Minor, but it's a particular type of minorness that is often quite lovely, even when it's not entirely successful. Winner of the LAMDA Award in 1990,Minor, but it's a particular type of minorness that is often quite lovely, even when it's not entirely successful. Winner of the LAMDA Award in 1990, it begins with a young woman’s chance (or is it fated?) encounter with an old photograph album in an antique store, its brittle pages filled with photographs of four young women–identified as “The Gang” in the handwritten captions–from the early twentieth century. She is eventually told it is not for sale (it's a family heirloom just for display, in fact), but giving into an uncharacteristic impulse, she stuffs it in her bag when the shop owner’s back is turned, and flees from the store.
So begins a narrative of searching. That is, what ostensibly begins as the search to identify and learn about the life stories of these young women quickly snowballs into a number of different searches that intertwine the lives of “the gang” with the protagonist, Susan, including (but not at all limited to) Susan’s search to confirm that the young women in the antique photographs were not merely friends but consist of two pairs of lovers, Susan’s search for herself (she’s currently a graduate student but only because she has no idea what else to do with her life), and a search to clarify her tumultuous relationship with her own girlfriend, the scholarly and no-nonsense Catherine. To make matters even more complicated, Susan finds herself not only bewitched by these photographs and what they might possibly represent, but she becomes literally haunted by the spirits of several of the young women, causing the past to collide directly into the present.
For this particular scholar obsessed by forgotten queer histories, I can think of few premises more utterly enchanting than this one, and the automatic empathy I felt for Susan–both as an academic and as an individual navigating the messy details of life and romantic relationships–carried me through the very last page. As a critical reader, however, I had a much more conflicted experience: while Martinac has a breezy, easy-to-read prose style ideal for a page-turner, it is also (and I really hate to put it this way, but I see no way around it) exceedingly ungraceful, sometimes to the point of distraction. Susan’s incredibly visceral and emotionally charged first reaction to looking at the photographs is a representative example: “I flicked the pages over quickly, taking in the faces of four amazing women.” There’s... just no music there. I kept yearning for the moment for everything to kick up into another level, from the competent and compulsively readable to something indefinably but indisputably special. That moment, to my extreme disappointment, never quite materialized.
It’s a little bit like a glass of champagne that has been allowed to sit out for a while: certainly drinkable, perhaps even still delicious to the taste, but there’s just something essential missing without the sparkle and bubbles. Five stars for the story, two stars for the prose, three stars overall. ...more
Thompson's writing has to be read to be believed. The sex and violence is so extreme and so explicit that it practically becomes surrealistic. And I aThompson's writing has to be read to be believed. The sex and violence is so extreme and so explicit that it practically becomes surrealistic. And I adored every smutty word of it--even if the plotting and prose style is sometimes (oftentimes?) a bit wanting. I particularly recommend the "other tale" included in this collection, City Crimes: or Life in New York and Boston....more
A total bummer of a pulp mystery, and I can only attribute the high star ratings on this site as the residual memories of the elegance and literary wiA total bummer of a pulp mystery, and I can only attribute the high star ratings on this site as the residual memories of the elegance and literary wit of the classic film noir that was adapted from it, 1947's Out of the Past. It's telling that all three of the enthusiastic quotes adorning the cover of this edition are taken from reviews of the film, and have nothing to do with the novel itself.
Homes constantly allows the plot to stray into long chapters dealing with peripheral characters who are hardly distinguishable from each other (I had a difficult time keeping them all straight--they all have similarly terse, one-syllable names like Guy, Slats, Lou, etc--and finally gave up when I finally realized they don't add much to the plot anyway), and there's a lot of focus on the good-girl Ann and her dogged suitor, small-town Jim. But at least there's the presence of Kathie, one of the most infamous femme fatales in all of cinema to compensate, right? Well, no--she barely makes an appearance here, and to add insult to injury, is named Mumsie McGonigle, which has to be the most ill-conceived name for a femme fatale ever.
So how did Homes, which is actually the pen name for Daniel Mainwaring who is credited with the film's screenplay, manage to transform his pigs ear of a novel into the silk purse that is the screenplay of Out of the Past? As it turns out, some archive detective work in the 90's by film scholar Jeff Schwager revealed that Mainwaring's screenplay was deemed completely unsuitable and discarded (the same goes for an additional draft by James M. Cain), and that the screenplay used in the film was actually by an obscure studio writer who went by the name of Frank Fenton. All of the elements that are most loved about the film's screenplay--the incomprehensibly sophisticated twists, the witty quips, the character of Kathie--only surface in shooting scripts after Fenton was assigned the project. He was never credited, however, and Mainwaring happily took all credit for the lauded screenplay (I read an interview with him from near the end of his life and he discusses it as if it was all his own creation).
But even if I was ultimately disappointed, I'm not sorry I read this. In the end, it merely made me love the film all the more. ...more
It is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more imIt is really stunning to encounter such a high-spirited and defiantly independent female character in a novel written over 150 years ago, and, more importantly, is allowed to remain so from the first moment we meet her (disguised as a boy on the mean streets of New York City) to when her remarkable story neatly concludes on the last novel's last page. After encountering so many blonde, wan "angels in the house" in contemporaneous literature, adventurous, dark-haired Capitola Black is nothing less than a revelation. And she's funny too, with a relentlessly sharp tongue, can ride her horse in a way that most men envy, and is even willing to fight a duel when her honor is called into question and no male relative is willing to step in on her behalf.
The story itself occasionally gets bogged down when it meanders onto the plight of other characters--most particularly the dull male ones off fighting valiantly in the war-- and it can come off as stilted and antiquated as melodramatic potboilers of that era almost inevitably do, but that can hardly dim Southworth's impressive proto-feminist achievement in the character and story of Capitola Black....more
Well… I can't say that was what I was expecting. Primed by the neatly elegant logic of The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown, I wasn't anticipatingWell… I can't say that was what I was expecting. Primed by the neatly elegant logic of The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown, I wasn't anticipating a "surreal masterpiece" and so it took me a while to get on its wavelength (and I'm not sure that I ever really did). Part of this might be the fact that the older Penguin paperback edition that I picked up from my local library gives all indication of a more straightforward thriller, and, more crucially, the cover bizarrely omits what Chesterson himself claimed was the key to the novel: the title's short subtitle "A Nightmare" (it does include it on the interior title page, but I missed it).
This all makes sense in retrospect, and indeed, as the novel literally races to its close it occurred to me how I had come to visualize this novel, with its Pre-Raphaelite redheads, endless disguises, runaway elephants, and hot air balloons which from one page to the next hold little regard to plausibility (to say nothing of traditional continuity) as related to what Max Ernst later tried to accomplish in his celebrated collage-novels Une Semaine De Bonté: A Surrealistic Novel in Collage and Hundred Headless Woman(La Femme 100 Têtes). Like The Man Who Was Thursday, these masterpieces of visual surrealism display a keen visual wit and a wickedly dark sense of humor, and emphasize the evocative arbitrariness of dream logic, and how it can very effortlessly plumb into unexpected recesses of dread and uneasiness.
Several images from Ernst's collage-novels:
Which is all a long way of saying that while I was disappointed with this reading I also look forward to another at some point in the future, which I suspect will inspire greater appreciation on my part.
"The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon."...more
"In English, or at least in American, many subtleties of the dialogue escape me, but in The Red Harvest the dialogues, written in a masterful way, are"In English, or at least in American, many subtleties of the dialogue escape me, but in The Red Harvest the dialogues, written in a masterful way, are such as to give pointers to Hemingway or even to Faulkner, and the entire narrative is ordered with skill and implacable cynicism. In that very special type of thing it is, I believe, it is the most remarkable I have read" -Andre Gide, Journals, 1943
Far be it from me to argue with M. Gide, so I won't. But can I say that I agree with everything he says, and still admit that this just isn't my thing? My first experience with Hammett was back in high school where The Maltese Falcon left me distinctly unimpressed; I was curious if time had made me more receptive to Hammett's hard-edged, steel-splinter prose style, and the answer is… no, not really. Far more comprehensible than Chandler, but not nearly as fun to read, which is exactly what I read detective fiction for in the first place. ...more
Really only for die-hard fans and/or those who are already interested in this type of idiosyncratic marginalia. Distinguishing a "notebook" from a "joReally only for die-hard fans and/or those who are already interested in this type of idiosyncratic marginalia. Distinguishing a "notebook" from a "journal" or "diary" might at times come off as nit-picky, but it's an important one in this situation, as this is less a personal record than a ramshackle collection of sentence fragments, long lists of slang, a few rather unreadable writing exercises, and many excerpts of articles and essays from other writers that Chandler evidently drew inspiration from in some way (and while they might not be of the utmost interest in and of themselves, they're interesting in that Chandler found them interesting). Also included are a few more formal pieces, such as his published review of Diamonds Are Forever, a study of American vs. British English, and a previously unpublished screed outlining Hollywood's treatment of screenwriters that he ends up characterizing as "a testament of failure." The essay, certainly one of the best things about this collection, provides an illuminating, ground zero perspective on the collision of a screenwriter's creative impulses in the face of an unapologetic Hollywood machine (one choice bon mot: "integrity is a nice word, and you hear it a great deal in Hollywood, but you seldom meet the quality itself").
Also included is the short story "English Summer: A Gothic Romance," a piece Chandler was reportedly very fond of and held hopes for reworking into a full-length novel. It is, well, immediately apparent that this would have been a horrible idea. The story, interestingly, reverses Chandler's usual narrative strategy—rather than uncovering the unexpectedly poetic in squalid urban spaces, he begins with the picturesque English coast and attempts to uncover the unsavory elements lurking beneath. And while I'm sure that if Chandler had pursued this tactic in earnest he could very well have mastered it in time, but as is this is a British romance-mystery as pedestrian as it is cliché, the type, unfortunately, involving such exchanges as "'I'm afraid you're flirting with me'/ 'I'm afraid I am'"). The proceedings are livened up with the occasional Chandler witticism ("I had gone, a little to be near her, a little because asking me was a sort of insult, and I like insults, from some people"), but they come off here as painfully shoehorned, as incongruous as memorable. It's not made clear if Chandler considered this a complete work, but as is it's (at best) a dry run or even an early draft, which means, I suppose, that it's perfect for including in an informal "notebook" such as this. ...more
Had an overwhelming craving for a dose of Chandler's sordid urban poetry and opted for this, one of his novels that I've read only once. Promptly procHad an overwhelming craving for a dose of Chandler's sordid urban poetry and opted for this, one of his novels that I've read only once. Promptly proceeded to devour it within the course of 36 hours. Usually not considered one of the highlights of Chandler's compact oeuvre, about halfway through it struck me how difficult it is to distinguish between "great" Chandler and the "merely good," as this is really terrific stuff.
But after finishing it became clear again why this isn't one of Chandler's finest moments: after a rip-roaring first half, it quickly and inexplicably goes very flat in the second. Less terse verbal shoot-outs between Marlowe and his jowly, draconian client Mrs. Murdoch, and less witty dealings with the quintessentially Chandler-esque mélange of colorful, perfectly delineated support characters. In their place are looooong explanatory chapters, typically with representatives of the law, which seem to drag on endlessly. Chandler himself chalked up to his disappointment with the novel to it having "no likable characters,"* which does become a problem upon the conclusion when (for me, at least), I couldn't muster up much interest who ended up being the good guys and who the bad.
But even if The High Window ultimately doesn't reach the heights of Chandler's best work, the fact remains that second-tier Chandler is still better than most.