Tension

Written in 1920, Tension is set in the Commercial and Technical College for the South-West of England and about the appointment of a new Lady Superintendent, Miss Marchrose. Mark Easter whose wife is in a ‘home for inebriates’ , also works at the college and lives with his two unruly children in a villa near Sir Julian, the chairman of the college and his wife Lady Edna Rossiter. Mark is a handsome, sociable, easy going sort and quickly befriends Miss Marchrose, but Lady Rossiter is sure that this is the same Miss Marchrose that some years ago, jilted her invalided cousin.

Mark Easter’s children are wonderfully real. Squabbling, crying and always sticky they interrupt and disturb without a thought and the book opens with the exasperation of Sir and Lady Rossiter as they try to manage the two urchins who burst in on their breakfast to declare that their aunt has written a book: ‘Why Ben! A Story of the Sexes.’ The scene is fun, farcical and full of humour but from this light beginning the tension grows until I wasn’t squirming (as the preface said I might) but tied in a tight knot of outrage at the gossip and bullying, incredulous to what was being said and aghast at what wasn’t.

Continue reading “Tension”

A Film For October: Vampyr

Based on Sheridan le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly this 1932 horror flick was director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first film with sound. Shot completely on location in France, a gorgeous washed out, soft focus gives the film a dreamlike quality that enhances the atmosphere and gives a wonderfully creepy quality.

Allan Gray is a dreamy wanderer who arrives at an inn and rents a room. While he sleeps an old man enters his locked room and leaves a package with a note saying ‘to be opened on my death’. Gray decides to go for a walk and takes the package with him. Shadows guide him towards a castle where he sees more shadows dancing on their own. He walks on to a manor house and looking through the window sees the old man who left the package. The old man is suddenly shot. The servants ask him into the house where Gisèle the old man’s daughter takes him to the library and tells him that her sister Léone is gravely ill. They see Léone walking outside and follow her where they find her unconscious on the ground with fresh bite wounds on her neck.

Continue reading “A Film For October: Vampyr”

Murder in the Mill-Race

Dr. Raymond Ferens is thrilled to move from his industrial practice to a picturesque village in the Devon countryside and with his wife Anne they set up home in the Dower House – a study for him, a kitchen for her. Lord and Lady Ridding live in the Manor House, old Dr. Brown is getting ready to leave his practice to Raymond, there’s the church, the post office, farms, and a children’s home that’s been run by Sister Monica for more than 30 years. A formidable warden she wears an old fashioned habit and seems to have a strange hold over the villagers.

And at first all seems idyllic. But. Set on a hill top on Exmoor, Milham in the Moor has cut itself off from neighbouring towns and villages; not trusting strangers or liking questions; so when Sister Monica’s body is found in the Mill-Race the villagers close in on themselves, agreeing only that she was a saint, she had been having dizzy spells and it was an accident. Chief Inspector Macdonald is called in from the Yard with his able deputy Detective Inspector Reeves.

Continue reading “Murder in the Mill-Race”

Vanity Fair

This has taken me so long to read that I can hardly remember a time before Vanity Fair, and while there were certainly some ups and downs, when I finished, it wasn’t with a feeling of relief but with huge satisfaction at having read a really brilliant book.

First published as a complete text in 1848, Thackeray tells the story of school friends Rebecca Sharp and Amelia Sedley, their families and friends in the first half of the 19th century with London society, the Napoleonic wars and colonisation in India forming the backdrop. The scheming manipulative Becky is a perfect foil to the humble simplicity of Emmy. As they both negotiate marriage, in laws and motherhood they also negotiate the slippery pole of social success and acceptability.

Continue reading “Vanity Fair”

Classics Club Spin Revealed

was the number chosen and for me that means Honoré de Balzac’s Old Goriot or so I thought – because when I got to the book shelf it appeared that the copy I actually had was Eugénie Grandet! But I haven’t read anything by Balzac and know nothing about him so this, written a couple of years before Old Goriot, can easily take its place I think.

And it’s quite exciting, not the title I’ve been looking at for the last four years and a brand new author to explore. As usual a quick look on Wikipedia has made me feel that I’ve been living under a rock all my life and this first glimpse has revealed an abundance of future reading!

Continue reading “Classics Club Spin Revealed”

The Garden Party

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Katherine Mansfield, this group of 15 short stories written between 1920 and 1922 were so enjoyable; easy to read and insightful. Some of the stories were just a few pages, others ran to chapters but I think what linked them was their thoughts on age.. How the young view the old and how the old view the young but also how at any time we might find ourselves out of step with our age, unsure what’s expected of us or how we’re supposed to behave.

Katherine Mansfield’s view of old age is really quite scary and sad! In Miss Brill, the elderly lady puts on her fur coat and goes to listen to the band play in the park. All is well as she watches and muses on the people around her noticing how odd the old people look ‘as if they’d just come from dark little rooms or even – even cupboards! But then she hears a young couple describing her – is it possible that she is one of the elderly, looking so strange? Seeing herself from a different perspective, the callousness of the couple is so cruel, the effect on Miss Brill is heartbreakingly sad and the loneliness of old age is very real as she hurries back to the familiarity of her room.

Continue reading “The Garden Party”

A Film For September: Theorem

The postman skips across the lawn of a beautiful house in Milan waving his arms around and heralds the arrival of a visitor. The opening sepia tones become saturated with colour as the visitor, (Terence Stamp) moves in with the family and one by one becomes the object of their desires. In sexually liberating them he soothes their doubts and anxieties while exposing the angst, dissatisfaction and frustration that they feel within themselves and their lives and reveals the sexual tension and disquiet in the household.

Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1968, Theorem uses a combination of fake newsreel interviews, realist drama showing familial tensions and something more fantastical and mythic to show the transformation of the family. It’s spiritual and sensual, physical and metaphysical, serious and jokey as each member of the family (which includes their maid) experiences some sort of revelation or epiphany.

But then as suddenly as he arrived it’s time for him to leave – can the family make sense of their lives without him or will they fall apart? Each of the characters’ reactions is explored individually and each is surprising and spectacular in its own way.

Continue reading “A Film For September: Theorem”

A Film For August: The Watermelon Women

In 1993, Cheryl Dunye was an aspiring film maker when she found a gap in film history research – her own history as a black lesbian. So she turns her research into a film – as she says if no history exists you have to create your own.

Written, directed and edited by Cheryl Dunye in 1996, Dunye also plays the protagonist, a young film maker called Cheryl who works in a video store in Philadelphia. Cheryl is researching black actresses in films from the 1930’s and 40’s when she becomes enraptured with an actress in a little known film called ‘Plantation Memories’ where she is credited only as ‘the watermelon women’. But who is she? Cheryl starts to investigate.

On a shoestring budget, Dunye blends documentary style with a self-reflexive personal narrative that blurs the lines between reality and fiction while negotiating a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-sexual world in a way that I found gorgeously funny.

Continue reading “A Film For August: The Watermelon Women”

Gilead

The Reverend John Ames has lived in the small town of Gilead in Iowa nearly all his life. His father was a preacher and both grandfathers. Born in 1880 It’s now 1956 and he’s an elderly man knowing he doesn’t have long to live. So he begins to write a letter to his seven year old son ‘to tell you things I would have told you if you had grown up with me, things I believe it becomes me as a father to teach you.’

In a voice that is calm and authoritative the Reverend Ames tells his son about his life and beliefs about his friends and family and perhaps most beautiful of all, he describes their present life, the everyday happenings in their little family of three.

Continue reading “Gilead”