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Posts tagged ‘McCarthy’

Man Booker Prize 2015: Readings

man-booker-prize-longlist-2015

“This group shows what a broad church we are. Long may it remain so. ”

Man Booker Prize Readings, 12th October 2015, Southbank Centre, London

The night before the winner was announced, the six shortlisted Booker Prize nominees met at the Southbank Centre. Mariella Frostrup was presenting, and appeared to have mislaid her notes before mounting the podium, as her summary of Hanya Yagihara’s novel was:four men descending into horror because of one’s childhood secrets”. Anyone who has read A Little Life knows it is all about Jude. More on this from the Book Club Spy next week.

Much more important to focus on the six writers, starting with Marlon James*, who read from A Brief History of Seven Killings, set in 1976 Jamaica with “an ill wind, a malaria”, and “now, something new is blowing”. Bob Marley is playing football with anyone who will play with him, when his toe is skewered by an errant wire hidden inside his boot, his toenail is torn off, he nearly loses it entirely to cancer. Time speeds up rapidly and a litany of injuries whirl together in a global journey that seems full of blood – his boot fills with it every night on stage. Marley is ill, “the mattress has sucked two pounds of water from your skin”. One minute he is running in Central Park, the next his hips lock, then his neck, finally his arms, bringing him crashing to the ground with a dead scream in his throat. The cancer in his foot spreads throughout his body and he is transported around a series of hospitals before dying.

When questioned about his choice of Marley as a subject, it was not his music that clinched it (James is a Pet Shop Boys fan: “For me, reggae is like a family member, it’s great, I love it, but then I just want it to leave”) but his desire to find the 1976 his parents lived through while in Jamaica, the place James was born and where: “For me, a crisis was Starsky or Hutch”. He talked compellingly about his childhood reading of Dickens, who recounted history via marginal characters who, in the process, made history.

Tom McCarthy followed him with a brilliantly delivered reading from Satin Island. His hero is a corporate anthropologist, who writes in numbered paragraphs. McCarthy (who is also a performance artist, the head of an extraordinary group called the International Necronautical Society that seems to promote death) placed entirely perfect stresses upon the phrase “fucking buffering”. He revels in playing with language used by corporate structures and information exchange; seeing the data powering the spinning hourglass on his screen reassures our hero “a grace conferring act of generosity….an inexhaustive torment of giving”. The horror to him is that the spinning circle we are all painfully familiar with isn’t anything but the things itself: “We become buffering and buffering becomes everything”.

McCarthy feels that the digital world is the terra we live on now, citing the opening scene of the Oresteia, where Clytemnestra sees the beacons being lit, bringing news from Troy as proof that the remote transmissions of signs is nothing new. He asked what Hamlet is if not an examination of personal correspondence by the state. He later responded to an audience member asking if one needs to like a central character by crying: “No, look at Hamlet, he’s not even a character.

When probed on his continual treatment of themes such as doubling and transcendence, McCarthy politely answered that one tends to return to old wounds; however a blunter response could arguably be is this not what writers do?

Third came Chigozie Obioma with The Fishermen, reading a passage in which a group of boys, returning from the river with two large tilapia, find a dead man lying under a mango tree next to the Celestial Church. The ugliness of the soles of his feet are commented upon. He is, it turns out, not dead at all, simply mad. He performs a ‘calisthenics display’ covered in rotting mango, while the boys goggle at him in the gloaming, comparing him to a lion or Superman. They then watch him throw a mango twenty miles. From Obioma’s part of West Africa, there is strong belief in everything being pre-ordained, of the power of fate, spells and superstitions. He created his tale of fratricide while he was at college abroad and extremely homesick for…his brothers and sisters.

Next up was Sunjeev Sahota with The Year of the Runaways, which he rather undersold with the description of the novel as “four people together in Sheffield”. He read a scene where one character – “alone in the world and in himself” – leaves a suitcase of clothes at his future wife’s flat. The couple talk of the weather, and there is clearly something staged and/or sinister going on. He shows her clearly falsified photographs of them on holidays they never took, created by his lawyer. His involvement is not entirely fabricated, as he searches for excuses to stay in her company: “he couldn’t remember ever feeling that warm”.

Frostrup asked about his decision to write (as the child of migrants) about migration in light of recent press coverage devoted to the topic. He very gently answered that the question of migration had always been ‘gnawing’ at him – on his frequent trips to India it is an “open conversation” regarding the number of people who want to move to the UK or Canada – and for the 34 years he has been alive the question has been there, so it is not, for him, a topical issue.

The penultimate reading came from Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread. She read the contents of a phone call between an (estranged) brother and sister in Baltimore that was more of a monologue, with the sister using rather clichéd language – dusty motes of sun, doors being flung open and people sitting on stoops – in order to manipulate her brother with shared memories, or simply punish him through boredom. She was more engaging during the Q&A, exclaiming: “I don’t know why we’re all so fascinated by family, but I’m sure I’m not the only one”. Her description of reducing a novel’s plan to one sheet of paper over the course of a month, then knitting it together through an intricate editing process with multiple stages.

Finally, Hanya Yagihara read from A Little Life. The passage focussed on the main character Jude’s process of managing memory by erasing the small and avoiding the big, but the gaps he creates in his memory widen and try to infiltrate his waking life. His techniques (phyically checking locks, and those of the mind where he envisions a white expanse, where he is finally clean) are employed to make himself feel safe. Yagihara described her way of writing the novel as frenzied and exhilarating, though physically and emotionally difficult. Upon being complimented for her competence at writing as a man, she explained she felt that she has always been surrounded by women and thus is more interested in men (though “less as I grow older”). She was wry and polished, quipping that as someone having lived there for twenty years and who works in the literary world, she was tired of people writing about the physical geography of New York. What she is interested in is the shared ambition of those who live there, as everyone is on the run from something. To be continued.

The quote in the title of this review was from Sunjeev Sahota and felt apt: in the course of an hour, six writers gave us a dizzying range of style in every sense of the word, while showing a quiet regard for one another and the canon into which they had all been hurled headlong.

*Marlon James was announced as the winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize on Wednesday 15th

The Editors

Video Killed the Bookmark II

The problem with this topic is that the number of decent book to film adaptations –  since classics such as The Big Sleep and Lean’s Great Expectations were being made more than 50 years ago –  can be counted with alarming rapidity. After Visconti’s version of The Leopard with the wonderfully hirsute Burt Lancaster, the top three have been:

The Silence of the Lambs: this can be explained by any of a number of quotes – not the most obvious:

Hannibal Lecter: First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?
Clarice Starling: He kills women…

The clash of Thomas Harris’s splendid Hannibal with the compelling (but mostly taupe ) Clarice as she states the obvious gives rise to a tense dynamic that propels them across serial killers, the Goldberg Variations, fine wine and of course, her childhood.

No Country for Old Men led to the appearance of one of celluloid’s most malevolent figures: Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh swinging a customized stun gun as he slaughters his deadpan way through West Texas after Josh Brolin and the cash perfectly captures the grim relentlessness of McCarthy’s prose that similarly keeps you turning the pages, though you know the news is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

Apocalypse Now must have been an absolute bastard to adapt. The murky novella, Heart of Darkness, manages to convey the chaos and residual fear Willard experiences as he ventures into the Congo; the fact that Coppola illustrates this with a pared back script and fractious cast set in Vietnam is seriously impressive. Whether you agree that bald fat Brando cuts it or not, if the loss of control at the last American outpost before they get to Kurtz doesn’t get to you, the surfing certainly should.

Graphic novels were broached by the Editors in the first instalment of this discussion, although of course there is a wealth of material to choose from, and the production line does not appear to be slowing. The production companies have long ago optioned the more obvious series for adaption to the screen, and the result is now TV series for the lesser known characters of Marvel and DC as well as mega-Marvel blockbusters.

It has been a tumultuous transition for comic fans. The original X-Men films can now be blotted out by the masterful First Class with the likes of Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence reclaiming the original story with authority. The fact that Wolverine: Origins was so woefully rubbish does not diminish the beast himself, or apparently Hugh Jackman’s bankability. Will.I.Am as Ghost was truly the nadir for the Marvel team.

Or it was until the Green Lantern appeared. The only good thing to come out of it was Ryan Reynolds meeting Blake Lively: who doesn’t like when two attractive people get together to flash some teeth? But the film went straight onto the midden heap alongside Daredevil, both Punishers, Hulks, Fantastic Fours and all initial three Spiderman films – shame for Evil Dead fans that Raimi lacked the sand to make a proper adaptation. No one wants to see James Franco as a broken Harry Gordon sobbing in an ugly fashion at sunrise. Raimi did do one vitally important thing of introducing the swooping, elated shots of Parker swinging along the grid of New York, our stomachs follow the trajectory of the camera in a great way and you can almost forget that Tobey Maguire just isn’t funny enough to play this self-deprecating hero. Without these, we may not have had the version of The Amazing Spiderman last summer that showed how entertaining the story is. Majestic casting with Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May were the perfect support for Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone to bashfully set up the original love story for Spiderman. Marvel films are currently on a role with The Avengers, Thor, the Iron Man Franchise (to a lesser extent Captain America). They are huge, funny, stunning and not yet bloated. Long may it last.

Which brings me to DC. Batman remains the most complex and enthralling character ever to feature in a comic book. A lone playboy, devoted only to his butler Alfred and the various permutations of Robin, there is no permanent love interest or nemesis, and no deviation from his goal: to be whatever Gotham needs to survive, or in good years, improve. Bruce Wayne is often depicted as a massive, scarred figure who appears almost ludicrous in a tuxedo. His calcified joints and scar tissue accumulated over years of letting the city take its frustration out on him is referenced in a great scene in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises when the news that Batman has no cartilage left in his knee does nothing to impede the plot. Phew.  Michael Keaton started what Christian Bale finished, although sadly Val Kilmer and George Clooney did some damage on the way with a lot of help from Jim Carrey and the wonderfully ridiculous ex-governor of California. Anne Hathaway absolutely smashed it as Catwoman to the extent that her other crimes against literature (One Day and Les Miserables, I’m not even starting with her Jane Austen impression) may be forgiven.

People performing extraordinary feats of strength and agility against gloriously unambiguous baddies in this dimension, or the next, will always have appeal. There is now aesthetic satisfaction as well as escapism to be had, and mutants no longer need be hammy. The momentum is such that there is no need for a rueful grin after delivering lines like: “How dare you attack the son of Odin!” as the audience knows a fight scene is coming, and it’s going to be ludicrous, violent, fast, and wonderful.

Next time: Will Dark Horse facilitate a third Hellboy film? Will Man of Steel and Kick-Ass 2 be any good? (Yes) And of course, Iron Man 3 as of April 14th.

The Editors