Monday, November 21, 2011

Legend of a Suicide, David Vann (book review)

Posted by lea at 9:02 PM 3 comments Links to this post
I chose David Vann as my V author for The Great Library Challenge, and I wasn't disappointed.

Legend of a Suicide is a collection of a novella and four short stories... but I wish someone had told me that before I started. I read it as a single long novel, and the fact that the characters are the same in all the stories didn't help with the confusion.

The book is semi-autobiographical, as it's about a boy named Roy and his suicidal divorcee father Jim who's a retired dentist who fails at fishing and eventually buys a house in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, and asks his son to stay with him for a year and then commits suicide. In real life, David Vann had a ex-dentist suicidal divorcee father who failed at fishing, bought a house in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, asked David to stay with him, and then committed suicide shortly thereafter.

The short stories are lovely to read in themselves - beautifully written, poetic in their descriptions and Vann manages to capture the many micro-subtleties of human emotion - but it's the novella that's a breathtaker. The novella is the part that describes Roy and his father's adventure in remote Alaska, doing the Bear Grylls survival-thing: hunting, fishing and building things. In the book, Roy accompanies his father in a desperate attempt to keep him alive, as he's sure that left to his own devices, his father will commit suicide. In real life, David turned down his father's offer of going to Alaska with him, and soon after, his father committed suicide. The novella is like a kind of emotional and/or spiritual purging for Vann, imagining what might have happened had his decision been different.

The raw emotions and truly pathetic weakness of Roy's father is simply infuriating. He sobs himself to sleep every night (with his 13 year old son sleeping in the same room), makes emotional confessions to a boy not old enough to process them, attempts to kill himself by stepping over a ledge in the middle of nowhere (how on earth did he expect his son to survive if he'd died?) and tries to emotionally blackmail his second wife into taking him back by saying he'll shoot himself through the head right there on the phone with her if he doesn't. All this leads to tragic and shocking consequences that you simply don't expect, a sudden twist from the author that simultaneously brings (one imagines) release and revenge at the same time.

Legend of a Suicide is a truly intriguing read that continued to haunt me for a few days after. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A new review of Northanger Abbey (part 1 of The Austen Series)

Posted by lea at 4:51 PM 2 comments Links to this post
I'm an unashamed fan of Jane Austen and my only regret is that she didn't write more than the six novels she left behind as a legacy.

For the past 20 or so years, I've read and re-read Pride and Prejudice the most (I estimate I probably read it over 35 times), followed fairly closely by Emma, then Persuasion, then Sense and Sensibility. I read Mansfield Park perhaps twice, and Northanger Abbey only once, because the two heroines Fanny Price and Catherine Morland annoyed me with their passivity and lack of wit - so unlike my favourite Elizabeth Bennett!

Anyway, having done a re-read of all her six works in recent months, I've decided to review them all through fresh eyes. Let's start with the one least travelled by.

Northanger Abbey

Perhaps more than any of her other books, re-reading this one surprised me the most because I realised my memory of it was so imperfect and prejudiced. I probably read it for the first time at around age 16, so coming back to it two decades later gave me an entirely new perspective.

I realised that Austen was doing something completely different with this book than her others. It's not just a straightforward novel - it's in fact a tongue-in-cheek parody of the gothic novels that were so popular at the time. It pokes fun of gothic sensibilities - the expectation of dark horrors in every empty wing of a large estate - through the very virginal and supremely innocent eyes of Catherine (Kitty) Morland. So influenced is she by these novels, that she makes a fool of herself in front of Henry Tilney, the love interest in the book.

The interesting thing about Northanger Abbey is how the tone is so different from her usual slightly detached but affectionate and wry narrative voice. There's something almost comedic in her tone, and this really saves the book from becoming insipid. I have to admit I missed it the first time and found it quite unlikeable. Because Kitty is so witless and innocent, it's easy to mistake Northanger Abbey as the same, but I found a new enjoyment of it this time and was much more charmed by it than before.

What they don't tell you about pregnancy

Posted by lea at 3:58 PM 3 comments Links to this post
I know I've been a total slacker in terms of blogging, but my excuse is that I'm pregnant and I took early maternity leave. Very early. I've been a slacker in many aspects, but now that I'm well and truly in the second trimester (past 5 months now) I'm feeling heaps better and more up to all the things I was avoiding before... like work. Fortunately for me, I work at home at my own pace, and even more fortunately, I have an understanding hubby who makes most of the money so I can relax and watch The Golden Girls at 4pm every afternoon with a clear conscience.

Anyway, I thought before I forget, I should write a list of all the things I had to discover for myself about pregnancy. Everyone talks about how wonderful it is and all the stuff about glowing and blah blah blah, but they don't tell you about the flatulence and discomfort. So this is my review on pregnancy for my own records.

First of all, it's an unending list of annoying discomforts. Especially early on (in the first trimester), there's a lot of uncontrollable flatulence. One time I was in a supermarket and in the middle of a sentence I let one out accidentally... okay it wasn't that much of an accident but I thought it would be silent and it wasn't. Anyway, I thought I'd just keep talking and noone would notice, but would hubby take my lead? No way. He says to me, 'uh, excuse me?' and laughs. Thank you very much.

Also in the first trimester is the general feeling of being unwell ALL THE BLOODY TIME. I just never felt quite right, quite myself, because all those hormones that are developing your baby are also totally messing with your body.

One thing that wasn't too bad for me though was throwing up. I've always been proud of my throw up history (only once in 1984 then again in 2004), but each occasion was just awful and I dreaded the possibility of throwing up during pregnancy. I did throw up a handful of times between weeks 12-14, but I found that it was a completely different experience: this time, it wasn't accompanied by hours of nausea followed by a day of illness. Each throw up was clean and efficient - just heave, heave, blow her out, then I felt fine afterwards.

Something that I'm so glad is over now is taste bud sensitivity. It wasn't so much with food, but I couldn't stand the taste of my own mouth, so I had to constantly chew gum or suck a mint or lolly. Brushing and Listerine only helped so much, and actually, most of the throwing up I did was thanks to the taste of my own morning breath.

A lesson learnt in the last month or so was that I can't eat to the same extent as I used to in a single sitting, because eating too much now causes reflux and it's so disgusting it ruins a perfectly delicious meal. I thought I could be clever and eat as much as I want then just take Gaviscon to avoid the reflux, but the cure is almost worse than the sickness. Yuck! So now I'm exercising self control to eat smaller portions but more regularly.

Thankfully, most of the worst discomforts disappeared by week 18, and I'm told many women suffer far worse than I did so I'm grateful really. But what happened to the glow I'm supposed to have right now? What I have instead of a glow is pimples all down my back (never happened before so I'm blaming it on the pregnancy) and tiredness. But I guess what I'll get in the end - a hopefully healthy and happy baby boy (we found out, couldn't resist) - will be worth it in the end. At least that's what they tell you, right? :)

The Lonely Polygamist, Bradley Udall

Posted by lea at 3:32 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Bradley Udall was my 'U' author for the Great Library Challenge, but since I've been so slack with blogging, it's been ages since I read this book so my review will be very brief and probably not very accurate.

The Lonely Polygamist is about Golden Richards, a polygamist in Utah with 27 kids spread across four wives (he's made up a song to remember all their names)... but as the title suggests, he's still lonely. It's hard to imagine that someone just wakes up to find themselves the centre of a great big family, but that's almost exactly what's happened to Golden - his life is barely of his own choosing, but somehow as he's ambled along, he's managed to pick up wives and children like other people pick up stamps or rocks.

Making the family seem normal is one of Udall's great achievements in this book. Although Golden is in a situation most of us would never find ourselves in, it's hard not to sympathise with him as he tackles his inner emptiness, or with his wives who want him to 'man up' and take charge instead of ducking for cover all the time, or with his kids who just want a piece of him. Their emotions and underlying tensions are the same as any dysfunctional family in any country in the world, which makes the whole polygamy thing barely even an issue, despite it being central to the novel.


I guess the main point of the book is seeing Golden's character develop from a passive bystander to an active participant in the life he's created, and the ripple effect it has on the other characters of the novel. Apart from Golden's own story, we're also afforded glimpses into the lives of Trish, the neglected fourth wife, and Rusty, the most troublesome and neglected of all the kids. Like Golden, they're lonely also, and they all drift along in their own individual worlds rubbing against each other but never quite connecting.

The Lonely Polygamist is a lovely book in its own way and written really well, but if I had to criticise, I'd say it was just a tad too long at over 600 pages.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dr De Marr, Paul Theroux

Posted by lea at 4:30 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I chose Paul Theroux for The Great Library Challenge T author because he's one of those authors you hear about but (in my case anyway) have never read. 

Dr De Marr is an eerie novella with a very creepy cover and several even more creepy illustrations throughout.

The story is about very short identical twins, George and Gerold De Marr, who are bound to each other by intense hatred and a desire for the other's death. When their parents pass away, they finally sever the invisible umbilical cord between them and live their lives free of each other for decades, until one day, George suddenly appears on Gerald's doorstep out of the blue. 

Shortly after, Gerald finds George dead in a chair upstairs and soon begins to unravel the seams of his mysterious secret life. He finds that George has been posing as a wealthy doctor, and soon enough, he assumes this false identity to enjoy its benefits. But of course, the very things that George was running from catch up with Gerald and he finds himself very quickly out of his depth.

Theroux writes with an eerie absence of emotion that casts shadows on every page. The handful of characters that appear in the pantomime are hard to read as they all seem to have their own agenda, of which you're constantly left in the dark.

It's quite a horrid story, adeptly told, with the punchy circular logic of a good short story. But personally, I like my stories with a little more light.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Modern Austen Adaptations

Posted by lea at 4:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Jane Austen sure knew how to write a great story, as evidenced in the multiple modern-day film adaptations of her work. So I've decided to do a bit of a comparison to see who's done it best, going in chronological order.


Clueless (1995)

This was a really smart adaptation of Emma, transported into LA's superficial Beverly Hills high school scene. Didn't we all fall in love with Alicia Silverstone's irresistably clueless Cher and Paul Rudd as her dorky ex-step-brother?

They got the ingredients just right because although Emma is a privileged meddler who thinks a little too well of herself, at heart, she's a well-meaning and kind person who gets things wrong. It's a nice bit of narcissism for the reader/viewer to be more astute and insightful than the girl who knows everything but her own heart, and it's nice to see her humbled a little.

Amy Heckerling did a great job of injecting absurdist humour, poking fun of modern teenagers (like the bumful of underwear showing under low-slung jeans) while also making them endearing and even quite delightful to watch.

Just as it's easy for people to overlook Austen as a bit of fluff about women's obsession with marriage and climbing the social ladder, it's easy to write off rich kids as spoilt brats. But instead, with both Emma and Clueless, we get a reminder that people are people no matter what social culture you belong to, and that we're really not that different at heart.




Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)

A simply superb adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Elizabeth Bennett as a modern, slightly chubby Londoner in the form of Bridget Jones, played to perfection by Renee Zellwegger. While it isn't strictly true to Elizabeth's character (she's witty and intelligent whereas Bridget is kind-hearted and perceptive but very much accident and embarrassment prone), she's just as endearing.

What they do really well in Bridget Jones is bring the fiery love/hate sexual tension between Elizabeth and Darcy to life while making it really funny rather than dramatic and intense. The foibles of the modern independent woman are humorously portrayed and the common theme of people just wanting love, no matter what era you live in, plays out nicely in what is essentially a love story.

Helen Fielding's humour translates well into film, and the characters are modernised scrupulously well. Even Daniel (the wicked Wickham) is someone you love to hate rather than just hate.

This is my favourite adaptation so far.




Bride and Prejudice (2004)

This is Pride and Prejudice with all the colour, verve, drama and music of Bollywood. Instead of Elizabeth we have gorgeous Aishwarya Rai as Lalita, in Darcy's place we have wealthy American hotelier Will, and instead of starched British manners we get people breaking into song and dance, like the memorable 'no wife no life'.

Gurinda Chadha does a great job bringing this story to life, focusing on the common themes of Austen's England and modern day India - like Mrs Bakshi's obsession to marry off her daughters (if only Mrs Bennett had had the resources of IndianMatchmaker.com) and the idea of arranged marriage versus love marriage.

There are a few times when it slips into a little bit of cringe, like the love scenes of Lalita and Will looking into the sunset, playing in the fountain and walking on the beach, which perhaps were deliberately OTT to poke gentle fun at Bollywood films, but overall it's a good girlie film and quite true to the original novel.





From Prada to Nada (2011)

I watched this a little reluctantly as I had a feeling I might regret it, but as an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility I felt a certain responsibility to watch and report. It's a Latina version that's tried to do a cross between a cultural Bride and Prejudice type thing on an obviously smaller budget, and a playful Clueless thing without the witty script.

The Dominguez sisters fall from great heights when their wealthy father passes away and they're relegated to the very modest East LA home of their very Mexican Aunt - a culture they've had almost nothing to do with and in fact seem quite ashamed of at first.

Almost from the first scene the characters are more like caricatures and the level of predictability is breathtaking. But it's not all bad. I liked that Nora (the ever-responsible Elinor) is re-envisioned as a law student fighting for the underprivileged, but I wasn't so crash hot about the stereotyped Mexican cleaners whose case she takes up and, through the process, falls in love with her boss Edward Ferris. Colonel Brandon is reinvented as a thug-looking tattooed handyman/artist with a heart of gold (a very surprising turn by an unrecognisable Wilmer Valderrama, The 70s show's Fez), which isn't too bad, but the very passionate Marianne is turned into a spoilt shallow rich girl who totters around on high heels in constant miniskirts and just wants to marry up to go back to Beverly Hills. In the end she bears almost no resemblance at all to Austen's original character.

I wouldn't recommend this movie unless you want to pass an hour and a half with Latina cliches and some vague semblance of Austen's plot. In my opinion, this is probably the worst adaptation.

Have I missed any movies that have moved Austen's novels into the modern day? And which is your favourite?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Really great season finales

Posted by lea at 3:48 PM 0 comments Links to this post
On the back of the terrible season ending for Downton Abbey season one, I watched The Mentalist finale (which ironically I missed last night to watch Downton Abbey... bad bet) and I wanted to say to Julian Fellows: this sir, is how to end a season.

Patrick Jayne has been hunting Red John for ages, so getting some closure while at the same time creating huge suspense for the next season is extremely satisfying while leaving you wanting more (I'm deliberately not including spoilers here). This is just as a season finale should be.

Similarly, Dexter had a great season finale last year when the Trinity Killer left Rita in a literal bloodbath and Dexter's baby on the floor in an eerie deja vu. You're left shivering because there's a sense of resolution accompanied by huge anticipation for what's going to happen next. You're not left feeling cheated.

So take notes Mr Fellowes, and may season two be better.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower series, book 1), Stephen King

Posted by lea at 12:08 PM 3 comments Links to this post
I wanted to like this book. I knew it was Stephen King's magnum opus that he'd invested 12 years into, and I liked the idea of a western-style gunslinger in a sci-fi story.

I'm really disappointed to say it just doesn't deliver. The writing is unnecessarily windy and poetic... but not the good kind of poetic, the clunky type you write in college in the early morning that you think is really good until you read it sober the next day.

There isn't too much to say about it because there really isn't too much to the book. The gunslinger is on the trail of the man in black for purposes to do with his past and presumably the destruction of the world he knew and grew up in. Not everything is revealed to us in the first book.

From the reviews I've read (to figure out whether to persevere with the rest of the series), I figure it does actually get better, then it gets kinda bad.

You can read the New York Times review in its entirety if you want, but here's an excerpt:

"That's not to say there is nothing to enjoy about ''The Dark Tower.'' For starters, there is the sheer absurdity of its existence. You're left astonished at the devotion of the readers who will follow King down his labyrinthine pathways of plot, through the thickets of ALL CAPS paragraphs, only to emerge from a story within a story...

The revelation of the penultimate book was that King had put himself into the book as a character. Roland shows up in Maine in 1977 and hypnotizes a young horror writer, telling him he must finish the ''Dark Tower'' story because the fate of the world depends upon it."

Egotistical much?

Which is weird because King doesn't really seem like an egomaniac - at least not from my reading of On Writing, which I really liked.

Anyway, not planning to continue with the series. But if you've read it and think it's worthwhile, please let me know.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What the hell Downton Abbey?

Posted by lea at 10:49 PM 0 comments Links to this post


Downton Abbey has just finished airing on Aussie TV and I am pissed off. After investing so much time in this series, looking forward to it, persevering through the drawn out ads (don't think we didn't notice channel 7) and wanting the best for the characters, we're rewarded with a piss-poor ending where nothing is resolved and there isn't even the pretense of an effort to satisfy the viewers that have made this series such a success.

Everything's been leading to this last episode... will Mary accept Matthew's proposal when we all know they're just made for each other? Will Bates and Anna finally get it on? And will the bitchy Miss O'Brien and the bastard Thomas finally get their comeuppance?

There's absolutely no satisfaction to be had from any of these storylines that we've invested so much into. The only satisfaction we're afforded is in the minor things: Gwen gets a secretarial job, Bates is vindicated and Miss O'Brien is humbled. But these were not the storylines we kept coming back for week after week.

What a seriously crappity crap end. Honestly Julian Fellowes, what were you smoking when you wrote this? Too busy counting the cash of the second series to give this one a decent ending?

And it's not just the crap non-resolutions to the storylines that have been building for weeks, it's the character development too - or rather, lack thereof. I mean, why do the sisters have to be so bitchy to each other? We wanted either Mary or Edith to rise and be their better selves in the end but what we get is such vindictiveness it almost takes your breath away.

Apparently there's a series two underway, but after this effort I was outraged enough to consider (briefly) boycotting it. But I want to give it another chance. I want to see the characters develop and I really want to get some closure. So Mr Fellowes, please don't blow it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bridesmaids: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 4:46 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Two words: totally hilarious.

I won't say too much because there's already been so much written about how great and truly funny this movie is, and how supremely hilarious Kristen Wiig is in it. Suffice to say: it's about time! Women are funny and this totally proves it (as if Tina Fey hadn't already done that) - they just need a good vehicle.

I read an article about how the time for women's gross-out comedy had finally arrived, and how previous punters like Cameron Diaz's The Sweetest Thing were just ahead of the market, but I say pooh pooh. That movie was just plain crap with a terrible script and cliched storyline. This one is just flat out funny with no dull bits.

If you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

God bless the Queen

Posted by lea at 3:42 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Yay! It's the Queen's Birthday - hooray for a long weekend!

After an extended 'freelance' holiday all my weekends were bleeding into one, then the work started rolling in in earnest. Now I'm freelancing at Ogilvy for around a month 9-5, plus writing 40+ articles for a major new finance website after hours and on weekends. Leaving me with almost zero time for myself... except for the odd movie and dinner out with hubby and/or friends of course. (Turning into a total recluse wouldn't help anyone, let alone the creative process :p)

So thank goodness we're still part of the Commonwealth. We get to take a legitimate interest in the Royal Wedding like a distant cousin with an obligatory invite, plus we still get to celebrate the Queen's birthday with a day off. A lovely, well-deserved, long-in-coming day off work.

This morning hubby made pancakes while I watched last night's recorded episode of Downton Abbey (what a scandalous episode! awesome.) and then two episodes of Golden Girls on TV (husband to me, seriously concerned: 'Why are you so obsessed with shows about old people?' because I'm also a big fan of As Time Goes By, Keeping Up Appearances and all those BBC shows aimed at the over 50s).

Great morning. But now it's back to the grind. Argh, my aim: write at least 2-3 articles then treat myself by going out to watch Super 8. Let's get started.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In praise of: Lost in Austen (mini series)

Posted by lea at 12:07 AM 2 comments Links to this post

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Austen fans clamour for more from their long-dead favourite author, so new variations of her work will always be acceptable if they're done well. And what a corker this one is. It's not perfect but it's a charming homage about a modern day Austenite who swaps places with her favourite character and literally gets lost in the world of Pride and Prejudice.

The first time I watched this four-part mini series was on TV, each episode doled out weekly while I waited with bated breath. The twists and turns had me utterly enthralled. (Spoiler alert) What, Jane marries Collins? Lydia runs away with Bingley? Wickham turns out to be the good guy??? With all these plot differentials, the time travelling portal isn't hard to swallow.

The second time I watched it all at once and became more aware of the gaping holes. Nonetheless, I think a little suspension in belief is good for the imagination. Anyway, what can you expect when you've got time travelling heroines and a huge plot to deal with in just four 46 minutes episodes? I would have been happy for them to have doubled that number. Despite glossing over some major inconsistencies, Lost in Austen does a great job creating an escape for those who, like Amanda, love the world that Jane Austen creates.

The casting was great: Jemima Rooper as Amanda, the modern-day Elizabeth with her witticisms and love-hate relationship with Darcy, was perfect, as was the smouldering Elliot Cowan as Mr Darcy and the luminous Gemma Arterton at Elizabeth Bennet.


And it's funny too. There's a scene where Amanda says to Mr Darcy, 'Will you do something for me...' and next thing you know, he's coming out of the lake, his wet shirt clinging to his considerably-more-buff-than-his-predecessor body. 




The biggest treat is how wayward the characters go as Amanda tries desperately to keep the plot together. Any self-respecting Austen fan knows the book practically by heart, so it's wonderful to see the characters come to life without the boundaries of Jane Austen's pen. We as the audience also find ourselves going wayward. I mean, what is the world coming to when we don't want Lizzie and Darcy to get together?



Ah the romance.

It's been at least two years since I've read P&P (it always takes willpower not to pull it off the shelf, but I know that the next reading will be the better for having waited), so I think now it's time to get a little lost myself.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Case of the Missing Books, Ian Sansom: book review

Posted by lea at 10:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The Case of the Missing Books is the first of a comedy/mystery series involving reluctant hero Israel Armstrong: a chubby, bumbling, Jewish, not-entirely-inept librarian.

The plot begins when Israel lands in the middle of nowhere, Tumdrum Ireland, having accepted a librarian position only to discover that it's for a mobile library (apparently the bottom rung of libraridom). To add insult to injury, he's forced to live in a barely-converted chicken coop with a quirky family of brother, sister and their grandfather, he doesn't have enough money to return home without receiving his first paycheck, and all the library books have gone missing and the council won't let him out of his contract until he finds them.

I was led by the back cover and many reviews to believe that it's a funny and delightful book, but as much as I wanted to like it, it just wasn't the hilarious comic caper I'd hoped for.

The characters are drawn a little too hard like "quirky locals" and they end up as single dimensions of a big farce, like the overweight Linda Wei who constantly crams junk food in her mouth at every opportunity and punctures her scenes by passing gas.

It's gentle humour that attempts to please, but ultimately failed to engage this reader.

Reviewed as part of the Great Library Challenge, author S.

Prospect Park West, Amy Sohn: book review

Posted by lea at 10:20 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I have to apologise for the brevity and vagueness of this review, but I read this book around two months ago and just haven't had the chance to blog about it. However I'm resolved to review all the books I read as part of the Great Library Challenge so I'll try to dig into the recesses of my memory and give a quick review.

Prospect Park West is about first-time moms in a particularly yuppie area of Brooklyn that seems overly populated with young at-home mothers. There's bored and sex-starved Rebecca who laments her glamorous old life, 'hasbian' Lizzie whose lesbian tendencies begin to return as her husband's work-related absences increase, freakily intense Karen who will stop at nothing to get a Prospect Park West postcode for her son, and beautiful but insecure movie star Melora, whose entire life, including her adopted child, seems to be a public relations exercise.

The story is fast-paced and laced with a dark wit that's not exactly mean-spirited, but far from kind in its portrayal of at-home mums. The characters swing between the type that's obsessed by their kids (Karen) to the mum who almost seems to fear being in the same room alone with their child (Melora), but in every case there's some type of self-destructive behaviour linked to a sense of lost personal identity stemming from the birth (or adoption) of their child.

It's a theme that appears almost despite itself, as Sohn busies herself with witty observations and poking fun at her characters. The book seems to be in a rush to end, and certain storylines are left hanging and unresolved, so there's a sense of unfinished business at the end. Apparently Sohn is writing a sequel, but I doubt I'll be coming back for seconds.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Murder at the Academy Awards, Joan Rivers

Posted by lea at 11:50 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Author R for the Great Library Challenge.

I've been somewhat fascinated by Joan Rivers since reading all the profiles and reviews that came in the wake of the documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. What's most fascinating is that she's so candid about her desperation to be the centre of attention in Hollywood and her shameless antics for staying there.

With a career that literally spans decades in front of the camera, Ms Rivers has turned her hand to writing and along with Jerrilyn Farmer (the author of the Madeline Bean culinary mystery series) penned this novel, which I vaguely understand may be turned into a series.

In Murder at the Academy Awards, the protagonist Maxine Taylor is the extremely-thin veiled literary doppelganger of Rivers herself. She and her daughter Drew do what Rivers and her daughter Melissa do in real life: stalk celebrities on the red carpet for interviews as they head into the Academy Awards ceremony.

The mystery begins when one of Hollywood's brightest young starlets, who also happens to have been a close school friend of Drew's, drops dead on the red carpet mid-interview with Max Taylor. Very soon, Max is on the chase, using her wiles to enter rehab under false pretences and crash glamorous parties to find the murderer and clear her daughter's name.

It's an easy to read, light-hearted romp that basically expounds the cleverness of Max Taylor and her love for her daughter Drew. However, Rivers' sharp wit doesn't translate that well in written form, and many of the gags seem rather belaboured. It's all in the name of fun though, and if you can wade through the heavy name dropping and you don't mind the re-imagining of Hollywood with Rivers and her daughter as the nucleus, you may enjoy it.

Here's an interview with Rivers from Amazon editorial:


Q: What kinds of books do you enjoy?
A: At my age, anything in large print.

Q: Is it true when they say that you should “write what you know”?
A: Absolutely, which is why my next book is about having thighs that are visible from outer space.

Q: What is it like having a novel published at the age of 75?
A: I am so old, even the spine of my book has osteoporosis.

Q: Computer, typewriter or pen and paper. What tools did you use to write your first book? 
A: Chisel and stone.

Q: Are you one of those writers who work at home in a dirty old bathrobe without showering for days? 
A: Yes, except for the part about working at home.

Q: What’s the first step in getting a publisher interested in your book?
A: A check for fifty grand made out to “cash”.

Battle Los Angeles: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 11:19 AM 2 comments Links to this post

I really didn't know what to expect with this movie as I hadn't seen any shorts, and we decided to watch it on a whim influenced by cheap tickets. Based on the poster I decided it was your typical disaster movie with usual bad script, ham acting and no plot, so imagine my surprise to see Aaron Eckhart front and centre.

As it turns out, Battle Los Angeles is actually an alien invasion movie. It's kind of like what you'd get if you crossed Men in Black with Black Hawk Down, because apart from the main storyline of aliens trying to take over Earth, there was a sub-plot involving battle-worn Marine Sargeant Michael Nantz (Eckhart) having to win the trust of a new crew, and a theme of heroes versus heroics.

All in all I thought it was a decent movie. Nothing spectacular apart from the effects, but still there was actually a plot, which is a step up from many of these big flicks.

Verdict: a great date movie for teenagers.

Friday, April 1, 2011

IN PRAISE OF: The Rock

Posted by lea at 5:01 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I've decided to start a new Friday meme (because there aren't enough memes in the world) called 'in praise of', and every week I'm going to praise something new. I think we - generally, collectively - are more inclined to complain than praise, and it's time to turn the tables.

So my first praiseworthy subject: The Rock. I know right! Strange first choice. But listen.

The general and noteworthy stats are that his name is Dwayne Douglas Johnson, he was born in 1972 from a Samoan background, and he was a professional wrestler (hence the name) before becoming an actor. You might know him from such movies as The Scorpion King, Welcome to the Jungle and most recently, the ads for Fast Five, the latest instalment of the interminable Fast and the Furious series starring Vin Diesel, who I consider a kind of poor man's Rock.

I chose him mostly because I watched Welcome to the Jungle on TV the other night and was very highly entertained - it's a funny movie, and while most of the humour comes from Seann William Scott (another praiseworthy subject based on his roles in this and Role Models), it was really great to see The Rock quite happily make fun of himself.

It got me thinking how clever it is of him (and/or his agent) to do that, as it jumps the punchline of anyone who would dismiss him as simply a meathead by parodying that image of himself in movies like Get Smart and his cameo on The Other Guys.

His movie choices are usually quite safe - either major action or comedy, even dabbling in some Schwarzenegger-esque kids movies like The Tooth Fairy - but he seems to know his limitations and I like how he doesn't try to be someone he isn't, like a serious dramatic actor.

He's even released a New York Times bestseller called The Rock Says. Don't expect a review anytime soon, but hey, respect.

I love people who don't take themselves too seriously, and he certainly fits the bill. He's big enough to bash anyone who would be so stupid as to question his masculinity, so he can prance around in a tutu and people will laugh with him, not at him.

So Mr Rock, I praise you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Dog On It, Spencer Quinn: book review

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Meet Chet, the canine partner of the crime-smashing duo of Spencer Quinn's series Chet and BernieDog On It (forgive the terrible pun) is the first of the series and is narrated entirely from the point of view of Chet, whose keen intelligence and olfactory sense is easily matched by his affinity for scarfing down old scraps and sniffing bottoms.

Bernie Little, the principle of the Little Detective Agency, is the human owner of crime-sniffing canine Chet and comes across as a most affable fellow thanks to Chet's interpretation. Like most other detectives you've ever heard of, he's 'hard bitten' and 'steely', but from Chet's point of view we get to also see his vulnerable side. As a character he's not as fleshed out as Chet, but we like him enormously anyway.

The plot of Dog On It revolves around a missing teenage girl and the dirt Chet and Bernie discover when they're hired to find her. Her disappearance somehow seems to involve a Russian crime gang and a lot of money.

During the course of their investigations, Chet manages to get into a number of scrapes coming this close to being put down at a dog pound. It's heart-thrilling stuff. And it's heartwarming too, as we get to see the foibles of human relations through his eyes and his utterly endearing loyalty to Bernie.

Dog On It is a wonderfully funny book which I was so glad to discover is a series, because it's something I'd love to come back to again and again.

How to Catch a Star (Oliver Jeffers) at Kiddie Book Club

Posted by lea at 5:45 PM 1 comments Links to this post
The major benefit of working as a freelance copywriter is having a flexible schedule that allows me to attend events as illustrious as the Kiddie Book Club, where today I had the honour of being a Guest Reader.

Kiddie Book Club is run by my good friend Haej Wolfson, who also happens to have the biggest heart and largest capacity of just about anyone I know. By 'capacity' I mean the sheer number of events, people, jobs and children she can juggle without breaking a sweat.

So with four little members aged from almost-two to four eager to hear a story (the book club is only in its infancy), I opened and read How to Catch a Star, written by one of my favourite artists and children's book author/illustrators Oliver Jeffers.

How to Catch a Star is a beautiful story about a young boy who dreams of having a star as a friend, and schemes ways of catching one from the sky. While reading it today, I learnt a major lesson about reading to children: keep their focus on the story.

Children can be truly enigmatic in their ability to swing from ADD-like shoutiness to autismic focus in a millisecond. I made the mistake very early on of asking, 'how many stars can you count on this page?', which of course caused them to shout out loud the number of stars on every page I turned, completely ignoring the unfolding storyline.

I'd like to think they got something out of it though, as they switched from fighting over a headband to fighting over a little confetti star afterwards.

Thanks for the honour Kiddie Book Club! Call on me anytime.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 11:08 PM 0 comments Links to this post

How could I fail to love a movie with two of my favourite stars: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt? PLUS it's been advertised as a cross between Bourne and Inception, two fantastic movies (well, one is a series). I wouldn't say it quite hits all those highs: it's not as action-driven as Bourne or as clever and complicated as Inception, but it's still damn good.

If you've seen any of the ads you'll know it's a conceptual film about a bureau that 'adjusts' the fate of humans in keeping with an overall Plan with a capital P. Damon and Blunt play two lovers who are proverbially star-crossed, trying to stay together despite the best attempts of the bureau to separate them. It's quite classically Philip K Dick (in that you're pretty sure the idea was drug-induced). On the whole, the film is really quite good, although there are a few clunky obvious bits, but just suspend your cynicism and go for the ride. It's a good one.

My Favourite Wife, Bill Parsons (book review)

Posted by lea at 10:47 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Apparently Tony Parsons (my 'P' author for the Great Library Challenge) has sold a ton of books so I decided to give this one a go. The short verdict: failed to grab me.

The protagonist is Bill Holden, a 'good' man and ambitious lawyer who, in his drive to make partner, moves to Shanghai with his beautiful and intelligent wife Becca and their adorable four year old daughter Holly. If they sound typical, it's because they are. The family is a walking, talking, one-dimensional modern cliche of the Western world.

Becca, who initiated the move, finds the craziness of Shanghai overwhelming (a major factor being the discarded baby she finds in the trash of their luxury highrise apartment, populated largely by the 'second wives' (a.k.a. mistresses) of rich men) and takes Holly back to London for a while. During her absence, Bill takes up with JinJin, a local leggy second wife who is lonely during the long absences of her married partner.

Parsons paints Bill as a man caught between two worlds: troubled by the corruption he finds in the dizzying economic growth of Shanghai and trapped between two loves. Although most of the ingredients are there (Bill is genuinely interested in the plight of second wives and feels more keenly for the Chinese locals than his Western counterparts), his character never quite reaches the complexity required to engage our empathy. Parsons' attempt to keep Bill high-minded backfires quite badly too, as it smacks of Western elitism and hypocrisy, because when you strip away the facade, the basic fact is that he is cheating on his wife with a local, just like many other men before him. The layers of supposed complexity are simply that: contrived to make his affair with JinJin appear more a matter of the heart than the other major male organ.

Normally I quite like hearing the male perspective in modern fiction (Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper for example), but I just couldn't find the connection point with this novel, so it totally failed to engage me. Sorry Mr Parsons.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

David Nicholl's One Day becomes a movie

Posted by lea at 2:54 PM 2 comments Links to this post
Hey remember the book One Day by David Nicholls? It's been turned into a movie with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. This is the lovely poster for it:


I love the implied motion in the image, like he's going in one direction and she's going in another, but they clash in the kiss. The sepia colouring is gorgeous too.

Jim Sturgess looks much as I'd imagined Dexter while reading the book (cocky, a bit rumpled but charming - a little something like Dylan Moran), but I'm not so sure about Anne Hathaway as Emma. For some reason I imagined Emma as a blonde (I can't remember how the book describes her) or a bit smaller or whatever. But I like Anna Hathaway. She can do the gorgeous-loser insecurity thing well (like a girl who doesn't know how pretty she is) but I hope her British accent's up to scratch.

If you haven't read it yet, get yourself over to the library/bookstore/Book Depository and get onto it. It's hefty but a good one.

Monday, February 14, 2011

How Do You Know: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 5:11 PM 1 comments Links to this post
This movie has copped a fair bit of flack by reviewers, quite possibly because it's not your typical romantic comedy. Directing producing legend James L Brooks (Broadcast News, Jerry Maguire, As Good As It Gets, etc) has created a more grown-up type of rom-com, where we meet two of the main characters at their lowest points.

While most rom-coms have the metaphorical neon 'they get together' arrows pointing to the love interests throughout the movie, this one's not so sure-footed with the characters, which makes for an interesting film even if it isn't bursting your sides with laughter.

Jack Nicholson overplays his part a bit, but Reese Witherspoon is quite charming in a totally non-Legally Blonde way. Most of the comedy comes through Owen Wilson, and Paul Rudd is... well Paul Rudd. A little bit of a bumbling nice-guy who you root for.

I have two free tickets to the movie at any cinema if anyone wants them. Up for grabs. Anyone? Leave a comment or email me by Friday 18th Feb and they're yours.

2010 Reading List

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Standouts: Light Boxes (Shane Jones), The Millennium Series (Stieg Larsson), The Sandman (Endless Nights, graphic novel), Neil Gaiman, Confederacy of Dunces re-read (John Kennedy Toole), Family Man (Elinor Lipman), Les Miserable (Victor Hugo), Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)

Bombs: Fly Me to the Moon (Alison Noel), Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (MA Shaffer & A Burrows), The Case of the Imaginery Detective (Karen Joy Fowler), Air Kisses (Zoe Foster)

... which begs the question: why do I keep going back to chicklit?

Special Mentions: The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery), Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell), anything by Alexander McCall Smith.

Hmm, there's very little in the way of non-fiction, or even self-improvement type books or the ones that expand your mind. Shame on me.

Total: 69

City of Tiny Lights, Patrick Neate: book review

Posted by lea at 4:35 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I'm back on The Great Library Challenge after a bit of a break, and for my N author I chose Patrick Neate's book City of Tiny Lights, mainly because of the cool cover art and Frank Zappa reference.

The protagonist is 'Paki-immigrant Ugandan Indian English' hard-boiled detective, Tommy Akhtar. The story starts with such a corker of a private eye cliche (his client is a hooker who's looking for her hooker flatmate who's been missing since her johnny, a prominent politician, was murdered in a fleabag motel) that at first I thought the book was taking the piss out of the genre.

It wasn't. But neither does it take itself so seriously that you can't enjoy the ride.

In the way of good detective novels, the story starts with a simple premise that becomes increasingly complex as the Akhtar digs deeper into the case. What's unique about this particular detective novel is that the hero is an immigrant with a complicated background and completely dysfunctional relationship with his father and brother, which is actually kinda explored (though not fully) and not just glossed over.

I have to admit I got lost a few times as the plot increasingly moves forward at a frenetic pace, and there are a lot of minor characters that are easy to lose track of, as well as a host of MI5 and CIA agents, terrorists and 'thug-lites' who pop their heads in. But overall it was an enjoyable read, quite witty and patched together with a light touch.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

True Grit: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 10:38 AM 5 comments Links to this post

Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld and Matt Damon are an unlikely avenging trio in this remake of a John Wayne classic.

I loved this movie for so many reasons:
  • the idea of a strong-headed 14 year old girl in the old west seeking to avenge her father's death is unique
  • the characters are really well drawn and they were beautifully acted
  • the Coen brothers did a great job handling the story, which is great because frankly I think they've had some hits and misses recently. 
It really stands out against a lot of the movies being made at the moment too (which is something the Coens do well) because Hollywood tends to make a lot of me-toos. There's never just one disaster movie, there are three all being made at the same time by rival studios, or two similar animated films or several romantic comedies all starring Reese Witherspoon.

In that environment, it's a refreshing change to see a major film genre (the wild west) being represented by a single film, and one that portrays some complex relationships with such understated simplicity. I say it deserves a liberal sprinkling of Oscars all round.

What a lovely story

Posted by lea at 10:23 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Check out this incredible story from the ever-reliable UK tabloid The Sun (I know that sounds sarcastic but it really is a fantastic story):

STUNNED Richard Morwood has discovered his missus is the same girl whose message in a bottle he answered 30 years ago.

Mandy English was just 13 when she hurled the note requesting a penpal into the sea during a 1979 school trip to Scotland.

Two years later Richard, then just six, spotted the glass bottle on the beach and sent a reply by postcard.

Mandy never wrote back because of the age difference.

But while sorting through keepsakes last week, she found the 1981 card and realised its schoolboy sender had the same name as Richard, her boyfriend since last June.

She asked the road maintenance worker, now 36, if he remembered the message in the bottle - and it suddenly dawned on them that they had "met" before.

Mandy, now a 44-year-old mum of three, said: "It was amazing. I then realised he was the little lad who sent me that lovely postcard all those years ago. I was so shocked I nearly passed out."

Now for Hollywood to The Notebook it. You can see the couple's picture at The Sun, but what's the bet that when the movie poster comes out, brunette Mandy will become pouty blonde Scarlett Johanson and Richard will look like Ashton Kutcher?

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Fighter: 2 minute movie review

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Christian Bale steals the show but Mark Wahlberg delivers the final KO.

Inspiring in the way you'd expect but still don't mind watching, The Fighter is a true underdog story. Christian Bale is fantastic as Dickie Eklund, a washed up junkie ex-boxer whose lost opportunities are now conferred to half-brother Micky Ward, played by Wahlberg (Bale's come a long way since Laurie in Little Woman).

The ladies are particularly confronting (Amy Adams as Micky's girlfriend versus his manager-mother and tough lot of half-bred sisters) but all the performances are solid and it's a very rewarding small-town-boy to champion-of-the-world story.

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson (graphic novel) book review

Posted by lea at 11:24 AM 1 comments Links to this post
The graphic novel version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend borrows heavily from the original novel and follows the plot practically scene for scene. It's a little wordier than your average graphic novel, but that's understandable considering there isn't a lot of conversation, and most of the story is told by a third person narrator.

The text sounded to me like a dumbed-down version of the book, although I discovered rather to my surprise that apparently most of it is taken word for word from the novel. It sounds like they only took the most obvious sentences though: 'Robert Neville is inside the house. The zombies are outside moaning for him to come out.' (Okay, this is my interpretation and not a direct quote, but seriously the narration was just like that).

What's particularly disappointing about the graphic novel is that the images, which I think have a responsibility to add to the drama and read between the lines of the text, do nothing of the sort. If the text says, 'Robert Neville drinks a whole bottle of whiskey', the image shows him actually drinking a bottle of whiskey. Come on.

The best graphic novels, like the best children's books, have illustrations that add a new dimension to the story using layers and sub-text, but there's no attempt to do that here. There's nothing slick or sophisticated in the illustrations, and Ruth, the only other seemingly proper human being apart from the protagonist, is drawn very differently in different scenes. The first time they meet she's quite attractive, but when they meet a second time, she looks like a completely different person with a bulging forehead and bloated face, and there's no reasonable explanation for this fact. Did she suddenly contract down syndrome?

I think the only people who would really enjoy this are the ones who can't be bothered to read the original novel and want the story told in a simple format or young teenage boys. Actually scratch that last one, I think I may not be giving young teenage guys enough credit.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Black Swan: 2 minute movie review

Posted by lea at 11:31 AM 2 comments Links to this post

Natalie Portman goes mad, but does so very beautifully.

It's no wonder this is an Oscar contender - it's a beautiful movie and so tightly wound you can't relax for a moment. All the performances are eerily great, and the much-touted lesbian sex scene between Portman and Mila Kunis is anything but gratuitous.

It leaves you with a lot of questions, which I imagine is exactly what director Darren Aranofsky intended. I'd classify it as a psycho-thriller with a little bit of horror, but it's so beautifully made it doesn't look like it belongs in that kind of cheesy genre.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen book review

Posted by lea at 3:50 PM 3 comments Links to this post
You'll have to forgive me because I'm about to gush. I LOVED this book. I loved the way Franzen manages to get so far inside a character's head it's hard to believe they're not really in your world. I loved the way the relationships between the characters dip and dive in a rhythmic pattern much like a dance. And I particularly loved Franzen's writing. It's seemingly simple but layered with complexity and insight in a way that makes you catch your breath at just how exquisitely one can wield the English language.


On the surface it's about a suburban New York couple, Patty and Walter Berglund, and the course of their marriage. They're ordinary people - so terribly ordinary - Walter the earnest nice guy and Patty smiling-so-hard-it-hurts to be the person she believes she should be but is falling short of. But it's in their very ordinariness that the novel becomes quite extraordinary.

In a way I think Freedom is about our need for particular people in our lives, and how it can inhibit our desire to pursue our individual liberties (our 'freedom') when what we want and what they want don't align. The way relationships tie people together, so when we pull at our end of the string, it can't help but affect those attached to us. Action and consequence are no better highlighted than in Patty's desire for Richard Katz, Walter's best friend and weathered rock star.

Katz, oddly, becomes one of the most intriguing characters for me. His love for Walter seems at odds with his image, yet when he hurts him, it's almost like he's doing it more for Walter's sake than to betray him. In the end you wonder if Katz, despite not really knowing himself, is actually the best judge of the human heart in clearly seeing what Patty and Walter's marriage really was (which neither of them were able to do or at least admit to), and then smashing it in order to put it together as intended. Or was he just a selfish bastard? There's that too.

All the main characters are complex and completely three-dimensional. There are even instances where things are set up so you expect a certain outcome, but the character's thoughts and feelings defy your expectations of what-should-happen-in-a-book with the realness of their instinctive response. It is simply marvellous. For example, when Richard goes back to see Patty and is full of coolly hesitant anticipation, but when he sees her he realises she's a pain in the butt and she's gotten kinda old. But it still doesn't stop him from wanting her.

The reversal of expectations extends through to the plot, where Patty and Walter's relationships with their kids crossover at a point when they're at their worst and in most greatest need. Patty basks in the glow of Joey's confidence and success while Jessica is an image of her responsible dad. Yet when the shit hits the fan, all the allegiances change and they find strength in the opposite parent/sibling. There's a certain elegance to this, as it shows just how much Patty and Walter need the influence of the other in their lives.

Despite how much I enjoyed Freedom, I'm ready to admit it's not a perfect book and it's not for everyone (if you get easily frustrated, don't even bother). There are a few things that, in my mind, weren't quite resolved. Like Connie's weirdness. Okay, we do begin to like her better by the end of the book, especially as she rises in Walter's estimation. But still - are we supposed to forget that she's a complete kook? Ultimately I thought she must have a mental disability (causing her unhealthy obsession with Joey), but I guess that's pretty true to life. From my time working with The Salvation Army and their clients, I realised there are a LOT of mentally unbalanced people out there somehow managing to function in the world, so I guess it's a reflection of reality.

If we're talking themes I think it's about human nature: our raw motivations, our inability to quash unhealthy desires even in the face of the purest love, the influence of the family on the individual, and the difficulty (but not impossibility) of changing our base and often selfish nature. But there is still hope.

It's easy to see why Jonathan Franzen is touted so hugely in America as a rising literary force (what a cliche, but in this case true). He could write the back of a cereal box and it would very likely win the Pulitzer Prize. I'm giving this 10/10.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Word coinage: pubic perm

Posted by lea at 12:21 PM 3 comments Links to this post
Here's a fairly well-known tidbit among the Korean circle: Korean women of a certain age (late 40s usually, maybe early 50s) tend to cut and perm their hair in a kind of Asian-Afro 'do. Here's what the blog Stuff Korean Moms Like says about it:

At a certain juncture in a Korean mother's life...she feels the undeniable urge to rock the Little Orphan Annie look. The perm is supposed to enhance fullness in her hair...but usually results in a frizzy halo that ushers in another era in a Korean mother's life (see 'Ahjumah'). This is a rite of passage and cannot be stopped. One will often hear young Korean women saying to each other "I'm never going to get that perm thing", but they all know deep in their hearts they will eventually succumb to the undeniable pull of the Perm. As a Korean mom ages, the perm will never change or deteriorate...although her face might.

Many years ago (around 8-10 years I'd say), I coined the word pubic perm to best describe it. I remember this very clearly, because it sprang to mind shortly after the springing of actual pubic hair through the fabric of a tight skirt of a friend of mine who liked to go commando.

Anyway, that's another story.

So shortly after the commando-pubic-hair incident, I was with some Korean girlfriends and we were talking about ahjumahs and why they inevitably go the way of the frizzy perm (all our mums had the same head of hair). And ding suddenly the phrase came to me: pubic perm.

See, other nationalities will see a shower drain full of short dark curly hair and shrink back in disgust. Koreans see the same hair in our shower drain and think 'mum's just had a shower'.

This is essentially what the pubic perm looks like (when it's still attached to the carrier's head):


This post is mainly for posterity because I'm claiming credit now before the phrase goes into the vernacular. Mwahaha!

Although on second thoughts, I'm not sure that I want my name associated with the pubic perm ...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Now THIS is a fashion show I can appreciate!

Posted by lea at 4:36 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I've never been a freak for fashion - it moves too fast and covers too little.

So imagine my surprise to discover the Salon du Chocolat, a magical celebration of all things chocolate, including a chocolate fashion show. Who woulda thunk it?

Check it out:


I'd gladly strip the models with my bare teeth! That sounds so wrong but feels so right...

See more mouthwatering pics at the Dessert Girl blog.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book art

Posted by lea at 1:42 PM 36 comments Links to this post
I love books. Not just reading books, but books themselves. The weight and smell of the paper, the stitching, the binding... all the details that go into the craft of making a book.

I also love the things people make from books. Check out this book origami by artist Isaac Salazar:







He says:
I see my work as a way to display a meaningful piece of art onto a book that would otherwise sit on a shelf and collect dust; it’s also my way of recycling a book that might otherwise end up in a landfill.  The words or symbols I use are drawn from anything that invokes inspiration or encouragement, such as “Read”, “Dream” and the Recycle symbol.  If my work also makes people look at a book and even art in a new light then the piece has done its job

Awesome, eh?

Over Christmas, I also espied (I don't think I've ever used that word before! What a first) a Christmas tree made from books at one of my favourite stationery stores in Surry Hils, Paper2. I took this photo on my phone:

I don't know why the image is appearing on its side, but just imagine the tree upright.
Gorgeous.


Can Kindle do any of that? I don't think so.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Three Incestuous Sisters, Audrey Niffeneger

Posted by lea at 3:21 PM 1 comments Links to this post
This offering from Audrey Niffenegger of The Time Traveller's Wife fame is an adult picture book that, unfortunately, is not about a lesbian love affair between sisters. That might have been interesting.

Not to say that this book isn't. It's just... less interesting than the title would have you believe.

The Three Incestuous Sisters (why 'incestuous'? Where are they incestuous? And is my obsession with this unnerving? I just want to know what led her to choose this word, apart from the fact that it's so loaded) is a surreal tale about three orphaned sisters (Bettine, Clothilde and Ophile) who basically bust up over a guy. The writing is sparse and accompanied by Gorey-esque images of mostly grey hues (this is Edward Gorey who wrote and illustrated the tongue-in-cheek The Recently Deflowered Girl. Come to think of it, aren't our tongues always in our cheeks? I don't get this phrase at all).

Niffenegger has called The Three Incestuous Sisters 'the book of my heart, a fourteen-year labor of love' in the afterword, and describes the laborious process of creating the aquatint images. The book was meant to be a work of art, with only 10 limited leather-bound editions including almost 100 hand-coloured, individually printed, aquatint etchings on hand-made paper (a ha! That explains why Claire in The Time Traveller's Wife has that same obsession. Clearly Niffenegger is married to a time traveller!), accompanied by hand-set type.

The library copy simply couldn't live up to the textures and depth the original artwork was created to convey, so what we have left is very sparse prose and haunting images on flat glossy paper. The problem with this is that the book promises too much. The size alone (9½" x 12½") juts out of the shelf, demanding attention, and then the title causes your eyes to pop. 

Then you open it up and in a snapshot, the story is this: The three girls were happy together until the late lighthouse keeper's son, Paris, comes along and falls in love with Bettine, the youngest sister who's a pretty blonde. The eldest, Ophile with the dark blue hair, becomes jealous and mistreats Bettine, forcing Paris and Bettine out of the house. It leads to tragedy, death, regret and reconciliation which I won't go into for fear of spoiling the ending.

The book has fairytale elements: the pretty blonde gets the guy, the ugly older sister acts like a shrew (actually it doesn't say she's ugly - I'm just guessing) with an undercurrent of tragedy, but the story never goes beyond itself to create something really magical. The strength of the book is in the illustrations (do I have to keep calling them 'aquatints'?) that provide the macabre, dark gothic feel that the storytelling seems to lack.

What's interesting is that Niffenegger wrote The Time Traveller's Wife in between creating this book, so essentially it was like her way of procrastinating. Yet the side project eclipsed her main one, and probably also had a lot to do with getting it published too.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Nothing Serious, Justine Lèvy

Posted by lea at 3:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Justine Lèvy was my chosen author L for the Great Library Challenge.

I admit I chose the book based on the cover and the limited options in the library's L section. I had no idea that it was a literary sensation when first published in France in 2004 under the title Rien de Grave. It won the Prix Littéraire Le Vaudeville and overtook The Da Vinci Code in sales.

Having read the book, it's hard to fathom how the work in itself could achieve such a feat. It's a very intimate stream-of-consciousness story told from the point of view of Louise, the author of a well-received novel, daughter of a dizzyingly famous father, and whose husband has recently left her for his father's model girlfriend.

But couple the plot with the background of the author and you understand the sensation. Justine Lèvy's first work, Le Rendezvous, was published in the mid-90s to rave reviews, her father is France's most famous superstar philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, and her husband famously left her for his father's girlfriend, model and singer Carla Bruni (now France's first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy).

Her real life public scandal has been turned ingeniously into a novel, which at best is beautifully poetic, and at worst is mind-blowingly self-indulgent.

Nothing Serious starts at Louise's grandmother's funeral, where she finds herself in jeans and unable to cry. Both points are significant. She's in jeans because she feels like an 'ex-woman' since her husband's defection and can't bring herself to wear dresses anymore, and she can't cry because she's become incapable of emotion, an 'empty shell'.

The novel interweaves the events of the past (the unravelling of her marriage with Adrien) with her current life (in a relationship with new lover Pablo), revealing slowly the narcissism of her husband and her own severe insecurities. Both are overwhelming, so it's hard not to see the end of the marriage coming a mile away, even if you're as severely myopic as Louise is.

Her myopia acts metaphorically for her inability to see beyond herself, beyond her own state of loss and devastation, choosing to see and be seen as 'fuzzy, without outlines'.

What we see in the novel is the internal processing of loss. She writes most often about, and addresses passages, to Adrien. Some of these are transcendent prose:
He drags frantically on his cigarette, runs his hand through his hair, looks at himself in his watchface, and starts up again better than before, why he hesitates between Marxism and ultra-liberalism, his infallible painful memory, his memories that are poisoning him, his sadness, his melancholy, it's devouring me do you understand, it's consuming me.

At other times, her musings are terribly immature:

I tell myself I'll never love him, whatever he does, whatever he says, because love is atrocious, because love always stops one day and I never want to experience the death of love again.'

In a way, it's a novel about learning how to cope with life - or rather, how not to. Louise loses herself in her love for Adrien, turns to drugs to become the woman she thinks he wants in a desperate bid not to lose him, then dives into relationship after relationship to fill the void after he leaves.


*SPOILER ALERT BELOW:*

Ultimately, the author's... let's say 'youth' rather than 'immaturity' comes through rather strongly, though it's disguised as wisdom. It's a bit like Blues Clues - the paw prints aren't particularly subtle. She can't wear a dress because she's an ex-woman = at the end, Pablo buys her a dress. She hasn't had her periods in 7 years since the termination of her child with Adrien = in the end  her periods come back. She's myopic and doesn't want to see = in the end she decides to have eye surgery so she can see clearly. Also in the end, there's a sad acceptance that life is about loss, and shouldn't be taken seriously. Ironically, that's exactly what the novel does: it takes itself very seriously indeed.


*SPOILERS END*

You know how there's that theory that gay actors shouldn't receive the same accolades for a gay role as straight actors playing a gay role, because they're really playing real-to-life? I kinda feel that way about this novel. On first glance it seems like a searing and raw insight into a woman's post-divorce brokenness, crafted cleverly between the past and present to show her emotional state. But knowing that this was actually the author's own story makes me think it's really more a series of glorified diary entries, milked to create a thin plot.

It's kind of like Jennifer Aniston writing a book about an actress whose famous husband leaves her for another actress who adopts kids from all over the world. Now that would knock The Da Vinci Code and Twilight off the bestseller lists all over America, regardless of her writing talent.

Fortunately for Lèvy, she does have literary talent. However, both her books, for which she's received acclaim, have been bordering on diary-pilfering. I understand that people are best at writing what they know about, but I'd like to see how she goes writing a novel that's not based so closely on her own life.
 

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