Doctor Zhivago


This wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to read a sweeping love story set against a backdrop of snow.

Instead I found the history of Russia in the first half of the 20th century, world wars, revolution, civil war and the political terror of the 1930’s told through the eyes of a doctor and poet.

But it was the plain, almost dispassionate style that surprised me the most. Writing in 1957 Pasternak describes the civil war vividly, but without sentiment. A sense of catastrophe and upheaval is always present, the characters come thick and fast, which gives a sense of the chaos and disorder but somehow Yuri Zhivago is detached, as if he’s watching events through a window and never really taking part. Continue reading “Doctor Zhivago”

In The Mood For Love

in the mood for love

Written and directed by Wong Kar-wai in 2000, this gorgeously seductive film is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Two married couples move into apartments next door to each other on the same day. Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung) and Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung) are often left alone and so build up a friendship before realising that their spouses are having an affair, out of this deception their own friendship grows.

In the crowded streets and cramped apartments, the camera lurks in doorways and slides around corners almost spying on them – going to get noodles has never been so glamorous! The colours are deep and murky with lots of shadows, coils of cigarette smoke and rain, rain, rain. A recurring cello theme follows them around and time is slowed down as they share an umbrella or brush passed each other capturing moments they would like to last forever.

The adulterous couple is never seen, sometimes we hear them in conversation but they are always off screen our empathy lies completely with Chow and Su.  As they spend more and more time together they grow closer but never anything more, “we will never be like them” says Su.  This unrequited love is teased in the soundtrack by Nat King Cole singing: ‘quizas, quizas, quizas’ Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps?

mood for love2

Classics Club Spin #19


At last I’m organised enough to join in with a spin! It was one of the things that first appealed to me about joining The Classics Club and yet it’s never happened – until now!

A numbered list of 20 titles from our original challenge list needs to be posted by Tuesday, 27th November when the spin will reveal which number we should read by January 31st 2019 – what a great way to start the new year.

This is my spin list:

  1. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe
  2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  3. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  4. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  6. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  7. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  8. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  9. The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
  10. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
  11. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  12. Gullivers Travels by Jonathan Swift
  13. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
  14. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  15. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  16. The Outsider by Albert Camus
  17. If This is a Man by Primo Levi
  18. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
  19. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  20. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern

Not all chunksters but hopefully all good reads.


Reading Finnegans Wake

finnegans wakeEaster 2017 and my reading chums and I finished Ulysses, we absolutely loved it and quickly read (and went to see) Hamlet to explore the father/son motif, read Dubliners so we could spend more time with the characters and went to Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday.  We read Portrait of the Artist to get more of Stephen Dedalus, we even went on a course and gave (very short) presentations on different aspects of the book.  We were in awe of his intelligence, his sparkling language – how could we get more Joyce?
Let’s read Finnegans Wake we said!

The first week, armed with Oxford Classic editions and our guide A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (Joseph Campbell) we had a really fun time annotating our copies with the chapter headings that Mr key to FWCampbell provided “to serve as a handrail for the reader groping (their) way along unfamiliar galleries'” and wondered how we were going to read it.

“It is a strange book, a compound of fable, symphony, and nightmare – a monstrous enigma beckoning imperiously from the shadowy pits of sleep.” (Joseph Campbell).  It’s a vast dream, crowded with characters where all time occurs simultaneously. A revolving stage of mythological heroes, remotest antiquity and popular culture. Continue reading “Reading Finnegans Wake”

Before Sunrise and Before Sunset

before series

Before Sunrise (1995) was directed by Richard Linklater and co-written with Kim Krizan.   American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and French Celine (Julie Delpy) meet on a train going to Vienna.  They start talking and before long, engrossed in conversation, realise they’ve arrived in Vienna and Jesse must leave to catch his flight back home the next day.  On a hunch he asks Celine to get off the train with him and spend the day in Vienna. She does, and there we have it. Two early twentysomethings  talking, while they explore Vienna, closely followed by a companionable camera. Continue reading “Before Sunrise and Before Sunset”

Farewell Leicester Square

farewell leicester sq

Quite by chance the book I read for my TBR challenge and the film I watched for my TBW challenge shared a subject – cinema. Farewell Leicester Square, written by Betty Miller in 1935 and Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore in 1988, are both about young boys growing up in the early days of cinema and desperate to be a part of it. They both leave their home towns, only to return years later, as successful directors, when they hear about the death of a loved one. So I thought they could share a post!

cinema paradiso 2 Continue reading “Farewell Leicester Square”

The Village in the Jungle

village in the jungleIn October 1904 at the age of 24 Leonard Woolf set sail for Ceylon as a cadet with the Ceylon Civil Service.  He had with him a wire-haired fox terrier and 90 large, beautifully printed volumes of Voltaire.

He came back to England seven years later with Ceylon in his heart and bones and a growing disillusionment, misgiving and distrust of the British Colonial System.

‘The jungle and the people who lived in the Sinhalese jungle villages fascinated, almost obsessed, me in Ceylon.  They continued to obsess me in London, in Putney or Bloomsbury, and in Cambridge.” (Growing: An Autobiography 1880-1911. ) Continue reading “The Village in the Jungle”

Withnail & I

withnail and IThis has such a cult following, it’s always included in lists of best British films, and best comedies, it spawned a drinking game (matching Withnail drink for drink) and it’s quoted endlessly. My copy of the dvd came stuck to a Sunday newspaper as part of a ’50 films you must see’ promotion, so after years of looking at the cover I thought it was time to watch.

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson in 1987, it’s the loosely autobiographical tale of two unemployed actors sharing a squalid London flat in 1969, drowning their sorrows in booze, cigarettes and lighter fluid!. Richard E. Grant plays the flamboyant, alcoholic Withnail and Paul McGann is the contemplative I.  Fed up with their lives in London they decide to ask Withnail’s eccentric Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) if they can borrow his cottage in deepest Cumbria for a holiday, and so set off for the week. Joined later (and as a surprise) by the melodramatic aesthete that is Uncle Monty. Continue reading “Withnail & I”

At Swim Two Boys


“Heads that bobbed like floating gulls and gulls that floating bobbed like heads. Two heads. At swim, two boys.”

Jim Mack and Doyler Doyle are the two boys, who in 1915 make a pact that in a years time, they’ll swim out across Dublin bay to Muglins Rock and raise the flag, claiming the rock for Ireland and themselves.

Above on my perch I sit and watch. Alone one man.”

Anthony MacMurrough is the man, recently arrived in Ireland at the invitation of his Aunt Eva after serving two years hard labour in an English prison for gross indecency. Part of an old Irish family he gets caught up in his aunts battle for Irish Independence and becomes a part of the boys’ lives.

This is a real epic. The poor, the dispossessed, the middle-class, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy are all seen against a country in political upheaval.  The dream of liberation for Ireland from the English is mirrored in the boys’  search for personal freedom as their love for each other grows. It’s a story about swimming, Irish history and romance and I found myself completely immersed in the lives of the small cast of characters and the life of Dublin, as they head towards the Easter Rising of 1916. Continue reading “At Swim Two Boys”

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

umbrellas of cherbourgWhat comes first in this 1964 film from the French New Wave director Jacques Demy, the colours or the music?

Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve)is a seventeen year old who works in her widowed mothers umbrella shop and is passionately in love with twenty year old car mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Filmed on location in Cherbourg, their romance is marred by gritty reality – an unplanned pregnancy, parental pressure and a two year draft to the Algerian War. But this urban reality is set against the most glorious kaleidoscopic colour palette.  Every scene is saturated in supercolour. Continue reading “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”