This little book is about how Christians think about the recent rise of atheism. It could have been interesting but most of it was fantastically silly...more This little book is about how Christians think about the recent rise of atheism. It could have been interesting but most of it was fantastically silly. I will pick out two discussions which caused much rolling of the eyes.
In religion you often get rules handed down by the priests and theologians which everyone then has to figure out a way round, because to follow these rules would be ridiculous. An example of this is the orthodox Jewish rule about not working on the Sabbath. Many big debates have been had about what exactly constitutes “work” and some people say that switching on electric lights and cookers is work, so you can’t do it. To get round this, they set up all their lights and cookers and so forth on timers, so they all come on by themselves. Voila, you have your light and your meal, but you didn’t break the rule! Of course the other solution would be not to have such ridiculous rules in the first place rather than find an even more absurd evasion. *
Same absurdity happens in chapter 4 of this little book, when our author asks the poignant question : Can atheists be saved? What a question! Well, I mean, imagine if they can – and there I am in Heaven strolling around with bliss pouring down upon me like a celestial sprinkler system gone wild, and me saying to anyone who will listen “you know, I don’t believe all of this” and someone saying “I know, isn’t it divine!”
But it looks a bit bleak for atheists according to Mark 16:16 :
The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.
That’s pretty open and shut. SB sets about this question with a worried frown, he’s a nice guy and he wants his atheist friends and family members there with him in eternal blissitude. So first he checks what the Early Church thought about all the millions of pre-Christians, like Moses and the Queen of Sheba. It just wasn’t right that everyone who had lived before Jesus would be cast into the fiery pit, so they came up with the formula “inculpable ignorance” which means – chill, it’s not your fault. Doesn’t mean that you go straight to Heaven but it doesn’t mean you don’t, either. It’s holy wiggle room.
But then things get complicated. The medieval church considered that everyone born after Jesus but was not a Christian was wilfully rejecting him. Thus the Jews came in for special contempt. But what about the Muslims and the Africans and Hindus and so forth? Clearly not everyone had the opportunity to hear the Good News. So all of these post-Jesus people had to be classed as inculpably ignorant, too. But then, what about people living in a Christian country who weren’t Christians? Might it be that they weren’t Christians because they’d only heard the gospel from rubbish incompetent evangelists who just didn’t explain it well enough? So once again, it might not be their fault that they didn’t believe.
So really you have to suspend judgement about who will be saved. Maybe many atheists will be in Heaven. Maybe God threw open the gates and personally ushered in Christopher Hitchens, just to annoy a few people who’d been getting on his nerves. You can’t say.
Onto ridiculous No 2. On page 83 SB is mulling over whether baptism, the sprinkling of water by a clergyman, is absolutely essential before you can be saved, and he comes up with this – if a new Christian believer was on his way to be baptized and was unfortunately run over by a chariot, “then his or her desire for baptism would suffice”. So you don’t need to be baptized and you actually don’t need to be a Christian.
This sort of theological cheese-paring gives cheese a bad name.
Biographies are as different from each other as people. Some are like Vlad the Impaler and some are like Winnie the Pooh. And some are like Vlad the P...moreBiographies are as different from each other as people. Some are like Vlad the Impaler and some are like Winnie the Pooh. And some are like Vlad the Pooh and Winnie the Impaler.
I’ve been reading Carole Angier’s book on Jean Rhys, and wow, Carole really does want to curl up inside Jean Rhys’ life and stay there for months at a time, the claustrophobic probing and detailed interrogations of the slim novels are frighteningly intense; then there’s Roger Lewis’s biography of Anthony Burgess and Goldman’s book on John Lennon – both authors who obviously HATED their subjects & wished to trash their reputations. You get the Uriah Heeplike respectful literary biographies and the tell-all sleaze-dealers and the ones which take a life to tell a complex historical story (it can be the best way to read history).
Short Lives by Katinka Matson is a great series of mini-biographies of doomed artists. Although I read this years ago it’s still on my shelf in the loft so it never got sent off to Oxfam, and that is recommendation enough.
In no order, these are the best biographies I have read so far.
Did I tell you I just clocked up a count of just over 500 novels read, according to my GR novels shelf? Hey, how about that. It must make me some kind...moreDid I tell you I just clocked up a count of just over 500 novels read, according to my GR novels shelf? Hey, how about that. It must make me some kind of authority now. I can dish out advice, start up a helpline, I know which novel to attach to the St Bernard dog to take to the fallen climber in the Alps.
Except, I’m actually getting worse at picking novels to read. I just checked, and 13 out of 27 novels read so far this year have got a 1 or 2 star rating, i.e. I hated them & felt they were a blight on my life. Why is that?
Part of the problem is that when I find an author I like I never read anything else by them, it would be too obvious (recent exceptions : Edward St Aubyn and Jean Rhys). Also, I think I’m easily led by reviewer enthusiasm. This explains The Shock of the Fall, Gone Girl, Little Big and Her. But glorious reviews also led me to Life After Life, Animals and The Death of Bees, three recent books which delighted my very left ventricle.
You can’t even rely on a novel’s “classic” status, whatever that consists of. I Capture the Castle and The Man Who Loved Children turned out to be insufferable and worthy of forceful defenestration, but Lucky Jim, Where Angels Fear to Tread and The Talented Mr Ripley were all ripping good fun.
This present volume, Unless, winged its way to me garlanded with shortlists (2003 Booker & Orange) & dripping with critical fluids. But they were all wrong. It was dire.
A comfortable late 40s doctors’ wife in Ontario has three lovely daughters. The eldest, 19 year old Norah, drops out of university to become a street person. Sits on the pavement in Toronto with a begging bowl holding a sign saying GOODNESS. This is not an uninteresting circumstance – Philip the Roth had a similar thing going on in American Pastoral. But it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and Carol Shields does a Lionel Shriver by mentioning the awful horror briefly then spending 100 plus pages maundering over every last possible detail of her comfortable middle-class-translating-wise-feminist-books-from-the-French-growing-old-gracefully-but-now-wondering-what-the-point-of-it-all-is-cutesy-artsy Canadian life. After p 120 I knew what the daughter was up to. The front of her sign said GOODNESS but the back said ME, MOTHER, PUT A SOCK IN IT. (less)
According to my Goodreads shelf, I have read 490 novels. If Joyce Carol Oates, Marcel Proust and William Gass have anything to d...moreTHIS IS A NUMBERS GAME
According to my Goodreads shelf, I have read 490 novels. If Joyce Carol Oates, Marcel Proust and William Gass have anything to do with it, I’ll never make 500. But I want to see that magic number 500 there! I want to be able to say “I have read 500 novels, hear me roar!” So, I’m eating up SHORT novels like a madman right now, never mind the quality, feel the pages! 300? Too long! 250? Still too long!
Oranges is short and sweet; really, short and bittersweet. It was drop dead fabulous from page one. Here is how to write a) an autobiographical novel; b) an autobiographical comic novel; c) an autobiographical lesbian comic novel; d) an autobiographical lesbian religious comic novel. Here is rueful sweet-natured working-class English life without the usual accompanying hauteur you get from writers like Zadie Smith and bloody Martin Amis.
THERE’S ALWAYS A BUT
There are two types of writing here, the flat, banal account of JW’s life, which I loved, and the experimental bits , which I hated. E.g. on p155
On the banks of the Euphrates find a secret garden cunningly walled. There is an entrance, but the entrance is guarded. There is no way in for you. Inside you will find every plant5 that grows growing circularwise like a target. Close to the heart is a sundial and at the heart is an orange tree.
And blah blah blah. All a bit portentously groanworthy. But I think JW thought these were actually the best bits, because her writing took off in that direction (The Passion; Sexing the Cherry); so that puts me in the same situation as people who only like The Clash’s first album.
LET IT BE ORANGES… NAKED
Paul McCartney, scandalized at the overdubbings Phil Spector sloshed over the Beatles’ Let It Be album, issued his own de-overdubbed version Let It Be…Naked in 2003. In 2011 JW issued her de-overdubbed version of Oranges called Why be Happy when you Could be Normal? So that will be interesting.
I CONTAIN MULTITUDES
I only just issued a pronouncement that no one under 30 could write a good novel except Emily Bronte. JW was 24 when she wrote Oranges. But cough cough, this is a memoir, really. The rule still stands. Although wait, that means it can’t be counted in my 500 novels. Hmmm…okay, if JW says it’s a novel, it’s a novel! (less)
“To admit to liking Withnail and I is to declare oneself unfit for adult company. It is a sad trifle, an aberration, an immature folly, to be outgrown...more“To admit to liking Withnail and I is to declare oneself unfit for adult company. It is a sad trifle, an aberration, an immature folly, to be outgrown and forgotten.” - Kevin Jackson
“perhaps the funniest and possibly the most profound comedy ever produced by the British cinema” - Kevin Jackson
This book begins with the case for the prosecution - Withnail and I is an embarrassment, only boys find it funny, the same boys who commit Monty Python sketches to memory, its humour is entirely based on being drunk or finding elderly gay men risible; admit it, it’s dreadfully reactionary, more like a self-indulgent fringe play by a first-time author never to be heard of again. Overacted and peopled by Carry On style grotesques.
The British Film Institute, God bless their little cotton socks, continues to emit this cute series of itty bitty books containing beautifully illustrated essays on selected great movies. It’s the film equivalent of the 33 1/3 series of little books on great albums. I recommend them all, except that both series suffer from the vertiginous gulfs between the aesthetic and intellectual approaches the different authors favour, so that for example the BFI Citizen Kane is an unreadable no-star screed of feminist-Freudianism but the one on 42nd Street is an undiscovered five-star marvel of comedy. You never know what you're gonna get. Kevin Jackson’s Withnail is a jovial spree, but with any movie about an alcoholic misanthrope, there are darker striations.
Something I didn’t know : Uncle Monty is based on Franco Zeffirelli. That deserves an exclamation point.
Turns out that in 1968, soon after graduating, Bruce Robinson, writer-director of Withnail, landed the part of Benvolio in Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. He later described events to none other than Ruby Wax. It was a casting couch situation - “then he’s suddenly fishing in my tonsils with his tongue”.
Bruce Robinson tells his anecdote humorously, and uses his experiences in his movie (and gets bashed for homophobia for it). I read this book in the same week Rolf Harris got found guilty for groping, his offences being with young girls, going back to the 1960s. So Withnail becomes an example of how something serious so often isn’t accepted as serious because it’s expressed - by the perps - in the lighter colours of fun, silliness, joking, humour, smiles, larking around, & so victims think ... Maybe this is all part of joining the adult world. This must be what happens to everyone.
Depending on what the Italian laws are like, Bruce Robinson (aged 68) could get Franco Zeffirelli (still with us, aged 91) charged with sexual assault.
As I say, this comedy has darker edges. In fact it has a profound sadness to it. We know that Withnail, the beautiful, deranged alcoholic, is and will always be a failure. His co-conspirator in inebriation and squalor, Marlowe, will get the lead in a new production and a smart haircut and will turn and say “I’ll miss you, Withnail”. And will leave. And Withnail, alone in London Zoo, with the rain pouring, will act the part of Hamlet, but only to a company of wolves. “I have of late, but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth”. I note that Kevin Jackson, author of this nice essay, recently edited The Anatomy of Melancholy.
Jeffrey Eugeniges in his fanboy introduction says that when he first read this
I was suddenly pulled into a never-before-experienced realm : the sunke...moreJeffrey Eugeniges in his fanboy introduction says that when he first read this
I was suddenly pulled into a never-before-experienced realm : the sunken world of a strange and marvelous book. Elect Mr Robinson for a Better World is that very rare thing : a book without antecedents.
O Jeffrey Eugenides, you may be very sweet But I feel your education has been somewhat incomplete
Kafka (1915) K. was informed by telephone that there would be a small hearing concerning his case the following Sunday. He was made aware that these cross examinations would follow one another regularly, perhaps not every week but quite frequently.
Donald Barthelme (1976) Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he’d gone too far, so we decided to hang him.
Donald Antrim (1993) Today I’m not sure I’d favour drawing and quartering an ex-mayor and Chamber of Commerce volunteer. That’s what we did to Jim Kunkel after the Stinger incident.
Yes, strange, violent and random things are being described in a voice of ironic normality. And this has been going on for years.
So anyway, in this thankfully brief novel, we’re in American suburbia, there’s a low-level war going on between two suburbs, people are throwing up fortifications round their houses, areas are mined, schools have been closed (because of withdrawn funding, not because of this guerrilla war), and Pete Robinson is thinking of running for mayor. First he has to bury the various parts of the dismembered ex-mayor (currently in his freezer) in various sacred places throughout town, intoning passages from the Egyptian Book of the Dead over them. Oh, and Pete's wife has become a coelacanth. (Not literally, spiritually.) You get the picture? Yes, this is bizarro fiction, of which there is now quite a lot.
I took a chance on the notoriously bizarro Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot after some serious raving by one of my Goodreads friends. Here we have giant heads that appear in the sky; there is the world's greatest dishwasher who is a person; there are over 600 clones of an ancient pop singer's backup dancer; there is a person who keeps getting murdered; indeed there is a lot of fun going on. However, I found that some of the odder science fiction writers had got to this level of wackiness already. But I did like it, because Mr Boudinot has impressively weird ideas and he doesn’t waste them writing mild comedy sketches strung together by room-temperature standup riffing.
Franz Kafka, you rock. Donald Barthelme and Ryan Boudinot, you also rock. Donald Antrim, you are John Denver. (less)
I only realized half way through that E M Forster was 26 when he wrote this which is his first. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have read it, I have a vi...moreI only realized half way through that E M Forster was 26 when he wrote this which is his first. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have read it, I have a violent prejudice against novelists under 30. It’s too early to start. In other art forms it’s essential to be under 30 – the Beatles were in their mid-20s when they did Sgt Pepper, Brian Wilson was 23 and 24 when he created Pet Sounds and Smile, Picasso was churning out brilliant realist works in his mid-teens, and not to mention Mozart’s unpleasant precocity, sitting up in his pram and scribbling oratorios onto every available surface; but the art of the novel lays bare the author’s mind too eloquently, it’s far more intimate and therefore cruelly revealing than music or painting, your under 30 crassness and callowness will be exposed, you’re caught in the fierce headlights forever.
Perhaps I am harsh – let us see what Forster himself said about this novel. The story takes place mostly in a small town in Italy called San Gimignano (retitled Monteriano here) which is a medieval version of Manhattan, very remarkable. I went there once. It looks like this.
An English widow falls in love with a local guy called Gino who probably looked like this
Forster said later :
The tourist may be intelligent, warm-hearted and alert, and I think I was that much, but he has to go back every evening to his hotel and he can know very little of the class structure of the country he is visiting. My limitations were very grave. Fortunately I was unaware of them, and plunged ahead….
What’s so remarkable here is my own temerity. For I placed Gino firmly in his society although I knew nothing about it. I guessed at his relatives, his daily life, his habits, his house, and his sketchy conception of housekeeping…
Young novelists have to make up a lot of stuff, for sure. That said, Where Angels Fear to Tread (the lurid title was foisted on Foister by the publishers) is pretty good. Forster has a patented style – you think you’re reading light frothy social satire but he keeps upsetting his own applecart with acidulous barbs and then the whole thing suddenly swerves into stark horror and goes all to hell. It’s a very good style.
This book literally fell apart while I was reading it (1985 paperback, spinal glue dried to powder) and it would be far too glib to say as did the story itself so I won’t! What you have here is a strange case history. The MacGuffin in the story is a baby, and I’m not sure you should turn a baby into a MacGuffin. But it does put under the spotlight the strange ideas humans – especially upper-class English Edwardian humans – had about children. The sheer unsentimentality – as soon as they’re born, turn them over to a nanny. When they reach school age, off they go to a boarding school. You hardly ever had to bother with your children if you were rich enough. It spared you of all those tiresome aspects of child-rearing and gave you time for cruising down the Grand Canal and attending fabulous balls and eating ptarmigans' brains.
What Forster seems to want to delineate (according to him) is the spiritual awakening of his protagonist Philip. As in so many novels, I think what he thought he was doing and what he was actually doing were two different things. This is a surprisingly bitter tirade about ugly English upper class morality. A really good start. (less)
It’s not a long book but it drags drags drags drags drags drags drags drags drags, it drags more than Priscilla Queen of the Desert multiplied by Some...more It’s not a long book but it drags drags drags drags drags drags drags drags drags, it drags more than Priscilla Queen of the Desert multiplied by Some Like it Hot, because not only does nothing much happen (a dinner party, a bit of babysitting, a family holiday, it’s not Die Hard, that is for sure) each time something mild does happen you have to go through it twice, because everything is narrated by Emma and then by Nina or Nina and then by Emma, two versions of everything. We've come across this technique before. Well, here it is again.
The atmosphere of baleful self-loathing in this novel is as thick as cake mix. The young mother Emma is being eaten alive by her baby and three year old. There is no joy to be had anywhere for Emma. The kids are perfectly normal, as is the husband, but poor Emma is standing on tiptoe with the waters of quiet hysteria rising to within an inch of her nose. So her story is claustrophobically unhappy. Nina, the other half of the story, is well-off London chicness itself but she appears to be insinuating herself into Emma’s life with the purpose of doing some terrible harm, for 200 pages, so that gives you the creeps, it’s all a bit Hand That Rocks the Cradle. For 50 pages or so it’s okay, the dread slowly builds up. But man, we have to wait. And wait. And then in the end, pffffft. Come on Harriet, we’ve all seen Fatal Attraction, the phrase “she’s a bunny boiler” has passed into the national consciousness. You have to crank it up a little more than this.
Also I didn’t buy the whole revenge plot motivation. It was as thin as a catwalk model. I got that feeling I often get when I (mostly ill-advisedly) read thrillers, that people don’t really behave like this in real life, it's all too psychologically pat.
Oh, also, the style of this book became painful after a while. Every dad-blamed thing in these women’s lives gets noticed, every single solitary item middle-class British women have in their houses gets a name-check, and absolutely everything gets an appropriate adjective applied. Random sampling from page 45
The hot garden The little porch The mildewy macs The thankful chill The soft cold flagstones The striped roller-towel The mesh panels The thick streaks
And again from p 149, still going strong
The wrought-iron gates The sherbet bubbles The bright fresh grass An acid-yellow ball The leather tassel keyring The cold hard shock The white tiers A narrow leafy alleyway The black mouth The insistent push The metal-framed windows
It seems Harriet Lane is being paid by the adjective. And really, most of these adjectives are not worth waiting up for. Sorry Harriet. Try not to hate me. (less)
He was John Rowlands, a Welsh workhouse bastard, rejected by his mother and father, lowest of the low, poorest of the poor. And yet, when he got marri...moreHe was John Rowlands, a Welsh workhouse bastard, rejected by his mother and father, lowest of the low, poorest of the poor. And yet, when he got married – finally, at the age of 49 – it was in Westminster Abbey by a bishop in the presence of the prime minister Mr Gladstone and the painters Sir John Millais and Sir Frederick Leighton and a fragrant potpourri of dukes & peers of the realm. These days people have careers, but in them days, people could invent themselves completely. There were no rules.
When he left the workhouse at age 17, he was unwanted by any relative and packed off to Liverpool and got work as a delivery boy. During one job he took provisions to an American ship and the captain took a liking to him, as they say, and offered him a job as cabin boy. And so in February 1859 he pitched up in New Orleans, and jumped ship. Scuffled around, got delivery jobs, picked himself a new name, ended up a storekeeper in Cypress Bend, near little Rock, Arkansas, which is where the American Civil War caught up with him in 1861, and he joined the 6th Arkansas Infantry on 26 July who were also known as the Dixie Grays.
Captured (not killed, lucky for him, but he was a lucky bastard) at the Battle of Shiloh, and taken to Camp Douglas, near Chicago, where along with all the other prisoners, an offer was made, that they switch sides. This was standard in those days, I don’t think this is done anymore. So he enrolled in the Artillery Service of the Union. At this point he began to claim to be an American, because he’d had to swear allegiance to the American government. Got dysentery, left behind in a hospital in Harper’s Ferry on 22 June. Listed as a deserter on 31 August and never went back to his regiment.
Walked to Sharpsburg, collapsed, a good Samaritan paid his train fair to Baltimore, and he shipped to Liverpool as a deckhand. Went to see his mother in Denbigh, she rejected him again as a worthless ne’er do well. Shipped back to New York, began clerking in Brooklyn. Decided to join the Army for a second time. 19 July 1864, enlisted for 3 years in the navy, assuming they wouldn’t find out about his army desertion. Got ship’s clerk. February 1865 at Portsmouth New Hampshire – deserted again. Hearing of the Colorado gold rush, sallied forth to St Louis and blagged his way into an occasional job with a newspaper, the Mississippi Democrat.
You get the idea. Like a lot of people, he was a great improviser. He stumbled crazily from one notion to another and finally came upon his DESTINY.
In 1868 there was a war which broke out between Great Britain and the Empire of Abyssinia, Ethiopia as was, because of a mislaid letter, which caused Emperor Theodore to take umbrage.
Stanley had talked his way into the offices of the New York Herald, biggest American paper of the time, and, promising to pay his own expenses, got the job of war correspondent for this ridiculous enterprise, where the elephant British Army was plodding off to swat the Ethiopan gnat. In the event, the British lost 40 soldiers and hundreds of Ethiopians were killed (precise numbers as usual not available). The Emperor committed suicide. All this because of a mislaid letter.
But the good news was that the Herald liked Stanley’s dispatches. So the next thing was that he got his Big Idea. Which was : to be the man who found Dr Livingstone, who had been lost in Darkest Africa ™. These white explorers had to think big. They had to travel with a party of around 250 people minimum. This was because they had to be a traveling bank (the currency was cloth, beads and wire) because they had to buy food all the time. So you needed many guys to carry all this stuff and other guys to be the protection. The guys had to carry the stuff because in Africa mostly you can’t use pack animals because of the tsetse tsetse fly which kills horses and donkeys. Also, there were no roads, only single tracks, and only sometimes. There was no satnav, no Google earth, no maps at all. Instead there were compasses and many unpleasant surprises including people who didn't want you to be there at all.
Signing up for one of these expeditions was a poor career move. About 25 to 35% of them died. Next time a Victorian explorer comes around sweet-talking you just say no. So many of them died on these expeditions! Death by disease (dysentery, dengue, cholera, all sorts of fever); by drowning; by being speared by hostile natives, by snake.
So this fake-American Welsh upstart found Dr Livingstone, and became a big celebrity & best-selling author, and then went back for Expedition No 2 which was to find the source of the Nile and figure out the other big river in the Congo called the Congo. They were so crazy for the source of the Nile in those days. I myself would not get up out of my Barcalounger to see the source of the Nile if it was found at the bottom of my garden, but it takes all sorts to make a world. On Expedition No 2 Stanley nearly died about 19 times, but he had the constitution of The Hulk even though he was petite.
It was now he got the reputation of being a big racist bastard who liked to encourage the blacks by shooting them. He gave himself this reputation by bigging up various exploits in his newspaper dispatches, and naively not realizing that if you did shoot a few natives and flog a few others, you’d best not to mention it, like all the other explorers, who flogged and shot much more but discreetly didn’t mention it.
Then King Leopold of Belgium decided Stanley was the very patsy he was looking for to make happen his dream of personally owning the Congo and creating the horror the horror ™ which Heart of Darkness and then Apocalypse Now were later based on. This King was thinking big. Stanley was hired to populate the Congo River with viable bases where white people could stay armed to the teeth and basically take over. So this was expedition No 3.
Stanley’s heart was in the right place, strangely. He was of the opinion that the Congo needed to be tamed to kill off the slave trade, which was a flourishing enterprise throughout the whole area. In fact King Leopold was maybe the greatest con artist the world has seen, and also one of the greatest gamblers, because when he started his whole Congo thing, there was no obvious way to make money from it. No gold, no diamonds. However, in 1887 a Scottish vet had an idea to make his little son’s tricycle riding a more pleasant experience and fitted air filled rubber whatchamacallits round the wheels. In doing so he invented
His name was John Boyd Dunlop and his invention sparked off the Great Victorian Bicycling Craze
and immediately made the Congo a fantastically valuable place because rubber trees grew there all over the place.
So slavery wasn’t abolished in the Congo at all, it was made compulsory. Anyway, all that hadn’t happened yet when Stanley embarked on his last, most horrible expedition. It’s really hard to describe why he even went, it’s beyond our modern understanding. It was a rescue attempt. Some random guy called Emin Pasha… no, I haven’t the patience. It makes no sense. But anyway, guns & ammo had to be got to this guy, all of England was in a state of teeth gnashing angst until Emin Pasha had more guns & ammo to kill more native Sudanese people. There’s no logic.
This last expedition was a total catastrophe – it was a big one, and started with 708 people , and went from one side of Africa to the other side in three years, and of the 708 only 210 survived. And yet it was considered a heroic triumph.
This book gets into the grotesque twisted heart of white imperialism and it’s unflinching. But no one should be thinking that the Victorians had no qualms about any of this. From a contemporary review of one of Stanley's books :
The mounting of an expedition with aims and methods which almost necessitated the cruelties and slaughters that were incident to it… it seems better to remain in armchairs and pass resolutions than wantonly to embark on perilous enterprises which can only be carried out by means that degrade Englishmen
This story is amazing, a masterclass in tangled morality. Lives cannot be lived like this any more. Stanley preferred living with black people in Africa than the dimity drawing rooms of Bloomsbury yet he shot, flogged and hung black people, and was unembarrassed about it. He was not a bad man but through him many bad things happened. This is a great biography all about the inevitable evil and the evil inevitability of imperialism. The sorrow and the pity of it is breathtaking. (less)
There’s a great website called The Smoking Gun which features celebrity mugshots. The celebrities are divided into categories : Hollywood (A list and...moreThere’s a great website called The Smoking Gun which features celebrity mugshots. The celebrities are divided into categories : Hollywood (A list and B list), Music, Killers, Business, Gangsters, Sports and Television, and… Nuisances. Since they haven’t got a Writers section, Jean Rhys’ mugshots would have been a perfect fit in the Nuisances section. But if there was a writer’s section, she’d surely have come top in number of arrests. The quality of the crimes, though, was rather poor.
And alas, we don’t have the mugshots. But this will do
Wardour Street, London, 13 June 1935. Jean and husband Leslie, both drunk, battering each other; both arrested at 4 in the morning. Spent the night in the cells; arraigned at Bow Street on a D&D. Both fined 30 shillings and sixpence, plus doctor’s fee.
From the Beckenham Recorder, 1 April 1948:
“I lost my head and threw a brick through the window because her dog, a killer and a fighter, attacked my cat,” said Elle Gwendoline Hamer (56), a writer, of 35 Southend Road, Beckenham, accused at Bromley on Thursday, of breaking a pane of glass, value £5, belonging to Mrs Rose Hardiman, of 37 Southend Road. Hamer was bound over and ordered to pay £5 to Mrs Hardiman.
12 April 1949 – Bromley Magistrates Court. The charge : assaulting a lodger, Mr Bezant, and the arresting officer, after a party the day before which Mrs Hamer objected to, on grounds of noise. Remanded to prison for 13 days. At the trial on 25 April she was found guilty, fined £4 (£1 for Mr Bezant and £3 for the policeman) and bound over to keep the peace for a year.
When she got home on the 25th, her tenants, Mr & Mrs Besant, were lurking in the hallway (they rented the upstairs rooms). According to Jean he said
“I see you didn’t like what happened in court today. I have got you where I want you now and I’ll get you lower still.” Jean said, according to Jean, “If you think I’m going to pay this fine, you have made a mistake. I would sooner go to prison for life.“
So wouldn’t you know it, there was another fracas.
Back to Bromley Magistrates Court, ten days later. Verdict : Guilty of assaulting the same person, plus his wife, plus another tenant. Case adjourned while psychiatric reports were made. Back in court on 27 June. Asked by the court if she had anything to say. Yes, she did. Remanded for another week to Holloway Prison – the big house. 4 July, back in court. They had discovered that she wasn’t insane. Sentence : two years’ probation.
Now something crazy happened. On 5th November this appeared in the New Statesman :
Jean Rhys (Mrs Tilden Smith) author of Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie, Good Morning Midnight, etc. Will anyone knowing the whereabouts kindly communicate with Dr H W Egli, 3 Chesterfield Gdns, NW3.
An actress, Selma vaz Dias, a Rhys fan, had adapted GMM as a radio play, and needed Jean’s permission, but everyone was telling her Jean Rhys was dead. (Jean, drunk for years, totally out of touch with literary London, almost – but not quite – forgotten.) Jean saw the ad and replied. And then, on 16 November, ANOTHER drunken row with the neighbours.
Jean : my bitter enemy next door is now telling everybody very loud and clear that I’m an imposter “impersonating a dead writer called Jean Rhys” – it’s a weird feeling being told you are impersonating yourself… you think : Maybe I am!
In a rage, proclaiming her innocence of the charge of impersonating Jean Rhys, she wandered back and forth in the road, stopping all the traffic. Back to Bromley Magistrates Court AGAIN…. But this time…. Charges dismissed!
That was Jean’s last brush with the law, but not her last dance with the devils in the bottles. She missed the broadcast of Good morning Midnight. I wouldn’t like to say why.
This is my attitude to life. Please, please, monsieur et madame, mister, missus and miss. I am trying so hard to be like you. I know I don’t succeed, but look how hard I try. Three hours to choose a hat; every morning an hour and a half trying to make myself look like everybody else. Every word I say has chains around its ankles; every thought I think is weighted with heavy weights…
I did a quick audit of my Japanese cultural input and came up with the following :
Tokyo Story – beautiful acknowledged masterpiece Nobody Knows –...moreI did a quick audit of my Japanese cultural input and came up with the following :
Tokyo Story – beautiful acknowledged masterpiece Nobody Knows – great indy Kikujiro – worth watching Love Exposure – quite insane, probably brilliant, unmissable, but you should be warned that it’s quite insane Visitor Q – er, probably avoid this one! Really gross. Seven Samurai – may be the greatest film ever, if there is such a thing
Babel – brilliant film, but the Tokyo part is strange & uncomfortable Lost in Translation – what planet was everyone else on? This was a snoozefest. If you haven’t seen it, count yourself fortunate
In the Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami – yeah, I liked this A Personal matter – Oe – yeah, I HATED this The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by the other Marukami guy – I LOVED this because it was so easy to parody and gave me my top scoring review (While I was reading it was a different story)
And now to add to this very small Japanese input, Kitchen, a tender sprig of a novel. It was kind of goofy, kind of nice, kind of weirdly translated. Kind of sad. Had a transgendered person and a transvestite. Had a lot of food. If I write any more of this review it’ll be longer than the novel. But basically, I need more Japanese stuff. Recommendations welcome. (less)