Monday, June 24, 2019
Sunday, June 23, 2019
by Pablo García
by Georges Simenon
Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don't think an artist can ever be happy.“
Georges Simenon Interviewed in Paris Review, Summer 1955; reprinted in Malcolm Cowley (ed.) Writers at Work (New York: Viking Press, 1959) p. 146.
The fact that we are I don't know how many millions of people, yet communication, complete communication, is completely impossible between two of those people, is to me one of the biggest tragic themes in the world.
Georges Simenon Interviewed in Paris Review, Summer 1955; reprinted in Malcolm Cowley (ed.) Writers at Work (New York: Viking Press, 1959) p. 153.
We are all potentially characters in a novel - with the difference that characters in a novel really get to live their lives to the full.
It just happened. As though a moment comes when it's both necessary and natural to make a decision that has long since been made.
The place smelled of fairgrounds, of lazy crowds, of nights when you stayed out because you couldn't go to bed, and it smelled like New York, of its calm and brutal indifference.
I never read contemporary fiction – with one exception: the works of Simenon concerned with Inspector Maigret.
Saturday, June 22, 2019
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde - review
Although the mannered society of the late 1800s may seem far removed from that of today, I was struck by the similarities'
he saying "be careful what you wish for" has arguably never been more apt in literature than it is in this classic novel. When the young Victorian heartthrob Dorian Gray is influenced by Lord Henry Wotton's warning that he only has "a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully" due to the transiency of his youthful beauty, he wishes for his portrait to change with time instead.
Little does he know that he will soon stumble down the rocky road of moral corruption, committing one bad deed after another, destroying relationships with the people he meets at the same time as any good reputation he used to possess.
Although the mannered society of the late 1800s may seem far removed from that of today, I was struck by the similarities. For example, the obsession with self-image which leads to Dorian's wish in the first place can easily be associated with 2014 and how teenagers of today measure their attractiveness in the number of Facebook 'likes' on profile pictures. Just as Dorian wants to increase his social rank by going to the most fashionable dinner parties and plays with the highest class people, the popularity of people today is often reflected in the number of 'cool' parties they are invited to. The way Dorian's social aspirations lead to his downfall therefore makes the novel an interesting moral commentary. Rather than pursuing, as Dorian does, pleasure for its own sake with no regard for any people he may harm – such as his first love, the actress Sybil Vane – Wilde presents in Dorian's exploits an example of a man whose hedonistic principles should not be followed.
Having always been interested in the power of words to influence people - as Wilde himself observes: "Was there anything so real as words?" - the way Dorian follows such an immoral route after being handed a book by Lord Wotton to attempt to raise his spirits after a sad incident, is particularly striking. This is helped by Wilde's relatively straightforward language, making it all the more readable. However, I would not particularly recommend it for anyone under 13 as the themes and comments on the values of individuals and society may not appeal as much to a younger audience.
|The perfect antidote to real-world worry … Mouse & Mole by Joyce Dunbar.|
The best new picture books and novelsImogen Russell Williams
Saturday 22 June 2019
here’s a star-gazing theme to picture books this month. Look Up!(Puffin) by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola features science-crazed, irrepressible chatterbox Rocket, who is determined to get her whole town out watching a meteor shower – to the annoyance of her big brother, who would rather stay glued to his phone. Energetic and with a wry, sweet take on family dynamics, it will alert readers to the thrilling mysteries of the night skies.
Astro Girl (Otter-Barry) by Ken Wilson-Max stars Astrid, another little girl intent on discovering the secrets of space, who enjoys acting out the challenges of zero gravity with Papa while Mama is away. When Astrid welcomes her back, the twist in the tale reveals that Mama might be an expert on space herself. A delightful combination of imaginative play and inspiring role model from a much-loved author-illustrator.
Fifty years after the moon landing, young readers of five-plus can make their own lunar voyages with The Usborne Book of the Moon by Laura Cowan and illustrator Diana Toledano, a compendious, thoroughly readable volume that contains not only plenty of facts about the moon’s orbit and phases, but also the legends and stories told about it worldwide. Engagingly illustrated, with well judged, engaging text, this is the best and broadest kind of non-fiction.
Back on Earth, Joyce Dunbar’s beloved duo Mouse & Mole, richly illustrated by James Mayhew, have recently reappeared, reissued by Graffeg. This cosy pair enjoy the gentlest of Kenneth Grahame-style adventures, making plans for picnics, overindulging in roast chestnuts and toasted muffins, and trying and failing to get rid of excessive clutter; the perfect antidote to real-world worry.Meanwhile, in The Suitcase (Nosy Crow) by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros, a strange animal appears, dragging a suitcase he says contains a teacup, a table and the cabin where he used to make tea. When he falls asleep, exhausted by his journey, the other animals break open the case – only to discover a broken teacup and an old photograph. As the stranger wakes to find the others have built him a new cabin, a sense of new joy and hope arises; the story has a feel of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, but for a preschool audience.
For seven-plus readers with a yen for more modern-feeling escapism, Louie Stowell’s The Dragon in the Library (Nosy Crow) stars the book-fearing Kit, dragged to the library by her friends only to discover that she is a wizard, with a vital role to play in protecting the great dragon who sleeps within. Cracking pace, comic one-liners and a gleefully evil villain, brought to life by Davide Ortu’s illustrations, add up to a debut with broad appeal.
For eight and up, more winged wyrms appear in The Secret Dragon by Ed Clarke (Puffin), appropriately set in Wales. Scientifically minded Mari is fossil-hunting on the beach when she discovers a tiny, curled-up creature; soon she’s facing the challenges of rearing a mischievous baby dragon while trying to study it and keep it out of trouble. Mari’s charged relationships with her mother and new friend Dylan, and her determination to get famous Dr Griff to verify her discovery so she can give the dragon her lost father’s name, give extra depth to this heart-warming story.
Finally, from the superb Katherine Rundellcomes The Good Thieves(Bloomsbury), a heist story set in 1920s New York. This is as compelling as an Enid Blyton circus caper – if Blyton had written with inclusive compassion and the sort of limpid, elegant prose it’s a pleasure to sink into. Indomitable Vita Marlowe, whom polio has left with a weakened leg, is determined to break into the home her grandfather lost to swindlers and steal back his treasure. But the heist will need the help of circus boys Arkady and Sam, with their acrobatic skill and gift for charming animals, not to mention Silk, the pickpocket – and Vita’s own redoubtable marksmanship. Purring mafiosi, breathtaking feats of nerve and a crackling sense of atmosphere throughout make this book a single-sitting treat, showcasing Rundell at the peak of her powers.
Back in the present day, Lisa Thompson’s Owen and the Soldier (Barrington Stoke) is brief, super-readable, and poignant. Owen’s dad isn’t around any more, and his mum is increasingly struggling to cope; he shares his feelings only with the crumbling stone soldier in the memorial garden, until the council announces plans to redevelop. Can Owen save the soldier? This slim, focused story packs considerable punch.
In this Australian prizewinner focusing on two Indigenous teenagers, 15-year-old Beth Teller has died in a car crash, but her spirit remains visible to her grief-stricken police detective father. When Dad is called to investigate a murder, Beth meets Isobel Catching, a young witness, who can see her too. Catching’s strange story reveals the painful, long-buried secrets at the heart of the case, and shows Beth that she can’t stay stranded in the living world for ever trying to tend her father’s broken heart. Combining taut, intricate thriller with ancient Indigenous tales and the darker side of Australian history, this is a deeply poignant and original novel.
by Deirdre Sullivan, Hot Key, £7.99
When twin sisters Madeline and Catlin move to their new stepfather’s castle in the fictional Irish hamlet of Ballyfrann, the remoteness appeals to them at first. Everyone is apparently related, their stepfather’s cousin seems to be a witch and, of course, there are the stories of the girls who have gone missing there, year after year. Madeline and Catlin think they will be safe, though; they look out for each other. Salty hilarity and an assured evocation of siblings’ prickly closeness give way to unnerving folk-horror menace and gore in Sullivan’s latest lush, weird and lyrical book.
by gal-dem, Walker, £7.99
From gal-dem, an award-winning magazine created by women and non-binary people of colour, come essays and stories in which contributors write to their teenage selves as kindly, validating mentors. From Niellah Arboine’s “‘You Speak Well for a Black Girl’: Black Is Who You Are” to Sara Jafari’s emphasis on choice and autonomy when dating as a British Muslim, the pieces are warm, personal and sometimes traumatic. The authors assert their right to their own history, feelings and experience, and their refusal to be ignored.
Friday, June 21, 2019
Franco Zeffirelli obituary
Celebrated director of stage and screen who created lavish opera productions and brought new audiences to Shakespeare with his 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet
John Francis Lane
Saturday 15 jun 2019
Franco Zeffirelli directing Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting in his film version of Romeo and Juliet. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock
Franco Zeffirelli, who has died aged 96, was not only one of Italy’s most talented directors and designers in the theatrical arts, but was also involved with cinema and television for more than half a century. In any medium, he generally preferred a grand canvas. His work was dominated by adaptations of the classics and lush biographies or histories, told with flamboyance and sentimentality. He had an unerring eye for attractive stars of both sexes such that, whatever their weaknesses, his productions invariably looked good.
'An obsessive, mischievous genius': actors pay tribute to Franco ZeffirelliBrooke Shields, Robert Powell, Jeremy Irons and Fanny Ardant share their memories of working with the virtuoso directorShares
Tue 18 Jun 2019
Brooke Shields on Endless Love: ‘It was: more, more, more’
He was very tough but in a loving way. Franco was always wanting and expecting more from me. You want your director to have enough faith in you that they urge you to be your best. Not all directors are like that. Then there was another side to him that was very playful – there were in-jokes and many meals together. He would eat risotto con piselli and flatten out the rice to carve a perfect profile. He wouldn’t eat risotto without doing it.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Top 10 toxic families in fiction
From Edward St Aubyn’s damaged addict to Roald Dahl’s ingenious bookworm, Hannah Beckerman picks her favourite tales of families at war
Magical morality tale … Matilda. Photograph: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock
oxic families in fiction go back as far as the art of storytelling itself. Greek mythology is awash with dysfunctional families, from Kronos swallowing his children to ensure they never usurp him to Zeus and the Olympians overthrowing their parents, the Titans. The Old Testament gives us fratricide with Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry with Joseph and his brothers, and the devastating effects of parental favouritism with Jacob and Esau. Fairytales delight in wicked stepmothers, neglectful fathers and evil sisters. For 3,000 years or more, storytellers have known that there is no narrative so powerful as the warring family.
by Donata Wenders
"The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man."
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazo
Wednesday, June 19, 2019
by Anton Chekhov
At lunch next day there were very nice pies, crayfish, and mutton cutlets; and while we were eating, Nikanor, the cook, came up to ask what the visitors would like for dinner. He was a man of medium height, with a puffy face and little eyes; he was close-shaven, and it looked as though his moustaches had not been shaved, but had been pulled out by the roots. Alehin told us that the beautiful Pelagea was in love with this cook. As he drank and was of a violent character, she did not want to marry him, but was willing to live with him without. He was very devout, and his religious convictions would not allow him to "live in sin"; he insisted on her marrying him, and would consent to nothing else, and when he was drunk he used to abuse her and even beat her. Whenever he got drunk she used to hide upstairs and sob, and on such occasions Alehin and the servants stayed in the house to be ready to defend her in case of necessity.
We began talking about love.
By Anton Chekhov
The evening service was being celebrated at Progonnaya Station. Before the great ikon, painted in glaring colours on a background of gold, stood the crowd of railway servants with their wives and children, and also of the timbermen and sawyers who worked close to the railway line. All stood in silence, fascinated by the glare of the lights and the howling of the snow-storm which was aimlessly disporting itself outside, regardless of the fact that it was the Eve of the Annunciation. The old priest from Vedenyapino conducted the service; the sacristan and Matvey Terehov were singing.
By Anton Chekhov
Translated by Constance Garnett
“I’VE asked you not to tidy my table,” said Nikolay Yevgrafitch. “There’s no finding anything when you’ve tidied up. Where’s the telegram? Where have you thrown it? Be so good as to look for it. It’s from Kazan, dated yesterday.”
The maid — a pale, very slim girl with an indifferent expression — found several telegrams in the basket under the table, and handed them to the doctor without a word; but all these were telegrams from patients. Then they looked in the drawing-room, and in Olga Dmitrievna’s room.
Tuesday, June 18, 2019
THE town was a little one, worse than a village, and it was inhabited by scarcely any but old people who died with an infrequency that was really annoying. In the hospital and in the prison fortress very few coffins were needed. In fact business was bad. If Yakov Ivanov had been an undertaker in the chief town of the province he would certainly have had a house of his own, and people would have addressed him as Yakov Matveyitch; here in this wretched little town people called him simply Yakov; his nickname in the street was for some reason Bronze, and he lived in a poor way like a humble peasant, in a little old hut in which there was only one room, and in this room he and Marfa, the stove, a double bed, the coffins, his bench, and all their belongings were crowded together.