Friday, 4 July 2008

Books read in June

The following are short reviews of the books that I read in June. The marks I have given them in the brackets are out of five.

The Face of War: New Zealand’s Great War Photography – Sandy Callister (3.3)
WWI was not the first time that war was photographed, but it was the first time that it became the primary visual representation. Photography appealed as a medium because it was ‘real’ although no photo is neutral – all have a purpose. These photos, from the tourist snapshots the men took while on leave, to the studio portraits printed in the ‘Roll of Honour’ are all used for something.
The same images of gruesome facial disfiguring are used to support the anti-war movement and to promote the advances of plastic surgery.
As a book from a New Zealand perspective it focuses on Gallipoli – there was no soldier photography permitted on the Western Front, although there were no such restrictions in Gallipoli.
For a book about photography, there seem to be few photographs, and the author over-analyses and lacks common sense. It reads like an over-anxious university student trying to get a good mark for a thesis, but some of the images are worth looking at.

Home School – Charles Webb (4)
The sequel to The Graduate reads like a cross between Woody Allen and Tennessee Williams with fantastic theatrical dialogue and knowing, random asides, mainly about home schooling. Benjamin and Elaine are home schooling their two children which causes them to fall foul of the school principal. In an attempt to make him drop his efforts to get their children to attend his school, the pair enlist the services of Elaine’s estranged mother to seduce and then blackmail him.
Elaine’s mother is, of course, the infamous Mrs Robinson (now known as Nan), and there are soon seductions, recriminations and blackmail all round. When Garth and Goya, the hippy couple who introduced them to the home schooling notion, come to stay with their adolescent breastfeeding children and their notions of healing circles, the tensions in the household seem ready to implode.
It is the interweaving dialogue and the sardonic style that make this novel stand out. And it does stand out; it is not just another sequel. Webb is self-mocking of his authorship and his characters, looking down on them like a disinterested deity. It is as if Webb doesn’t want to get too close to them and therefore we can’t engage with them – they may be his idols but they still have feet of clay.

Deaf Sentence – David Lodge (4.2)
This intellectual novel is well written, with puns and witticisms combined with deceptively rambling asides that are actually tightly structured, in the tradition of grumpy old men.
Desmond Bates is a retired university professor of linguistics. He is bored in retirement and he has no purpose to his days save for trips to visit his elderly father in London. To make matters worse, he is losing his hearing and he drinks too much. When Alex Loom, a young PhD student asks him to tutor her he is flattered, despite the ghoulish subject of her thesis – a linguistic analysis of suicide notes.
Desmond begins to keep a journal in which to record his thoughts, writing up awkward escapades as short stories, to try and exorcise the humiliation and embarrassment of the experience. Sometimes he writes in the third person, sometimes the first, enjoying an exercise he often gave to his students.
As his oral and aural communication becomes more strained he likes the control he has over the written word. The paragraphs are dense without much dialogue and it’s quite heavy going but the effort is well rewarded, in a similar way to a novel by Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes, Justin Cartwright or Alan Bennett.

Scapegallows – Carol Birch (3)
A scapegallows is someone who cheats death and that is what the heroine of this novel, Margaret Catchpole, does twice. Sentenced to death, her sentence is lessened and she is instead transported to Australia, where the novel begins and ends. The 400 pages in the middle tell of how she got there.
The style is laboured and reads like an account of ‘what we did on our holidays’. It is narrated by Margaret, who was actually a real character, and, as a servant, she has only recently learned to read and write, so her language is flat and even, with all incidents being given equal weight. This quickly becomes trying on the reader, as does her lack of judgement over Will Laud, the sailor and smuggler with whom she falls in love.
She is a free spirit who believes in equality, treats everyone the same way, and expects the same herself. When this proves unattainable, she attempts to equal the balance, and this, added to her misguided love, lands her in gaol. In some ways she is independent and adventurous, but she is also brought low by her love of a man – the stuff of sentimental ballads and melodramatic miniseries.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Euro 2008: final

Yes, I'm pleased that Spain won Euro 2008. If I were a betting person, I'd have put money on them from the start. They played with enough flair up front combined with a solid enough defence to keep out the other big names.

And of course there's Torres. Liverpool need to hang on to him and I sincerely hope they do. As long as they are in contention to play in the European Champons League, they have a good chance.

The final was a great game. People (especially those who don't 'get' football) will say that a 1-0 scoreline is a bit dull, but then, as I said, they don't really 'get' football. Lehmann played a blinder and (with the help of Frings' knee) is the reason the score wasn't higher.

Apparently Lehmann has since complained about the 'biased referee'. This rather tarnishes his excellence, as ref-baiting is usually the last refuge of the sore loser or the New Zealand rugby fan - or is that the same thing? Roberto Rosetti is Italian with a Croatian mother, isn't he? Why on earth would he be on Spain's side?

I loved the entire spectacle despite wishing ardently that we were there. If it took Spain 44 yearts since their last win at a major football tournament, maybe we can repeat the feat. I'm looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers now!

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Thought miles

Yesterday was a good friend's birthday. I thought of her and I wrote a card. She lives in England so it isn't going to get there for at least a week. It has to fly there in a plane because I sent it airmail. I am contributing to the destruction of the planet by sending greetings around the world.

The phone doesn't really work because we are annoyingly half a day apart. When I am sitting down to relax with a glass of pinot and Coronation Street, she is heading out of the door to work, after preparing the kids' breakfasts and taking them to school. Much though she would love to sit down and chat, I'm sure it's the last thing she has time for in her hectic maternal schedule.

And a letter is so much better than an email or a text. When I was a child my aunt travelled to exotic locales and I used to love receiving envelopes or crinkly airmail letters covered with her distinctive handwriting and clourful stamps often with arabic language I couldn't understand printed across them. Without meaning to be naff, I pictured them bringing sunshine into my life in so many ways. I've kept them all in shoeboxes and the memories spring out when I release the lid.

And so I know that it is not cost effective, economically sound or environmentally conscious to tell my friends back in England that I miss them and I love them and that they are in my thoughts. But I will continue to do so because yes, we may only have one planet, but without true friendship in our lives, it wouldn't be a world worth living in.

Thought Miles

My morning is your night before.
When I’m out drinking
You’re starting work,
And I seldom call or write,
But I often think of you:

When I have a carpet picnic
Sitting cross-legged on the floor
With crisps and taramasalata,
Hiding from the rain and the world;

When we’re driving in the car
Singing along to The Primitives,
Hair blowing everywhere
And passing the time with ‘which is better…?’

When it takes hours to choose
A film to watch that night
Drama or action thriller,
That we’ll talk through anyway;

When I tell stories
About my history and background
Friends and influences
That made me who I am.

If you could read my mind
You’d know you’re always there,
But if I forget to tell you
I hope that you read this instead.
And know I think of you.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Cobham Drive

Cobham Drive

The wind wand is horizontal;
Rainbow neon circles are all aglow;
Coloured boxes spin violently
In the urban forest,
While the resin rods clatter and chatter.

Filthy and ferocious gusts
Force manmade modes of transport
From the street and into the waves.
Sea meets the sky,
Swallowing the earth elementarily.