Thursday, June 30, 2016

The History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters - Julian Barnes

Though the title seems self-evident, describing the plot of this book is easier said than done.
In 10 1/2 chapters, Barnes wavers between plots, characters, narrative forms and points of view with dizzying speed and skill. It is a collection of short stories, loosely tied together by the motif of navigation and shipwreck.

My two favourite chapters :

The first : A stowaway woodworm spills the beans on Noah, his family and life on the Ark. 
History has worked wonders on that one, at least according to the narrating woodworm!

The fifth : The first part narrates the 1816 shipwreck depicted by Géricault on The Raft of the Medusa. The second part is an analysis of the canvas itself; Géricault's narrative choices and the conditions under which it was painted.

In all, this was a brilliant book, yet I didn't enjoy it as much as I should have. 
Perhaps my brain is already on vacation.
The Raft of the Medusa, Théodore Géricault, 1818-19

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Game of Thrones, season 6

Faithful readers I am sure will remember that I did give the first book a shot, when I had run out of arguments to counter my tender spouse's forceful recommendations. 

It did not make me want to view the TV-version, so I didn't.

However, now that I have (not exactly unwillingly, but let's say unenthusiastically) sat through most of the last two seasons, I think I can safely confirm that the motion picture adaptation - for once! - greatly surpasses the book. 

That it still hasn't in any way swept me off my feet I reckon we must put down to an incompatibility of temperament.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Jan Gradvall Podcast

If you have any understanding of the Swedish language, I congratulate you.
That means you can listen to this podcast on music, hosted by one of Sweden's top-notch music journalists, Jan Gradvall. Subdued yet knowledgeable, he interviews a variety of artists and music professionals on subjects such as Drake, Kiss, Beyoncé or Britney Spears.
Interesting and insightful! 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bret Easton Ellis Podcast

The concept was mouth-watering : One of my all-time favourite writers hashing over popular culture with varied industry professionals. 

And for sure, the interviews are instructive, no-bullshit inside talks. Ellis is a born and raised Angeleno and a savvy film buff. He is also outspoken and often peremptory in his views, much in the manner of Quentin Tarantino (the first talk I listened to). 

Much to my surprise, however, I did not enjoy this as much as I had thought I would.
Not really sure why. Somehow, all the negativity just got to me, so I have decided I much prefer Ellis on paper. Please publish what you are writing instead.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante

And so I finally caved in to the massive hype surrounding this opus.

In many ways it reminded me of Kristina Sandberg's 'Att Föda Ett Barn' : The subject-matter is sadly under-explored, and in dire need of hype. 
Where Sandberg dealt with a Swedish smalltown housewife, Ferrante narrates the life of two working class girls in Naples - funnily, both series are set in the glorious boom period 1945-75. The plot is rich with insight and nonconformity, and I really wanted to like this.

But. I have issues with the writing style. For instance, the point of view is incoherent; first person, internal focalization occasionally swerves into omniscience in a way that feels both awkward and uncontrolled. 
Overall, I found Ferrante's writing ambitious and easy access, though just not very elegant.

The bottom line is, I guess, that if I cannot have both style and plot in the same book, I will always choose style over plot.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

A Climate of Fear - Fred Vargas

The plot is passably convoluted yet that is not the main point, which means Vargas is here finalizing the step from detective fiction to just plain fiction, as initiated with 'The Ghost Riders of Ordebec'.

Beautiful style, plus that absorbing blend of folklore and history that has become her hallmark. Enjoyed this a lot!

Le Portrait de Dorian Gray at Comédie des Champs Elysées, 8th arrdt

Simple but effective stage design, witty Wilde oneliners and an excellent Lord Henry (also writer / director and clearly a cut above the rest of the crew).
A good time!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Le Journal de Céléstine at Théâtre Gildas, Paris 13th arrdt

Contemporary theatre, as attentive readers may have noticed, is not exactly my favourite pastime. Though when well performed, like this, it is a quite tolerable way to spend an evening out!

Patricia Piazza Georget, writer, director and main performer of this adaptation of Octave Mirbeau's Journal d'une Femme de Chambre, turned out to be one of my more artistic neighbours. (And yet I do live surrounded by talents, even now that Foenkinos has moved out!) She acted the heck out of her monologue, and sang beautifully, too.

The drama is no longer played at the Théâtre Stéphane Gildas but should be put on at another Parisian venue in the autumn.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Charlotte - David Foenkinos

Startlingly, didn't like this! Was so sure I would. But didn't.

(her art, though..!)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thank You - Meghan Trainor

Very American : Uncomplicated easy listening. Quite runner-friendly.


Monday, June 13, 2016

The Merchant of Venice - William Shakespeare

About the play itself so much has already been said I don't reckon I can add anything meaningful in a blog post. Shylock the Jew is the most prominent part, the marriage plots serving mostly as a foil for his intriguing character. Shylock and his bond (lending money against a pound of Antonio's flesh) add depth and significance to what would otherwise have been just a fluffy comedy.

As per usual, Shakespeare dipped joyously into existing plays for inspiration, Marlowe's The Jew of Malta being one of his sources here. 
(And to those of you who believe that this in any way diminishes the Shakespeare genius : All of the others did the same, at the time; none of the others had Will's skill with words, his psychological insight nor his staying power.)

Regarding this Arden edition (edited by one John Russell Brown), it offers a standard, instructive introduction and notes that are so extensive as to be virtually useless, at least if you are reading the play for mere entertainment.

I think I might dig out my old dvd of the Al Pacino version, just for pleasure.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Vernon Subutex 2 - Virginie Despentes

Where the first tome was rock'n'roll noir (think Joy Division, or the White Stripes) this second tome is mostly so feelgood that pulling it off requires as much boldness as savoir-faire (a bit like the B52s), both of which Despentes displays liberally.

Though the main character is a white middle-aged man, and the plot revolves around the video testament left behind by a dead rockstar, the novel is about outsidership, contemporary society, aging, racism, sexism, Paris... and I found it just plainly, outstandingly brilliant. 

Can't wait for part 3. (But will have to.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Symboles et Allegories - Matilde Battistini

Methodically and carefully, Battistini lists symbols, topos and motifs recurrent in painting and sculpture. Most of the artworks used as examples (they are multifold!) date from the renaissance, for obvious reasons (classic symbolism was all the rage in the 15th-16th centuries) but there have been worse periods in art history!

Boy Bitten by a Lizard, by Caravaggio, ca 1595
illustrating touch (the five senses)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Vernon Subutex 1 - Virginie Despentes

Plot : Rock'n'roll.
Characters : Rock'n'roll.
Writing style : Rock'n'roll.

Additional information : This was 100% spot on absolutely outstanding!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Becoming Zlatan - F and M Gertten, 2016

With a documentary focusing on a character this inexplicably irresistible, it seems hard to truly foul up. 

The film is better than you'd have thought, seeing how it was made by unused film shot for another documentary, centered on the Malmö team he used to play for in Sweden. 
It is the coming-of-age story of a talented, charismatic and enigmatic football-player. 
Way too enigmatic for the good of the film, actually. It left me with rather more questions than I had before watching it.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Discontent and its Civilizations - Mohsin Hamid

As I have read and loved Hamid's previous three novels - 'Moth Smoke', 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and 'How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia' - I confess my low-expectations principle certainly wasn't applicable here.

Nor was it necessary! This collection of essays and articles (published in heavyweight publications, such as the Guardian, the NY Times, the Independent etc.) is as well-pondered as it is well-penned.

Effortlessly divided into three parts - Life, Art and Politics - Hamid exposes his views in the light of his experience of living on three continents. Where Olivier Truc is a journalist writing books, Hamid is very much a writer who happens to produce articles. The difference is extremely perceptible in their style : Truc has none. (Which is OK for a journalist.) Hamid writes Real Literature.

While he also contemplates urgent and crucial topics, like the US drone strikes in Pakistan, it was his views on literature that struck me the most. 
Hamid argues that the new 'Golden Age' TV shows ('The Wire', 'GOT', 'Mad Men', 'Girls'... you know the kind) in their treatment of plot and character are now rivalling the novel, thus representing a major crisis for fictional writing. 
His hope is that the crisis will prove an opportunity for change, that will make the novel "boldly go where no one has gone before", pretty much like the arrival of photography brought about a revolution in painting.
"Television is not the new novel. Television is the old novel."
Food for thought!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Electronica 2 - Jean Michel Jarre

Intriguing and promising collaborations - Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan, Gesaffelstein and Edward Snowden (!) for instance - made me download this although I had sniffed at and then snubbed its predecessor, 'Electronica 1', from last autumn. 

This is ambitious, audacious, talented electronic music, and there is no denying Jarre's status as a pioneer in his field. Yet, I reckon too much water has flowed under the bridge since 'Oxygen' and so for all its qualities, this feels dated. 
I'd much rather 'Justice' released something new...