Friday, January 29, 2016

Beware of Pity - Stefan Zweig

Brilliant and dreadful; I imagine that Wes Anderson (Grand Budapest Hotel) does him best - intense and parodic at once.  Zweig is insistently 19th century - I am reminded of Turgenev, slow detailed, soft - with moments of high, almost too high drama.  He is also informed by 20th century thinking; an acquaintance of Freud, he believed that the sexual liberation taking place around him was actual and transformational liberation.  I have read a novel, Beware of Pity, two novellas - Chess and Twenty Four Hours in the Life of a Woman, and an extract from his autobiography - The World of Yesterday.  At times I was amazed - this guy really understands stuff; wow!!!!!!, that is exactly what should have happened, how did he do that.  At other times, labouring in details that might have been skipped, condensed, I was genuinely bored - "got the message, Zweig; get on with it."  Zweig made his early reputation translating the work of poets.  My temptation then is to recommend his work to up-and-coming writers who will translate his writings into good, solid, masterpiececal brilliance.  Alternatively, just have a go; at the end of each book, I felt that the time allowed to reading it had been rescued, made worthwhile.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book or film - Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

So, which is better, the book or the film. Personally, I love them both. I love reading Agatha Christie's books. She had four series - Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Tommy and Tuppence, and the stories with no leading person. Agatha Christie is such an amazing person besides being such a creative author. She lead a very exciting life, learning to surf, accompanying her husband on archaeological digs, and she shares her experiences in her books. She is total genius, and it is so interesting reading her books through her whole history of writing, because you can see the changes in time and lifestyle, the decadence of the twenties, through the austerity of wartime, followed by the new freedoms discovered in the 50s. And her ideas for murder, so creative, and while the Poirot and Miss Marple, have a certain light-heartedness, the ones without a leading character, are altogether rather sinister, and sometimes quite macabre.

I have seen five films, and I like all of them, although The Mirror Crack'd with Elizabeth Burton, Rock Hudson, and Tony Curtis, was a bit too showy for me. I think I like the films, because they introduce me to a time which I will never experience. Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express are both so decadent, and beautifully shot. I cannot imagine travelling through Egypt or Europe at such an elegant pace, drinking cocktails, admiring the scenery without the crowds, and experiencing it all without social media. I do love my gadgets, but I would also like to travel in a slower world. And the actors chosen for the roles are superb. Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney as Poirot, Bette Davies as a cantankerous old spinster, and Angela Lansbury in several different roles...just divine. I find that often, films with many famous actors, can detract from the story, but the casting choices hugely enhance these productions.

The story told in Death on the Nile is just fabulous, and only slightly different in the film, which loses three of the book's characters, or rather integrates them with the remaining ones. Nothing is lost. It is almost as though the book is being read to you, enhanced by the most beautiful scenery following alongside. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about a couple on their honeymoon, being tormented by a former lover. The plot is laid as each character's juicy background and potential motive, is described and you just get engrossed in all the connections and scandal, and the varying characters of all the people participating in this exotic trip. And, while we know there will be a murder, it doesn't actually occur until almost half way through the book. I won't spoil it, but it is a jolly fine read, and quite unputdownable!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Ian Fleming

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is realistic in places.  It concerns a family, the Potts, who have a much-loved car that makes an unusual sound Chitty, Chitty - Bang! - Bang!; so they name the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  After this moment of realism the novel becomes quite bizarre.  I am reminded firstly of the Famous Five - they say 'Golly' a lot, and they are frightfully hungry after life-threatening adventures.  Then, as might be expected from Ian Fleming, there are clear hints of James Bond narrative-types - taking on a gang of international criminals and maybe escaping (I don't want to give the plot away) at the point of greatest peril.  Only, to complete this reference to James Bond, having defeated (or maybe defeated) a criminal mastermind - casually risking the lives of his wife and two children along the way - James Bond is jolly pleased with himself and sets off on a new adventure - 'the children aren't scared', he explains to his wife, 'so it must be alright.'  The novel is written for children, of course - though I can't imagine children reading it.  The story is just too something - I can't quite put my finger on it - to suit the child audience that I imagine.  What I love, however, is its period-pieceness.  It comes from an age when driving at 100mph (or flying, or speed-boating) with your simply adorable children sitting in an armchair seat behind - no seat belts - is an example of ordinary, if quirky family fun; and where the everyday maternal care of Mum (Mimsie) is demonstrated by her cautioning of her children to be careful when examining the crates of dynamite they have just discovered.  (Fleming then endorses this by reminding his child-readers that they should listen to the cautions of their mothers; but worthy of note is the fact that he doesn't seem to have his tongue anywhere near his cheek when offering this writerly advice - he means it.)  Anyway, for most of this novel I didn't know whether to laugh or exclaim in a 'what!'-like manner; so if you would like to experience a similar reader-response this might be the book for you.  If not, try the film - much more straightforward and 'truly scrumptious'.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Neverending Story - Michael Ende

It was my second time to read The Neverending Story; and like the best of books it suggested itself, grabbing my attention as I stared hopefully at the bookshelves.  I was duly prepared for Fantastica, a land populated by stories and under threat from the 'nothing'.  At its best this book is sublime - a real treat for the imagination and fantastically written; it even tops Momo, another Michael Ende favourite, in places.  In other places, however - about half-way through, when Bastian Balthazar Bux began to create his own world, it slumped a little, reading like a book with fillers.  But I won't knock it for long about that; I thoroughly enjoyed it, flew through it and would happily have read more.