Friday, 20 December 2019

The Trouble with Harry by Jack Trevor Story

"The dead man lay just as young Abie had seen him. The face, the moustache, the wavy hair, the blood. Everything."

The trouble with Harry is that he is dead. Who knew a dead body could be the source of so many romantic entanglements? The film version of this story is one of my favourites and I've watched it so many times, so I was keen to investigate the source.

Surprisingly the adaptation is almost an exact reflection of the book and perhaps that is a testament to how delightfully it is written. Mind you, it is so hard for me to not imagine the characters from the film while reading the book. The young Jerry Mathers ( TV's the Beaver) as the adorable young Abie is particularly hard to forget.

Enjoy this cute short story for yourself, you won't be disappointed. 

5 out of 5 get ready for lots of digging.

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

"All Americans lecture, I believe.  I suppose it is something in their climate."

I have located the source ladies and gentlemen. The mother load of Oscar Wilde quotes that don't spring from The Importance of Being Earnest  or  Lady Windermere's Fan. A scandalous secret, a beautiful American, and a weekend in the country for the Upper class.
The text is a delight and I can't understand why this particular play gets relegated in relation to some of Wilde's more famous works.

Difficult to provide a lengthy response here, the play is a mere ninety pages or so, just eminently enjoyable and quotable.

 5 out of 5 "Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself." - I love Oscar Wilde. 

Deep Water by Patricia Highsmith

“The fact that Melinda had been carrying on like this for more than three years gave Vic the reputation in Little Wesley of having a saint like patience and forbearance, which in turn flattered Vic’s ego.”

Take a deep dive, you will not be disappointed!  Apparently, this awesome read is due for translation into celluloid soon and I for one think it will make for an entertaining story. My five minutes of research online uncovered an earlier French cinematic exploration,  Eau Profondes ,  which I’m keen to check out. The new film (currently in production) will, according to IMDB star Ben Affleck and is directed by Adrian Lyne of Fatal Attraction fame, so we shall see the results sometime in 2020. I'm glad I read the novel first because Affleck was far from the man I imagined Vic to be, I envisaged someone weedier and less Hollywood.

The perfect family is often far from perfection. Vic and Melinda Van Allen live in Little Wesley with their daughter, Trixie. The couple inhabit separate bedrooms with Melinda continually flirting with other men, to Vic’s annoyance. Despite being well regarded by the locals and part of the local ,social scene, Vic is somewhat of an unusual character. He appears nonchalant to the locals in relation to his wife’s flagrant misbehaviour. He is a dedicated father to his daughter and somewhat obsessed with his collections of snails.

When Melinda’s latest paramour ends up dead in the pool at a party, we are already well aware of who is at fault. As readers we are almost complicit because we’ve dwelt in the recesses of Vic’s mind and witnessed exactly what happened. The relationship between Vic and Melinda deteriorates in such a fashion that the air is thick with suspicion, distrust, hatred and scheming. Not to mention the jumpiness you’d imagine a successful murderer would be plagued by at the thought of being caught out.
When one murder isn’t enough, well that’s when things start to spin out of control and the journey is a wild ride that is a total page turner. The moral of the story, it seems, is that you should avoid sleeping with the wife of a quiet and strange husband, or you might end up in the drink.

5 out of 5 unhappy marriages can get you into deep water.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

"I washed motel sheets and kept writing one-reel horror movies"

I happen to think The Shining is possibly the best horror novel I've ever read. While I might not love everything Stephen King has delivered in his prolific career, there's no denying, when he is on fire, no-one can top him. He creeps around the corner of the everyday to the lingering menace that hides just under the surface. You are always one unexpected breeze or sound away from sheer terror. Almost implausibly, with that air of menace, he delivers emotionally, fully fledged character's whose lives, feelings and aspirations are easy to recognise in our own.

So many people have recommended this book and it has really taken me an age to read it. That's on me and I regret not diving in sooner. Perhaps what I found most intriguing was the fleshing out of all those inner worries that plague us as writers made real by someone recognised as a master of the craft.

I'm not getting any younger - and possibly watching a TV show at the moment about Elizabeth Taylor's cause of death is making me a little sentimental. In any case 2020 is going to have to be that year where I write about more than just other people's work. I've certainly read a lot and have a good base to work from. I've lived a bit too and if this book is anything to go by, I think you need to do both to be a successful writer. 

Did I mention there is an extensive list of books to read at the end? You know how I love a list.

5 out of 5 times this young Paduan listens to her Master.

Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

"Now it was the evening, and I was watching Citizen Kane, for what had to have been the tenth time (so far)."

Dear Patton Oswalt, 

I too am addicted to the silver screen. We should form a self help club. I feel we have similar outlooks on some of the films you've discussed with some caveats. As partial as I am to a footnote, I feel you could perhaps limit them slightly, as I got a little distracted. Some of your ideas for unmade films are genius and you should push for their development  and a part at least.

Blade's entrance at the rave is truly inspired, I 100% agree.

In closing, I'd like to say you are a great writer, which makes you an impressive 'slashie'.

Keep up the good work sir.

I commend this book to other readers.

Yours Truly,
This Celluloid obsessed blogger.

 4 out of 5 cinemas are my favourite hiding places.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

"Richard was surprised when he heard the announcement that the federal government had declared a policy action to bring the rebels to order. Kainene was not."

I have to admit to being completely oblivious to this period of history. I was unfamiliar with Nigeria's history and I always admire a book that enlivens otherwise hidden periods of history to my sheltered world. I'd previously read Americanah  by the same author and enjoyed it immensely, so I was intrigued to explore her Bailey Women's Prize winning novel.

There are some harrowing scenes in this novel which are not easily erased. A particular rape scene comes to mind and it is all the more disturbing because both the transgressor and the victim seem like victims - no-one is innocent in war. This is a world gone mad and the insanity has a body count.

Sadly, this could be anywhere in the world.We are always one step away from being educated and informed and then regressing into violence. Even when the ideals are revolution for better conditions, the outcomes can be catastrophic. The pacing here is masterful and you will be drawn in despite your reservations about much of the action.

5 out of 5 - If we don't learn history we are doomed.

Fake by Stephanie Wood

"There were three of us in the relationship: Joe, me and Joe's intriguing, unfolding narrative."

This was an excruciating read for me. Who hasn't been on a date with an unreliable narrator? Yet, who could foresee the extent of what Stephanie Wood went through. Her writing is compelling and you will be flicking pages with a mixture of horror and intrigue. 

Perhaps this is what every single gal needs in her stocking this year as a warning to keep their eyes open. I realise how some of my friends may scoff at me making that statement.

What is even more interesting is the way Wood combines her own stories with those of others, along with research and input from experts. It makes for a well balanced, journalistic exploration of the traps of today's dating world and the disreputable behaviours that abound.

You will google search any potential dates as a minimum before taking anything at face value after reading this. 

5 out of 5 - no such thing as romance.

You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again by Julia Phillips

"The clubs were filled with rich kids and young actors who had just thrown up on their shoes in the bathroom and then took up space in the bar nodding out."

Isn't it funny how different people read things differently. I really enjoyed this crazy coke-fuelled ride through Hollywood. The fella seemed to only make pejorative comments about Julia's love life, which I thought was just not right. I'm sure if she was a man that would not be the comments he'd make. Anyway, enough feminist rant for one day - but seriously is there ever enough feminist rant for one day? Probably not.

What struck me was a woman who was so capable and in control while completely out of control and that dichotomy makes for a truly compelling story. Sometimes the narrative is all over the shop - but that is to be expected. There are gems here and it is worth the effort.

Who couldn't love the woman who championed Close Encounters  and Taxi Driver?

4 out of 5 close encounters abound.

Mrs Fletcher by Tom Perrotta

"Amber was painfully aware of the mismatch between her politics and her desires."

Have you put a book down, after you've finished it and thought "hmm how do I feel about that?". That was my conundrum after closing the last page. I was tormented by how hideous everyone was and yet how relatable much of their shame, embarrassment and inability to communicate was. Everyone is trying to not be horrible and kind of failing miserably.

Some, like Brendan, are captive in this toxic masculinity bind that they can't seem to escape. Even when he likes a girl he manages to treat her hideously and most of his behaviour is horrific.

His mum, has lived through her son and now suffers major empty nesting issues, confounded by a new-found porn addiction. There is this sense that she's put all her desires at bay in bringing up her child and now her frustration is palpable and her decision making becomes more than a little questionable.

Even what I've set out above seems a little too black and white. Often the most horrific characters had moments of appeal and yet the quantum seemed depressing - but maybe that's just the messy world we live in these days.

Ultimately, I found the story as frustrating as the characters and yet I still can't articulate why in a coherent fashion.

4 out of 5  reasons why I'm glad I don't have kids.

The Centauri Device by M.John Harrison

"The narcotics police are getting ready to close Chalice Veronica's import operation."

You have to love a novel where the protagonist's name is Truck. This Science-fiction classic is big on action in a kind of Michael Bay meets film noir, meets cyber punk kind of way. If that sounds a little crazy then you are on the right page. There is a frenetic energy which kept me awake on the thirty minute flight from Canberra, when I really just wanted to shut my eyes and snooze for a bit.

It was particularly interesting to me that a novel written before I was born ( not that far before but nevertheless before) posited a weapon based on genetics. The eponymous Centauri Device.

The novel is an explosion on so many levels, both figuratively and literally.

4 out of 5 - things go BOOM!

Monday, 16 December 2019

Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang

"If the Chinese are the most unpunctual of people, she meditated, their politicians are surely virtuosos in the art of the late arrival."

So I haven't seen the movie adaptation of the first short story and yet this whole book of little snippets put me in a Wong Kar -Wai, In The Mood For Love, head space. These little stories are digested quickly with a sensual flavour. The titular story is like a sexy Le Carré; but distilled into just a few pages - no mean feat!.

4 out of 5 - pink diamonds are pretty.

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

"The communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas."

There are some little books that change history and it is interesting to be able to read them critically. I've heard this slim volume referred to so many times and yet reading it was really quite interesting.
The writing is amazing. It is amped to the wazoo. You almost feel sorry for the impassioned pleas within, that the whole communist thing doesn't exactly work out. Newsflash, people are pretty much greedy. There are also some holes to be poked in some of the ideas. Nevertheless, the idea of just taking your share is a solid one. Much of the fear mongering text reminded me of a Trump rally and I completely understand the incongruous nature of that assertion. Still imagine writing something in 1848 that people are still reading  in 2019.

3 out of 5 - it is a short tract.

Tales of Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

"some years ago we had a foreign exchange student come to live with us. We found it very difficult to pronounce his name correctly, but he didn't mind"

What a delightful combination of words and images this is.The image of the water buffalo is perfection. The story of Eric, the exchange student, pure bliss. This is a book that will tickle your insides and make you smile because you've witnessed something beautiful.

The Guardian has some of the beautiful illustrations on the web: here.

Imagine the strange tales your parents made up to send you to sleep. Little snippets of fantasy, combined with gorgeous illustrations and maybe you'll land somewhere in the vicinity.

5 out of 5 - art and fiction combine for the sublime.

The Immoralist by Andre Gide

“To know how to free oneself is nothing; the arduous thing is to know what to do with one’s freedom.”

What to say about this one? It is a weird one to say the least. Talk about awkward relationships. Michel falls for the almost flawless Marceline and marries her but seems way more interested in the many attractive men that they happen upon in their travels. Certainly there is this air of frustration as Michel seems closeted but unaware that homosexuality is an option. 

His relationships with young boys is also problematic as the language verges on lascivious despite nothing untoward eventuating. The introduction describes Michel as being in love with himself;  and yet the tale unfolds in a way to describe Michel's ever increasing desire for intimacy and confusion as his feelings do not seem to fit the accepted norms of the time.

Word choices are rather fecund, providing an additional sense that something earthy is going on beneath the surface. Michel is recovering from illness, growing his hair long and questioning his  sense of self. Marceline  loves Michel "too much to see me as I was" and therein lies the crux of the novel - Michel's inner confusion is almost invisible to the loving eyes of his wife.

His aims to settle on a farm with his pregnant wife are rather disastrous.Her deteriorating health leaves Michel describing his poor wife as "spoiled" - what a charmer. Queue more travels for health reasons and other drama - I think I'll leave the rest for you to read as this is a very short novella ( and freely available online).

3 out of 5 - Tuberculosis seems like a horrible bloody way to die.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2) by Becky Chambers

"Sidra knew dancing wouldn't feel the same to her as it did to others. But maybe...maybe she could at least look good."

When I finished the first novel in the series, I was super keen to start the sequel. What I didn't expect was such a shift in style and narration. I didn't find this as immediately engaging and easy to read as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and yet I've had a few weeks to reflect on the second novel and my feelings have shifted.

While the duelling chapters can feel a little heavy at times, there are moments of pure brilliance, asking universal questions. What does it mean to be sentient? When does artificial intelligence cease to be artificial? what kind of imposter syndrome would an A.I. feel within a body?

All really interesting questions aren't they? Perhaps I was a little distracted by busy times at work and that nullified my enjoyment to some degree. Nevertheless, I'm keen to get started on the next one and drift on into outer space - beats dealing with this horrific air quality.

4 out of 5 bodies are strange pieces of kit.

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

"Lonely was for people who had feelings, which he didn't."

I completely enjoyed Hoang's The Kiss Quotient  and immediately ordered the next in the series once I heard there was one coming out. This perhaps isn't as sweet as the first outing but it is the perfect antidote to a grumpy world.
Maybe romance is dead, perhaps it never existed or perhaps we are just all terrible at communicating. That inability to express one's feelings becomes even more troublesome, it seems, when you throw autism into the mix.

I devoured this like a chocolate brownie. You know that tasty morsel that is gone in the blink of an eye and makes you feel guilty for the short-lived pleasure. Also I had this terrible moment of realisation that I was reading a romance novel at work and that sent out into the world all those unhappy relationship vibes that aren't really appropriate for the office. Not to mention, this gets a little steamy at times. Poor Khai really struggles with ever tightening pants when the delightful Esmerelda is around.

In any case, this novel would make such a great Netflix flick and should be snapped up pronto! It is the perfect relaxing summer read - enjoy by the pool with a nice cold margarita!

5 out of 5 - because a girl can dream.