Monday, 16 April 2007

The History of Love - Nicole Krauss

When reading this, I had a funny feeling I had read it before. I knew I hadn't, but I couldn't shake the sense of recognition. Thinking about the story I realised there were marked similarities between 'The History of Love' and 'Everything is Illuminated' by Jonathan Safran Foer. Master-wordsmith Jewish wartime protagonists create masterpieces for their lost loves, youthful present-day Americans try to trace the story and find themselves along the way. The main difference between them is that 'Everything is Illuminated' plays it for laughs, while the sombre, eccentric prose of 'The History of Love' nearly made me give up halfway through, something I never do. I'm glad I didn't though, as the coagulation of all the streams of consciousness in the final third of the book is spine-chilling and beautiful. You can tell there are going to be connections, and some of them are visible a mile off, but when they do all crystallise and Alma and Leo finally meet I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

When I finished reading I looked up the author, Nicole Krauss, on Wikipedia. Guess who she's married to - Jonathan Safran Foer. It almost feels as though they came up with a concept together, and then didn't talk about it until they had each finished their vastly different take on it.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee

The things people will do and say when driven by resentment and suspicion are captured in a concentrated form in this play. The fear of the unknown coupled with the loathing of the familiar drive four people to take ever increasing chunks out of each other, albeit very eloquently. Secrets are spilt as readily as the booze, and no insult stays unsaid, in the escalating conflict between husbands and wives until the climactic realisation that no matter what they've said and done up till now, their only chance of happiness lies with each other.

The production at the Royal Exchange was buoyed up by the sitting-room feel of the cosy little theatre - it was almost as though you were reclining on another sofa just across the room, about to start spitting your own venom rather than separated from the action by an obvious stage/audience divide. While occasional jarring accents brought me down to earth (the American 'r' can be tricky, even for actors of this calibre), the performances were fluent and engaging, the comedy perfectly timed, and the tension palpable. It also left me with a vague feeling I should be nicer to people...

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Nautical Chart - Arturo Perez-Reverte

It's always intriguing to read a book where you find none of the characters appealing. I could understand their motivations, empathised when they came up against (frequent) obstacles, and found the resolution satisfying - the best man won. However, they were all as bad as each other in so many ways that the journeys they each took were much more an impetus to continue reading than just wanting to know what happened to them. Tanger, so secretive and seemingly perfect (at least in the eyes of the hero, Manuel Coy), is cold and materialistic to a fault. Her fears of dying alone come across as the construction they turn out to be, reeling Coy in closer to her, ensuring his continued efforts will lead her towards her hidden goal. On the other hand, Coy opens up his life to pretty much anyone who notices him, and it also isn't that appealing. His propensity to violence, his hopeless devotion to Tanger, his lack of control all add up to someone you watch through your fingers, waiting for the next catastrophe to envelope him.

Be that as it may, this brine-drenched yarn of pirates, Jesuits and old sea-dogs lures you in. You know there will be treasure and hurricanes aplenty, and it does not disappoint. The plot and the secrets of the deep keep you reading, not the characters, but this doesn't mean it's not enjoyable, or that the characters are 2D. This is a complex story in places, with seventeenth century politics rearing their ugly head on occasion, but the thrill of the chase and the tang of the sea keep you whipping through the pages until the shock of the climax.

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