About Me

My photo
I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019 and I am now properly retired and trying to write a novel. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 30 August 2020

"The Thief's Journal" by Jean Genet

This is the rambling account of Genet's early years as a thief and rent boy in Spain and France and other places in continental Europe. For a foundling brought up in an orphanage who spent his early years begging, stealing and prostituting himself, Genet is remarkably articulate: it seems that you don't need a great education to write wonderful prose or poetry. 

He has some remarkable insights into the human condition. He discerns tenderness in the sex act but he isn't sentimental: poverty is ugly, the police can be brutal, and a street free of prostitutes means a street full of cops.

  • The glances exchanged by the two friends ... were the subtlest emanation of a ray of love from the heart of each. A ray of very soft light, delicately coiled: a spun ray of love. I was amazed that such delicacy, so fine a thread and of so precious, and so chaste, a substance as love could be fashioned in a so dark a smithy as the muscular bodies of those males.” (p 61)
  • The poor are grotesque.” (p 133)
  • Cops aren't picked from among choir boys.” (p 161)
  • When the whores aren't around, the cops are.” (fn p 220)

There are some wonderful and original descriptions. Who else would describe the choreography of cottaging and how a dog defecates?

  • In the urinals ... the behaviour of the faggots would make matters clear: they would perform their dance, the remarkable movement of a snake standing on its tail and undulating, swaying from side to side, tilted slightly backward, so as to cast a furtive glance at my prick which was out of my fly.” (p 50)
  • The palms! They were gilded by a morning sun. The light quivered, not the palms.” (p 63)
  • He filled out all the space in our bed with his legs open in a wide, obtuse angle, where I would find only a small space to curl up. I slept in the shadow of his meat.” (p 184)
  • The pathetic attitude of a dog shitting. It squeezes, its gaze is fixed, its four paws are close together beneath its arched body; and it trembles, from head to reeking turd.” (p 187)

But I find it really hard to read. It is unchaptered and without any discernible formal structure. It rambles, it wanders here and there; perhaps it is modelled on the picaresque. It reminded me of the work of Kerouac, or perhaps the deliberately cut-up work of William Burroughs (eg The Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, The Wild Boys), although it was first published in 1947 so it cannot have been influenced by them (perhaps the influence was the other way around). Other autobiographical accounts of poverty include John Rechy's City of Night (about being a rent boy in the USA) which has as little plot but a much clearer structure and George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London but Orwell's journalistic style is much clearer and more lucid. 

A substantial part of its appeal must lie in its subject matter: one rarely gets granted an insight into the lives of the low-lives. But the reason for it being a classic has to be the originality and clarity of its observation of the world. Who else would link a riot to the corrosive effect of urine? “During the 1933 riots, the insurgents tore out one of the dirtiest, but most beloved pissoirs. It was near the harbour and the barracks, and its sheet iron had been corroded by the hot urine for thousands of soldiers.” (p 52)


Other brilliant moments:

  • Though they may not always be handsome, men doomed to evil possess the manly virtues.” (p 5)
  • Erotic play discloses a nameless world which is revealed by the nocturnal language of lovers. Such language is not written down. It is whispered into the ear at night in a hoarse voice. At dawn it is forgotten.” (p 5)
  • Repudiating the virtues of your world, criminals hopelessly agree to organize a forbidden universe. They agree to live in it. The air there is nauseating: they can breathe it. ... [It] smells of sweat, sperm and blood.” (p 5)
  • I give the name violence to a boldness lying idle and hankering for danger. It can be seen in a look, a walk, a smile, and it is in you that it creates an eddying. It unnerves you. This violence is a calm that disturbs you.” (p 9)
  • The earth did not revolve: carrying Stilitano, it trembled about the sun.” (p 30)
  • I used to toss my things any old place when we went to bed, but Stilitano laid his out on a chair, carefully arranging the trousers, jacket and shirt so that nothing would be creased. He seemed thereby to be endowing his clothes with life, as if wanting them to get a night’s rest after a hard day.” (fn p 51)
  • Foreigners in this country, wearing fine gabardines, rich, they recognized their inherent right to find these archipelagoes of poverty picturesque” (p 135)
  • Having already been convicted of theft, I can be convicted again without proof, merely upon a casual accusation, just on suspicion. The law then says that I am capable of the deed. I am in danger not only when I steal, for every moment of my life, because I have stolen.” (p 175)
  • He had dared, not unconsciously, to depart from moral rules, with the deceptive ease of men who are unaware of them. In fact, he had done so at the cost of a mighty effort, with the certainty of losing a priceless treasure, though with the furthest certainty of creating another, more precious than the one he had lost.” (p 182)
  • Stealing determines a moral attitude which cannot be achieved without effort; it is a heroic act.” (p 185)
  • I love outlaws who have no other beauty than that of their bodies.” (p 222)
Also read?
  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin is a novel about a homosexual relationship in 1950s France

"Lethal White" by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling)

"The curious case of a government minister, slashed horses and a body buried in a pink blanket, down in a dell." (C 20)

The fourth Cormoran Strike novel starts where the previous one began, as assistant Robin is getting married to her long-term boyfriend. Both PI Cormoran and Robin go through problems with their relationships. Meanwhile they are hired by government minister Jasper Chiswell to investigate blackmail threats coming. One of the suspects is Jimmy whose psychotic brother Billy tells Cormoran that he witnessed the killing and burial of a little girl, or was it a boy, near the government minister's house. The stakes in this mystery a further raised when a key character is found dead.

For me, the Cormoran Strike novels are the best things that J K Rowling has written. The books are long and this gives her the opportunity to make precise and detailed descriptions of the settings and the characters. The people come alive, the action scenes grip and the scenes in an old house at night, or digging through the night for a shallow grave next to a ruined cottage, are suitably tense. A great read.

Great Moments:
  • "A pair of gigantic, crumbling stone skulls sat on top of carved bones on gateposts, beyond which a tall square tower rose." (C 3)
  • "she was speaking in a series of unfinished sentences, occasionally losing herself in secondary clauses" (C 5)
  • "Sycophancy should be our national Olympic sport!" (C 5)
  • "Bare-chested, tanned and handsome, Matthew’s features were so symmetrical that his reflection was almost identical to his real appearance." (C 7)
  • "‘Some women just like fat one-legged pube-headed men with broken noses.’ ‘Well, it’s a sad indictment of our mental health services that they’re loose on the streets,’" (C 11)
  • "lately he had felt tiny spots of displeasure when he had told her he had to work weekends, like the first heavy drops of rain that presage a storm." (C 11)
  • "She had the talent, by no means usual, of staging an erotic scene without tipping into parody." (C 11)
  • "He’s a pervert, but with creepy add-ons." ( 20)
  • "Izzy’s gone with Dad to do something so tedious it just bounced off my brain." (C 21)
  • "It was four in the morning, the hopeless hour when shivering insomniacs inhabit a world of hollow shadow, and existence seems frail and strange." (C 26)
  • "With her whole heart, she regretted not leaving then, before he could scratch himself on coral, before she could be trapped, as she now saw it, by cowardice disguised as compassion." (C 27)
  • "Strike sipped tea that he suspected was of the finest quality, but which, to him, tasted unpleasantly of dried flowers." (C 38)
  • "The older he got, the more Matthew was aggravated by and contemptuous of people who did not dress, think or live as he did." (C 47)
  • "A curious-looking man, whose ascetic features of pinched nose and black brows were enclosed by rolls of fat around chin and neck, as though a puritan had been engulfed by the body of a jolly squire." (C 49)
  • "Life had taught him that a great and powerful love could be felt for the most apparently unworthy people, a circumstance that ought, after all, to give everybody consolation." (C 54)
  • "You can bloody hate someone and still wish they gave a shit about you and hate yourself for wishing it." (C 58)
  • "Bullets would bounce off their self-regard." (C 58)
  • "His dark mood had lightened so abruptly that it was akin to having moved from sober to three pints down." (C 61)
  • "Sometimes you’ve got to slap on a brave face and walk out into the world, and after a while it isn’t an act any more, it’s who you are." (C 62)
  • "Maybe you could put that on the next employee satisfaction review. 'Not as bloody annoying as the woman who shagged my husband.' I’ll have it framed." (C 62)
  • "‘Would it be OK if I have two minutes,’ she asked, pressing the cold kitchen roll against her swollen and bleeding lip, ‘to enjoy not being dead, before you start?’" (C 69)
Thoroughly enjoyable. August 2020

The other Cormoran Strike novels, in order:


Wednesday, 26 August 2020

"Ecstasy" by Irvine Welsh

This is a collection of three short novels. In 1996 is went straight to number one in the bestseller lists, presumably on the strength of the author's first book Trainspotting.

Lorraine Goes to Liverpool muddles up the story of a romantic novelist who has a stroke and is cared for by nurse Lorraine in a hospital where dead bodies are routinely interfered with by a knighted TV star from Somerset (a thinly veiled portrait of Jimmy Saville) and the historical romance the novelist is writing. The novelist discovers her husband is spending all his money on pornography and prostitutes; at this her own writing veers off into historical pornographic fiction. 

It's weird.

Moments:

  • "A world free from the reality of eight-hour backshifts on geriatric wards, looking after decaying, incontinent people who had degenerated into sagging, wheezing, brittle, twisted parodies of themselves as they prepared to die." (Ch 2)
  • "He detested writers; they were invariably tedious, self-righteous, fucked-up bores. The ones who had artistic pretensions were by far the most unbearable." (Ch 15)

Fortune's Always Hiding is much more typical of Welsh's style; it is much better. Written in a number of voices, including a wonderfully vernacular West Ham football hooligan and house breaker, it interweaves the stories of said football hooligan with Samantha, a female victim of Tenazadrine (Welsh's pseudonym for thalidomide) and other people, some of whom are the drug company bosses on whom Samantha has vowed revenge. 

Rge delight of Welsh's prose is how he hits the inner monologue of his characters: "My head's fucking dizzy as my much just pumps and pumps into the melon. A few imaginary seconds in Opal's crapbox does it for me. God blass ya, my gel." (A Slag's Habit)

The Undefeated tracks Lloyd, a devotee of the club scene, getting by on selling dodgy drugs, doing drugs, and dancing, and Heather, the bored wife of boring young executive High, who discovers there is more to life when she takes ecstasy on a night out. Their stories alternate and, eventually, intersect.

It is written in Edinburgh vernacular: "Aw ah wanted tae dae was tae blaw ma muck and git the fuck oot ay thair." (2.22)

The description of Lloyd on a trip is a masterclass in writing. It goes on for pages, mixing articulate and astute observations with repetitive and meaningless drivel. A very short extract: “Just enjoy the reverb of the red and white and watch the brown carpet in the room change into polished, speckled-marble floor tiles and extend luxuriously into infinity and doing this, just indulging the whim ah see myself moving it away from Amanda and Claire on the couch ... and ah drop the strawberry and the room assume something approximating is normal dimensions and they look round at me and Stevo puckers his lips which look like huge strawberries and Clair laughs even more loudly causing me to emit gasping, fractured, machine-gun laughter ...” (1.10)

I particularly enjoyed the originality and appropriateness of some of the similes:

  • Then it's ma main man on the decks, and he's on the form tonight, just pulling away at our collective psychic sex organs as they lay splayed out before us and ah get a big rosy smile off this goddess in a Lycra top, who, with her tanned skin and veneer of sweat, looks as enticing as a bottle of Becks from the cold shelf on a hot, hot muggy day.” (Prologue) 
  • Ah’m just lying their watching her orgasm like ah was watching her score for Hibs.” (Prologue)
  • "I'm looking at Bill's flies. I decide that opening them and looking for his prick would be like opening a knotted binliner and rummaging through its contents: that fetid stench in your face as you grasped the limp, rotting banana." (2.17)

There are moments of philosophy:
  • Nae point in huvin yir cake if ye cannae fuckin well scran it back, eh, no?” (Prologue)
There are some devastating character critiques: 
  • Davie not so much played to the strength of his big blue eyes, as put all his eggs into the one seductive bucket.” (1.3)
  • She was a curator of dead souls.” (1.6)
  • Bobby had a split personality. One side of him was pure evil, the other completely cuntish.” (1.6)
  • I don't want a baby. Hugh’s ready. He's got the wife, the job, the house, the car. There's something missing. He thinks it's a baby. He doesn't have a great deal of imagination.” (1.9)

Other great moments:
  • The cunt had claimed to have seen God after two Supermarios and two snowballs at the outdoor Rezurrection.” (1.4)
  • "Her face was drained of colour, but her black hair looked well washed, had a kind of sheen to it. Her face, though, looked rough, scabby and dehydrated and its contrast with the health of her hair made her look like an old hag wearing a wig." (2.16)
  • "Since ah met her last week ah've started to shower every day and brush my teeth twice a day. Ah've also taken to wearing fresh pants and socks on a daily basis which is a killer at the laundrette. Usually one pair ay Y's lasted during the week and the other pair did for the clubbing. Most crucially, ah've been scrubbing under the helmet meticulously." (2.22)
The power of the third stories makes up for the indifference of the first.

August 2020; 276 pages








 

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

"The Back End of Nowhere" by Jenny Sullivan

 When I was a kid I used to read stories about children who became involved with magic, often involving King Arthur or Merlin; stories such as The Dark Is Rising, a series by Susan Cooper, or Alan Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath. This book was a refreshing take on the genre, starring a delightfully American teenager who is wonderfully outraged at being asked to move from the good old U S of A to rural Wales. Naturally she is initially reluctant to accept the Call when the locals all tell her she is the One to fulfil the local legends. The first half of the book was a delight. The second half was more or less a standard example of the genre: Catlin swiftly lost her Americanness and the magical adventures became standard Harry Potter fare. I was hoping for some challenges - the heroine and her male friend are teenagers - but this was no Owl Service

But there were some memorable moments:

  • "It might turn on you one night, and dismantle you, bone from bone, sinew from sinew, until your blood runs like wine on the earth." (Prologue: The Legends: The Earthstone)
  • "Dawn slid sideways between the trees of the grove" (Prologue: The Legends: The Earthstone)
  • "A musical saw played by a real whizz sounds kind of like someone screaming in tune. A musical saw played by my Mom sounded like someone being tortured." (C 2)
  • "Why do Moms get in such a snit about tidyness: I know where everything is, and with the world in such a mess, why should my bedroom be the exception?" (C 6)
  • "I would rather untangle the knots in my friendships than wait for then to get so big they, like, strangle it, you know." (C 11)
  • "Mom would have had a triple-dip conniption with extra nuts if she'd seen me!" (C 15)


A brilliant rendition of American teen-speak in an interesting fusion of the YA genre with magical fantasy.

August 2020; 214 pages


Sunday, 23 August 2020

"Hearts and Minds" by Amanda Craig

The tales of five Londoners, told in the present tense, are interwoven. There's a murder at the start but this is not a murder mystery. There is an act of terrorism near the end but this is not a thriller. And, at the end, the tales are mostly unresolved. It's difficult to classify. I suppose it is a novel about London, with a particular focus on the experiences of the immigrants who make the city function: the cleaners and the cab drivers, the prostitutes and the teachers.

The characters are:

  • Polly, an immigration lawyer of Jewish descent, whose au pair is an illegal Russian who has disappeared
  • Ian, from South Africa, a teacher in a sink comprehensive. 
  • Job, an illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe, working as a minicab driver and car washer.
  • Anna, an illegal immigrant from the Ukraine, trafficked into prostitution.
  • Katie, escaping an unfaithful but rich fiance in America, working as an editorial assistant for a small magazine.

It was an interesting read with a lot of information about the different experiences. But I only really got inside the head of Job, the others seemed slightly formulaic as was the school that Ian taught in and the portrayal of the Moslems. There were no real surprises. I guessed what had happened to Iryna almost from the start and the ending was fairly obvious from early on. There was some fun in spotting the little links that bound the characters together but those connections were not psychologically strong. 

A much more emotionally engaging book about the immigrant experience is The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

Some great moments:

  • "At night, even in these dead months of the year, the city is never wholly dark. Its shadows twitch with a harsh orange light that glows and fades, fades and glows.The sour air, breathed in and out by eight million lungs, stained by exhaust pipes and strained through ventilators, is never clean, although, after a time, you no longer notice its bitter taste and smell. The dust of ages swirls and falls, staining walls, darkening glass, coating surfaces, clogging lungs." (The first four sentences, C 1) Very Dickensian start (although two stains?)
  • "Having lived under burning blue skies every day of his life, he understands that it changes something inside you when you are cut off from the light and the air." (C 2)
  • "No one else will do what Job and his kind do, and doing them makes them invisible men as it is. Rubbish must be collected and roads swept, crops picked and chickens plucked, cars washed and offices cleaned, elderly nursed and children watched." (C 3)
  • "Self-help at the Samuel Smiles means keeping out of trouble, at best; at worst, it means mugging another boy for his mobile phone." (C 6)
  • "They have been carved like trees, and like trees they have endured." (C 8)
  • "Children's memories are short, and their ingratitude is boundless." (C 12)
  • "Poor people do live differently in Britain. There are so many things that it seems to drive out thought." (C 15)
  • "The river of ice that has kept her frozen is melting, releasing a dark cloud of filth just as it does in the rivers at home when the winter begins to end." (C 19)
  • "It never seems to strike teenagers that what goes around, comes around." (C 23)
  • "The women themselves are largely of a type, being pale assisted blondes in jeans and jackets, clutching handbags so large that Job wonders whether they are displaced persons like himself." (C 26)
  • "When I was growing up we were advised to always carry a tampon in out pocket. It's the best way to plug a bullet hole." (C 28)
  • "Hers had been the kind of story which she thinks Henry James would never have told." (C 29)
  • "Every day, everyone in the world takes decisions to trust people they don't know: trusting those who prepare your food or deliver your mail, trusting those who drive their cars or aeroplanes, trusting the stranger at the door, the politician in the seat, the doctor in the surgery." (C 30)
  • "Every time you read a book your mind touches that of the person who wrote it - even if they died a long time ago." (C 41)
August 2020; 419 pages


Friday, 21 August 2020

"The Reluctant Camboy" by Bella Bliss

 I wanted a book that gave me some sort of insight into the feelings of a man who performs sex acts in front of a webcam for the pleasure of those watching over the internet. Why? Because I am writing about such a character in my next novel. I thought that a sociological fact-finding mission might give me less insight into the inner feelings of such a performer than a work of fiction.

I bought the wrong book. The Reluctant Camboy is a work of gay erotic fantasy fiction which crosses over the boundary into fairly hardcore porn. I should have guessed from the author's name.

The hero, a gay man, is persuaded by his foster brother to make money as a webcam performer to cover foster brother's debts. Two friends-cum-lovers (pun intended) agree to assist. Gay sex is described in graphic detail. Character building is minimal, motivation also minimal. 

It's extremely short and I read it in less than an hour.

I imagine that it fulfils the requirements of those readers who bought it knowing what it would provide. I wanted something more like the true story in Cam Boy by J Matt.


"Sexual Dissidence" by Jonathan Dollimore

 This is a wide-ranging study of sexual dissidence, particularly in regard to homosexuality; the study's principal focus is literature but encompasses inter alia St Augustine the Great and Sigmund Freud.

It is not really for the general reader. I was attracted because I had previously read Dollimore's Death which is a brilliantly written and eye-opening book; I struggled with Sexual Dissidence. For example, in the first chapter Dollimore talks about essentialism; I had to look this up. It is the idea that a particular property of something is intrinsic to it. It is of great importance to this book. In terms of homosexuality it is the argument that homosexuality is intrinsic to the identity of a gay person; this is what Andre Gide felt, one of Dollimore's key authors, and it is a common trope that when a homosexual 'comes out' they are discovering a deep identity. But prior to the mid-1850s, homosexuality was regarded as a behaviour, rather than an identity:

  • By the time of Wilde, homosexuality could be regarded as rooted in a person’s identity and as pathologically pervading all aspects of his being.” (C 4); 
  • The word ‘homosexual’ was coined in 1869 ... the nearest concepts to it in early modern English were probably sodomy and buggery ... the sodomite was someone who performed a certain kind of act; no specific identity was attributed to, or assumed by, the sodomite” (C 16)
  • The idea of a God-given nature and destiny had the corollary that nothing so essentially predetermined could or should ever change.” (C 19)
  • In the Lady Chatterley trial Lawrence “was defended on the grounds that he had to transgress moral respectability in order to be moral at a deeper, more authentic level dictated by personal conscience.” (C 20)

I can understand why some people prefer an essentialist theory of sexuality but essentialism is more problematic when applied to gender. Many feminists are anti-essentialist and claim that maleness and femaleness are social constructs. These are important philosophical considerations and I was a bit embarrassed not to have known about essentialism ... except that I had but having been trained as a scientist I regard the essentialist/ social constructionist debate as what we call nature/ nurture or genes vs environment.

Nevertheless, the key point here is that I had to look this up to help me understand what seems to be pivotal to Dollimore's argument. There were other parts of the book later on that were equally obscure to me and that I did not bother to look up. So I may have misunderstood what he was saying.

It starts brilliantly, describing an encounter between Oscar Wilde and Andre Gide, in which Wilde acted as pander, organising a young flute boy for Gide's sexual pleasure, an incident which changed Gide's life and made him acknowledge his homosexuality (although that is an essentialist interpretation). This encounter with Wilde informs Gide’s The Immoralist. Dollimore's point is that although Gide adopted an essentialist position in regard to his homosexuality, Wilde was fundamentally in favour of an anti-essentialist and transgressive aesthetic. I never really understood the transgressive bit. I think the idea is that transgression provokes a reaction and that this is a force for change: 

  • Inversion is only a stage in a process of resistance whose effects can never be guaranteed and perhaps not even predicted. (In)subordinate inversions, if at all successful, provoke reaction.” (C 4)
  • One of the many reasons why people were terrified by Wilde was because of a perceived connection between his aesthetic transgression and his sexual transgression.” (C 4)

But the way that Dollimore contrasted Wilde and Gide made it appear that he was suggesting that a transgressive approach was the opposite to essentialism, whereas it seems to me that essentialism/social constructionism and conformism (?) /transgression are different dimensions.

Sometimes I felt that Dollimore (in common with many other social scientists) has a tendency to make unevidenced sweeping generalisations:

  • It would be difficult to overestimate the importance in modern Western culture of transgression in the name of an essential self which is the origin and arbiter of the true, the real (and/or natural), and the moral, categories which correspond to the three main domains of knowledge in Western culture: the epistemological, the ontological, and the ethical.” (C 3)
  • Western metaphysics can be represented in terms of three interrelated tenets: teleological development, essence, and universal, the last two being the source of essential and absolute truth respectively.” (C 8)

My favourite bits, I think, were where he hammered home the idea that 'perversion' is a form of 'diversion' or deviation from the 'straight' path; Western ethics then becomes full of contrasts between straight/good and crooked/bad:

  • The pervert deviates from ‘the straight and narrow’ or the ‘straight and true’.” (C 8)
  • Evil, for Augustine, is a turning away from God “not because the thing to which it turns is bad, but because the turning is itself perverse.” (C 9)
  • Othello described as ‘the extravagant and wheeling stranger’ (1.1.135): “‘extravagant’ condenses deviation, diversion and vagrancy ...OED gives as its first entry, ‘A going out of the usual path, digression. Also, the position or fact of erring from (a prescribed path)’.” (C 10)
  • Othello says, of Desdemona ‘Sir, she can turn, and turn, and yet go on, / And turn again.’ (4.1.244-5) (C 10)
  • “One way the metaphysic survives in a modern mutation is in the description of the homosexual as ‘bent’ and the heterosexual as ‘straight’” (C 11, fn)
  • A now obsolete sense of ‘diversity’ gives, as one of its meanings, ‘perversity’. Perversity once involved diversity.” (C 13)

Some memorable moments:
  • In 1946 Gide was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature; six years later, the year after his death, his entire works were entered in the Roman Catholic Index of Forbidden Books.” (C 1)
  • The mythology of the two main kinds of the pre-sexological pervert, the religious heretic and the wayward woman (Satan and Eve respectively), take us to the heart of some awesome contradictions within Christianity, whereby the original pervert is neither Satan nor Eve, but God himself.” (C 2)
  • It is not enough for me to say that it is natural; I maintain that it is good.” (C 3; Quoting Gide in his Journal)
  • Modernism ... is (or was) still preoccupied with the experience of alienation.” (C 4)
  • It is a familiar political move: the benighted past as a scapegoat.” (78)
  • We have become used to thinking of sexuality as an anarchic and hence potentially subversive energy which conservatives want to control, radicals want to liberate.” (C 6)
  • Subversion, and even more transgression, necessarily presuppose the law, but they do not thereby necessarily ratify the law.” (C 6)
  • Containment theory often presupposes ... a criterion of success too total.” (C 6)
  • To recognize that meanings are historically grounded and partly or largely (but never entirely) controlled by powerful interests [page break] is also, usually, to show them incapable of easy alteration.” (C 6)
  • There is rarely a ruling bloc which controls meaning uncontested. As well as being contested by other classes or groups, it will typically also be contested from within.” (C 6)
  • The suspicious thing about the concepts of subversion and resistance ... is that they tend always to turn up where we want to find them, and never where we do not - i.e. in relation to ourselves.” (C 6)
  • The power of domination is also the power to fashion, apparently rationally but usually violently, the more ‘truthful’ narrative.” (C 6)
  • For [St] Augustine, sexual arousal - literally the ‘involuntary’ movement of erection - epitomized fallen human nature out of control with itself.” (C 8)
  • Evil is not a force or entity in its own right; evil should be understood as privation, a lack of good.” (C 9)
  • God, for Augustine, was motiveless in his creation of the world (to attribute motive to God is to compromise his omnipotence.” (C 9)
  • Contradiction ... arises for any monotheistic religion which asserts that God is both perfectly good and unlimited in his power.” (C 9)
  • Evil cannot be allowed to be a ‘positive reality’ ... because this would readmit dualism.” (C 9)
  • Evil is as lack of good as lameness is the lack of ability to walk properly.” (C 9)
  • In older religions the devil and things related to him (e.g. the underground) were the source of life and fertility as well as death and destruction.” (C 9)
Lots of interesting things in this book but, for the general reader, this was hard going.

August 2020; 357 pages

Thursday, 13 August 2020

"City of Night" by John Rechy

 Written in 1963 and with a distinct flavour of Kerouac's On the Road, this novel follows a young gay hustler as he moves from New York to Los Angeles to Hollywood to San Francisco to Chicago and to New Orleans. It describes the underworld of studhustlers and youngmen and scores and queens and vice cops in a time when a transvestite could be arrested for 'masquerading'. It describes the different demands of the clients (for a book centred on gay sex for sale it is, due to the date of publication, cleverly coy about exactly what it describes). There are remarkable and colourful characters that flit through this book but the focus is always on the narrator, a youngman who is compelled to discover the world with as many different people as possible. 

In common with the literature of the time, Rechy is experimental in his language. Often he runs words together into one, as illustrated above, and, for example, when he describes roles played by hustlers in New York: "There are a variety of roles to play if you're hustling: youngmanoutofajob butlooking; dontgiveadamnyoungman drifting; perrenialhustler easytomakeout; youngmanlostinthebigcity pleasehelpmesir." (Part I: p 26) This and the sometimes breathless quality of his prose, as well as the subject matter, is what gives an impression of the works of Kerouac, or, for example, The Book of Cain by Alexander Trocchi.

He can produce spot-on descriptions:
  • "The needlepointed dust." (Part I: p 4)
  • "Phallic palm-trees with sunbleached pubic hair." (Part II: p 79)
  • "In the eery mottled light of a distant lamp, a shadow lies on his stomach on the grasspatched ground, another straddles him: ignoring the danger of detection in the last moments of exiled excitement ..." (Part I; p 50)
  • "Along the panel of amber mirrors at Harry's bar, a panorama of searching eyes emerges out of the orangy twilight of cigarette smoke and dimlights: a stew of faces floating murkily in the smoky darkness." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 138)

He is also able to meet someone and understand their inner core. This is his real strength: the perception of character. Many of the 'chapters' of this work are in-depth analyses of some of the memorable characters: scores, dragqueens and studhustlers, he has encountered:
  • "There is a consuming franticness about Skipper which seizes you the moment he begins to talk - the words coming often in gasps - his eyes burning - at times as if about to explode with intensity, at times on the brink of closing, giving up. Constantly, he flexes his body, looking down at it, studying it, as if to make sure it is still intact." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 144)
  • "When two homosexuals who have no Sexual interest in each other talk in a bar, they seldom look at each other - their eyes scan the bar for a new Available anyone." (Part III; Lance-1; p173)
  • "They are the astonished eyes of someone who after years of wearing sunglasses is forced suddenly to remove them in the savage stare of the sun." (Part III; Lance-4; p189)

And there are many other wonderful moments:

  • "Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night ... jukebox-winking,rock-n-roll-moaning America at night fusing its dark cities into the unmistakable shape of loneliness." (Part I; p 3)
  • "Even Milton, the poet, in his epic poem, was on the side of the rebellious angels." (Part I: The Professor-3: p 68)
  • "A franticness to get what the world had offered others and not extended readily to them." (Part I: The Professor-3: p 68)
  • "As long as the hustler goes only with queens - and with other men only for scoring ... - he is not himself considered 'queer' - he remains, in the vocabulary of the world, 'trade'." (Part II; Miss Destiny,-1; p 88)
  • "Shakespeare, my dears - a very Great writer who wrote ladies' parts for dragqueens in his time." (Part II; Miss Destiny,-1; p 88)
  • "I figure: So I make a few bucks working, I blow them - jes like that"! Shoot, I get along jes as good without. Why hassle moren you got to?" (Part II; Chuck-1; p 116)
  • "The best way to get there ... is to take it slow." (Part II; Chuck-1; p 117)
  • "Once, man, we got so fuckin drunk ... we jes started throwing rocks at the sky" ... jes like, you know, to make sure it's there ... But those rocks, man, they jes kept comin right back at us." (Part II; Chuck-2; p 125)
  • "Like - yeah - like you got Heaven roped by the neck." (Part II; Chuck-3; p 129)
  • "For the homeless drifters there is also the panic that one day youll wake up to the fact that youre through on the streets, in the bars - that everyone has had you, that those who havent have lost interest - that youve been replaced by the fresher faces that come daily into the city in that shifting wave of vagrants - younger than yo u now (and Youth is at a premium)" (Part II; p 137)
  • "People come to Harry's primarily for one of two purposes: to buy or be bought." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 140)
  • "Life, perversely, may make one a caricature of oneself, a wandering persistent ghost of the youngman that was, once." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 144)
  • "That stud walks more miles in a day than I do all mammy-screwin week long ... but he always ends up where he started from." (Part II; Skipper-1; p 145)
  • "The disdain of those who know that beauty rules anarchy." (Part III; Lance-1; p172)
  • "For the chorus to claim its victory, the God must admit his fall." (Part III; Lance-1; p174)
  • "At the Ranch Market on Vine Street, a cockeyed clock winds it hands swiftly backwards. Longingly I stand before it." (Part III; p 202)
  • "I told myself it's wrong to fight yourself when so much is fighting you already." (Part III; Someone-2; p 214)
  • "New Orleans is now the Pied Piper playing a multikeyed tune to varikeyed ears." (Part IV; p 270)
  • "When Ah first met him, he was re-al masculine ... He turns swish ovuhnight ... swishin like a ballerina. When Ah met him, he was hustlin the Quartuh too - the butchest, straighest numbuh y'evuh laid yuh eyes on." (Part IV; p 273)
  • "The ice age of the heart." (Part IV; p 326)
  • "I want to tell you something before we leave. Im not at all the way you think I am. Im not like you want me to be, the way I tried to look and act for you: not unconcerned, nor easygoing - not tough: no, not at all. ... Like you, like everyone else, Im Scared, cold, cold, terrified." (Part IV; p 326)

Unconventional but wonderfully descriptive; you feel you know the world of the desperate youngmen for the inside.

August 2020; 363 pages

Monday, 10 August 2020

"Demian" by Hermann Hesse

This slim volume (110 pages in my paperback version) was originally published pseudonymously and purported to be the autobiography of a young lad; it was an instant success. At first sight it has similarities with Goethe's Sorrows of Young Werther, it is very much in the Bildungsroman tradition, but this is not the self-obsessed self-tortures of a man in love; Demian is a novel of ideas about those who are outsiders in society.

There is a short prologue in which the narrator tries to explain what is this autobiography will be all about. It has a sort of dedicatory preface: “All I really wanted was to try and live the life that was spontaneously welling up within me. Why was that so very difficult?” (Prologue). He warns about the limitations of autobiography: “When authors write novels, they usually act as if they were God and could completely survey and comprehend some person’s history and present it as if God were telling it to Himself, totally unveiled, in its essence at all points. I can't, any more than those authors can.” (Prologue) Finally, he warns: “My story isn't pleasant, it's not sweet and harmonious like the invented stories; it tastes of folly and bewilderment, of madness and dream, like the life of all people who no longer want to lie to themselves.” (Prologue) Then we can start. 

As a boy, the narrator Emil Sinclair recognises that there are two worlds: "the world of a warm glow, clarity and cleanliness; gentle, friendly speech, washed hands, clean clothes, and proper behaviour ... This was the world to adhere to if one's life was to be bright and pure, lovely and well-ordered ... The other world ... was altogether different, smelled different, spoke differently, made different promises and demands. In this second world ... there was a motley flow of uncanny, tempting, frightening, puzzling things, things like slaughterhouse and jail, drunks and bickering women, cows giving birth, horses collapsing, stories of burglaries, killings, suicides.” (Ch 1) Following a juvenile misdemeanour (in fact a pretended one) Sinclair falls victim to blackmail from another schoolboy; Demian rescues him from this. Demian becomes the Guide to Sinclair's Hero on a Journey, but Demian is a guide who starts by challenging conventional ideas of religion and morality. He explains that the Christian God represents "goodness, nobility, the Father, beauty and also loftiness, sentimentality - all fine! But the world is made up of other things, too. And all that is simply ascribed to the Devil, and this whole part of the world, an entire half, is swept under the table and buried in silence"; his solution is to "create some new god, who would also include the Devil within himself, one in whose presence we wouldn't have to shut our eyes when the most natural things in the world take place.” (Ch 3) This is what Sinclair has been waiting to hear and it enables him to go to boarding school where he becomes a drunkard on the point of expulsion; a classic Refusal of the Call. Later he reconnects with Demian and with other characters, such as Pistorius the organist who seeks salvation in ancient mysticism. Finally Sinclair begins his journey to the light. Demian's last visit to him is in the nature, perhaps, of a ghost.

Demian, with Siddartha and Steppenwolf, is the first of a three novels which Colin Wilson in The Outsider considers to be Hesse's exploration of the theme of the outsider. Demian has recognised Sinclair as a fellow who is marked with the ‘mark of Cain’. He explains that the story about Cain is the wrong way round, made up to explain the mark: “They said that fellows with that mark were weird, and so they were. People with courage and character always seem weird to other people.” (Ch 3)

Wilson wasn't too keen on the ending of Demian which he describes as 'airy-fairy' and I can see what he means: it lacks the raw punch of the first few chapters. But the first few chapters are bloody good.

There are some super description in which Hesse uses a comparison entirely unlike any I have heard before and yet spot on:

  • It was as if the wall clock and the table, the Bible and the mirror, the bookshelf and the pictures on the wall were saying goodbye to me.” (Ch 1)
  • He bore and behaved himself like a prince in disguise in the midst farmboys, making every effort to resemble them.” (Ch 2)
  • He didn't look at all like a schoolboy doing an assignment, but like a scholar pursuing his own research.” (Ch 2)
  • The world around me was like a clearance sale of shopworn merchandise, insipid and unappealing.” (Ch 4)
  • A new pot to cook his ideas in.” (Ch 6)
  • Scholarship ... a weary search amid the ruins of worlds gone by.” (Ch 6)
  • I stood at a street corner listening; from two taverns the ritual performed jollity of youth emerged into the night. Everywhere a sense of community, everywhere a squatting together, everywhere is shuffling off of destiny and an escape into the warm togetherness of the herd!” (Ch 7)

Great moments of truth:

  • The part of the story that took place among the wicked and the lost was by far the more appealing, and if one were free to state and admit it, it was sometimes actually a downright shame that the prodigal repented and was found again.” (Ch 1)
  • There were secrets I could much sooner share with the coarsest street boys than with my sisters.” (Ch 1)
  • It was my own business to cope with myself and find my own path, and I conducted my business badly, just as most children do who have been well brought up.” (Ch 3)
  • Very many ... for the rest of their life cling painfully to the irretrievable past, to the dream of the lost paradise [childhood], which is the worst and most murderous of all dreams.” (Ch 3)
  • Whoever wishes to be born destroy a world.” (Ch 5)
  • I like music very much, I think, because it's so unconcerned with morality.” (Ch 5)
  • I've always derived nothing but suffering from morality.” (Ch 5)
  • You certainly don't consider all the bipeds running around the street to be human beings merely because they walk upright and carry their young for nine months?” (Ch 5)
  • You shouldn't compare yourself with others; and if nature has made you a bat, you shouldn't try to turn yourself into an ostrich.” (Ch 6)
  • I didn't exist to write poetry, to preach sermons, to paint pictures; neither I know anyone else existed for that purpose. All of that merely happened to a person along the way. Everyone had only one true vocation: to find himself.” (Ch 6)

Fantastic writing from a Nobel laureate. August 2020; 110 pages

Saturday, 8 August 2020

"Tyrell" by Coe Booth

Tyrell is a fifteen-year-old black lad living in New York with his ten-year-old brother and his moms; his father is in prison and the family, homeless, have been sent to a cockroach infested motel with other homeless families. He earns money using NY Metro season tickets which he uses to swipe commuters through the station gates in return for a dollar. He is an intriguing mix of toxic masculinity (aggression and a 24-7 sex drive; "Guys gotta act stronger and tougher when females is watching them." C 13) and 'new man' protection: if he has to kill someone to protect his girl, he reflects, he will just have to go to jail. He wants to earn enough money to get his family into an apartment; the only way he can do this quasi-legally is by setting up a rap party using his pop's DJ equipment. This is a 'lets do the show right here' story set in a context of squalor, homelessness, petty crime and hunger.

He has a great and seemingly authentic voice, there is a lot of verisimilitude and there is a great plot with some fine characters. It has been perfectly st up for a sequel; I suspect there will be a series.

A lot of the book is focussed on food. Tyrell never talks about his hunger but he chronicles every meal, from the one at the church where he has to sit through a two-hour service first to the ten dollar breakfast at McDonalds (two egg-McMuffin meals) and all the times he is invited to share someone's food and wolfs it down:
  • "Troy keep eating and eating like someone gonna take the food away if he don’t eat everything in, like, five minutes." (C 7)
  • "I’m eating so fast, I ain’t even picking my head up in between bites." (C 7)
  • "I ain’t thinking ‘bout no cigarette. I don’t want nothing to spoil the taste of that food in my mouth." (C 8)
  • "And what’s messed up is that I’m really hungry too. Starving. I need this food." (C 27)

There are moments when the hopelessness of homelessness is perfectly captured:
  • "I gotta do something. I wanna go somewhere, but I don’t got nowhere to go." (C 4)

But Tyrell also rages against the impotence of people like his mother who refuse to take responsibility for picking themselves up off the floor:
  • "Everyone on this bus got some excuse for why they here. None of it is they fault." (C 3)
  • "I’m tired of the way she act, like everyone s’posed to do everything for her all the time. Even if she don’t do nothing. Even when my pops was home, she never did nothing for herself. She just sat ‘round expecting him to do everything for her and buy her things. No matter how he got them." (C 4)
Other great moments:
  • "I never really believed in God ‘cause I knew if there was a God he wouldn’t never take my pops away from me. And my pops always taught me not to depend on nobody but myself." (C 8)
  • "I leave that store with a little over a dollar. Damn, I need to make some money soon." (C 8)
  • "Here we ain’t got no kitchen table to sit at, so we gotta work on the bed, which really don’t cut it." (C 9)
  • "That ain’t who I am. Shit, my pops ain’t raise me to be no pussy." (C 11)
  • "That woman was on me like white on rice, let me tell you." (C 11)
  • "I never used to hate snow, but when you ain’t got no warm coat or boots, snow ain’t cool. Not only that, but I ain’t got no other sneakers to put on, so I’ma be stuck in these all fuckin’ day." (C 13)
  • "If my brother can have some fun while we in this situation, I’ma let him. He don’t deserve to be at Bennett. He should be outside with a good coat and boots playing in the snow, so why I’ma stop him from having a good time?" (C 13)
  • "Life is so fucked up for Troy right now. Someone need to let him win sometime." (C 13)
  • "Just ‘cause she hooked up with a lot of guys don’t mean she wasn’t being used by them." (C 16)
  • "Females don’t know how hard it is sleeping with them when you ain’t doing nothing. Shit ain’t right. My whole body was hurting to get with her." (C 17)
  • "Teachers took one look at me and started putting me in programs for at-risk kids, then at-risk boys, then at-risk teenagers. Personally, I ain’t never knew what the fuck I was s’posed to be at risk of, except growing up Black" (C 17)
  • "Cal has a pops so bad, he make my pops look like one of them TV fathers." (C 19)
  • "Last time they let him out, you shoulda seen him, walking around in clothes from, like, fifteen years ago, trying to pick up young girls with his old-ass self.” (C 19)
  • "Cal a happy drunk, but I’m like one of them sorry-ass drunks you see crying on theyself on the train." (C 19)
  • "My opinion, weed ain’t nothing compared to alcohol. They made the wrong thing legal." (C 21)
  • "My school wasn’t nothing like this. It was more like a prison, you ask me. We had to go through metal detectors just to get in, and if them alarms went off, we had to go to another room to get searched again with one of them hand wands like they use at the airport. And no matter what you had on you, they would say it was a weapon and take it away from you, even when you was bringing it for school. Shit like compasses for geometry and them little staplers wasn’t allowed in my school. Even rulers. Like we was gonna file them down and make knives outta them or something. The whole thing never made no sense to me. They was s’posed to be getting us ready for college, not a life behind bars." (C 23)
  • "Damn. She giving me handouts. I mean, I know she being nice and everything, but all I feel is embarrassed." (C 27)
  • "I don’t know why, but females always think they know what guys need. Like we too dumb to run our own life or something." (C 28)
  • "And the truth is, when you pay nothin’, you get nothin’." (C 29)
  • I need your father,” she say, and she look kinda lost too. “I can’t do it by myself no more. I need him.” (C 31)
A super young adult book from the other side of the tracks.

Also read: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

August 2020

Thursday, 6 August 2020

"The Magnificent Century" by Thomas B Costain

This history covers the reign of Henry III of England (1216 - 1272), son and heir of King John, father of Edward I. This was a pivotal reign known primarily for the rebellion of Simon de Montfort in his attempts to establish the first English Parliament to which Commoners were called. 

The book is the middle volume in The Pageant of England trilogy. These books were initially written in 1951 and therefore provide a broad sweep of narrative history with little questioning (it repeats the claim that “An Italian named Salvenus de Armat invented spectacles in 1280”; Chap 31 although wikipedia suggests that this claim is untrue: "there was no member of the Armati family with that name" at the time) and no reference to sources although it is clear that the author is widely read. The prejudices and perspectives of 1951 are clearly visible! I am sure that the histories we write will be viewed disdainfully by the historians of 2090; our own obsessions distorting our perspective on the past.

Nevertheless this is a cracking read and I learned lots. The thirteenth century was filled with great characters such as Hubert de Burgh, William Marshall, Robert Grosseteste, Simon de Montfort, Eustace the Monk (a pirate) and many more. It starts in the middle of a civil war and in invasion of England by Prince Louis, son of the French King, it involves another civil war and the capture of the king at Lewes who then becomes a puppet until his son escapes from captivity and destroys the rebel army at Evesham. There is incident aplenty, lots of baddies and a few goodies. 

Some great moments:
  • Blanche, wife of Prince Louis demanded of King Philip Augustus of France money for her husband to continue fighting “if he remained obdurate, she would raise the money by pawning her own children.” (Chapter 2)
  • This lumbering, lute-twanging, looby age” (Chapter 26)
  • A live cardinal could do more for you than a dead pope.” (Chapter 28)
  • Those of high station lived in dank stone castles and those of low degree in mean hovels without chimney or window. They clothed their body in dun shoddiness and deemed a man a meacock who wore an embroidered band on his tunic.” (Chapter 29) I thought meacock was a misprint for peacock. I should have known that a meacock is "An uxorious, effeminate, or spiritless man; 
A meek man who dotes on his wife, or is henpecked." according to wiktionary

Very enjoyable. August 2020; 370 pages

Other books in the series include

Sunday, 2 August 2020

"Ape and Essence" by Aldous Huxley

In the frame narrative, on the day Gandhi is assassinated, a script-writer and the narrator discover a film script in a movie studio; when they seek out the writer they find that he has died. The second part of the book is his script. Some of it is sententious nonsense. The rest is a science fiction story in which an explorer from New Zealand, the only country to escape nuclear destruction in the Third World War, discovers the post-holocaust society in Los Angeles. Gamma rays have made all but a despised minority 'on heat' only for a five week window every year; those males who are permanently randy are castrated. The Belial-worshipping society is communist-authoritarian and babies born with more than the usual number of disabilities (thanks to gamma rays) are killed as infants just before the next round of copulation.

It is, in short, another chilling dystopia from the author of Brave New World.

The frame narrative (Tallis) seems unnecessary, introducing the scriptwriter impoverished by his womanising and the narrator who sees the world in terms of scenes as painted by old masters. This section was a little wordy: "For all their silken softness, the folds of every garment would have the inevitability and definitiveness of syllogisms carved in prophyry, and throughout the whole we should feel the presence of Plato's God, for ever mathematizing chaos into the order and beauty of art." (Tallis).

When the script began my heart sank: there were elements of pomposity and poetry that got in the way of what is an uncomplicated science fiction story that could have graced any B-movie lucky enough to have escaped the censor. Then, in the middle, the crux of the book revolves around an arch-priest explaining the tents of his devil-worship: that the devil is in all of us as clearly evidenced by the way mankind repeatedly self-destructs.

It is the message of the book, rather than the magic of its story-telling, that makes this a worthwhile read. In a few short pages Huxley-the-prophet predicts environmental catastrophe and consequent nuclear holocaust resulting from greed and breeding (all excerpts from 'Script')

  • "If a machine is fool-proof, it must also be skill-proof, talent-proof, inspiration-proof. Your money back if the product should be faulty and twice your money back if you can find in it the smallest trace of genius or individuality.
  • "Immortal souls ... lodged in bodies that grow progressively sicklier, scabbier, scrubbier, year after year.
  • "Even without the atomic bomb, Belial could have achieved all His purposes. A little more slowly, perhaps, but just as surely, men would have destroyed themselves by destroying the world they lived in."
  • "Those wretched slaves of wheels and ledgers began to congratulate themselves on being the Conquerors of Nature ... In actual fact, of course, they had merely upset the equilibrium of Nature and were about to suffer the consequences.
  • "Progress - the theory that you can get something for nothing; the theory that you can gain in one field without paying for your gain in another; the theory that you alone understand the meaning of history ... the theory that Utopia lies just ahead."
  • "Since ideal ends justify the most abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave and murder all those who, in your opinion (which is, by definition, infallible), obstruct the onward march to the earthly paradise.


The title comes from a passage (cited at the start of the Script section of this novel) in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure when Isabella begs the sexual hypocrite Antonio for the life of her brother, sentenced to death for the crime of premaritally impregnating his fiance:
But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d;
His glassy essence, like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven,
As make the angels weep.

Great moments:

  • "Ptolemy was perfectly right: the centre of the universe is here, not there." (Tallis)
  • "Doesn't every schoolboy know it? Ends are ape-chosen; only the means are man's." (Tallis)
  • "Girls. not as they lamentably are, but as the idealists of the brassiere industry proclaim that they ought to be." (Tallis)
  • "What she was, unfortunately, was a bit of a bitch. And that bit had grown larger with the passage of the years." (Tallis)
  • "Tragedy is the farce that involves our sympathies; farce, the tragedy that happens to outsiders." (Script)
  • "From the second century onwards no orthodox Christian believed that a man could be possessed by God. He could only be possessed by the Devil." (Script)
  • "Unconditional surrender ... how many millions of children forced to be thieves or prostituting themselves for bars of chocolate?" (Script)
  • "If you want social solidarity, you've got to have either an external enemy or an oppressed minority." (Script)

Other books by Aldous Huxley include:

  • The Doors of Perception about his experiences with psychoactive drugs which made him a hero to the hippies of the sixties and provided the name for the sixties rock band The Doors.
  • Time Must Have a Stop: novelised philosophy of a rather pretentious adolescent


Saturday, 1 August 2020

"Tales of the Greek Heroes" by Roger Lancelyn Green

This is one of the books that I read when I was young, together with the Tale of Troy and the Saga of Asgard by the same author, that made me adore old myths (and must be at least partly responsible for my atheism, for if these colourful stories are untrue why should the rather less colourful stories from the Bible be true?).

Reading the book again as a much older reader I realise the skill that went into telling for children these often complex, frequently bloodthirsty, and from time to time sexy myths. The author can do little with the multiply sinful story of Oedipus except to say "Then Oedipus ruled well and wisely at Thebes, until a curse fell upon the land because of crimes which he had committed unintentionally, and he wandered away as a blind beggar" (C 8; surely the most Mrs Grundyish summary of parricide and incest in the whole of literature). However, normally he simplifies the sometimes contradictory accounts and produces a sanitised but exciting boys' own adventure story. We have the early stories of Zeus and Cronos, of Prometheus, and of the great flood. The central part of the book deals with the labours of Hercules. Finally we learn about Jason and the Argonauts and the Battle with the Giants.

First published in 1958 but still very readable.

A more grown up version of these stories is provided by Stephen Fry with Mythos and Heroes.