It is thanks to my Uncle Jürgen that I read this collection, as he had said he could never 'get warm' with Larkin, and I'm not surprised. I'd heard heIt is thanks to my Uncle Jürgen that I read this collection, as he had said he could never 'get warm' with Larkin, and I'm not surprised. I'd heard he had a propensity to steal all the covers, and on top of this has of course been dead for the last 26 years. So quite a chilly fellow indeed. Ok woefully poor jokes aside, Larkin writes of bleak things unflinchingly. In 'The Old Fools' he looks at the dribbling retarded imbeciles our parents become and wonders whether people like this are aware of their state, and if so, why they aren't screaming? He concludes, calmly, that we needn't know the answer straight away as there will be time for us to find out for ourselves. In one of Larkin's most quoted poems, starting 'They fuck you up your mum and dad', he simply advises that we don't propagate, and therefore halt the misery of human existence.
I noticed from reading this collection that Larkin often deals with 'large' subjects, such as the tides of the sea, ageing and dying, procreation, and harvest festivals, which have been going on since time immemorial, but then very much anchors them in his precise moment in time, pricking the poems through with references to transistor radios, horse-boxes and chocolate papers. Larkin also links the bottomless past with the present contemporary time in poems such as 'Going, going', where he basically laments what is now known as urban sprawl, and also in 'High Windows'. This latter I particularly liked as it made me think about contraception and how it has changed human relationships. Being born well after the advent of the Pill, and having probably been kept at bay for quite a few years by it, I have never personally known or had reason to feel a world that Larkin describes. He mourns the fact that, with birth control, now 'Bonds and gestures [are] pushed to one side'.
It is worth mentioning other poems in the collection which are brief and (ostensibly) simple but incredibly, delicate beautiful; such as those looking at cut grass or the sun. These seem freer and lighter than Larkin's other poems that deal with humans, society and change.
So, well I couldn't 'get warm' with Larkin either, but I don't feel he would have loooked to create this kind of intimacy with his writing in any case. I think the most one could do after having read these poems, is to then consider them, alone, while looking down out of your window, as Larkin did, at the world outside. Larkin can be cold, and cynical, but he does share with us the beauty and hope that he finds in Nature. ...more
I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I think the most delicious aspect of it is that O’Brien marries intimate and personal details of a girl’s I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I think the most delicious aspect of it is that O’Brien marries intimate and personal details of a girl’s early teenhood in the Irish countryside with the horribly dark realities of human existence. Furthermore, O’Brien does this very subtly. She describes the girl, Kaithleen, getting out of bed in the early mornings and seeing frost on the hedgerows outside, and skimming the cream off a bucket of milk to put in a glass bottle to take to a best friend’s birthday party. However, alongside this, Kaithleen, also has an alcoholic father, one who punches her underneath the jaw to make her teeth clack together. Kaithleen’s best friend is beautiful and dimpled, and Kaithleen follows her as besottedly as though a poster of Greta Garbo had come to life, yet what she tends to receive in response from Baba is, “Be off, trash”. Early on, Kaithleen’s mother drowns in a lake, trying to escape from her alcoholic husband; which forces the young girl to live with Baba and her family. Scenes of realistic eccentricity light up the novel, such as the mother of the Kaithleen’s adoptive family, a ‘fast’ but beautiful woman called Martha, sneaking a whole roast chicken up in to her rich boudoir of velvets and silk for the children and her to eat away from the father. This latter is a kind man who works hard as a vet, but who nevertheless proved to be a disappointing match for Martha, whose fluctuating recollections had her as a ballet dancer, or an actress: ‘ “I could have married a hundred men, a hundred men cried at my wedding…. One was an actor, one was a poet, a dozen were in the diplomatic service.” Her voice trailed off as she went over to speak to her two pet goldfish on the dressing-table’. When they hear the husband coming up the stairs, Martha rushes to hide the half-eaten chicken in the wardrobe amongst her summer cases and fur capes. In addition, this book is completely free of ‘consciously’ examining anything. The relationship between Kaithleen and her father is fascinating, but clearly observed rather than manipulated. I was touched by a scene where he bought Kaithleen a Christmas present of a pair of beautiful suede shoes, her first pair of high heels. She hates her father, and gives him a simple kiss on the cheek and perfunctory thank you; and he can have no idea how happy the shoes have made his only child, his daughter. Through simple events such as these, unanalysed, it is possible for us to view the complexities of their relationship: the loneliness of the father, than anger and shame of the daughter. O’Brien’s language can be as simply beautiful as the things she describes: “The buds had thrust their way to the very tips of the thin, black, melancholy birch branches. The buds were lime green and the branches black, slender branches stirring in the wind…” However occasionally, perhaps as a natural side effect of the spontaneity of O’Brien’s writing, there are some rather slap-dash patches, which highlighted that this story was being written by a harried writer at a desk who had perhaps children fighting downstairs and the washing still to hang out. ‘During those three years nothing special happened to us, so I can pass quickly over them,’ and ‘The chance came in March 1952. I mean the chance to escape.’ As well as this, the ending is very sudden and feels lopped; I can only assume the next novel in the series picks up almost directly from this moment in Kaithleen’s life, and was effectively cut here to restart again somewhere else. However these are tiny faults in what is otherwise a wonderful book. O’Brien’s writing brought me directly in to Kaithleen’s world: admittedly a possible chlichéd world, comprising a spell at a stern convent school, first kisses and cows in fields, but one so personally described, and with such individual undertones, that it felt sparkling and tantalising… as I suppose life does to a 14 –year old girl coming of age. ...more
This was very enjoyable to read, although I can't give it more than 3 stars because it didn't Change My Life. It did teach me about the paisano way of This was very enjoyable to read, although I can't give it more than 3 stars because it didn't Change My Life. It did teach me about the paisano way of life, which seems to revolve around stealing, drinking vast quantities of wine and following a fixed set of morals not immediately recognizable as such to people like myself. These tales are however amusing, and as one starts notice patterns and understand the the paisano friends' way of thinking, it becomes more and more funny. For example, to Pilon not only is it perfectly logical and acceptable behaviour to steal Big Joe's trousers as he sleeps drunkenly on the beach to exchange for more wine; but when Torrelli's wife gives Pilon only two gallons of wine instead of three he demands, he considers it equally fair to leave with the two gallons of wine while pinching the trousers back, outraged, on his way out.
This is basically a collection of stories comically presented as a moral handbook, pretending to teach and educate through the adventures of its hero and his friends. However the moral lessons propounded are dubious and convoluted to say the least. What this book really celebrates is friendship and the fun of living life. ...more
This was a very good book. The main character, Yasha, seemed so human, despite dealing in magic and seemingly super-human feats. He was having affairsThis was a very good book. The main character, Yasha, seemed so human, despite dealing in magic and seemingly super-human feats. He was having affairs, lied, and ended up questioning himself at nearly every turn. Fundamentally I believe that the book is actually about religion, and man's relation to it. There is something very special and singular about Singer's writing style, which is all the more surprising given that I read it in translation (from the Yiddish). There is an excellent part where Yasha comes back to discover one of his lovers, Magda, has hanged herself. She is also his assistant in his show, and is in charge of costumes and Yasha's many pet animals. Once he enters their flat to find her dead, speech stops, and Singer's prose turns 'silent'. "Only then did Yasha become aware that there was no sound from the other room. He walked into the room and found all three animals dead. Apparantly Magda has strangled them. The monkey lay with eyes open. The crow, enclosed in its cage, looked as if it had been stuffed. The parrot was on its side, a drop of dry blood on its beak. Why had she done this? No doubt to prevent the creatures from crying out. Yasha tugged at someone's sleeve to show what had happened. The policeman was already in the apartment. He pulled out his notebook and wrote down what Yasha told him." ...more
Fantastic. Excellent observation of language, body language, the young. Favourite stories were Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, For Esme with Love and SqFantastic. Excellent observation of language, body language, the young. Favourite stories were Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut, For Esme with Love and Squalor, and Just Before the War with the Eskimos....more
This book was amusing, but as an 'autobiography' of Alan Partridge, Coogan et al. had in fact very little to do except to describe various events andThis book was amusing, but as an 'autobiography' of Alan Partridge, Coogan et al. had in fact very little to do except to describe various events and situations that have already featured in the Partridge series. However these were well-written in Partridge's inimitable style of arrogance and petty viciousness, and it was sufficiently entertaining such that I never got actually bored. However 'I, Partridge' remains what it is: a Christmas present book, to be read between the post-lunch lull and when the Boxing Day depression starts to kick in.
PS. Reading this book on the metro in France - a country blithely unaware of Knowing Me, Knowing You - attracted lots of craned-neck glances at its cover. Taking it at face value they must have thought that British celebrities take themselves really seriously. Which is in fact ironic, given the way Steve Coogan is acting these days....more
I really should have liked this much more than I actually did: it's French, written in the early 20th Century, and involved a lost and tragic waif selI really should have liked this much more than I actually did: it's French, written in the early 20th Century, and involved a lost and tragic waif selling cocaine and her body in order to get by in Paris in the 1920s. HOWEVER. Well I suppose I have just had enough of pretentious French writers and their new clothes. I admire certain innovations in the book: that it was firstly a pronouncement of the Surrealist ideals, and as such mae no claim to having structure or answers or justifications; it also featured photos of places and people that Breton referred to in the text, as were hand-drawn sketches from Nadja herself.
However, here is a sample sentence: "The sudden intervals between words in even a printed sentence, the line which as we speak, we draw beneath a certain number of propositions whose total is out of the question, the complete elision of events which, from one day to the next or to another, quite upsets the data of a problem we thought we could solve, the vague emotional coefficient applied to and removed from the remotest ideas we dream of producing, as well as our most concrete recollections, as time goes by - all these function so that I no longr have the heart to consider anything but the interval separating these last lines from those which, leafing through this book, would seem to have come to an end a few pages back." Yes a few pages back with the beginning of your sentence, Andre. I appreciate that this book is in translation, which may render its meaning less clear and fluent, but it is also, I assume, part of the Surrealist style to simply write, without caring to shape what ones writes in order to make it comprehensible to a reader, especially one reading 80 years in to the future, and one with limited patience. However, sentences such as the above, once I had given them a good few re-readings at the beginning of the book, I eventually skipped, and enjoyed the book much more for doing so.
I do not feel it is fair to judge the quality of a book's writing on the moral character of its author, which is just as well for Breton as otherwise this would be a NO STARS book, as Breton is clealy a selfish shit. (In my view he uses Nadja for his own ends, he encourages her to realise 'the surrealist ideal', that is to say, to push herself entirely outside the prison of logic. As a result Nadja promptly goes mad, ends up getting committed to a psychaitric ward at the age of 26, where she later dies. Breton doesn't approve of psychiatric institutions, so doesn't visit Nadja). However, judging the quality of a books writing on it making sense, this gets half a star, and on the basis of creativity, risk and a fascinating woman, three stars. So a healthy and perhaps generous two stars for Andre Breton's Nadja. Must try harder next time Andre!...more
Tiddly tiddly um-pum-pum, bum. Bum, poo and rudies. This autobiography of the first twenty years of Stephen Fry's life is crammed full of boarding schTiddly tiddly um-pum-pum, bum. Bum, poo and rudies. This autobiography of the first twenty years of Stephen Fry's life is crammed full of boarding school, teachers, the awakening buds of first homosexual frottage, and the screamingly frustrating boundaries imposed on a young, freakishly intelligent aesthete 'à fleur de peau'. However, given that this is an autobiography rather than a piece of fiction, Fry had little choice (although this does beg the question as to why then his fiction is often like his autobiography). This was very readable, and gives several pertinent insights into one of our beloved National Treasures, the second Queen of England, but... I don't know, I suppose I have admired Stephen Fry for so long that my affections have now simply waned. His style of writing and of speaking is now so recognisable to me - and I imagine to countless others - that its familiarity is now considering starting a family. If you are not already au fait with Stephen Fry do read this, but if you are, it might be like one sweet too many. ...more
This could have been very interesting, but unfortunately Cheryl Paradis can not only not write, she also writes as though her readers are as thick asThis could have been very interesting, but unfortunately Cheryl Paradis can not only not write, she also writes as though her readers are as thick as she is. I get the impression from reading this book that she has been trained very well as a forensic psychologist, but in herself is not all that bright. This book has piqued my interest for reading further analytical case studies, but just not by her....more
Reading this ‘Complete Plays’ of Joe Orton was a roller-coaster ride, in that it suddenly went from very high to very very low. Starting with 'The Ruf Reading this ‘Complete Plays’ of Joe Orton was a roller-coaster ride, in that it suddenly went from very high to very very low. Starting with 'The Ruffian on the Stair', in which a strange man inexplicably enters to the flat of a housewife and threatens to kill her, to the brilliant 'Entertaining Mr. Sloane', I was transfixed; and couldn’t wait to read more and more and more and- then the anti-climax of the other plays. 'The Good and Faithful Servant' was ok, but 'Loot' painful and by god it took me weeks to finish the last play, 'What The Butler Saw', forcing myself to swallow a peek of a page a day.
'Entertaining Mr. Sloane' was a fantastic study of three warped characters, whom at points you feel MUST be caricatures, so extreme are their beliefs and empty are their morals, but then at other times you have the feeling that you are simply being permitted to look behind the curtains in to the world of any messed up lower-middle class suburban family. The play is of course fairly unreal, but contains enough of the recognizable to provoke sensations of deep discomfort.
From this, for the remaining plays Orton plunges from the subtleties and darkness of the first two pieces in to simple farce. Now I don’t really like farce and hardly see the point of it when if you are bored out of your skull you can watch TV for free. I therefore enjoy reading farce even less. Stage directions such as “DR. PRENTICE pulls GERLADINE’s trousers down. She beats him away weeping profusely. She pulls her trousers up. DR. PRENTICE wards off NICK and tries to prevent GERALDINE pulling up her trousers. SERGEANT MATCH enters dizzily from the dispensary, stumbling across the room, crashing and upsetting furniture” leave me feeling as though someone has surgically removed 95% of my brain. However I will say that my extreme lack of amusement is at least testament to a certain skill in Orton: his later plays are so complicated and as teeteringly structured as a 10-storey stack of playing cards that I have to credit him with a tight control on his plays. However with their witty quips and being set in psychiatric wards, funeral homes and holiday camps, they are as entertaining as if a faux-intellectual student sat down to write a Carry On script. So my advice would be: read the first two plays, both skillful and dark, and then put the book back on your shelves IMMEDIATELY.
Sadly one of the most gripping books I've read in a very long time. In terms of a biography, the story of the Kray twins is pretty interesting, althouSadly one of the most gripping books I've read in a very long time. In terms of a biography, the story of the Kray twins is pretty interesting, although what I found most fascinating was the relationship between them and how this affected them, and each of their lives individually. For example, Ronnie became increasingly mentally unstable and reckless in his violence, but although Reggie was more of a businessman and controlled in his decisions, there was never any question at all of him not absolutely sticking by and supporting Ronnie 100% in what he did. The author touched on this during their court case, when he explained that nowadays the psychological factor of one twin influencing the other and the question of true culpability would feature heavily. The most interesting aspect for me was that they were born identical twins, but due to mental illness, an early prison stay and other factors affecting just one of them, after their teens they deviated significantly in other areas. However, this book was not strictly a biography, I suppose: at the very beginning and end the author attempts to sandwich it with two wafer-thin explanations for the twins' use of violence and its ends. As I say, I personally found their co-relation far more fascinating, and had little use for explanations that violence could be used to instil fear and uphold promises and threats. A couple of good facts from this book: a young Fern Britton sent a signed publicity shot to Ronnie while he was in prison, and the twins employed "Southern Television's newscaster" Fred Dineage to ghost-write their memoirs. Presumably it was Ronnie, who chased the celebrity life-style and who was certified insane, that thought of that one....more
Very good. I wanted to re-read this because as a teenager I didn't find it particularly special.... now I appreciate Fitzgerald's elegance of writing,Very good. I wanted to re-read this because as a teenager I didn't find it particularly special.... now I appreciate Fitzgerald's elegance of writing, his control, and how he creates atmosphere. There are some very good descriptions of the blurriness and logical chaos of hugely drunken parties. ...more