I thought that Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go was one of the best books I had read in a while, and lo and behold, a movie adaptation is coming out. Ishiguro's novels (the ones I've read) seem disposed to a visual adaptation, unlike some other authors. I can tell this will be good, certainly not awful.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
I haven't bought anything off ebay in forever. First of all, I have no money. Secondly, there's just nothing I need, when I have the city's biggest library three blocks away. But I found this, and I had to have. In my defense, the whole thing was only 6 bucks plus shipping. I would have spent more buying them individually and they wouldn't have matched.
Yes, I purchased the Raj Quartet by Paul Scott, along with the Staying On coda that I recently read for its Booker Prize winning capabilities. I thought Staying On was good, but slight, and I thought I would enjoy the main series more.
I really have a thing for books that match. It always looks better on a shelf when things are uniform. I don't care for crazy oddly shaped books or ones with stupid show-off designs like the McSweeney books.
I'm about 100 pages into the first book, The Jewel in the Crown, and I'm enjoying it enough. I'm also trying to juggle Gravity's Rainbow in the mix, so I'll let you know how that's going.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Well the day has finally come. I was able to pick up a copy of Bret Easton Ellis' newest novel, Imperial Bedrooms, and I have finished it, and I have some thoughts on it.
Imperial Bedrooms is the sequel to Less Than Zero, Ellis' first novel published in 1985 (a year after I was born), however "sequel" isn't quite the right word. This novel merely picks up with Clay, Blair, Julien et al. in 2010, when they're all washed-out emotionally empty burnouts. It seems nothing has changed, except Clay works as a screenwriter and has been "seeing" a young actress who is trying to get a part in Clay's new movie via "companionship". Things become more complicated as Clay realizes he's being constantly tailed and watched by mysterious people, and receiving ominous texts.
This novel opens with two quotes, one of them being from Raymond Chandler's masterpiece, The Long Goodbye. This sets the tone of the plot to be a detective story, in which a confusing myriad of connections between seemingly unconnected people is established. It's a Chandler-novel set into the framework of a stereotypical Ellis novel.
This would be fine if I hadn't already read a similar and more effective pastiche in Pynchon's Inherent Vice. Ellis' novel lacks the immediacy and cleverness of his earlier Stephen King pastiche Lunar Park, and it lacks the cleverness and skill of Pynchon's novel.
As well, Ellis' prescient first novels highlighted the excess of our culture, with a serious moral undertone, but now our culture celebrates this excess and outrageousness with every moment in film, television and music. It's like Ellis' worst nightmare has been realized. Unfortunately, this means Ellis is like a crazy man standing on the street corner shouting about Armageddon when it's already happened. What more does Ellis have to add to this anymore?
Imperial Bedrooms has all the hallmarks of an Ellis novel: the emptiness, the name-dropping, the conversations of no substance, the sex, the violence, everything that Ellis rallies against. But we've come to a point in our mass culture of consumerism where Ellis is a brand unto himself. He is delivering on the promise of our expectations of the Ellis-brand with a novel that isn't quite clever enough to comment on that very same phenomena.
As for the novel itself, it is what it is. Taken by itself, this is a fine Ellis novel, full of the aforementioned stylistic tics. But it's supposed to be a metafictional comment on his own novel Less Than Zero, which means I'm having a hard time separating the two. It just doesn't quite reach the moment where Ellis has a Delillo-like instance of pure literary transcendence. It merely wallows on the surface, like all of his characters ever do.
Imperial Bedrooms is an acceptable novel, and one that I will surely read again. However it just does not hold up to the standard set by his previous novels. This effort feels slight, like it didn't take 10 years to write. I tried very hard to manage my expectations and what I wanted from Ellis, but still, with a careful mindset, he managed to disappoint me. Ellis' cultural relevancy has diminished greatly, which definitely hurts the novel's supposedly shocking dark-side-of-Hollywood theme. Luckily, Imperial Bedrooms will never affect my enjoyment of his other novels.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
After immediately finishing Rites of Passage, a novel about a long sea journey, I decided it would be wise to start another novel about a long sea journey, this time, an even longer journey and novel! I picked up Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth, joint winner of the 1992 Booker Prize, and after what seems like an eternity, I finished it.
Sacred Hunger is primarily concerned with the Atlantic slave trade of the 18th century, personified by two cousins, one the son of the ship owner who enjoys a life of privilege and stays in England, and the other, a disgraced surgeon seeking to debase himself by joining the ship. For most of the novel, we follow their different paths, in stunning detail, as the surgeon and the ship pick up slaves in Africa. However, things change irrevocably when a storm blows the ship off course, and the crew mutiny. We pick up the two cousins' stories a decade later and they finally meet in circumstances no one could predict.
As aforementioned, the detail is stunning. Unsworth has clearly done a massive amount of research. This novel is a masterclass in historical fiction. Paramount to this, Sacred Hunger is obviously a postcolonial novel, at once looking back and rewriting history, but there is no easy conclusion that Unsworth comes to.
The sacred hunger of the title is greed, greed justified by social standing, government, economic systems, and civilization itself, it seems. Unsworth dismantles the justification with the last third of the novel, but never making any monochromatic conclusions. There is no way to discuss this without spoiling this last third of the novel, which I will not do.
Suffice it so say that Unsworth's novel is never easy in terms of morality, but it is always easy and enjoyable to read. Sacred Hunger doesn't drown the reader in archaic and period language, and the author never embarks on long passages as pastiches from 18th century novels, such as Pynchon's Mason & Dixon.
The novel does also function as a gripping adventure story. Even with all the theme and metaphor mired in murky morality, the novel remains exciting for most of its length. This is a very hard balancing act and Unsworth pulls it off mostly.
However the novel isn't perfect. For most of the novel I found the cousin who stayed in England to be more interesting than the cousin on the ship, or rather, the main character on the main thrust of the plot. I liked the thread of the ship, but certainly Unsworth's depiction of capitalism and greed in London was more captivating (pun not intended). The ship's thread suffers from too many characters and too many deaths, and the best part of the journey, the mutiny, is relayed by flashback and reminisces, robbing it of impact.
Sacred Hunger, despite these qualms, is a great historical novel, and one that should be taught alongside other postcolonial novels. It is rich in period detail, rich in theme and character, and never takes the easy way out of its exceedingly difficult and sticky moral situations.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
I have seen every serial from the new era Doctor Who, and it remains one of my favourite television shows ever. The combination of excellent writing, deep world-building, fantastic actors, and a real authentic emotional core make the show so good. In this post, I'm going to list the 10 best episodes from the Russel T. Davies era of the show, spanning the Ninth and Tenth Doctor.
10 Turn Left
This is a Doctor-lite episode that features Donna Noble mostly. When she visits a fortune teller, a creature seems to attach itself to her, and makes her go back in time, to an important decision. However, she takes the opposite path, and changes history, one where the Doctor is dead.
This episode is hard to look at on its own, because it's so enmeshed in the build-up to the finale, but it's still an amazing highlight of the show. Catherine Tate, who had started as a shrill annoying companion developed into a strong moral centre, a worthy companion of the Doctor in the truest sense of the word. This episode fulfills that promise by taking the Doctor out of the equation. Very strong stuff.
9 The Girl in the Fireplace
This is a beautiful episode that displays clever use of time travel, a show that features it, but never uses it to maximum efficiency. In this episode, a strange satellite has time doors which step into the bedroom of Madame De Pompadour. The Tenth Doctor keeps stepping into moments of her life, minutes apart for him, years for her. While all this time, a weird clockwork figure keeps trying to kidnap her.
Exciting, fast-paced, an ingenious enigma at its core, this is a great one. This story was a step towards me liking the new Tenth Doctor.
8 Bad Wolf/Parting of the Ways
I had never been so excited to see the Daleks. This was worlds better than the first appearance of the Daleks in the new era. This is also the first finale to the first series, and it ties all the narrative strings together, culminating in the reveal of who the Bad Wolf is. It's exciting and captivating stuff.
7 The Last of the Time Lords
The three-parter that ends the third series isn't the series' best. It's good, but it's not great. but it's the last moment of the series that absolutely nails this. The entire episode gets on this list for the moment that Captain Jack Harkness alludes to a future history that throws all sorts of previous stuff into another light. I cannot spoil this surprise, but my girlfriend and I were blown away by this moment.
6 The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances
When Captain Jack Harkness was introduced, I wasn't immediately impressed, but as this fantastic mystery episode unfolded, I fell slowly and surely in love with Jack, making him one of my favourite characters ever. This is also the story that made me love the Ninth Doctor.
5 Army of Ghosts/Doomsday
The build-up to this episode, that pulls all the narrative strings together from the whole second series, that reveals the villain for this, manages to be the most exciting couple minutes of television ever. Of course, this famous story features the fist on-screen battle between the Daleks and the Cybermen, two of the most notorious villains. This story also features the last of the original companion, Rose Tyler, in a beautiful and emotional goodbye scene. Very strong stuff.
4 Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble come to the ultimate library, a whole planet, but some mysterious incident has made it deserted. An expedition of scientists manage to happen upon them, and are picked off one by one by something hidden in the shadows. This only scratches the surface of this dense story. This is the story that completely sold me on Donna Noble. I had enjoyed her as the Doctor's moral voice in The Fires of Pompeii, but with this episode, Catherine Tate managed to win the spot as favourite companion with this two-parter.
Often considered one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, this is one of the best uses of time travel in fiction ever. Sally Sparrow keeps finding messages from the past that seem to hint at some bizarre danger, telling her to beware the Weeping Angels, while the Tenth Doctor and Martha are stuck in the Sixties, working day jobs to pass the time.
Blink manipulates the show's meager budget for maximum excitement, by using a villain that doesn't move, a veritable statue. It's also tremendously exciting, and unbearably clever. It's the kind of story you wish you wrote.
2 The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit
At this point, I had been unsure of the Tenth Doctor. But this two-parter absolutely blew me away. The unoriginal plot is lifted from numerous sources, but it's the style and delivery that make this so amazing. The Doctor and Rose stumble upon a planetoid orbiting a black hole, which is physically impossible. It turns out that there is something in the middle of this planetoid, something very ancient and very evil.
This is a very full episode. So much happens so quickly, but it never seems rushed or breathless. This is also the first Doctor Who that my girlfriend started liking.
1 Human Nature/Family of Blood
In this episode, the Tenth Doctor has erased his memories to avoid capture by a violent enemy, The Family, and has hidden himself as a schoolteacher in Edwardian England, on the eve of World War 1. However, John Smith, as he is known, is plagued by dreams of a mysterious man with a big blue box. Only Martha knows the truth, and watches helplessly as John Smith slowly falls in love with the school nurse.
This two-parter represents the absolute best the show has to offer. There is more action, mystery, humour and heartbreak here than in most movies. If this had been the Doctor Who movie, I would have been happy. David Tennant's performance as John Smith, coming to realize he's not real, is unbelievably heartbreaking, and I almost choked up a little.
An observant reader of this list will notice that it is very Steven Moffat-heavy. to be fair, he seems like the only writer on the list who understands how time travel should be used in fiction. He also writes the most densely plotted stories, and the ones that stand out so much in the mind. The Davies episodes on the list are notable for their spot in the overall arc, rather than as standalone episodes. Paul Cornell is the writer with the top-spot, which was a serial adapted from his own novel, adjusted slightly because the original novel featured the Seventh Doctor.
I'm sure my girlfriend would supply a different list, but it wouldn't be too dissimilar. For sure, Blink would capture the top spot for me.
The g/f and I have just finished watching Lost, which we crammed the entire series into three months, so the next time I do a top ten, it will be for that show. Stay tuned.
Thursday, June 3, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I fully confess to have only read Lord of the Flies by William Golding. Apparently he's written a bunch of novels that wallow in obscurity with contemporary readers. Luckily, he won the Booker Prize in 1980 for the first part of his "To the Ends of the Earth" trilogy, called Rites of Passage, which means I had the honour of reading it.
Edmund Talbot is a well-connected man of the upper class, who has been given a government job in Australia. On his long sea journey to this new career, he keeps a journal of what happens on the ship. He encounters sailors, officers, the brutish captain who harbours a hatred for another passenger, a parson. Talbot gets involved as a mediator when the parson gets ridiculously drunk and makes a fool of himself. However, that is not the full story in the slightest.
A common theme in my reviews of Bookers is the prevalence of the theme of class, and Rites of Passage is no exception. In fact, one important line of the book is that "class is the language of the British". This novel is steeped in concepts of class and where the boundaries are.
Talbot is sort of aristocratic, but lowers himself to patronize the common sailors in order to learn more about them. An officer, Summers, who is a corporate ladder climber takes advantage of this in order to further his career.
Many of the interactions between Talbot and Summers have a distinct subtext of who belongs to which class, who was born into it, and who fought to move up. This is by far the most interesting aspect of the novel.
The central plot, however, is not terribly captivating. At its core, Rites of Passage features a mystery of what happened to the parson. One doesn't realize that this is a mystery until Talbot finds the parson's journal, and the narrative shifts to the parson's point of view. At this point, we see the same events but from another perspective, highlighting everything Talbot has missed in his self-centred upper class way.
All of the novel is written in pseudo-nineteenth century language, without archaic spelling, thank heavens, but Golding makes it believable. What he doesn't do is make characters very believable. Most of the passengers on the ship get one or two scenes, and not developed in any meaningful way. Plot strands are picked up and left behind.
Golding may be critic-proof for Lord of the Flies, but Rites of Passage is not. This is a good book, but suffers from some glaring problems, such as a loose plot that doesn't get gel until the last ten pages. That's asking a lot of a reader. However, the concepts of class that Golding plays with has rich depth. I liked this, but I certainly didn't love it.