February sustenance

Reading

Paul Auster – Invisible

I began fairly hopeful given strong reviews, but still feared about Auster’s latest due to a recent dip in form, an erring towards sameyness in subject.  (Dark rooms, illusions, psychological trauma, or is he?-ness).  Even though Auster sameyness is still sameyness of an impressively high standard.  I needn’t have worried, and thoroughly enjoyed this from start to finish.  Utterly compelling and quite possible to read in a single sitting if you had a day spare, its plot and characters are intricately woven in typically mysterious style so all is never quite as it seems – which you kind’ve expect anyway.  The turns of the plot and style almost deceive the length of the novel: not very long.  But rewards in its sparsity, deft touch and sheer readability are plentiful.

I often remember how good art makes me feel, the sensations it evokes, rather than the subject and what it directly contains.  Particularly so with good fiction.  I’ll remember ravenously devouring Invisible over the course of a few days, feeling excited by the pace and effortlessly graceful measure of the writing, occasionally breathtaken by the craft and confidence to masterfully execute understated yet profound scenes.


Colm Toibin – Brooklyn

(Excuse lack of accents on the name, pedants)

One of last year’s most venerated “literary” novels, I began this straight after Auster having never read any by this author before.  In truth I selected this because I was aware of his reputation and ranking, and not at all because of the subject matter.  An off switch is flicked in me upon reading “migrant” or “immigration” in the synopsis of any book.   Immediately struck by the density and literariness, especially in comparison to Auster’s alacrity, its sentences appeared extremely long and weighty.

“It was clear that Nancy, using help from her sister and her mother, with both of whom she had finally shared the news that she had danced with George Sheridan the previous Sunday, had gone to a great deal of trouble.”  (page 16)

It’s taken a while to acclimatise to but I’m just about there now, and looking forward to the journey of another short book.  (I only read short books so it makes me look like I read more than I do).

>>15/02 — still trudging slowly through this and would have stopped long ago if I hadn’t purchased this book and if it hadn’t been nominated for so many awards.  Reads like a set text.  Waiting for something to happen, not compelled by style or any characters.  Profoundly bored but will fight it out.

>>18/02 — enjoyed the end of this much more than any other part, and not just because it was ending.  The final section finally built character, provoked reader reaction and thinking, developed a pace, momentum and intrigue.  My belated enjoyment was augmented by the perfect complementary soundtrack of Fionn Regan’s debut album, which I happened to be playing at the time and felt like the ideal accompaniment.  A well considered acoustic-based album with lilting, ponderously sad melodies.  Sadly this enjoyment came all too late.

William Boyd – Ordinary Thunderstorms

I’ve found a lot of Boyd’s work rather hit and miss, but the subject matter of this appealed to me, as did the favourable reviews, and I found his most recent novel, Restless, one of the best, instantly accessible pacey thrillers I’d read in a while.  Although I read that a couple of years back now.  Not usually given to thrillers, there was something about the self conscious verve and swagger in his style which I couldn’t help but admire, even when it didn’t quite work and you sensed he was trying that bit too hard.  This novel opens with typically fast-paced action and a dramatic event, though already – and I’m barely that much into it, the decisions of the lead character don’t appear hugely convincing.  But you can’t help but be sucked along by it, regardless.


Listening

Hot Chip – One Life Stand

I was late to Hot Chip.  Their last album was my first, despite being their third, if you see what I mean.  And I very much liked it, was surprised when the critics appeared united in agreeing that it was weaker than its predecessors.  I didn’t think so.  Running back through their catalogue I thought Made In The Dark had more tunes than the albums that came before.  Although the ones that came before may well have enjoyed one or two killer singles which blew the best Made In The Dark had to offer out of the water.  My jury’s still out on this new one, after a couple of listens, nothing has leapt out, a couple of tracks are stronger than the rest – I like the ho-humness of Alley Cats, that’s about it.  I don’t expect it to live long within my Spotify playlists.

>> 15/02 – Wrong.  Warmed immensely to this with several more listens.  Much more layered and richer than first token spins.  Having said this, I also went back to previous album and still hold with earlier view that’s a really decent album with plenty of strong tunes.  Goes a bit experimental and weird at times, towards the end, but it’s far from alone in doing that.


Beach House – Teen Dream

This has received a couple of strong reviews and I’ve tried a couple of times to get myself into it, failing each time.  Whispy and dreamy and intentionally blurry, I need a hook or something now and then to keep my attention.  Their last album had more of that, but I couldn’t find much here.  Reasonable background chill-out ambient music, if you like that sort of thing.


Massive Attack  –  Heligoland

More accessible electronic beats and dirges than the last effort.  Definite shades of OK Computer in tracks towards the end.  Still want to get to know the album better, but one of those which needs a quite precise mood to enjoy.  Not one you’d select apropos of nothing at all.

Yeasayer – Odd Blood

Enjoyed their largely mellow, spectral debut, despite its disappointing final third, so was hopeful for this.  Encouraging beginnings quickly take an unexpectedly poppy turn with shameless bouncing, Scissor Sisters style melodies.  Not unenjoyable for all that, and there are occasional experimental glimpses back to the sound of the first album, but it’s certainly not as predicted.

Fionn Regan – Shadow Of An Empire

Only heard one or two songs here and there from Regan before, never a full album.  But I was really delighted with this, it served the lighten the heart and remind of other stuff.  I love that music can kind of reawaken you and slap you round the face when you believe that you’ve undergone any kind of vivid experience.  Almost as if it’s saying: “yuhaa..?  we’re still here, there’s light outside, other stuff is still happening you self absorbed pleb.”  I went for a brief riverside walk and gave this its first proper listen.  Charming folky melodies, very acoustic singer songwritery style – a style I have a particular penchant for, a brief but forgiveable overindulgence.  A couple of true, heartfelt belters with well considered, imaginative lyrics to boot. 

 
Watching

Coraline

Any film that opens with an animation of sowing isn’t likely to spark my excitement.  There’s not much that inspires me less than sowing.  Ironing, maybe.  This did capture the imagination of many upon its release, both in 3D and 2D.  Even watching on DVD in 2D the invention in the scene creation was remarkable and impressive.  The plot and characters failed to grip me in any sort of way though, and it ended up losing my attention, feeling like a film your primary school might have taken a school trip to see on the whim of a bouncy lady teacher, but which you’d ended up sleeping through.  I’m fairly sure this happened to me once upon a time, but can’t remember the film.  Perhaps something featuring animated mice.


Precious

Another which you could never really claim to have ‘enjoyed’.

In many ways this was a harder, bleaker and more challenging watch than last month’s The Road.  Being a middle class white English boy, I had few empathetic touchpoints with a tale of severe urban deprivation and harrowing physical abuse in Harlem.  It was like one of those hard-to-watch documentaries of problem schoolchildren and downtrotten areas Mum used to be keen on watching, but which made us males puff our cheeks, toss our eyebrows and leave the room for a bit.  There was something to be admired in its ballsyness, the way it almost did challenge you to leave the theatre if you didn’t like the stomach-turning content you were watching.  I almost did, but was pleased I didn’t.  People squirmed uncomfortably in their seats.  Parts of the film were unsatisfied, a moving bombshell scene is dropped towards the end of the film, with its full implications nowhere near fully explored.  The ending itself was one of those which ends with the central character walking down a busy street, (*adopts film-trailery voice*) “their whole outlook on life, profoundly changed,” while what humour there was – as with many classroom films – appeared to work best where it appeared improvised, riffed by the students.  Go see, but not for chuckles.  And strap yourself in, maybe literally.

Youth In Revolt

Watchable fare. Nerdy boyfriend from Juno plays himself in silly coming-of-agey romp where he needs to get nasty in order to get the girl.  Couple of chucklesome moments.  Just enjoy the fluffy ride, hope for nothing extra.

Boom! (1968)Liz Taylor, Richard Burton, Noel Coward. Sure it was dead clever but I didn’t follow this at all. It felt like being in a nonsensical dream, although for part of the early stages I actually was.  Though I didn’t pay it due heed, dozed and viewed with only semi functioning brain, I don’t feel hugely inclined to give it another go, so won’t.

A Single Man (2009)

Colin Firth has been Oscar nominated for his lead role in this film, where he plays a recently bereaved gay professor in a south California university.  It’s adapted from a 1968 novel by Christopher Isherwood, the squeeze of the masterful WH Auden, and brought back memories of a module studied at university, which concentrated mainly on the work of James Baldwin.  Very much of this same self consciously handsome oeuvre, the film opened dreamily but under the ever-present (if seldom discussed) backdrop of frightening international nuclear posturing, and carried on in the same way.  Nothing much happened as the tale of one twenty four hour period played out.  The filmic attention to detail was rich and elegant, particularly with the profuse smoking, but some of the cutting within scenes jarred, as if takes had been mixed together with a millisecond overlap, something just a bit out.  A background, the lighting, a subtly altered body posture.  Whether intentional or not this added to the uncertainty and unsettled, edgy dreaminess.  Not knowing the story or Isherwood’s novel I was ultimately disappointed by the obvious ending, but altogether enjoyed the tender, well considered tale of male love.  You rarely see homosexual love stories with bumbling fools as protagonists.  They always seem handsome, intellectual and just a little smug. 

In Which We Serve (1942)

This, like the next film, was watched on a recommendation.  Having no great expectations after not being wowed by either of my other two recent olde film experiences, I still tried to give due care and attention.  Unlike the other films, this wasn’t difficult and I was quickly engaged.  A World War II propaganda piece masterminded by Noel Coward : wrote, directed, starred – told the backstories of a handful of navy shipmen aboard a warship.  For all its propagandist, patriotic qualities, not once did it dwell on the enemy: Germany or Germans or any perceived inherent evil.  Told in flashback as they clung to a liferaft in the middle of the ocean, trying to evade German fire, the film was more land-based than at sea.  Once over the idiosyncrasies of watching something so dated, and the style of delivery in which the actors all appear so concentratedongettingtheirlinesrightthattheyspeakveryquicklyandneverpauseforbreath.  It featured one of the most vivid air raid scenes I think I’ve ever scene, terrifyingly compelling in its real-time authentic setting of a normal house, together with its ignorantly unmoveable inhabitants.  My favourite scalding line was delivered by a middle aged seaman on leave, to a young member of his family, in the midst of a tirade: “you young flibbertygibbets.”  I wish that word had survived.  Loved this film.


The White Diamond (2004)

A  documentary film by Werner Herzog, the eccentric Austrian film-maker whose work always seems to tread a fine line between healthy obsession and insanity.  I could understand why viewers might watch ten minutes of his films, be confused, shrug, and give up.  They’re not conventional, but they ask that you follow and study his subjects, the real people as he does.  Camera shots linger for a second or two after it ceases to be comfortable, just waiting to see if anything else happens, while the landscape cinematography, particularly in this film is at times jawdropping.  This is largely because of its subject of aviation, and trailing the unseen treetops of a remote South American rainforest in Guyana.  We follow the obsession of a London-based academic whose scientific work has revived the blimp as a feasible aircraft, and closely track his never-far-from-the-surface haunting by a previously failed attempt which resulted in catastrophe.  Herzog’s ability to serendipitously find and draw out subcharacters, showing them in a warm, human light, is also on show once more.      

Sport

Wales-Scotland Rugby 6 Nations

There was a moment around ten minutes from the end of the game when Wales were in the ascendancy and just sensing their chance.  Scotland had had their first man sinbinned and a Welsh player chipped the ball towards goal, intending to race on and collect the ball himself.  He might have reached it, he might not.  The ball’s bounce suggested it might have skipped back over him, had he made it.  But he didn’t make it that far.  A Scottish boot tripped him, maybe unnecessarily, reducing them to 13 men.  It was a key turning point, this one impulsive decision by one man to stick out a leg.  It changed everything.  The open swathes of field it gave made the Welsh onslaught easier, and in immensely dramatic fashion they snuck the win, right in the closing moments of the game. 

Bolton-Spurs FA Cup

Another ultimately disappointing performance by Spurs.  Flashes of belated second half fluency offered genuine hope after being outplayed for much of the game; and in a fashionable, smooth-flowing way.  Not in the burly physical way Bolton are often accused of playing.  After missing yet another penalty this season, the belief appeared to ebb and a replay looked to have been accepted by both teams with about five minutes to play.  But how did Tom Huddlestone miss that correctly awarded and at the time, reasonably deserved penalty?  Having acquired the responsibility from the profligate Jermain Defoe, the nerves appeared to get the better of him.  One of the best, cleanest and truest strikers of a football in the Premiership, surely he could have just creamed the ball with power and pace, taking the goalkeeper with the ball if needs be – as Carlos Tevez had squirmed one through Jaaskeleinen during the week.  The crowd shrieks for him to shoot whenever he comes within thirty yards of the goal, knowing what a great and powerful shot he has.  Even though he doesn’t score that many.  Just smack it with your laces as hard as you can, Spurs fans silently prayed to him when he stepped up.  Keep it low and it’ll cannonball in.  But no.  He struck it carefully with the side of his foot, not that powerfully and with no precise direction.  A perfect height for Jaaskeleinen, who had guessed the right direction quite easily.  Two full hands and body saw the shot dealt with and a replay on the cards.

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