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Tag Archives: Modern Classics

A Dance to the Music of Time: Autumn – Anthony Powell

Continuing the chronicles of life experience via narrator Nicholas Jenkins, this spoiler free review focuses on books seven to nine of the series: The Valley of Bones, The Soldier’s Art, and The Military Philosophers.

Obligatory warning to those people who feel it necessary to pick up a series at the half way point for reasons only known to them: whilst not spoiling anything of these or previous books, if you do like what you read, start with the Spring books as the Autumn omnibus will be pretty impenetrable at this point to newcomers, who will lack the sense of nuance created in previous volumes.

This third mini trilogy in greater narrative is another 720 page tome which is a joy to spend time with.  By now its obvious that I love this masterwork otherwise I wouldn’t still be endeavouring to carry on but the more I engage with the characters, the richer the books become.  As with the previous books the reader is in for a treat, discovering and rediscovering characters full of wit, eccentricity and intricacy.

Another phase of life begins anew for Jenkins et al. and the effects of the war lead to some unexpected changes in familiar personalities, whilst exploring the impact of some exiting characters.  The impact of the second world war is far-reaching not just in geographical and emotional ways but also to the shaking up of social class structure.  This book is one of acute change on all sides.

In this modern world of ours where everybody wants to talk (or shout) about themselves, it is refreshing to find a narrator who reveals little of himself throughout the books and focuses on what is going on around him. Whilst he retains the same detachedness that has seen him through school to this point there is now, more than ever, a justifiable sense of experienced world-weariness.  The books he name checks – most noticeably Proust and to a lesser extent Balzac – give a tantalising hint to the man behind the narrative voice and the author himself.

There are the usual slew of new characters introduced and getting to know them counteracts the very real boredom of the war as seen from the backwaters and offices of the UK.  This dullness of duty is offset by Powell’s wonderful prose, it is rich in both depth and message and gives the right amount of balance to delivering bright spots in what is a very downbeat (to say the least) time in history.  Few authors would be able to be as precise and delicate in this depiction. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 02/06/2017 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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A Dance to the Music of Time: Spring – Anthony Powell

SpringTimeMelancholyAnthony Powell’s brilliant twelve-novel sequence chronicles the lives of over three hundred characters, and is a unique evocation of life in twentieth-century England. It is unrivalled for its scope, its humour and the enormous pleasure it has given to generations.

These first three novels in the sequence follow Nicholas Jenkins, Kenneth Widmerpool and others, as they negotiate the intellectual, cultural and social hurdles which stand between them and the ‘Acceptance World’.

This first omnibus contains the books A Question of Upbringing, A Buyer’s Market, and The Acceptance World; and is a thoroughly captivating start to a series that promises to yield so much in the way of pleasurable reading.

Straight away it grabbed me, with its meditations on life which, those of which only become evident as one reminisces of times past.  This is where the reader’s journey begins, with the narrator Nicholas Jenkins recalling thoughts of times long ago;  his coming of age in which he is almost a passive character in all matters.

As we are led through this life with the aid of rich writing, characters frequently disappear and reappear in unexpected combinations and when least expected.  This continual turnover keeps the books fresh and by the end I appreciated so many characters due to Powell’s perfect observances on the idiosyncracies of his fellow humans.

The central idea of the series is that life is a cycle of stages played out through a web of interconnections where people and places come together and split apart in a dance through life which only becomes clear as we progress further through this ceremony. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 24/10/2016 in Fiction, Modern Classics

 

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Booked Out

After redeeming a Waterstones stamp card and claiming back all my amassed points, this book haul was cheap for its size, the entirety of which set me back a paltry £17.98, of which most was spent in second-hand bookshops.

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First off was a trip to the charity shops where I found a my first Virago – a publisher beloved by so many on here – and then a second, bookended by yet more recommendations and at the price it would have been silly not to.

FoodForThought

Visiting the wonderfully named Mrs Lofthouse’s Second Hand Book Emporium, I expected great things, but the above collection is sadly all I found, the fiction section in particular was deeply lacking in-depth to my mind.  I wanted to pick up more but there was little else of note and thus came away with quality instead of quantity. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 14/10/2016 in Essays, Fiction, Lists/Ephemera, Travel

 

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The Wire: The Thin Line Between Heaven and Here.

Thanks for reading this far, I’ll make this my last post of The Wire, with what I judge to be have been a reasonably in depth look at the show without going too overboard on the whole topic.  Summing up this show with all its depth would take up more blog space than I am prepared to give on account of books piling up but with such a wide range of things to mention I will venture to add a few more, just to make the show more enticing in case I have failed thus far.

AllIn'tGame

The directors and writers are of a high calibre such as well-known authors like Dennis Lehane and George Pellecanos, David Simon and Ed Burns have the experience of being a journalist and homicide detective respectively.  It is worth noting that Simon wrote Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and with Ed Burns, The Corner:  A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighbourhood which are both excellent reads, adding more to the real life inspirations behind the show.  There is an experienced excellence to all this work which demands more of an audience and from an audience in thought .

The lack of soundtrack means all those everyday noises are more distinctive and this adds to the realism allowing the actors to take centre stage rather than having their performances enhanced with emotive music.  It’s a case of showing how powerfully an actor can influence the viewer’s feelings without the crutch of any outside influence moving us, highlighting once again the exemplary ensemble cast.  There is music but it is part of the natural order, tunes blasting out from a car or on the radio and so on, the regular soundtrack to life.

Season One does not put a foot wrong, its impact not only on the TV landscape but on the audience has changed the way that police procedurals are viewed, not that The Wire sits easily in any genre, it transcends  the need for being pigeonholed by being all things effortlessly at once.  By the end of the first season it is easy to think that although it will continue to be a challenging watch it’ll also have an established pattern.  Simon is one for changing up his themes though and giving us something new to explore constantly.. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 17/09/2016 in Crime, Journalism, Politics, True Crime, TV

 

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The Wire: The Dickensian Aspect

thewiresteasonthefourthSeason four is my favourite season purely because with all the other elements of previous seasons still vital to the storyline, education is introduced and central to that is the lives of a group of boys whose lives diverge dramatically throughout the school year.

The life of children in inner city schools can be brutal, that they have grown up with so much violence surrounding them, it is understandable that they see mortality as a very real thing, some not expecting to live past their mid 20’s.  Added to this is the cynical way that the education system is run and how it further entwines with the themes of previous seasons, showing how the problems are systemic and can’t be fixed by anything but radical moves by those whom we elect as our officials.

As with real life, we don’t get introductions and establishing shots of these characters, finding out who they are and there motivations are about straight away. The characters names and personalities become clear after an initial confusing overload but it’s that feeling of not being spoken down to that becomes one of the most appealing factors. It’s intelligent and assumes its viewers will be too.

The show demands that you pay attention and don’t leap to snap judgements because people are complex with often hidden motivations and a sense of morality based on their own internal rules. It’s this depth of character that really impresses and often, it is a small thing that elicits a change of response from the audience to how they respond to a character.

As I mentioned previously, I’m embarking on the story – for it is all one story with a different aspect shown in each series – for the sixth time and rewatching the series makes the stories more powerful and hard-hitting in my opinion.   Watching what seems now inevitable unfold has a greater impact as you watch the  ascent and descent of so many character arcs.  It’s a mosaic of richness that rewards over and over as newer aspects not previously considered come to light, showing the planning of scripts to be a work of majestic artistry.  You can focus on the nuances that inevitably get lost on the first watch in a programme with such ambitious intricacy.

It would be remiss as a book lover not to mention the episode in which a journalist is told his work is not Dickensian enough because that is how the news needs to be, there has to be a human aspect we can sympathise with, otherwise why the readers people care?  The streets of Baltimore and the characters who, through brilliant storytelling face both brutal lives but also have their comedic moments does feel very Dickens-ish, however his need to tie things up, for resolution was often furnished with a handy plot twist to sort things out.  This perhaps diminishes the overall power of the message of social inequality but Dickens for all his flaws was a genius writer and The Wire will stand up to comparison of that man’s name for the 21st century.

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Posted by on 14/09/2016 in Crime, Politics, True Crime, TV

 

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The Wire: All in the Game

The Wire centres on ‘The Game’, which is the colloquial term for the drugs trade but in reality has a much wider scope as an overall set of rules used by drug dealer and politicians alike.  Played by subtly different rules within each group, it’s all about social advancement and the pursuit of power, money and of being remembered.  There are codes that everybody sticks to, unique in their line of business; the internal logic, no matter how disagreeable adheres to rules which reward blind loyalty but also demands a strong sense of self-preservation.

OmarTie

The disconnection of the people at the top end of politics who make the decisions, from the rest of the populace is palpable, the failing system does more harm than good yet voter indifference seems to perplex these people.  On the side of the drug dealers, it is generally accepted that anybody in the game faces the consequences of their employment, mortality being high and emotion seen as a weakness to be exploited.

The futility of the drugs war – at least as it is fought now – allows institutions on all sides to treat it as nothing more than a contest.  For example the interactions between street level dealers and police are viewed by both sides as ineffective but a routine in which the rules are adhered to blindly, (the inevitability of prison, parole, back to the street). it is expected despite no real conclusion forthcoming but as a form of going through the motions with little respect and no hope of a finish which makes it all the more tragic.

What The Wire does best is offer detachment,  its lack of compromise or sentimentality allows the viewer to debate the morals of the players which are often conflicted but all too painfully real.  The apathy of both sides on the front line is harrowing; especially in terms of the offhanded nature with which murder and overdose are greeted, which is now just accepted as an inescapable consequence of street life. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 29/08/2016 in Crime, Politics, True Crime, TV

 

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The Wire: The game is rigged, but you cannot lose if you do not play

AllWiredUpOn the drug-infested streets of West Baltimore, there are good guys and there are bad guys.  Sometimes you need more than a badge to tell them apart.

From David Simon From David Simon, creator and co-writer of HBO’s triple Emmy-winning mini-series The Corner, this unvarnished, highly realistic HBO series follows a single sprawling drug and murder investigation in Baltimore – one that culminates in a complex series of wiretaps and surveillance.  Told from the points of view of both the police and their targets, the series captures a universe where easy distinctions between good and evil , and crime and punishment are challenged at every turn.

The Wire is hands down the best TV show I have ever seen, partly because it’s the closest to a novel that you can get on a televisual scale but saying that doesn’t really cover just how much depth the viewer is treated to throughout its five seasons.

Now on my sixth watch through, it’s about time I tried to put down – to some degree –  why this TV show is rightly regarded as one of the best shows ever and for me the greatest.  It’s hard to know where to begin, especially as I will be avoiding spoilers throughout so I shall begin with the opening scene which is posted at end this part of the overview.

In under three minutes the viewer is sucked into a story about a street murder as well as being introduced to some of the key themes, revolving around the street and ‘the game’.  Within 14 seconds it’s already established that young children show little horror or surprise about a death so close, the offhand way it’s dealt with is frightening in its own way and the overall feeling is that business must go on.  It’s as powerful an opening as one could want and but a taster of the masterpiece yet to come.

First time viewers need to know that this is a slow burning show that you will need to stick with for a few episodes in order to fully appreciate what it does so stylishly, not to mention working out who everyone is.  It demands the viewer’s attention by not giving an easy ride or compromising its artistic integrity,  which happens so often in the mostly down format of Television.  The plot in itself takes its time and as such culminates into a realisation of just how clever it is when season one ends; the impact is perfectly pitched

The Wire’s way of telling a story was not really suited to TV as it is a medium that demands instant gratification  and the complexity of this show doesn’t allow for such simplistic outlooks. Now it is out on DVD and streaming on the internet, watching a handful of episodes at a time is by far the best way to watch it.  One can only imagine how challenging it would be to watch an episode a week and try to remember who everybody was and what was going on without the benefit of the all the episodes to hand, hence the initial poor ratings. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 25/08/2016 in Crime, Politics, True Crime, TV

 

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