Sunday, 6 July 2014
It’s great to see the King Of The Monsters back on the
big-screen, and it was a no-brainer that I was gonna go and see it. I’ve had a
couple of weeks since seeing it now, a couple of weeks to think it over, think
it through and get over my initial slight disappointment and grumpiness at all
the plot holes. On coming out of the cinema, I was a bit unhappy; why wasn’t it perfect, dammit! However,
after a couple of weeks to calm down, let’s have a more balanced little look.
Apologies for the lack of flow.
Tuesday, 15 April 2014
A SWAN CAN BREAK A MANS ARM, YOU KNOW?
A SHORT APPRECIATION OF SUE TOWNSEND
Wednesday April 2nd
I am thirty-five today.I am officially middle-aged. It is all downhill from now. A pathetic slide towards gum disease, wheelchair ramps and death.
Sunday May 5th
Bowels – blocked.
Penis – unresponsive to stimuli.
Saturday November 16th
I am still without ntl. The engineer refused to get out of his van because Gielgud and the other swans were walking around the car park, looking as though they owned the place. Before he drove away he said, “A swan can break a man’s arm, you know.”
Sue Townsend, after a decade and more of ill health, died on April 2014, aged just 68. She was among my very favourite writers, perhaps at the very top of the list. THE SECRET DIArY OF ADRIAN MOLE AGE 13 ¾ was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I myself was around that age, or just a tad younger. I loved the book, having picked it up in a charity shop, and I remember saving my money and rushing to W H Smith’s to buy the sequel, THE GROWING PAINS OF ADRIAN MOLE. I’ve read them half a dozen times or more. At 12 or 13 I loved reading about Adrian and his chaotic family, their mishaps, and really funny incidents like the school trip to London which Adrian doggedly documents. Much of it went over my head; I was too young. I didn’t know who Dostoevsky was, or what The Female Eunuch was all about. At each subsequent reading, a little older each time, new things sprang out at me; new insights into character, new jokes, new humour. I have followed Adrian Mole through eight volumes into his 40’s, up to the cliff-hanger in THE PROSTRATE YEARS [none of Mole’s friends or family can pronounce ‘prostate’ properly] where his fate remains unclear after a battle with prostate cancer. Sue Townsend was working on another volume, Pandora’s Box, when she died. So while it is clear that Adrian Mole has survived his brush with death, it is unclear whether this book was anywhere near publishable, so Townsend’s thousands of fans may never get to read it.
Sunday July 18th
My father announced at breakfast that he is going to have a vasectomy. I pushed my sausages away untouched.
Sue Townsend was born into working-class poverty, a lifelong character in most of her books. She was a single parent for years, and wrote in secret, until her first Adrian Mole book became a huge success, being one of the most bestselling books of the 1980’s. Over four decades she has become widely recognised as Britain’s best-loved comedy writer, but there is far more to her work than just humour. Underpinning almost everything is a sense of the working-class, the normal man in the street, and hardship, poverty and the difficulties of life. Pervading through all this is perhaps one key message, one thing that makes the world a better place, no matter if you’re the Queen or an unemployed storage-heater salesman; simple kindness. Her writing is laugh-out-loud funny, but also humane, tragic and bittersweet. She has a brilliant sense of timing, an eye for off-beat but completely believable characters, and a quiet fondness for quiet and clever comedy. Her books mirror society; Thatcher and unemployment in ther 80’s, Facebook and celebrities in the ‘00’s.
Sue wasn’t all just about Adrian Mole. She wrote six other books, and six plays, winning great accolade and awards. My favourite of these is The Queen And I, a fantastically funny and moving novel, about the Queen and her family stripped of their royalty and estates and treated like anyone else, sent to live on a rough housing estate in the Midlands. Here, Prince Charles has an affair with a woman down the road, Prince Phillip goes a bit mental, and Harris, the Queen’s corgi, becomes the leader of a tough street-pack of homeless dogs. The Queen meanwhile is portrayed as a kind but sad character; she often has to borrow money to put in the gas meter, or go to the benefits office for a crisis loan, but when called upon to help her neighbours she repeatedly stands up to the plate, helping to deliver a baby in a poverty-stricken house, and cleaning up the messes left by her family. The point here is that no-matter who you are, rich or poor, everyone is the same, we all have our failings, we all have a heart.
Sue Townsend was, and will continue to be, onme of my favourite writers. I am sad that no new books will dance out of her pen. But I will continue to re-read her excellent books; she left us with some proper crackers.
Monday December 13th
My mother and father sat together in the chapel, briefly united. Me and Pandora sat either side of Bert. He said he wanted to have ‘young ‘uns’ around him.
Then, while the organ played sad music, the coffin started sliding towards purple curtains around the altar. When the coffin reached the curtains Pandora whispered, “God, how perfectly barbaric.”
I watched with horror as the coffin disappeared. Bert said, “Tara old girl” and then Queenie was burnt in the oven.
I was so shocked, I could hardly walk up the aisle. Pandora and I both looked up when we got outside. Smoke was pouring out of the chimney, and was carried away by the wind. Queenie always said she wanted to fly.
R.I.P Sue Townsend. 1946 - 2014
Friday, 14 February 2014
I first read THE SHINING 17 years ago, when I was nineteen, and
it was among the first of King’s works that I read. Recently, and with its belated sequel DOCTOR SLEEP sitting by my bed, I picked it up for a revisit, to check back into The Overlook Hotel.
THE SHINING is among King’s most famous and iconic works; if you’re reading this, you’ll know what its about. Everything shines; six-year-old Danny shines, he is psychic, and gets visions from his imaginary friend, he can get hints of the future, or of possible futures, he can see dead things, things from long ago that linger. His parents, Jack and Wendy, like many characters in the book, also shine, but to a much lesser extent. King postulates that THE SHINING is a clairvoyance, a psychic sixth-sense that is latent in everyone, but not active; many people shine to a greater or lesser extent; some people have just a touch – intuition – but a few really shine on, doc, much like Danny Torrance here, and the Hotel’s cook, Halloran, who also has it big.
The Overlook is a huge luxury hotel, high in the Colorado mountains, with a long, dark, history: it too shines, like a beacon, it shines it’s past to sensitive folk, the hotel is alive, it is The Overlook, it watches. When it gets a hint of the raw shining power in young Danny, it wants him, it lures him, casts its trap, and uses the old ghosts within Jack, ghosts of failure, and alcoholism, of despair and guilt, to make its catch. Jack, and Wendy, are haunted themselves, long before they get to the hotel, and once the Overlook has got its claws in, and the snows have closed around them, in their freezing isolation, the hotel strikes; through Jack’s ambition to succeed, it uses him, plays him like a marionette, to get what it wants. Had the hotel been successful, only King’s imagination knows how terrible the Overlook could have become.
So, then, THE SHINING, King’s 3rd novel, is a ghost-story with as many floors as the Overlook itself. It is largely about character, and about Jack’s journey from a problematic but loving husband and father, to a psychotic puppet of evil. Jack’s descent into madness is described at length; for me, some of it worked, and some didn’t quite, but I believed totally in Jack’s alcoholism, and family background, his character. Character is King’s best attribute; had he been writing successfully for 40 years in a genre other than horror, he would long ago have been widely recognised for his skills with character.
The story is a classic one, a gem of a story, iconic; the isolation, the background, the hedge animals, the shining, all great stuff, skilfully put together. I thought generally the writing was good here, although not as time-polished as some other novels, and occasionally I lost the pace in a few places. Conversely, though, in some places the writing shines. I loved the moment when Jack, locked in a bolted pantry by his wife, has been pounding on the metal door for hours; it is definitely locked, he is secure. Then Jack begins to talk to the hotel, to an ex-caretaker on the other side of the door, a ghost that slides along the bolt... Prose-wise, and particularly, I loved this bit, some fine evocative writing:
Danny was still awake long after his parents’ false sleep had become the real thing. He rolled in his bed, twisting the sheets, grappling with a problem years too big for him, awake in the night like a single sentinel on picket. And sometime after midnight, he slept too and then only the wind was awake, prying at the hotel and hooting in its gables under the bright gimlet gaze of the stars.
The novel has pace, increasingly so, and I waited until I had a spare two hours to read the final quarter or so in one sitting. If you have only ever seen the film [ok but different] or the miniseries [more faithful], and you like that sort of thing, then you certainly should read, or re-read, THE SHINING. It is a fabulous idea, fabulous story, well-written, but for me personally doesn’t quite top some later works like THE DEAD ZONE, DOLORES CLAIBORNE, THE GREEN MILE, or DIFFERENT SEASONS. 8/10
This book cover above [right] makes the book look like a Barbara Cartland type family saga. There is more blog to follow, my waffling about the film and the miniseries versions, and later DOCTOR SLEEP. But for now, I leave you with Toy Shining below. What a long shadow the Overlook has left...