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Gerhard Richter Painting [DVD]
Gerhard Richter Painting [DVD]
Dvd ~ Corrina Belz
Price: £10.00

13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less painting, than trying not to be disturbed painting, 16 May 2012
Arshile Gorky's wife reported, when he was still working in his New York studio, that she would see a canvas in one state, and, by the time that she awoke, it had been worked upon so much that it was largely unrecognizable. There are elements of this in what Gerhard Richter seeks to achieve in spite of the presence of those filming him at work, but that is the territory of this kind of work, and, really, it ought not to be too surprising (to which I shall return later).

Rather than wondering, rather pointlessly, whether Gorky would have allowed director Corinna Belz in when he was working, I can only profess admiration for Richter that, despite the fact that it was putting him off, he did not close down the access. That said, whether he would have welcomed - or, if given the choice, approved of - the temporal juxtaposition of how what he was working on looked at different moments, I do not know.

What I do know is that he loads the squeegee with paint, and then has to say that what he was about to do cannot be done then, because it will not succeed. Whatever Richter may 'really' be like, he gave the impression on camera of being a sensitive man, and he seemed unnerved that he had started preparing for something that was not possible, and which, one would like to think, he might not have done, if he had felt at ease. He did not, not when trying to work on his canvases.

Indeed, following on from that, if we invest an artist and his or her work with worth, then we have to leave him or her free to decide when a work is finished, and what is effective and what is not. And yet I am imagining that the moment when he white-washes over a grey composition may have left some who watched the film wishing that he had left it untouched: I can understand that, but I take the different view - that he created it, and he must be satisfied with it, if it is to bear his name.

His assistants, his wife, recognize the knife-edge on which the creative process is balanced at this stage, and say that, if they were to comment that they think that something is right as it stands, what they have said would be more likely to cause Richter to re-work it. Not out of perversity, I fully believe, but because, as the camera and crew do, the remark would interrupt and subvert the process.

Unlike artists who have their studios, and would, throughout history, delegate tasks to assistants, Richter's was shown getting the paint ready, but the artist himself was even cleaning off his materials at the end of the session. He was, as he several times expressed in response to questioning (some of which was better and more artistically minded than other parts of it), clearly finding his way with the works, and we were told about how their current state had to stand up (as if to scrutiny, scrutiny of a most honest kind - and Richter believes in truth in painting) for several days: white-washing over was not something over which those in his entourage could regularly afford to be regretful.

As I say, the creation is the artist's, and he or she is the one to find a way ahead. In the case, for example, of Joan Miró, he had the luxury of being able to re-work canvases decades later that were still in his possession, whereas the Tate refused, I think, Francis Bacon, access to some of his, because it did not want them - as it owned them - any different from how they were, and knew that that would be the result otherwise.

One observation, amongst many intelligent things that Richter said about his work (and it was also fascinating to see him about the business not only of planning out exhibition spaces in 1:50 scale, but to hear him pleading with photographers at the opening of a show who required just one more pose that they had so many shots already), was that a painting makes an assertion that does not bear much company: in the context of having to hang several pieces on each wall, and plan it all out, that seemed just as much a challenge as in the studio, with canvases making differing assertions in different ways about how they should work.

So the supremacy of each work's voice, its statement, and, I would say, for the painter to decide what it is to say and when it is saying it. Then, for Richter, what he said that he valued was people adopting the attitude of those attending a gallery in New York, who would more freely, more honestly, say that they liked this group of paintings, but that the grey compositions were terrible. The point that he was making is he does not feel the polite comment that something is 'interesting', to which he is usually exposed, is that kind of genuine response.

As for me, I looked forward to spending time at the new exhibition at Tate Modern - and maybe watching this film there again.


Sarah's Key [DVD] [2010]
Sarah's Key [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Kristin Scott Thomas
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seeking to appreciate Sarah's Key for what it is, 4 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Sarah's Key [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
There are times when I curse myself for having used the time when Kristin Scott Thomas signed my programme for me after her informed performance of Pinter's magnificent play Betrayal that I bothered her with how uniformly useless the UK papers' reviews had been - she didn't need to know (as (a) the run in the cinemas trounced their shallow views and (b) even if it hadn't, the DVD market was sure to pick up on it), and I could have said something other than thanking her for this film that they were too inadequate to appreciate.

So forget what they wrote, and their comparisons (which shouldn't have been made, even given the proximity in time) with this other film The Roundup, with which it clearly shares so little.

This is not the Kristin Scott Thomas French film that this time disappoints, it is better than Leaving (although I think that that film is very fine) and at least as good as I've Loved You so Long. Yes, one can always quibble about the plot, but Sarah's Key pulls no punches in doing justice to the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay, from which it sprang.

And here some of these so-called UK film writers / critics got lost, by ascribing to the film what it is in the book (although, of course, it could have been changed), and by not understanding how Julia Jarmond is engaged in what happened to young Sarah Staryznksi, not least because she has a life within her that her husband views as a nuisance, and in her wanting to follow her story, wherever it goes.

The film ends with a truth: that what is shared as a story, goes on, and Julia's character, played with an enormous amount of integrity and with great respect to the times through which Sarah lived, wants to bring that truth, both husband Bertrand's family and to the family with which she feels such a human bond in the person of Sarah herself. Yes, she sometimes thinks that she has hurt and has done wrong, but she has actually healed, and has helped others to view their lives differently.

So forget all this rubbish abot what happens 'in the third act' - films are not plays, and do not fall into acts, whether three or five. This is a vibrant and living piece of cinema, which transcends all this nonsense about acts.

I will watch this film on DVD, but I am glad that I had the chance to see it on the big screen, where it could touch audiences - I could here the silence of engagement in the screens in which I saw it. It is also a tremendous novel, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Salt [DVD] [2010]
Salt [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Angelina Jolie
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.71

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Maybe those who give it five stars like Angelina and not a plot, 4 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Salt [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
How I have entitled this review is, at any rate, the only basis on which I can understand anyone seeing this film as other than a more or less complete waste of time (there are three versions on the DVD - this review is based on the director's cut). And yet more people have given it five stars than one to three stars put together: they must like the actress or the action so much that they can forgive the fact that, in trying to surprise, the plot just doesn't work.

Oh, I did like energy of the trailer (which, as far as I remember, just featured Angelina Jolie with dark hair, and so couldn't have taken footage from the first half), and I know that action in action films doesn't have to be totally credible, so I decided to buy the DVD to watch as a bit of excitement. That said, her jumping eight floors down a lift-shaft from one set of girders to another several girders down (and not being heard or hurt), for example, is a bit unlikely, as is, however fit one is supposed to be, running (as she does in her other hair colour) long distances with what turns out to be a very heavy load, whilst wearing a thick coat and a knitted hat, without once breaking sweat. (Ladies don't sweat?)

But it is the plot from which no amount of action, or liking for the looks of Angelina (who, in the trailer, had been striking with her long dark appearance, but the trailer doesn't even appear to be on the DVD), can draw one's attention - with a film concerning agents, one knows that there is scope for betrayal, and for misplaced trust, but, to my mind, agents can only double- or triple-cross for so long before one's interest in whose side anyone is 'really' on must surely wane, and, with it, the desire to see the action unfold.

In the dialogue, there are even attempts to justify earlier actions whose appropriateness to whatever that person was trying to achieve (which itself did not really make any sense) is wholly dependent on Salt making escapes in the most implausible circumstances: looking back, they could never have been envisaged by the speaker at that time. For none of the rest of the film could have happened without Salt: escaping from a barricaded room in a most unlikely way and against all the odds; having been allowed to get out of the building and home with time to get together whatever she wanted; and then not having been caught when trying to run away again, not even when cornered with her hands up. The ineptitude that allows her to get where she does, and then just disappear, beggars belief!

The most striking visual indication that the director is attempting to make one trust characters and their motivations being true, only to seek to surprise by changing them, is the switch in hair colour. In that persona, Salt carries out actions to satisfy someone else that she herself should be trusted, one of which, in relation to her husband, she need not have done (since she regularly overpowers a whole host of armed men, and, in this case, does so shortly afterwards anyway), and the other of which (as an attempt to surprise not only us, but her latest set of colleagues) beggars belief - unless they didn't happen to be in on the plot, they would not have pronounced someone alive who had mysteriously been found not to be dead, since they wanted him to have been assassinated by their enemy's forces.

Couple this with the wayward (and unexplained) behaviour of a character with whom (also in a somewhat unlikely way) she had had a shared childhood, and a flimsy attempt, made in the closing voiceover in the same connection, to cast doubt on the new presidential figure (how has he been appointed, since this film seems to overlook the convention that the vice-president takes over when something happenes to the president?), and there is just such a mess that nothing redeemed it for me.


Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts
Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early(ish) Beckettt and Buddhism, 10 July 2011
* NB may contain a spoiler - do not read if you do not want to know the course of this book before reading it! *:

One academic writer, supposed to be an authority on Beckettt's work (see my review of one of his books), finds - or claims to find - deep Buddhist thought, philosophy, and probably even practice in it.

I wonder if he has considered Waiting for Godot in the following way...

The play has five characters, six if you include the named, waited for and talked-about Godot, who, we are told, has sent the last of them to appear (the Boy) to Vladimir (also known as Didi) and Estragon (also known as Gogo - the full name is the French one for tarragon), who have been (one, then the other) on stage from the start, and almost without break throughout the two Acts (although the end of both is, crucially, different - please see below).

The remaining two characters, Pozzo and Lucky (the atter is also known as 'pig', 'hog', 'scum', and a number of other offensive names, by Pozzo) arrive together, halfway through each Act, but seem mightily changed between them: in fact, we actually have no direct way of knowing how time passes, in this timeless and largely featureless space that keeps the characters in it or draws them to it (or through it), such as these two.

Pozzo is grand, pretentious even, and certainly cruel. However, he may not actually have the power either in the place where we see him, or in the relationship beyond his transit of these lands with the other man, Lucky. (At one point, Pozzo asserts or implies (but he alleges many things that we cannot verify) that this is his part of his land). Even so, he openly abuses Lucky before us, whilst - in the phrase used by another Beckettt writer to describe a scene of reported dialogue in the earlier novel Watt - often employing a 'language of bizarre civility', as well as some of the accompanying manners / mannerisms. His cruelty draws out that, alluded to earlier in speech largely, of Vladimir and Estragon, too.

Beckettt calls Waiting for Godot a tragicomedy (in two acts), but it is often played for pure comedy, which jars with the obvious brutality and unpleasantness of what human beings (Didi (or Gogo) pronounces that 'People are bloody ignorant apes!') do to pass the time when bored, but have to be somewhere.

Are we, perhaps, reminded of the random torture that SS officers and the concentration camps gave rise to (this play was first performed in around 1953 in what had been Nazi-occupied Paris, and Beckettt, who had served in the French resistance - is this where the references (shared by the contemporary novel Molloly) to beatings during the night by an unspecified 'they' come from?), would have had some bitter experiences / memories of the recent war.

After Pozzo and Lucky leave the stage (for the first Act), there is an exchange between the Didi and Gogo that their appearance had passed the time. The retort is that it would have passed anyway, replied to by agreement, but that it would not have passed as quickly.

Another exchange is:

What keeps us here?
The dialogue.
Ah.

This is a play of quick wits, and comments and counter-comments batted back and forth, and one character (probably Estragon) is asked whether he cannot 'return the ball once in a while'.

As has been said, Pozzo and Lucky return, much changed, in Act II - Lucky, who was loquacious on demand, is, if not mute, then does not 'think' for us again on stage as he did before, and Pozzo - we are told, anyway - is blind (so now led by his Lucky, whom he could previously lead before, and jerk quite cruelly to the ground by his rope). Yet Vivien Mercier, another Beckettt 'crrritic' (from when Gogo and Didi decide to play the game of orally abusing each other) trying to be clever, described the play as nothing happening - twice.

When had Act I been? Whenever it was, the title-page to Act II tells us: 'Next Day. Same Time. Same Place.' And this is where the Buddhism trail comes in more clearly: only Vladimir remembers - and does not (really) doubt remembering - Pozzo and Lucky from Act I, but there is scant or no recognition or recollection on the part of the other three (four, when we include the Boy - please see below). He knows that they passed this way the day before, and is appalled at the change (the Buddhist doctrine of and teaching on the transience of all things?), but all the rest muddle through.

Of them all, if he could see this for what it is, he could break through the unreality of life, of striving, of searching after the wrong things, whereas they are locked in it, so busy, seemingly, living these frantic and tortured lives that they have both little self-awareness (a step on the Buddhist path to acquire it). Since they cannot capture the keys and clues to reality, they struggle, battle and scrape on, as if that struggle, battle and scraping, rather than rejecting it as meaningless, is the essence of life, of what life is.

As things stand, Vladimir is doomed to be trying to remind others of their own (past) lives. (This play can, it is argued, be seen as a presentation of a (potential) voyage towards enlightenment - whereas people seeing the play may think that it is for their entertainment (distracting them from life), which is a further distraction, this time from what the narrative thrust (yes, Professor Mercier - there is one!) of the play is trying to focus on.) For he does not twig (yet?) what it means. So this includes interacting with the Boy, who comes (alone, and to him alone) at the end to apologize that Godot will not come that day (after all).

The Boy, as has been seen with the others, has no knowledge that he came at the end of Act I in the same way. In consequence of that, and because Vladimir only knows how to respond by just being frustrated that even this young being is blighted and trapped by not even remembering his own life, he lashes out, orally and physically, against a weaker force, with the brutal streak that we have witnessed - with a shudder? (although Lucky seemed weak, subservient, and capable of being picked on, in Act I, he proved not to be wholly so) - most clearly when Pozzo and he are on the stage.

The play does not end, though, with the frightened Boy running off the stage at what the stage-directions call Vladimir's 'sudden violence' (a contrast both to the placidity of this scene, and to the previous encounter in Act I (although Estragon did then briefly participate, laying hands on the Boy, and accusing him of lying before Vladimir intervenes). It is Didi and Gogo, again, hoping and fearing for another day, for hanging themselves, if they bring some rope, and that maybe Godot will come then, after all, and (they do not specify how) 'We'll be saved'.

Yet the words with which he has, two pages back in the text, heralded trying to grab for the Boy (as Estragon had done in Act I), and sent him running off instead, should ring in our ears:

You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!

He wants, at this stage to be witnessed, to be credited with existing and having existed in relation to another, but needs to let go. His search is for something else. Lewis Carroll had another faith, but wrote (for Isa Bowman, a child friend like the more famous Alice):

Is all our life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the ground with bitter woe
Or laughing at some raree-show
We flutter idly, to and fro

Man's little day in haste we spend
And, from its merry noontide, send
To glance to meet the bitter end
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2014 7:16 PM GMT


Waiting for Godot: A tragicomedy in two acts
Waiting for Godot: A tragicomedy in two acts
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Early(ish) Beckettt and Buddhism, 3 July 2011
* NB may contain a spoiler - do not read if you do not want to know the course of this book before reading it! *:

One academic writer, supposed to be an authority on Beckettt's work (see my review of one of his books), finds - or claims to find - deep Buddhist thought, philosophy, and probably even practice in it.

I wonder if he has considered Waiting for Godot in the following way...

The play has five characters, six if you include the named, waited for and talked-about Godot, who, we are told, has sent the last of them to appear (the Boy) to Vladimir (also known as Didi) and Estragon (also known as Gogo - the full name is the French one for tarragon), who have been (one, then the other) on stage from the start, and almost without break throughout the two Acts (although the end of both is, crucially, different - please see below).

The remaining two characters, Pozzo and Lucky (the atter is also known as 'pig', 'hog', 'scum', and a number of other offensive names, by Pozzo) arrive together, halfway through each Act, but seem mightily changed between them: in fact, we actually have no direct way of knowing how time passes, in this timeless and largely featureless space that keeps the characters in it or draws them to it (or through it), such as these two.

Pozzo is grand, pretentious even, and certainly cruel. However, he may not actually have the power either in the place where we see him, or in the relationship beyond his transit of these lands with the other man, Lucky. (At one point, Pozzo asserts or implies (but he alleges many things that we cannot verify) that this is his part of his land). Even so, he openly abuses Lucky before us, whilst - in the phrase used by another Beckettt writer to describe a scene of reported dialogue in the earlier novel Watt - often employing a 'language of bizarre civility', as well as some of the accompanying manners / mannerisms. His cruelty draws out that, alluded to earlier in speech largely, of Vladimir and Estragon, too.

Beckettt calls Waiting for Godot a tragicomedy (in two acts), but it is often played for pure comedy, which jars with the obvious brutality and unpleasantness of what human beings (Didi (or Gogo) pronounces that 'People are bloody ignorant apes!') do to pass the time when bored, but have to be somewhere.

Are we, perhaps, reminded of the random torture that SS officers and the concentration camps gave rise to (this play was first performed in around 1953 in what had been Nazi-occupied Paris, and Beckettt, who had served in the French resistance - is this where the references (shared by the contemporary novel Molloly) to beatings during the night by an unspecified 'they' come from?), would have had some bitter experiences / memories of the recent war.

After Pozzo and Lucky leave the stage (for the first Act), there is an exchange between the Didi and Gogo that their appearance had passed the time. The retort is that it would have passed anyway, replied to by agreement, but that it would not have passed as quickly.

Another exchange is:

What keeps us here?
The dialogue.
Ah.

This is a play of quick wits, and comments and counter-comments batted back and forth, and one character (probably Estragon) is asked whether he cannot 'return the ball once in a while'.

As has been said, Pozzo and Lucky return, much changed, in Act II - Lucky, who was loquacious on demand, is, if not mute, then does not 'think' for us again on stage as he did before, and Pozzo - we are told, anyway - is blind (so now led by his Lucky, whom he could previously lead before, and jerk quite cruelly to the ground by his rope). Yet Vivien Mercier, another Beckettt 'crrritic' (from when Gogo and Didi decide to play the game of orally abusing each other) trying to be clever, described the play as nothing happening - twice.

When had Act I been? Whenever it was, the title-page to Act II tells us: 'Next Day. Same Time. Same Place.' And this is where the Buddhism trail comes in more clearly: only Vladimir remembers - and does not (really) doubt remembering - Pozzo and Lucky from Act I, but there is scant or no recognition or recollection on the part of the other three (four, when we include the Boy - please see below). He knows that they passed this way the day before, and is appalled at the change (the Buddhist doctrine of and teaching on the transience of all things?), but all the rest muddle through.

Of them all, if he could see this for what it is, he could break through the unreality of life, of striving, of searching after the wrong things, whereas they are locked in it, so busy, seemingly, living these frantic and tortured lives that they have both little self-awareness (a step on the Buddhist path to acquire it). Since they cannot capture the keys and clues to reality, they struggle, battle and scrape on, as if that struggle, battle and scraping, rather than rejecting it as meaningless, is the essence of life, of what life is.

As things stand, Vladimir is doomed to be trying to remind others of their own (past) lives. (This play can, it is argued, be seen as a presentation of a (potential) voyage towards enlightenment - whereas people seeing the play may think that it is for their entertainment (distracting them from life), which is a further distraction, this time from what the narrative thrust (yes, Professor Mercier - there is one!) of the play is trying to focus on.) For he does not twig (yet?) what it means. So this includes interacting with the Boy, who comes (alone, and to him alone) at the end to apologize that Godot will not come that day (after all).

The Boy, as has been seen with the others, has no knowledge that he came at the end of Act I in the same way. In consequence of that, and because Vladimir only knows how to respond by just being frustrated that even this young being is blighted and trapped by not even remembering his own life, he lashes out, orally and physically, against a weaker force, with the brutal streak that we have witnessed - with a shudder? (although Lucky seemed weak, subservient, and capable of being picked on, in Act I, he proved not to be wholly so) - most clearly when Pozzo and he are on the stage.

The play does not end, though, with the frightened Boy running off the stage at what the stage-directions call Vladimir's 'sudden violence' (a contrast both to the placidity of this scene, and to the previous encounter in Act I (although Estragon did then briefly participate, laying hands on the Boy, and accusing him of lying before Vladimir intervenes). It is Didi and Gogo, again, hoping and fearing for another day, for hanging themselves, if they bring some rope, and that maybe Godot will come then, after all, and (they do not specify how) 'We'll be saved'.

Yet the words with which he has, two pages back in the text, heralded trying to grab for the Boy (as Estragon had done in Act I), and sent him running off instead, should ring in our ears:

You're sure you saw me, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!

He wants, at this stage to be witnessed, to be credited with existing and having existed in relation to another, but needs to let go. His search is for something else. Lewis Carroll had another faith, but wrote (for Isa Bowman, a child friend like the more famous Alice):

Is all our life, then, but a dream
Seen faintly in the golden gleam
Athwart Time's dark resistless stream?

Bowed to the ground with bitter woe
Or laughing at some raree-show
We flutter idly, to and fro

Man's little day in haste we spend
And, from its merry noontide, send
To glance to meet the bitter end


Scar Tissue
Scar Tissue
by Michael Ignatieff
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not an issue of other characters' characterization?, 4 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Scar Tissue (Paperback)
I cannot agree in any way that Scar Tissue is 'humourless' - it really does depend what one means by humour, though, because this is not a joke-book, nor does it claim to be!

I fully endorse the four-star review of this title, but believe that my recollection of the book is clear enough to say that this reviewer (and the other positive reviewer, who picks up this question) is missing the point in saying:

'The characters lag behind in development. The characters Miranda, Jack and the narrator's wife are not fully developed.'

My reason is that it is my firm belief that the narrative is so definitely from the narrator's point of view that it is *his* inadequacy in relating to these named others that is deliberately being portrayed here, not the author's inability to have 'developed' those chatacters, if, consistent with what I see as his purpose, he had wanted to.

Of course, I agree that we sometimes want a book to be a different book from what it is (as I did, with Garrison Keillor's Love Me, when it turned 'a bizarre corner' and lost my faith in where it / we was / were going), but I am sure that the characterization (of the narrator) and the lack of it in others is intentional, not a fault.


Tips on Type
Tips on Type
by Prof Bill Gray
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about type, not modern typesetting technology, 31 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Tips on Type (Paperback)
I have to correct the impression given by the other review here of this title, as I do not think that it is fair to the book or what it sets out to do: for this reason, I have given my review the heading above, because what has been written is clearly intended to be about moveable type. I simply do not see how any author can be responsible for a purchaser who buys the book without checking when it was written, and then writes a heavily negative review.

I do not agree that the book is set out poorly or that the layout or the use of script are horrid or that they make it difficult to read. The text takes one through the basics of understanding type such as an inch being subdivided into 72 units of measurement called a point, what the body of the type is and how characters have ascenders or descenders, and onto issues of choosing a fount and the effect of different practices on the appearance of type.

This is a book for someone who wants to understand where book design and production comes from, and how matters such as measuring type by point-size, etc., has carried over from letterpress into modern methods of mass book production, and it should be judged in those terms, not those of the other review.


D-day Plus One: Shot Down and on the Run in France
D-day Plus One: Shot Down and on the Run in France
by Frank 'Dutch' Holland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A flavour of occupied France, 15 Aug. 2009
Anyone who reads this book thinking that it was written by and meant to be like the works of someone such as Sven Hassel will be - and deserves to be - disappointed.

I know the 'ghost writer' (who cannot be a true ghost writer since he is credited with writing the book along with the man whose story he so faithfully renders into readable prose), and I was able to read the text before it was published commercially, which I thoroughly valued and enjoyed as an insight into the experiences of a family member who, without Dr Wilkins' quiet and unassuming assistance, would not, I understand, have been able to tell his own story. I do not believe that I am biased through knowing the writer, and I strove to read the text objectively, to say whether I agreed with the views of others who had also looked at it and who, I was told, had found it an interesting document.

In short, this is not the work of a stork, but someone trying to be faithful to the account that someone else, years after the event, wanted to give of life 'on the run' in those first ninety or so days after D-Day. I recall a very real sense of surprise and relief at the narrator's being alive after being shot down, and then of the ever-present fear of being found out, mixed with the strangeness of where he found himself and his means of seeking to fit in.

This is in the tradition, I take it, of oral history, not history or even sensationalism. Anyone who reads it carefully and with an open mind will, I believe, be rewarded.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 9, 2015 4:47 PM GMT


Fear Of Flying
Fear Of Flying
by Erica Jong
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Erica flies only so high, 26 Dec. 2008
This review is from: Fear Of Flying (Paperback)
This is not a book for those who are easily shocked - it may date back to the 70s, but it pulls no punches, and, for example, the main character refers to parts of her body in very direct terms.

Although I enjoyed reading it, I doubt whether the material in it all actually holds together well as a novel. In particular, the chapter entitled The Madman (chapter 12?) registered with me as very striking, but it did not follow on where the previous chapter left off, and this is where the disjointedness of the book began. The chapter is given credit at the front of the book for having been published in a magazine, albeit in a different version, and, unfortunately, that is how it reads in the context of the book to that point - it is in a different style, and, although the content is very good, it does not fit in. The two or three chapters that follow it also do not, with the result that, whereas this may not be as much of a problem as the one hundred and fifty odd pages of diary in Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall that breaks that novel's back, it is then not possible to resume, as Jong, seeks to do, the narrative approach that preceded this group.

With this (major) exception, the book is very well written, and Jong shows the breadth of her reading by making literary references that are utterly convincing in the mouth of her heroine, rather than, as such allusions can be, for the sake of it or to impress the reader and/or make him or her feel knowledageable that they have been identified.

Give this book a go, but it is questionable whether it lives up to some of the more extreme claims that have been made for it, however well it addresses sexual and other issues, because the characterization is not wholly convincing: for example, a British psychiatrist who is a devotee of R. D. Laing might have said 'ducks' all the time as term of endearment, but I rather doubt it...


Conversations with My Gardener
Conversations with My Gardener
by Henri Cueco
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The film of the same name is much better, 24 Dec. 2008
I read this book because of seeing the excellent film of the same name that is based on it - twice. I was interested enough, after the second viewing, to find out what had been the inspiration for it, but I was not expecting that it would consist almost exclusively of dialogue, the only exceptions being a very occasional narration or 'stage-direction'. In fact, those sections in italic are more infrequent than they should be, since (unlike in a play) there is nothing to distinguish the men's voices, and, when one is met with a new dialogue, it can take several exchanges before one or other says something that ties him down to the artist or the gardener.

In fact, that is a major problem with this book, and I do not think that it is answered by saying that it is any sort of virtue in showing how alike the men are or have become - anyone saying, for example (page 139), 'My father and mother and my grandfather and grandfather are down there, I think. My uncle and aunt are in the cemetery up there.' sounds like anyone else(at least in an English translation), as does the reply 'Here? Are you sure?'. My recollection is that it took well into this five-page episode to be sure, and, for those who remained unsure, there was only one these comments 'He looks at the two graves we've tidied up' in the last paragraph.

I am sorry to have laboured this, but, at times, it is a real nuisance that the dialogue is set out as it is. Maybe this is a form of novel with its own rules, though I am far from convinced that it is or can claim to be a novel (I do not have the dust-jacket to hand), but there is no clear reason why just sometimes there are pieces of scene-setting such as 'We're by the rose bushes, which he's pruning. He's also turning over the soil around the base of each one. Suddenly a low-flying plane roars overhead, and it feels as though the sky's falling in.', when, in the passage referred to, the reader could benefit much more. After all, isn't it clear what this exchange is about?:

'My, that was close!'
'You'd think we were at war.'
'They don't have the right to do that.'
'They do it all the same.'
'Yes, but they've got no right. It makes eggs hatch and chicks die. [...]'

My belief is that anyone reading this book would encounter these questions and difficulties. For one who came to it because of the film, it is much more odd in this book that I do not have a notion, except for from what they say, of who these men are - they have no names, and the gardener resolutely remains 'he' to the end. Maybe that aspect, I can see, shouldn't matter, but, conversely, I do come to know that his daughter is called Lisou, whereas, I recollect, his maried partner is never referred to save as 'the wife'. I concede that there may be a merit in the anonymity, but I am unsure.

As to the book as a whole, I have said that my main interest was to see where the film came from. Parts of the script are lifted straight from the book's pages, though not necessarily in the same context, but I do not think that I could have had the vision for the film that I very much admire in this book: it is a book that I have liked reading for chunks of twenty pages or more at a time during the available time of the last twelve days.

I could dilate at length now on the differences and similarities between the book and the filmed screenplay, almost all of which, I feel, have heightened one's interest in the characters and their growing relationship. (In the book, we do not know how the gardener came to be working for the artist, and he does not appear, unlike in the film, to have any common past with the latter - as they say, we are thrown in 'in media res', which the film, in its different approach, does with their meeting each other again.) Effectively, I feel that my admiration for the film is so great that I am not so much shocked by its humble origins, but disappointed that reading it can be not a great deal more than of academic interest.

By all means, read the book, but don't watch the film first.
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