That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange'What's it going to be then, eh?'
That was me, that is your humble commentator, sitting down to pass my glazzies over a book eemyaed A Clockwork Orange I'd sobirated from the biblio. I was ready to be tolchocked in my litso, to have my mozg pried out of my gulliver, to feel that sickening drop in the yarbles when falling from a great tower block; I expected to be preached to by that nadmenny veck A. Burgess in all his high goloss; I expected to loathe Alex and all his malenky malchick droogs. But by Bog or God I got something much more horrorshow.
I actually enjoyed A. Burgess's nadsat burble. I found veshches -- like all the ultra violence and razrezzing and oobivatting and twisted radosty -- to be oomily delivered. I ponied where little Alex was coming from and raged against the millicents and infintmins and prestoopniks and bolnoy sophistos that were arrayed against him. I actually guffed and smecked at like many veshches. But I nearly platched at how malenky little Alex saw the error of his ways and looked forward to a life of chai and a zheena and malenky vecks of his own.
But once I viddied the story like once I wanted rookerfuls, and I've returned again and again, both to A. Burgess's book and S. Kubrick's sinny.
A Clockwork Orange is one of the five or six true greats ever govoreeted. The nadsat isn't at all gimmicky. The lomticks of philosophy are compelling and grow in relevance with the passing of raz. And I for one, oh my brothers, will always "remember the little Alex that was. Amen. And all that cal."
Now he was a chelloveck of malevolently heroic proportions....more
I've never been able to decide if Playboy of the Western World is outdated, prescient or timely. If it is timely then I think it would have to be timeI've never been able to decide if Playboy of the Western World is outdated, prescient or timely. If it is timely then I think it would have to be timeless.
Christy Mahon comes to Flaherty's Pub and charms the punters and barmaid Pegeen Mike (the daughter of owner Mike Flaherty) with the story of how he killed his father. Christy can tell a tale, so he charms the pants off the regulars (figuratively) and Pegeen (damn near literally).
But Christy's Da shows up alive, having only been wounded by his son, and all those fooled by Christy's story turn on him. Christy's answer, the only way he figures he can get his new friends back and keep Pegeen's love, is to finish the job on his Da, so he gives it a whirl. The attempt on Old Mahon is convincing enough to put Christy's neck in a noose because none of Flaherty's patrons want to get in trouble for aiding and abetting Christy in a patricide (I love that word). Just when it looks like Christy's going to die, however, Old Mahon, with as many lives as Rasputin, absurdly stumbles to his feet and saves his son.
So, of course, father and son take off to see the world together, and Pegeen is left to lament the one she let get away.
John Millington Synge's play is generally considered one of the Irish greats, even Yeats was a fan, and I certainly appreciate it in dribs and drabs, but it's a bit too ridiculous to really make me a firm fan. I love much of Christy's dialogue, I think the play's violence works (even if Old Mahon's imperviousness doesn't), and the Irishness of this very Irish play is a huge plus, but I've never really felt a spark when I've read this play. And that spark didn't appear when I saw it on stage either. I find the pacing a bit trying because large portions of Synge's play simply bore me.
I want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrowI want to appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does.
I want to take pride in my work; I want to taste every bite of sausage, suck the marrow out of every fish bone, enjoy every puff of every cigarette, bask in a sunset, watch the moon cross the sky, fall asleep content; I want to focus on the necessities of living; I want to focus on life, but I have too much. It's not much compared to most everyone I know, but it is still too much.
And because it is too much I can't appreciate life the way Ivan Denisovich Shukov does. Reading about it is not enough, but right now it is what I have.
Once again, I've destroyed my love for a book (although I do still like it). I first read The Last Temptation of Christ in '88, just before Martin ScoOnce again, I've destroyed my love for a book (although I do still like it). I first read The Last Temptation of Christ in '88, just before Martin Scorsese turned it into a movie, and I remember being blown away. Unfortunately, my literary concerns were different back then; the me who read The Last Temptation of Christ over the last couple of weeks doesn't match the me who read it twenty-two years ago.
I care more about consistency today. I care more about character, theme and message. And beautiful prose...it just doesn't dazzle me like it used to.
What I always loved about The Last Temptation of Christ was the way Nikos Kazantzakis gave us a mortal Jesus who struggled with his role as the Son of God. I loved that he was tempted by Lucifer and truly felt that temptation. I loved that he was so weak that he needed Judas, his friend and his strength, to betray him so he could be crucified and die for man's sins.
But that wasn't Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ -- that was Scorsese's. Kazantzakis' Jesus was bereft of free will. Sure Lucifer's temptations preyed on Jesus' mind, but the power of God's coercion mooted Lucifer's attempts to corrupt Jesus. Moreover, Jesus' weakness and Judas' strength were irrelevant. God's hand fated their outcomes, and what I thought was the transcendent power of men choosing divine sacrifices was nothing more than foreordained game play. They were God's pawns in a one-sided game that couldn't be lost, so the sacrifice that had made me love the novel for two decades was no sacrifice at all.
I wish it were otherwise. I wish I still loved Kazantzakis' version of The Last Temptation of Christ, and that his sensual prose -- wonderfully translated by P.A. Bien -- could overcome the annoying contradictions between Christ's words/thoughts and his actions. I wish the Jesus of the novel was the Jesus of the movie. But my wishes are and will remain unfulfilled....more
When a book sticks with you, you know it is powerful. It may not be entertaining, and it may be downright disturbing, but if you can't get it out of yWhen a book sticks with you, you know it is powerful. It may not be entertaining, and it may be downright disturbing, but if you can't get it out of your head it is most certainly great, and that is my experience with American Psycho.
For me, it's about the music.
Bret Easton Ellis did something miraculous within Patrick Bateman's killings: he destroyed the music of Huey Lewis and the News, Genesis and Whitney Houston. Before every nasty killing, Bateman goes on a diatribe about the music of one of these eighties' faves, then listens to the music while killing, making it the soundtrack of habitrails and bloodshed.
I can't listen to any of these singers without visions of Patrick Bateman's killings flooding into my consciousness. Granted, losing some of these singers is worse than the loss of others, but it has been over a decade since I last read American Psycho and the gory music video Ellis conjured in my mind is as strong as ever. I can barely reference the images of the real videos of "I Want a New Drug" or "If This Is It," but I can see a voracious rat about to eat a woman to death through her reproductive organs with stunning and disgusting clarity.
It is not a pretty book, and the squeamish should stay away, but for anyone who seeks to be overwhelmed by images they will never forget, American Psycho is one of the greatest books ever written.
*Beyond Ellis' power to evoke indelible images in my mind, horrific though they may be, there are depths in the story of Patrick Bateman that make it not just a great read but a nourishing read.
Is there another book that so perfectly captures the eighties in the US or the Reagan/Thatcher world view as American Psycho? Patrick Bateman is the quintessential eighties American male; he may even be America itself. Obsessed with appearance and appearances, consumption and greed (almost clinically so), Bateman is arrogant to the point of hubris, malicious, deviant, and ultra violent, yet he still maintains an outward likability that completely fools his friends (allies) much like the nation he so perfectly represents (from his first person narrative -- "me, me, me" -- right down to his designer suits and morning, skin revival rituals), and therein lies one of the necessities of violence in Ellis' narrative. If Bateman is America, Ellis needs to lay the nation's murderous streak bare; he needs to make people face the brutality and horror of the murderous act -- not simply gloss over it and move on as post-Vietnam America wittingly did and continues to do.
Even today, people blithely ignore the violence inherent in the American system, and if American Psycho is an allegory for this system, the terrible violence of Bateman's cruelest moments become the most important moments of the book. They force us to face the cruelty, to see the cruelty and not forget it. And if Ellis were to drop the violence but maintain the rest of the book as a criticism of consumerism, the removal of the violence would simply become another version what Reagan's America did so well (and the nation has been doing so well ever since) -- admitting the less offensive problems to hide the more offensive.
Even if we drop the allegory, however, and simply see Bateman as a monster whose presence criticizes hyper-misogyny, hyper-violence, hyper-masculinity, and hyper-consumption, Ellis' choice to express the violence as he did is sound because when Patrick Bateman isn't being violent (and he isn't being literally violent very often) his narrative has the ability to lull us into comfort -- to forget how horrible the man can be, how horrible he really is. Thus, the book's moments of shocking violence wake us out of our comfort zone and force us to face the sort of monster our culture created and still creates (there are more serial killers killing today, after all, than ever before).
When Ellis was writing this piece, I doubt that he was considering the infamy his book was about to achieve. So when I read American Psycho I try to suspend what I already know about the contents of the book and the controversy surrounding the book and imagine (which is the best I can do) what it would have been like for a reader who had no idea what they were getting into -- which was surely Ellis' intent (even if this could only happen a few times in the book's history): for the uninitiated, Bateman would seem a little weird to begin with, maybe mildly OCD, but likable all the same. Bateman's cynicism and his dislike of the insufferable people that surround him would likely win over most readers very quickly; we would connect with his unhappiness and quickly come to empathize with a man who's struggling to find out what is wrong with his life, even though he has a dream job, everything he'll ever need, and a potentially dream life. Then...BAM! He is a murderer. And not just a murderer but the worst kind of sadistic serial killer one can imagine. And we are instantly implicated in his violence (which I think is the ULTIMATE point of the book, regardless of other readings...that we are all implicated in creating the Bateman's of our world) because we empathized with the man, even liked the man, and we are in his head and watching him commit heinous acts, and we are compelled to continue reading. It challenges us to wonder if anyone can be part of this culture and truly claim innocence.
What an amazing reading experience it is must have been for the people who read the book without any foreknowledge. And what a tremendous feat of writing on Ellis' part. If you try to read American Psycho today, I hope you approach it from this direction because I think all of Ellis' possible purposes come clearer when we enter American Psycho as a blank slate -- even if it can only be an imaginary one....more
I've read this too many times to give a straight up reaction review, and I feel like any significant writing I might attempt on this book would necessI've read this too many times to give a straight up reaction review, and I feel like any significant writing I might attempt on this book would necessarily become an essay. It's too late at night for that, so maybe next time. Instead, here is what I was thinking this time through:
• I love Frank. I don't mean I love to hate him. I mean I love to love him. And I think it is one of the greatest achievements of Iain Banks' career that he makes me love Frank. I empathize with him as he maintains his Sacrifice Poles and lies in the Bomb Circle and divines the future through The Wasp Factory. I love him so much that I find it very difficult to get all righteous about his three killings.
• Which is worse? Killing your sibling? Killing your cousins? Burning a dog? Burning a flock of sheep? Experimenting on your child(ren)? Blowing up a colony of rabbits? Torturing insects? Turning an already damaged brain to mush? Is there any difference?
• I need to spend more time on the beach.
• Bone is a marvelous piece of anatomy, and skulls are downright beautiful. I would love to bequeath my bones to my children (if they want them) or a medical school rather than being buried or cremated.
• Do I spend too much time reading books?
• I would give anything for one or both of these: 1. for Banks to retell this story, right now, today, from Eric's perspective; 2. for Banks to return to the sparing style of his debut. I want short and powerful all over again.
• I am so glad they've never tried to make this into a movie.
• Water. Fire. Earth. Air. Frank is an elemental being. It's all here, and it's all important.
• I want to see some crazy European company start making Banks toys. A lifesize model of The Wasp Factory. Azad. Damage. Black River. Not to mention the action figures. The potential is amazing.
• I wish I could write like Banks. Next time I read this I am going to buy the audiobook, narrated by the author, and listen to it instead. I want to hear it with the accents intact. ...more
WARNING: This review contains a discussion of the c-word, and I plan to use it. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the word spelled out.WARNING: This review contains a discussion of the c-word, and I plan to use it. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the word spelled out. Thanks.
This is less a review than an homage to my crazy mother (now I have you really intrigued, don't I?)
It was 1983, and I was in my first Catholic school. I'd spent my first six years of school in a public school, but my "behavioral issues" coupled with my lack of growth made me a target for bullies, so my parents were advised to move me to another school where no one knew me.
So off I went to the home room of a fallen nun, who'd given up her habit for a family. She wasn't much of a teacher. She was an old school Catholic educator who practiced punitive teaching, which included kicks to the shins, yanking of ears, pulling of hair, and screaming from close range.
I kept my head down and tried to blend in with my new surroundings, but my Mother made that difficult from the get go. I was a voracious reader, and she passed on the disease to me. From grade two on she had been recommending great books to me. I was reading everything before most everyone else, but my Mom's recommendation of Lady Chatterly's Lover in my first month of Catholic school was probably her most outrageous and unforgettable recommendation.
She bought me a copy at the book store in the mall, and that's where I met one of my favourite words of all time -- cunt.
Back in 1983, cunt was not a word in your average child's vocabulary. Sure we'd heard it, and maybe even seen it, but it was not something that was regularly used by kids, and its usage was pretty vague to every 13 year old I knew.
But there it was in Lady Chatterly's Lover. It was all over the place. So as I read the story and absorbed the way Lawrence used cunt, his usage became my usage. Lawrence used cunt beautifully; it was not a term of denigration; it was not used to belittle; it was not an insult nor something to be ashamed of; cunt was lyrical, romantic, caring, intimate. And I came to believe that cunt was meant to be used in all these ways. That the poetic use of cunt was the accepted use of cunt, the correct use of cunt, and suddenly cunt was part of my vocabulary.
I was thirteen.
Now I didn't just start running around using cunt at every opportunity. I did what I always did with new words that I came to know and love. I added them to my vocabulary and used them when I thought it was appropriate.
And when I whispered it to Tammy, the girl I had a crush on, a few weeks later, thinking that it was the sort of romantic, poetic language that made women fall in love with their men (I can't remember what I said with it, but I know it was something very much like what Mellors would have said to Constance), she turned around with a deep blush, a raised eyebrow and a "That's disgusting" that rang through the class (I can still see the red of autumn leaves that colored her perfectly alabaster skin under a shock of curly black hair, aaaah...Tammy. Apparently she had a better sense of cunt's societal taboos than I did). Mrs. C--- was on her feet and standing parallel to the two of us in a second, demanding to know what was going on.
To her credit, Tammy tried to save me -- sort of. She said "Nothing." Then Mrs. C--- turned on me; I was completely mortified (I'd obviously blown it with the first girl I loved in junior high school), and while I was in this shrinking state, Mrs. C--- demanded to know what was happening and what I had said.
I tried to avoid repeating what I had said. I admitted I shouldn't have been talking. I admitted that I should have been working. I tried to divert her attention. But she was a scary lady, and I couldn't help myself. I repeated what I had said -- as quietly as I could -- but as soon as Mrs. C--- heard "cunt" I was finished. That was the moment I knew "cunt" was the catalyst for the whole debacle.
Now...I'd known before that the word was taboo, but I didn't think it would generate the response it did. I really thought that Tammy would be flattered. And I certainly didn't expect that I would be dragged to the office by an angry ex-nun. Silly me.
I got the strap. It was the first time (although there would be another). Three lashes to the palm of the hand.
I didn't use "cunt" in public or private for a long time after that, but my punishment couldn't diminish my love for the word. Lawrence made such and impression on my young mind that neither humiliation nor physical pain could overcome my appreciation of cunt's poetic qualities.
To me the word is and always will be a beautiful and, yes, gentle thing.
Every time that event was recounted at the dinner table over the years, whether it was amongst family, or with my girlfriends or my future wife, my Mom always got this sly little grin on her face and indulged in a mischievous giggle before refusing to take the blame for me getting the strap. After all, "Who was the one who was stupid enough to use the word, Brad? Not me."
I love her response as much as I love the word.
And in case you were wondering, my Mom never stopped recommending books to me. She was an absolute kook. I miss her.
I can't wait to pass on Lady Chatterly's Lover to my kids...but I think it's going to have to be in grade three if it's going to have the same effect it had on me...hmmm...I wonder how that will go over. ...more
Lolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elementsLolita isn't about murder. Lolita isn't about obsession. Lolita isn't about madness. Lolita isn't even about pedophilia or abuse.
Sure those elements are there, but there's skin on the outside of my body, and I can tell you that my largest organ is not what I am about. The same is true for Lolita.
Lolita is a game. It's a chess match by a Russian master. It's an intellectual exercise by a genius. It's an experiment in reader manipulation that's hypothesis is born out. It's references upon references upon references upon references, and it requires multiple PhDs to fully understand (which I know I don't, but I keep trying).
It is one of the greatest novels in the English language and everyone should read it, but if you let yourself be fooled by any of those things that Lolita is not about, Nabokov will have beaten you without a fight, and you won't be doing the master or his book any justice....more