Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Tyranny of Western Time (Books - The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar)

Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar's The Time Regulation Institute (Penguin, 2013) is a mid-20th century satire by one of the most respected Turkish authors writing novels in the Western tradition.  I must admit, I would have been unlikely to have read it without the urging of the publisher, who sent me a copy to review prior to its release in January 2014. It concerns Hayri Irdal, an anti-hero who is in one sense the classic 20th century narrator, quickly establishing his lack of trusworthiness.  We learn within the first two paragraphs that not only is he uninterested in reading or writing, he also spent years as a psychiatric patient.  Tanpinar's novel is an allegory for the adjustment of an old traditional Turkey under the Ottoman Empire, to the modern Western values adopted for the country by their ruler Ataturk, a clash of cultures which included the adoption of Western time.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tale for a chilly winter's night does not deliver (Books - Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield)

I remember liking Diane Setterfield's debut The Thirteenth Tale, but I simply could not wrap my enthusiasm around her latest offering, Bellman & Black (Emily Bestler Books, Atria, 2013).  The ingredients are there - Victorian gothic atmosphere, a tale of financial romance - but it doesn't add up.  The human side of this story is really a romance, despite the fact that it is less about people relating to people than it is about one person, William Bellman, relating to money.  Tales featuring business or law can work - Dickens has certainly done it, but in a more complex context.  One of the chief problems with this story is that Bellman is the only developed character.  Everyone else is his prop.  Even Bellman himself is created out of hyperbole - this is a critical flaw, since the book, which flirts with the grand subjects of death and mortality, never manages the gravitas it aspires to.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Coming of age after retirement (Books - Ancient Light by John Banville)

It's a useful thing to read a John Banville novel every few years or so, just to remind oneself what really great writing can accomplish.  Banville is not a concept writer - his writing is not about gimmick.  Nor is it about plot - although things certainly happen.  His novels are about the forces that stir lives and his power is in how he uses language to stop and make one notice.  He doesn't so much write sentences as wield them.  Letting them slice their way into your consciousness so that they ferment there.  In Ancient Light (Vintage International, 2012) a sixty-something actor in a dwindling career, lives with his wife as they both mourn the death of their daughter, a suicide, a number of years earlier.  Two things happen.  Firstly, he remembers his first love at 15, who happened to be the mother of his best friend.  From the accomplished opening paragraph:

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I won't tell your story any more! (Films - The Mirror (1997) dir. Jafar Panahi)

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian director who has been sentenced to 6 years in jail and banned for making films for 20 years because of the opinions expressed in his films.  He has defied his country's authority by continuing to make the films - This is Not a Film (2011) a fascinating cinematic diary of his arrest and Closed Curtain (2013), which I have not seen.  I was introduced to his work when my friend Sheila hosted her fantastic Iranian Film Blogathon in 2011.  The Mirror (1997, available through Netflix) is Panahi's second feature film.  It features Mina Mohammadkhani, a 7-year-old willful powerhouse of talent, playing a girl her own age (Baharan) who, when her mother does not pick her up at school, is determined to find her own way home through the traffic clogged streets of Tehran.  In some ways this film reminds me of Woody Allen's films about the cities he loves - Manhattan and Midnight in Paris - but the film's esthetic is rougher, with a feeling of capturing real moments.  Its point of view is more subversive, as I'll explain in a minute.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Twin memoirs of a writer's inner and outer selves (Books - Report from the Interior by Paul Auster)

I was quite taken with novelist Paul Auster's memoir of his corporeal self, Winter Journal, as I wrote last year.  It was an intimate account of what it has been like to inhabit and create from the body that is Paul Auster for his 64 years of existence.  His publishers were nice enough to pass along a copy of the sequel, Report from the Interior (Henry Holt and Company, 2013).  This one purports to do for the intellectual, spiritual, moral Auster what the last volume did for the physical.  I am a fan of Auster's artistry and have read nearly all of his fiction.  I felt this volume the less initimate of the two, but I admire this act of opening up himself in that it reveals much about how the development of the man intersects with the creation of his work.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A thing of beauty is not a joy forever unless we make it so (Books - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt)

Shorter days and colder temperatures made me crave a long, enveloping story with equal parts warmth, adventure, suspense, and romance.  I found it in Donna Tartt's new novel The Goldfinch.  Her earlier The Secret History and The Little Friend were creepily entertaining, in the gothic romantic vein, while this book is of an entirely different mettle.  To my mind, this is Tartt's first serious novel, still entertaining, yes, but less satisfied with just shocking her reader with how warped the human spirit can become.  Still compelling, but one feels this story anchored by big themes.  One theme is identity and the part that events, other people, and oneself play in its formation.  The second is art, the role of a thing of beauty, and what gives it value. The third is fate, embodied in an act which propels the plot and gives this story its contemporary feel - that is a random act of terrorism which occurs in New York.