For the protagonist of the American west, to ride off into the sunset is to complete the heroic mission and to take a solitary journey, perhaps to the end of things. The historical Sunset Limited was a transcontinental train that crossed the American south from Atlantic to Pacific. Metaphorically, to ride the sunset limited is to take the mythic train west, to go to the western wall, to sail over the edge of the world. The literal train in McCarthy’sThe Sunset Limited is a New York subway, but the destination of the suicidal professor White is the solitude of death, an escape from the hell of other people, from the human history of war and genocide, and from his own intractable alienation.
Cormac McCarthy’s tenth novel, The Road, is his most harrowing yet deeply personal work. Some unnamed catastrophe has scourged the world to a burnt-out cinder, inhabited by the last remnants of mankind and a very few surviving dogs and fungi. The sky is perpetually shrouded by dust and toxic particulates; the seasons are merely varied intensities of cold and dampness. Bands of cannibals roam the roads and inhabit what few dwellings remain intact in the woods.
It’s the early 1980s, and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell has presided over his small south Texas border county for decades. In all that time he has sent only one criminal to death row in and is otherwise secure in his belief that “it takes very little to govern good people.” Unbeknownst to Bell, however, a local welder named Llewellyn Moss has, while out hunting near the Rio Grande, stumbled across the bodies of a half dozen drug runners who have killed each other off during a deal gone bad. Moss has discovered and made off with a satchel containing two million dollars in cash found near the site of the carnage. Moss, a former sniper during his tours of duty in Vietnam, is himself unaware that the satchel contains a radio transponder. After a lapse of caution enables the drug dealers’ bosses to identify him, Moss and his young wife find themselves fleeing from the cartel hitmen who have been dispatched to recover the satchel of money, and Sheriff Bell finds himself confronting a surge of violence the likes of which his quiet community has never before experienced.
Cities of the Plain, the final volume of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, binds together the separate tales of John Grady Cole from All the Pretty Horses and Billy Parham from The Crossing to create a more realistic Billy and a more mythic John Grady. Within the confines of a relatively spare 293 pages, the classic “all-american cowboy” John Grady devotes himself to saving every hurt or wounded creature that crosses his path, a noble and impossible task that leads ultimately to his own destruction. The tragedy of his failed rescue of the epilectic prostitute Magdalena makes a martyr of the near-faultless John Grady, yet McCarthy stubbornly refuses to let the novel backslide into blubbery melodrama. Told in both McCarthy’s signature lyrical style and his dead-on ranchero dialogue, Cities of the Plain ends the trilogy at the height of McCarthy’s storytelling skill.
The Crossing, publicized as the second installment of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, is the initiation story of Billy Parham and his younger brother Boyd (who are 16 and 14 respectively when the novel opens). The novel, set just before and during World War II, is structured around three round-trip crossings that Billy makes from New Mexico into Mexico. Each trip tests Billy as he must try to salvage something once he fails in his original goal. On both his first and last quest he is reduced (or perhaps exalted) to some symbolic futile gesture in his attempt, against all obstacles, to maintain his integrity and to be true to his moral obligations. This novel explores such issues as guilt, the acquisition of wisdom, heroism, and the crucial importance of stories.
Cormac McCarthy’s only published screenplay,The Gardener’s Son (Ecco Press, 1996) was actually written in 1976. It was McCarthy’s first screenplay and his first historical work, predating his historical novel, Blood Meridian, by almost a decade. The completed film of The Gardener’s Son, directed by Richard Pearce for the PBS series Visions, was originally broadcast on December 16, 1976. Based on actual events which took place in the mill town of Graniteville, South Carolina in 1876, McCarthy’s drama concerns two families: The Greggs, founders of The Graniteville Manufacturing Company, and the McEvoys, an Irish Catholic family, previously farm owners, who have come to Graniteville to work for the mill with the promise of steady wages, “a sealed house and a garden patch.”
Ridley Scott’s sci-fi spectacular appeals across the generations, with strong expectations for half term
The winner: The Martian
Declining a slim 21% from its opening frame, Ridley Scott’s The Martian had no trouble holding on to the top spot at the UK box office. After 12 days, the film has taken an impressive £13.21m.
An apt comparison might be Interstellar, in which Matt Damon, curiously, also played an astronaut stranded on a distant planet. That film fell 29% on its second weekend, by which time it had grossed £12.13m. It then fell hard and fast, with consecutive drops of 50%, 39%, 47% and 65%, suggesting that it quickly burned through its audience after the initial rush of Christopher Nolan fans.
The same fate may yet befall The Martian, but it seems unlikely. One good sign is that it appears to be playing to a younger audience than might have been expected.
Distributor Fox agrees that “this seems very much in line with what we are hearing and how the film is playing – throughout the day, to young and old, teens and adults, men and women alike”. They are hoping for a strong half-term hold, despite competition from other titles.
Director Scott’s biggest hit in the UK remains Gladiator, with £31.2m. The Martian has a long way to go to match it, but it should soon push past Robin Hood(£15.6m) and then overtake Hannibal (£21.6m). Fox would presumably be delighted to reach as far as Prometheus, which managed £25m.
The Stonemason, a five-act play, is Cormac McCarthy’s first published excursion into the realm of drama even though he had written the screenplay toThe Gardener’s Son fifteen years earlier. In fact, The Stonemason had been written, several years prior to its publication, as part of a dramatic series sponsored by the National Theater in Washington, D.C. For various reasons, however, it was never actually produced.
In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy begins his Border Trilogy with a coming of age tale that is a departure from the bizarre richness and mysterious violence of his early novels, yet in many ways preserves the mystery and the richness in a more understated form. Like Blood Meridian, this novel follows a young man’s journey to the regions of the unknown. John Grady Cole, more heroic than the protagonists of McCarthy’s earlier novels, confronts the evil that is an inescapable part of the universe as well as the evil that grows out of his own ignorance and pride. His story is told in a style often restrained and simple, embedded with lyrical passages that echo his dreams and memory.
Orhan Pamuk (Istanbul, 1952) has written another monumental novel, A Strangeness in My Mind, which comes after The Museum of Innocence, published in 2009. With intelligent and moving meticulousness, the Turkish Nobel Prize-winner tells of 40 years in the life of a humble Istanbul street vendor. It’s a book about happiness (or the lack of it), and about time. While reading it, it’s impossible not to feel that its protagonist, Mevlut, embodies the very Istanbul he describes, and, in fact, when one travels to Istanbul and listens to its racket and rejoicing, it seems obvious that Pamuk has made any and all of these characters stand up in his fiction on these old streets. We talk in the house Pamuk lives in, in Bujukada, the beautiful island his parents would take him to from the day he was born. He still spends his summers there, writing in a peace that’s only disturbed by “the soft passing of time,” marked by the shadows the sun throws over his bare balcony. Before we talked he offered us watermelon and apricots. He looks happy, as if he’s fallen in love, and not only with literature.
Question. You say in this book that we have to believe in the novel when we are reading it. Why is it so important to believe in what you are reading?
Answer. Because literature, whether it is fantastic or realistic, works with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge called suspension of disbelief. If you’re a cynical person, if you are not a sincere believer in the strength of literature, then you should avoid reading books. In the end there is a very old-fashioned side to reading novels in our age – blogs, internet, so much information and so much humanity. Why read novels? Because we believe in the power of literature. We’re not cynical or sarcastic or suspicious about it. Literature works with intentionally well-meaning readers. You say I’m going to give 10 hours to this Istanbul street vendor’s life. Then you’re not sarcastic any more. You’re with the characters and you take the writer’s work for granted. You should not take it for granted and not question it, at least at the beginning.
'My most treasured possession? A rotating round bed'
by Rossana Greenstreet
The Guardian, Saturday 21 November 2008
Hugh Hefner was born in Chicago in 1926. He served in the army during the second world war, and went on to study psychology at university. In 1953, he launched Playboy magazine, and by 1971, when Playboy Enterprises became a public company, it was selling 7m copies. He remains editor-in-chief. He is twice divorced and has four children. His illustrated autobiography is published this month by Taschen.
When were you happiest?
Now: I just passed my 83rd birthday and look back on a life well lived.
What is your earliest memory?
When I was four, we moved to the house on the west side of Chicago where I grew up. My earliest memories are of that first summer.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Property aside, what's the most expensive thing you've ever bought?
A McDonnell Douglas DC-9.
What is your most treasured possession?
My rotating round bed.
What would your super power be?
What makes you unhappy?
Not being in a loving relationship.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I am losing my hair.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
They are talking now about Robert Downey Jr.
What is your favourite book?
The Great Gatsby.
What would be your fancy dress costume of choice?
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
My life, probably!
What do you owe your parents?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
Probably my girlfriend,Crystal Harris. She's an upcoming Playmate.
What does love feel like?
It completes me.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I don't have dinner parties – I eat my dinner in bed.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
"What the fuck?"
If you could edit your past, what would you change?
That's a very dangerous game.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To my childhood.
When did you last cry, and why?
Last weekend, at a screening of Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist And Rebel.
How do you relax?
With my girls, in bed, watching a movie, just having a good time.
How often do you have sex?
Two to three times a week.
What is the closest you've come to death?
There was a moment when I was having sex with four Playmates and I almost swallowed a Ben Wa ball.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
To have had a positive impact on the social-sexual values of my time.
What keeps you awake at night?
The need to go to the john several times a night – that comes with age.
What song would you like played at your funeral?
As Time Goes By, Frank Sinatra.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Kirsty Logan, winner of the Polari first book prize, picks her favourite “sensual, honest, uncomfortable, glorious sex scenes”
Kirsty Logan Wednesday 7 October 2015 13.38 BST
A confession: I wanted this to be a list of literary smut. I wanted to choose the 10 hottest, most realistic, most beautifully written queer sex scenes ever published.
Another confession: despite being both a massive reader and a massive gay, I struggled to find 10 such scenes. I stood for ages, staring at my overstuffed bookcases, and I realised that there was a terrible lack of queer sex. Every piece I’ve chosen for this list is a great read, and every one changed my life in some small way. But this list is not quite as smutty as I’d hoped. So where are the books I was looking for? Where are all the sensual, honest, uncomfortable, glorious sex scenes? Many seem to have escaped me, but I know they must be out there. If nothing else, making this list has encouraged me to search even harder for honest depictions of LGBT love.
As the countdown begins to this year’s prize, we take a look at the most tipped authors. Are you rooting for old favourites Philip Roth or Haruki Murakami, or someone else entirely?
It’s that time of year again. With the Nobel prizes for medicine, chemistry and physics already announced, tomorrow is literature’s turn. We know the game: names such as Philip Roth, Haruki Murakami are perennials on the list – but we also know how famously difficult it is to predict, and how much the Swedish Academy loves to surprise and confound. Here are this year’s top ten tipped authors according to bookies Ladbrokes on Wednesday, with Belarusian journalist Svetlana Aleksijevitj leading the pack.
Two boys were sitting on the wall by the jetty playing dice. A man was reading a newspaper on the steps of a monument in the shadow of a hero wielding a sabre. A young girl was filling her tub with water at a fountain. A fruit seller was lying close to his produce and looking out to sea. Through the empty openings of the door and window of a bar two men could be seen drinking wine in the back. The landlord was sitting at a table in the front dozing. A small boat glided lightly into the small harbour, as if it were being carried over the water. A man in a blue jacket climbed out onto land and pulled the ropes through the rings. Behind the man from the boat, two other men in dark coats with silver buttons carried a bier, on which, under a large silk scarf with a floral pattern and fringe, a man was obviously lying.
If some frail tubercular lady circus rider were to be driven in circles around and around the arena for months and months without interruption in front of a tireless public on a swaying horse by a merciless whip-wielding master of ceremonies, spinning on the horse, throwing kisses and swaying at the waist, and if this performance, amid the incessant roar of the orchestra and the ventilators, were to continue into the ever-expanding, gray future, accompanied by applause, which died down and then swelled up again, from hands which were really steam hammers, perhaps then a young visitor to the gallery might rush down the long stair case through all the levels, burst into the ring, and cry “Stop!” through the fanfares of the constantly adjusting orchestra.
The Great Wall of China was finished at its northernmost location. The construction work moved up from the south-east and south-west and joined at this point. The system of building in sections was also followed on a small scale within the two great armies of workers, the eastern and western. It was carried out in the following manner: groups of about twenty workers were formed, each of which had to take on a section of the wall, about five hundred metres. A neighbouring group then built a wall of similar length to meet it. But afterwards, when the sections were fully joined, construction was not continued on any further at the end of this thousand-metre section. Instead the groups of workers were shipped off again to build the wall in completely different regions. Naturally, with this method many large gaps arose, which were filled in only gradually and slowly, many of them not until after it had already been reported that the building of the wall was complete. In fact, there are said to be gaps which have never been built in at all, although that’s merely an assertion which probably belongs among the many legends which have arisen about the structure and which, for individual people at least, are impossible to prove with their own eyes and according to their own standards, because the structure is so immense.
You have done me the honor of inviting me to give your Academy an account of the life I formerly led as an ape.
I regret that I cannot comply with your request to the extent you desire. It is now nearly five years since I was an ape, a short space of time, perhaps, according to the calendar, but an infinitely long time to gallop through at full speed, as I have done, more or less accompanied by excellent mentors, good advice, applause, and orchestral music, and yet essentially alone, since all my escorters, to keep the image, kept well off the course. I could never have achieved what I have done had I been stubbornly set on clinging to my origins, to the remembrances of my youth. In fact, to give up being stubborn was the supreme commandment I laid upon myself; free ape as I was, I submitted myself to that yoke. In revenge, however, my memory of the past has closed the door against me more and more. I could have returned at first, had human beings allowed it, through an archway as wide as the span of heaven over the earth, but as I spurred myself on in my forced career, the opening narrowed and shrank behind me; I felt more comfortable in the world of men and fitted it better; the strong wind that blew after me out of my past began to slacken; today it is only a gentle puff of air that plays around my heels; and the opening in the distance, through which it comes and through which I once came myself, has grown so small that, even if my strength and my willpower sufficed to get me back to it, I should have to scrape the very skin from my body to crawl through. To put it plainly, much as I like expressing myself in images, to put it plainly: your life as apes, gentlemen, insofar as something of that kind lies behind you, cannot be farther removed from you than mine is from me. Yet everyone on earth feels a tickling at the heels; the small chimpanzee and the great Achilles alike.
When it had already become unbearable – by an evening in November – and I was running along over the narrow carpet in my room as on a racetrack, frightened by the sight of the lights in the street turned around again and was given a new goal in the depths of the room, at the bottom of the mirror, and I cried out, just to hear the scream which is answered by nothing, and from which nothing takes the strength of the scream, which therefore rises up, without any counterpoise, and cannot cease even when it grows silent; a door was opened in the wall so hastily, since haste was indeed necessary, and even the wagon-horses down on the pavement reared, like crazed horses in a battle, their throats exposed.
I want you to go have a beer with your friends, for you to be hungover the next morning and ask me to join you anyway because you feel like having me in your arms, for us to nuzzle against one another. I want to talk in bed in the morning about all sorts of things, but sometimes, in the afternoon, I want us to decide to take different paths for the day.
I want you to tell me about your evenings with your friends. To tell me that there was a girl at the bar who gave you the eye. I want you to send me text messages when you're drunk with your friends, for you to tell me unimportant things, just so you can be assured that I think of you, too.
I want us to laugh while we're making love. For us to we start laughing because we're trying new things and it just doesn't make sense. I want us to be with our friends, for you to take me by the hand and take me to another room because you cannot take it anymore and you feel like right there you have to make love to me. I want to try to stay silent because there are ears that could hear us.
I want to eat with you, want you to make me talk about me and for you to talk about you. I want us to rant about the North Shore vs. South Shore, West suburb versus East. I want to imagine the loft of our dreams, knowing that we will probably never move in together. For you tell me about your plans with neither head nor tail. I want to be surprised, for you to make me say: Take your passport; we're leaving.
I want to be afraid with you. To do things I would not do with anyone else, because with you I am confident! To return too drunk after a good evening with friends. For you to take my face, kiss me, use me like your pillow and squeeze me so tightly at night.
I want you to have your life, for you decide on a whim to travel for a few weeks. For you to leave me here alone bored and wishing for the small Facebook pop-up with your face that tells me "hi."
I don't always want to be invited for your evenings out and I don't always want to invite you to mine. Then I can tell you about it and hear you tell me about yours the next day.
I want something that will be both simple and at the same time not so simple. Something that will make sure that I often ask myself questions, but the minute I'm in the same room as you, I know. I want you to think I'm beautiful, for you to be proud to say that we're together. I want to hear you say you love me and I especially want to tell you in return. I want you to let me walk ahead of you so you can watch my bottom swing from left to right. For you to let me scrape the windows of my car in winter because my butt wiggles and it makes you smile.
I want to make plans not knowing whether or not they will be realized. To be in a relationship that is anything but clear. I want to be your good friend, the one with whom you love hanging out. I want you to keep your desire to flirt with other girls, but for you to come back to me to finish your evening. Because I will want to go home with you. I want to be the one with whom you love to make love and fall asleep. The one who stays away when you work and loves it when you get lost in your world of music. I want to live a single life with you. For our couple life, would be the equivalent of our single lives today, but together.