30 March, 2006

Get ready for the judgement day, part II

As part of my minor fascination with life after the nuclear holocaust, Nevil Shute's On the beach from the local library. The premise is that after a nuclear war in 1962, the entire northern hemisphere is covered with a cloud of radiation that has eradicated life, and which is spreading gradually southwards. The novel is set in Melbourne, Australia, as its inhabitants gradually wait for the inevitable end, predicted to come in about six months' time. Central to the novel are the captain of the last US submarine, which escaped destruction through being on manoeuvres in the Arctic, and a young Australian girl who is reacting to the disaster by drinking herself to death.

It's well written if a little stiff - the dialogue, as in most Shute novels, reads like the script of a 1940s British war film, but it is well plotted and the prose is workmanlike - but it's the set-up which is most interesting and thought-provoking; even in a post-Cold War world Shute's suggested scenario for a nuclear war is chilling. Shute is comparable to other rather stoical, macho writers of the Cold War period, like John Le Carré, but he has none of Le Carré's subtlety and is far less morally nuanced. An intelligent and gripping novel nonetheless. [18]

Get ready for the judgement day

Judy Garland was a fascinating character - the ineffably innocent girl star of The Wizard of Oz who died a junkie, the golden girl of American showbiz who became a monster to work with, MGM's biggest moneymaker who ended up almost unable to afford to feed her own children. Like the other two great failures of the twentieth century, Elvis and Marilyn, a kind of mythology has grown up around her - most famously, she was the model for Neely, the child star who became a showbiz legend in Jacqueline Susann's sixties cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. Gerald Scarfe's biography of her, Get happy, tries to examine the person she really was beneath the legend. [17]

Unfortunately, it's not a great biography. It's well researched but ultimately unsatisfying - and this within a genre, biography, which is by definition unsatisfying (who can really tell about someone's life from the outside?) It's muddled, messing up the chronology in small but inexplicable ways, jumping between different people's views of the characters without ever trying to resolve the contradictions inherent in these, giving a generous interpretation of someone's actions on one page and tearing them apart on the next.

Judy is totally fascinating though. The life of the MGM star reminds me very much of what you read about Elvis: to a certain extent they are pampered, indulged, kept sweet, but at the same time their lives are completely controlled, their telephone calls and telegraphs monitored, even the decision of whether and who they can marry is evaluated on a purely commercial basis. It would make a great film - if anyone could ever make it.

If you find bookcrossing a bit too random...

... why not try Read it swap it? Register your books, and if you like someone else's, you can offer to swap for one of theirs. You only pay for the postage.

Incidentally, it would definitely be morally wrong to put your own swapping parcels in your employer's post tray. Even if said employer was a library and therefore parcels of books in the post would raise no eyebrows.

Bookcrossing is an infinite, random book exchange -- you register your books then release them into the wild -- leave them on a bench, give them to a charity shop, leave them on a bus -- and eventually the person who finds it should post on the bookcrossing website to tell you where they picked it up.

03 March, 2006

Bring back the routemaster bus!

So I finally finished a few books.

The first three novels in Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage sequence: Pointed roofs, Backwater and Honeycomb. Beautiful atmosphere and characterisation; so beautiful that it wasn't until I was halfway through the third one that I realised how little had actually happened. If Proust is like this then I want to read Proust. [12] [13] [14]

A book about Melanie Klein, by Julia Segal. Klein was a psychoanalyst who developed Freud's theories but who also believed you could psychoanalyse children through play. Her theories about the way children develop and her ideas about the focus of children's obsessions - not so much on the penis, more on the mother's nipple) are fascinating, and somehow much more real-sounding to me than Freud's. [15]

Also, The Ipcress file, by Len Deighton. I saw the film recently, which was splendid - lots of detail about sooty, sixties, Routemaster London. The book was good too although I never get particularly riveted by Len Deighton novels - they're tremendously tough and macho and not very atmospheric. I do like all the detail, though - he gives a very precise idea of the exact lifestyles and class status of his characters. [16]