Many years ago me and a friend hitchhiked through the whole of Yugoslavia, from Ljubljana all the way down the coast though Split and Dubrovnik – whatMany years ago me and a friend hitchhiked through the whole of Yugoslavia, from Ljubljana all the way down the coast though Split and Dubrovnik – what a beautiful road it was, with the grand mountains on the left and the sudden chasmic drop on the right down to the fishing villages at the edge of the Adriatic, and the islands out in the sea. We hit the border with Albania and had to go up into the mountains – in those days Albania did not look kindly on men with long hair and bell bottom jeans. (We had the hair not the jeans.) So we were driving upwards through those endless hairpin bends through a strange moonscape until we got to the plains on the top and on to Skopje and the Greek border. Then a few weeks later we came back through the middle, and landed at some point in Zagreb, where this novel begins. It was a pretty ordinary Communist town at that point.
A few years after our hitchhiking spree the whole place was a war zone. It was hard to imagine. Girl at War puts us right in the middle, through the eyes of ten year old Ana Jurić. Which is the strength and also the weakness of this novel. This whole war was a chaotic mess. If even the adults struggled to figure out who was doing what to who, you’re not going to get any big picture from Ana. When the 21 year old version of Ana returns to Croatia to figure out some crucial events, it’s her life she’s naturally obsessed with, not any great political questions. Which leaves this reader frustrated, and ordering some heavyweight history books immediately. I remember all these horrors on the tv news at the time. I had no idea what was happening then and I still don’t. It’s disgraceful.
Very deliberately Sara Novic uses a plain pared-down narration and we have to infer the terrific trauma inflicted on her characters. In fact we might feel ourselves getting as irritated by the clammed-up incommunicability of Ana as her second family and boyfriend do. I thought this was very true. Amidst the repressed angst, she also leaves herself room for a few spot-on observations of American vs European attitudes :
As a child I had taken summers for granted – a month’s vacation time was the country’s standard… Now I considered how insane a month off would sound to an American. Jack could barely get a week away from the firm where he worked, and even then he was constantly hassled by phone calls from needy clients.
Whether she is still Croatian or is now American is a major issue for the 21 year old Ana.
The other thing which is very good here is that hideous heightened arbitrariness of life in wartime. Your family needs to take the baby to a hospital, so you go, and on the way back, without warning, some unofficial vigilante brigade had in the meantime cut down a tree and blocked the road, and so you have to stop, and then you’re at their mercy, and they have no mercy. Just like that. Whereas your neighbours, they didn’t have to go to the hospital, so no roadblock for them.
A solid 3.5 which will be a 4 for some readers. ...more
NICHOLAS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Hello. My name is Nicholas Parsons and as the Minut NICHOLAS PARSONS: Welcome to Just A Minute!
NICHOLAS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Hello. My name is Nicholas Parsons and as the Minute Waltz fades away it's my huge pleasure to welcome our many listeners not only in Great Britain but also around the world. But also to welcome to this show four talented, interesting personalities who are going to display their gift with language and words as they try to speak on the subject that I give them for one minute, and they try to do that without hesitation, repetition or deviation. Seated on my right, two of our regular, feisty players of the game Buffy Summers, known, I’m sure, to you all as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Manny Rayner, doyen of inscrutable online book reviews and Professor of Quite Advanced Thinking at a secret institution in Switzerland. And seated on my left, two newcomers to the game, Hermione Granger, our youngest ever competitor, who I’m sure needs no further introduction from me, and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, current President of the Russian Federation. Please welcome all four of them.
And the subject chosen to start off tonight’s show is How I Will Win Just A Minute. An interesting subject. Manny, will you start please. You have 60 seconds, commencing now.
MANNY : Well, it may be self-defeating if I explain precisely how I will win tonight’s Just A Minute because my fellow competitors will then instantly steal my plan.
NICHOLAS : Hermione has challenged.
HERMIONE: If he won’t tell us how he will win this game then he could just shut up and let someone else talk. It’s deviation. He’s deviating from the task on the card.
NICHOLAS : An excellent challenge. Hermione, you have a point and 52 seconds left for How I Will Win Just a Minute.
HERMIONE : I am an extremely logical person and I can spot the weaknesses in my fellow competitors a mile away, plus I’m a lot more popular than any of these people, I mean, for example, you won’t be seeing Buffy on the cover of Vogue any time soon –
NICHOLAS: And Buffy Summers has challenged.
BUFFY : Hermione, your mouth is open, and sound is coming from it. This is never good. (LAUGHTER)
NICHOLAS : But what is your challenge?
BUFFY : She’s a stuck-up dweeb who no one wants to listen to.
AUDIENCE : Ooooh
NICHOLAS : But that’s actually within the rules.
BUFFY : It is? Okay okay. I don't want any trouble. I just want to be alone and quiet in a room with a chair and a fireplace and a tea cozy. I don't even know what a tea cozy is, but I want one.
MANNY : You may have come to the wrong place then. (LAUGHTER)
NICHOLAS : Hermione, you have a point for an incorrect challenge and the subject is back with you. 39 seconds left starting now.
HERMIONE : I… stuck-up dweeb?
NICHOLAS : President Putin has challenged.
PUTIN : Hesitation.
NICHOLAS : Yes, there was. (You sort of dried up you know.) So, Mr Putin, you have a point for a correct challenge and the subject is yours and there are 37 seconds left for How I Will Win Just A Minute.
PUTIN: I will win this game because I never hesitate, that is why I myself am President of the Russian Federation and not anyone else. Also, I never deviate from my chosen goal, ask any Crimean. And I never repeat myself. I don’t have to. I say something once and it happens. My people are very aware of this. So I think I am very good contestant for your show Just a Minute. I fully expect to be successful. I cannot be beaten by two young girls and a professor of middling years. These are not contestants who could for example wrestle with Siberian bears or ski down steep mountainsides. They are feeble. They –
NICHOLAS : And President Putin gains the extra point for speaking when the whistle went at the end of the 60 seconds. And at the end of Round One Hermione and Mr Putin are in the lead with two points, and the others have yet to score. We begin Round Two with a strange subject – The Undead. Buffy, it’s your turn to begin. Could you talk on that subject for one minute starting… now.
BUFFY : I met my first undead person when I was around 11 or twelve maybe and it was immediately obvious, he had the emotional range of a spare tyre and a very poor complexion. But I know you’re going like isn’t that all 15 year old boys? Well yes it is that cannot be denied, but to be Undead is to be my mortal enemy and I get to kick your face off, which is not the case with most young persons of the male gender –
NICHOLAS : And Hermione has challenged.
HERMIONE : Deviation. This is so boring most of the audience are now channelling their inner undeadness. Deviation. She’s a deviant so she must be deviating.
NICHOLAS : Well, there’s nothing in the rules which says you must be interesting.
BUFFY: She’s got her wand in a knot again.
HERMIONE : (to audience) I’m this close to a straight Wingardium Leviosa. (LAUGHTER)
NICHOLAS : So you have a point and you continue with the subject The Undead and you have 35 seconds left.
BUFFY : People are quite scared of the undead but they’re just people with bad attitudes in need of a good dentist. Also they seldom have good conversation. Maybe it’s because I kick their faces off so they can’t talk –
MANNY : Two faces. Two people.
NICHOLAS : Oh well listened, you did say face and people twice. So Manny, you take over the subject with 36 seconds to go starting now.
MANNY : An undead is a being in mythology, legend or fiction that is deceased but behaves as if alive. A common example is a corpse re-animated by supernatural forces by the application of the deceased's own life force. Undead may be incorporeal like ghosts, or corporeal like vampires and zombies. The undead are featured in the belief systems of most cultures, and appear in many works of fantasy and horror fiction. Bram Stoker considered using the title The Un-Dead for his novel Dracula (1897), and use of the term in the novel is mostly responsible for the modern sense of the word –
NICHOLAS : And Hermione has challenged
HERMIONE : This is just the Wikipedia entry on the Undead which he is simply parroting.
NICHOLAS : Is that right, Manny?
MANNY : Well, possibly. I may have committed most of Wikipedia to memory, it’s just possible. It can come in useful on a show like this.
HERMIONE : So it’s plagiarism.
MANNY : There were quote marks.
HERMIONE : Quote marks?
MANNY : You couldn’t hear them. This is radio. (LAUGHTER)
HERMIONE : This is preposterous.
MANNY : Yes, it’s preposterous radio.
PUTIN : There should be an end to this banter. Please return to the task in hand.
BUFFY : He’s the chairman, not you.
PUTIN : At the moment, this is so. In future, maybe not so.
NICHOLAS : It’s an incorrect challenge. Manny, please continue with the subject, you have 9 seconds left.
MANNY : In 1932 Robert E. Cornish became interested in the idea that he could restore life to the dead. He attempted to revive human victims of heart attack, drowning, and electrocution but had no success. However, on test animals he managed to revive clinically dead dogs by injecting a mixture of epinephrine (adrenaline) and anticoagulants. –
BUFFY : Repetition of dead.
NICHOLAS : Yes, quite right.
MANNY : But it’s part of the subject The Undead. And you can repeat the subject.
BUFFY : Dead and Undead are two different things. I can tell you that from experience.
NICHOLAS : She’s right you know. Buffy, you have got in with only one second left on the subject, starting now.
BUFFY : All my friends are dead.
NICHOLAS : So the Vampire Slayer was talking as the whistle went and gains a point. After round two the score is now Buffy Summers has taken a dramatic lead with three points and the others are neck and neck on two. So to Round Three and the subject is What I Did on my Holidays… Hermione, it’s your turn to start.
I’m Oskar with a k like Liza with a Z cause Oskar with a k is krazy (also kind, klever and kultured). I’m 10 going on Dalai Lama. I make jewellery (II’m Oskar with a k like Liza with a Z cause Oskar with a k is krazy (also kind, klever and kultured). I’m 10 going on Dalai Lama. I make jewellery (I know!) and collect butterflies who have died naturally and play a tambourine constantly. You have to wonder why no one has killed me since I must drive people insane with my maximum cuteness. Oh, and have shortwave radio conversations with my grandma over in another desirable residence in the Upper West Side. I have empathy for every living thing including you. This great and terrible tragedy happened to me so nobody, not even those horrid GR people, can make fun of me, even when I’m so twee a hobbit would thwow up all over the nearest elf. This is the way I speak with my Mom :
“Mom?” “Yes?” “Nothing.” “What is it, baby?” “Well it’s just that wouldn’t it be great if mattresses had spaces for your arm, so that when you rolled on to your side, you could fit just right?” “That would be nice.” “And good for your back, probably, because it would let your spine be straight, which I know is important.” “That is important.” “Also, it would make snuggling easier… And making snuggling easier is important.” “Very.”
Here, you can use this bin, or the sink, whichever. I’m so kloying and keen to make everyone’s lives better by befriending deaf centenarians and lonely billionaires and dragging them off on eccentric heart-twanging dead-father-related quests that Amelie from that kooky French movie Amelie would be out-cloyed and out-eccentriced at every turn & would have to throw herself out of my window wearing a birdseed dress which is an invention of mine for suicides by defenestration as the birdseed would attract birds who would carry the person aloft & thus prevent their self-destruction. Okay maybe when the birdseed was gone then the person would plummet, but I don’t think that far about any of my kooky schemes, magical children who could never possibly exist don’t do that.
My brain is just naturally like Pixar HD.
I’ll invent an invisibility suit that has a camera on my back that takes video of everything behind me and plays it onto a plasma screen that I’ll wear on my front, which will cover everything but my face. It’ll look like I’m not there at all.
You may be wondering how I got to be like I am. Well, there’s a long line of cutesypie narrators in my family. My grandfather, frinstance. He’s tweer than me. Is that a word? It is now. He explained How I Met Your Grandmother like this:
I had so much to ask her, “Do you lie on your stomach and look for things under the ice? Do you like plays? Do you like it when you can hear something before you can see it?... in the middle of my youth, in the middle of Europe, in between our two villages, on the verge of losing everything, I bumped into something and was knocked to the ground… at first I thought I’d walked into a tree, but then the tree became a person…
I would like to explain that I am depressed about my father but as I’m in this novel I don’t call it that, I say I’m wearing heavy boots. I would also like to say that what with all this smiling through tears, the grandma, the grandfather, the old guy who can hear again, the mom who is probably schmoozing with some guy in the next room, the sad quest to find the Blacks of New York, AND 9/11 AND let's throw Hitler into the mix, you don’t have to look any further for a dictionary definition of emotional blackmail. ...more
How to begin. It’s hard to think of a story more toxic than this one in modern Britain. It practically confirms every damaging stereotype you ever had How to begin. It’s hard to think of a story more toxic than this one in modern Britain. It practically confirms every damaging stereotype you ever had about the underclass, about men, about Muslim men, about social workers, about the police, about humanity. Last year a government report came out about this scandal (Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (1997 – 2013 by Professor Alexis Jay) and the whole town council resigned, followed by the police commissioner. 1400 girls abused by gangs of British Asian paedophiles over a 16 year period. It doesn’t bear thinking about. But think about it we must.
WHAT IS IT WITH SOME MEN?
I read this survivor’s account of the infamous (and ongoing) Rotherham scandal in the week that Edward Heath, former Conservative prime minister of this country, who died in 2006, was publicly accused of raping a boy and is being posthumously investigated for child abuse by four different police forces.
But Rolf Harris?? (I have Sun Arise on my iPod). Well, he ended up being found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault & given 5 years (at age 84) and sent to HMP Stamford. His crimes were committed in the 1980s against girls aged 14 and 16. (Currently Bill Cosby is in the spotlight for similar crimes - one victim being 15 at the time – this is not a British thing, this is a male sexuality thing.)
At the same time as this there was the initially weird and incomprehensible child sex grooming thing going on. It turned out that gangs of men were grooming – the new word of the day – children to become their sexual playthings. And this was happening in various places. Rotherham became the most famous case but there was Derby, Oxford, Bristol, Telford…
So what men and what children? How long had this been going on? And about a hundred other questions. The official language was evasive, uncertain, tiptoeing around in generalisations like “abuse” or “exploitation” or “groups of men” or “vulnerable youngsters”. It was hard to penetrate the murk. What the hell was all this about? We finally got to understand that gangs of British Asian men, almost all from the Pakistani community, and therefore all Muslims, were recruiting young girls by the simple expedient of buying them lots of liquor and drugs (cocaine, speed, ecstasy).
The girls were from the lowest reaches of the working class, where it becomes the underclass. They were the runaways, the out of control estate kids, the ones who give the teacher a smack and get suspended once a month. Their parents were either working two jobs and were not around much or zoned out on the rancid sofa in front of a white noise tv with a half bottle of vodka. The girls were between 11 and 16. When they got to age 16 the Asian guys edged them out, too old, been there and done that.
CULTURAL PAEDOPHILIA: AN INESCAPABLE FASCINATION WITH UNDERAGE GIRLS
It’s evident for all to see – this week I am reading about the “indie movie of the year” called The Diary of a Teenage Girl (she’s 17 and sleeping with her mum’s boyfriend) ; okay, maybe 17 is a little old, so how about Hick by Andrea Portes (she’s 13 and she’s gonna have sex with somebody soon); I read the biography of Jerry Lee Lewis and noted that he married his 13 year old cousin. And we never forget Dolores Haze, who haunts our world of high literature, little Lolita (and look what happened to her – everyone thought she seduced Humbert, because that’s what he said she did). But see how Juliet in Shakespeare was 13 which never fazes anyone. (The Nurse says she’s nearly 14). Well, maybe it doesn’t matter because she didn’t get to have sex. Oh hey, check out the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy and Blind Faith’s one and only album. Don’t think they would get past front office now.
& while you're at it, check out Nicole’s story in Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song for a brilliant harrowing no frills no comedy American story of underage horror.
THE SOCIAL WORKERS AND THE POLICE : WATCHDOGS THAT DON'T BARK
Police and social workers in Oxfordshire had a tainted perception that girls as young as 11 consented to sex with men who raped and brutalised them, an independent report into the failure to stop their exploitation has said…..professionals blamed the girls, the report said; police and social services were gripped with the mindset that they were “very difficult” girls who had come to harm as a result of their own actions.
(from an account of the similar case in Oxford)
The social workers who you may think should have taken notice of all these kids being put in danger were completely cynical towards the girls and fearful of appearing racist if they brought it to anyone’s attention, because the abusers were all British Asian. The police were – perhaps more understandably – also cynical towards the girls as many of them had been reported as runaways dozens of times by their parents and had turned up a few days later (having spent the time in a cocaine blur having sex with dozens of men, all these girls being under 16, many of them 12 and 13, many of the Asian men in their 30s or 40s).
I would dearly like to read a social worker view of this scandal. I cannot believe the one-dimensional view of them you get in this book and all the associated press reports. And yet, the evidenace, and their silence, is very damning.
And you know, even if the social workers or police had tried to be kind and helpful to the girls they would have got a barrage of foulmouthed insults in return; the girls were hooked on the booze, drugs and the lifestyle of constant male attention. They put up with the sex as an unpleasant concomitant. Like love and marriage, cocaine and sex – you can’t have one without the other.
The toxicity of this scandal can be seen in the racist stereotypes involved here : the racist parts of white society will be confirmed in their contempt of Muslims; but these Muslim men’s contempt for white society was also clearly exposed. Would they do this to Asian girls? Of course not. But these white girls were slags.
This book comes at you like any one of the other five hundred misery memoirs you can find in a good bookshop or even a bad one. But this time it’s different. No other victim of this huge scandal has spoken before so this was the view from within. It’s astonishingly ugly. Don’t read it if you have the slightest optimism about human nature. It’s written in the same blanded-out bargain basement journalese e.g.
Mum didn’t know I was taking drugs, but by now she was aware that I was drinking and smoking all the time and she could see me spiralling out of control. It must have been like watching a car crash in slow motion, but honestly I felt like I was having the time of my life.
The reader has to accept things which frankly boggle – I will mention two. This girl from the age of 12 to 15 was taking large amounts of drugs and drinking heavily every other day and every weekend, and was being gang raped every weekend. For four years. But she did not become ill, did not get pregnant, did not catch a disease and did not overdose. Can a young body stand that kind of punishment? Second : on several occasions groups of Asian guys were outside her house demanding she come out to them and threatening to burn the house if she didn’t. (Inside the house her mother was preventing her from leaving, they were having many big fights.) Can gangs of guys stand on the public pavement of a town and threaten to burn down a house and the police say they’re too busy to respond ?
We have learned to believe victims, it’s an article of faith in the caring professions. Unfortunately we remember the Satanic Ritual Abuse craze, which was fervently believed in by large parts of the social work community, and turned out to be a figment of the imagination. So, as they say, credibility : it's complicated.
THE CONFLICTED VICTIM
Throughout the book you can sense acutely how conflicted Sarah was – she was a victim, no, this was her choice; she loved the parties and the drugs, no she hated the constant sex which went along with that; she longed to get out of this horrible lifestyle, no she was afraid to because if she was out, where would the drugs and booze come from? Plus she had no other friends. She despised the social workers for not helping her, but if they tried she would have told them to fuck off.
The grooming was a casual thing. For maybe a year, i.e. until she was 12, the Asian guys did not pressure to have sex. They took her and her mate to various grotty houses where a lot of alcohol & drugs were consumed which they supplied. This girl was slugging vodka and snorting cocaine at 12 on an every other day basis. After a year, then the pressure to sleep with numerous men began, but in a way it was self-generating because this girl just saw other girls including her friend sleeping with these guys and it became entirely normalised.
It’s amazing that Sarah Wilson survived all this – I haven’t mentioned the further family tragedy which the last third of the book is all about, that would be way too much for one review to deal with. In St Luke’s gospel, Jesus says :
For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.
I wonder whether he was thinking of harrowing true stories like this one. But I'm glad it's now been proclaimed from the housetops.
I never read Orwell! Ok, Animal Farm back in school. That’s all. And he must be one of the most banged-on-about authors in the history of the written I never read Orwell! Ok, Animal Farm back in school. That’s all. And he must be one of the most banged-on-about authors in the history of the written word. So it really became incumbent upon one to give him a go. I wasn’t looking forward that much. Wasn’t he just going to be spouting the received centre-left opinion of his day and waxing on about Spain and The Beano and Greta Garbo and the lost ha’penny sherbet dib-dabs of 1938?
Anyway I browbeat myself into giving him a go so I got this big beast, the almost complete non-fiction. 1369 pages. The complete edition includes all known laundry and shopping lists.
Well, I was wrong. Now I get it. And now I’m a fan. He’s so easy to read, and so interesting. He becomes your very slightly know-it-all friend. It will take me a couple of years to chew through this substantial volume but it’s so full of stuff right from the first page that I thought it deserved to be reviewed section by section, starting with the first which is catchily named “1928-37”.
The first of several surprising ideas was in essay number one – that in 1928 there were such things as almost-free newspapers. They cost a farthing then, which was a quarter of a penny. The loss they incurred was made up entirely by advertising. So, the same economic model as the online versions of every newspaper now (except those behind a paywall). And of course there are many actual free actual newspapers around. Well, I thought this was a recent-ish phenomenon, just a little bit older than the internet itself. How wrong I was.
Number two – holy crap! In an essay called “Clink” (August 1932) he’s using the f AND the c words to demonstrate the kind of language used by the common criminals of England. Was this essay ever published? Surely not. But it’s a good one… so I’m confused.
Number three – “Bookshop Memories” – ha, remember that popular thing Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops? This is the 1936 version. People were saying pretty much the same things then. In those days some bookshops also ran lending libraries, and here Orwell turns his spotlight on another interesting question :
In a lending library you see people’s real tastes, not their pretended ones, and the one thing that strikes you is how completely the “classical” English novelists have dropped out of favour. It is simply useless to put Dickens, Thackeray, Jane Austen, Trollope, etc, into the ordinary lending library; nobody takes them out… Yet it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens
I would say the same thing now, of course – no one reads anything from say before 1950… oh, EXCEPT Jane Austen!
Number four – in a review of a forgotten prison memoir called Walls Have Mouths Orwell reveals the ubiquity of homosexual activity up to and including male rape in a paragraph which must have stunned his readers – we were still getting used to this kind of reality in the work of James Gilligan and in movies like American History X . But hear Orwell :
In a convict prison homosexuality is so general that even the jailors are infected by it, and there are actual cases of jailors and convicts competing for the favours of the same nancy-boy
Well, we may dislike the homophobic terms Orwell uses but still, again, I was amazed at this subject being given any attention in public in 1936.
Number five – reading one of his acknowledged hits “Shooting an Elephant”, and finding out that it was Orwell who shot the elephant! (“I did not want to shoot the elephant”). This was when he was a colonial police officer in Burma. He had a chequered career. Onward to part two. ...more
Or : Fifty Shades of Irritation, Aggravation, Annoyance, Exasperation, Vexation, Impatience, Chagrin and Pique.
Our first person narrators, who are allOr : Fifty Shades of Irritation, Aggravation, Annoyance, Exasperation, Vexation, Impatience, Chagrin and Pique.
Our first person narrators, who are all the same guy, spend their whole lives seething with all the crap that rains down on them, bitterly resentful of pretty much every single aspect of life in China. Such a steady and consistent tone of contempt does not fail to find the deadpan black humour in such situations as being hornswoggled into looking after your girlfriend’s post-op father for a night in hospital which necessarily involves intense and sustained Beckettian micro-management of the dad’s attempts to pee into a pee bottle.
Some readers will find the whole thing disgraceful and cringemaking, others will roar. I was reading and wincing and almost smiling gleefully. That one is called "A Hospital Night", which with the trying-to-get-your-visiting-dad-a-shag title story (how’s that for a grisly premise?) and the fabulous "A Boat Crossing" (what is it with these blanded-out titles) form the bulk of this outrageous collection. Zhu Wen’s I’m-gonna-tell-you-just-how-shit-everything-is delivery finally gets too much in the story "Ah, Xiao Xie" – come on, that was just flat out douse-yourself-in-kerosene boring. But the rest get the balance right. Just when you finally get all this deadpan mostly-disgusting humour some burst of violence comes out of nowhere & wipes the smile right off.
Terrific but dismal, dismal but terrific. Although it took me ages to finish. Page long paragraphs, you know. ...more
1) I found this interview with DB on youtube and I was dumbfounded – here was I thinking you said his name like this:
Donald Barthelme Will overwhelm You1) I found this interview with DB on youtube and I was dumbfounded – here was I thinking you said his name like this:
Donald Barthelme Will overwhelm You
But no. It’s pronounced Barthulmee. Ew, can’t find anything to rhyme with that.
2) I bought this from amazon & paid a very modest fee and blow me down, they sent me a first edition hardback – proving that DB is really not very sought after!
3) The photo on the back is the best one I’ve seen where you can clearly see the inverted-V incision on DB’s top lip which is where he had a cancerous growth removed. It’s described in one of the stories herein - naked autobiography. This was the reason he didn’t grow a moustache to complete his bearded fizzog, because he couldn’t, because of what the operation did. So that’s why he looked like Doc from the Snow White dwarves. In facial terms that is, he was actually quite tall.
4) This collection gets half a star for two nice music references, one being "Wah Wah" by George Harrison (from All Things Must Pass) and the other being "Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield" by Randy Newman from 12 Songs.
5) This is not a good collection – if Donald Barthelme was Talking Heads then Sadness would be True Stories, the duff one in between Little Creatures and Naked, because City Life, the one before, is great and Amateurs, the one after is really really great but this one is kind of sort of okayish but sometimes quite irritating and a little bit superior in that intellectual name-dropping way that people who aren’t Barthelme fans think he is all the time. And some of it gets too close to being Monty Python sketches for comfort. That may sound ridiculous but I can prove it. However, the first story in here is actually the most shocking DB story I ever read because it’s completely autobiographical, painfully self-revealing and only goes off the rails in the last 2 pages. However, its title is “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” so there’s your la-di-da effect-wrecking for you. Shoulda called it “My Fucking Life”. ...more
Some of this book is so unintentionally funny. The sub-title is “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity”. To do this our Mr Some of this book is so unintentionally funny. The sub-title is “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity”. To do this our Mr Strobel puts these Toughest Objections to several top guys and presents us with these interviews where they wrestle mightily. So here he is talking with Norman L Geisler who is “one of the most well-known and effective defenders of Christianity in the world”. The Tough Objection at this point is “God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children” which is a tough one, you must admit. He puts it to Norman that the Old Testament is stuffed full of acts of arbitrary cruelty by God, such as God commanding the Israelites to commit genocide – Norman is able to bat these away – foo, foo, the Amelekites, they were terrible, you should be glad they were got rid of. You should have seen them. But Lee then pulls out the incident of Elisha and the children :
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
(tare means tore)
”Now, Dr Geisler, you insisted that God is not capricious but that sounds like an outrageous response to a minor and silly offence. Mauling 42 innocent little children just because they poked fun of some bald guy is awfully severe.”
Geisler was well acquainted with the issue. Geisler replied “These were not small innocent children.”
Having anticipated his response I pulled out a photocopy of the passage and thrust it in his direction. “Yes they were,” I retorted. “Look right there,” I said, pointing to the words. “It says ‘little children’”.
“Unfortunately the King James version has a misleading translation there,” he said. “Scholars have established that the original Hebrew is best translated ‘young man’. The New International Version renders the word ‘youths’. As best we can tell, this was a violent mob of dangerous teenagers, comparable to a modern street gang. The life of the prophet was in danger by the sheer number of them – if 42 were mauled, who knows how many were threatening him in total?... And their remarks about Elisha being bald were most likely a reference to the fact that lepers in those days shaved their heads. So they were assailing Elisha – a man of dignity and authority as a prophet of God – as a detestable and despicable outcast….. If a menacing mob of teenagers got away with this and God didn’t come to the defence of his prophet, just think of the negative effect that would have on society. In fact, as once commentator said…’The disastrous fall of Samaria would have been avoided had the people repented after the bear attack’.”
I’m happy to report that Lee Strobel’s doubts about God for making violent she-bears maim 42 little children were entirely resolved. I imagine him leaning back in the armchair with a big “Whew!” after all this.
What hilarious poppycock. How can educated people get themselves into these grossly undignified verbal gyrations? You can see them twisting and turning like the slippery eel to get God off the hook. Ooo-er, miracles contradict science. Heck, a Loving God would surely never torture people in Hell for all Eternity. Ya might think. Oh crumbs, Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence (and child abuse, he might have added). Lemme think, lemme think
All these mighty posers are grappled with and after three or four rounds (three falls or one submission to declare the winner) are defeated by the brains here on display.
Well, none of this is needed of course. It’s all entirely useless energy. It is surely obvious that religion a) provides for a permanent need in most people (Marxists thought it would wither & die but that ain’t happening any time soon) and b) is conducted in forms inherited from pre-scientific and pre-secular societies. You can clearly see the awkward evolution of the concept of God in the Bible, from the crudities of the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal to the Platonic sophistries of St Paul. Given that, there are no problems with any of these tough objections really. Okay, there is with one, which I dealt with in my review of chapter 1. But the others? Ffft.
“Since Miracles contradict science, they cannot be true” – correct. Next!
“Evolution Explains Life, so God isn’t Needed” – hold on there, what’s that again? Does evolution explain how there is something rather than nothing? Or why we have these particular physical laws and not others? I think we need more scientists than Charles Darwin to explain Life. & even when we have the whole Cernfuls of them, their explanations make as much sense as Genesis to most of us. So I don’t think it’s all as neat and tidy as this Tough Objection implies. However, miracles do not exist except in the minds some people. Next.
“God Isn’t Worthy of Worship if he kills Tiny Little Innocent Wee Children” – well, yes, that seems to be true. But he might have his reasons (see above).
“It’s Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God.” Well, yes it is. Although it’s also not credible to assert that the maker of all the universes has a deep and abiding interest in what You – yes, YOU – do with your private parts. So, if you stop making these weird assertions you won’t have to cudgel your brain thinking of ways to defend them.
“A Loving God would Never Torture People in Hell.” Quite so – they thought that Hell at least brought some order to a chaotic universe in the Middle Ages, but that was then and this is now. Only heavy metal fans really believe in Hell anymore. The rest of us have to decide if there is an afterlife what happens to Jeffrey Dahmer or Sid Vicious. I don’t want to be spending an eternity with those characters, don’t know about you. So yeah, a hell-less afterlife is quite a problem, but maybe there isn’t an afterlife at all. Or maybe it’s just like a giant parking lot which stretches infinitely – oh stop. To summarise, Hell – no!
“Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence.” That’s a tough objection? But it’s a man-made institution, so of course it is! Come on, get real, kids, that’s not an objection at all.
“I Still Have Doubts, so I Can’t be a Christian.” Hmm, I would rephrase that – “I Still Have Doubts so there’s Hope Yet.” No, that’s mean. But may the Lord protect and save me from those who have no doubts!
I think it’s time for me to stop trying to find an interpretation of Christianity which makes sense. Its mysteries shake down into two “tough” problems for me – theodicy, which is the fancy word for the efforts to solve problem of evil (see review of the first chapter of this book), and the Crucifixion – what was the nature of this central act, what do Christians think actually happened, or to put it another way, why did Jesus have to die in order to save the human race from sin and what does any of that mean? I think every Christian really struggles with both those questions in every century since AD 33 – certainly all those whose books I’ve been reading over the last couple of years do. As well they might. They’re insoluble. It doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean Christianity is not true – just means that in the profoundest way it’s non-sense, beyond language. I’m too literal-minded. Got no ear for it. Funny really, because I love the KJV, and my iPod is stuffed with Christian music. So let’s end with a favourite old hymn.
Farther along we'll know all about it, Farther along we'll understand why; Cheer up, my brother, come sing in the sunshine We'll understand it all by and by.
They are all gaga for this novel. All of them. For all these reviewers The Wallcreeper is like a heart transplant, they’re bounding around, they’re haThey are all gaga for this novel. All of them. For all these reviewers The Wallcreeper is like a heart transplant, they’re bounding around, they’re happy again.
I don’t know, it was okay but -
It wasn’t like the day of the Rapture for American fiction. I’ve read stuff that isn’t a million miles away from Nell Zink.
Absolutely – all these people saying how weird and far out she is have never come across Alissa Nutting or Matt Bell -
Miranda July -
Or even the venerable and ancient firm of George Saunders and Saint Donald Barthelme -
(Sings) Oh oh oh wallcreeper How come you taste so good? Oh oh oh wallcreeper Just like a young bird should
Anyway, I suppose we should give this damned review a try.
Well, I guess. That’s what we’re here for.
It was like a deadpan reads-pretty-autobiographical-but-who-knows account of an expat American woman married to this American guy and living in Europe and getting interested in ecology and birds and all of that and kind of wibbling around aimlessly, quite a bit of shagging going on but some idiot said the sex was on a gross Nicholson Baker level of detail which is proof they didn’t read all of this very short novel because The Wallcreeper is not The Fermata.
The Fermata stands alone.
On a plinth of awe.
Which is in the form of an erect…
(Sings) Wallcreepers couldn't drag me away Wall, wallcreepers we'll eat them some day
Actually, there were bits which I couldn’t quite understand. Does anyone know what this means?
Easterners hear “coffee culture” and think of Vienna, not longshoremen idling their pickups at a drive-through. They don’t know the uniform polo shirts at Starbucks are the alternative business model for when you want women customers to let their guard down.
No… I mean it sounds smart, it has a smart shape, but I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. Here’s another one :
She may have been twelve. Coming from a subculture in which a pose of stubby-pawed, forthright naïveté is held to embody youthfulness right up to death from old age, I couldn’t tell.
Yeah – that sounds smart and funny but I have no idea whether it’s either.
(Sings) Wallcreeper, wallcreeper, won’t you dance with me?
But you know, it was pretty readable. It ambled along. It did give me the idea that being an ecological activist would drive you crazy because there are a thousand contradictory ideas about exactly how we should leave nature alone.
Hmmm… and I do like the idea of this writer, that she was disovered and almost instructed to write this novel by the famous Jonathan Franzen, and now she’s like famous at the age of 51.
Yay, go Zink.
She’s the poster girl for late starters.
(Sings) Easy come, easy go, will you let me go? Wallcreeper! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!) Wallcreeper! We will not let you go. (Let him go!) Wallcreeper! We will not let you go. (Let me go!)