Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman

I’ve had a couple of Peirene novels sitting looking at me for quite some time and have been intrigued by the TLS claim that these are ‘two-hour books to be devoured in a single sitting’. I also wanted to take part in Read Indies month, hosted by Kaggsy and Lizzy and so it seemed sensible to give it a go.

As it turns out Portrait of the Mother by Friedrich Christian Delius (translated by Jamie Bulloch) was the perfect book to read in one go as it follows a young German women as she walks across Rome on a January afternoon in 1943, from her lodgings to a Bach concert at Rome’s Lutheran church, all told in one sentence.

It’s a walk that takes her just over an hour and through her internal monologue we get a fabulously detailed look at Rome, the paintings, sculptures, empty shops and people. But we also learn about her upbringing and her families lives, her new husband fighting in North Africa and how she feels as an outsider even though she’s amongst allies.

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A Film for February: Wings of Desire

I wonder if angels really do live among us? That’s the premise of this ethereal romantic fantasy directed by Wim Wenders and set in pre-unification Berlin. Henri Alekan famously filmed with an old silk stocking covering the lens to give a sepia tone to the black and white of the angels world.

The angels are pre -history and immortal, their role is to observe and record. They move around the city watching, listening and comparing notes, bringing comfort to those in distress. The pacing is languorous and meditative, picking up snatches of conversations and thoughts as if we’re listening to a radio being tuned, but the roving aerial and ground level shots show a desolate city bound by the wall. A hard edge that’s mirrored by the lyrical, poetic dialogue and the post punk Nick Cave music.

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Sense and Sensibility

‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.’

I love that opening line, the words can’t be read quickly, they seem to have a slow authority that tell us what to expect. That this is a family drama, about an old family and it hints that change is afoot. We know straight away to settle in and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in their story.

The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne are forced to leave Norland, their family home when their father dies and their brother John inherits the estate. They take up a cottage in Devonshire with their mother and younger sister Margaret and it’s from here that they must navigate their way to matrimony and happiness whilst avoiding the stumbling blocks of Lucy Steele and Willoughby.

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At the end of the 18th century Robert Walton is a young man inspired to travel by reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and writes home to tell his sister about his adventures. But on July 31st a strange thing happens when they become stranded by ice and fog and see a man of gigantic stature on a sledge guided by dogs. The next day they find another sledge being driven by an emaciated man and take him on board. Over the following days as his health improves Victor Frankenstein tells Robert the story of his life so far.

This prosaic structure is so wonderfully everyday and sets the story so firmly on home ground that it adds a chilling factor to an already frightening and exciting tale that at its heart is about abandonment and loneliness.

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Fell Murder

Cradled in the valley of the River Lune, the tiny village of Garthmere is set amongst a ‘chequered carpet of farm land’, fields of pale gold, the fells clothed in heather dipping into the Yorkshire Dales and in the distance the blue hills of the Lake District. Above the village where the sun captures the old stone of the farm buildings is medieval Garthmere Hall where the Garth family have lived for centuries. Old irascible Robert Garth, his daughter Marion, Charles recently back from Malaya and Malcolm a would be poet are helped on the farm by Elizabeth Meldon their land girl; the only member of the family missing is Richard who left for Canada 25 years ago and hasn’t been back since – or has he?

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A Film for January: Magnolia

January’s been a funny month. For the first time I couldn’t finish either my Classics Challenge read or this months film and I think in a way The Sound and the Fury and Magnolia have a lot in common. Both are multilayered with each characters story told in their own style as they interweave with each other. Usually I would say this is a style I enjoy, but not this time I’m afraid.

Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia has a large ensemble cast that includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Julianne Moore and William H. Macy who create a mosaic of interrelated stories centred around their connection to Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) a big shot tv producer, who lies in bed about to die.

Julianne Moore plays his wife Linda raging with raw anger and Tom Cruise his estranged son Frank Mackey; a motivational speaker giving a series of sex advice seminars to single men entitled ‘Seduce and Destroy’. His evangelical strutting and posturing made me feel as offended as I was supposed to and gave his sinister line to a female journalist, ‘I’m quietly judging you’ a horribly chilling resonance.

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The Sound and the Fury

My first Classics Club read for the year and I’ve managed to read and review my spin title before the January 30th deadline! Unfortunately that’s the end of the good news. I came to this having no idea what to expect and got a bit of shock and will come clean at the beginning by saying that I haven’t read this in a linear, read every word kind of way.

The gradual disintegration of the Compson’s, an old family from the American South is told through four fractured narratives, using stream of consciousness, flashbacks and inner monologues. There were times when I was completely lost, I didn’t know who was who, whether they were male or female, family or friend or stranger, grandparent or child. But I did feel a sense of dread in the heap of broken images.

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Murder By Matchlight

I love new year, a clean sheet, an empty page, resolutions and good intentions, the possibility of a whole new me (again). And this year there’s been an added bonus because under the Christmas tree was a British Library Crime Classic. I’ve been looking forward to reading this series for ages, but slow reader that I am, have never found the right sized reading moment. But to start this year I (thankfully) threw down my classics challenge and caution and instead picked up Murder By Matchlight.

It’s a Thursday evening in London in 1945, the city is pitch dark under the blackout and John Ward ‘a lazy good-for-nothing son of a gun’ is murdered in Regent’s Park. But has the murderer been seen? Lovelorn Bruce Mallaig on a stroll through the park witnesses a ghastly face in the glow of a match. . .

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A Film For December: Cry-Baby

The Big City about a middle class women from a conservative family in Calcutta getting a job was meant to be my film for December but it wasn’t available so a replacement was found for me – could it be any more different?! Cry-Baby is a 1990 teen musical rom-com written and directed by John Waters.

Set in Baltimore in 1954 teenage culture is divided between the ‘Drapes’ and the ‘Squares’. Johnny Depp stars as rebel Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker who drives the girls wild with his ability to shed a single tear and Amy Locane is Allison Vernon-Williams, the Square he falls for.

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