Much loved in March (…. and rather loathed in April!)

This post was supposed to be up in the first week of April. But as with most things that were supposed to have been and and yet not be, here we are. 

March had provided for me quite an unexpected amount of stirring encounters with both books and films. 

The books:

Cassandra ATW
First 5 star read of the year for me. Didn’t expect to love it as much as I did, but love it I did!

She sighed, and after a while she said rather easily: ‘You mean you’ll be burned up if I get married.’ First tactlessness, then callousness. Nine months in New York had not increased my sister’s sensitivity. There was no way to answer. I lay there in all the heat and wondered what it is that gets lovely simple things so knotted and gnarled up. What makes mistletoe move in on a tree and take over, what made the wild cells move in on Jane Edwards; why do weeds flourish and flowers give up? Why does papa have to prefer drinking alone on a ranch to the entrenched inanities of the university world? Where is there to go? Or barring that, where can you hide?

Stars (Emma D)
A second 5 star experience with this one. Donoghue’s brilliant storytelling pulled me right smack into the 1918 flu pandemic situation in Dublin, which feels uncannily relatable to the pandemic situation of today, a century forward. Didn’t realize that the word “influenza” came from the Latin, to mean “the influence of the stars”. What a dreamy connotation to such a grim state of reality.

On the landing yesterday’s poster hooked my attention ‘Would they be dead if they’d stayed in bed?’ I had an impulse to rip it down, but that probably constituted conduct unbecoming to a nurse, as well as treason. ‘Yes, they’d be bloody dead,’ I ranted silently. ‘Dead in their beds or at the kitchen table eating their onion a day. Dead on the tram, falling down in the street, whenever the bone-man happened to catch up with them. Blame the germs, the unburied corpses, the dust of war, the circulation of wind and weather, but Lord God Almighty, blame the stars, just don’t blame the dead, because none of them wished this on themselves.”

And the government’s advice to the public seems not to have changed very much in over a hundred years. :p

PUBLIC IS URGED TO STAY OUT OF PUBLIC PLACES SUCH AS CAFÉS, THEATRES, CINEMAS, AND PUBLIC HOUSES. SEE ONLY THOSE PERSONS ONE NEEDS TO SEE. REFRAIN FROM SHAKING HANDS, LAUGHING, OR CHATTING CLOSELY TOGETHER. IF ONE MUST KISS, DO SO THROUGH A HANDKERCHIEF. SPRINKLE SULPHUR IN THE SHOES.

IF IN DOUBT, DON’T STIR OUT.

🙂

As from films (or rather, one film in particular):

World
This exceeded all expectations and came away with full marks on all fronts. Has one of the best closing scenes I’ve come across in a while, and the haunting music score lingers on…. long after the credits rolls.

“I can’t imagine what more we could do for one another, with our constraints.
“You can’t?”
“I can’t.”
“Well then… it’s a good thing we remember that our imaginations can always be cultivated.”

I almost wanted to end the post on that beautiful note, but just realized that I haven’t mentioned about what I have “rather loathed” in April.

Well, maybe ‘loathed’ is a stronger word than what Henry James’ Wings of the Dove deserved. It was more like an annoying, neverending frustration, trying to get through the book. After the first couple of chapters, I had to resort to listening to the audiobook for the rest of it, letting it play on like some background music.

Admittedly, there were some sparkling lines in there somewhere (and Juliet Stevenson was a pleasure to listen to, as always), but then my patience was just too much tested overall in the whole Jamesian experience.

Safe to say, it won’t be anytime soon before I decide to pull out another one of his books (and I do have quite a few waiting in the stacks, I’m afraid.) :p

Any Henry James fans out here? 🙂

“Is it so small a thing….”

The view at Durdle Door, on a foggy day.

IS it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanced true friends, and beat down baffling foes;
That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

Matthew Arnold, ‘From the Hymn of Empedocles’.

Came across a reference to this lovely piece from Matthew Arnold yesterday, while reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’ve had this book sitting on the shelves for so long, and would still probably have not gotten to it if not for the trailer that I saw recently, of the screen adaptation of the book. It looked very promising! I always try to read the book first before watching the film, as far as possible. And so, I finally got the push that was needed to pluck the book from the shelves.

I had also just finished Naomi Alderman’s Disobedience, for the same reason as the above. The upcoming screen adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and directed by the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, Sebastian Lelio, is also looking to be a good one to look forward to. I found the book to be much better than I had expected, and had really appreciated Alderman’s nuanced and thoughtful execution of the story, with its delicate subject matters concerned.

Apart from these, I have not been reading much in the past month or so. Since my last post, I had been taken up with work deadlines, both before and after my trip to Taipei (in which I had pursued some bookish trails and got to spend my birthday among the aisles of books at the only 24 hour bookstore in Taipei, in the wee hours of the morning!) I was looking forward to sharing more on the blog after my return from the trip, but something happened and I was derailed for quite abit after that.

Will still try to get them up here soonish, I hope. But for now, I think I’ll just get back to spending time with the lovely book-loving bunch at Guernsey, I guess.

A Belated Enchantment

Recently I have been ‘coerced’ (in a good way, though) to watch the works of the lovely Audrey Hepburn, whom I have only been vaguely acquainted with before this. Yes, I knew she was the actress who made Truman Capote’s novella a Hollywood success, and hers was the face I’ve seen on all the black and white posters of her in her iconic little black dress. And though I was familiar with many of the songs from My Fair Lady, which I had been introduced to during my school days, I just realized that I had no recollection of the film at all. I had even thought that it was Julie Andrews who was in it! :p

Watching My Fair Lady again (or could it actually be for the first time??) was nothing short of a treat. It was pure enjoyment to watch how the transformation of Eliza Doolitle, from a Cockney working class girl to being a ‘lady’, was brought about by the pompous Professor Henry Higgins. I love the wit and humour in their dialogues (the songs were great, too!), and found myself smiling almost throughout the entire 175 minutes of the film. To think that Hepburn was snubbed of an Oscar nomination just because the producer had decided to use a professional singing voice for Eliza’s songs, is a gross injustice to Hepburn, to say the least. Personally, I feel that her performance in the role had certainly surpassed whatever singing talents that were required.

Well, having begun on my belated discovery of this fair lady, I then went on to watch her pair up with Peter O’Toole as they  plot and play together in How To Steal A Million. With Paris as the setting for the story, there was nothing to not love about the film. Comedy, romance, adventure, Paris….. all the ingredients for a delightful piece of work.

 

hepburn - paris always a good idea (bw)Considering the fact that six of her films were set in Paris, I thought that watching an Audrey Hepburn film for Paris in July would be a good idea, too. 🙂

I just came across this very apt description of Ms Hepburn, which simply says it so much better than what I have been trying to :

“Audrey Hepburn was never a Parisienne, yet she embodies what many of us long for when we visit Paris: elegance and wit, grace and style.”

Three films (I managed to watch yet another one – Two For The Road) and a whole lot of trivia later, I can safely say that I am glad for my friend’s persistent efforts. And as for the wonderful Ms Hepburn herself, I can only say that what my ears have heard before, now my eyes have seen.

 

January

JANUARY.
It was all things. And it was one thing, like a solid door. Its cold sealed the city in a gray capsule. January was moments, and January was a year. January rained the moments down, and froze them in her memory: the woman she saw peering anxiously by the light of a match at the names in a dark doorway, the man who scribbled a message and handed it to his friend before they parted on the sidewalk, the man who ran a block for a bus and caught it. Every human action seemed to yield a magic. January was a two-faced month, jangling like jester’s bells, crackling like snow crust, pure as any beginning, grim as an old man, mysteriously familiar yet unknown, like a word one can almost but not quite define.

Patricia Highsmith, ‘The Price of Salt’

jan3a

January has been a rather good month, in terms of reading, for me. Managed to finish three books (although two of them were actually started before the year began), and it feels good.

I received a review copy of Anne Goodwin’s Sugar and Snails towards the end of last October, and actually started reading it back then. I usually don’t accept review copies since this blog was never much about book reviews anyway and frankly, because I am quite rubbish at it. But my interest was piqued with the storyline and I am glad to say that it has been a rather compelling read. The fact that I took so long to finish was no fault of the book, but simply my own tendency to get easily distracted.

I enjoyed the writing and although the story is told in alternating timelines between the present and the past, it was seamlessly executed. The slow unfolding of the protagonist’s story, is one coming-of-age story of a woman in her midlife who has to deal with secrets that can no longer be kept ‘secret’. To say more would spoil the way the story is meant to be told by the writer, who has very skillfully constructed the many layers in the storytelling.  Here’s what the writer has to say about the book.

For a book that is much about restraints and repressions, I found this particular passage to be most liberating.

Waking on the morning after Venus’s party, stretching my arms above my head and pointing my toes into the corners of the bed as the bells of St George’s tumbled in the distance, I felt as free as that twirling toddler in the oversized tutu. Revelling in the full four-foot-six of bed width, and the whole house beyond it. Alone, but not lonely. An entire day ahead of me to spend exactly as I wished. Answerable to no one but myself.

But my favourite line from the book was simply this:

I thought I’d managed to compose my face, if not my feelings…..

Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn is not a book I would have likely chosen on my own to read because I am not really into fantasy books or fairy tales. If it wasn’t because this happens to be one of my favourite blogger‘s favourite book, I would have sadly missed out on the fun and wit (and even some rather profound truths) that came from the surprisingly enjoyable reading experience I had from it. Apart from some of the descriptive narrative on certain landscapes and certain characters which I was a little impatient to get over with at times, it was mostly an engaging read. It is a tale about the adventures and journey of an unicorn (and the friends she made along the way) on a mission to search for the rest of her kind, in order to know that she is not alone. It is also a tale of friendship and love (and much more). Told you I was really bad at reviews. :p

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book:

The magic on you is only magic and will vanish as soon as you are free, but the enchantment of error that you put on me I must wear forever in your eyes. We are not always what we seem, and hardly ever what we dream.

from Schmendrick the magician, who has yet to become great.

“Weaver, freedom is better, freedom is better,” but the spider fled unhearing up and down her iron loom.

from the Unicorn to the spider, who would not stop at her meaningless futile labour.

My secrets guard themselves – will yours do the same?

from King Haggard to the Lady Amalthea.

And here’s the one that really made me laugh 😀

Prince Lir said hoarsely, “I must go. There is an ogre of some sort devouring village maidens two days’ ride from here. It is said that he can be slain only by the one who wields the Great Axe of Duke Alban. Unfortunately, Duke Alban himself was one of the first consumed – he was dressed as a village maiden at the time, to deceive the monster – and there is little doubt who holds the Great Axe now.If I do not return, think of me. Farewell.”

The writing is lyrical, and the book is peppered with exquisite little gems such as these: ‘the sigh of a satin gown’; ‘seeing the shadow of their dreams scurry over their faces’; ‘Prince Lir marveled suspiciously, which is an awkward thing to manage….’ and lastly, the delightful closing lines: “And this is what they sang as they went away together, out of this story and into another…..” 🙂

Despite both the above being engaging reads, it is still without doubt that my January has been just like the opening quote up there…. “It was all things. And it was one thing….”  It was Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt (a.k.a. Carol).

I have listened to the audiobook, followed by reading of the ebook (in parts), watched the film, and have been listening to nothing else but the soundtrack from the film ever since. I really love the music score, and am rooting for Carter Burwell to win the Oscar for Best Original Score. And for Cate and Rooney, of course, as well as for Best Screenplay, Best Costumes and Best Cinematography. I still cannot believe that the film was snubbed from a spot for Best Film and Best Director, though.  A real injustice, I feel.

I thought I have read the book some years back, but apparently I must have not read the book properly at all, because I seem to have recalled almost nothing (except the really major scenes) and even what I thought I remembered, turned out to be mostly inaccurate impressions. It was rather shocking to discover how unreliable my memory and impression of the book turned out to be. It was as if I was reading it for the first time again. Which made it all the more thrilling, actually. Quite a treat!

I came away with much more too this time around, and it’s not likely that any of this is going to slip away from memory as easily as it did before, because like a solid door, this particular January and its moments have now been safely shut in.

Carol raised her hand slowly and brushed her hair back, once on either side, and Therese smiled because the gesture was Carol, and it was Carol she loved and would always love. Oh, in a different way now, because she was a different person, and it was like meeting Carol all over again, but it was still Carol and no one else. It would be Carol, in a thousand cities, a thousand houses, in foreign lands where they would go together…..

 

To remember….

We love films because they make us feel something. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream and to gaze into eyes that are impossibly beautiful and huge. They fill us with longing.

But also.
They tell us to remember; they remind us of life. Remember, they say, how much it hurts to have your heart broken. Remember about death and suffering and the complexities of living. Remember what it is like to love someone. Remember how it is to be loved. Remember what you feel in this moment. Remember this. Remember this.

Nina LaCour, ‘Everything Leads To You’ (2014)

Painted With Words

If you happen to be a fan of Van Gogh, I think you would find this BBC drama documentary, Vincent Van Gogh: Painted With Words, to be a real treat.
If you also happen to be a fan of the talented Benedict Cumberbatch (a.k.a Sherlock), then this would probably serve as a double treat for you. 🙂

I chanced upon this while browsing around Youtube for the trailer to The Imitation Game, a film which I am very much looking forward to watching. Related results for Cumberbatch’s works led me to this.

I thought you might like it, too.

🙂