Anyway, another book. I’ve foisted on you all the works of Italo Calvino (this I know, as I have very few of his books left on my shelves) but I fear I’ve burnt myself out to appreciating him. This month I’ve read The Baron in the Trees (about a nobleman’s son who after a quarrel lives off the ground), The Cloven Viscount (a nobleman is bifurcated by a cannon ball on crusades, and his two halves come back separately), and Invisible Cities (Marco Polo creates fantastical cities for the palace-bound Kublai Khan to appreciate, though they are all in fact aspects of one; Venice.) I’m also still reading, though I might leave it on the partially read pile in my bedroom, The Nonexistent Knight (a suit of armour acts a knight). Invisible Cities is brilliant, short flights of fancy, but then that was this month’s first. The others have got progressively less impressive; I was particularly disappointed by the Baron in the Trees; I think Calvino is a short story writer, and once his imagination is drained in a certain field, only a dull sump is left. The Baron was an odd idea and, for me, it didn’t work. There was a lot for him to do up there in the foliage, but it was mostly the same as what we do down here. So the piece really became a romantic opera-type thing, a Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones piece, which never bore interesting fruit (especially as the more interesting characters, which Calvino has no difficulty creating but problems writing) were sidelined or killed rapidly, and the baron himself was the typical winsomely odd hero. It’d make a good Hollywood movie though, because of the incidental’s humours, and the central love story.
Anyway, must dash – Hallowe’en party to go to, and gotta get tarted up.
Meanwhile, on the book front, I’ve just finished Alan Garner’s Thurlsbitch (he’s the author of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, if you’re wondering). Set in the Peak District (where my folks live, where we’ve always walked and where I’m going tomorrow), Thurlsbitch is the name of an ancient dale, where two hundred years ago people lived, and is now habituated solely by peripatetic walkers. Both sets take part in the book, and their stories interweave. It has a fascinatingly well-researched section on Pagan ritual, and the most touching approach to severe illness (I’m not sure whether the description is Parkinson’s or MS) I’ve read in any fiction.
I was also surprised to find that Garner is an alumnus (of sorts) of my old Oxford college, Magdalen (as is the recent Booker prize winner Alan Hollinghurst). He went there as an undergraduate, and was obviously genius-level. His tutor took him to one side, and said “Here’s my advice to you; go home now and write a work of genius. If you can’t do that, come back and you can study real geniuses with me.” As the website says, “He has commented that he does not read fiction because he doesn’t want to be subconsciously influenced by other writers’ ideas.”
I worry about two things here; first, and minor, that I should care about his attendance at Oxford. I’ve never wanted to belong to any set, and my recognition of his similarity annoys me without my quite being able to understand why. Secondly, that I’ve read a lot of fiction, an awful lot; I get through a good few books a week, it’s my main hobby, and I do it obsessively. I’d like to write properly one day, though friends scoff at that, and if Garner’s thesis is true then I’m crippling myself further with every novel consumed. I feel like a runner taking steroids to bulk up, only to find out they’ve been banned.
I’ve lost my critical faculties, I’m sure I have. I’ve watched so many good movies in the last couple of weeks due to the Bath film festival, I can’t distinguish good from bad. Oldboy is the cause – a genuinely disturbing, beautifully conceived movie; a businessman gets drunk, is arrested and then released, before he is kidnapped and locked in a hotel room for 15 years. I won’t spoil the rest, but it’s a must-watch; a scene where he eats a live octopus, not for kicks, or out of anger or because he wants to disgust people but through a sort of resigned apathy which freedom gives him, is just fantastic; the sight of the tentacles writhing across, clutching at his impassive face as he chews and chews is both hideous and alluring. I think it’s good, but it’s so perfectly made, that you can’t tell if you’re interested or not; the impassivity of the lead character is infectious, and the movie never really takes an emotion and runs with it.
Then there’s The Saddest Music in The World – fantastic, strange story, beautifully shot, slightly spoiled by a more generic than expected ending and not quite surreal enough in places, but great all the same. A tale of an amputee beer baroness in frozen Canada and her attempt to find the saddest music in the world by playing off the countries of the world. A family from her past get involved, and take different sides, playing their various instruments against each other in Dueling Banjos scenes on stage in the beer hall. It’s shot in a 1930s ‘M’ shaky-cam, with snow scattered across the monochrome screen.
Finally there’s Saw – weaker than the rest, an American attempt to do Japanese horror. Nasty, mean obvious but also scary and initially conceptually attention-grabbing. Two men wake up locked in a bathroom, chained to opposite ends by their ankles, with a dead man lying between them. They have six hours to kill each other or their families will die.
People keep criticising me for not putting my personal thoughts up here more regularly. I thought I was; then I looked at the dates of personal posts and realised how much of my life I’m losing to a pretty-much unconscious existence, with intermittent periods of awareness. I wonder if everyone’s lives are like that? So I’ve boshed down a load of stuff that’s been building up on my desktop, in order to sate your vicarious palettes for a while.
They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning
Aah, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. Whatever happened to Flipper, Skippy, The Littlest Hobo, Lassie and the rest? Have animals stopped caring for mankind? Or has the caring animal simply become extinct?
Australian platypus research has implications for understanding the evolution of human sex determination
Good lord. Evidence for a higher will is finally found. Bow down beneath the randomly evolutionary platypus.