Book Review: “The Sellout” By Paul Beatty

The Sellout

Man Booker Prize Winner 2016

By Paul Beatty

the-sellout

Sometimes you know a book is good when you can’t stop thinking about it because you were so drawn into its world. Sometimes you know a book is good because it made you feel empowered. Sometimes you know a book is good because you really have very little notion what’s going on half the time. That’s how I felt when I was reading The Sellout by Paul Beatty. But in the best way possible.

There are ideas at work in this novel that are constantly clashing and rehashing the world it is creating and the world it is ripping off. This is an attack on American culture and racism and the page is his battlefield and the words are his foot soldiers. And the ideas are packed together so densely as to make resistance futile.

There were times when the sheer ridiculous made me laugh out loud. Other passages would glide over the surface of my consciousness, looking for in but finding none. Most of the time, I felt like I wasn’t, couldn’t “get” the joke. There is so much represented here that is completely alien to me. I have no idea what life is like in the poverty stricken regions of American ghetto towns. (I don’t think watching The Wire counts.) I’m a privileged white women living just down the road from Windsor Castle, for goodness sake. And reading this book doesn’t exactly make me feel ashamed of my ignorance, more curious about what I have unconsciously accepted about race perception in my own culture. The ingrained racism that is everywhere and that most millennials fail to see or understand is both evidence of society trying to move forward by “not seeing colour” and also a complete lack of real world understanding – of course we’re different colours. Equality: a pure idea; really fucking difficult to implement.

“In attempting to restore his community through reintroducing precepts, namely segregation and slavery, that, given his cultural history, have come to define his community despite the supposed unconstitutionality and nonexistence of these concepts, he’s pointed out  a fundamental flaw in how we as Americans claim we see equality. ‘I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, yellow, red, green or purple.’ We’ve all said it. Posited as proof of our nonprejudicial ways, but if you painted any of us purple or green, we’d be mad as hell.”

I honestly feel like I have neither the life experience nor the intelligence to understand the incredibly complex and challenging ideas playing out in this novel. I feel like a 5-year-old trying to read To Kill a Mockingbird without the aid of a secondary school teacher to explain what an extended metaphor or a microcosm is. But this is so much more than microcosm and far more complicated.

I know that this book deserves at least your first reading … and my second reading.

“Unmitigated Blackness is essays passing for fiction. It’s the realization that there are no absolutes, except when there are. It’s the acceptance of contradiction not being a sin and a crime but a human frailty like split ends and libertarianism. Unmitigated Blackness is coming to the realization that as fucked up and meaningless as it all is, sometimes it’s the nihilism that makes life worth living.”

And if Beatty wrote this before Trump came to power, just think what he’ll have in the tank next.


For all those fearing for the safety of yourself and those you love, I stand with you.

#nomuslimban


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Review: “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall

The Well of Loneliness

By Radclyffe Hall

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“The Well of Loneliness” is not to be read lightly, for its title does not exaggerate. It is tragic and powerful; it shudders with empathy and spiritual resilience.

First published in 1928, it tells the tale of Miss Stephen Gordon: a woman who identifies as a man, who loves other women and must suffer the condemnation of all for her “abnormality”. Incredibly ahead of its time, as far as public opinion was concerned, it was the subject of an obscenity trial at the time of publication. It was published in the same year as D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”. Hall was part of an oncoming wave that rose in the years that followed World War I. It was a wave that saw taboos transforming from absolutes into debatable ideas, and – even more importantly – it was a wave that streamed into the public forum. Ideologies, and the courage of those who lived them, were coming to bear against received wisdom.

“As though gaining courage from the terror that is war, many a one who was even as Stephen, had crept out of her hole and come into the daylight, come into the daylight and faced her country: ‘Well, here I am, will you take me or leave me?’”

The scope and breadth of this highly empathetic and emotional work is without compare. It crosses a number of social boundaries. It begins in the well-to-do grounds of Morton, the home of Stephen’s father, Sir Philip Gordon. We then travel with Stephen to the front lines of the First World War, where she becomes an ambulance driver. Then, the war over, back to Paris, where Stephen mixes with the greats and the groundlings of society’s so-called “inverts”. Having made a name for herself as an author, she is privy to a very exclusive circle. Stephen meets many prominent men and women of cultured society, including writers, poets and artists whose characters often have real life counterparts. From a young child to a middle aged woman, Stephen’s life is a landscape and a broad reel of life, love and loss.

Stephen’s life has many ups and downs, but it cannot be denied that tragedy has the final word. Radclyffe Hall – christened Marguerite – is quite clearly writing from personal experience and Stephen Gordon is modelled on herself. Existential turmoil and fear of and anger against public opinion battle vehemently with pride and courage.

“She would clench her hands in a kind of fury. How long was this persecution to continue? How long would God sit still and endure this insult offered to His creation? How long tolerate the preposterous statement that inversion was not part of nature? For since it existed what else could it be? All things that existed were a part of nature?”

Courage does not win very much in this novel; it is a thoroughly depressing read. But it is so wholly courageous and forward thinking when hope does make its sporadic appearances.

“We’re all part of nature. Some day the world will recognize this, but meanwhile there’s plenty of work that’s waiting. For the sake of all the others who are like you but less strong and less gifted perhaps, many of them, it’s up to you to have the courage to make good.”

The most readable sections of the novel are those set in the grounds of Morton with the young Stephen. Pastoral descriptions are full of English pride and a liberating sense of natural freedom. Stephen is at her most free when she gallops across green hills and fields with her faithful horse Raftery.

“The gardens lay placidly under the snow, in no way perturbed or disconcerted. Only one inmate of theirs felt anxious, and that was the ancient and wide-boughed cedar, for the weight of the snow made an ache in its branches … But it could not cry out or shake off its torment.”

These early episodes make wholesome use of natural metaphors that are infinitely more successful than the later episodes contained within inner-city Paris. The gay bars that Stephen and her partner Mary frequent later in the novel are dirty and degrading and Stephen is appalled that she must be forced to mix with the people for whom life has “at last stamped under; who, despised of the world, must despise themselves beyond all hope, it seemed, of salvation.” They are described as “haunted”, “tawdry” and “shabby” and it is sections like these that betray a hint of classist bias.

Maureen Duffy, in her introduction to the novel, expresses it thus: “The Well certainly has its shortcomings both as a work of literature and as an apologia for a homosexual way of life and love; nevertheless, for decades these have been outweighed for many readers by the novel’s mere existence in telling them that they were not alone, and by the courage of its author in both writing and defending it.”

“I am one of those who God marked on the forehead. Like Cain, I am marked and blemished. If you come to me, Mary, the world will abhor you, will persecute you, will call you unclean. Our love may be faithful even unto death and beyond – yet the world will call it unclean. We may harm no living creature by our love, we may grow more perfect in understanding and in charity because of our loving, but all this will not save you from the scourge of a world that will turn away its eyes from your noblest actions, finding only corruption and vileness in you. … And when you come to me for protection, I shall say: ‘I cannot protect you, Mary, the world has deprived me of my right to protect; I am utterly helpless, I can only love you.’”

Re“Vamp”ing The Classics: Book Vs. Screen

For anyone who missed it being published on Clamour’s website, here’s the article again (Click here to view on Clamour):

 

Are we too precious about the classics, or is the literary canon being sullied by modern adaptation and blasphemous reinvention?

Is this a question of artistic integrity or snobbery? Or is it nothing so high-flown, and merely a signal for change in social approaches to literature and the arts in general? In an age where the big screen is constantly beating books in the popularity contest, the relationship between these two art forms is changing. Slap a new cover on an old book, with the familiar faces of a recent screen adaptation, and that book will fly off the shelves that before had only been gathering dust.

Two recent examples that have undergone a screen ‘revamp’ are “War & Peace” by Leo Tolstoy, in the much acclaimed BBC adaptation in January of this year, and the Jane Austen inspired “Pride & Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, released as a feature film in February.

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Reworking literature is not a new idea. Satire has always existed, ever since there were people making art, from Ancient Greece to the present day. Satire, parody, homage and pastiche – the oldest forms of criticism or veneration. What, then, makes these two examples of particular interest? What new trend are they evidencing? Continue reading

Book Review: “The Noise of Time” by Julian Barnes

 

The Noise of Time

By Julian Barnes

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5-stars

I was already a fan of Julian Barnes before I read this book. But I was familiar with his more overtly humourous titles – “Flaubert’s Parrot” and “A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters”. While this new novel is still unmistakably stamped with Barnes’ wry style, it is of a blacker kind than I had previously encountered.

“The Noise of Time” tells the story of real life Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, during the twists and turns of the Russian Revolution. It is a tale of one man’s struggle, and the problem of artistic freedom versus artistic integrity. You might think – or hope – that the first will bring about the second. If the artist is free to create as he wishes, then surely what he produces will, if he possibly can, be naturally something with integrity. Not so, when the grip of Communism has so thoroughly distorted the nature of what it means to be free.

“Let Power have the words, because words cannot sustain music. Music escapes from words: that is its purpose, and its majesty.”

The distortion of language, of terms like freedom and truth, make the role of musician in our historical protagonist an interesting lens through which to view Russia at that time. Even if words have been betrayed, perhaps there is still hope for music. Perhaps music can be heard above the din of propoganda, and deliver secret messages to those willing to hear. But if Shostakovich’s music could reach worthy ears, would political “truths” and the ghastly practise of Revisionism so dismantle the Russian landscape and its people, that both the man and his music would be drowned out by the noise of time?

And in amongst the big political and cultural questions Continue reading

Cinderella Pantomime Tour – Christmas 2015

A touring pantomime of “Cinderella” around care homes and primary schools. No one could ever say this job was easy.

We played to audiences who were asleep; dementia patients, who heckled vehemently; special needs patients, who grabbed performers mid-song; crying women; cheeky men; bored carers; unhelpful carers; rude carers; delightful carers; enthusiastic carers; over-enthusiastic carers; the most noble people I’ve ever met.

We played to unimpressed pre-teens; precocious 7-year-olds; wannabe drama queens; excited children; shy children; loud children; quiet children; happy teachers; grumpy teachers;  inspiring teachers.

We had some great shows and we had some difficult shows.

Long days, difficult audiences and far too many hours spent in the car with two people I had never met before. This tour had the potential to be absolute hell. But it wasn’t.

My two fellow panto-makers made this tour a joy from start to finish. Our beautiful, honey-voiced Cinderella, Kate Izzard, and my partner in ridiculous panto crime, George Francis, brought this show to life in a way that I couldn’t have expected. No one expects fireworks with this kind of tour. Mediocre is the order of the day. But we put our heart and soul into every show, no matter how strung out we felt. Come rain, shine, or seemingly perpetual darkness, we followed our satnav to destinations unknown, put up our little curtain and jumped in front of it with verve and vigour. We brought joy to hundreds of children and residents.

Bad jokes, smelly costumes, Continue reading

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Silliness with a Hint of Genius

Edinburgh Fringe flashback for you!

Update on this year’s romping coming soon!

Enjoy the Fringe everyone!

Alphabetty Spaghetty

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: a month wherein an entire city is transformed into a performer’s playground.  Any and every free space in which an audience can be squeezed, will be squeezed. Magic, performance art, circus acts, dance, music, theatre, comedy… basically, much like Rule 34, if something exists, there will be somewhere to see it in Edinburgh.

Besides being the biggest arts festival in the world, it is also the festival of needless accessories, vibrant hairstyles and one too many piercings. If you’ve ever tried to spot an arts student on a university campus, you’ll know the kind of fashion choices I mean. It’s the kind of fashion choice that screams “I’m quirky, deal with it! And I don’t care that my interesting accessory is by all counts more of a hindrance to everyday life than it is visually appealing!” (NB: I am in no way exempting myself from this…

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Impolitic

I have a confession to make: I am 21 years old and I have never voted in a general election. Or any election for that matter. I know: throw me in the stocks and pelt me with rotten vegetables. I’m one of them. That’s what many of you will be thinking. That is unless you are, like me, one of millions who have failed to cast a vote in recent years.

Why haven’t I voted? A myriad of reasons (none of which is ever good enough to excuse my continual lethargy), principle of which is this: I do not understand politics. Voting blindly based on who my parents or friends vote for is not something I see as an option. If I’m going to vote, I will do so based on what I believe in.

I can snigger half-heartedly at satirical TV panel shows, because I know that’s what we’re supposed to do. I’ve been trained to laugh at politicians from an early age. I snigger because the basics have been made plain to me: Tories are selfish, upper class twits, Labour don’t know how to look after money and the Lib Dems tried to please everyone and failed. These are the major parties as I have been given to understand them by the likes of Ian Hislop and Frankie Boyle. As for the other parties, hardly any registered on the radar until recently. The Green Party and UKIP, previously stuck in the political paddling pool, are now dipping their toes into the Olympic pool and everyone is uproar about the implications. All this I express with the utmost disassociation: these are not my opinions. This is merely what I have gleaned from my own extremely narrow experience of politics. So I can snigger at a comedian’s jibe because I know that politicians are to be laughed at. That’s what I have been taught and what the majority of popular culture perpetuates.

I have never taken the trouble to understand it and that is my own fault.

But I have made a decision: I am going to change that.

Step one:

Register to Vote

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote (So should all of you, Follow That Link!)

In the lead up to the 2015 UK General Election, I am going to educate myself in the mysterious and confusing ways of politics. I no longer want to be in the condemned section of the pie chart labelled “Non-voters” that seems only to grown. I no longer want to be counted in one of the worst groups of offenders: Young People. My age bracket needs a kick and I’m starting with myself.

Organised Spontaneity…

Organised Spontaneity: The magic of film and theatre. You organise a place and time. You arrive, buy some popcorn, take your seat and wait for something to happen…

It is a sad fact for those who devote their lives to this industry, that the magic is diminished by their very involvement in it. By knowing too much of the process, it becomes difficult to let the magic happen without analysing it.

But then, sometimes, the magic jumps right back in.

*     *     *     *     *

I volunteered to help out on a film set last weekend. For anyone reading this who assumes the words “film set” mean something glamorous and thrilling, let me dispel the illusion: this is rarely the case. Nothing extravagant, no notable names or fancy locations: a small “hipster-ish” bar not far from London Bridge, a small cast and crew, and a few friends helping out, on a cold and windy day in January.

The majority of our time was spent on the small, open roof terrace. With little to protect us from the elements and intrusive noise from the building works close by, it wasn’t the cosiest of settings. It didn’t take long for people to engage in their own personal warm-up routines between takes; what I shall refer to as The Warm-Up Shimmy soon becoming a popular choice among cast and crew alike.

The most anticipated scene to be filmed was the first meeting of two female leads who quickly fall for each other. You might have thought that the casting for these two characters would require some compatibility testing, that they should meet in advance to assure there was a level of natural chemistry before making the final decision to cast the pair. This was not the case.

Until the moment the director said “Action,” neither of these women had seen each other before. Instructed to stand at either end of the set and look at their feet, less than 10 feet from each other, but not allowed to look up.

“Camera rolling”

“Action”

One walks. The other stays still. They collide. They look up. They make eye contact. They smile…

Without rehearsing, without really meaning to, they smile. A perfect moment is created, captured on film and preserved in slow motion.

Organised spontaneity. Making magic.

And, that’s why I love acting.