Skip to content

Behind The Beautiful Forevers; and other success-stories

If winter's over, can festival season be far behind? Massimo stopped me on the corner this morning, as I was on my way back from the Post Office, and handed me a copy of the original score of a Bach Partita, the one Gabriel's playing in his Fringe recital in May. It has the post-print alterations and decorations Bach added, listed in the front. Gabriel and Marianne's first recital of the season is even closer, they'll be playing St Michael All Angels on Saturday 28th March: but more of that later. So tired,kept awake all night by a cat with a cough (it's okay, nothing too serious), I'm good for nothing today and just getting by doing errands & clearing off my desk. First, some entertainment from boingboing via Peter.

http://boingboing.net/2015/03/14/hilarious-bawdy-princess-rap.html

(The Belle vs Cinders one is much better, and neither really bawdy)

Reading

And now to one of my occasional light-reading roundups.

I don't often buy new novels. I save my money for academic and popular science books, which cost a bomb; and nosing around in secondhand bookshops (a dying breed, but there's always the British Heart Foundation, Oxfam & Amnesty), picking up strange flotsam & jetsam. On the other hand, I've become addicted to the library reservation service, as a means of checking out bestsellers. You should try it, only 50p a pop, and if people don't use it, it will go away. Here's my latest catch.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August Claire North

Billed as a "time-travel story"; more like a claustrophobic vampire vendetta saga. There are people called kalachakras, it means "time-cyclers", who live through the same lifetimes, over and over and over again. Like reincarnation only inexpressibly boring and soul-destroying. As a consequence, as our narrator freely confesses, most kalachakras are miserable s*ds, while many become really really wicked & plan things that will end the world. The story's most ingenious ploy, and also its downfall in my humble opinion, is that these serial immortals, born remembering everything that happened last time, can change the world every time they step into it: by introducing technology "prematurely" and by communicating interesting facts to each other, up & down an aeons-long chain of lifetimes. The ensuing paradox-burden is enough to disable a better story than this. Also, there are far, far, far too many torture scenes.

It was interesting enough to keep me reading. But not by much. If you like the real spying is grim and dreary British school, and you haven't a clue about time travel paradoxes, you may get on fine. Habitual &/or inquiring sf readers should avoid.

Weathering, Lucy Wood

A barely-there literary ghost story, with a Devon river running through it; and a ramshackle house, always on the point of sinking, invaded by the water, where two women's ramshackle, wilfully drifting lives are somehow grounded. There's a mother, there's a daughter, there are the woods, the moor; the birds, glimpsed flashes of kingfisher and heron that the older woman's camera catches; and there's a little girl, a stubborn, naughty little girl called Pepper. In ways nothing much happens, just cranky rural characters getting on with their lives, through many seasons of penetrating damp, icy cold, and ever-threatening flood, but I found this one absorbing. The rising tide of domestic incompetence did start to get me down about half way through (GET THE WOODBURNER-BOILER FIXED for God's sake!) But then Ada, the younger woman, turned out to be very competent at something, and I was hooked again. Lucy Wood has an MA in Creative Writing and it shows. Normally I'd avoid using the expression "beautifully written", believing that it has become a kind of insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. Lovely to read. And Pepper's great. Pepper has stayed with me.


Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey

Maud, in her eighties and struggling with dementia, has become obsessed with the idea that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She's never in when Maud calls round, and her house seems to be empty. Something must be done! Cue exasperated and frustrated carers, and much amusement at the local cop-shop. What nobody realises is that the "missing" Elizabeth, who isn't really "missing" at all, has become a stand-in, in Maud's tumbled thoughts, for another lost loved one, her beloved sister Sukie, who disappeared in 1946. . . Maud has found a heart-stopping clue, and in a moment of clarity she has realised what it means. She's right, but nobody understands, least of all Maud herself, who is doomed to spend the entire book being mocked, feeling like an idiot and forgetting where she put yet another cup of tea that she made and omitted to drink. What was it I was supposed to remember? Train, hammer, pineapple? And why did I have to count down from 100 in sevens . . . ? If you're over sixty, or even over fifty, you may well find this book more disturbing than entertaining, although Maud's tribulations are handled with a light, comic touch (from the viewpoint of a granddaughter, entertained and tolerant; not a hard-pressed middle-aged daughter). But it's really pretty good. I liked it more the further I got from actually having read it.

The Miniaturist Jessie Burton

*A certified massive bestseller, this one; and an interesting and enjoyable historical novel. Young Petronella arrives alone in the big city, to join the sparse household of a merchant husband she's never met, and who shows a total lack of interest; plus his puritanical sister, a manservant from Dahomey and a maid of all work. She witnesses stuff. I can't tell you more, because it would spoil the surprises. Deep emotional attachments spring up from nowhere, likewise outbursts of flashy, soap-opera violence; as if the characters are no more than puppets in the writer's dollhouse, with no inner life at all. There's a crucial strand of the fantastic which is never resolved . . . These elements left me feeling the book was slightly unbalanced, but you can't argue with star quality. It's mysterious (and nor is it true that bestseller status can be bought. It can't. Money can be thrown away on hype, if the public says no). Relax, this isn't War and Peace, it's just a proper good read.

Watching

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre (live at the Duke's last week)

Highly recommended. Great cast, inspired production. Like Les Miserables with teeth, because this is happening now The only quarrel I had was with the promotional material inviting me to admire the characters' "drive" and their determination to "get ahead". To me the worldly wisdom of the slum dwellers was part of the tragedy. W're all drinking the same dirty water, breathing the same dirty air, and even the poorest of the poor are fooled by those beautiful forevers roaring by over their heads. We all need to learn that corruption is not normal, it's a blight on society, and the greed that drives it is not good.

I love going to see National Theatre productions at the cinema down the road. Sort of reminds me of Proust dialling up a concert on the telephone. & guess what, I have reserved the Katherine Boo book.

The Wind Rises

Finally, last Friday week . . . I didn't want to watch this, I've seen Grave of the Fireflies, thanks. But it's not harrowing, nor is it glorifying war: almost dodges the whole issue, in fact, by ending this bio-pic of the creator of Japan's WWII fighter planes before war actually begins. But not entirely; the message of tragic helplessness is there. (The wind rises, we can't stop it, or drop out, we must just try to live, as best we can). Beautiful and sad, and maybe, if you don't share Miyazaki's passion for those magnificent men in their flying machines, a tiny bit pointless.

Not planning to watch . . .


Televised election debates.


*The book cover montage features flotsam and jetsam from a day when I walked down to the sea in January. The book "If Winter Comes . . . " was a massive bestseller for decades, from 1921 when it took the world by storm, apparently. I really defy you to understand why, should you ever read it: but the WWI patriotism strand is salutory.

Trackbacks

No Trackbacks

Comments

Display comments as Linear | Threaded

No comments

Add Comment

Enclosing asterisks marks text as bold (*word*), underscore are made via _word_.
Standard emoticons like :-) and ;-) are converted to images.

To prevent automated Bots from commentspamming, please enter the string you see in the image below in the appropriate input box. Your comment will only be submitted if the strings match. Please ensure that your browser supports and accepts cookies, or your comment cannot be verified correctly.


Form options

Submitted comments will be subject to moderation before being displayed.