way through, the Greene that I love came out when the character Dr Czinner reflects on his life and his feelings about duty, religion, revolution and the working class.

Thursday 27 April 2017

No happy endings

Fight Club There are probably more people who have seen the movie of Fight Club than have read the book. I decided to read it because I've developed an interest in gothic novels, and several listings include the story as an example of urban gothic.

The writing style was initially difficult, but I soon got used to it. Knowing the story, I found myself sympathising with the main character rather than being appalled by his situation and actions. In many ways it was quite a depressing read. There was never going to be a happy ending for any of the characters.

Something I did find positive was the book's Afterward, in which Palahniuk explains how the novel developed from a short story. This was a brief but illuminating insight into the creative process.

After finishing the book, I watched the film again. It's still a good movie, but the book is much better.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Lancashire weather and religious superstition

The Loney Rain, mist and wind are intrinsic to the landscape of Lancashire and to the atmosphere of Andrew Michael Hurley's book The Loney. Described as Gothic fiction, it's not something I would ordinarily read, but I was drawn to the book because it won the 2015 Costa First Novel Award.

Most of the action takes place in an isolated house, somewhere near the coast around Morecombe, where a group of Catholics are staying whilst on a pilgrimage. Strange things happen during Holy Week which have far reaching consequences for the two youngest travelers.

Sunday 23 April 2017

No satisfactory ending

My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) "[-] conceived and written as a single narrative. It's division into four hefty volumes was decided when I realized that the story [-] couldn't easily be contained in one book."

I wish I'd read that quote by author Elena Ferrante before beginning My Brilliant Friend.

It starts, as so many books do now, at some unspecified point in the future. A mystery is posed. Raffaella Cerullo, aka Lina, aka Lila, has disappered. Her friend Elena says, "It's been at least three decades since she told me that she wanted to disappear without leaving a trace". The reader is drawn into the story in the hope of finding a resolution at the end of it. Most of my disappointment with My Brilliant Friend stems from the failure to resolve this mystery once the end is reached. And it's important, I think, to know this beforehand.

Friday 21 April 2017

Groan-worthy puns

The Diary of a Nobody Perhaps this is one of those books that improves with a second reading.

Initially, I just didn't connect with Charles Pooter, the Nobody who records his day-to-day life and thoughts. Intellectually, I can see that Pooter is a funny character, pompous, old-fashioned and overly deferential to those he sees as his superiors. But I never properly laughed at his domestic and social misfortune, his groan-worthy puns and the antics of his small group of friends. The only character I really liked was Lupin, Pooter's modern, individualistic son.

I did enjoy it, but as an amusing and interesting satire of aspirational middle-class society in the late 19th century, not as one of the top ranked humorous books of all time.

Thursday 20 April 2017

Painfully poignant

On Chesil Beach A friend told me that Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach was one of only two books that made her cry.

It describes the 1962 wedding night of 21-year-olds Edward and Florence, both inexperienced sexually and unable to talk about their fears. Childhood and teenage experiences are weaved into the narrative, and their family backgrounds and hopes for the future are explained. However nothing has prepared them for their first sexual encounter.

I found myself sometimes wanting to laugh at the characters' embarrassment and misunderstanding, but overall, my heart ached for them. On Chesil Beach is not only a beautifully written book, but it also provides a convincing argument for openness in discussing sex.