Thursday, June 29, 2017

Histoire de la Violence - Edouard Louis

You may well harbour all sorts of opinions on the author's choice to tell an autobiographical event (rape and physical violence) in a novelized narrative - and all sorts of opinions are indeed both harboured and expressed in the media - but Louis's literary talent is so irrefutable, there is no way for me not to love this.

The writing style is elaborate, with multiple narrative voices and multiple time spans intertwining as the night in question unfolds, just as these events interweave with stories of his past (again!). Convoluted yet seemingly effortless = Truly elegant!

Extra bonus points for the literary interlude assimilating his experience to that of Temple Drake in Faulkner's 'Sanctuary'.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New York Public Library Podcast

These are live recordings of people conversing in front of an audience so the sound quality is very far from that of most other podcasts. But then the quality of the speakers largely outweighs anything else!

Knowledgeable, articulate, intelligent writers, artists and thinkers speak about literature, their lives, economy, world politics or Shakespeare.

My favourites :
Marjane Satrapi (of brilliant Persepolis) was a blast! Funny and clever and irresistible!
Jay Z was surprisingly well-phrased and levelheaded. (That surprised me because I know he hasn't done any higher education.)
Gloria Steinem was her usual intelligent, outspoken and humane self.
Noam Chomsky is always Noam Chomsky, but that his conversation partner Yanis Varoufakis should be so convincing I had not anticipated.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro - R. Peck 2016

James Baldwin's articulate and perceptive musings on race relations in the US + heaps of stock footage = Yes this was interesting and thought-provoking, though not necessarily very original.

If, however, you are accompanied by a curious thirteen-year-old, desirous to learn more about icons Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, then you definitely want to choose another film.

Friday, June 23, 2017

And the Great Unknown - Bror Gunnar Jonsson

Not all of this is very runner-friendly, but all of it is bluesy yet original and it rocks!
(very runner-friendly!)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Regrettably, the very useful low-expectations principle is a no-go with Mohsin Hamid.
I have read and loved all his previous novels ('How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia', 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' and 'Moth Smoke') and his essay collection so I should have been slightly better prepared for the inevitable disappointment, due to come sooner or later.

'Exit West' deals with a country under extremist attack, emigration and then immigration - highly topical, distressing subjects and not so very different from Hamid's previous novels. 

The treatment, however, is incomparable. Far from his previous first person narrations, this story is told in a Paulo Coelho-esque narrative voice, observing from the outside and naming only the main characters. (Others can be described as "the man" or "the second man".)
This ambitious / pretentious fairy tale, stilted style of writing was one of the things I hated about 'The Alchemist' and I can't say I appreciate it much here, either. Whereas this impersonal narration does bypass tearful melodrama, it also prevents at least me from identifying with the characters. 

So : Could have been good, should have been good, but I suppose not even my personal housegods can hit a home run with every book. Hamid will do better next time, I'm sure.    

Monday, June 19, 2017

Look Who's Back - D. Wnendt 2015

What the concept of the return of Adolf Hitler to today's Germany may lack in originality (classic fish out of the water) it makes up for in audacity.

Indeed, to have the Germans find him charming and captivating is what I call a very bold move! Whether that in turn compensates for what I definitely felt was a lack of credibility (I mean Come On!! It's Hitler!) is an open question.
What did bother me in this film :
- I wasn't very funny. It should have been. It would have been like a glass of water to swallow the pill.
- It depicted the German people as a homogenous bunch of conservative fascists. Which was daring enough, but in my experience very unfair. 

In short, an interesting idea which would have deserved a better treatment.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Trespasser - Tana French

Even before I came across the mention of Rhys's 'Wide Sargasso Sea' in 'The Trespasser' I had made the connection between Antoinette, the brown murder detective at war with the rest of the squad, and Antoinette, Mr Rochester's first wife from 'the islands' subsequently become 'the mad woman in the attic' at war with the rest of Thornfield Hall.
Love French for her literary references! Previously, I have drawn parallels to fellow Dubliner James Joyce.

However, I love French for more than her taste in literature : 
She also smoothly avoids the greatest pitfalls of crime literature and the worst stereotypes in today's society as a whole. 
She writes elegantly and idiosyncratically. Single-voice narration is not that easy to pull off.
She is following a path which, I believe and hope, will eventually lead her away from the murder plots and towards something more ambitious.

In short; a good read!

Other French books you want to check out :
'Broken Harbour'
'The Likeness'
'The Secret Place' 
'Into the Woods'
'Faithful Place'

Thursday, June 15, 2017


For some wholly inexplicable reason, I have always had something of an issue with French rap music.  I cannot explain why, but French rap just doesn't speak to me.

As it turns out, that issue does not at all apply when the French rap in question is :

a) in English. (Good English, too! I am an English teacher - I know a good accent when I hear one.)

b) brilliantly talented and original. (I mean, like, really very talented!)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Here I Am - Jonathan Safran Foer

The key question to this novel, it seems to me, is not so much (W)HERE I am, but rather WHO. Foer explores subjects of jewishness, kinship and identity for over 500 pages, which is, I'm sorry to say, at least 200 too many in the present case.

In its family saga form, it rather reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's 'Freedom' (no particular favourite of mine). They very much share the same genre as literary bestsellers. Regrettably, I had come to expect more of Foer after his two previous masterpieces ('Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' and 'Everything Is Illuminated'). 


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Pollinator - Blondie

Without wishing to focus on their age, I don't suppose it's reasonable to ask for renewal from people this old. Not everyone is David Bowie. (Very few are, in point of fact.)  Therefore I won't hold the 1980s sound against them in any way.

That said, the world can definitely do with some more 'Heart of Glass' and 'Atomic'-like songs! It's up-to-date and fresh and very runner-friendly!

And though I can't say I particularly respect elderly musicians playing their own elderly songs, I set great store by elderly musicians playing new songs.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Departed - M. Scorsese 2006

So there was a lot of characteristic Scorsese in here : Organized crime, plenty of talking, explicit violence, Leo Di Caprio, an aging mentor, a tight plot, deception, a great deal of swearing, white powder and of course a single female character torn between the two doppelgänger, Damon and Di Caprio.

And all that know-how which makes it a good film. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Poldark season 1

There was actually one exceedingly handsome fellow among Peter Jackson's dwarfs, but sorry to say it was not Aidan Turner. Perhaps if Richard Armitage (King under the Mountain) had been cast as homecoming hero Poldark, his dour face might have compensated for what I felt was a lack of creation and innovation in this BBC series. At least it would have been nicer to look at.

As it was, I must admit Iost patience with this after a mere two episodes.

Louis CK 2017

Louis CK on stage is less up close and personal than his TV series, obviously, but still; the perfect stand-up comedian. Smart AND funny. Deals with topics ranging from abortion ("Don't have an abortion. Unless you need one.") to religion to rescue dogs to Achilles to married life to 'Magic Mike' to his dad's penis.

Watch and learn, Schumer. Watch and learn.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Album - ABBA

Mercifully, the world has already forgotten about the 1977 disaster 'ABBA The Movie' (Lasse Hallström's worst film ever, although admittedly that isn't saying much).

Hopefully, not everyone has forgotten about the accompanying album. It's their best! 

I know them all by heart, you can take my word for it. It's still their best.

(This video, though? Another great moment in the Hallström filmography. I don't suppose he understood a single word of the lyrics?)


Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Santa Clarita Diet s1

I very nearly gave up on this. Though the pitch is refreshing and frisky - mousy housewife turns zombie - I found the first two episodes gruesome and gory, which felt like a cheap trick (as opposed to a clever script).

But then around episode three, something happened! 
There were slightly less torn-off body parts and a lot more irreverent punchlines. 
The secondary characters gained depth.
The opposition between Suburbia and human-flesh-devouring undead sharpened.
I suddenly realized all the first-rate characters were women.
It became great fun!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Tropismes - Nathalie Sarraute

A tropism (I love Wikipedia!) is "a growth or turning movement... in response to an environmental stimulus". The motif of tropisms in this short story collection may not be immediately perceptible when reading - but then, truth be told, almost nothing is!

All the elements I considered as the upside to Lucia Berlin's short stories - analogy of narrator, point of view and focalization - are conspicuously absent here. 
In Sarraute's 29 short sketches, everything is implicit and differing from one piece to another. The point of view is always subjective but then as the narrator keeps changing, these texts demand constant focus and contemplation.

It is fortunate, therefore, that :
1. The narratives are very short. All 29 amount to less than 100 pages in all.
2. Sarraute's writing is so unbelievably adroit. She is of the same literary family as Woolf and Joyce, and that is a very, very restricted family.