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Archive for November, 2009

1983. Nick Guest, a medium class literature scholar, is spending some time in the Fedden’s Notting Hill mansion, as guest of their son Toby, his Oxford mate and secret crush. Nick is “adopted” by the family and becomes acquainted with high society people, as Gerald Fedden is one of Thatcher’s Tory Ministers.

1986. Nick remains friend of the Fedden’s but begins an intense relationship with the wealthy decadent Lebanese Wani Ouradi.

1987. Scandal related to the Fedden’s causes the fall of Nick.

The Line of Beauty is a portrayal of Thatcher’s society and the rise and fall of a gay Mr. Nobody in the high society of the time. The coming of age of Nick Guest as a gay man in the “age before the internet” is quite well portrayed, as well as the decadence and hipocrisy in the Tory high society of Thatcher’s Government.

The prose is written with a great care for the stucture and aestetic, but I was disappointed. Maybe the praise (and prize) it received put my expectations on The Line of Beauty too high. It is not the material of a classic and it brings nothing new in GLBTS literature. However, it is defenitely a very good (and vivid) portayal of a time in Britain’s 20th Century History.

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Maggie Tulliver’s father owned a mill by the river Floss, in England, 1820s. Maggie grew up in this rural setting with her parents and her brother, Tom Tulliver. Maggie’s father was ignorant and narrow minded, her mother was a submissive wife and her brother was considered a “slow-minded” child.

But Maggie had an intellect far superior to what was expected of a small landlord’s daughter.  She had an impulsiveness and desire of independence that were not suited for a young woman.

All the privileges went to her brother Tom, among them the privilege of having an education, which was a torment for Tom, but a strong desire to Maggie.

One day the Tulliver economic (and social) status falls abruptly, and so the difference between Maggie and her family becomes even deeper.

The Mill on the Floss is about Maggie’s thirst for freedom and knowledge in a world that condemns her, because it is too narrow minded and attached to old values to understand her actions or recognize the justice of her claims.

Not only Maggie’s family, but all other characters are very well explored.

Maggie’s aunts, together with her mother, make the proud well-married Dodson sisters: her mother is the dimwit, aunt Pullet the hypochondriac, and aunt Glegg the control-freak. Lucy Deane, Maggie’s cousin, is the perfect girl: pretty, well behaved but not very clever. Philip Wakem, son of Maggie’s father worst enemy, is physically deficient but his mind is a perfect match to Maggie’s. Stephen Guest is the handsome socialite who is engaged to Lucy.

The Mill on the Floss has its moments of drama, irony, and even comedy. The main subject is very strong and it surprised me for the crude way it is treated, especially if we regard the time when it was written. The story also takes many unexpected turns. Till the last page I was expecting a Jane Austen-like ending and it really surprised me…

The Mill on the Floss was recommended by a great friend of mine (yes, Barbara, that’s you!) and I also recommend it as an extraordinary work.

The Mill on the Floss is available at Project Gutenberg.

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Orm the Strong, as the fifth son of a great Viking landsman, could not expect a big inheritance from his father, and so he departed to conquer his own land in the Danelaw. He burned the house of an English landlord, killing all his family and household, except for the man’s mother, a witch who laid a curse on Orm “that his eldest son should be fostered beyond the world of men, while in turn Orm should in turn foster a wolf that would one day rend him.”

Orm got an English wife (by coercion) and the faith of the White Christ (for practical reasons). When his first son was born, Imric the elf-earl kidnapped the child, and put a changeling in his place. (Of course the witch indicated the child to Imric.)

Skafloc grew up to a good natured young man among the elves while his copy, Valgard the changeling, grew up to a vicious man, full of hatred. When Valgard learns (from the witch) that he was born from the rape of her mother, the daughter of the King of the Trolls, and Imric himself, he decides to take vengeance on the world by conquering his inheritance, both kingdoms of the Elfs and the Trolls.

The story is incredibly fast-paced (it never gets boring), but many details are presented in an extraordinary (and witty) way, not only as the product of a fertile imagination, but also with clear conscience of the political/historical reality. The relationships and hierarchy among imaginary beings are explored with a very interesting approach.

The Broken Sword already won its rightful place among the classics. It is a dark fantasy novel, so a sweet lame romantic story is not to be expected. There is no pity on the poor kidnapped/ill treated boys.

For another version of a child abduction by an elf-lord check Erlkonig, a song by Schubert with text by Goethe (follow with the lyrics/translation).

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Les Troyens

Les Troyens, by Hector Berlioz, is the grandest epic French Opera, based on Vergil’s Aeneid.

 

The first part is set in Troy during the siege. It is centered in the character of the princess-prophetess Cassandra, who is suspicious of the big wooden horse the Greeks left near Troy. No one listens to her. The Greeks invade Troy, and just a small party, led by Aeneas, manages to escape. Cassandra leads a mass women suicide in the temple, not to become slaves of the Greeks.

 

The second part is set in Carthage and is centered in Dido, Queen of Carthage, who sees in Aeneas a future husband and King of Carthage, combining affection and political interest. But Aeneas is supposed to lead the Trojan people to Italy, and not to stay long in Carthage. He departs and Dido dies in grief, among political disorder.

 

The 2009/10 lyric season of the Palau de les Arts, Valencia, Spain, is starting with a Sci-Fi version of Les Troyens, a co-production with the Mariinsky Theater, directed by Valery Gergiev.

 

The staging, by Carlus Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus, turns the Opera into the confrontation of interplanetary civilizations. The cyber-punk Trojan civilization is condemned to extinction except for Aeneas party, who departs in search of a new planet to colonize. They reach Carthage and find a environmental-friendly/sustainable-economic-development civilization.

 

Unfortunately I didn’t watch it, but all the descriptions and critics I read really caught my attention (even the worse critcs). I will not miss the DVD when it comes up (by Decca).

 

What also caught my attention was that Cassandra is sung by the great Portuguese dramatic soprano Elisabete Matos (watch a bit on youtube).

 

Check the NYTimes Review.

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CaimCain, son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel because God accepted Abel’s offerings and not his. God punished Cain to wander on the face of the Earth till the end of his days, but He put a mark on Cain so that no man could ever kill him.

 

Caim was based in this biblical story, filled with the author’s critical views on God’s and the humans’ actions. As an example, he takes God as the moral author of Abel’s murder, and Cain’s soft punishment as God’s admission of guilt. Cain’s journey consisted in random jumps, through time and space, by the narrations in the Old Testament. In his wandering journey Cain met Abraham, Lot, Noah, Lilith and Job, among others.

 

Much unjustified polemic was caused by this small book. The critical view on religious issues is not a novelty in Saramago’s work, it is present in the majority of his books. In Caim, the author is more direct and brutal than usual towards the Catholic Religion and God as an object of Humankind’s Faith. However, Saramago’s views on Religion/Faith/Humanity were also well developed in the Gospel According to Jesus Christ, though his ideas were presented in a subtler and more elegant way.

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AmericanGodsShadow Moon was released from prison one week early to attend his wife’s funeral. As his wife and his best friend, who supposedly would take care of his new life after prison, were both dead, Shadow felt he had nothing to go back to. It was in this context that Shadow met a mysterious old man, Mr. Wednesday, who offered him a job as errand boy.

Shadow soon discovered that Mr. Wednesday was the God Odin, the All-Father. Mr. Wednesday’s quest was to reunite all old Gods who, like him, were brought to U.S.A. in the heads of their believers, for the great battle against the modern Gods of Internet, TV, credit cards, and all modern junk. And so Shadow started the journey in the hallucinatory sub-world of the ancient and decadent Gods, and the new plastic ones.

The allegory in American Gods is faithfully followed. America is a bad ground for Gods. The ancient ones come from far away, they are the rooted in people’s culture, and, although people keep following some old traditions, the Gods became forgotten. The new Gods are highly venerated by people but they have a short life-span, because they are constantly replaced by new ones.

American Gods is highly entertaining. Some details, like the dialogues between Shadow and his (zombie) wife are remarkable. However, it doesn’t stand the comparison with Neverwhere, by the same author.

I think the problem is that after presenting the context and the problem, in the first chapters, the rhythm of the novel slows down, and it just bursts again in the last third of the book. In the middle I got that dreadful feeling that the-same-could-be-said-in-less-words. And the ending doesn’t compensate the middle part.

This doesn’t mean the book is boring and not worth reading. Maybe Neil Gaiman set the scale too high when he wrote Neverwhere

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La Bete Humaine Zola

The action is set around the railway between Paris and Le Havre, in the 19th century. The main characters are:

 

Roubaud, the deputy station master at Le Havre, who lives a calm and easy life with his beautiful wife Séverine. He loves his serene life, and he is deeply protective and jealous about his wife.

 

Séverine, the beautiful wife of Roubaud, is ambitious and makes sure about keeping a calm and easy life with her husband. She ensures her husband’s position in the company, her husband’s salary and privileges by letting her husband’s boss have sex with her.

 

Jaques Lantier, the driver of the engine “la Lison”. He is regarded as a “nice guy”, just and friendly. He just has a small secret: an impulse to kill women. But, as he is a good guy, he tries to control it by having a deep, almost sexual, attachment to the engine he drives.

 

These characters compose a story that could be a pinkish soap opera about passion, ambition and jealousy. However, as the story was written by Zola, it turns into a brutal, twisted, psychotic and morbid thriller. All characters are intrinsically rotten normal people.

 

As an example of Zola’s characters: Lantier’s angelical cousin, Flore, falls in love with him. He also starts falling in love with her, but, as he starts feeling the urge to stab her to death, he runs away (he is a good guy, right?). She was hurt by his leaving and her fury leads her to hurt him. He managed to escape alive, but, in the process, dozens of people get sanguinarilly killed. (Death descriptions in Zola’s romances tend to be stomach-revolting.)

 

Zola’s naturalism is mostly present in the character of Lantier, who would be the most candid human being, if he didn’t suffer of hereditary destructive madness. He is also the link of La Bête Humaine to the Les Rougon-Macquart series. Jaques Lantier is son of Gervaise (L’Assommoir), brother of Étienne Lantier (Germinal) and Claude Lantier (L’Oevre), and half-brother of Nana (Nana). All a nice good family…

La Bête Humaine can be found in Project Guntenberg (original French).

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