November 08, 2005

Book Review (my copy was signed!)

4 out of 5 stars

I am in love with Joanne Harris. There are no two ways about it. This woman has the ability, uncanny though it is, to make solid the intangible, to find prose in the most inexplicable of emotions, tastes, sounds…She is also a Northerner, like myself, in fact from the same city, schooled and living only minutes from myself.

I mention this only as background to the review – as I am, I'm afraid, what one would call 'terribly bias' towards this particular author.

Gentlemen and Players is principally a story of two characters: an old-school master of St Oswalds, a boys only private school, and a second unnamed narrator, a former pupil of the local comprehensive Sunnybank and life-long St Oswalds obsessor. What unfolds is, in true Harris style, a richly dark tale of obsession and deceit. Featuring her signature plot points: the single parent, tragic unrequited love, and a narrative that shifts constantly between the present and the past. Thus showing how, in the minds of both protagonists, time is a mere illusion and some events though long past remain with us indefinably.

This is a fabulous book: intricately woven and superbly paced. Her prose is as glorious as ever. Of particular appeal to me in this book were her methods of describing the pin-sharp agony of teenage love and how it lends a sharper colour to everything in the world around. Her ability to drip feed information so as to leave the reader constantly curious and wanting more is also to be commended.

I found the plot a little stretched at points and one of the central characters, the evil ex Sunnybanker bent on revenge, never quite sat with me somehow though the back story she provides is meticulous in every way. Her final twist, clever though it is, was obvious to me from very early on in the book, though admittedly some of the finer details did come as a surprise. Also one can not help but lament the omission of any French or food related motifs as Harris has become so synonymous with them it somehow seems if the book is missing a bit of her magic without them.

Nonetheless an excellent read, gripping from start to finish. Perfect for the bus journey to campus. Yet nowhere near the genius of Chocolat and the equally sublime Five Quarters of the Orange.

October 22, 2005

Baby I'm a fool for you

"The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives." – Nick Hornby, "High Fidelity"

I've been thinking (unduly I might add) about love songs.

Funny how they are mostly depressing exercises in pulling out your own heart-strings, droning on as they do about the heartache of love; whining about the bitter sweetness of loneliness; groaning over the agony of unrequited love. How pretty agony sounds when its all wrapped up in strings and minor chords. Yet after a while they all start to sound the same – saying the same thing using the same rhyming couplets.

I generalise of course, but think about it: are the love songs that stick in your throat not always the ones that tell of relationships gone wrong?

And so I commence my mission, futile though it may be, to comply a lovingly crafted list of uplifting music that, while quite clearly woven with romantic undertones, says something unusual about the human quest for love. No clichés allowed.

I'll start with Mardy Bum by the Arctic Monkeys.

June 2023

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