Monday, 24 October 2011

WUDS: The Real Thing

by Tom Stoppard.

... I thought it was excellent. Some of my friends disagreed, but I thought hat the costumes were fantastic, authentic 80s, not really bad fancy dress knock offs that are currently so popular (kudos to Becky Bailey) and the set was spectacular. I especially loved the noticeboard back wall, it's very similar to the walls in my bedroom...

Ed Davis who played Henry was fantastic, we all agreed. Somehow he seemed to become a middle aged man in front of our eyes without falling on stereotype. He embodied the part, never once appearing out of character. It was pretentious without ever being unlikeable, something quite difficult to do. Unfortunately I found Niki Williams a bit flat in comparison, but only because her counterpart was so good.

I loved the use of the balcony as what my tutor Tess would call a "discovery space", seeing only spotlit silent fragments of characters lives outside the confines of the single flat and train carriage. I thought that the conveyance of emotion without speech must have been quite difficult to portray, yet worked perfectly to break up the other lengthy scenes. What was also very clever was the smallest details, both in script and production; that Annie is starring in Tis a Pity she's a Whore and reads Catch 22 on her train journey to Glasgow. Tiny tiny details, yet wonderfully depicted.

The true joy of this play for me however was the soundtrack. I want it. The best of 80s music all the way through, heard over the gramophone and the radio. Simply fantastic. Good music, good acting and fast paced, witty writing, overall an excellent night out. I wish I could recommend you all go see the play but unfortunately it has now finished. There is another WUDS production in a weeks time of Marlowe's Faustus.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Hamlet: Derek Jacobi and Patrick Stewart BBC version

I didn't think there could be a worse version than that of Mel Gibson. I was wrong.
For one thing, this is the FULL version of the play, running at 212 minutes. However whilst this isn't a problem with the Globe productions or even the Kenneth Brannagh version which captured my interest, this production simply bored me. The props and scenery were minimal, and if you're going with that style, then you need to have really convincing performances from every single actor.
Whilst I adore Patrick Stewart, his Claudius was unmemorable, never really convincing me he was a scheming villain who killed his brother. There seemed no deep emotional involvement. Plus, he looked really weird with hair.
Horatio seemed to completely fade into the background, merely a nothing character there to prompt Hamlet, despite his having some of the deepest and most cutting lines in the play. I can't even remember what he looked like.
Gertrude did a lot of heavy breathing in a very low cut dress, this was pretty much all that stuck with me after she had died.
Now, Derek Jacobi. Perhaps I would have overlooked all these other small issues if the Hamlet had been captivating. Every... Single.... Word.... Seemed... to.... have... a... dramatic... pause. A wild flourish of arms or a drawn out siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. It was very overacted to the point of hilarity. He also decided to stare into the camera for each soliloquy, which was quite disturbing as I was sat about a foot from the screen. Every so often I would turn back from the conversation and see a strange man staring at me intently.
My primary complaint with Jacobi however was his delivery of the To be or not to be soliloquy. This is one of the most famous pieces of literature in the English language. And I was bored. I didn't care whether Hamlet decided to be a good little prince or to throw himself from the battlements. And therein lies the issue, I love Hamlet, I love the deep introspection, the mercurial emotions, the hate, love, lust, anger and revenge that sits at the heart of the play, but if the actors aren't utterly believable then it becomes a 212 minute dirge.

Two points of mention; Laertes and Polonius were amazing, Polonius balancing the thin line between ridicule and dislike from the audience but appearing a genuine, brown-nosing drip, whilst Laertes anger added some much needed authenticity to the final acts which otherwise seemed to crawl along at a snails pace.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Hamlet: Mel Gibson style

Amazingly, this 1990 blockbuster was nominated for 2 (count them, 2!) Oscars. What the academy were thinking I'll never know, but it was probably something along the the lines of "ooh look at all the stars! And it's Shakespeare, you can't knock Shakespeare!"

The best I can say is that it was interesting.

Mel Gibson seems to have modelled Hamlet on a thug. The only way he is able to convey anger is by throwing people against castle walls, ignoring other avenues such as tone, expression or even the BLOODY WORDS ON THE SCRIPT. (I am calm, I am calm... breathe.) I'm just saying, Shakespeare has expressed the most complex emotions in beautiful, elegant and empathetic language. There's a bit more to Hamlet in my opinion than just anger.
Then there's the hair. They decided Hamlet should be blond, but in dying Gibson's hair it has gone a straw like auberny brown. Not handsome. Half the time I was concentrating more on his hair than on his words, which says a lot about his acting.

There is also a really creepy sex-like encounter between Hamlet and Gertrude (played by Glen Close) just before he kills Polonius. He's meant to be a little mad, but with the writhing and the moaning and grunting and thrusting it came off more as creepy than anything else. Plus, Glen Close takes the opportunity to neck someone any chance she gets, whether its Hamlet (too long for being appropriate, plus on the mouth), or Claudius who comes of very Henry VIII-like - loud, pompous, always carousing, eating, drinking, getting amorous or partying. The one true moment I felt was when he spoke to Laertes about his love for Gertrude, which was quiet and understated compared to the brash character we viewed for the other 2and a half hours.

I understood from the beginning that chunks of text would have to be cut to produce a Hamlet for the masses in the cinema, but I had to question which bits were cut. There is no mention of the ghost for the first half hour, the soliloquies seemed rushed or severely cut and Ophelia's gradual descent into madness and rambling folly took place in the space of two seconds. Normal. Completely bonkers. Dead. And that was the end of Ophelia.

This I felt was a shame, as Helena Bonham Carter does crazed and loopy very very well. In fact I'm stretched to remember a role that hasn't included insanity. Nevertheless, I thought Ophelia was a good representation, if severely limited in development due to lack of screen time.

What was used instead of speech was a large number of dramatic and misty landscape shots of the castle, the sea, galloping horses, dilapidated turrets, fancily dressed nobles.... It was very atmospheric and pretty, but didn't add much to the play. I personally would have favoured a bit less window dressing and a bit more acting.

With Fortinbras entirely cut from the plot, I was curious as to what would be made of the finale. I liked the fighting between Hamlet and Laertes, feeling real sympathy for Laertes as Gibson portrayed Hamlet as prancing around, using the bout for comedic effect against the deeper tensions of the room. However, the poisoning of the cup and sword couldn't have been staged in a more obvious manner. They must have thought the audience a pretty stupid bunch, needful of having the situation c-l-e-a-r-l-y and s-l-o-w-l-y explained.
As to the question of what happens to the Danish court with the massacre of their entire ruling class... unexplained. I'm assuming the country went into financial melt-down and descended into anarchy, but that's my choice.

Overall, if you want to see a GOOD staging of Hamlet, my advice would be to instead view either the Laurence Olivier, RSC David Tenant or the Kenneth Branagh versions, all of which are longer but very very enjoyable; well acted, visually pleasing and true to the text.

So Catrin Says...

Back to blogging

So, university has recommenced and I have a ridiculous number of plays, films and books to remember, hence here I am. Coming up we shall have 18th century drivel and filth, 19th century brilliance and misery and Shakespearean wonder and horror. For my part I shall simply endeavour to be honest and regular.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Truth About Forever

At the moment I am revising for my second year uni exams, and so have to re-do a lot of 'classic' fiction. But in my relaxing time I'm re-reading my favourite books. This is one of those books.

The Truth About Forever
Sarah Dessen 

I read this book for the first time when I was thirteen, borrowing a ratty old paperback edition from my tiny local library. The next day I bought a hard back edition. I've gone on to buy every single Dessen novel on the day of release, right up to her current hit "What Happened to Goodbye" (there will be a review soon).  But  seven years after my first encounter, it is this book to which I constantly return as it still has the same effect, making my laugh, cry and smile.

It's the story of Macy, the girl whose dad died. Except she's slowly learning that that isn't all she has to be, and that maybe it's ok not to be perfect.

I'm not going to critically analyse this book or even give my usual synoptic review. In all honesty I don't think I'd do justice to a book that has meant so much to me. Instead I'm just going to quote the last paragraph, as it sums up perfectly the truth about forever...

Forever was so many different things. It was always changing, it was what everything was really all about. It was twenty minutes, or a hundred years, or just this instant, or any instant I wished would last and last. But there was only one truth about forever that really mattered, and that was this: it was happening. Right then... and every moment afterwards. Look, there. Now. Now. Now.

For the hours of happiness it has given me I can only say thank you to Sarah Dessen, and please, keep on writing. 

Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Merchant of Venice FEATURING Patrick Sewart and... Elvis?

@ Royal Shakespeare Theatre by the RSC

I saw this production on the 24th but it's taken me a few days to gather my thoughts and come to a conclusion as to what I thought. Directed by Rupert Goold, The Merchant was to be a modern retelling, similar to Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. Set in a Las Vegas Casino, the set was striking, and different and somehow it worked. The contest for Portia's hand in marriage became a gameshow, Shylock a Casino Boss, and Launcelot Gobbo transformed into the resident Elvis impersonator. At first I was bewildered, yet by the end of the first act I was entranced.

With the opening number set to "Viva Las Vegas" with girls in feathers dancing and Elvis in his spangly white jumpsuit surrounded by tourists it was clear why Vegas was chosen - what better setting for a play about corrupt business dealings and loose religious morals? Although some of the older audience members didn't seem to appreciate the modern pop culture references scattered throughout, in our row at least hilarity ensued at the entrance of the lads in full douche-bag get up, popped collars and all, to "Barbara Streisand", and even more so at the girls pre-wedding beautification whilst bopping to Glee's rendition of "Don't Stop Believing". For me, it served to remind us of how not all that much has changed since the days of Shakespeare, we still have the same stereotyped roles and still laugh at the same sexual innuendo. It also highlighted that perhaps some things that should have changed are still present in modern day society.

Now we're onto the real reason why I wanted to see this specific staging of The Merchant of Venice.

Patrick Stewart.

I'm going to give one long EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH! of fan-girl adoration then move on (I mean he's Captain Jean Luc Picard AND Professor X AND a fantastic Shakespearean actor? What can't the guy do?)

Many reviews of the production have commented on how Stewart seems to be distinctly separated from the cast, and I would completely concur. He seems to inhabit a different sphere, both in his style and in his characterisation of Shylock. Whilst all other characters are styled extremely modern, Shylock is more reserved, more classical in his appearance, dressed in stylish suits or a tux. The production then attempts to reverse what would in Shakespearean times have been an accepted stereotype; that Shylock, as a Jew, was the bad guy. In this production however, we sympathise with the character. The lines of the play remain the same, the delivery is all altered, with Shylock presented as the summation of his experiences within a society where individuals are callous, shallow and insincere.

The finale "happy ending" is then left in limbo, as the false recounting of the final act highlights the tension between supposedly happy couples and friends. The resulting question of who is the winner in this situation is daunting - nobody wins, nobody is happy, and the beautiful words do nothing to hide the stark truth of how cultural stereotypes influence our perception. Whereas other productions may still accept the treatment of Shylock at face value, I was left wondering how I would have felt after a different show.

For me, this production was simply amazing, to the extent that I cannot express how much I enjoyed it or can recommend it. The fact that days later I'm still puzzling over the nuances in staging and style can only emphasise the brilliance of the cast, crew and director. Kudos.

So Catrin Says

Saturday, 21 May 2011

John Green!

I haven't been reading many new 'literary' type books at the moment that aren't literary criticism and essays, so I thought instead to write about one of my favourite young adult authors.

For those of you who are unaware of the wonder that is Vlogbrothers, Brotherhood 2.0 or DFTBA (Don't Forget To Be Awesome), John is the co-creator along with his brother Hank. I've followed them on Youtube for quite a long time now, and reading John's novels has always been one of those things that was on my to do list that I never quite got round to doing until last week.

I have to say that I wasn't expecting too much, as the quality of YA fiction can be dubious, and I don't like to get my hopes up; also I tend to find it difficult to connect to a male protagonist unless the writer is exceptions (e.g. JK Rowling, Tolkein etc). I shouldn't have worried.

My friend Alice very kindly lent me Looking for Alaska. I finished it within 3 hours and stole Papertowns from her the next day (for which I am forever in her debt).

The stories are original, clever and thought provoking, the dialogue both witty and realistic. The characters are not perfected beautific figures of hope for humanity - they're the kind of people you want to be friends with, and the kind of people I recognise parts of my own friends in. And this applies to ALL the characters - not just the two mains for a change.  What I love most is that John Green doesn't go for the easy happily-ever-after ending, and what we get instead is a much much better novel, even if I longed for Alaska to fall deeply in love with Miles. Let's face it, life doesn't always give us a happy ending.

So I'd like to thank John Green for brightening up a few hours for me last week, and reminding me that teen fiction does not have to be illiterate, uninteresting or generic. These books reminded me of why I wanted to do a literature degree, so now, with a bit of perspective, I'm back to reading my Tolstoy and Flaubert... lucky me.

So Catrin Says. xx

Wednesday, 11 May 2011



uch a fi

dim diolch.

But I MUST NOT JUDGE because it is a 'literary classic'. Even if it is about an old man's fantasies about a 12 year old girl.


Friday, 15 April 2011


by Knut Hamsun

Just thinking about this book makes me feel hungry.

Just learnt that it is set in Norway as well, and not Hungary as I originally thought. That would have been a quite clever title, although whether it would work in translation is doubtful...

...the front cover is quite nice too...

Ok, I've put off talking about the actual book as much as is possible. It's about a man who is driven crazy, or is already crazy, depending on how you look at it. I think the author must have been crazy personally. Every time he makes any money he does something stupid, like give it away, or buy something idiotic rather than sensible food to keep himself alive. This is why I disliked him, he is not down and out on luck, facing hard times or even a victim. Every thing that is wrong with his life is his own god damn fault and yet he continues to blame everyone else.


Unfortunately, unlike 75% of the books on this European Novel course, he doesn't commit suicide or die at the end. Isn't even gravely injured. If ever there was a character I wanted dead, apart from Werther, who was waaaaaaay too whiney, it was this guy. And he tempted me... wandering by the docks in the early light of dawn, I was willing him to go all Virginia Woolf. Unfortunately he got on a boat and that was the end.

This is pretty much all I have to say about this book. He was hungry, miserable and crazy. That sums up over two hundred pages of rambling prose about walking through the streets with cold feet (which is about the only thing I can sympathise with, having chronically cold feet myself).

Unmemorable to say the least.

So Catrin Says

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


By Niall Griffiths

I hate this title, and I really dislike this book, which is in turn disgusting, derogatory and generally weird.

But I'm not going to focus on that, you'll be pleased to know. The descriptive scenes of West Wales are stunning, eliciting images of the beautiful and dramatic mountains, moors and heath. It almost seemed reminiscent of The Mabinogion, with it's flow and cadence, at times both poetic and timeless, fitting the heritage of Wales. The author clearly did his research when it came to the animals in the novel, which, even though usually followed by some horrific event (I'm thinking lamb with it's eyes plucked out dying slowly as a child tries to replace the eyes with stones) are accurate and described beautifully.

It takes a very good author to make a barren bit of hillside in Wales, with little but rock and gorse, being pelted with rain or shrouded in mist appear at once beautiful and lifelike.

I also liked the discussions that raged in our Devo seminars about nature versus nurture, and whether the main character was inherently evil and screwed up, or merely a product of the series of terrible events that formed his childhood (personally I'm on the fence, believing in a bit of genetics and a bit of upbringing). I also liked that the issue of devolution or identity wasn't shoved down the reader's throat, apart from the determinedly provocative title, as the question of the formation of a welsh assembly was present in certain scenes in a manner that fitted the situation and the characters, eg on the news, overheard in the pub, or background noise from the radio. It's realistic, not overly complicated.

However, as I've stated, I'm deliberately avoiding the horrific and scaring events of the novel, which at times made me nauseated. This is not a book for anyone remotely squeamish... and I'll leave it at that.

So Catrin Says

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

On to London

Brick Lane
by Monica Ali

I dislike this book. I find it quite dull, and I don't get what all the fuss is all about. It's about the experiences of a Bangladeshi woman who moved to England to marry in an arranged marriage. And I sympathised with her, I really did, but I couldn't empathise, if you understand my point.

If this book was meant to make me culturally sensitive or aware, it did not succeed in making me believe in the actions of a patriarchal society in which women have the same role they did in Britain 200 years ago. I hated Chanu, and his willingness to blame everything wrong in his life on  racism, his overwhelming desire to return home and his unwillingness to integrate into society. I hated the situation that Nazneen's sister, Hasina, was placed in and the way in which she was treated in Bangladesh. Overall, I hated the situation that Nazneen was in, without any control over her own life.

Despite this, I do believe that the book gave me a different perspective to the events surrounding and immediately following 9/11. As a child at the time (either 10 or 11) all I understood was that all the adults were very upset and scared, even in our little corner of Wales, and that something truly terrible had occurred. People were screaming and shouting on the news all day long and everyone was on the alert. However, in my area, the number of Muslims, or even people of Asian decent is about zero, and I don't think I had the awareness that others living in bigger towns or cities would have been aware of. In this, the book showed me a perspective that I would never receive through the news or local society.

It gave me an insight, but I found it difficult to get through.  Not necessarily a bad thing, and I appreciated the discussions it provoked, as to when someone becomes English or British, and the difficulties or retaining or losing one's culture... This I honestly found a lot more interesting than the book, and if I'm honest, out of choice I wouldn't read it again.

So Catrin Says

Monday, 11 April 2011

Howells Family Trip to the Theatre

to see.....

We Will Rock You!

staring Rhydian from X-Factor and the scottish girl from Over The Rainbow.

Still not really sure what I though of it. The choreographed ga-ga pop dancing was pretty amazing, but the first half was pretty slow until the bohemians arrived in the form of Britney Spears (a very hot scottish guy) and Meat Loaf (OTR girl). Any scene with the bohemians had me dancing in my seat, singing along and cracking my sides laughing, in comparison to scenes with the Killer Queen who I found a bit dull, and not as scary as Rhydian who looked like a Nazi SS officer.

Perhaps I was prejudiced though, having seen the original cast perform at the Queen's Jubilee, where Killer Queen was played by Sharon D. Clarke, who is so astoundingly brilliant and gives me goose bumps that no one was ever going to really compare.

The little one off quips really carried the script, with references to all kinds of cultural icons, from The Wombles and Mr Blobby to Simon Cowell, The Beatles and Michael Jackson. I giggled a lot.

What I loved most of all however was the overall presentation - without the amazing costumes and an obviously fantastic stage crew managing the plethora of lights the show wouldn't be half as good, despite the bloody good sound track. Overall a fab day out.

A little nod also to the Welsh Millennium Centre, which remains one of my favourite theatres ever. 

So Catrin Says 

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Ireland: part 2

Reading in the Dark
by Seamus Deane

This is my favourite book in this module by a long shot. Read it if you ever get the chance.

A piece of history, a mystery, a folk-tale, a memoir, and essentially an enthralling story.

We follow the narrator through a series of memories/events from early childhood to adulthood, along the way piecing together fragments of a story, of which no member of the community knows all. A murder, a betrayal, a punishment, a pregnancy and a missing uncle who is in Chicago/Las Vegas/ Dublin/ England/ Dead. Each person knows a little, but in a community where secrets are sacred and nobody speaks of the past a child grows up, trying to understand the silent tensions that control his very existence.

As each confession or secret is garnered a different facet of life appears to the reader, and each slightly changes the readers perspective, of events and of the family around which they circle. Many have transformed or gained myth-like qualities, and the traditional magical folk-lore of the island becomes entwined with each tale, as people seek ways to justify actions and find alternative reasons for the violence and drama around them. Memories, lies, confessions and stories; each is subjective, and the reader can never be sure of the position or role of any of the characters - there is no "good" or "evil", only shades between.

That the narrator goes unnamed makes him an every-man character. Is this representative of a childhood in the Irish troubles? Or a single screwed up family, in which each person's role has become twisted? Each individual garners a list of labels - protestant, catholic, nationalist, republican, unionist, royalist, police, labour. The removal of these labels to a child in the heart of the troubles then adds the question of how we classify him - a product of his family, or an individual, and in a society that clearly has already judged and classified him by his predecessors, does it really matter?

I truly love this book. It combined the history of politics with the heritage of the land in its style, and manages not only to be enlightening, but a bloody good read aswell.

So Catrin Says

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Onto Ireland

by Bernard MacLaverty

The story of a boy haunted by his participation in a crime which led to the murder of a protestant policeman, with him as the get away driver. To make matters worse, when he refuses further IRA work he is forced into hiding, leading him to the house of the policeman's wife (a catholic), whom he has grown to love.

Pretty unlikely, but a bloody good read, excluding the odd disgusting metaphor here and there.

From the outset, Cal is an outsider. A catholic on a protestant housing estate. An objector to some of the IRA stunts. A son who refuses to take on his father's role in a slaughterhouse. He fits nowhere, and therein lies his affinity with Marcella (policeman's wife) who is a stranger to the area, and who married a royalist law enforcer.

In the divisions between Cal and society, which accumulate throughout the novel, we then see the problems of Ireland through a single individual's eyes. No matter which road he takes, someone will be angry, being either a traitor or a terrorist and murderer. The crux of this is seen in the figure of Cal's father, a man who, after years of offending no one, except by refusing to leave his home in a protestant area, indeed who works in an all protestant slaughter house, is burned out of the home he built with his wife, leaving him a shell of a man, full of angst, fear and depression which further isolates him from the world.

The slaughter house is then a blatant symbol of the bloodshed that fills Irish politics and society of the time (and perhaps even now, after the murder last week of a CATHOLIC policeman, by whom no one knows, the book seems to be relevant once more...)  However the reader is left to ponder the ethics of Cal's predicament, and wondering what they would do in a similar position.

Or So Catrin Says

Friday, 8 April 2011

I suck

It's official, after one month I got caught up with essays, and eventually forgot my pledge to record every book. So as punishment, I shall blog every day until I'm caught up starting.... NOW

The Lonely Londoners 
by Sam Selvon

A story of the immigrants that flooded London (in particular, though not exclusively) from the British colonies in the West Indies after world war two. Through a number of (I want to say caricature, but this is definitely the wrong word...) character portraits of men and the lives they live in an isolating and sometimes cruel city we learn of the conflicting problems that arose, both to native Londoners as well as to the immigrants.

Between the desire to assimilate into British culture, and the need to replicate some of their native cultures in order to provide some comfort and familiarity in a foreign land, we see the opposing forces of old and new. The variety of characters and the manner in which their story is told - in fragments, fluidly moving between time, space and people -  ensures that the reader is never left with one idea of "The Immigrant". We see exploiters and con-artists contrasted with those who are exploited and duped, the work-shy with grafters, those who long to be a part of this new culture, to be English versus those who will not, or cannot, let go of their past and culture.

The main problem I had (not with the novel, but with the idea that arose around the whole immigration idea) was with characters who came to Britain to work, as was their right as citizens of the British empire, who then brought over their entire families from their native country.  The primary focus of this in the novel is seen in Tanty, the aunt of a worker who has travelled, along with every other relative, to the UK in order to look after her nephew. I'm not sure why I found this so arresting, but in some ways it just seemed wrong that every member had an equal right to entrance to Britain, not only those willing to work or their immediate family relations.

In the majority of characters we then see a general dissatisfaction with the life they find in London, a sense of being let down from the golden life that they were promised or imagined. At the end of the novel, I found myself wondering whether immigrants ever reconcile their homesickness with their new home, or whether it is an ever present factor nagging in their heads, and asking why, if they were really so unhappy, they did not return home.

The fact is, that no matter how lonely they found themselves in London, the prospects appeared greater than those of their own countries, whether the reality reflected this or not.

Or So Catrin Says. 

Saturday, 29 January 2011

How Late It Was, How Late

by James Kelman

This book won the Booker Prize for literature back in 1994 (I was only 3!) amidst controversy and outrage from the press, but fought back with many literary figures support of it as a work of art.

The reason, of course, is the fact that it contains an abundance of swear words. Can something that contains so much offensive language be Literature, with a capital L.
The answer is yes.

Written as a stream of consciousness, with no boundaries in the form of chapters or sections, the reader get a rare insight into the mindset of Sammy, a character dependant upon social security but with a strict sense of morality and key perspective of a bureaucratic, almost Kafka-esque nightmare of a welfare system. After taking a beating from the police after a three day bender, Sammy goes blind and now has to navigate the pitfalls and traps into which so many fall in dealing with the state.   With the loss of one sense, we rely much more on the words recorded and their possible layers of meaning, as without facial expression and body language we are confused as to the subtleties and purpose of much of the conversations.  The ambiguity over narration is also confusing as we cannot be sure of their authority and truthfulness. We only have Sammy's opinion, and don't even know whether he is to be trusted as we know nothing of his past. This battles with the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty, raising questions as to whether we believe Sammy or the state? and why we do or don't believe their version of events.

It's a hard book, no easy read, but it is very interesting to discuss.  Personally I'm not comfortable with excessive swearing, but this is essential, along with the phonetic and dialect choices made by Kelman.  If this book was written in Queen's English it would not be the same book, or represent the same situation or the same character. So who cares if he swears a lot, many people do. If you don't like it then don't read it, but if you're interested in seeing (or not seeing as the case may be) a different representation of life on the breadline then this book will not disappoint.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Free Willy II

Clearly not as good as the original, but a million times better than the third.

There is an oil spill in the hunting grounds of the Killer Wales and Jesse, Nadine and Elvis, Jesse's new-found half brother must do all they can to get Willy, Luna and little Spot to safety (nice little bit of echoing between humans and whales). Randolph is as always amazing as the native american healer, as are the other lead actors.

But the reason I adore this film is because of the whales and the music by Basil Poledouris. The footage of the whales hunting and singing combined with the haunting melodies makes this one of my favourite childhood films, despite it not having princesses or talking animals or explosions.  In many ways it was years ahead of itself with regards to environmental message, and has an effect of making children think in a way which modern films can't quite seem to grasp.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Sinking of the Laconia

aaagh I know it's been ages, but now that my essays are done I vow to do one blog a day until I've caught up :)

Ok, so I watched The Sinking of the Laconia about a week ago and I was a little confused at first. Essentially it was a troop ship during world war 2 that was carrying prisoners of war and civilians from Africa, but was sunk by a German U-Boat. When the Captain ordered the ship to rise to check out the damage they discovered the women and children and so took them aboard in order to save the survivors.

Basics out of the way... It started as a kind of bad Titanic remake, with the prisoners in squalid conditions below deck and the upper class English Ladies sipping tea and singing "We'll Meet Again" on the deck. This made the first episode rather dull in all honesty. However, on the sinking of the ship, we discover that one of the "ladies" is a German escaping trial, and many interesting bonds begin to develop, especially between the Germans and the British. It becomes a focused moral drama, where the decisions of the U-Boat captain and the British and German high command are called into question. The British suspect a trap, and so refuse to send out rescue boats, the Germans believe that War is War, and so the survivors should be abandoned in their lifeboats in the middle of the ocean.

The hardest parts involve the children and the Americans. The German escapee loses her baby when the ship sinks and two young children lose their mother, whilst their critical father abandons them to the care of others. The Americans, being told of a missing ship, send out a search plane.  It see's the U-Boat, with painted red cross and many passengers and, ignoring the odd circumstances, fire recklessly, killing some and injuring others.  The surviving British commander then jumps in front of the German Commander, saving his life and being injured in the process.

The main issues are then the intricate balance between respect, morality and orders, with a capital O.   The U-boat captain acts honourably, ignoring his orders for as long as possible, whilst the impossible seeming friendships develop between foes and enemies, regardless or nationality and class. Thus what was a quite boring and predictable start became very enjoyable, despite the awful portrayal of a Welsh accent...

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Hidden Truth of Churchmoor Terrace

by B.K. Nijjar.

I'm going to prefix this blog by stating that this is quite simply the funniest book that I have ever read. Ever ever ever. 

It involves a mysterious house...
built on a haunted graveyard...
under which there lies a secret company office...
sitting on top of a hidden ballroom...
which hides the zombie barracks...
that covers the hidden tunnels...
to the mysterious GOLD MINE
and the lair of the pig monster...
with a secret door to a magic land where escaped dwarves live.

I KID YOU NOT. All this in under 200 pages? That's a bargain.

Essentially Cara (the heroine) and Lucia (her friend) are walking home from school when Lucia is blown away in a sudden mysterious tornado.  Cara continues home as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. She later sneaks out to look for her friend who has not reappeared (shocking, I know) and discovers all of the above ^ and that some unnamed evil is TRYING TO SUCK THEIR LIFE SOURCE. Understand? Good.

Interesting plot twists/bits which make me love this book:
1. There are classes of zombie. Some slave away in the gold mine.  Others Waltz around a ballroom in gowns and suits.  Marx would have something to say about that...
2. The elegant Zombies drink blood from a special fountain and sleep upside-down on the ceiling, like Vampires
3. If there is need of a change of location, Cara will invariably knock herself unconscious or fall down a hole, like an uncoordinated Alice from Wonderland
4. Morphey the demon pig makes friends with Cara after nearly eating her, and takes her home to his lair on his back to meet the family.  This would be sweet, except for the fact that he just tried to eat her...
5. The dwarves are bizare, like reject Disney characters, who escaped the mine into this Narnia/Ireland combo land, leading to the resurrection of the Zombies
6. Cara's lovely Dad shows up to save everyone and blow up half the street before everyone goes home for tea...

Except for Lucia, who you may have forgotten, who is now a zombie. Tragic eh?

I don't think it's meant to be a rolling-on-the-floor-laughing comedy, but that was it's effect on me and my friends on discovering several copies in the garage. If you can't source one (which you probably can't) feel free to borrow mine. It'll cheer you up in no time.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The Atom Station

The Atom Station by Halldór Laxness

Set in Iceland just after WW2 with the threat to some countries of the Cold War, and this leads the Americans to try to secure a deal to build a nuclear atom station.  You can basically forget all this however and just concentrate on the relationships and character development as once again Capitalism and Socialism clash.  The story is told from the perspective of 19 year old Ugla (from the North we are repeatedly told. i.e. she's a country bumpkin, a bit like me) coming to terms with the big city, where she has come to learn the harmonium, which I think is a basic piano. 
It's sounding a bit dull, but I'm not doing it any justice. It's an amazing kind of surreal situation, with a maid, a crazy harmonium teacher, his demented mother, a member of parliament, his bonkers family, a prostitute called Cleopatra, two poet-thieves who believe themselves to be Gods, an unselfconscious policeman and a self-conscious policeman with a vocation to become a thief. Quite a cast eh?

The fact is, it draws you in and keeps you guessing all the way through, which is unusual.  An odd mix of Icelandic folklore and traditions and new American influences, eclectic characters and a fantastic storyline with interesting underlying questions as to the motivations and loyalties of politicians, and the comparison of what is truth.

I will say I was disappointed in the ending, but only the last ten pages or so. But then again, I should have known it wouldn't end the way I wanted, it is after all a novel for my European novel course.  I guess I should count myself lucky that it doesn't end with massacre or suicide, and with that I will have to be satisfied.



Ok so to clarify, the number of stars I give a novel does not mean that I don't think a book is good, it simply means that I personally did not enjoy it. For example, Germinal is not an easy read, but I enjoyed it, whilst I didn't enjoy The Trick is to Keep Breathing despite thinking it is a good book.

However, sometimes I will think that a book is rubbish, in which case, tough luck. Sorry.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Trick is to Keep Breathing

The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

What to say... I didn't get it.  I didn't figure out who "Joy" was until 3/4 of the way through, and she's the narrator.

The men are seemingly interchangeable, with no real differentiation between them, and the plot confused me so much in its roundabout way of un-chronologically listing events.  Also the occasional two short lines set on their own in the margin at random intervals.  Weird.

I'm going to presume however that this was a genuine plot device in order to convey the confusion and distress of the narrator's mind, in which case, it worked.  I ended up more puzzled at the end than I had at the beginning. She seems like a bit of a slut, trying to explain away, cover, her mental problems with promiscuous behaviour with any Tom, Dick or Harry, regardless of whether they have families and partners.

I felt that the section of the the novel in the mental institute (or whatever the politically correct term is nowadays - God I sound old) was very well written to convey the horror of being constantly misunderstood and the irritation of being dismissed and labelled, although I think that maybe a definite label and easy 10 step solution is what she expected and wanted in some ways.

However, the most annoying part of the book is most certainly the conclusion, which royally pissed me off.  To finish mourning her dead lover, get rid of her depression and begin living again she..................... (wait for it)................ cut her hair, dyed it purple and got some piercings.


I shouldn't criticise, different things work for different people after all and there is no easy solution yadda yadda yadda. But after plowing through this dull story, I was hoping for something a bit more profound.  It honestly would have been more fitting for her to commit suicide.

Ms. Galloway, congratulations for writing the worst book I have read so far in 2011.

Monday, 10 January 2011

GB84 by David Peace

A combination of thriller, mystery and historical commentary, GB84 is a diary of the General Strike of 1984, running week by week through the lives of those effected, from government advisers and Union Representatives to the miners and police on the front line.  In my opinion, Peace gives a well balanced account of the events, highlighting questionable choices on both parts and not judging the people involved, but leaving the reader to come to their own determination as to who was in the right.

As we watch trust break down among friends and colleagues and violence increase I can only be reminded of attitudes usually attributed to WW2: Stick Together but Don't Trust Anybody. As unions and government talk of loyalty to the cause, the question arises as to what is more important; the life and rights of an individual, or the greater good for the greatest number of people, and does this excuse the extraordinary measures taken by the police to intimidate and brutalise the public that they are sworn to defend, or the disruption of an entire nation by the NUM.

What is most important though, is that this book is a bloody good interesting read which will get you thinking as to the changes of the last 25 years, and how a different outcome would have changed the way we live today.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Alice in Wonderland

When I was a child, I read Through the Looking Glass.  I found them confusing but loved the idea of a kind of inverted reality (although clearly I wasn't clever enough to know this and just liked the funny people).  I hated Alice.
When I was five I saw Disney's Alice in Wonderland. It gave me nightmares, repeatedly.

So when the huge advertising campaign for the new Alice in Wonderland I wasn't exactly thrilled. However, being down with the kids/up on the trends I finally got round to watching it.  The first thing that struck me was that she looked ill. Not slightly-drained ill but full on I'm-going-to-throw-up-no-please-help-I'm-fainting kind of ill. At times she was green. I'm very pale but if I ever look like that then I think that someone should put me out of my misery.
(CORRECTION) apparently, this was the look they were going for, I stand corrected.

Back to the the film... the first half hour was forgettably weird, like they had taken every English stereotype and misunderstood it, but once you get to Underland the story does, thankfully, pick up. The role of Alice is, in my opinion, superfluous, as she does very little but grow, shrink, look confused and act like a complete ninny. Saying that, the supporting cast (I feel terrible using the word supporting, but I can't think of a better one) carries the story and actually kept me interested.  The combination of Barbara Windsor, Alan Rickman and Matt Lucas is genius, whilst Helena Bonham Carter is a fantastically demanding Queen of Hearts.  In comparison the White Queen, i.e. Ann Hathaway is fantastically bland and dull, and I'm not quite sure why Hearts cards and White pawn check pieces are combined (explanations welcome). However the star of the show is undoubtedly Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter giving the character surprising depth in his portrayal, combined with his renowned bonkers humour.

Luckily, this film didn't give me nightmares, which, amazingly, marks it higher than Disney's original... Who would have guessed?

Monday, 3 January 2011


Ok so this post is dedicated to Angharad who gave me the idea.

As a book to inspire me for the new year... I think this is the best I could have chosen, despite it's slightly depressing end.  Written by Emile Zola it depicts France in the turbulent period of Napoleon Bonaparte's reign as emperor and the strikes of a small mining village... etc etc

Apart from all the historical stuff, the storyline is enthralling, with the intertwining of several story lines around the central Maheu family and the revolutionary minded Etienne, in which we get to know every member of the family and their neighbours intimately. It is in the minute details of their lives and their suffering that I think the reader gets captivated, until you feel their plight, their anger and the injustice as though it were your own.  There is no 'hero' of such, as every character has depth and flaws, from Catherine's low self esteem to Etienne's stubborn refusal to see beyond the immediacy of his actions and the manipulation of his power.

The machine of their world is literally crumbling around them, their relationships, their power and their mines (and they are THEIR mines, not the owners) and it says enough that I raged, screamed, cried, laughed and mourned along with them.

Similar in effect to the works of Victor Hugo, this book is powerful and manages to create a world now gone, even if it does evoke more tears than chuckles.