Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Review; Clay by Melissa Harrison

Posted 04 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews, Share

Just finished reading Melissa Harrison’s lovely first novel, ‘Clay’, and wanted to pen a few thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind. ‘Clay’ is a terrifically beautiful book, a quiet, sensitive portrayal of the lives of a small cast of slightly lonely, slightly constrained protagonists, and their development over the course of a half year in a South London which is by turns familiar and gloriously unfamiliar.

Familiar because Harrison has a good grasp of the plain-sight city – “nail bars, chicken parlours, newsagents, mobile phone unlocking, cheap calls to Africa”, and exotic because she populates the city with a bewildering cast of living things which our eyes are either untrained to see or disposed to miss; dog foxes, bats, sticky goosegrass and evergreen choisya, butterflies, greenflies and stag beetles, swifts, starlings, and plane trees shedding flakes of polluted bark. Harrison’s prose is poetic but hyper-observant, always sensing new movement in the nearby undergrowth, or a pair of eyes watching high in a tree.

All five of the novel’s main characters see more of this hidden city than I (regrettably) do, and are to a smaller or greater extent drawn towards the area’s liminal places – the parts of London in which pockets of extraordinary life are concealed, yet continue to thrive – and in particular to a small park near Tooting Common, which becomes the space in which they meet and interact. At the centre is TC, whose story of neglect is painfully sad but whose resourcefulness and passion for nature is a rebuke to his coddled, careless peers. Around him Harrison conjures a story quite free of sensationalism or sentimentality, but which is quietly gripping and somewhat inspiring.

The clay of the title refers to a phrase recalled from childhood – ‘we are the clay that grew tall’, which resonates through the novel; TC is a child ‘on intimate terms with the earth’. Jozef, an exile from Poland, mourns the physical properties of the farm he grew up on. Sophia, growing old on a council estate her family have left, does her best to disrupt the order which the council wish to impose upon the wedge-shaped park she has watched over for decades, her pockets bulging with papery bulbs.

‘Clay’ is a very satisfying read; a serious book which evokes important topics like innocence, companionship and trust, but which is driven forward by the author’s obvious, intimate connection with nature.

Very pleased that it’s the first thing I read in 2013; it’s a short, brilliant novel that makes me want to rush out into the woods.

Parade’s End, BBC; review

Posted 27 Sep 2012 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

Just finished watching the uneven, enjoyable and often rather brilliant Parade’s End, the latest big-budget costume drama from the BBC, which is adapted from a series of Ford Madox Ford books which no-one has read. It was a nice big, sumptuous production with two of Britain’s most celebrated mouth-actors (Rebecca Hall’s curled lip and Benedict Cumberbatch’s downturned grimace), focusing on that period where a buckling society, faced with the violence of the first world war, finally became Modern.

Cumberbatch, as Christopher Tietjens – a noble, repressed Tory – is the last in the Parade; the last man to whom High Toryism means loyalty, fidelity and permanence, and Hall is his flighty, rather magnificent wife, whose machinations debase his reputation and chip away at his resolve. He stands resolute, absorbing her disgrace, and even resisting love, which arrives in the form of Valentine Wannop, a (disappointingly wet) Suffragette. In the end it’s neither his wife nor his love which dismantles his attachment to the past, but the War – which is of course the great, monstrous wave which sweeps everything away and heralds the arrival of the real 20th Century.

I loved this five-parter, but it was an odd affair. Part society satire, part love story, part treatise on tradition and modernity, and most powerfully a violent war-time farce, it is a drama where the tone ricochets from scene to scene, setting to setting, episode to episode. It has little of the elegance or method of Victorian drama, but showing as it does a period of enormous upheaval, that’s perhaps appropriate.

And the whole thing is carried beautifully by the cast right up until the final episode, which somehow just fails in its final third to voice the transformation effected upon Christopher, or rather to pinpoint with sufficient specificity just what frees him to evolve his principles. I wanted more on the destructive but transformative power of the war, of the levelling and the loosening of society which it provoked. In the end Parade’s End ended as a love story might – movingly, with some success; but shy of the revelation which Tom Stoppard’s script seemed to be building towards.

Still, really enjoyed it. A joyful reminder of how great the BBC is.

The Impossible Dead

Posted 22 Nov 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Books, Reviews

Today I finished reading Ian Rankin’s latest, The Impossible Dead, and rattled through it at a pace I rarely manage with other books – a trend I’ve observed in all of his work since I first came across it a few years back.

The thing with Rankin’s great creation, Rebus, was that he was such an extraordinarily strong character that it became easy to assume that Rankin’s triumph was purely in conjuring him up, rather than writing beautiful prose. And conventionally, he’s not a beautiful writer, in terms of poetics, but his new character, Malcolm Fox, is the opposite of Rebus; quiet, sober, a follower of rules – and yet his exploits in the Edinburgh Complaints division have proved equally superb; evidence that it is dense plotting, razor-sharp exposition and, after all, beautiful writing, that seperates Rankin from his peers.

Because his writing is beautiful – not high-falutin or florid, but beautiful to the extent that it is perfectly judged. Rankin knows exactly when to cover back story, how to handle competing storylines, how much of his central characters to show and how much to conceal. On the face of it, Malcolm Fox is not a fascinating man; but he becomes fascinating in his completeness, by virtue of the plausibility of his actions.

If The Impossible Dead has a weakness – and it does – it’s that in the end Rankin can not resist the urge to tie up the story neatly. But that aside, he manages to make a story which weaves together local police drama, high SNP politics, bureaucracy and seperatist terror seem completely plausible. The stories he tells are grand in scope, but minute in execution – and that makes him a terribly good writer. I don’t think The Impossible Dead is Rankin’s best – Exit Music is his finest, I think – but he’s one of the finest plotters in English fiction and a master at executing a story. Great stuff.

Inception review

Posted 23 Jul 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Reviews

Okay, so I really hated Inception. I tried to write a serious, high minded review, explaining why I found it so terribly disappointing despite not expecting – or wanting – a serious, high minded film. But the truth is, I’ve hardly anything to say, except that the film is a big waste of time. The concept – not a bad one – is that Leonardo DiCaprio and his colleagues engage in surreptitious espionage by digging for secrets in the subconscious of their dreaming victims. This makes for some dizzying, Escher inspired sequences exploring the architecture of dreams.  

But the plot, rather than the concept, is the problem. They’re not governmental spies, working on eliminating terrorism, or ethical bandits, fighting corruption. They’re hackers taking payment from multinational corporations trying to secure competitive advantage. They’re totally corrupt and untroubled by conscience, in other words. Their job – and the entire plot of the film – is to help one energy company get dominance over another. And the characters are portrayed utterly without characterisation and, for every character except DiCaprio’s, without the slightest thought for articulating their motivation. What this means, in practical terms, is that there’s absolutely no reason to root for them or their success except out of a vague curiosity in seeing how they do it.

And that’s all there is. This drastically overlong, visually stunning but hypnotically shallow movie watches like a sequence of expensive car commercials glued together with interminable, tedious action scenes. The imaginative quality of the dreamscapes is initially intriguing but is all but abandoned in the second half, with a long, unforgivably boring section in a winter landscape having no relationship whatsoever with the notion that poor Ellen Page’s character supposed to be an architect of complex maps, not of airy destinations for the Winter Olympics. It’s staggeringly badly thought out, like Nolan just cut a big section from an early 80s Bond film and plonked it in the middle of his edit.

Worst of all, Inception fails to deliver on two of it’s central promises. It isn’t complex at all, or at least, not in the sense intended (the unintentionally funny script does introduce a few moments of confusion, at least) and it isn’t in the least bit exciting. I enjoyed the first hour but was yawning compulsively from that point on, unable to focus on the endless shoot out scenes or the hilariously drippy sub-plot. The visuals are, admittedly, pretty great, but the glossy look is utterly without texture, like an American Express commercial. Meanwhile, long after I stopped caring about the characters or the (absence of) plot I was unable to enjoy it as a spectacle because of the endless, booming score, which underpins not only every chase scene but every scrap of dialogue. For a film sold on it’s conceptual innovation, there’s not a single moment of space for reflection or thought. And yet it’s so long.

So, I know the reviews have been good, but this big, glossy piece of shit was the most boring, shallow, pretentious, badly executed and inane film I’ve seen in ages. Avoid it.