Sunday, April 27, 2014
This roman noir novella by James M. Cain has been one of the more fast-paced, slick and beautifully choreographed stories I have had the breathless pleasure of reading.
“I had killed a man, for money and a woman. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have the woman.”
Insurance agent Walter Huff has been in this dubious business for so long, he admits to have stopped caring. That sad truth is the partial reason behind the gruesome events that follow. Of course, charming femme fatale Phyllis Nirdlinger, who consults him about accident insurance for her husband, is the other.
I will not talk too much about this story - that would completely undercut the tone set by the book: fast, with no room for slow musings; surprising, with no patience for needless melodrama; and cool, with no need for benign mercy.
From the misplaced devotion of Huff, through the devious wile of Phyllis, to the inadequate attempts of Lola, and finally to the brilliant mind of Keyes, the tension in this story was created as much by the exceptional writing as it was by the murder itself.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
I dedicate my 100th blog to some of the greatest creators of all time; writers whose works have affected me deeply - not just in opening my heart to the deepest emotions, but also opening my mind to the greatest sense of wonder.
Enid Blyton, thank you. You are where it all started! My entire childhood lives in the world you have created; from flying off in a Wishing Chair to exciting adventures in an Enchanted Wood; from the best of fun in Toyland with Noddy and Big Ears to the best of friends at St. Clare’s and Malory Towers; to of course the greatest of mystery and adventure with everyone from Barney and the Secret Seven to the Famous Five and the Five Find-Outers.
P. G. Wodehouse, thank you. Your wit and humour remain untouched; your command of the English language remains unsurpassed till date. On my worst day, I can still pick up a PGW and be laughing in moments. From the mad capers of Tales of St. Austin’s (which is, I think, my first PGW) through the wildly improbable situations of the dapper Bertie Wooster and his highly ingenious valet Jeeves, to the comically ridiculous world of Blandings Castle and Lord Emsworth … you continue to dispel the darkness in this world.
Agatha Christie, thank you. You invited me in to a perfect world, steeped in old English charm, took me through old mansions and quaint villages … and then, you revealed a murder so mysterious, I couldn’t even begin to choose from the countless suspects! Starting and ending at Styles, from the Mysterious Affair to Curtain, Hercule Poirot remains one of my favourite detectives of all time.
Arthur C. Clarke, thank you. You are the highest that a human mind has reached in the world of science fiction. You have taken me to worlds beyond the realm of imaginable possibilities and made my head spin with the wonders that may or may not be Out There. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the first science fiction I ever read, and my world has never been the same since then, as I have travelled stars and galaxies through Space and Time.
Ray Bradbury, thank you. The extent of your imagination, the creation of far and distant worlds, and through it all, the sheer poetry in the rich and varied stories that are, at heart, about all of us - your writing has held me enthralled as it has moved from the apocalyptic Martian Chronicles through the beautiful Dandelion Wine to the horrifically fantastical Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Charles Dickens, thank you. Words cannot express how much in awe I am of your writing. The Pickwick Papers has made me laugh, A Christmas Carol has made me feel so good and A Tale of Two Cities has made me cry; with always just the perfect word you have crafted memorable people with unforgettable life stories.
Rabindranath Tagore, thank you. Music, painting, theatre, writing - you have created brilliant gems of works in all. Your writing has ranged from poetry to novels to short stories to memoirs. The beauty of Gitanjali, the pathos of The Postmaster, the tragic beauty of Thakurda … your poetic genius lifts simple, everyday events into a realm of literary brilliance, and I am constantly amazed by the creative heart that places the strength of human dignity above all the petty joys and sorrows of this world.
Thank you, also, to some Japanese writers I have discovered more recently … Yukio Mishima, Haruki Murakami, Yasunari Kawabata, Murasaki Shikibu, Natsume Soseki, Kobo Abe … I thank you for introducing me to a beautiful world that actually exists, and of which I sadly had very little knowledge; a world that is at once very old and very new, where the drama of The Temple of the Golden Pavilion co-exists with the existentialism of Woman in the Dunes; where the simplicity of The Old Capital offsets the fantasy of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World; and where the tale of one man in Kokoro carries as much power as the epic saga of The Tale of Genji.
(There are many other writers whose magic has influenced me; the haunting poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, the tragic beauty of Oscar Wilde, the surreal creativity of Philip K. Dick, the far reaching worlds of Jules Verne, the quirky fiction of Douglas Adams … all the names cannot be recounted in one sitting!) - But these are the writers I have grown up with, and whose words continue to create the world I live in. These are the writers who have made me what I am today. And for that, I say to them, thank you.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
This is the first time I have heard of Stuart McLean and his CBC Radio program The Vinyl Cafe (tsk! tsk!, I know), but what a great experience this first step into his collection featuring his popular fictional characters Dave and Morley has been.
McLean chooses to use letters addressed to him (the authenticity of those preposterous letters I leave to your judgement) as segue to recounting those tales that form the stories in this collection.
Usually when I read a short story collection, my blog has a countdown of my top three or top five stories … this collection cannot be presented as such, for the simple reason that it is a continuous narration of life itself, with each story yet another slice of life.
I laughed at Dave’s predicament when stuck with Mary’s fancy dessert in a fancy elevator, late for a fancy event in ‘The Birthday Cake’, and I cried as 87-year old Bruce Towler gave life one last shot in the arm in ‘The Cruise’. I saw the peace in letting things go once in a while as Dave and Morley’s wrong turn led to the right cabin in ‘Petit Lac Noir’ and I actually laughed out (very) loud when Dave locked himself in the trunk of his car with a rat in ‘Rat-a-tat-tat’. ‘Wally’ reminded me of the wonderful world of children in all its innocent glory as Sam and Murphy launched a mission to rescue the redundant (oh, horror) Wally; and when Tommy’s grandfather’s death revealed the old man’s most cherished possession - an unscratched lottery ticket, ‘The lottery ticket’ revealed a world of unbridled hope that has the power to surpass time and life itself.
I’d also like to add that while these stories are told by a Canadian and set in Canada, that really should not give anyone the feeling that the stories are exclusive in any way. Emotions of happiness and heartbreak are universal, and each story contains very deep elements of both - while at all times maintaining a very light look at life and a fresh burst of joy. It’s one of those books you can pick up and re-read any time.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
Loosely based on real life events, Shogun by James Clavell is the epic narrative of the rise of the daimyo Toranaga and the events leading to the Battle of Sekigahara. Set in feudal Japan in 1600, this is - chronologically - the first novel of the author’s Asian Saga, and gives us a fascinating slice of history, as pilot John Blackthorne, the first English pilot to reach Japan, becomes more than just a casual observer of events.
The overwhelming genius of this epic was, for me, its ability to transport me to a whole new world, and then leave a deep enough impact as to make me one with that world - not just in familiarity with its houses with their shoji screens and tatami mats surrounded by neat gardens with streams and waterfalls and pebbles; or its exotic Cha-no-yu ceremonies, or its small bowls of artistically arranged rice and fish and soup; or even its dainty geisha in gorgeous kimono and its heroic samurai and their bushido … While I have for quite some time held a great fascination for the country and its culture, this book introduced to me, the very soul of Japan, the essence of Karma, of Kami, of Shinto itself.
Built on the foundation of a great political drama, this story has some of the more unforgettable characters I have ever read about. From the powerful lord Yoshinaga Toranaga to the shrewd daimyo Kasigi Yabu; from the dubiously loyal samurai Kasigi Omi to the formidable Ishido, from the wily Rodrigues to the staunch Jesuit Father Martin Alvito; and of course John Blackthorne, who grows from being an English pilot to becoming Anjin-san … every character was such a rich and in-depth showcase of human nature. Without question, however, the greatest character of this story was Lady Toda Mariko. Be it the pride in talking about her ancient civilization to a Western listener, or her grace in dealing with racial attacks from a Portuguese sailor, or her final confrontation with Ishido and the Council of Regents at Osaka Castle, her poise, bravery and intelligence held me in absolute awe throughout.
Standing at the crossroads of time and culture, this clash between Buddhism and Christianity, between the way of the samurai and the onset of guns wove a memorable story around the race toward a game changing Shogunate.
Arigato gozaimasu. Sayonara.