Archive for the ‘Dangerously addictive’ Category
I wanted to give this book three stars but then a little voice in my head said, “Vanessa, be honest, this book is one of the most important books written by a living writer. How can you give it a lower rating than all those trashy erotica books you read?”
Well, the truth is I didn’t like the ending. It was too happy. It didn’t feel genuine. It was glib.
Not that sincerity is my strong suit. Some of you reading this may not know that I pretend to have a blog. It’s not really a blog. I simply paste my Goodreads reviews into it and pretend it’s a blog.
But I haven’t even been doing much pasting recently. My blog is suffering long Days of Abandonment. The most recent comment on my blog says “I miss your blogging.”
But instead of blogging I’ve been using the London Underground. I’ve been rubbing up against real people every day.
Last week I was on one of the most congested routes at the peak of the rush hour, on the Jubilee Line between Canada Water and London Bridge. The woman beside me was reading Troubling Love and the woman standing over us in the throng of people crammed into that carriage stooped and touched her book and said “Oh, you’re reading Elena Ferrante. Isn’t she just great? I’m about to finish The Story of the Lost Child.”
The startled stranger looked up at this weird woman on the Undergound. “Isn’t it fantastic? I had to read the last half really slowly because I didn’t want it to end.”
“I know! I don’t know what I’m going to read next. I have to read another one by her. What is that one like?”
“This one is good too. But have you read The Days of Abandonment?”
“Oh you should! That is an amazing book. I really like the way she writes. She’s fierce. She’s kind of scary but I love it.”
I was deep into a Sweetmeats Press book at the time. I didn’t feel confident enough to lean across and say, “But weren’t you let down by the ending?”
And in any case, the ending is just a few sentences. The rest of the book is indeed scarily visceral and intense. And it’s all that scary visceral intensity that makes The Days of Abandonment a really important and thrilling book that will make you want to read everything by Elena Ferrante and enthuse about her to strangers on the Tube.
The rest of the book is not glib at all. Quite the opposite. It has the rawness of unadulterated truth. No wonder Elena doesn’t want you to know who she is.
Go and read all you can by her and tell all your friends about her, straight away!
Some books shouldn’t be rushed. Although Total Chaos is a slim book, written in short, punchy sentences, it is like a rich ragout, brimming with flavours, pungent, concentrated, sensual and intense. It should be savoured slowly. There is a lifetime of experience distilled into it.
At first I struggled. The names of people and places were strange to me. I was reading the English translation but it was an English I couldn’t understand. I had no idea who the characters were or what kind of lives they led. Although each sentence meant something in isolation, together they made my head spin and I became confused.
But Jean-Claude Izzo gives you everything you need to know in this novel. It’s not his fault if you don’t get it. He immerses you in Marseilles, his city. It is a fully realised Marseilles, though not the city the tourists know. He takes you to places tourists have never seen and shows you things you will want to forget.
In a few paragraphs he can sketch out whole lives. He blends and blurs the colours on his canvas like an impressionist painter. A fear-filled teenage scuffle is inseparable from the eroticism of the touch of a woman’s breast. Neapolitan songs mingle with Ray Charles and the sounds of old men playing belote. Tomatoes, basil, bay, meatballs, garlic and red wine merge with the scent of the sea as it crashes against the rocks, recalling the stories of Homer and Conrad peddled by an anarchist bookseller on Cours Julien.
This is very specific writing. The plot is dense but fully explained. I understood it finally but I didn’t enjoy it until I read the book a second time. Then I fell in love with it.
This is not a thriller. It is a celebration. It is a poem. It is a classic French crime novel. Mediterranean Noir. Making beauty out of chaos.
I should probably point out before I begin this review that I have watched the Opus Arte production of it on DVD several times, with subtitles, and it is largely thanks to the skill of the actors that I have managed to understand some of it. Trystan Gravelle as Berowne and Michelle Terry as the Princess of France are particularly brilliant.
By which I mean I can understand what they are saying.
But all the actors and actresses are excellent. I am always moved by the two songs at the end, which are sung by the whole ensemble. The actors’ voices are both clear and resonant. The harmonies are magical. But the voices and the harmonies merely carry the words and it is the words that somehow, every time I hear them, cut right through everything and stun me.
If you know the words you might think I am exaggerating. I’m not. The words are very simple but they cut very deeply.
The imagery in these songs is very clear. We see the flowers in the meadows and hear the cuckoos in the trees and we feel the fear of married men that their wives are being unfaithful. Such is the power of spring.
The imagery of winter is even more vivid. Dick, the shepherd, is blowing on his fingers, Tom is bringing in firewood, milk is frozen in the pail, Marian’s nose is red and raw, crabs are hissing in a bowl and an owl is hooting while greasy Joan “doth keel the pot.”
What a spectacular way to end a piece of entertainment that is all about the convoluted wordplay of men and women in the courts of Europe. No, it seems to say, it is not a story about kings and princesses. It is about Dick, Tom, Marian and Joan. It is about simple English folk. Yes, and Chinese ones too. It is about all of us.
In spite of all the dizzying wordplay, the message is very simple. You learn about life not from books, not from making oaths of celibacy and studying hard, but from giving yourself to life and experiencing it. Love is an especially powerful teacher for it lives not alone in the brain but courses through all our senses and gives to every power a double power.
There is hardly a scene that doesn’t celebrate love, erotic love, physical love, lust and passion.
But in the end the lovers do not win the hands of the women they love. The women make them wait. A year and a day. Which, as Berowne wryly points out, is “too long for a play.”
This is not a happy comedy. It is rueful. It is full of fear.
In this respect it is very truthful. Life is like that. Erotic love is like that. Whatever is intense is never without some element of dread, of difficulty and pain. Although, it may, while it lasts, spur us on to magnificent flights of eloquence and wit.
Parts of this play, I should add, are hilarious. I have never laughed so much at a play as I did at this one. Even though I do not understand every phrase, I find this far more enjoyable than English TV comedies. It is still, after so many years, English drama at its very best.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I recommend the Kindle version of this for two reasons.
1. It’s free.
2. You won’t realise how long it is until you start reading, after which it won’t matter because you’ll be hooked. Although the little percent sign at the bottom of the page will stay in demoralisingly low single figures for so long that you might think your device is broken.
There’s a third reason for recommending it. It’s awesome!
It’s not erotic but, on the other hand, it’s hardly decent. At least, it doesn’t seem decent to me that a middle-aged Victorian gentleman (he was just the right side of 50 when he wrote it) should be able to get so effortlessly into the heart and mind of an excitable young maiden in the first flush of youth and dissect her vacillating intentions with the precision of a modern micro surgeon.
How dare he! Yes, and make us love her! And love him too for his audacious charm!
Trollope is sometimes looked down on by arbiters of quality in Victorian fiction. I often hear people apologising for liking him. The trouble with Trollope, you see, is that his books are so hugely enjoyable; and they are without a scar or a blemish so there is nothing for the critics to critique.
Sometimes his works are not even looked on as fiction but as social history. Why? Because his plots are not fanciful. They are robust. And his characters are intensely alive. So when you read him, it is like looking at real life.
Except it isn’t. Everything is much simpler and clearer and funnier than real life because Trollope is so sharp, so witty, so light. He has the driest sense of humour of any Englishman I’ve met and, believe me, I’ve met some very dry Englishmen in my time. Yet you take in every word and nothing is above your head. It just falls into place beautifully.
And there I should end because the book is quite long enough; you don’t want to delay starting it a moment longer.
You know what? I’m going to stick my neck out and give this book five stars. I don’t like the cover and I don’t read a lot of erotic romance but I was attracted to this book by something deeper than the cover or the genre.
I’ve been racking my brains trying to think how to express what it is that I like about this book. I know that I like it but it’s hard to explain.
What I do read a lot of is erotica. And when you read a lot of erotica you start to wonder if something serious is missing from your sex life. I mean, am I the only woman who can have an orgasm without being tied up or vampirized or handcuffed to a toilet in a public bar?
I hate being called vanilla. But the truth is I love vanilla. In fact, chain me up someone, please, because I’m addicted to vanilla ice cream. Vanilla is a very subtle flavour, I find, and very versatile. Vanilla goes with lots of things. Lots of very naughty things.
Vanilla goes very well with hot Tunisian ruins bleached by a scorching sun. It goes splendidly with a sexy, mature American archaeologist who behaves almost as well as an English gentleman.
Of course, if he behaved exactly like an English gentleman there wouldn’t even be any vanilla in the story and Beth would have her tongue hanging out with nothing to lick. But Beth is not disappointed.
I was not disappointed either.
But I was excited in a very comfortable, well-cushioned sort of way. I was able to sink back in my plumped-up pillows and enjoy the vanilla action with complete, languid, unhurried satisfaction.
I like the way Kay Jaybee tells this story. In fact, this isn’t the first Kay Jaybee story I’ve read. I’ve read a few because I like her style.
The stories don’t overreach themselves. They don’t try to shock you or do something that other stories don’t. They do something much cleverer than that. They dig deep. They draw on little things that happen in real life and turn them into very plausible adventures that could happen to you or me. They make me feel connected and turned on.
That’s not something I want to underestimate. After all, just like with those vanilla ice creams, I keep going back for more.
I suppose lacking the voluminous literary heritage of England, Americans tend to latch onto any big book as a possible contender for the Great American Novel that they are always desperately seeking. It helps its chances if the book is also indigestible. That way the Brits are unlikely to read it and challenge its literary supremacy.
Hence, I suppose, the lasting appeal of Moby Dick. Who is going to read it in this day and age? Its supremacy is assured for all time.
I like to plunge into its yawning depths and immerse myself in the great shroud of its frothing prose as an antidote to Twitter. It’s fun to read it in Starbucks, especially now we have freezing fog in London and treacherous ice on the streets. America, what have you given to Britain? You’ve closed all their bookshops thanks to Amazon. You’ve replaced all their pubs with coffee shops. You’ve doomed them to a high street without record shops thanks to Apple and iTunes. You suck up all their spare cash into your great maw and you construct labyrinthine corporate shelters to avoid paying any tax in the UK. It’s genius. What sweet revenge for the all the wrongs inflicted on you by Mad King George.
But you’ve at least given them Moby Dick, a seething epic that teaches them not to go chasing after phantoms and break their necks on a brick wall. Good advice, incidentally, to anyone who feels they ought to read this novel but is put off by its sheer bulk. It is a whale of a book and you chase it down at your peril.
I do wonder where the female characters are. Ishmael clinging to Queequeg’s coffin to avoid a watery doom is about as close as we get to a love story.
But it’s a wicked book. Wicked and wild. I like to think the great white whale is a metaphor for all of us women giving men the run around: the fathomless mask of the unknown but still reasoning vortex at the heart of men’s tragically turbulent universe.
In this anthology there are two stories that include smart, sexy Chinese women, and I like it for that reason alone. There are 14 stories altogether, which is quite a generous number. It’s surprising, then, that they are of a consistently high quality. I did skip one of the stories, I must admit, and I suppose if I were being a conscientious reviewer I’d say which one it was, but it was no big deal, I just didn’t like it. It’s an anthology. It’s okay to skip around.
Talking of skipping around, I first saw this as a paperback in a bookshop in Charing Cross Road and I nearly bought it but I was with a male friend and I didn’t want him to feel threatened by my interest in sex machines.
So I bought a Kindle version. I really wish I’d bought the paperback. An anthology like this shows up the weaknesses of the Kindle. I kept wanting to flick through and dip in and out and I really couldn’t.
The only author I’d heard of before I bought the book was Janine Ashbless. All the others were not only new to me but have really strange names like Elias A. St. James, Essemoh Teepee and Blue Poe Von Page. Unfortunately the Kindle version doesn’t give the author’s name with the story title in the table of contents, so this made it really hard to get familiar with their names and remember who had written what. To make matters worse, the author biographies at the back are in a different order from the stories and don’t give the story titles.
I had to write my own table of contents in the end, which is really geeky, isn’t it? But I suppose someone who can do that would also appreciate a steam-powered anal probe, so you could say this book and I were made for each other.
Like my review, this book should not be taken too seriously. But as a piece of fun, it’s really very stylish indeed.
I was pleasantly impressed by the imagination and the craftsmanship that went into the stories. One story impressed me particularly. It was Lair of the Red Countess by Kathleen Bradean. The writing has a sensuous surface texture and shadowy depths that really got my attention. It isn’t perfect. It is a bit rough in places. But I like its roughness and I like the deft narrative shifts that delve into the backgrounds of both main characters and flesh them out for us. It’s quite a complex little story for all its playfulness, and there is a lot of flesh, as it were, packed into a very tight space.
But the other stories are also very well done and the theme of Carnal Machines is carried through them all with admirable panache. Now that I have my little home-made table of contents, I will definitely use it to look up some of the other writers on my list.