Friday, 23 November 2018

Sorry Mr Orwell ...

Fifty Orwell Essays [linked table of contents]Perhaps it's a little unfair to award Orwell's collection of 50 essays a mere three out of five stars. Some of the essays are brilliant, but there are plenty that, on first reading, are just ok. For instance, it was difficult to properly enjoy his discussion of the merits of Helen's Babies, or James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution, since they mean nothing to me. I would have got more from the essay on Gulliver's Travels if I had actually read Swift's work, and my knowledge of Shakespeare's King Lear was found wanting in the reading of the essay about Tolstoy.

There are, however, absolute gems in this collection:

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Don't blame the victims

The TruantsThe Truants begins on a park bench. As dawn approaches, a vampire who has been alive since pre-history, is waiting to end his life. A teenager approaches, demands money, pulls out a knife and stabs him. In the immediate aftermath, the knife infects two children with the old-one's blood, thwarting his suicide attempt and allowing him to intermittently control the victims: Peter, an infant who has been abused since birth; Danny, a beloved son who enjoys Harry Potter.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The original psycho-biddy

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?Henry Farrell's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? opens in 1908 with the famous child star having a tantrum in public. "What's ever to become of a child like that?" comments the matron of one of Baby Jane Hudson's fidgeting fans. "It's the others I pity, the ones who'll have to live with her," is the ominous reply.

Fast forward to 1959, and we find Jane living with her sister Blanche,

Saturday, 10 November 2018

American market, American methods

England Made Me"She might have been waiting for her lover." So opens Graham Greene's book, England Made Me, in a railway station cafe, where Kate Ferrant is expecting to meet her twin brother Anthony. She intends to persuade her boss, Swedish industrialist Erik Krogh, to give a job to the feckless twin, who is unable to "open his mouth without lying."

Saturday, 3 November 2018

He who loves money never has enough

The Ballad of a Small PlayerI used to imagine Hell as a Sisyphean search for friends in a packed, Covent Garden Piano & Pitcher bar on a Friday night. In The Ballad of a Small Player, Lawrence Osborne describes a different version of purgatory, that of the impossible task of making money in the garish interiors and themed decors of casinos. Anyone who has wandered through Las Vegas gaming palaces will recognize the oppressive setting of Osborne's story, where addicts are oblivious to the passing of time. He conjures up a seedy world where logic, reason and causality are replaced by a belief in coincidence and luck.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Inventing a universe is tough work

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories"Inventing a universe is tough work," confesses Ursula Le Guin in the Foreword to this collection of short stories. Reading about it can be quite tough too, as I found out the first time I started the book. I failed to get past page four, such was my inability to get to grips with Sov Thade Tage em Ereb's explanation about Sedern Geger, the Harges, and Argaven. The visual bombardment of strange words of unknown pronunciation put me off and served to increase my belief that sci-fi stories of weird planets, aliens and space ships were not for me.

But I like short stories and I enjoy speculative fiction, especially by female writers, so I tried again.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

General Elektriks: back in Europe

It was hot on Friday night. The temperature didn't drop much below 27 degrees, even once the sun had dipped behind the hotels overlooking Jardin Albert Premier. A guy walked past wearing a black t-shirt that said "Johnny Fucking Marr", and I thought, "Me too, mate." (1)

But hotter still was the music. French band General Elektriks walked onto Massena Stage at 21:15 and didn't stop for 75 minutes. Led by Herve "RV" Salters, the five-star, five-man, multi-instrumentalist lineup was at Nice Jazz Festival to promote Carry No Ghosts, released in February this year. RV writes and records his funk-based music alone in the studio, but when he tours, he's surrounded by talent.

The band looked cool, everyone dressed in white, the only colour being provided by RV's red striped tie and the title of the opening number, Different Blue. Bassist Jessie Chaton channels the 70s with his wild affro and white silk scarf. Jordan Dalrymple, aka Antonionian, adds a touch of 80s with his white framed shades. Touski's Mohican punks up the vibraphone and drums, and Eric Starczan's virtuosity on the guitar needs absolutely nothing else.

The music ranged from the slow and easy Au Tir A La Carabine, through the catchy Raid the Radio to the early-80s-electronic sounding I Can't Relate, all underpinned by a driving, infectious funk beat. RV invited the audience to "sautez avec nous" in David Lynch Moments, and the jumping continued through a gritty-guitar cover of Soft Cell's Tainted Love. During Tu M'Intrigues, RV's torso was in danger of disconnecting entirely from his hips and legs, as he jumped, shuffled and swung whilst his hands slapped at the keys of his Hohner Clavinet. The set ended with Amour Uber Alles, its multi-lingual lyrics reflecting RV's French nationality, his lengthy sojourn in San Francisco, and his current home, Berlin.

General Elektriks is touring France until the end of 2018, with one gig in Belgium. Check out the dates on the band's website here: General Elektriks concerts. It would be cool to see them more often now they're back in Europe.

(1) The French phrase "J'en ai marre" means "I'm fed up".