Monday, December 3, 2012

J K Rowling's Casual Vacancy

 J.K. Rowling's offering of adult fiction was an irresistible draw.

After the unmatcheable magic (oops) of the Harry Potter series, with its well rounded, believeable characters who grew darker and more mature as their readers grew up, (or just grew older in my case) I wondered whether J.K. could possibly write any sort of story  without resisting the temptation to inject a bit of surreality.
Such as Ron Weasley receiving a howler  from his mother when he drives his dad's car (without permission) through the sky to school. here
Or facing your demons by waving your wand and chanting riddikulus - your tormentor is suddenly dressed in a silly dress and floppy hat, thereby reducing their power to terrorise you. here
During a recent television interview, J.K. admitted that she wrote The Casual Vacancy  without the pressure of having to conform to any standard or genre, the success of Harry Potter having left her financially comfortable enough to experiment, and relaxed enough by her literary achievements not to get overly panicked if her adult writing flopped.
My thought as I ploughed through the first two hundred pages with its myriad of characters was, J.K., are you trying to emulate Angela's Ashes for misery lit?
 Yet, I couldn't stop reading about Pagford with its snobbery, domestic violence, dysfunctional families, bullying, drug addiction, unhappy marriages and political rivalry. Despite, the roving point of view and lack of central character, The Casual Vacancy  works, simply by letting you feel as if you are a fly on the wall, looking into every character's mind and recognising someone you know in each and every one.
The Casual Vacancy is singularly without the magic of J.K. Rowling's children's writing but that doesn't stop it from being a surreal piece of realism.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The influence of Katie Taylor

The woman from Bray is now an Olympic champion, a four-time world champion, and a five-time European champion
One of the highlights of this summer was Katie Taylor's
historically awe-inspiring win in London 2012 Olympics.
While I've never been a fan of boxing - it's just too close to blatantly violent behaviour for me - it's hard not to be a serious fan of Katie and the determination, zeal and all round Amazonian brilliance of the woman. Yes, truly, a refreshing role model.
Therefore when this item appeared on the "pester list" over the summer in our house,  there didn't seem to be a whole pile of reasons (thank you Argos for making it cheaply possible) not to succumb. Some dodgy drilling and a lot of grunting and lifting and there it was - on the wall of our front room.
Well, you have to admit, it is a change from your usual run-of-the- mill wall art.
And the violence is vented on a punchbag rather than a person.

Boxing gloves and all, it's keeping a few of the bored members of the family occupied.

Even women who should, at this stage, have more sense, are having a go.
A fine way to vent some frustration.
Katie, you have a lot to answer for.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Fifty shades of books I couldn't finish.

 I often wonder about books I've tried  to read but couldn't and what that says about me as a reader.

So hit me, I'm a philistine, but reading Ulysses felt a bit like pushing boulder up a hill.  After all the effort, the boulder rolled back down and I was back where I started.

Well, I did try. Laboured. Swam my way through all Tolstoy's dense, tortuous detail of family trees and character background and surrendered after the second chapter.

The Master

I know, I know. He's a fellow countryman AND  still alive. But Colm Toibin's take on the writer Henry James was just too tedious. And I did go at least halfway.

Front Cover

I loved "How to Live " by Sarah Bakewell, which beautifully encapsulated the essence of Michel De Montaigne's wisdom in three hundred efficient pages. But when it came to Montaigne's ACTUAL essays, I could barely even lift the twelve hundred page tome, let alone read it. I suppose that just exposes me as someone who wants all the pleasure in as condensed a way as possible.


I suspect that a lot of people will have their own "Fifty Shades" story that sums up the essence of how this unavoidable, trendsetting phenomenon touched them (no pun intended).
I did try. Very much in a what's-the-heck-is-all-the-fuss-about-anyway sort of way. A friend (you know who you are if you are reading this) bought it for me. I opened it somewhere in the middle (is that not how you're supposed to read saucy books?) and Ana was outlining in great detail, "oh my" et cetera, how she was unable to sit down at her desk at work, so energetic were her sexual gymnastics the night before with Christian. Somehow,  I couldn't go on. What does that say about me?
I brought it back to the supermarket and exchanged it with a highly amused shop assistant for a bottle of wine.

What books were you not able to finish?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Electric Picnic 2012

Electric Picnic, Stradbally, Co Laois is like a giant shopping centre, holding the wackiest and most wonderful that art can offer. 

You stroll the 800 acres of rolling fields,

wander from hilarious readings by Una Mullally and Rachel (conversations overhead at Electric Picnic)

to exercise guru, Mr Motivator in the Dancerise tent,

where he lifted the crowd literally off the ground to thumping disco sounds,

(someone wasn't too impressed)

to Booker prize winning author, John Banville, where he chatted about the wonder of millions of people buying and reading books thanks to the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey,
to Mahatmagansie (sp?) an Irish speaking band, who spat out Irish tunes in Greek/Russian style rhythms,

to punk poet, John Cooper Clarke who entertained a packed tent with anarchaic titled poems such as "Home honey, I'm high,"

to another Booker prize winning author, Anne Enright, who read from her scrumptious novel "The Forgotten Waltz" and chatted to us about the parellels between the excesses of the Celtic Tiger and the recklessness of her heroine, Gina's, adulterous affair,

to dangerously satirical comedians such as Dave McSavage, who did a far from respectful sketch of Joe Duffy's Liveline

while the man himself socialised just a few yards away,

to the Nuala's who glammed up the Comedy Tent.

You could also read tweets

or lurk around the Trailer Park

 or watch people getting a mobile massage

 or just watch people.

The wristband will be reluctantly removed sometime over the next week.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Delphi, Connemara, two years in a row.

It is said that you should not return to the same place in the hope of a repeat of past positive experiences. And I know that holidays are supposed to be a time for adventure, new destinations, stepping outside of the comfort zone and all that.

 However, the dramatic beauty that is Delphi, Connemara in the West of Ireland, despite the gloomy overhang of cloud and drizzle, proved to be an irresistible magnet.
 So it was a case of playing it safe, with the same view from the front door,
 the same darlings (well, probably new ones) eating us alive, thanks to the combination of heavy foliage and twenty plus degree Centigrade temperature,
 and the same mountains giving perfect symettry in flat lakes.

The main adventure this year though was a trip by ferry to Clare Island,  fifteen minutes from the mainland and the former home of
infamous pirate queen, also known as, Granuaile.

The weather forecast on the day was for a hurricane.

 Instead, we got this.

Mistakes like that I can live with.

Together with a dozen barrels of beer (not for us), and ninety fellow ferry travellers, we sailed to the island,

and cycled in search of Anna's coffee shop,

only to discover it was closed due to a funeral, the first drowning on the island in sixty three years. The proprietress, Anna, on her way to the funeral, still kindly served us. She then left for the funeral, while we sat in the sun outside her house, leaving her door OPEN in case we needed anything else and asked us (absolute strangers) to lock up behind us..... the trust was refreshingly unexpected.

The rest of the day  was spent on a beach that could have been on a Greek island.

It was enough to make you want to cartwheel.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Madonna and the Rain

While Madonna's attempts to shock continued apace in the half-full

 Aviva Stadium, Dublin last night, from the Act of Contrition voiceover for Girl Gone Wild
to bloodspattered screens and pointed guns for Gang Bang to a thonged, rain spattered, bum in our faces

the real star (not) of the show was the RAIN which poured relentlessly (apart from a short, joyful break from 10pm to 10.45pm) on us, her pitch standing, straining-for-a-look fans.

If you hadn't listened to her new album MDNA, then the show could be a bore, as classics were thin on the ground. Around half way,  I spotted fans chatting and disengaged while she sang Masterpiece, a song from MDNA and some leaving the 'Golden Circle' - a section near the stage that cost E140!! - at half time.

Highlight of the night was a gospel version of Like a Prayer  -electrified the crowd.

For those of us who just admire the guts and general tenacity, even the wet-to-the-very bones rain, didn't dampen.

Didn't make it here though:

Friday, July 13, 2012

A whistlestop visit to the D-Day landing beaches.

After much on-line scrolling and searching, taking of a deep breath, pushing the "book it" button, running the gauntlet of the war like rigidity of Ryanair, and finally setting out on a fourteen hour coach trip with fifty fellow tourists, I found myself (and thirteen year old) in the town of Caen, Normandy, France. 

Our first stop at the War Memorial in Caen took us through the timeline of events, from an actual re-constructed bombarded, Normandy restaurant building, shell holes intact,

 to the newspaper with the news of Hitler's suicide,

with an array in between, of poignant, tear inducing black and white photographs, showing in savage detail the pointless brutality of war.

Our next stop was at Point du Hoc where the Americans launched their assault on 6th June 1944.
The bunkers built by the Germans are still in fine shape,(fun had by tourists checking them out)

 a testament to the expertise that went into them.

Omaha Beach where the greatest loss of life occurred is a fine, long, sandy beach and the sea gulls glided along as swiftly as any Spitfire plane.

The cemetery at Omaha, where 9,387 soldiers are buried, is a stark reminder of the extent of the casualties.

Eventually, when we got back to Paris, there was a sharp sense of how World War 2 has shaped our lives and how different things might have been.

Tis amazing what can loom behind the trees, as you fly by in a coach, if you're quick enough with the camera.