Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Random notes

The latest issue of Star Trek Communicator has a feature article on the A Time to... series, complete with quotes from the authors. It's nice to see the books get that kind of coverage in the official magazine.

I went looking for a few things on Saturday. Like for instance the new 25th anniversary edition of London Calling by the Clash (remastered! plus a whole bonus CD and a bonus DVD!) and KRAD's A Time for War, A Time for Peace. Did I find them? Of course not. Couldn't expect the big box stores near here (Chapters, Best Buy) to have those. I did find a few things, though.

CD-wise, I got Interpol's new album, Antics, which I've been looking forward to for a long time. Their debut album is one of my favourite CDs of the last few years. Yes, there are echoes of other bands (Joy Division, Kitchens of Distinction, and so on), but the music holds up to a lot of repeated listens. It's great to see music like this finding fans now among youngsters who were born after Ian Curtis died.

Bookwise, I bought a couple of consolation prizes: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and James Ellroy's Destination: Morgue! It'd be hard to find two more dissimilar books, but I love Ellroy's stuff and I'm enjoying Clarke's book so far (I'm about 100 pages in). Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a very long novel set in England at the time of the Napoleonic wars. The age of great English magicians has been over for a couple centuries, but the men named in the title revive the tradition of practical magic. It's fantasy, set in a world in which magic can work and fairies exist, but it draws on the real world in its references to historical events and personages. Like some other writers from more modern times who have set their book in that time (for example, Heyer, Mallinson, O'Brian), Clarke's prose is formal and old-fashioned but not at all lifeless. It's hard to judge the book so early in, but I like what I've read so far.

As for Ellroy... I dimly recall reading some reviews of his early novels that described his books as pretty much the epitome of hardboiled and noir. The two don't always go together; Cornell Woolrich was a master of noir, but I wouldn't call his books hardboiled. Ellroy's seventh novel, and first real breakthrough novel, The Black Dahlia, was reprinted in paperback circa 1988. The then-owner of Prime Crime, Ottawa's mystery bookstore, told me I'd probably like it, because our tastes were diametrically opposed, so I bought it and was blown away. The LA Quartet novels (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz) are my favourite books of his. His more recent books have taken his ever more stylized prose and political obsessions (e.g., the assassination of John F. Kennedy) close to self-parody, but there's still something worthwhile about whatever he writes. Destination: Morgue! is a collection of true crime articles and short stories, apparently previously published in GQ magazine. If Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell starts to pall after a few more hundred pages, this'll be the perfect antidote. Short sharp shocks of attitude and action.

(Laura's reading a big book herself right now: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. I'm curious about it myself, but even if Laura really likes it, I don't think I want to deal with another 800-page book just yet.)

We also rented a couple of DVDs. They're both crime movies based on critically acclaimed novels but they did not make for a good double feature. Mystic River is a grimly realistic story about three men from a working class neighbourhood in Boston, the awful thing that happened to one of them when they were kids, and what happens when their lives cross again after one's daughter is murdered. The movie is both grittily realistic and wrenchingly emotional. It's also remarkably faithful to Dennis Lehane's novel, even down to the dialogue. And of course the acting by Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, and Marcia Gay Harden is great, though at times I found myself thinking, wow, look at Sean Penn act! instead of being fully caught in the story.

The other movie? Ripley's Game, based on one of Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley novels and thus a sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was filmed a few years ago. This story is set decades later in Ripley's life, so this time around he's played by John Malkovich as a distinctly odd sociopath. I haven't read the novel yet so I can't say how faithful this adaptation is. I can say that it is the opposite of Mystic River in any number of ways: stylized instead of realistic, disengaged instead of emotional, contrived instead of believable. I could believe in the reality of the characters in Mystic River; Ripley and the others felt much more like fictional conceits created to set a series of events in motion, even though that's exactly what Lehane's characters are as well. Ripley's Game was a good movie but it was all about artifice, style, and -- unsurprisingly -- games.

(Now playing: Frank Bretschneider, "Rocket Summer," Looping I-VI.)


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