Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Fraction of the Whole: Review

Fasting men survive , starving men die.

One of the many memorable phrases in this very enjoyable sprawling Oz family saga. Very well written in its turn of phrase - metaphor and simile (overdoes these a little - bit Blackadder-esque) and narrative structure - using monlogue, letter, journal and more conventional dialogue. It also has very strong characters.

Over 700 pages long - which I note is mentioned in several reviews and it could probably lose about 100 of them - gets a bit diverted in places.

Also very moving in its depiction of father -son relationship - speaking as both!
There is something missing from it though stopping it being a truly modern great. I am not sure what but think it is lacking a bit in context. Set in Australia it does try and make a comment on that society: obsession with sport, crime, Murdoch like characters, the link with Asia and asylum policy. Though there is only a passing reference to the Aboriginal issue - perhaps that is reflective of Oz society.

Yet I dont think it is fully developed - if you compare it with Franzen who explores dysfunctional families within a broader American context then it falls short. Some interesting philosophical arguments to.

So, very readable and a big achievement, Read it over a relative short space of time for book of this length - but think he may have a sharper novel within him.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Turn East for Culture 09.

At weekend spent a couple of days over at Ed Fringe Fest for mish-mash of artistic performances. City very busy and usual chaos at bigger venues with overpriced bevvy - Tattoo was also on this time. But ticketing system worked very well compared to last year. My tip would be to anyone - buy all your tickets online even for wee venues (maybe especially for that).

Anyway breaking it down into artistic form

Theatre: Ended up seeing two double header plays - ie with just two actors: David Mamet's Oleanna and Tennessee William;s Auto -da - Fe. Both in pretty small venues but both sold out.
Never seen Oleanna before although I had heard about it. It centres around accusations of sexual harassment/misogyny(!) against an arrogant University lecturer (!!)from female student. It was very good and quite intense over a continual 90 minutes - same set of his office for 3 Acts. Partially it was about a study of language, power and lack of empathy/understanding for other people. It has a very polarised dynamic as a piece - male lecturer dominates in one part then female student. It asks a lot of the cast - it was probably a wee bit too much for the female lead -who was quite young: not entirely convincing though the guy was very good though both in his smugness and the crumbling of his position and the undercurrent of violence. Another interesting factor was that the production came from Zimbabwe and each actor was a different race- this was not fully developed (wasnt issue in original production) but obviously an undercurrent throughout. They were Pumpkin Pie Productions - an engrossing 90 mins - worth a look.

The Williams piece was a one act play from late in his career. Set in the South, where else, it covers a fairly tense conversation between man and his mother on the porch of their Southern villa. Covers all TW's usual themes: sex, repressed homosexuality, heat, fire and a bit more heat and a little more sex. This was excellent - 30 minutes flew by - both actors here (Americans) delved completely into the piece: showed themselves as very experienced. Although short for the theatre - not slight - a bit like a good poem, he added pompously! Poor flyer for the show though but apart from that highly recommended Location wise, it was just a wee room in the Radisson Hotel - a thing i like about the Fringe is the imagination given to venues - just converted into a studio theatre for the month.

Visual Art: Checked out a free show at the Ingleby Gallery - nice venue never been there before - good lighting. Show of Calum Innes an abstract expressionist was pretty disappointing though.
It was basically a set of large coloured squares halved with different colours in each and sort of blended together in the middle. All "Untitled" - sparked debate about whether u can get away with using untitled in any other artistic media. So not a lot to it - looked like he had developed a new artistic technique and was just experimenting with it over and over: so not really an exhibition at all.

Comedy: I'm always a little selective with the comedy i choose to see in Edinburgh there is so much garbage with identikit posters for identikit boys in suits telling anecdotes about moving in with their girlfriend - desperately searching for a place on a panel show on Men and motors or something. But hit the jackpot twice here - Andrew Maxwell an Irish guy who I had only seen wee bits of on tv - he won a channel 4 reality show couple years ago where comedians had to live together and perform a completely different show a night. Good funny relaxed show - master of his craft. Material is not ground breaking but hits the spot and at least takes time to remark about the specifics of Scottish culture. Ridiculously small bar for venue though - there's a bit of Scottish culture for you :-).

Tim Key was a poet who I had spotted on the Charlie Brooker show though apparently he has a big Cambridge Footlights fringe background. Show really good - combination of comedy, poems (again sparked debate whether they were real poems or not) and short films. Bit different and very engaged with audience in a distant way! Annoying heckling woman though - surprisingly little of that at Andrew Maxwell.

Funnily enough both acts finished with two physical displays (different to the preceding shows)- wont give it away by saying what they were.

Misc: Couldnt get into a couple of shows - neither the one on the Mafia nor Eric Morecombe. Had a cheap cocktail at top of Leith Walk. And watched the Celts first game of the season in Haymarket pub - usually a Jambo haunt.

So to finish this indepth analysis Ill revert to type and place an East coast stereotype at top of blog..

Monday, 3 August 2009

2 reviews: The White Tiger and Mother Night.

Summer reading kicking in so here are two more reviews posted in some form on Facebook.
Bleak. An examination of the duplicity of an American Nazi who was also a spy.

Very well written and explores why Nazism triumphed amongst people - as we all come from Mother Night - the Darkness. So the spy has no heroism or any belief. Reflected also in America's justification for fighting - personified in the pathetic soldier O'Hare who sees it as his mission to track down Campbell after capturing him originally as a Nazi.

The human exception to this is his relationship where he wants to create a nation of two - "Das Reich der zwei" - an escape from the world.
As the fate of the two show - the work is dictated from Campbell's cell in Israel as he faces a war crimes tribunal this escape is a pipe dream.
It also works well as an expose of the sections of post-war American society that were attracted to the Nazi right - a faint echo of Roth's plot against America.
So a lot to think about in quite a brief piece - it is quick to read. But actually more brutal in its view of humanity than Slaughterhouse 5 so not easy. Made into movie too with Nick Nolte - may try and track that down.

2 reviews: The White Tiger and Mother Night.

Welcome to the Rooster Coop. An incredibly fast-paced coruscating exposure of the neo-liberal development that India has gone through in the last decade.
Taking the form of a monologue (similar to Reluctant Fundamentalist) but as a series of letters to the Premier of China. It reveals early on that the writer has murdered his master - the work builds on this to show how he did this and ended up a successful "entrepreneur" in Bangalore - the ultimate deregulated capitalist city in India.
The casual way the narrator depicts the relentless poverty is very moving - at one point almost as an aside he mentions that he and his brother have been sleeping in the streets in the city. Equally casual is the brutality of the rich - even its more liberal representatives like his direct master and victim.
The build-up to Balram's rebellion/crime is powerfully done and has its own twisted logic. The extensive use of animal metaphors is also powerful: the Roosters, the gekkos, spiders, water buffalos and of course the eponymous tiger. It underpins the basic humanity of the work epitomised by the line "Animals should be animals and humans should be allowed to be humans."
Definitely justified in winning the Booker - but like DBC pierre perhaps surprising that it did. Think unlike Pierre's work though it will mark a long writing career from Adiga.
Not checked it out but I guess this book will be hated by the Indian establishment as it outlines albeit satirically the corruption of the political system, the landlords and masters and the shallow nature of the capitalist "success" within India so often feted in the Western press.
It shows the aspects of Indian life that the vast majority of that society experience - a bit like Slumdog - but with no spiritual or schmaltzy salvation. Some reviews have drawn parallels with Dickens but I saw a lot of Irvine Welsh in here - a voice to the voice-less.