Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
(by Paul Bowles)
Like the cove in George Orwell’s piece about bookshops, we generally ‘do not desire little stories’, yet this is P’s personal favourite, along with Joyce Carol Oates’ Where are You Going, Where have You Been?. Warning: Both stories are particularly nasty.Continue Reading →
(dir. Francis Veber) (1998)
Kenneth Tynan said that you have to be cruel to be kind in high French comedy. In the present case, a bunch of nasty Parisian swells convene a regular dinner in which they have to bring along an unsuspecting dill, each with his own dumb hobby/obsession that their hosts can suavely, and discretely, mock. The book publisher’s friend has, by accident, found an idiot for the next round – in fact, he’s a world champion. But most satisfyingly, cruelty loses to stupidity in this sublime Gallic turn, and one also learns how many matches it takes to build the Eiffel Tower.Continue Reading →
(dir. Tony Richardson) (1973)
One Friday night a tense little New England family receives a surprise visit from a couple of old friends. It seems they were at home and suddenly ‘became frightened’ for no apparent reason. So they decide to move in with their oldest friends, opening up some old, and some still warmly moist, scars, testing the limits and concept of true friendship.
More delectable, drunken, hate-filled east coast dummy-spits from Edward Albee. The Varnished Culture always draws the cat’s attention to what might happen to him if he ever “doesn’t like us anymore”.Continue Reading →
(by Christopher Andrew) (Other editions entitled The Defence of the Realm)
The author is suited to the task of telling MI5’s story and not just because he’s a Cambridge man. Impeccably credentialed and given an exclusive entreé to classified material, Mr Andrew provides a rational, impartial and exquisitely detailed work, easy to read and to read compulsively.
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(by Nikolai Gogol)
Gogol was no Dante. He could not legislate in his novels. But he pinned sinners more lethally than most and the wild scheme to buy and sell the dead, today, looks a lot like dealing in derivatives.
The dead souls were peasants who had passed on between official census, and hence you incurred their holding costs (tax) till they were officially designated as dead at the next census. The protagonist, Chichikov, would acquire those dead souls, thereby assuming the tax burden of them, but he would mortgage them as live souls till the next census.
Priestley wrote “On the gothic tower of romanticism, Gogol is responsible for the gargoyles.”Continue Reading →
(by Samuel Richardson) (1748)
The Varnished Culture mentions this merely to brag: longer than War and Peace (it’s the longest novel in English at approximately 984,870 words), this account of virtue chased and trashed is the novel’s version of continuous cricket: mad in detail, slow in execution, passionately related. Told in letters, very long letters, the correspondents spend what seems a year recalling a year but a crowded year. Take this book to a desert island; it will endure and also make a crackling blaze.
Coleridge nailed Richardson’s “close, hot, day-dreamy continuity” and Priestley (in Literature and Western Man) commented: “The whole fantastically elaborate business of Clarissa and Lovelace, over which so many eighteenth-century readers wept, could only exist in an over-heated evangelical -erotic dreamland.”
Walter Allen, in The English Novel, was a little more brusque: “…Richardson was mad – mad about sex, and I doubt whether it is possible for the critic who comes to Clarissa after reading Freud to deny that the novel must have been written by a man who was, even though unconsciously, a sadist in the technical sense; the loving, lingering, horrified, gloating descriptions of Clarissa’s long-drawn-out sexual humiliation at the hands of Lovelace, the rape that is constantly threatened and constantly deferred until, when it occurs, it has an additional horror simply because of its long postponement, provide an element of quite inescapable pornography…”
Are these reactions in fact overreactions, testimony to the length and depth of Clarissa? Mark Kinkead-Weekes, in his Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist, considers that “Clarissa is the finest novel of its century“* and cautions against casting Miss Harlowe as an angel and Lovelace as a demon: “Clarissa’s tragedy is an exposure of a materialist and acquisitive society; of the moral decay of both the aristocracy and the ‘middle class’“** – a “struggle for Clarissa to come to terms with her fear of sex, her readiness to cast herself as a victim, her melancholy, and her morbid longing for death – or her spiritual pride, which is for Richardson at the heart of it all.”+ Lovelace’s “gaiety, his apparent candour, his wit and charm, even his rakehell insouciance and energy…[pose] a trap for the unwary and superficial here…For in [the] opening volumes we see him mostly through the eyes of Clarissa…“^[*Page 1. **Page 124. +Page 488. ^Page 142.]
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