There is a building at Auschwitz, one of the disarmingly bourgeois brick two storey buildings that in any other context might be from a thirties suburThere is a building at Auschwitz, one of the disarmingly bourgeois brick two storey buildings that in any other context might be from a thirties suburban development and which was wild with jonquils on the verges when I visited in glorious Spring, that is labelled "Physical Evidence of the Holocaust."
Rather carefully worded.
This book documents a slippery thing - what was humour under the Reich like? Who told the jokes and what were they like? Did people die because of them?
I was drawn to this book because of my fascination with the film of Baron Munchhausen made by UFA under Goebbels, who was obsessed by the wonderous fantasy of The Thief of Baghdad and sought to best it with his own frothy concoction. It's beautiful and full of sly humor, and the irony of the Nazis choosing to make their fantasia about the greatest liar of all time, well...
There is an argument here that everyday Germans, via the evidence of their recorded humor, knew far more of the extermination of the racially impure, the misfits, the outspoken critics and all those stamped expendable by the fastidious Party far earlier in the war than was once discussed. This isn't a new revelation - the early 90s? was I think when scholars beyond academic circles began to widen the understanding of the incremental acceptance and inevitable psychic burden of so much dreadful hatred on the German people - but what Hertzog gives us here is more "evidence of knowledge of the Holocaust" from a fresh angle
His theory that humour was a relief mechanism that shielded Germans from the need to act to stand against the Nazi regime is build subtly and chillingly enough through the book. And most affecting of all is the surviving jokes that Jews told to each other at the time. The humour of the abyss....more
Ineffably joyful, Dionysian,wabi sabi, austerely messy glory. How I miss Jarman. It was no surprise to me to find he was such a good gardener, with anIneffably joyful, Dionysian,wabi sabi, austerely messy glory. How I miss Jarman. It was no surprise to me to find he was such a good gardener, with an eye for form and the patience to allow wind to prune his plants. ...more
Bitch bitch, moan moan. This is a misery memoir from the Mother of God.
As a feminist revisioning, the subject has potential, but the control of ToibinBitch bitch, moan moan. This is a misery memoir from the Mother of God.
As a feminist revisioning, the subject has potential, but the control of Toibin, his smooth sentences. gives a sense of a man who eats an apple with a paring knife.
He wrote this woman’s interior life too nicely. Her anger at her predicament is exquisitely refined. Mary’s outward acceptance of her lot is believable – there weren’t many Bodiaceas in Judea – and yet, there is something that makes it feel like a man is at the helm. It lacks the smoulder of the displaced matriarchy of the early fertile crescent. (In the interests of full disclosure, early readings on Catal Huyuk were formative, I admit it.)
I imagine that after a particularly rich meal in a small hotel at Selçuk, Toibin retired to dream up a tale that hits all its tourist highlights. The site of Ephesus, the titular house of Mary, the ruins of the enormous Basilica of St John, the single remaining column of the great temple of Artemis, and finally, the site of the third ecumenical Council of bishops in 431 held at the church of Mary, bang in the middle of all the other sites. The major outcome of that council was to reject the teachings of Nestorius – rejecting his assertion that Christ was not entirely divine because he was born out of a woman – and that she, Mary could not be called “Theokotos” (God-bearer). She could. She did.
The story suggests itself. The woman whose actual experience is excised from the record before she has even died. The woman who ran from the foot of the Cross in terror when a former friend points her out to an assassin. The woman bewildered by the changes in her son, his speaking in riddles, his rejection of his former life. She finds comfort in the figure of Artemis and the prospect of her death.
Mary hates St John, her keeper at Ephesus, where she has escaped the fame and infamy of her role as the pure vessel that held the Messiah. What we understand as the gospels was a hardening, a codification of the events of the life of a man into abstract patterns that reflect Talmudic prophecies, necessary to strengthen the authority Jesus has to be the one so many waited for. His stormtroopers and champions like Paul of Tarsus used whatever means necessary to ensure their success and here John questions Mary, waits for pearls, and ignores those answers that do not fit his editorial. Ignores what she clearly thinks. He wasn’t the Messiah, just a very naughty boy.
The Ur-texts of the early church, when the Bible was not scripture but a shifting sheaf of snatched words from Mary, Judas Iscariot and a collection of unknown pseuds vying to stake journalistic claim on what happened, who was there, and what it meant, are fascinating. Discoveries like the Nag Hammadi trove include the sayings of Jesus, whoopsies from his childhood like smoting those who annoyed him, and Gnostic concordances that question the divinity of Jesus. They paint a more vivid picture that what was eventually inside the ringfence of acceptable dogma and authorative voice.
Having just watched that high-camp masterpiece Ben Hur, (based on a bestseller by Lew Wallace, American lawyer, Civil War General, territorial governor and shithouse-rat-smart statesman) plenty of writers have felt entitled to have a crack at “a story of the Christ” and each successive version holds up a mirror to its own age, at best. They invariably stink of the lamp, and I’m happy to report that this one does not. It is an exercise in restraint.
But. There are no surviving texts that tell what it was to be a woman of ancient Judea.
Colm Toibin’s writing is pellucid and beautiful. But if you want to get a sense of the historical Mary you’ll get far more from Nag Hammadi.
If you want to know the fascinating trajectory of her role post-death in the Church, I’d go straight to Marina Warner’s Alone of all Her Sex. ...more
I loved the poetic flow of this, & its evocation of a woman who cracked. Jessie is a superb character, but this book fell into fragments for me. AI loved the poetic flow of this, & its evocation of a woman who cracked. Jessie is a superb character, but this book fell into fragments for me. A bit Deadwood, a bit magic realist, with the seduction of the Aussie pastoral.
I also think the choice of narrator a big mistake, boxing the narrative POV more and more as book progressed. It made for a killer first chapter but couldn't be sustained.
Palimpsest, for all Vidal's narcissism, was an achievement in autobiography, a genre generally to be avoided. For a man I'm inclined to think of as exPalimpsest, for all Vidal's narcissism, was an achievement in autobiography, a genre generally to be avoided. For a man I'm inclined to think of as exceptionally cold it was lyrical and warm, surprisingly frank on the heart, and well structured. He didn't feel compelled to tell us all - self aware enough to edit even life for the good bits.
But this. If you rate Vidal, best not read it.
The voice is still there, the wonderfully shaded irony, his acidic cutting through spin in commentary on events. But it's mostly the final telegrams of an old man missing his dead partner and lamenting the death and decline of his America, his friends, his glittering life. Even the chapter length tells of his waning powers - a page or two at most, before he must rest.
The queerest thing of all was the three or so chapters where he rated academic and biographical writings on his own life and significance. One chapter is a complete quote from the book of an academic - like he was reading you his book review over the breakfast table.
Or perhaps he was worried that his words, his important words, were impermanent after all. Not etched on tablets for eternal reference. I'll be reading his collected essays for the rest of my life, as he himself never put down his Montaigne.
I am hoping for some unreleased essays and his correspondence to be published. But this second autograph of his life made me feel like I was feeding on carrion. ...more
A thoroughly enjoyable faggot of thoughts and musings from Robb, some falling more towards the journalism end of interview and observation (more declaA thoroughly enjoyable faggot of thoughts and musings from Robb, some falling more towards the journalism end of interview and observation (more declamatory and crisp in tone) and others dreamier, or happy to gorge on the author’s particular obsessions. The range of its concerns follows the author’s commissions and experience – the cultural cringe an irrelevancy. Robb writes about what he likes.
I loved his visit to the “lost” Caravaggios exhibited together in Naples for the first time – his breathless excitement at seeing properly rare pictures that obsessed him and his tumbling out what he could puzzle from them, slotting their hints into the large body of his insights on that artist – gleaned with such intensity that he alarmed the guards and was escorted away. Also his dissection of the crossed swords of academe in relation to scholarship on Caravaggio, starring Roberto Longhi.
Robb is not afraid to show us himself craven in a horrible apartment in the Cross, pissing off Gore Vidal, exploring queerness without the slightest hesitation of opinion, or his bare, breeze-on-flesh pleasure of a lotus-eating retreat in Brazil.
I never quite escaped my consciousness of Robb controlling his presentation of self – he is always clever, always, always, grasping what is going on – that sureness of his opinion at times was too impervious. Occasionally I wanted that large, brainy head of his not to be glinting across the table from me at the dinner party. He might get up from the table and let his words alone give me a rest.
The only time I felt the urgency of his need to master understanding it all waver was in his interview with Marcia Langton, whom Robb has known for a long time and with whom he shares a powerful frisson. You sense his awe of her and the wound of her chastisement of him when she rips him a new arsehole in public, while out for dinner.
I do know one of his interview subjects (or I did, fifteen years ago – the piece is fairly old too) and I can’t say I think it very characteristic of her. But it doesn’t make me like this book less. And like all essayists, it’s a pleasure to dip into and read over time.
By now you know this is Sacher-Masoch with the brains sucked out so I won't rant about it being bad.
I would like to note the achievement of a 500+ paBy now you know this is Sacher-Masoch with the brains sucked out so I won't rant about it being bad.
I would like to note the achievement of a 500+ page moist towelette without a single interesting tableau, conversation or indeed, moment of genuine leg-crossing pleasure.
Come on, that's something.
Obvious hackles raised by the scenario, I was truly BAFFLED by the author's choice to make her plucky heroine with the great smile and no need EVER to trim her bikini line despite regular maintenance of other gross, like, hair, to make her a complete sexual zero.
That's right folks, this all-american perfectly normal intelligent College grad who is "totes hot" is a tabula rasa simply waiting for the sting of Grey's hand.
She's not just a virgin but she doesn't, hasn't ever, touched herself. Rightio, then. Bring on the mental labioplasty, excising sensuality and "strumming the banjo" as a shearer once endearingly described it to me.
The sex is vanilla and as Andrew O'Hagan points out, very hygenic. (Listen to his podcast, it's uproarious). There was an odd moment when Christian removes her tampon but I think this was supposed to be showing his softer kitten-and-child-loving sensitive side.
I couldn't help but conclude the book was an unintended riff on American Psycho. Christian Grey and Patrick Bateman should swap business cards. ...more
I was willing this book to be good. No commentary I've ever read on Hunter has EVER been good.
It is not wonderful. Ersatz Gonzo stylings from the illuI was willing this book to be good. No commentary I've ever read on Hunter has EVER been good.
It is not wonderful. Ersatz Gonzo stylings from the illustrator who admits that Hunter HATED when he tried to write anything on the pictures so essential to his own success. There was much territorial pissing.
Of course, HST is a complete MONSTER. He maces Steadman in the face at their first meeting. I have to say I believe Ralph totally on that one. The wound of his eventual inevitable rejection by Hunter clearly still suppurates. Particularly when Steadman keeps picking at it...
Impressions of Steadman himself at present are not stellar. Raving, paranoiac Welshman prone to fits of sabotage and assassination by ink.
Best chapter so far has been on the HST piece that never saw the light of day - what they got up to in Kinshasa covering the Rumble in the Jungle.
In the end, Hunter comes off as the freak you'd expect (I'm wondering if I should go back to read what I once so admired, or if it might freeze the blood like recent re-watchings of Withnail and I) but Ralph even more so. Resentment, pettiness, open jealousy, bottled anger until explosion...all told in a thick argot of bluffness that makes the dialogue from McGoohan's The Prisoner seem positively straight forward.
There isn't much insight here. Only a short reference to the suicide, in Aspen, while Ralph was visiting. He seems bewildered by his friend, and blindsided. ...more
This novel was a breakfast grapefruit - sour, refreshing, occasionally squirting me the eye with acid. All good things, like that underrated start toThis novel was a breakfast grapefruit - sour, refreshing, occasionally squirting me the eye with acid. All good things, like that underrated start to the culinary day.
I should first disclose that I am writing this review codeined to the eyeballs and on deadline for something else. It gives it a frantic and digressive edge.
After reading so much fictive bilgewater, ersatz Balzac so removed from the original style of heaving bosoms and toothsome dramatics, as to have entirely forgotten its progenitor...books that were foggy, like a remnant word maimed and altered in meaning until it grates to even hear it (discreet/discrete is my current bugbear) this read GREAT.
David Shield’s Reality Hunger is a good reference point here - I refer you to Buck’s excellent review and attendant discussion thread.
Boucher has written a novel that complements all Shield’s bravura epigrams on the dead dead dead state of traditional storytelling, on the actual form of the novel, and pleaded for alternatives. THIS BOOK IS A REPLACEMENT. An improvement. Zesty.
So, how to describe it without releasing small rodents that knaw at your brain with academic snoozery and make you run screaming, oh book-lover that likes things to, you know, mean something? Something definable. As opposed to applying all those prisms of theory which shatter meaning into a thousand bad copies of the cover of Dark Side of the Moon? Ah. More difficult.
The unnamed narrator has sold everything. His name, his possessions, his stories, hocked the lot. To buy time-as-money, the currency of Boucher’s alternative version of Western Massachusetts. He needs the money because of health-care issues (Oh, the terror of being sick in the US. For smug bastards with national healthcare like me it’s like contemplating the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg. You know you will never come out. At least, not as you.)
He has sold it because he has a sick child. His child is a 1971 Volkswagen who runs on stories and requires careful maintenance of his sufferoil, his memorycoil, his unique engineheart. Got that?
You can make a stone-cold analysis of what Boucher is doing here - the alternating chapters of cutesy-hippie lingo in the second person, a faked manual explaining the tao of his strange car (as a former Peugeot owner I know how French things can get). Then a first person patchwork memoir of the narrator, a hack storyteller and misanthrope to whom success is a foreign country. Possessor of a black-belt in self-sabotage, inventor of ghosted persons and mis-remembered histories. His former girlfriends are trapped inside formalist conceits.
It’s a novel of augmentation; of accumulated, startling detail.
Does it sound annoying? A little, but less than you’d think. The dialogue is cracking, and Boucher controls perfectly the balance between the recognisable whims and failings of his protagonist and the otherness of his version of Western Massachusetts, where sentient objects abound, police are CityDogs, and trees regularly are involved in homicides, attacking people’s to eat their hearts.
Themes? The act of writing, more specifically the life of a freelance writer, of writing for money, on spec. Heartlessly. Also, parenthood. Death. Dickheads who won’t grow up, who construct elaborate fantasies to avoid responsibilities of any kind.
I had enormous admiration for the control of this book and the complete and unerring conviction of its vision. It’s the new new fiction, all right. It was also piss funny.
And yet I have a niggling suspicion. Like a few of those writers under-40 sainted by The New Yorker last year (Karen Russell I’m looking at you) I worry that along with fixies, Pancho facial hair and the bad-craft mania gripping women who should know better, the sentimental sweetness, Gen-X nostalgia, is going to date pretty quick.
The thing about grapefruit at breakfast is it needs brown sugar. Boucher has used a little much. At times the tweeness made my fillings hurt. I know why he did it - there’s some heavy stuff going down in Western Massachusetts, but it seemed a little spooked. Like he pulled back from how dark it should have been.
I love post-modernism. I know, kick me. So unfashionable. It seems clear to me that what Boucher and his kind are doing is essentially post-modernism á la Portlandia. It’s good. It’s whipcrack clever. It’s just not as new as it seems on first read.
There's the phssst of VW releasing the harried domestic texture of life. And then, the breathtaking interpolations of all her eye, her ear, her seeingThere's the phssst of VW releasing the harried domestic texture of life. And then, the breathtaking interpolations of all her eye, her ear, her seeing into things into the dull day. It gives me a shiver. It makes me ache for talent.
Heaps of great anecdotes in this memoir, particularly loved the Gudinski ones. There's a major shift in tone in the book about half way through that IHeaps of great anecdotes in this memoir, particularly loved the Gudinski ones. There's a major shift in tone in the book about half way through that I went with; Stephen seems more fractured, angry & mad. Sloppy emotions & rage, a hair shirt regarding self sabotage too. not a standard memoir by any means, a mumbled self-deprecating ride.
Oh yes, extra points for its chapter long rant on how shit Nick Cave is. He rips him a new arsehole, at the same time cringing at his own craven jealousy. Wonderful....more