Monthly Archives: February 2013

Run that by me again…? Or… Wobble, My Brain, the reader said!

This week you might have seen me on Twitter recommending an indie horror movie called Pontypool (based loosely on the book Pontypool Changes Everything, by Tony Burgess) . No, it’s nothing to do with the Welsh town. This Pontypool is in Ontario and is the site of a strange viral outbreak that turns the residents into slavering, blabbering, murderous, er, zombies.

Yes, it’s a zombie flick, sort of. Except the key here is that it’s language itself that’s become infected, passed on through speech. The film has the best tag-line ever ‘Shut up – or die!’, a difficult option when the story centres around radio ‘shock jock’ Grant Mazzy who hosts Pontypool’s breakfast show.

On a cold, dark, winter morning reports start coming in of strange assaults and riots breaking out. They, and we, can’t see what’s going on, only hear it and repeat it, and broadcast the news of it, hence the virus spreads.

Clearly the film is about more than the obvious ‘radio station under siege’ setup. It’s a satire of ‘talk radio’ and the media age, its ability to literally spread panic as well as to inform. It’s about the nature of meaning and how it can be lost through repetition and juxtaposition. Er, and it’s a metaphor for unthinking mass hysteria – I mean, I think it is.

Probably. Who knows, really? It’s cracking fun though and will mess with your head.

Do you have to understand everything about a movie or a book to enjoy it? Probably not.

There can be something enjoyably unnerving about that sense of being a bit ‘all at sea’ with the grey matter wobbling in your head like an alarmed jelly fish. You might ask yourself what was the author on when they wrote this? Or, more commonly, I don’t get it! Am I just a bit thick?

In this spirit here’s a quick guide to books I ‘enjoyed’ but have no idea what they were about. Books with that dreamlike, incoherent logic that make you think someone might have slipped something hallucinogenic in your tea.

 

Anything by Haruki Murakami

I’ve often wondered if books in translation read in an odd way because they were written like that or if there really is something ‘lost in translation’. I was still gripped by the trippy, compelling language of Kafka on the Shore. There’s a boy and a weird stone in the woods that has a bizarre effect on some school kids, and jazz and a quest.

I think…

Brain-wobble rating 3/5

 

Roberto Bolano2666

There’s a missing lecturer, and some other lecturers are trying to find him, and some nasty murders – in the way only South American murders can be nasty – and some washing blowing on a line that is symbolic of loss, as the lecturers’ search for meaning is futile, like the futility of violence.

Probably…

Brain wobble rating 4/5

 

Anything by Philip K Dick.

The daddy of modern sci-fi was obsessed with parallel or alternative realities. In Flow, My Tears, The Policeman Said, (even the title is a bit bonkers) Jason Tavener is a famous TV personality. One day he wakes up to find all records of his existence erased and he’s a wanted man in a police state. Is Jason going insane? Is there a conspiracy against him? Does it matter? Life’s an illusion anyway isn’t it? Like the illusion of fame and the cult of celebrity…er..

Most likely…

Brain-wobble rating 5/5

 

Mikhail Bulgakov The Master and Margarita

Banned for decades, it’s an allegory of the dangers of communism, no, Bolshevism, no atheism… wait…it’s about a dark ‘master’ magician, possibly the devil, well it might be because Jesus is in it too, in flashbacks, and there’s a cat that’s a woman…

Possibly

Brain-wobble rating 3/5

 

Never mind, rest your weary, wobbly brain matter and look at what the reviewers have said about these classics.

The Village Voice said of Flow, My Tears, ‘Dick was many authors; a poor man’s Pynchon, an oracular post modern, a rich product of the changing counter culture…’

Of 2666 The Financial Times said ‘the arcane allusiveness of Pynchon…the acute yet stylised noir of David Lynch…yet ultimately the books most significant forebear may be Moby Dick, that symphonic masterpiece..’

Hee, hee! They didn’t have a clue what they were about either!

 

Now we can all feel better about feeling like a stupid, wobbly invertebrate-head!

 

*Note: The wobbly jellyfish rating may or may not be imbued with additional symbolism as a nod to the ‘zombie’ genre’s obsession with brain-eating and Pontypool’s ‘brain’ bug. It could just be a lazy simile/metaphor. I’m not telling. 

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New Year, New You? OR Try it, You Might Like It!

Well, it’s February already and, chances are, if you made any New Year’s self-improvement resolutions, you’ve probably broken them by now.

Vowed to give up alcohol? Oh dear, how did that bottle of Merlot sneak it’s way down my throat last Friday night? Promised to go to the gym three times a week? But there’s been snow and everything and it’s so cooold! Absolutely no more fags? Yeah, that quick puff while you walked the dog does count!

Never mind, we’re all weak willed humans, but thanks to Amazon and e-readers, if you want to embrace the spirit of the ‘New Year, New You’  ethos you can do it without leaving the settee let alone the house!

As the shiny promise of a new year glitters ahead I think we can all be guilty of reading laziness, sticking to the same old genres because they’re comfy and snugly. So why not break away from the familiar and expand your reading scope? It still counts as ‘New Year’ self improvement and is much easier to stick to than taking up marathon running, mastering Japanese cooking or learning to speak Spanish!)

So here’s my 2013 Try It, You Might Like It list.

 

I’m no geek! Can’t stomach Sci –fi?

Try an ultimate classic like Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. No, I’m not kidding. It’s set on Mars, yes, but it reads more like a frontier history looking at the way the colonisation affects the earth and the planet which may or may not contain intelligent life. And it’s beautifully written (just don’t be tempted to watch the Rock Hudson-starring 1970s adaptation instead, it’ll put you off sci-fi forever!)

Or be right up to date and pick up Ian McDonald’s Brasyl or River of Gods. These are ‘near future’ recognisable versions of cyber/punk earth with mysteries wrapped around them. But Macdonald excels in creating a sense of place so ‘real’ and vivid you can smell, taste and feel the locations, namely Brasyl/Rio and ‘India’ which are as much characters in the books as the humans.

 

Whodunnit? Who cares? Don’t do detectives?

You’re missing out if you’ve never tried Kate Atkinson. Her first Inspector Brodie novel Case Histories was never intended to be part of a series but when you read it you’ll see why they’re now so eagerly anticipated. This is detecting of superior literary quality, usually with a cast of intriguing characters and converging plot strands that read like ‘contemporary’ fiction than a ‘procedural’. (And it’s a pretty good BBC Series now with Jason Isaacs)

 

I object, your honour! Don’t like legal eagles?

Try Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent. It’s an 1980s bestseller for good reason, made into a faithful film adaptation, with remarkably little silly courtroom shenanigans. If you can ignore the dubious 80s sexual politics Harrison Ford is the lawyer who finds himself in hot water when his mistress is found murdered and the clues point to him. But read the book first and exercise your investigative brain cells!

 

Bleurggh! Brains! Don’t do zombies?

 Max Brook’s World War Z might make you want to get ‘prepping’ and stocking up on bottled water and loo roll! This ‘Oral History of the Zombie War’ is going to be a film this summer starring Brad Pitt. (Though how anyone can take him seriously after that Chanel Advert is anyone’s guess!)  Unlike other zombie-fests this is a collection of ‘first person’ accounts, a retrospective history of the zombie apocalypse through different ‘reportage’ styles. It considers the social/political/economic implications of a global disaster, the various government responses, interspersed with the more personal accounts.

 

I don’t get it! Don’t do humour?

Try David Mitchell’s Starter for Ten. This is much better than his more famous chick fest One Day telling the story of a working class boy in the 90s who really, REALLY wants to be on University Challenge. The film version with James McEvoy, though not quite as funny and cringe-inducing as the book, is really good too – if only to see Benedict Sherlock Cumberband losing his rag as the worlds poshest, prissiest team captain.

 

Pah, pink and fluffy! Don’t like ‘lady’ fiction?

Try Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride or Anita Shreve’s Weight of Water. There’s nothing ‘girly’ about these dark tales of betrayal, love, friendship, sex, death, history, myth making and obsession. (Come on now ladies, play nice!)

 

Yawn? Thrillers?

Raise your pulse with Dennis Lehane’s noirish Shutter Island. Hard boiled and atmospheric,  all is not what it seems at a creepy psychiatric hospital on an island in Boston harbour. (The movie with Leonardo Di Caprio is pretty good too, except for the intrusive, portentous music!).

Or don’t doze off to SJ Watson’sBefore I Go to Sleep. Christine wakes every day with no memory of her life before that moment – so it’s a good job her loving husband is on hand to fill in the blanks, isn’t it?

 

Or go crazy and try one of my psychological/crimey mysteries, Telling Stories  http://amzn.to/Pesgrl or Holiday Money! http://amzn.to/UkkscV Read the reviews on Amazon for yourself! 😉

 

Try them all, you might like them! (and feel a lovely ‘New Year’ smugness  in the process!)

 

By the way, I don’t ‘do’ fantasy and supernatural stuff – in the spirit of Try It, You Might Like It, please feel free to give me your recommendations! 

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