Archive for January, 2009

January 31, 2009

Talking about genre

I was talking to a friend recently about Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. He’s just seen the movie and claimed to be disappointed in it because it was “too literally a fairytale”. Now I think the book (which he hasn’t read yet) is far superior to the movie but I like the film anyway. It has a brilliant cast and it’s sweet and funny and quirky and you know exactly where it’s going to go.

…which is why it’s a fairytale, of course. So when S and I talked about it, I found myself saying “he can only go as far as the genre allows”. And then I was rather annoyed with myself.

I need to find a language that speaks of the limits of genre without calling them the limits of genre. Has anyone? Where do I start looking?

January 27, 2009

In the past I have wondered…

…how one might leave the Hindu religion (i.e cease to be called a Hindu, counted as one in the census, etc) without actually converting into another. Is this the solution?

January 24, 2009

Looking at the pretty pictures

In the last three days I have acquired new editions of books I already own purely for their illustrators. The first was a (bright pink) copy of H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds illustrated by Edward Gorey. I did not know that this existed; I was thrilled to find that it did. It’s on my shelf looking pulpy and garish and awesome, and I’m very pleased with it.

The second had more significance because it was something I’d been looking for for ages. Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed by now that I like Mervyn Peake. Rather a lot. At some point in the 1940s Peake did a series of illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Some of these pop up in anthologies sometimes, and I’ve always admired them (I’m almost as much a fan of Peake’s art as I am of his writing). Then yesterday there it was in Midland (the Aurobindo Market branch; the bit outside the shop where all the Penguin classics and grubby children’s books are kept), slightly foxed but generally untouched and in good condition. Anyone could have picked it up. I’m lucky it was me.

January 19, 2009

Copasetic results of internet searches

I learnt a new word today.

I have returned to the motherland for a few days and have spent today meeting people and looking at books. Since I was last here, a number of things that might interest me have been published – I was glad to finally pick up Vandana Singh’s The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet. However, one book whose existence had completely escaped my notice (and the notice of Jai and Aadisht, who were present when it was discovered) was Novoneel Chakraborty’s A Thing Beyond Forever.

The question of why we hadn’t noticed the book before is a difficult one to answer. I suspect it has something to do with the title. I’ve said before that gratuitous ellipses and the word “love” in capitals are important for popularity, and ATBF has neither. It tries to make up for this in its subtitle (of sorts, I wouldn’t think it was a subtitle were it not on the cover and spine), “The reward for every true love is not love…” The reader will immediately perceive that while “love” is written in lower case, it is mentioned twice to make up for it. Still, I don’t think this will prove adequate, even though the ellipses are all one could wish. And my reason for saying so is this – ATBF is simply too difficult a read.

This is not to suggest for a moment that ATBF is a bad book. On the contrary, the dense, lush prose at the beginning of the book reminds one of the opening pages of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or some of Joseph Conrad’s more evocative passages. Consider:

The girl had never witnessed anything like this before. The place, like future, was an arcanum but, unlike it, there was an air of democracy all over. The view resembled the surreal painting of utopia which the brush of her rapturous wishes had made on the canvass of her heart, since childhood. It wasn’t exactly heaven but something more beatific and specific. It was a dream. And the ambience sprayed a déjà senti feeling on her.

Srishti Publishers’ earlier publication, Tuhin Sinha’s That Thing Called LOVE: An Unusual Romance… and the Mumbai Rain was praised because “no other book will give you as many big words for only a hundred rupees“. That was then. For the same price, ATBF outclasses it utterly. This is clear even on the back covers of the two books. TTCL’s protagonist merely had to “strike a balance between chimera and actuality”; ATBF’s protagonist, Radhika, is not only taken through “a cavalcade of exclusive events”, but even after she receives “the copasetic answers” (this is my new word; after much headscratching over whether it existed the internet informed me that it really does) the book is not over.

According to the back cover, ATBF is about Dr. Radhika Sharma, “an aberrant and arrogant feminist” on the outside. The book offers a frank and unembarrassed look at gender relations. Even the cover has the silhouette of a woman in pink gesturing after the silhouette of a man in a blue tie. Cutting straight to the heart of it, the book tells us that despite her feminism, Radhika attracts men so that “they felt the torch of civililization revolt between their legs” (not my emphasis). During the book’s magnificently written sex scene, Chakraborty explains the difference between men and women, showing a definite familiarity with Freud when he describes “the gap within her – the gap which epitomizes womanhood”. Women do not have torches.

The sex scene itself deserves to be quoted in its entirety (because it is so difficult to find well-written sex) but a few lines will have to suffice.

He put the tip of his thirsty tongue on her back and slithered up like a sexy snake… He descended and touching her breasts with his face reached the belly. He, with the ferocity of a caged carnivore, rubbed his cheeks on it and encircled her belly button with the tip of his tongue that was, she knew, poisoned with indomitable* passion… Next, the figure took her inside the adjacent room which, like the end of the corridor, was brightly lit but with the white luminous bulbs of true love.

*Like the Gauls.

January 17, 2009

It really IS about guilt.

In the past week (in a fit of post- paper-submission rashness) I have watched two movies based on books and found neither satisfactory.

The first was Twilight. There is little to say of it except that lines that were funny on paper are somehow more hilarious when said by a sparkly Hufflepuff. Kristen Stewart had a constant “WTF” expression (does she always, or was it merely bewilderment at finding herself being called “spidermonkey” by a glittering Cedric Diggory?). The movie was only redeemed by Ashley Greene’s adorable hair and by not containing (of necessity) Meyer’s dreadful prose.

The second, and far more interesting to me, was last year’s remake of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I have loved that book since I first encountered it in a school library ten years ago. I’m also very fond of the 1981 BBC TV series starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder; in part because it was so faithful (at something like 10 hours long it could be), and because it was so gentle, and nuanced, and full of pretty people.

The new adaptation is the normal length of a movie and so cannot afford such luxuries as nuance. Right before the film started the friend I watched it with wondered how one would cram it all into 2.5 hours. “This is a movie about sex and Catholic guilt”?

…and then it started, and about three lines into it Charles was claiming that all he felt was guilt. From then on the movie bludgeoned you with it.

There are some entertaining moments. Every passage featuring Charles’ father (played, I think, by Patrick Malahide?) is a thing of beauty – though the focus on his chessboard made me think of an entertaining scenario where Mr. Ryder is the godlike, mastermind who organizes all of this for Charles’ education. There’s also a (terrible, really, but we giggled) bit where Sebastian’s brother Bridey informs the audience that he likes “huntin’, shootin’… and fishin’”.

On the whole, though, it’s awful. Matthew Goode as Charles is gorgeous, but not very interesting. Ben Whishaw is also attractive, but (unlike Anthony Andrews, who really was fascinating) at no point is it obvious that Charles would fall in love with him. He’s also made rather more camp than in the book (while Anthony Blanche, bafflingly, is made less so). Julia (played by Hayley Atwell) is much better than either of these, but in the earlier parts of the movie she has none of the air of unattainability that she has in the book. Plus the rather cringe-worthy reunion between her and Charles (the audience is subjected to this scene twice) prejudices one against her.

With three characters who aren’t particularly interesting, the only way the audience could possibly know that there was anything going on between them is for Charles and Sebastian to drunkenly kiss, for Charles and Julia to kiss, for Sebastian to witness said kiss and be sad over it, and for Lady Marchmain to warn Charles that Julia is “destined” to marry a Catholic.

Lady Marchmain. She worked well enough as a character (as you’d expect of any role Emma Thompson undertook) but she was too individual, and too forceful for me. The Lady Marchmain of the book is a rather menacing character because she remains a shadowy, background figure identified almost entirely with the House itself. Thompson’s version is sympathetic, interesting, and actually too much of a real person.

On the whole….no. I think I’d rather reread the book.

January 12, 2009

It is 2009

…and I start the year with a picture of an inflatable giraffe in a hanging chair hammock thing.