Book 15: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

February 11, 2009 at 12:51 am (Review) (, , , , )

The Road is a work of genius. It represents the gold standard of storytelling. It is, like all the best stories, a simple story well told. It tells of a father and son walking a road in a post apocalyptic world and that is all. McCarthy writes without ever using so much as an extraneous syllable and because of that The Road is beautiful. 

The relationship between father and son is drawn out in sparse moments that rely as much on what they are not saying as much as what they are. It is in these moments that the grace of the book lies. It could be cold without this perfectly drafted relationship. As you read you realise that you haven’t taken a breath for a few minutes as you wait with the protagonists for danger to pass. You will be wholly immersed in their world and relationship.

The complexity of the ideas that McCarthy touches on is all the more impressive given the simplicity of the writing. So often writers of the big ideas novel feel the need to hammer home the point with heavy prose it is to his enduring credit that The Road never reads like a big ideas novel. It’s only after reading as you think about it (and I assure you that this will stay with you for weeks) you realise that he addresses issues like the nature of society, what it is to love without condition, what it is to be a parent, and that he says something of value about each one. More than any other McCarthy explores the importance of hope and how when all else fails us it is hope that will get us through, maybe. 

I cannot recommend this strongly enough. You will walk away breathless and uplifted.


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The Goonies

January 5, 2009 at 1:03 am (Film, Review) (, , )

***SPOILER ALERT** If you have not seen The Goonies what the hell is wrong with you? Go watch it it and for Gods sake do not read the following.

I am assured that I was brought as a small child to see The Goonies in the cinema. I don’t have any recollection of that what I do recall is rainy Saturday afternoons spent engrossed in it. The digression from the focus of this blog is prompted by watching it on TV today despite the fact that I own it. I even missed the very start because I was having dinner. 

The Goonies is the filmic incarnation of the dream we all had as kids that we would save the day and prove ourselves to be the adventurers that we pretended to be in back gardens, playing fields, fields, abandoned building sites, playgrounds and forests (depending on where you happened to have grown up). It represents when you believed that kids could gang together and foil master criminals and your daydreams were really practice runs for when your time came. It’s the perfect adventure. 

The Goonies are a group of neighbourhood kids the likes of which (if you were lucky) you probably belonged to as a kid. A round up of misfits who were friends firstly because they lived close to one another and then because they’d been friends forever. The warmth and mockery between this group is lovingly created and rings completely true. They are awful to one another and blindly loyal at the same time.

The adventure is driven by Mikey (played by an alarmingly young Sean Astin) who insists they investigate a treasure map found in the attic of their home. He sees it as the only way that they can save their homes. He is assisted by Data, whose lunatic inventions are exactly the kind of thing you’d have tried to make as a kid. They have a wonderful Acme kit feel to them, Wiley Coyote would have ordered them (in fact I think he did have oil slick shoes). There is Chunk the fat kid, Mouth the mouth, and the older brother (played by an also alarmingly young Josh Brolin, is it ok to perv on him now when I’m older if still do now and did in a ‘he’s ever so dreamy’ sort of way when I was younger?). There is also the cheerleader girl (as there always was in the 80’s) and the nerdy best friend played with humour and just the right amount of scarcasm by Martha Plimpton, and who I wanted to be when I was younger. 

Peril in this movie comes from two directions. The first and the most frightening is the aforementioned need to save their homes. They are all going to have to move to new towns because the local rich guy has bought up all the mortgages so he can develop the lands their homes are on. There is no horror close to the thought that your parents are helpless when you are a kid. The Goonies parents can’t stop the destruction of their families’ lives. No amount of goodwill or good parenting can save them from moving out of their homes and leaving their friends. This is a less terrifying thought as an adult but The Goonies can certainly make you weepy for the time when it was the worst thing you could imagine. 

The other is the Fratellis a criminal gang headed by their mother. A truly reprehensible distortion of the mother figure if ever there was one. Responsible for the terrible damage done to Sloth, who develops a bond with Chunk and who you will love unless you are the living embodiment of brain freeze. Ultimately  they are cartoon villains and and so lack the real world threat of being made leave your home and friends. They’ll be vanquished by our plucky heroes, you know that as surely as you know the Famous Five, the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew will win. 

I have to mention the design, the booby traps set by One Eye Willy, the pirate whose treasure they seek, are blessedly rickety and look so authentically home made that as a kid they feel utterly real. The pirate ship is much cooler then anything you’ve seen in Pirates of the Caribbean, with skeleton’s of dead pirates and one or two remaining traps. It makes me wish that sometimes film makers these days would give up on their dependance on CGI and just build some cool stuff. 

As you can probably ascertain this is a film drenched in nostalgia for me and, I suspect, for many people my age. I think you can only love it a certain way if you saw it at the right age and believed it was true. I’d like to give it out to kids of 7 or 8 and make it mandatory viewing. In the world of Hannah Montana and (God help us) High School Musical this is the real deal. A proper adventure, one worth having and one worth believing in.  

The Truffle Shuffle

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Book 4: Neil Gaiman: American Gods

November 18, 2008 at 9:43 pm (Review) (, , , )

Lordy, this has been a pain in the arse. I loved this book and as a result it is nearly impossible for me to say anything constructive about it. It seems that intelligently told stories of gods and people reduce me to moron. I love it, I love it. Seriously I love it. I apologise now for the slightly disjointed nature of this review. I’m just going to talk about some of the things I loved. 

First off this is a smart book. Do not let anyone tell you that fantasy or the oft associated science fiction are stupid. They’re not. Or at least not any more frequently than crime fiction and by my estimation significantly less than romantic fiction. This is particularly intelligent because it manages to mix many mythologies and theologies without ever being too heavy on the ‘Odin was a Norse god people believed x,y,x about him’ exposition. If you are interested in and know a bit about different mythologies then there are lots of lovely touches and jokes for you to enjoy, if you are not it will not matter a jot, it will still be an entertaining read.

Gaiman also manages to make many of the gods in to remarkably fully formed characters. Sure they’re gods but they have fully formed personalities, their behaviour in the context of the story always makes sense and Gaiman never resorts to having them behave a particular way to advance plot, and so he doesn’t have explain it away with ‘they’re a god so the can do that’. Each god possesses entirely their own personalities, gifts and curses. 

In the mythology of the novel gods arise from belief. I love the idea that gods and their power arise from our belief in them because it rings so true for me. You might not believe in Jesus or Mohammad but you can’t possibly deny their power and influence in the world, which stems from people’s belief in them. What compounds the excellence of the idea is the execution. Gaiman makes it work and work well within the context of this story. 

The story centres round Shadow a recently released ex-con whose wife was killed in a car accident. Who finds himself drawn in to a war between the ancient gods and the god’s of modernity. For some of the book he seems to float around the landscape following instructions and rolling with the increasingly odd punches. He has the disconnect that his common to people who have recently suffered trauma or bereavement. It is testament to Gaiman’s skill as a writer that this works without him ever hammering you over the head with this is a person traumatised and without it ever feeling like he’s merely a cypher and not a fully formed character. His grief and distress becomes apparent through how he behaves and interacts with the world. It’s also there in how he begins to reconnect with the world. It is one of the better illustrations of a  bereaved individual never resorting to histrionics or showy emotion, in any work of fiction I have read.  

I suppose the bottom line for me and why I loved this so, was the ideas. Ideas about divinity, humanity and how to be in the world. It’s a fantastical novel set in our world and ‘backstage’ in the world of the gods but it manages to ring true. It’s the truth of it that gets me. It tends to be what gets me about any work of fiction or art. It doesn’t have to be real but it has to be true and this is true. Read it.

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Gaiman Review

November 14, 2008 at 12:01 am (General) (, , , )

A review of Neil Gaiman’s American God’s will be up before the weekend is out. Due to an unexpected trip out of town it took longer than expected to read and is definitely taking longer than expected to review. I will eventually figure out what I want to say about it beyond, it’s freaking awesome read it now! And then I will post the review.

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Book 2: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

November 5, 2008 at 10:37 pm (Review) (, , , )

I started this before the review of the film went up on pajiba. So I feel somewhat redundant reviewing the book here since spisaster expressed far better than I could, the appeal of this story. So go read that and I will add few thoughts below. 

Beyond the film (which is one of the best adaptations ever) the book has some wonderful musings on how you get started on the path to being a reader or a writer and how a story can grip you like nothing else when you are a kid. It makes me wistful, in that the level of absorbtion in the story that you can acheive as a kid becomes harder and harder to find as an adult. Sometimes I wonder if all the reading that I do is in search of that perfect escape again. Sometimes I think it is.

It’s a great story read it, watch it, love it.

Also realise that it is not real and do not ever ask a bookseller for the unabridged Morgenstern version.

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My Bloody Valentine

November 3, 2008 at 4:13 pm (Music) (, , )

Just to show I’m listening too. I saw these guys at Electric Picnic and I’m still blown away. They were the only band to make me laugh by being that good.

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