Showing posts with label Lehane. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lehane. Show all posts

09 May 2012

Presidential (S)elections

by Neil Schofield

I haven't been having a cold like Leigh, or trouble with my leg like Rob, but what I've been having is like a combination of the worst aspects of both. I've been having a presidential election. I say 'I', but I really mean 'they', because although I'm in France, I'm not altogether of it, if you catch my drift. I can vote in local and regional elections being a European, but for any Rosbif who tries to muscle in on the choosing of the Head Grenouille, the shrift he gets is decidedly on the short side.

It's been a bad-tempered campaign, often peevish and at times verging on the distinctly shirty.
So to get away from this parliament of crows and the not unfrenzied activity which has surrounded it, I decided to catch up with my reading. Our town library now boasts a vast(ish) English language section with a high proportion of crime/mystery novels. From Block,Connelly, Coben and Cornwell  all the way to Westlake. Wodehouse is also there to ease the fractious mind.

My selection this last month has largely consisted of books I should have read long ago, but have inexplicably failed to. So it's been Catch-Up time. But you can't ever really catch-up, can you? And my reading has been interfered with by the thought that people will say incredulously "You haven't read that? But everybody's read that. Years ago!"

Well, okay. We can't all be perfect and I don't get out much. But three of this month's books have made for a fine distraction from the worritsome Gallic punch-up. What I like in a book is  (of course) a good story well told, but I also love to learn about something new to me. And these three have all taught me something new, told me about something of which I was completely ignorant. Coincidentally, all three concern America, but I don't mind that.




The first is The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. This is a very good book indeed. I've now stopped classing D. Lehane as a great crime writer and started thinking of him as a great writer full stop. And what fascinated me was the back-drop of Boston in 1919. I had never heard of the Boston police strike and most of all, I had never heard of the Boston Molasses Disaster. If anyone had spoken to me about it before I came across the book, I would have assumed they were talking about a Monty Python sketch. But the horrid reality was anything but funny. And the fact that it has Babe Ruth as a sort of Greek Chorus turning up throughout the narrative is a clever added bonus.

My second selection is The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld. I am always a little wary about detective novels written about actual historical figures, but this is an exception. I didn't know about Sigmund Freud's visit to New York in 1909, and his fractious relationship with Carl Jung, so here again I learned something new. The (fictional) murder plot which takes place during the visit  and with which Freud becomes involved is well constructed but again, it was the back-drop that entertained me the most. The New York of 1909, with its towering nineteen-floor (gasp) skyscrapers, the Manhatten Bridge as yet unbuilt, the social New York of the Four Hundred Families - all beautifully drawn.

Third and not least, I read this.

And it frightened the bejasus out of me.

After 'No Country For Old Men', I had to amend my List Of People To Be Really, Really Scared Of, to include Anton Chigurh, but nothing prepared me for this. Why on earth hadn't I read this before? It is one of the strangest, most terrible, most terrifying things I have ever read. I kept having to stop during one of McCarthy's long hair-raising paragraphs, to take a few deep breaths and tell myself it was only a book. But it isn't only a book. One review (the NYT, I think) called it a journey 'through a hell without purpose'. And that it is and then some. There is no salvation in this book, no redemption for anyone. The end is as terrible as the beginning. It is dark, bloody and pitiless.

And what I didn't know about was John Joel Glanton , his band of scalphunters and their horrid, bloody work in 1849. And worst of all, I didn't know about Glanton's appalling second-in-command, the dreadful Judge Holden. And now I know, I'm not sure I wasn't better off not.

What mesmerises is McCarthy's English which is like no English language anyone one has written or  read before. It isn't simply the repetitive use of 'and', nor the lack of quotes around the dialogue. It is the way he drifts into near-Biblical  or quasi-mediaeval mode, his use of the archaic word, the outmoded phrase when he is describing the indescriptible which raised the hair on my neck. I am going to have to read it again to make sure I had it right the first time. But not just yet. I have to read some P.G.Wodehouse to settle my nerves.

France has elected a new President.

And I have elected Judge Holden to head my List of People To Be Really Really Scared Of, which now reads:
1. Judge Holden
2. Anton Chigurh
3. Roy Batty
4 Keyser Sose

They just keep on coming.

18 April 2012

Pull the Other One

by Robert Lopresti

I have to warn you. I am a Gloomy Gus today.  Not the usual jolly soul you have come to love and admire over the years.  My milk of human kindness is long past pull-date and my sense of human warmth is approaching absolute zero.

“What is the cause of this uncharacteristic gloom?” you may well ask.  “How have you been cast down to this wretched state, Rob, dear friend?  What, to coin a phrase, is harshing your mellow?”

I shall elucidate.  Yesterday I pulled a muscle in my leg.  It was my own fault, I admit it.  I engaged in a dangerous and reckless activity.  Exercise.

(Let this be a warning to all the impressionable youth out there.  Don’t be led astray by peer pressure!   Sure, it may look tempting when the “cool kids” are out there jogging and lifting weights, but don’t fall into the trap.   Do you really want to end up a muscle-bound  health freak, surviving way past the deaths of most of your friends, not to mention the Social Security system?)

Where was I?  Oh yes.  My leg hurts.  But that’s not all.  My injury is playing holy havoc with my lunch schedule.

At the advice of yet another health nut I recently started spending half of each lunch hour walking while devouring my finger food lunch.  At first, I resented the idea, because I normally spent this interval reading, and reading, as I am sure most of you out there in writer-blog land will understand, is very important to me.

I did find a solution: audio books.  I went to a department store and tried to find something as low tech as a portable CD player hidden among the grains of rice that can hold Bach’s complete works, and the cell phones that guess your weight to the last kilogram.

I did find the the CD players,, hanging out rather sheepishly next to a single, sad, cassette tape player.  Remember them?

Anyway, thus equipped, I went to the library in search of a suitable audio book to read (e-read? Hear? Listen to?).  I settled on Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile, which I highly recommend.   In fact, if the publisher happens to read this, you have my permission to use the following as a blurb.

Moonlight Mile is my favorite book to read while I am walking and eating.  –Robert Lopresti, author of stuff

So, my gimpy leg has shot that half of my lunch hour to hell.  The second half of this festive event is normally spent writing, either a file I brought from home on a flash drive, or editing a story I have already printed out.

Alas, this morning, in my rush to transfer all my worldly goods from my bike panier to my backpack, preparatory to catching a bus to work, I managed to leave both my paper file and flashdrive at home, where they are no doubt entertaining the cats no end.  So I can neither walk nor write.

This reminds me, as so much does, of Jerome K. Jerome, a great Victorian humorist.  As I recall  he once lamented that if he dared to leave on a trip without bringing all the pages and tools he needed to write he was overcome with a desperate urge to write.  On the other hand, if he brought them a long he was never tempted to pull them out for as much as a glance.  Jerome (out of respect, I am calling him by his last name.  I know it is hard to tell) was a great student of human nature.

Have I mentioned that my leg hurts?  If you have never heard one of your own muscles tearing, let me assure you that it is a memorable experience.

This may explain why, lacking the ability to write something useful, I  chose instead to impose this rant on you. Fortunately it is now over.

And remember, if you must exercise, please take the elementary precaution of first removing your legs.