20.11.10

Graham Greene - Brighton Rock


Rating 7.8

Now, this book has blown me away from it very first pages.
Breathtaking. No time for thinking. You're chased and have no choice but run.

And the fact I spent some time in Brighton first as a visiting teenager and then last year as a "visiting boyfriend" helped me a lot in being caught by the plot.
When Greene mentions places such as the Old Steyne, the Palace Pier, the (now wrecked) West Pier, the Pavillon, Rottingdean or Peacehaven I can easily picture them among my recent and dearest memories.

Here we have an author who is masterful in recreating the atmosphere of a dark Brighton that doesn't exist anymore. Greene sets up the contrast between the Victorian splendor of the city's seafront with its crowd of weekenders wondering around for a glass of port, a good restaurant or a souvenir and a parallel subterannean sick town of have-nots sleeping in shanty-town-like suburbs and gravitating around hard drinking, hard betting, racketing and blackmailing.

The first Brighton's cathedral is the Cosmopolitan Hotel glittering in its lights, where the jet-set dine and the successful gangster Colleoni celebrates his daily service of obscure power toying himself with carving and a gold made lighter.
The second Brighton's dome is the hyppodrome, where "the races" happen, the bookmakers take your offers and "the Roman" 17 years old Pinkie Brown consacrates a tiny bottle of vitriol leading his shabby mob against all odds and bogies.
There where the busty, fearless and emancipated Ida Arnold chases after a young little thing named Rose.

And so on.

Let's be fair with you, Graham.
Why have you spoiled the perfection of what you wrote here by working on the script of the homonymous movie they based on your novel nine years later?
Whereas the book takes your breath away ans sounds extremely convincent and modern, the movie starring Richard Attenborough (not yet Sir) is slow, tedious, unconvincing and -worst of all- hypocrite.
You changed the plot, didn't you Graham? Tell me why.
What became of that stick of "Brighton Rock " in the movie? You know it was just the title of your novel...after all you didn't called it "Brighton Ghost Train".
I don't know if I can forgive you for this betrayal.

Well, Graham, be prepared as they are going to make it even worse. Yes, they are going to release a remake of the movie based on your novel and you know what? From the trailer looks like they made a love story out of it! Be prepared. Pinkie will be a Mod from the 1960s looking like a dark-haired Di Caprio, Brighton will be set in Eastbourne and there are even some romantic white cliffs involved!

I hope in a revenge of that famous stick of Brighton Rock.
You should know how it works.

2.10.10

Tobias Jones - The Dark Heart of Italy


Rating 6.5

What's the problem with the Italian football?

Why decent and smart British authors like, say, Nick Hornby, Tim Parks and John Foot were (are?) so fascinated by that unimportant part of our culture?

Where is the romanticism in contemporary Italian football, I wonder?
Where is the fair-play, the chivalry, the grit?

For Tobias Jones has been deceived too.
Let's put ourselves in his football shoes for a few lines.

I am a British journalist.
I moved to Italy, because my girlfriend is Italian.
I live in Parma.
I have Italian friends and a praiseworthy knowledge of the Italian language including its less common subtleties.
I write about Italy as a freelance.
I am published on The Guardian.
My range of topics includes social issues, religion, culture, politics and, yes, football.
I support Parma Fc.

Well done. Let's get out of Tobias' shoes now.
Let's talk to him.

Ok, Tobias, you are maybe the only English speaking author I read so far and writing about Italy who didn't make a single grammar or spelling mistake while using Italian terms.
You have to be praised for this. I have to reckon it.

But listen, you are a journalist. You write about politics. There is a photo of Berlusconi at a rally winkling beyond the glass of an olive oil bottle in the front cover of your book.
Therefore you are supposed to know many things about the Italian power map. Isn't it?

Well, here we are.
How the Hell, Tobias, can you have the nerve to pretend that Parma Fc was the "Cinderella" (quoting you) of the seven Italian top teams? How can you dare to tell us that their victories were unexpected, creating the myth of a provincial team beating richful and powerful squads?

Parma Fc, dear Tobias, was far from being an outsider, the Italian equivalent of a pennyless 2nd Division Team winning the FA Cup.
Do you know who owned the team? Calisto Tanzi, the infamous president of Parmalat. It was the same Tanzi who bought minor players such as Thuram, Buffon, Cannavaro, Crespo or Veron in those years spending hundreds of millions of euros. And where this loose change was coming from? Parmalat.
Yeah the same worldwide company responsible of the biggest financial fraud we have ever had in Europe.
The brand "Parmalat" was printed on the yellow and blue jerseys of Parma Fc, that "Cinderella" team of outsiders you were naively supporting.

Tobias, Tobias, Tobias...
If you write about "The Dark Heart of Italy" and omit to tell us some things just because you want to please the British audience of your book, with the picturesque fairytale of the little provincial team winning over Juventus (that's actually how the book ends!), this is not very professional.

Moreover, the whole book is a bit discontinuos. My impression is that sometimes you just touch the surface of things without going any further. The book has its moments and it's impressive how much you got of the Italian way of thinking, but on its whole "The Dark Heart of Italy" is the journalistic equivalent of chick-lit novels.
A bestseller with no grip.

19.9.10

The Love Cats


Pope Benedict XVI visiting the UK on September 2010

NC - "So ol' Benny whaddya think about cats?"
PB - "Well, Nick, I am afraid I've never seen that musical".

(photo courtesy of www.number10.gov.uk/)

6.9.10

David Lodge - Nice Work


Rating 7.6

"I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed"
Robert Louis Stevenson - My Shadow

"O'er grassy dale, and lowland scene
Come see, come hear, the English Scheme.
The lower-class, want brass, bad chests, scrounge fags.
The clever ones tend to emigrate"
The Fall - English Scheme

"Shadowing: that which follows or attends a person or thing like a shadow; an inseparable companion; hence, an obsequious follower"
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, 1913.

Thanks to the brilliant verses of Mr Stevenson and Mr Smith and to the didactic contextualization given by a preeminent dictionary, I can start my own little dissertation on "Nice Work".

Preamble:
In the very first day of my current English job I was given a training paper scheduling my daily activities. Between 3 and 4 pm I had "shadowing". Being pretty much unaware of the essential jargon and subtleties of the British labor market I posed my first question:
"What am I supposed to do?"

The same concept of "shadowing" was reminiscent of "shadow government" to me. I was told that I did not have to play the opposition Prime Minister for a single hour, but to shadow one of my more experienced colleagues in his daily activities, watching him in order to get the basics of my future tasks. It was fine. I knew something new.

The two main characters of "Nice Work" perform a "Shadow Scheme".
Despite of being the shadow of each other Robyn Penrose and Vic Wilcox do not have that much in common. Well, actually they do not have anything in common.

Sure, they live in the same industrial town of Rummidge and drive to and from their jobplace any given day. But these job places couldn't be more different than they are.
Robyn parks her little crappy Renault under a lemon tree in the campus of Rummidge University. Vic leaves his rumbling patriotic Jaguar in a parking lot facing a foundry.

From that moment on, Robyn is wrapped up in tutorials and lectures involving feminist studies and industrial novels (think about Dickens). Vic ventures himself in meetings and discussions revolving around the rationalization of Pringle's (no crisps, but cylinder heads).

While Robyn lives alone and has a kind of open relationship with a former Cambridge colleague, Vic is unhappily married with a plain woman and has a family and a house with four loos to take care of.
And so on.

Robyn and Vic join two different clubs. Two clubs whose members pretend to ignore the existence of anything else out of their own secluded world. Two clubs named University and Industry.
We are in the 1980s. Lady Thatcher rules. Both clubs have to cope with lack of money due to the national recession. Whereas Robyn is trying to save her chair, Vic is the one who decides what and who will be cut off.

Then comes the Shadow Scheme. Robyn and Vic collide. "Nice Work" is the exhilarating and convincing account of the aftermath of this clash.

20.8.10

David Lodge - Paradise News


Rating 7.4

What did I learn from Paradise News?
Several things.

Now I can nonchalantly use terms like "lei", "pupu" and "moo-moo" in any conversation about Hawaii. Not that I had or will have many.

Apropos, don't you have the impression that Hawaii are out of fashion? Personally I don't know anyone who went there. And even the fact of being the accidental birthplace of Barack Obama is not helping as much as it could.

Why don't I see any hula dancers parading in the English streets?
Where are the pale tourists wearing Maui and Sons t-shirt?
When the last eruction of Kilauea was shown on TV?
What happened in Pearl Harbour: who attacked who?
How could Sir Paul McCartney forget about his ukulele?
Oh, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole why did you pass away so soon?



I have a theory.
There is a worldwide conspiracy against Hawaii.
Those islands were once spoiled and now there is nothing else to spoil.
Seasons 10 and 11 of "Baywatch" were the last offence, the final drop.
Hawaii have not recovered yet.

There where David Hasselhoff runs in his red underpants the grass doesn't grow anymore. Just think about all those California's wildfires.



Anyways, when David Lodge wrote this book (early 1990s) Hawaii were still in the newsreels and in the travel agencies brochures. It was a natural choice setting a novel in this paradise for the masses where a bunch of English tourists is heading to.
At first I thought Lodge wanted to follow all of these characters at the same time. Thanks God he didn't. I apppreciated the way he focused on a single main story involving a forty something theologian who doesn't believe anymore. An unbelievable character that Lodge made real.

Then once again there will be a lot of revolving speculations and funny situations on the very Catholic fear-of-Sex. The sceptical theologian will learn many practical things about love and lovers and will eventually find his own paradise on Earth. Discover how!

19.8.10

Björn Larsson - Long John Silver


Rating 7.9

For mysterious reasons, I have always postponed the moment in which I would have put my eyes on this book.
Then my good friend Mena, who is also my favourite bookpusher, read the novel and gently nudged me to fill my gap.

I have bought a second-hand English edition of this book so that my daily language can be pleasantly affected by the splendor of the sailor's slang.
This is a novel that stands in a class of its own. I wonder how it sounds like in Swedish. And in my mother tongue, Italian, of course.

In a manner of speakin', I am learnin' a whole lotta things.

Ay, if I'm not doin' it!
The likes of me are payin' their debt with the likes of Long John Silver and those messmates of him.

Ain't true that I'm becomin' more and more at ease with the privateers' jargon? Mebbe.
That wild bunch of scoundrels taught me how to use in a proper way terms like kneelhauling and round robin and John Silver himself show'd me how to arrange a decent barbecue on the bloody beach.
Me, meself didn't know that the life and perils of a distinguish'd gentleman of fortune could have been that interestin' to read.

Death and resurrection. Shipwrecks and knobsticks. Drinkin' and amputatin'. God and capt'ns. Slaveships and brotherhood. Mr.Defoe and L'Olonnaise. Gallows and foul-mouths. 'tis what you'll find here.
Naught but rum. Ay!

12.7.10

Charles Bukowski - Tales of Ordinary Madness*


Rating 6.8

I am definitely NOT a fan of Bukowski (in fact considering him one of the most overhyped authors ever, second only to Raymond Carver).

Besides, a former old flame of mine adored him. So when she decided we couldn't work together (quite soon), I removed three things from my life:
Hand-rolled cigarettes, Violent Femmes and Charles Bukowski.

Still, I have to confess how these short stories are a good and naughty fun. (The one with the man becoming a dildo is so damn nasty!).

The book itself popped up pretty suddenly during a rambling nightwalk in Oxford. It was left in a plastic bag in the gloomy St Ebbes Road next to a van selling smelly junk food.

I picked it up. Neonlit by the winkling van, an Italian edition of this book was standing in my right hand.
Then I basically brought the unexpected walk war chest at home, a few footsteps further, downhill.

I thought it may have been a sign. This book was waiting for me. Somehow.

Let's call it Bukowski's Wicked Curse.
Does anybody want to share it?
For those who are interested, let's meet at the smelly van, 1 am.

*The real title of this book is actually "Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness". Not that I am that puritan to omit it from the header: it was simply way too long. And unnecessary. Whoever chose it.

5.7.10

David Remnick - Reporting


Rating 7.4

Have you ever dreamed to see Mike Tyson and Tony Blair fighting for the title of Heavyweight Champion of the World with Don King on the right corner of the ring and Gordon Brown on the left one?

Well, there you are guys.
Place your bet, please.

The match takes place in Moscow's Red Square.

Vladimir Putin wearing a bikini and a miniskirt is holding the signs of the rounds in the intervals.
Boris Yeltsin is standing on the rooftop of Saint Basil's Cathedral advertising Pizza Hut's special offers with a megaphone.

Don De Lillo is passing by with a tray selling nuts and sodas.
Al Gore is just behind him, picking up the nutshells and empty cans for recycling them.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu and Vaclav Havel are playing "Risk" sitting cross-legged on a smaller ring below the GUM's roof. A Tass dispatch says that Havel just conquered Kamchatka. Mick Jagger paints it black.

Philip Roth is masturbating himself close to the Lenin's Mausoleum dreaming to marry a young communist.

In a not very distant dacha, this is just another day in the life of Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn.

David Remnick reports. He made it all.
And these writings of him are better than a Barnum show.

20.6.10

Marina Lewycka - Two Caravans


Rating 7.0

On writing about Two Caravans I have an ambivalent feeling to put into proper words. Oh well, I will get by.

On the one hand, I really enjoyed the book as an entertaining and even enlightening reading, but on the other there are some things that bothered me. Overall, I have to say how the positive sides of the novel overcame the negative ones although in the very first pages it was the opposite.

Let's start with the pros.
This is a pretty unique novel written in a rather original style and puts the reader into a context that was uneasy to handle and deliver successfully for a writer.
Marina Lewycka tried to work on the world of the seasonal workers coming to the UK either for picking up fruit or working in farms/factories being often cheated, exploited, underpaid, bad accommodated. This was indeed a brilliant idea for a novel and Lewycka not only read a couple of books, but also spent some time on real strawberry fields in order to get some fresh information about that underworld.

Then comes the cast of characters who have to cope with the above mentioned hidden world and, together with this, the problem of giving a realistic and convincing voice to this bunch of people. And here's the first of the cons: some of the characters are not developed or even left behind by Lewycka.
No doubt she did it on purpose for focusing on a single and compelling story rather than following a disorganized constellation of events. But still, this process pissed me off as you can't introduce characters, talk with their own voice putting yourself in their shoes and then throwing these shoes in the laundry basket when they start to be stinky.

Talking about stinky feet, here we have a guy, the Polish Tomek, who looks at first like a selfish moron and then gradually becomes someone we learn to sympathize with. Yet, as soon as, we are wondering what the good Tomek is going to do next, his story is left behind. This may be not a big deal if Lewycka wouldn't use the same technique for saying farewell to mmmh...let me count them...at least five characters.

The greatest worth of this book is perhaps that one could hardly notice that these guys are suddenly missing because the main story is going on and is taking your breath away in an odd mixing of Tolstoj-shaped romanticism, road movies and Borat talking. I wonder if it was all that necessary letting people talk like they forgot a bag full of definite and indefinite articles in Ukraine and Poland (where they don't use them as far as I know), but well the English readers probably needed some exoticism and Lewycka knew how to get it.
After all, most of the Britons we meet through the book do not seem very familiar with the Oxford English Dictionary too.

This said, I also have to admit how for about 40 pages, the author draws a masterful picture of a terrifying poultry farm exaggerating some details, but shocking the reader in a way that reminded me quite a lot one of the chapters of What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe: same topic, same wish of considering vegetarianism as more than merely a topic of conversation for the astonished reader.
Giving voice to a dog is nothing new too as I can recall David Eggers doing pretty much the same in one of his early short stories. And yet Lewycka made it better, although this Dog speaks way too much!

Much more may be said about Two Caravans, but I don't want to spoil you over. I can very much understand why some reviewers couldn't stand this book being myself pretty pissed off by the way the novelist had overused stereotypes for characterizing her fellow Ukrainians, the Poles and the guy from Malawi. Still I can't deny how I found myself amused by this book and will probably study that certain History of Tractors in Ukrainian very soon.

19.6.10

Alan Bennett - The Uncommon Reader


Rating 7.0

Well, let's start with a couple of good things about Alan Bennett.

In an age where many celebrated writers lost (or never had) the gift of synthesis, Mr Bennett delivered to his readers a novel of 124 pages.
A tiny book that is perfect for filling a winter-coat pocket.

Besides, Mr Bennett wrote a novel that everybody could read.
Let's face it. "The Uncommon Reader" may please the elderly and the youngster, grandmas and grandsons. It is witty without being cerebral.

There is a vague fairytale flavour that I enjoyed.
It is something that reminded me "The BFG" by Roald Dahl.
Her Majesty the Queen, I suppose. And I was also thinking to another paper monarch, the less known "King Matt the First".
Plus, we have a David Sedaris-like character named Nelson that plays the book-elf for a while.

And yet now that I'm done with this novel, I have a bittersweet feeling for it.
While the first part of "The Uncommon Reader" is highly enjoyable and a little modern classic by itself, the second part doesn't have the same charm. I think it would have been important keeping the same quality in such a tiny novel.
Anyway, this book made my commuting mornings through Oxfordshire better.

15.5.10

M.P. Shiel - The Purple Cloud


Rating 7.9


This book is amazingly entertaining and, by coincidence, extremely topical. I wonder why it never became that popular worldwide. Perhaps it will soon.

Just think about the trouble we're currently having with that Icelandic vulcano, the tongue-twister Eyjafjallajokull.
What if those spiteful ashes were deadly poisonous?
Well, in "The Purple Cloud" they are.

M.P Shiel was not able to foresee the future (and had no intention to do it), but definitely was some steps forward. He surely had a sort of fetishism towards volcanoes. Being the novelist born in the isle of Montserrat, upsetted by a disastruous volcanic eruption some years ago, this passion can be understood.

Anyway.
I have to disagree with the ones saying that this novel is outmoded. Considering how "The Purple Cloud" was written in 1901, its author shows a surprising modernity in many ways. He tours all around the world using ships, trains, cars and even bicycles showing a great confidence with geography and infrastructures. He tries so hard to be plausible and scientific, even if, in order to do this, he is sometimes superficial, but these inconsistencies add some fun to the book.

But that's not all, folks.
In this hidden gem you can also find some of the best macabre descriptions you will ever read as well as an interesting development/degeneration of the main character: the last man on Earth, indeed.

As for the ones who would like to read this book, but know nothing about Mr. M.P. Shiel, here are the coordinates of this novel.
Latitude: Edgar Allan Poe° - Jules Verne'
Longitude: Kurt Vonnegut° - H.G Wells'

2.4.10

Silvio D'Arzo - Casa d'altri (The House of Others)


Rating 7.0

Pen named Silvio D'Arzo was one of the very few Italian writers that I know, together with Italo Calvino and Dino Buzzati, being able to write for both, young adults and older readers.

Unless what happens in many other countries, in Italy there is and there was a strict and deep separation between those who write for an adult audience (who are considered real novelists) and those who write for children (who are considered minor novelists). Personally, I find this distinction quite disturbing as it is very hard writing for children without treating them like half-wits, asking too much or, even worse, being didactical.

D'Arzo was able to cross literary genres being at the same time fascinated by Henry James and by the local traditions around his hometown.
Unfortunately he died very young and is pretty much forgotten today.

This book collects some of the best short stories D'Arzo wrote for "adults" and it is worth a reading. The short story naming the book is excellent and introspective with something magical in its realism.

22.3.10

François Bégaudeau - Entre les murs (The Class)



Rating 5.7

They better call it a screenplay rather than a novel.
Entre les murs is poorly written in its dry dialogue-led realism with only a few selected moments of a decent, but mainly sarcastic irony.

Frankly speaking, the reason why I found this book interesting is mainly comparative, thinking to the current Italian system of education.
What I learned is that apparently in one of the most turbulent corners of France you can be suspended from class or even expelled from school just by calling your professor "you" or not asking the permission for throwing a sheet in the wastepaper basket.

Oh Mon Dieu! These teenage banlieusards are worse than savages! What Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have said about it, I wonder? C'est intolerable!

Being myself the son of a teacher who worked in a rather borderline school, I consider the way professor/Bégaudeau interacts with his lazy and partly illitterate pupils astonishing, prejudicial and superficial. On this assumption I'm not surprised he had problems with them.

Liking very much what Laurent Cantet did as a neo-neorealist-director I guess how I would appreciate more the movie based on this book than the book itself.

18.3.10

Friedrich Dürrenmatt - Das Versprechen (The Pledge)


Rating 8.2

This is the best crime fiction novel I read so far.
The written proof how literary genres and labels should not mean a thing.

In fact, calling Dürrenmatt a crime fiction novelist would be a crime by itself. And yet, this book must be read from all those who are idolizing and idealising the "Scandinavian crime fiction golden vein".
As for me, what Dürrenmatt wrote here has very much to do with the success later gained by, say, Stig Larsson, Joe Nesbø and Henning Mankell.
Still he did it almost 50 years in advance.

The Pledge is masterfully written, has a rare psychological insight and works even better because of the contrast and counterposition between a brutal crime and the neatness of a well-fed social welfare country: Switzerland. A country where people want a peaceful life, but may not hesitate to lynch the suspicious, and then automatically guilty, foreigner in order to have their own summary justice.
Does it ring any bell?

Dürrenmatt loved and hated that Switzerland, his own Switzerland.
Therefore his best characters are the ones who can not stand its outward appearance, feeling oppressed, winning their battle for thinking out of the mass, but quite often losing the war.
Matthäi, the protagonist of The Pledge is a winner who loses or maybe a loser who wins. The right definition of him is up to the reader.

10.3.10

Franz Kafka - The Penal Colony


Rating 8.0

Eighty eight years before standing on a beach staring at the sea with Haruki Murakami, Franz Kafka went to the tropics.

Being such a hermit crab, he stayed out of the tourist routes, taking a boat for docking in a muggy island and visiting a charming Penal Colony. Does it sound too heavy? Well, in case you didn't noticed, not everybody likes spending holidays drinking cold beer while swinging on a hammock giving a look to suntanned beauties all day long.
Do you really think that a pale and overstressed insurance agent would have written such a great short story while renting a bungalow in a Club Méditerranée resort? Then you shouldn't read any Kafka.

Being known on his papers as "der Forschungsreisender", Franz K. visited local landmarks of the detention island such as the Wharf, the Tea House and the infamous Torture Device. There, a Welcome Committee formed by The Officer, The Soldier and The Condemned tried to show him an old and folkloristic, although extreme, tattoo technique that was still quite popular in the Penal Colony. And so it goes...

In my modest opinion, this short story stands at the zenit of Kafka's production. Yet, being not fond of Club Med myself too, maybe I'm not that fair-minded in appreciating The Penal Colony.
Still, I consider these pages at the same time grisly and inspiring, definitely worth reading and rewarding.

In my (Italian) edition of the collection there are many other brighting gems. The first one coming to my mind is The Country Doctor where Kafka follows in his own way the wake of Russian masters like Gogol', Turgenev and Bulgakov, evoking with a richful immagination the evil and dark forces ruling over superstition and impeding science and human logic. If I were a tree I would be proud of being sacrificed by some Torture Device for hosting on my skin one of these short stories.

7.3.10

Antonio Delfini - Il ricordo della Basca


Rating 6.8

Well, actually an appropriate rating should give this book a good 8 if only for the beautiful and long (65 pages!) introduction wrote by the same author 20 years later (and not included in the vintage edition portrayed on the left).
Those sixty-five pages are an ode to creativity, irony, wit, romanticism, all.

In comparison, the short stories which follow are not that good. What we have from page 67 onwards is not that original and pretty similar to some of the things written by Giorgio Bassani. Delfini chose Modena (M*** for him), while Bassani chose Ferrara.

Anyway, this writer has to be re-discovered as his books are kind of impossible to find in Italy nowadays and not printed anymore. Yet I have the impression he could have written better things and maybe he did and I don't know about their existence. I will check it better.

If I had the chance to put my eyes on Il ricordo della Basca it's only because I borrowed this book from the best pusher of Italian-literature around, Giulia. But the book drug is becoming harder and harder to get, particularly when it could be that good to become an addiction.

5.3.10

Term on Term

Don't you listen
how that word
whistles:
March.
March.
March.
It glitters and then
it shatters
any other rhythm
or whatever is given
it whispers:
time-healer.
You better not
flatter March.
March.
March.

10.2.10

Antidote

Glass Kills Skin
A Died Epidermis Being
Sometimes
Resurrected
With a Little Help of
Pure Heady Alcohol,
Methylated
Spirits
Served on the Wads
It takes just a Single but
Steady
Sip
A Scratch Masterly Done:
Skin Drank Elixir.

Bret Easton Ellis - Less Than Zero


Rating 6.5

Re-read (and finished at this time, oh jeez) one year after the very first attempt of mine.
Mmmh.
Not that bad. But not that good either.
Less Than Zero is smart but it's what one may call an artificial smartness somehow.

On my bookshelf the novel followed the reading of Bright Lights, Big City by Jay Mc Inerney that was once seen as the East Coast counterpart of this book but whose fame faded quite soon.

I might disagree with that vision and say there is not so much in common between the two novels.
Apart from snorting blizzards of cocaine in public toilets, messy bedrooms and as a substitute for any given proper meal, I mean.

In fact, where Jay Mc Inerney is wordy and humour-flavoured, Bret Easton Ellis is minimalist and deeply fatalist.

Furthermore, Jay sounds somewhat British to me (is the infamous Ivy League influence?), while Bret is totally - even too much - American-like with all the negative stereotypes included.
So, here it comes my personal suggestion:
don't lend Less Than Zero to a staunch anti-American guy as you could give him/her plenty of topics for the following six months. And over.

Bright Lights Big City is like Holden Caulfield dating Bartleby The Scrivener and Ivana Trump in an early Sex & The City pilot where Nick Hornby wrote the script and Rudy Giuliani forgot the neon tubes on.

Less Than Zero is like getting stoned wearing a Devo t-shirt in a Mtv serie releasing party held in a Valley mall and hosted by the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 while watching Reservoir Dogs with the audio off.

But this was exactly the effect Bret Easton Ellis wanted to have, I guess, so it's not that disturbing as it should sound.
Plus, Bret EE was able to write this stuff years before Brenda & Kelly were killing their uptown spleen with compulsive shopping and Quentin Tarantino was going to teach us how to resuscitate Uma Thurman after an overdose. And for this reason Bret deserves to be praised a little bit.

4.2.10

Boris Pahor - Necropoli (Nekropolis)


Rating 7.9

The first time I tried to read this book somehow I failed to get into it. Then I waited for the right moment to come as I was sure Pahor had something to tell.
When that moment came, months later, I was glad I gave Nekropolis a second chance.

Do not expect a second Elie Wiesel or a second Primo Levi as this book gives a different perspective on a detention experience in a Nazi concentration camp. Pahor was segregated in a small and not very known camp on the Alsatian mountains, the kind of camp that is often not even cited on the accounts about racial and political extermination.

He was not a Jew and had the Italian citizenship, but being Slovenian mother tongue he already suffered a first persecution in Trieste by local fascists trying to annihilate the non-Italian community there.
Then as an Italian by his documents he was considered a traitor by Germans and not a companion even by most of the Italian mother tongue people he met.

While in the camp he was trying to do his best healing people there (pretty much what Varlam Salamov did in the Kolyma gulags) but most of the times he could not do anything and had the impression of working in a morgue rather than in a barrack surgery.
Nevertheless, young Pahor never lost his hope as well as the capacity of contemplating the sky and the countryside above and around the camp.

Nekropolis is the story of Pahor's comeback to the concentration camp several years later. The writer visits the former camp wondering how the people who visit it can perceive the place. Did the concentration camp become a mere memorial? Did the camp become just a touristic venue?

Either contemplating a group of visitors or two young lovers walking hand in hand where the haftlinge worked, survived and died, Pahor reminisces what he felt while there leaving us a great book about the power and importance of memory.

28.1.10

Midnight and Something

Rush hours hurry up very often
Many minutes can't compete with a single
Second spent after late night
As it may happen
When something sudden shatters
And settles down for a brief longer moment
starring as the walk-on actor
Caught in another
World weary ring-a-ring-o'roses.

25.1.10

How To Resign Graciously

I wonder why
wonder how wonder what's
next.
I do apologize
and care and drop and give
up.
To whom it concerns
no will to sentence.

24.1.10

The Blank State

Wrapped up in whatever
There's no need to quicken our pace
As a break never happens
In each single step we may take

The Copywriter

Sirs,
I would prefer not to
make your own advertisement
with my part-time temporary contract
for the relief of an unbearable urge
that made you call me "words director"
of your forthcoming strategic campaign
coordinating by chance
a wider and younger creative team
in order to persuade
readers, listeners, viewers
rather than asking for our overtime extras
Sirs,
I would prefer not to
work on this purpose on the following list:
tv and radio commercials, scripts
press releases and sales letters,
catalogs, billboards, brochures
direct mails, pieces, taglines
jingle lyrics, web page contents
white pages and postcards.
I hereby specify that this decison of mine
is not to confuse with an act of rebellion.
But still
as a result of these afore-mentioned factors
there is no more storytelling or
big ideas shaping and no more slogan selling
I will work on as a copywriter,
thus from now on
you would prefer to
consider me just a below the line resource.

9.1.10

Janusz Korczak - King Matt the First


Rating 7.5

As far as I know, King Matt the First is a novel for children like no one other around. I was particularly glad to get this book as a present from my girlfriend.
Being rather fond of Polish literature lately, I have to confess how I had never heard before about this book as well as its author.
This ignorance of mine made the surprise even greater.

And yet, King Matt is apparently a milestone in children books in Poland, while Janusz Korczak himself was a famous pedagogist with an interesting personal story and brave ideas on how to educate the young generations.

What I appreciated of this book is the way it treats its young readers. There is no need to hide unpleasant things of life like war, death or even bad-mouth speaking behind a marzipan made curtain. Korczak explains many things in a patient and peculiar way skilfully managing to don't be didactical or paternalist.
Of course there is a moral also behind King Matt the First, but children are required to get it by themselves, page after page.
At the same time boys (this book may bore girls, I guess) grew up somehow with Matt who's not the succesful young hero he could have been, but as a child makes mistakes and sometimes behaves irrationally and with impulsiveness.

Another thing I liked is Korczak ability in being modern. He wrote this book in the 1920s and set up war descriptions based partly on WWI put also anticipating some aspects of WWII. There are automobiles, planes, strategic seaports to get and a key-role played by the mass media.
I confess how I was almost falling off from my chair when I read about "red flags" punctuating a strike parade and being explained has "the flag of workers worldwide". Finding those lines in a children book without any socialist message hidden somewhere was a pleasant thrill.

As a reader of the English version, I had the impression of a very good and careful translation with just a few forgetfulnesses while leaving some things in original Polish and others not. I mean, I don't think many people out of Poland knows that the "kielbasa" is a kind of sausage, while choosing to change the name of the protagonist from Maciuś to Matt, I don't get why other typical names such as Tomek, Felek, etc. were left the same.

But, hey! This is just pedantry of mine: on the whole I highly enjoyed this book. And if I had a 5-6 years old son/daughter I would probably try to read him/her the adventures of King Matt the Reformer. There would surely be many questions to answer in order to explain how many grown-up things work, but whys are the salt of childhood.

Catapult

All down then
up, up, Up!
heave ho!
Then once again
down.
No states between
it may take just a minute:
somersault
done.

This see-saw gives us
a sort of awkward
balance
Up!
Down!
backwards and forwards
let's cover
The longer distance we can
With a single unwilled
effort
No matter where we will
Fall.
Does it always matter having
a goal?
You better not cross
our flight path.

7.1.10

The Suitcase Syndrome

There is so much that has to be left
too many things I would like
to regret
as soon as I will get
out of this timeless place,
refreshed – I guess
by a forthcoming longed-for emptiness
And yet
at the moment I stare at them – they blink at me
like that, like this – have you seen it?
Bring them on, if you can!
Ah, all these thought-provoking odds and ends
those knick-knacks with a soul by their own
unfolded mementos exposed
doing their parade on my
bad-made bed,
they look so naked, so vulnerable but still
so familiar ready-made willing stuff
unbearable
it's just bric-à-brac wishing for
an extra backpack – that one, yes
I can't get.

6.1.10

On Coal

We sleep, we dream, we draw
(castles in the sky, their marzipan walls)
above a wooden platform
also known as "the ground floor"
below us lies the basement
a second and forbidden home
we can walk on its ceiling
standing on the shoulders of beams,
like Gods, Emperors or even better
a whole Sweepers Brigade made of two.
Word of mouth says
there's a kingdom downstairs
with Royal gates, but not for all
(we know where)
There we were told to store
all the coal we needed
for the rest of the season
shovelling deep
in a mountain where breath
has to be kept behind our teeth.
That's all the coal they actually need
because as for us
this occupation is hard labour
merely a treason played for a purpose
then we both say:
(whispering to each other, undercover)
Down With the Tyrants!
Someday
we will inherit what we might reign over
hereby the promise
that no other coal peak
will cast its black choking shadow
on our Free Basement Kingdom.