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Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening
Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening
by David Hendy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History reimagined musically: perfect!, 2 Jun. 2015
What a unique way to reimagine human history! On the toes of Neil MacGregor's rather masterful (but perhaps over-celebrated-thanks to the clout of British Museum) History of the World in 100 Objects, once again I am proud of BBC to associate itself with an evocative and imaginative project that has the power to engage an average person with often-conservatively styled study of history. I am also glad that like in 100 objects, they have made sure that such enquiries have a life on a bookshelf, much after the original radio show has stopped airing.

Moving on from the sponsorship and packaging, this is quite a triumph for the author and his research team. Hendy's passion for the project is palpable in every line of this beautiful introduction to a two-century old humanity's tale of grappling with all matters aural. He writes like a dream, is gifted with the discipline of a broadcaster, reining in all indulgence and packaging this history into thirty nifty chapters each taking less time to read than your average podcast and each packing just the right amount of exposition, interpretation, context and punch. The irony here is, that his broad enquiry, in retrospection belies the book as a definitive "packaged" resource for musical anthropology or musical science or poetry. Hendy, the eccentric enquirer is out to explore the "abstract or physical qualities of sound than with how it gets used in the world" and besides its social history, "a history of how and why have we listened to it and reacted to it". And according to me, he is successful in achieving just that.

It is by no means exhaustive (and I shudder to think what being "exhaustive" in such a wide-ranging enquiry into humans' relation to sound would entail) but he does the leaps from one tip of historical iceberg to another with the adroitness of a long-jump Olympian, transporting the willing reader into brief reveries of contemplating about noise, soundscapes, music, silences, speech cadences, accents and adding some melodic animation to established and calcified images of epochs and eras. I read this cover to cover in the span of a morning and there wasn't a dull moment. Certainly a title that's going on my bookshelf to be revisited again and again.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2015 5:51 PM BST

Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)
Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed)
by Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps too academic, 2 Jun. 2015
I ventured into reading this to update my foggy history on the religion and its key tenets. I think the author did a splendid job on canning the history of Sikhs and Sikhism into an articulate, pacy and erudite narrative that surpassed many other introductory texts available. However, as the book launched into a discussion of the theology and the philosophy underpinning Granth Sahib's teachings, he turned unbelievably opaque with key explanatory phrases mired in an academic or rhetorical density that belied the "guide to the perplexed" aim. Having said that, I did manage to tap into his recognition for the holy books' spectacular enunciation of negative spaces and paradoxes that will colour all my future readings and hearings. I also champion one of the key refrains in his thesis of trying to understand a religion like Sikhism through the prism of Eurocentric intellectual tradition that believes in the religion/secular binary and accentuates the divide between spiritual (private) and political (public) courtesy Enlightenment and subsequent thought movements. In fact, this deconstruction of thinking about religion forms a key part of the introductory pages, which while reeling me in, had the verbosity to easily alienate a lot of readers who are probably expecting a more straightforward introduction.

In the end, while a part of me wants to pat the author for inserting spectacular nuance into an oddly packaged-for-beginners title, a part of me is cautious in recommending this outright as parts of it are overwrought with interminable paragraphs that seem to further no enhanced understanding other than an appreciation for the author's love for his chosen field of lifetime study and remarkable obliviousness of the target reader. I would recommend all readers to youtube Mr Mandair's interviews as a companion exercise to tap into his book's key themes.

Far From The Madding Crowd [DVD] [2015]
Far From The Madding Crowd [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Carey Mulligan
Price: £3.00

5 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly not without merit, 12 May 2015
I ventured into this new Hardy adaptation after soaking myself in the literary commander's gorgeous prose in the weeks leading up to the viewing. I am not familiar with any of the previous filmed adaptations, but I found this to be a fine companion piece to the source novel. I say companion piece, because the cinematic adaptation relies almost completely on the large font plot points and scenes explicitly relevant to these (eg Gabriel Oak proposes to Bathesheba, Bathsheba's valentine to Boldwood). This, it does with both vitality and crispness one seldom associates with period filmed fiction, thanks to a lean screenplay that cherry-picks the most "projected" interactions and gestures which are then brought to life with sensitive, naturalistic performances by the ensemble.

But this whole process of extracting and erecting this almost-incredulous 19th century tale of an unlikely female farm-inheritor finding herself as an object of affection of not one, but three suitors, almost unwittingly brings to fore the very problematic sexual politics of the film (and the source book). In Hardy's book, the plot-points are well padded with expansive, sometimes interminable prose articulating every character's relation to the lived space what with Hardy obsessed with capturing a particular facet of time in which a change was afoot in much of the country with "stationary cottagers" being supplanted by "migratory labourers". This completely distracts from how patronising and self-serving all these men are, vis-a-vis women. I actually missed this on reading the book, but seeing the story's skeleton on the screen in Mr Winterberg's adaptation, the high-minded heteronormativity felt quite jarring to see being played out now. It helped shine a new light to the book, and for that I am thankful to the team. The film's earlier previews and much of the noise in the mainstream critical circles have applauded at bringing the story's feminist angles to the fore, but on watching the complete story play out in all its wing-clipped glory, one realises that such cherry-picking of "themes" in initial reels is probably not the best way to market an adaptation as such urges or subplots of characters will ultimately be a slave to the storytelling designs set in that epoch by the author.

Here, one sees all of the attempts by Bathsheba to voice or assert herself ultimately hand-wrung to a man's will, thanks to Mr Hardy's source text's machinations. I had less reservations about this with Hardy's text because he is seen being earnestly busy capturing the sounds, the sights and the societal structure of the late 19th century West country, and the context-setting for the story is so entrenched in geography and sociology, that these entanglements in a small village seem to happen because all the characters are somewhat trapped, and are quite, as the title says, far from the madding crowds of cities etc.

I am therefore (and also) not quite sure if the film captures the whole distance-from-the-cities, that distinct way-of-living, although this is perhaps a more difficult thing to bring to screen, so I'd reserve criticising the film too much for this. But untethered of these "felt" intangibles, the contexts, its onscreen version is basically little more than the story of a young woman courted by three different men which has its audience waiting with bated breath on who she'd finally walk away into the sun-soaked pasture with. Back in the day, it is exactly these plot-points that got Hardy his readership with all its will-she-won't-she cliffhangers considering Far From The Madding Crowd started its life as a monthly serial. It's plain for anyone to see that he was using this story as a trojan horse for a much wider societal concern. The story has clearly found a champion a century on and has been handed over to be edited for the screen by David Nicholls as if the musical chairs played by the suitors' was the sole point to the book. Nicholls' whose middle-brow choreographed-to-the-point-of-contrivance literary outings have always left me cold brings his practised skill to squeeze the characters' trajectory from Hardy's wide-ranging book into a breathtaking will-she-go-back-to-him screen finish which while certainly precise in some aspects is hardly accurate. With a narrower focus, large set-pieces are whittled down to pithy, attention grabbing scenes around the four broadly brushed characters which have been duly handed to Mr Vinterberg and his actors to live out and they oblige. It's certainly easy on the palate and lighter to stomach, but way short on both ambition and ambiguity. The acting work is of a very high calibre, the production design is very faithful and the disciplined direction helps this ghost-of-a-story flow with the ease of a feather brushing the skin. But herein lies the caveat. The story is no feather that it so convincingly and deceptively looks in its screen form.

Of the ensemble, I would like to congratulate all the actors for giving the material their all. I have heard many sniggers at Matthias' embodiment of all these talkie period parts of late after breaking through with roles of silent fisticuff and steroid glory, but third time around in a matter of weeks (Suite Francaise, A Little Chaos) I am nothing but astounded at the depth this young man is able to convey at the conflicted internal lives of the men he has embodied. Gabriel Oak, in Hardy's book, is terrifyingly attuned to the mores of nature: in fact much of his oak-like self-assuredness drives from a comprehensive, intimate relationship with Nature. In this screen distillate, where mere gestures can allude to a character living through such a mind-space, I felt Matthias did that brilliantly for knowing readers coming and finding their Oak on screen. Compared to him, all the other actors deliver polished but mechanical performances that are perhaps closer to the screenplay's intentions than the book's spirit.

In all, a handsomely mounted, conservative little adaptation that over-relies on the literal aspects of the period novel, holds one's attention for its runtime but feels self-contained enough to lull the unsuspecting viewer that this is all there is to the material. I sincerely hope that not all its watchers are so unsuspecting and the more curious ones, animated by the film's confident certainty, rush to Hardy's source work for the full story.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) [Import]
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) [Import]
Dvd ~ Juliette Binoche

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent, subtle, warm and rewarding, 5 April 2015
On the eve of an untimely death of a thespian playwright/director, a middle-aged cinema actress (Maria Enders, played by Juliette Binoche) reverential of the man's talent and oeuvre, is asked to take on the role of a middle-aged reluctant lover in the revival of his celebrated play that had her cast as the woman's young paramour two decades back. The film captures Maria's vacillation and preparation for the role of this older woman as she finds her intellect and instincts resist getting into the new character's skin. She is accompanied by an industrious and affectionate personal assistant (played by Kirsten Stewart) who is helping her with the process and evening out all her engagements with the outer world, and as the time draws closer to the new play being staged with the current teen-sensation actress (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), anxieties and tensions of acting, enacting, ageing and being pile up.

The past year has seen two brave screenplays brought to screen with moderate success that concerned themselves with the bellyache of an ageing female A-lister in the movie business (The Congress, Maps to the Stars), both of them benefiting immensely from the courageous central performance that walked the uncomfortable tightrope of inevitable real-life parallels. It was disconcerting and liberating watching these females' laying their core fears of acting and working in the movie biz, but through the mouthpiece of a similarly aged, similarly character. The Academy Awards have also garlanded Innaritu's exasperatingly bombastic and self-congratulating Birdman this year bringing the discourse of actors and their relationship to their craft with all the winks and the nods to the actor's own career and off-screen arcs and enmeshments a familiar cinematic narrative.

Joining in the dialogue to bemoan the creative bankruptcy of the Hollywood mean-machine, its double-standards in casting, paying and writing screenplays around women and the collective cultural holocaust brought by the bullsh*t-raking, celebrity-propping paparazzi comes Assays' Sils Maria but he is seen taking the subtler and talkier route, with a rapture-invoking parallel hike involving a stream of moving clouds through a valley in the Alps: the site that inspires the all-important Play in the film. This gives the film that is already teeming with both metaphor and metafiction a beautiful final fold that burns its imprint on the viewer's memory much stronger than any recent talkies that tread similar ground.

Binoche, in my eyes one of the best living actors on the screen, brings Maria Enders alive: a neurotic and fractious but also a philosophical, skilled and deeply sincere actress whose commitment and struggle with the process of getting to the core of her character's role can play as a tribute to all good acting on stage and film ever done. It's so finely detailed a performance, so filled with subtle transformations that despite the written-in obsession with subtleties of her on-screen character, Binoche with her kind smile and her vital, pliant visage just makes Maria infinitely and immediately likeable. With so much intimidating nuance in front of her, the limited notes in Kirsten Stewart's now-practiced quizzical, cynical, distant routine show up, but there is so much meat to her character in the writing and the camaraderie with Binoche so genuine, that Stewart manages to convey a new character. Chloe Grace, playing a warped version of her real persona, amalgamating the everyday schizophrenia and rough-housing of living the life of a contemporary young Hollywood starlet is suitably spiky.

While by all measures intelligent in both exposition-within-scenes and the writing, I thought what makes Assayas' film impressive is the palpable affection in the whole enterprise: affection for his characters, affection for their femininity, affection for their complex humanity. It's so rare to find a work so perceptive, so casually legislating the brutalities of the biz, the noise surrounding the screen actors that is aglow with so much warmth, so much love for the medium, for the process underpinning it all. This, I guess this remains the secret to the prolificacy of all good artists and all curious humanity. I also loved watching these two women at work and leisure entangle with each other in ways they themselves don't see (being the subjects entangled in the observed entanglement). They are seen drawing parallels and critiques and inspirations and allusions, but the symmetry of their relationship to the material being played out for the stage is ambiguously made visible and invisible with Assayas' able hands and the actresses' joyful interpretation.

Easily one of this year's best.

Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good
Cracked: Why Psychiatry is Doing More Harm Than Good
by James Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Necessary reading, 31 Mar. 2015
Being a young medic who will very soon find himself in the chair making referrals to psychiatry and psychotherapy, I considered myself having a deep personal stake in reading what Davies had to say. And I am glad that Davies puts forth his case so convincingly. Being a medical trainee who devoured every moment of soaking every word of psychology at A-Levels where utterly disparate models of human behaviour co-existed in the curriculum, I went on to get completely disillusioned while reading psychiatry with its all-explained-through-biology model taught during medical school.

My experiences in psychiatric facilities and now this book (years after I decided not to pursue further training in it) has helped vindicate my instinctual ambivalence that stemmed from the sheer volume of certain-sounding behaviour and mental state labels being dished out to the marginally unhinged or adamantly regressed individuals. The doling out of tangible physical remedies in the form of drug prescriptions to fix the "ailment" seemed like the logical and neat next step and gave psychiatry the veneer of just-like-any-other medical specialty in our broad medical curriculum, when it was quite the opposite.

The biopsychiatric model underpinning the assumptions and expectations with its baroque world of neurotransmitters, affective chemicals and receptors has, thanks to decades of strong pharmaceutical and intellectual lobbying, found its way into university and post-graduate curriculums sans any ambiguity, making it seem like an outcrop of neurology and narratives like that by James Davies here (or at a more popular level, Jon Ronson's Psychopath Test and/or Louis Theroux even-handed recent documentary work) are extremely important to help gullible young trainees have an open, critical mind if they plan to practise taking care of patients classed as mentally ill.

I remember being incredulous at medical school whenever faced with reams of best-of-five spot-the-right-diagnosis answers trying to learn how to spot a schizoid personality from a vignette that is not quite schizoaffective or outright schizophrenic. It's (no pun intended) mental. Thanks Mr Davies for letting me know that these incessant, forever morphing and budding "categories" of mental "disorder" are basically dubious, consensus-driven language exercises, and not solid, objective clinical entities. Being interested in human behaviour, I remember deciding that I had no talent or patience to cram the linguistic chicanery and psychobabble that was helping drive the engine of context-free diagnoses, medication and hospitalisation of people that undersold and grossly mislabeled the patient's social and interpersonal adjustment issues and/or legitimate-but-exagerrated reactions.

I had the opportunity to shadow three different psychiatrists for a few weeks each, and my uncertainties about the shaky ground that drives much of the formalism in current psychiatry became more clear. While I saw some fantastically humane work at rehabilitation and care of the sectioned and institutionalised patients by two of these three consultants, their clinical practice, deeply appreciative and incorporating other models of management of mental health, was driven by an agency, character and intelligence all their own. This was in stark contrast to one consultant who was a thoroughbred conservative practitioner sold and stuck in biopsychiatric reductionism. While the former two intimidated me with the level of engagement they applied in their everyday practice with the patients and their families, partners and carers; the latter's objective-sounding management plans with drug-dose titrations and specialty-honed jargon for patients' moods and fancies almost asked to be spoofed. I was privately aghast at this gulf between clinicians, and my uncertainties weren't helped by the state of most patients, a majority of whom were seen roaming in drug-addled stupor with not much to look forward to. Earlier this year, I came across Nathan Filer's Shock of the Fall that captured the almost-surreal free floating tedium brilliantly. I couldn't quite recover from the tragicomedy of patients' playing-up symptoms to expectations in the ward rounds or a few of the more serious cases finding the incentive to keep staying locked-and-cared-for in mental institutions: anyday a convenient and comfortable alternative to a trial and outright incarceration after committing heinous crimes, just by playing the role of a psychotic/depressed patient.

Having said this, on reading Davies' book I wonder if all these alternate critical narratives have enough force to stop the mainstream pharmaceutical-driven biopsychiatric juggernaut. I fear that the mountain of literature, the DSMs and the ICDs with their solidified hard-print certain categories are unlikely to be shunned en-masse. I fear that they will continue to produce earnest but myopic prescribing clinicians who have veered into the specialty without an appetite for its contradictions and have tutored themselves by internalising the vocabulary of specialty's now standard bio-medical and legal large prints for examinations and tickbox patient management. I also fear for all those referring and non-interested non-specialists in primary and secondary care who have only had to revisit clinical cases in books and person perfunctorily and only have the biopsychiatric framework with the attached pharmaceutical armaterium to digest, remember and act upon. In short, I genuinely fear how far this stone has rolled down the hill.

Regardless, I am grateful for the little re-education I have received thanks to author's mission. Inspite of knowing about his professional credentials (and the attached stakes, interest conflicts etc) I believe in his thesis and found myself completely aligned to his plea for a desperate need to rethink models of suffering for modern Western mortals before its too late. I have knocked a star off because of some indignance that veers into sensationalism, and while I understand the disgust at the deceits practiced by the pharmaceutical industry, the chief arguments and alternate models have had a presence within the specialty before Davies came and enlightened us (you wouldn't know this from the way he writes sometimes). There is no doubt that a bottoms-up shakedown to change the pill-driven management of a principal majority of patients is the need of the hour, and in the larger culture, the necessity to have a completely different kind of discourse about moods, internal monologues, grief, loss and motivations is paramount.

In an increasingly atomised, consumerist, digitally overloaded Western reality stretching from school classrooms on home turf to Army Corps in middle-east, as civilsation's rejects find themselves at the threshold of the medical fraternity, I hope we are collectively able to do less harm to them in the future.

Cracked is by turns accessible, incendiary, impassioned and a silo-demolishing read. Highly recommended!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 14, 2015 9:13 AM BST

x+y [DVD]
x+y [DVD]
Dvd ~ Asa Butterfield
Price: £7.68

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Feel-good, excellent leads, but that's it, 29 Mar. 2015
This review is from: x+y [DVD] (DVD)
Despite my reservations about X+Y as a film, I must state that Asa Butterfield's performance has become my all time favourite child-actor turns at appropriating real-life autism-spectrum on the screen. Directed and inhabited with so much nuance and heart, Butterfield's pliant face completely takes you inside the day-to-day, moment-to-moment anxieties of an inwardly-alive-and-thriving but outwardly-stunted-in-articulation kid. As if this film-shouldering performance wasn't enough, there is another younger kid, Edward Baker Close playing the younger Nathan who, under the tutelage of the film's director and team no doubt, just wrenches your heart everytime a carefully staged flashback-scene plays out. I just gawped in disbelief and delight at the screen watching these two young boys playing Nathan-the film's protagonist- a mathematics prodigy, who under the guidance of an unconventional but alert-to-genius teacher manages to enter into an international olympiad which requires him to travel all the way to Taiwan.

Unfortunately, the arc of this international travel and mathematics competition, understandable to give the screenplay a forward engine infuses new elements that felt too synthetic and contrived for the initial promise shown by feather-delicate scenes which are able to even nail the synaesthesia of grief. The material, I felt, grew very lax in the Taiwan mathematics camp, and I was struggling to be awake. It finds its ground once again for the climax as we return to home-turf at Cambridge, but here, as if in anticipation of credits, things are made to rush and come full circle. So, graph wise, I thought the film was uneven in pacing and writing.

I am also uncertain if Rafe Spall's character as the multiple-sclerosis stricken teacher needed as much focus. He has been unanimously celebrated in the press, but for me his performance was riddled with broad, cinematic tics. And Sally Hawkins seems to be making a career out of playing overworked, working class, unacknowledged female. She doesn't miss a beat sure, and completely sells the struggle of a mother whose love and work will probably never be reciprocated in a way that'll give her any solace, but having seen her do the teetering-on-brink-of-tearfulness shaky-voice routine from Happy-Go-Lucky to Dagenham to Blue Jasmine to this, the actress' seems to be recruited for (or attracted to) characters of a similar emotional tenor and then seems to interpret them in a way that is beginning to feel repetitive. Contrary to these two empathic but too-distracting-for-this-delicate film, I genuinely enjoyed Eddie Marsan as the self-effacing and authoritarian camp head-tutor. Finally, the Taiwanese characters, and the way their scenes are staged with Nathan, belong to a different (I daresay, lesser), shriller film. Other than my personal misgivings of Nathan (or any kid, prodigy or otherwise) being pushed in this colossally demanding enterprise of competition malarkey, the broad way with which the Taiwanese characters are written, there is a severely misjudged bit of a teen love-triangle stuffed in the proceedings like an afterthought.

In all, I had a hard time reconciling with some directorial choices: the nuance and detail in the lead boys' performances asked for a more organic, naturalistic aesthetic. It probably would have made the project less marketable and I fear, in interests of viability, we have a final film that is seen being mounted in ways too-mainstreamy, too stagey once it takes off. Still, unquestionably worthy, empathic and after all the compromises, very accessible.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 23, 2015 8:59 PM BST

Family Life
Family Life
by Akhil Sharma
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not impressed, 25 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Family Life (Hardcover)
I was led in the direction of this book after reading Mr Sharma felicitated with the Folio prize and the Guardian interviewing him on the occasion. He is reportedly said to have used the experience of caring for a bed-bound brain damaged family member for three decades to write the semi-autobiographical Family Life, which sees a small family from Delhi migrating to New York in late 1970s and finding the stress of their immigrant experience compounded as the older of the two sons has a swimming pool accident and ends up as a quadriplegic. The book chronicles the agonizing decade or so that follows, as the younger brother, the book's narrator, is seen documenting the father's descent into alcoholism, the family's reliance on a battery of faith healers and his own growing up in a world of books, images, problems, people and gestures completely alien to his xenophobic, insular and illness-riddled home environment.

While on a humanitarian level I have no reason to not empathise or believe in Sharma's and his family's agony, I believe the literary exercise taken willingly on Sharma's part is by turns lazy and coarse, despite a promising start. I am compelled to say this because never in my reading experience I have come across someone downloading the large print of their own life into "fiction", and letting it fester intact in all its particularities.

Yes, Family Life brings to the page a specific kind of experience and mind-set typical of unevolved, modestly educated, lower middle class immigrants and an illness experience within it, but it is not as exclusive that it would warrant an author resorting to a precocious narrator (a sly ploy to rebut any criticism on the prose's quality) and stringing the obvious pathos into two hundred pages of paragraph after paragraph of banality. As Ajay, the novel's nine year old narrator writes in first person, I almost felt like a minor-offences court judge reading a folder of a young offender's deposition. Struggling with the authorial choices, I soldiered on in belief that maybe it's the author's way of preserving the singular space of humiliation and frustration that comes from maneuvering through the web of hypocrisies and silly class-anxieties of a sub-culture of economic immigrants for the benefit of his readers. But in the end, found it all too unformed, too blatant for my liking. I have cherished the simplicity and sensory acuity that the likes of Mistry, Lahiri and Naipaul have brought to the table about the South Asian immigrant experience with a myriad of struggling narrators of all ages in their fictional works, but I could not bring to care beyond a point for these (problematically) too-literally borrowed-from-life and resolutely timid characters.

In the Guardian interview, I saw him mention about being apprehensive in using sensory detail. In the book, almost without fail, I found him using exactly these hyper-sensory "sticky" details of the environment to pad out a stretch of dialogue. It's a pain for me to review this too harshly, because I have been made aware of the process, the intentions and the struggles behind this, but the ultimately this disappoints because in the spaces where Sharma has a chance to develop this narrative, he writes with complete indifference. Ajay's narration and description fail to develop any nuance and any quality beyond that of a secondary school child, despite being a class-topper and a fierce auto-didact. The final three pages are written with him as an investment banker, but it's riddled with as many blanket-sweep platitudes and lowest-common-denominator metaphors as the one on the first.

Besides the chewing-through-dry-granola prose and the inconsolably lazy fiction creation at play: case in point the epiphanies and exact details of a literary inspiration-Hemingway that the author mentions in that Guardian interview finds its way intact in the book, even as the few pages of this is one of the few joys I received from reading the whole book, the relentless anger at being a reluctant caregiver as the main voice exasperated me. While by all counts credible, the downspiral of the family that is expectedly failed by the American Healthcare and Insurance System ($600,000 settlement notwithstanding) had a whiff of entitlement and self-absorption that made me very hard to like the book.

I won't deny my reservations about the perspective and imagination-free milking of real life tragedy to create a leaden novel, when material of this nature is clearly a memoir. For readers keen to see such fact-meets-fiction experiment pulled off with elan, I'd recommend another recent prize-winner: Flanagan's Narrow Road to The Deep North which uses a harrowing generation-spanning personal family experience into an imaginative, demanding and devastating fictional narrative.

Family Life, I felt, thought a bit too highly of its social realism, is crafted with dubious intentions and has (in my little, humble opinion) very limited literary merit. In times when we have Kunzru and Zia Rahman breaking newer boundaries in the world of fiction, outgrowing their South Asian roots and filling out the same ground Sharma so self-congratulatedly covers with humanity-spanning contemplations and universalities, this feels and reads like a dinosaur.

by Tom McCarthy
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rapture of the NOW, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Remainder (Paperback)
In the run-up to McCarthy's recent Satin Island, I thought I'd revisit his debut avant garde piece. Like all seminal fiction, it doesn't feel a day old and while I have my reservations on its repeat value, it's a confident, original performance on the written page that deserves soaking a few of your mortal hours in.

In a post-coma world, one man tries to recreate the pre-coma normal consciousness of an experienced moment. He has come into a sizeable settlement from the accident of 8.5 millions and he wants to pump it into recreating the taken-for-granted moment-to-moment perception-and-sensation loaded reality. It's his key to feeling real once again.

It's a thoroughly imaginative semantic exercise: in our protagonist's expositions to the baffled hearers of his scheme, we hear him articulate notions of fluency and fluidity of moving through the world as the one thing that separates his new, detached, learned-but-contrived self from the people around.

This deeply felt void of consciousness leads him to kickstart a series of re-enactment experiments where we see him trying to recreate whole physical environments to simulate random pre-and post-accident events from memory. With an almost inexhaustible stash of funds, he manages to mobilise a battalion of actors, designers, property developers, construction crew to actuate his schemes and the rest of the book chronicles his frustrations at getting these experiments just right, just real enough. He is seen moving himself and his employed army in that crepuscular zone between enacting and living, as he becomes obsessed with the idea of embodiment.

This deranged enterprise, while on one level hilarious in laying bare the endless possibilities with cash in hand in today's world, is at another level achingly tragic as we see this one man's bottomless thirst to recreate a moment of rapture that for us, i.e. normal, neurologically intact readers would be a disposable everyday moment. When you read him wax eloquent about this instant as a tingling rising from the base of spine, usurping the whole body and rendering it weightless, then spreading its "edges out until it became a still pool swallowing everything up in its contentedness", your empathic self can't help but be exalted in the narrator's abstraction, be edified by the the relativism in spiritual currency and be completely convinced about all his actions to achieve this transcendental climax in an Everyday Instant.

Other than the take-a-bow-worthy subtextual and textual density, the beautiful juxtaposition of neurological rehabilitation of motor control with a philosophical enquiry, it's disappointing that the same multi-level syntactical and thematic synaesthesia that enthralls you also drags the book down in its later pages as the narrator develops a moment-creation fetish and keeps his comfortably-facilitated and funded affairs going and going. You empathise with the aphrodisiac effect for this irreparably broken man of that intact apogee of consciousness called the Moment, but the particularities that are pursued in rigour and discipline of short, brick-like phrases to execute the giant experiments on the page do exasperate. By design, this is a challenging book to read, hence I give you my reserved recommendation, but the boundary-pushing work does provide many moments of sublimity and a taster for what makes McCarthy one of the best living contemporary authors.

Still Alice [DVD] [2014]
Still Alice [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Julianne Moore
Price: £5.00

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Affecting, 20 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Still Alice [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
I much delayed catching Still Alice on the big screen as I was quite content of having vicariously experienced the devastation of a fiercely intellectual mortal losing their personhood by Alzheimer’s in Richard Eyre’s elegant screen adaptation of Iris (from Iris Murdoch’s husband’s seminal source text). Judi Dench was devastating in that film and scenes from it still haunt me a decade on whenever I see a patient with dementia. The prospect of willingly sitting through those first key scenes of memory loss that such a screenplay would inadvertently have, when I could picture Julianne Moore-a supremely visible face who has put an empathic visage on atleast twenty memorable characters in barely a decade- perform that first paroxysm of fugue,right in my head meant it was some time before I could bring myself to watch this.

Of course, one very well knows that every patient is different, every consciousness is different, every response to the violence unleashed by dementia will be different, but the film being a simpler medium looking from outwards in, that inner life of patients-especially those who are lettered- with a neuropsychiatric disorder gets reduced to the visually projectable symptoms. And Still Alice too, as expected, tread the familiar ground with a predictable stock of scenes that was mostly busy with the shock of memory loss, albeit with sensitivity and clarity.

But thanks to my (and many of my peer-viewers’) familiarity with these memoirs-on-screen, where even the capitalised Irony isn’t new-a linguistics professor forgetting the words- one gets more attentive to the particulars that makes Alice’s story different: the fact that this was a case of early-onset Alzheimer’s, the fact that it has a worse prognosis for the intellectuals who present later spending months, years inventing newer strategies to compensate for the faculties they are losing but are embarrassed to admit to or are too armed with alternative hypotheses; the awful necessity of relaying to the kids not just your diagnosis but the possibility of them carrying it too; the paucity of treatments; the handicap from losing the way to communicate: all these were written as key scenes, and for this attention in constructing detailed scenes around these newer elements, I must really applaud the writing team. With the combined talents of the earnest screen-actors, they really burn the realities of living with Alzheimer’s home. Julianne Moore and Kirsten Stewart, each give stupendously nuanced performances and made the shared emotional wavelength between a driven, intimidating mother and the rebelliously non-intellectual daughter interesting and palpable, especially in the scenes that play their connection as a welcome contrapuntal to the cold rationality of Alice’s other family members.

It isn’t in anyway a comprehensive or visually experimental film, but it has its moments. It makes one deeply aware of the importance of memory and higher faculties, especially if one leads a lettered reality. The same frills of civilisation that help us create a satisfactory web of intersecting narratives around and about us make us doubly vulnerable to the lashes of such a disease.

Satin Island
Satin Island
Price: £3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-pleasure with McCarthy's words, 18 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Satin Island (Kindle Edition)
Every once in a while, it feels good to disrobe oneself and dip one's reading toes in a warm pool of words, ideas and reflection. It would be nice to have a fictional character with an expansive past and an intimidating intellect in your brief time-out into this reader-spa for company, and who better than McCarthy with his reality-scraping protagonists who are always caught in the middle of discovering the Ultimate explain-all pattern of the depraved, epic humanity?

In what is perhaps his most accessible post-modern absurdia, we have McCarthy sculpting his least trauma-hemmed protagonist titled U, who is an anthropologist employed within the corporate scene. A corporate ethnographer of sorts, he explains to us. U, our protagonist has been made to observe whole groups of people over the years, coherently packaging their sum-total of motivations and aspirations, attaching a philosophical subtext- borrowed he says, from masters of anthropology like Levi Strauss and Deleuze- all this to create a need and better aim the products, the subcultures and systems of modernity to the unsuspecting, duped-since-forever-and-until-eternity masses. His most recent Project is to create a definitive master Narrative (as a text or a model or a simulation) that exposes the underlying thread to all the entanglements and intersections of the humanity world over. Is this possible? This book finds U mid-way through finding the "shape" of this gargantuan Project and writing a Report that would sum his findings. Like a friend eager to confide, the whole book reads like a first-person monologue, with commentaries on the origins of his interest, pitfalls in anthropology, triumphs of ethnography, musings on a fusion of disciplines and perspectives that would, he thinks, bring him fame that would outstrip his mortal time on the planet. This diary-of-sorts has a timeframe of a few months where U finds himself stranded at Turin, then in his office and finally, following a dream and some conversation, a trip to Staten Island. There are only two other significant characters: his girlfriend and his cancer-stricken work colleague and their brief incursions and contributions add much to U's imagination and the eventual fate of his unlikely Project.

One does question why and where in U's consciousness this book exists. In U's own words, it's a companion-text, a "non-Report" , an "offslew of the real, un-written manuscript".... belonging... "to the middle: the damp, pulpy mass that forms the opaque body at whose outer limits, like two mirages, the others hover". As this little quote reveals, what separates U's musings from the cold, certainties of those high-flying philosophical and anthropological theses is McCarthy's succulent, alliterative, aperitive phrases. Replacing the multitudes of -isms are the pyrotechnics of metaphor and juxtaposition that skyrocket Satin Island often into the zipcode of whimsy. McCarthy writes like a dream, knows how to write a dream, and dreams with U on how to write, how to bring to page the hidden matrix.

McCarthy's Satin Island works because it is breathing with the excitement of the build-up to something huge. It is suffused with this fever of discovery, of finding vistas, of defining boundaries, of grappling with the Deep Unknown, the Hidden Element and it's infectious. I did share with U, like McCarthy wants me to (U= You, the reader!), the eye, the ear and the mad search for symmetry between images, species, histories, materials, received knowledge, borrowed blueprints and "fictional conditions" of cities, states and businesses.

I liked that Satin Island's protagonist carried much less tragic baggage than those in C and Remainder, so we get none of that all-drowning melancholy and intensity. U is playful, unassuming, empathic, is generous with the few people in his life and actively listens to what they have to say (evidence: the amount of space he accords to their gestures and opinions in this slim diary of his). One of the book's choicest comic setpieces is him transcribing a mock-speech on the beauty and truthfulness that every oil spillage carries (In his words: the "aestheticising" of nature's defilement). Like all of McCarthy's characters he retains a sensory acuity to architecture, history, the lived world, the rehearsed world but here, it's not trauma (Remainder) or facing void in conscripted vocations (C) that is leading to his inquiry into the Fabric, but a professional necessity, and he is patient enough to share his bemusement at the symmetries as he goes along.

My only gripe with this tome is that after making me interested in U's enquiries, it just, sort of, finishes. *Possible Spoiler Alert* U finds unlikely fame in a Report that remains largely off-the-page and his final actions documented in this companion-book aren't quite exciting. McCarthy is seen relegating to tons of description that documents every shade, every movement, every crease of mood and matter, as he makes U walk into-and-away from Knowing. I am not suggesting a reductive "chance" at some Epiphany or Dawn-of-Understanding as the imagined Satin Island and the real Staten Island converge in U's conscious experience and I understand that anything more concrete, more definitive to this avant garde narrative about creating The Master Narrative would have seemed contrived, but it certainly deserved something better than what finds on the last pages. The thread joining it "all" is maybe the Unknown, that is better left not being fully known, fully articulated.

In all, I revelled in every page of Satin Island, thought it was teeming with ideas, also thought that it's not for everyone, written as it is in a shared intellectual mast*rbation session-of-sorts, but there is a nagging sense that it could have been so much more.

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