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Monday, 3 December 2012

NewPages Review of 'The Posthumous Affair'

The Posthumous Affair cover 

The Posthumous Affair

Fiction by James Friel

Tupelo Press, May 2012

ISBN-13: 978-1936797011

Paperback: 252pp; $16.95

Review by Olive Mullet 

The “Little Man” and the “Fat Princess,” as children in the spring of 1880, trail a red balloon—a “swollen heart”—across Washington Square. And thus begins James Friel’s The Posthumous Affair, a beautifully written and unique, daring love story. Even the end is a risky stand on the part of the author.

The mother of ten-year-old Daniel takes him to meet Grace Cooper Glass in an elegant house on Washington Square, occupied not only by the large nine-year-old girl but by her three reclusive maiden aunts. The two children couldn’t have been more different, he small for his age and beautifully dressed in “high hat, a topper of soft gray felt . . . his waistcoat the blue of his extraordinary eyes.” And she is “already woman-sized” and encased in a corset, her ginger hair pulled tight against her scalp and her dress an orange gown with many underskirts. According to her aunts, “she was too full bodied. Freakishly huge, she must be trimmed and tamed.” But when Daniel’s balloon enters Grace’s hands, for the first time she feels light, as though floating like the balloon does, right up into the sky.

In spite of their differences, they fit into each other perfectly, he hardly reaching her shoulder. “They will be the most important person in each other’s lives. They will anchor one another . . .” Yet Daniel from the start finds: “She was too heavy. . . . She was too much for him to bear. This might always be just so.”

Rebellion is in Grace’s background in this quirky fairy tale: Grace’s mother married a large red-haired Irishman, Grace’s father, only to starve to death with him in a Utopia that no longer existed. On the day he meets Grace, Daniel loses his mother, strangled by the red scarf Grace’s aunts have given her. In time, Daniel’s formerly brutal father, as Grace’s financial advisor, tells her of her immense wealth. This frees her to do whatever she wants, and so she goes traveling, never to return to America.

The novel traces Daniel’s and Grace’s brief reunions, cut short by Daniel’s admission that he cannot love her. Because of his cruelty, Grace wants “to be mind alone.” Corset-less, “she was a voluptuous ‘O’ . . . a globe again . . . a world, a planet. She was no man’s moon. She was sufficient unto herself. It must always be just so.” She collects people for their varied information, not great people but intellectuals on the fringe, like Johannes Zorn Nils, who introduces her to Adam’s three wives:

She was intent on knowing all Nils had to tell her. If she could have opened his head, she would have drunk his brain like soup and never been quite sated. The image, as it came to her, appalled and excited her. It was the kind of thought Lilith might have had.

Venice, so different from New York, is the most successful of Grace’s and Daniel’s reunions, yet suggestive of their differences:

They had met first as children in a dream-bright New York, a city on the cusp of new maturity, a city intent on straight lines, a rigid geography, mappable, knowable and cognizant of law. Here, they were in another island city, a soft irregular city, dismissive of straight lines and certain ways, dizzyingly circular. Here space was trimmed but went untamed. It was jumbled and crosshatched. Here all was languorously mortal, in love with its own dying.

Grace moves from reading to writing novels—successfully. With Daniel also writing novels, eventually revelations about each other’s work show the borrowing from life and insights about writing itself:

This, for each of them, is how they make use of life. They unpick and rearrange it. From its jumble, its dense cross-hatchings, they might take one line, and follow that. They will pretend not to know where the line is leading, but the writer always knows. It leads to the reader. The line must loop about the reader, and the reader who accepts the bond becomes a happy prisoner.

The novel’s controlled structure is evident, with the above foreshadowing the end’s risky appeal. And of the would-be lovers: “They must part. Otherwise, there will be no more story. An acceptance now would end the tale. A refusal continues it. This is the account, after all, of a posthumous affair.”

The characters appear real. Yet the book approaches the allegorical, the physical paralleling, the mental in writing, and their approaches to love. There is a surprise at the end—the gothic dark end, in the House of Death, which Daniel must web his way through to find out the truth about Grace Cooper Glass.

This book, a perfect gem where everything fits, is enthralling, poignant, and brimming with meaning.

Friday, 16 November 2012

CNN Who Would Want to Remain a Spinster

A happy sequel on CNN to my BBC podcast and article

 "Admit it, you're lonely. In the end, whatever you say, you must be so lonely."
So said the otherwise obliging radio presenter when he interviewed me about a recent BBC article in which I had defended singledom... more

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

BBC Magazine: Viewpoint: Why are people so mean to single people?

An abridged version  of my contribution to Radio 4's Four Thought series, broadcast later today and available via podcast thereafter.

In a world that celebrates romance and finding The One, people can be rather rude to single people, writes James Friel... 

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tag Gallagher // Letter from an Unknown Woman

Ah this is what a blog is for

This, from my novel, A Posthumous Affair, but rejected by its author at some early stage because, perhaps, he was talking only to himself.
 There are moments - long moments - when, even though I know this tale’s conclusion, I am uncertain how to reach it.
     I know my destination but fear distraction.
     I might lose my way.
     I can see it only feelingly.
     There is this distant light towards which I’m working and, here and there, events and situations set out like lamps to guide me but often, as now, I move in darkness.
     I become unsure if there is even ground beneath my feet.
     Words might fail me.
     I might fall into the air.
     I cling then to what I’ve so far written, this silver thread spun, spider-like, out of my own gut, and trust my web will hold, trust it will bear my weight, Grace’s, Daniel’s, yours.
     I admit, too, there is in me this reluctance to rush towards an ending, a fear that the great and final light is a fire that will consume me, that the posthumous affair I am recording will be, for me, an extinction.
     I, too, may die away.
     I may not profit from concluding, only lose.
     And so I take my time and insist, graciously, that you do, too.
     I wish to be true, you see, and faithful.
     The lives we trace here move more slowly than our own.
The world was the size it is now but would have seemed larger, taking longer to traverse. Cities would have been days away, countries separated by weeks and the longer it took to reach a place, the longer one tended to stay. Partings then would have seemed more prolonged, final even, and the tension greater between stasis and movement, exile and home.
 We might find their experience of time unendurably protracted, wearisome and vacant in comparison with our own. Time may seem to lie heavy on them but that may not be their burden: it may be our loss.
     Technology liberates us. Planes, wireless, e-mail, telecommunications, unrestricted travel make the world more manageable and small. Our pace accelerates as continents contract. We leap oceans, cross skies, span the heavens, listen in on galaxies beyond. We burn up miles. We tear across space but the better our purchase on the world, the more it shrivels in our grasp.
Life happens instantly and too fast. The world’s a blur. It hums at us too variously. Languor seems to us inertia, deceleration a form of dying and standing still a punishment.
     Distances for them might have been greater but they might have been closer to the thing itself - to life, that is. Time might be more real for being slower to pass, more virtuous for being less virtual.
     Living should be a slow unravelling: we are cheated if it is not.
     What will we lose by accommodating ourselves to their pace and so move in time with them?
     We might only gain.
     However long this story takes it will be over soon enough. The lives here will be done and you will have the rest of yours.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

No Loss - Ether Books

New story – my first for a smartphone or ipad. Download the ether books app from itunes where they have Quick Reads available for you everyday on-the-go. You will find pieces by bestselling writers such as Hilary Mantel, Alexander McCall-Smith, Louis de Bernieres, Lionel Shriver and Sir Paul McCartney and me, James Friel with ‘No Loss’ – download, star, share and comments please.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Anne Frank: The Only Existing Video Now Online

Anne Frank: The Only Existing Video Now Online

There’s no sound, and the clip only runs 20 seconds. But this is the only known footage of Anne Frank, and it’s now online. The Anne Frank House does a good job of setting the scene for the video taken on July 22, 1941. “The girl next door is getting married. Anne Frank is leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a good look at the bride and groom… At the time of her wedding, the bride lived on the second floor at Merwedeplein 39. The Frank family lived at number 37, also on the second floor. The Anne Frank House can offer you this film footage thanks to the cooperation of the couple.”

Truman Capote Reads from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Truman Capote Reads from Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Kurt Vonnegut: “How To Get A Job Like Mine” (2002)

Kurt Vonnegut: “How To Get A Job Like Mine” (2002)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Lost and The Lonely.: Unreliable Narrators

The Lost and The Lonely.: Unreliable Narrators: ‘I always tell the truth, even when I lie.’   - Tony Montana. I’m reading Born Liars by Ian Leslie as I’m fascinated by the psychology ...

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Richard Wilbur, "Cottage Street, 1953"

As recommended by Stephen Metcalfe on Slate's Culture Gabfest

Richard Wilbur's "Cottage Street, 1953" 

Framed in her phoenix fire-screen, Edna Ward
Bends to the tray of Canton, pouring tea
For frightened Mrs. Plath; then, turning toward
The pale, slumped daughter, and my wife, and me.

Asks if we would prefer it weak or strong.
Will we have milk or lemon, she enquires?
The visit seems already strained and long.
Each in his turn, we tell her our desires.

It is my office to exemplify
The published poet in his happiness,
Thus cheering Sylvia, who has wished to die;
But half-ashamed, and impotent to bless.

I am a stupid life-guard who has found,
Swept to his shallows by the tide, a girl
Who, far from shore, has been immensely drowned,
And stares through water now with eyes of pearl.

How large is her refusal; and how slight
The genteel chat whereby we recommend
Life, of a summer afternoon, despite
The brewing dusk which hints that it may end.

And Edna Ward shall die in fifteen years,
After her eight-and-eighty summers of 
Such grace and courage as permit no tears,
The thin hand reaching out, the last word love.

Outliving Sylvia who, condemned to live,
Shall study for a decade, as she must,
To state at last her brilliant negative
In poems free and helpless and unjust.

[The following note has been provided by Richard Wilbur:] "Edna Ward was Mrs. Herbert D. Ward, my wife's mother. The poet Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) was the daughter of one of Mrs. Ward's Wellesley friends. The recollection is probably composite, but it is true in essentials.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Janet Frame


Do you remember your twenty-first birthday? The party, the cake, and cutting a slice of it to put under your pillow that night, to make you dream of your future beloved; the giant key; the singing:

I’m twenty-one today!
Twenty-one today!
I’ve got the key of the door!
Never been twenty-one before!
Trivial, obvious words. Yet when the party was over and you lay in bed remembering the glinting key and the shamrock taste of the small glass of wine, and perhaps the taste of a sneaked last kiss in the dark, then the song seemed not trivial or obvious but a poetic statement of a temporal wonder. You had, as they say, attained your majority. You could vote in the elections; you could leave home against your parents’ wishes; you could marry in defiance of all opposition. You had crossed a legal border into a free country, and you now walked equipped with a giant tinsel key, a cardboard key covered with threepenny spangles...

What Will Become of the Paper Book?


How their design will evolve in the age of the Kindle.

Benjamin paperback
Book designed by Sara De Bondt Studio/Visual Editions.
The change has come more slowly to books than it came to music or to business correspondence, but by now it feels inevitable. The digital era is upon us. The Twilights and Freedoms of 2025 will be consumed primarily as e-books. In many ways, this is good news. Books will become cheaper and more easily accessible. Hypertext, embedded video, and other undreamt-of technologies will give rise to new poetic, rhetorical, and narrative possibilities. But a literary culture that has defined itself through paper books for centuries will surely feel the loss as they pass away.
In the past several years, we’ve all heard readers mourn the passing of the printed word. The elegy is familiar: I crave the smell of a well-worn book, the weight of it in my hands; all of my favorite books I discovered through loans from a friend, that minor but still-significant ritual of trust; I need to see it on my shelf after I’ve read it (and I don’t mind if others see it too); and what is a classic if not a book where I’m forced to rediscover my own embarrassing college-age marginalia?
Luddites can take comfort in the persistence of vinyl records, postcards, and photographic film. The paper book will likewise survive, but its place in the culture will change significantly. As it loses its traditional value as an efficient vessel for text, the paper book’s other qualities—from its role in literary history to its inimitable design possibilities to its potential for physical beauty—will take on more importance. The future is yet to be written, but a few possibilities for the fate of the paper book are already on display on bookshelves near you.

We’re warned from an early age not to be taken in by the sensuous aspects of a paper book’s design, such as its cover. Yet the visual effect of a well-made book, even an inexpensive paperback, unquestionably shapes our interpretation and appreciation of the text.
Benjamin paperback
Book designed and photographed by David Pearson.
Consider this Penguin UK collection of essays by the German critic Walter Benjamin. The front cover comments on the book’s status as a manufactured object. This is in harmony with Benjamin’s text: “[T]hat which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.”

For more

Monday, 7 May 2012

“Frankenstein” remixed

 Whatever interactive fiction is (and we’re still figuring that out) it suffers from all the problems of traditional fiction and then some. The vast majority of novels and short stories aren’t much good, but when a branching fiction — along the lines of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure” children’s books — fails to engage, the first impulse is to blame the form rather than the content. Let “Frankenstein,” just released by Inkle Studios and Profile Books, serve as a reproach to that reflex. The app is a creative, subtle and sensitive adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic novella, and it has singlehandedly renewed this critic’s hopes for interactive fiction.

Monday, 30 April 2012




MY morning walk takes me past a moderately-sized rookery, although there is a larger one at the far side of the dale, just beyond my sight.
The resident birds in each community are fairly predictable in their behaviour because at dawn they rise in thousands to head noisily towards their feeding grounds.
At sunset they return, still chattering among themselves as if discussing the day’s adventures and their route takes them directly over our house.
We can hear and see them leaving and returning almost like commuters going to work and coming home afterwards, and all seem to head to and from the same area for their daytime activities.
However, their routine has changed in recent weeks. This might have been linked to the fact that their feeding grounds, which are often freshly-ploughed fields, were covered with snow or it could be due to the birds being far too busy with this season’s nests.
As early as the preceding autumn, rooks will begin to construct new nests or repair their old ones and certainly on the morning I am compiling these notes, they are all at home, chattering in the trees and tending their bulky and untidy nests of twigs.
With the trees being leafless at this time of year, it is easy to see rooks tending their nests among the bare branches.
Unlike crows that prefer the solitary life, rooks are among the most sociable of our birds, gathering in massive flocks which, in winter, can be enlarged by visitors from overseas or through neighbouring rooks joining them to form super flocks.
Other species might also join a flock of rooks, jackdaws in particular.
On many occasions, I have heard the calls of jackdaws among our rooks as they head for their feeding grounds. Jackdaws are members of the crow family and so the species does have lots in common.
There is quite a lot of lore surrounding rooks and one is that they will never build their nests in trees that are likely to fall down.
Many country folk will tell tales of rooks steadfastly avoiding a particular tree while constructing their nests even though the tree appears to be healthy. Sooner or later, that tree will crash to earth, perhaps in a storm or maybe from disease.
Whether this is true, and whether the birds possess some kind of extra sense about such things is always open to debate.
Another persistent tale about rooks is that they make use of a system of group discipline through what has become known as the rooks’ parliament.
Because they have a very well developed communal way of life, the theory is that they require some form of control over the behaviour of those who do not conform to the rules.
According to lore, the flock will assemble to discuss the behaviour of a rebel in their midst – perhaps the rogue has stolen sticks brought by others for nest-building, taken their food or committed some other offence.
After due deliberation, the offending bird is chased away from the flock, never to return.
That is one interpretation of their behaviour, but although they are very sociable birds who live happily together in a large community, they do have a strong sense of individual territory.
The male and female will defend the area around their own nest, chasing off and even attacking those who venture too close. It is that kind of activity, invariably accompanied by lots of noise, that might have persuaded observers that the birds have a court system of their very own.
The record books give examples of massive rookeries. One in Scotland is said to have consisted of more than 6,000 nests with another reaching more than 9,000. At the other end of the scale, some smaller colonies might muster only a few dozen pairs of birds.
Landowners do experience problems when such huge flocks descend to feed upon their land.
Rooks are known for their appetite in keeping down pests, such as leather-jackets and wireworms, but they will also eat earthworms, beetles, eggs, fruit and seeds. In seeking their food, they can cause immense damage to young crops and so they are not always welcome.
It is perhaps apt to mention here that rooks and carrion crows are quite different birds. They are very similar in appearance but an adult rook has a bare white patch around its beak and baggy trousers on its legs.
Rooks assemble in flocks, whereas the carrion crow is a solitary bird, usually seen alone or with a partner.
If you see only one, therefore, it’s probably a crow, but a crowd usually means they are rooks.

Flannery O’Connor and the Habit of Art

Flannery O’Connor and the Habit of Art

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Holden Caulfield is Beastly Dead?

'This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise' is a short story by J. D. Salinger published in October 1945, and republished in the 1958 anthology The Armchair Esquire, edited by Arnold Gingrich and L. Rust Hills.
The story describes Vincent Caulfield's visit back home after the war. He's upset because his brother Holden (as described in "The Last Day of the Last Furlough") is missing in action, and is unable to accept the possibility Holden may be dead. The story ends:

Drenched to the bone, the bone of loneliness, the bone of
silence, we plod back to the truck.
Where are you Holden? Never mind the Missing stuff. Stop playingaround. Show up. Show up somewhere. Hear me? It's simply because Iremember everything. I can't forget anything that's good, that's why.So listen. Just go up to somebody, some officer or some G.I., and tell them you're Here--not Missing, not dead, not anything but Here. Stop kidding around. Stop letting people think you're Missing. Stop wearing my robe to the beach. Stop taking the shots on my side of the court. Stop whistling. Sit up to the table!

Monday, 23 April 2012

Train Dreams - Denis Johnson

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction was not awarded this year although three books were nominated in the far from clear or foolproof conditions in which the prize is generally made. 
It was the Pulitzer Board that decided not to present the fiction award, and not the jury, which selected the three nominated works for consideration by the board. In fact, all three jurors have expressed dissatisfaction over the outcome as well as the Pulitzer selection process itself.
No fiction published in 2011 was felt worthy by the Pulitzer Board although one of the nominees was Karen Russell's Swamplandia  and another was David Foster Wallace's The Pale King.  
It may be that Russell's novel might not have lived up to the promise of her short story collection debut, and Wallace's novel is unfinished, and I don't recall anyone saying it is his greatest work - perhaps, it might have been on its way there: a steep mountain to climb, that one. 
Annual prize-givings are a crude way to adjudicate the state of fiction - they help market literary novels and give a guide to readers/buyers as to what is thought to be current, and that is about as far as they can ever really go. 
It may be that 2011 was a dud year in fiction - there must be some dud years, after all - but it is based on the assumption that we read novels in the same way we read newspapers - to find out what is happening now. We don't. Of the eight books I have read this month, only one was published this year - the rest span from 2011 to 1852 - thank you, Mr. Dickens. Readers have a longer run at fiction than these shindigs and shenanigans attest.
The third nominee is proof of this. This was  Denis Johnson's Train Dreams, which was published as a long short story in the  Paris Review in 2002, and last year was  packaged in the US as a novella, and, it seems, elsewhere before this in 2006. Not yet published in the UK, it is, however, available as an audiobook read by Will Patton alongside the stories from Jesus' Son. I read it in 2005.
Whether the novella is greatly different from the story, I can't say - it may be its once 50 odd pages of short story can be spread across 100+ pages of creamy white wide-margined paper and sold as such without much more being added.  I would want nothing to be taken away from it, and any additional sentences from Denis Johnson are to be savoured.
What I can say is that  'Train Dreams' or Train Dreams, at whatever length, is a remarkable product in any year or decade: a tale of wolves and trains and revenants that calls to mind  Hemingway and Faulkner and Alice Munro and Henry James and Cormac McCarthy while also being very distinctly its own wayward and brilliantly conceived self.
I read it again and it improves - although (and I think this may be a common effect of reading it) it has grown in the mind but in that miraculous way that  still matches the memory of reading it. There is the epic grasp - it is about America - and, while it seems always to be wavering, the seeming contrary of its intense focus on one character, a character not wholly yielding to such a gaze; and there is the wife, a ghost returning and granting him a vision of how she might have died,  a midnight garden full of wolves, a wolf-girl, her broken leg, her escape, pulling at the splint he has made for her, and the comedy of two marriage proposals, one gracelessly made, another gracefully refused. And how so much about this life would have gone unnoticed but for its author: it obeys Robert Bresson's injunction to 'Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.'

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir

The Endless Night: A Valentine to Film Noir
Serena Bramble (2009)
A video love letter that distills film noir movies into their atmospheric essence.
For more

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Knocknarea mountain is supposed to be the final resting place of the Warrior Queen Medb
Medb is the Irish warrior queen who plays a pivotal role in the body of tales that make up the Ulster Cycle, a mythic history of Early Ireland. Cú Chulainn is its chief protagonist, but Medb, the first wife and chief rival to his uncle, Conchobar, King of Ulster, plays a major part in the tales, most particularly the longest and most significant, the Táin Bó Cuailnge or ‘Cattle Raid at Clooney’ in which, unable to gain a highly prized bull with offers of land, money or sexual favours, Medb raises an army to steal the bull, a feat she manages at the cost of many lives. Such ruthlessness is as much part of Medb’s character as is the refusal to be abashed by her circumstances. Married off by her father, she leaves Conchobar, King of Ulster, who then marries her sister. Medb kills this pregnant sister, and a child is delivered posthumously, a caesarean by sword.
The son, Furbaide, will later prove Medb’s nemesis, but before then Medb is made Queen of Connacht, a throne she then shares with her lover, Tinni. Conchobar rapes her. Tinni dies avenging her rape in the ensuing war. Rape is, then as now, a military tactic, but Medb also uses sex as a weapon, as a means to an end, a way of ennobling or humiliating the men she encounters.
Medb marries again, insisting her husband remain free of jealousy in the face of her many lovers, one of whom will kill this compliant husband. She has seven sons, but even they are weapons in her armoury. She has been told that Conchobar will be killed by a man called Maine, and so all her sons bear this name.
There is, also, one luckless daughter, Finnabair, who will die of shame, a condition that her mother may know well, but to which she never submits. Medb lives to old age, as often a victor as she is a victim, and is killed by Furbaide, the son of the sister she murdered. While Medb bathes in a lake, he kills her with a sling he has loaded with cheese.
Medb is said to be buried in a cairn on top of Cnoc na Ré in Sligo, upright and facing her enemies in Ulster. Even in death, she is ready to fight. The tale of her death is a late written addition to the cycle, stories that are set in pre-Christian Ireland. These oral myths, their mongrel and no longer extricable mix of fact, fiction, myth and propaganda were transcribed by monks between the fifth and twelfth centuries, the characters and events the subject of debate and further rewritings and retellings ever since.
Just as the spelling of her name—Medb, Meadb, Meadhbh, the modern Irish Méabh, and the Anglicised Maeve—has been subject to shifts in time and circumstance so have interpretations of her character, role and importance. She has been variously read as a pre-Christian Goddess, a historical being, a consort not untypical of her time and place, a figure wholly mythic, the creation of Christian propaganda, a victim of patriarchy, a feminist heroine in need of defending, and an angry and troublesome sexual warrior. There are mythologists who make out the very shape of her mythic body in the contours of Sligo’s generous landscape.
John Berger wrote that when “a story is being retold every word becomes a code word describing a Here and Now.” Dr. Diana Dominguez’s task in this exhaustively detailed but always readable book is to make us aware that the “Here and Now” is always a moveable date, that there are several “Here and Nows,” and each one creates a Medb it cuts to its own fashion. Medb and the tales she inhabits have always been as much about the “Here and Now” in which they were first conceived, the “Here and Now” in which they were compiled and transcribed and each subsequent age that studies them and re-interprets them.
With painstaking care and formidable precision, Dominguez provides a fresh and refreshing reading of Medb: “not one subsumed by a mythological perspective that makes her, ultimately, a passive object as she is appropriated for patriarchal political purposes, or a character so associated with misogyny that she becomes nothing more than an icon of oppression and ridicule.” Dominguez does not discard either of these readings, but merely sets them side by side, along with other readings and approaches so that a much more richly faceted presentation of Medb is possible. This is Dominguez’s achievement. Medb is granted all her dangerous energies, her troublesome characteristics, her courage and high status. She is a villain, a victim, a queen as ruthless as her rivals, a woman not entirely unique in her time, but one indefatigable in the face of others.
The desire to transport Medb to our “Here and Now,” to make Medb modern, to make her our contemporary, to rescue her from the misunderstanding past is not Dominguez’s intention. Her intention is to present Medb as faithfully as she can, and this is what is achieved in this invigorating study. The actual Medb, the Medb of Myth, the Medb of scholarly dispute, the Medb as medium onto which notions of Irish womanhood have been projected are all here, and these pages present a Medb that Dominguez’s rigorous mind has made coherent and persuasive by presenting and accepting Medb in all her diversity.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Edith Wharton - 'a sword wrapped in satin.'

This is an extract from Roxana Robinson's thoughtful essay on Edith Wharton:

Edith Wharton’s work has been part of my own world for many years. My first connection, as a reader and writer, came in my senior year at boarding school, when I first read The Age of Innocence. It was then that Wharton’s work took up residence in my mind. I was mesmerized by the elegance of her style and the acuity of her intellect, by her courage and her compassion.
One of the brave things that Wharton does is to recognize the coexistence of the world of passion and the world of strictures. I don’t know another writer of her era who felt so seriously bound by the rules of society, and who took so seriously the great forces of emotion that were aligned against those rules. Since one of these rules was silence, it took great courage merely to declare the conflict, merely to write it down and speak it out.
I was also struck by Wharton’s courage in declaring a woman’s story to be a tragedy. I don’t mean the story of a beautiful woman betrayed by her lover, for many writers have made that into a tragedy. I mean the story of a woman on her own, forging her own way, and making her own terrible mistakes. Lily Bart is beautiful, but her story is hers alone, and depends on no one else for its outcome. She is the tragic hero of her own narrative, the sole agent of her own downfall, just as King Lear was, or Oedipus, and this is remarkable.
But most important to Wharton’s work is her own sense of compassion, something essential to all great fiction. It is Wharton’s empathy for her characters that makes our own possible. Wharton allows us to know them, to admire them, to understand their flaws and to forgive them — in short, to love them — as she does. For a writer, there is no greater skill.
The way a young writer learns what is possible is by reading what other people have done. Wharton showed me that it was possible to write about the collision between passion and responsibility, about the complexities of class. That it was possible to write about a society in a way that was both ruthlessly observant and fundamentally forgiving. That it was possible to write beautifully and cleanly and intelligently. I aspired to all those things, and the awareness of what she accomplished has entered into my own sense of possibility.

The essay in full can be read here.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Villette (Dramatised) By Yrs Truly

Available  to hear an extract from and to buy here and here and here (where it is given a 5 Star rating) - Catherine McCormack, Joseph Fiennes, and Harriet Walter star in this BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's last and most remarkable novel. Passion and perception run through this fascinating study of loneliness, love, and ultimate triumph over adversity.

Bronte Sisters Power Dolls - pudding not included

 By Phil Lord and Chris Miller - a fake commercial made in 1998 for a series of educational shorts about action figures based on historical figures. Its educational value was somewhat suspect. It was never aired.

The Alphabet as Poem

The  Javanese alphabet itself forms a poem, and a perfect pangram, of which the line-by-line translation is as follows[2]:

Hana caraka There (were) two messengers
data sawala (They) had animosity (among each other)
padha jayanya (They were) equally powerful (in fight)
maga bathanga Here are the corpses.

in detail:
hana / ana = there were/was
caraka = messenger (actually, 'one who is loyal to and trusted by someone')
data = have/has
sawala = difference (regarding a matter)
padha = same, equal
jayanya = 'their power', 'jaya' could mean 'glory' as well
maga = 'here'
bathanga = corpses

This story was told in the myth of Aji Saka, a Javanese mythology that tell the story about the came of civilization to Java, brought by legendary first king named Java Aji Saka, and the mythical story of Javanese script origin.[4]

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Hart Crane - The Broken Tower - James Franco Trailer

Marching Through a Novel: John Updike


                Each morning my characters
                   greet me with misty faces
                willing, though chilled, to muster
                   for another day's progress
                through the dazzling quicksand,
                   the marsh of blank paper.
                With instant obedience
                   they change clothes and mannerisms,
                drop a speech impediment,
                   develop a motive backwards
                to suit the deed that's done.  
                   They extend skeletal arms
                for the handcuffs of contrivance,
                    slog through docilely
                maneuvers of coincidence,
                    look toward me hopefully,
                 their general and quartermaster,
                    for a clearer face, a bigger heart.
                I do what I can for them,
                    but it is not enough.
                FORWARD is my order,
                    though their bandages unravel
                and some have no backbones
                    and some turn traitor
                like heads with two faces
                    and some fall forgotten
                in the trenchwork of loose threads,
                    poor puffs of cartoon flak.
                FORWARD. Believe me, I love them
                    though I march them to finish them off.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Man with the Miniature Orchestra' by Dave Algonquin.

Perpetual Ocean

This visualization shows ocean surface currents around the world during the period from June 2005 through December 2007. The visualization does not include a narration or annotations; the goal was to use ocean flow data to create a simple, visceral experience.

This visualization was produced using NASA/JPL's computational model called Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean, Phase II or ECCO2.. ECCO2 is high resolution model of the global ocean and sea-ice. ECCO2 attempts to model the oceans and sea ice to increasingly accurate resolutions that begin to resolve ocean eddies and other narrow-current systems which transport heat and carbon in the oceans.The ECCO2 model simulates ocean flows at all depths, but only surface flows are used in this visualization. The dark patterns under the ocean represent the undersea bathymetry. Topographic land exaggeration is 20x and bathymetric exaggeration is 40x.

credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

Friday, 13 April 2012

No mention of Bery Bainbridge's wayward and original perspective on the subject but Mendelsohn's particularly good on the cinema's treatment of the incident



Why we can’t let go of the Titanic.

by Daniel Mendelsohn April 16, 2012 

In the early nineteen-seventies, my Uncle Walter, who wasn’t a “real” uncle but had a better intuition about my hobbies and interests than some of my blood relatives did, gave me a thrilling gift: membership in the Titanic Enthusiasts of America. I was only twelve, but already hooked. The magnificence, the pathos, the enthralling chivalry—Benjamin Guggenheim putting on white tie and tails so he could drown “like a gentleman”—and the shaming cowardice, the awful mistakes, the tantalizing “what if”s: for me, there was no better story. I had read whatever books the local public library offered, and had spent some of my allowance on a copy of Walter Lord’s indispensable “A Night to Remember.” To this incipient collection Uncle Walter added the precious gift of a biography of the man who designed the ship. It has always been among the first books I pack when I move. A little later, when I was in my midteens, I toiled for a while on a novel about two fourteen-year-old boys, one a Long Islander like myself, the other a British aristocrat, who meet during the doomed maiden voyage. Needless to say, their budding friendship was sundered by the disaster.

I wasn’t the only one who was obsessed—or writing. It may not be true that “the three most written-about subjects of all time are Jesus, the Civil War, and the Titanic,” as one historian has put it, but it’s not much of an exaggeration. Since the early morning of April 15, 1912, when the great liner went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, taking with it five grand pianos, eight thousand dinner forks, an automobile, a fifty-line telephone switchboard, twenty-nine boilers, a jewelled copy of “The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam,” and more than fifteen hundred lives, the writing hasn’t stopped. First, there were the headlines, which even today can produce an awful thrill. “ALL SAVED FROM TITANIC AFTER COLLISION,” the New York Evening Sun crowed less than twenty-four hours after the sinking. A day later, brute fact had replaced wishful conjecture: “TITANIC SINKS, 1500 DIE.” Then there were the early survivor narratives—a genre that has by now grown to include a book by the descendants of a Lebanese passenger whose trek to America had begun on a camel caravan. There were the poems. For a while, there was such a glut that the Times was moved to print a warning: “To write about the Titanic a poem worth printing requires that the author should have something more than paper, pencil, and a strong feeling that the disaster was a terrible one.” Since then, there have been histories, academic studies, polemics by enthusiasts, and novels, numbering in the hundreds. There’s even a “Titanic for Dummies.” This centennial month alone will see the publication of nearly three dozen titles.
The books are, so to speak, just the tip of the iceberg... (Read more)

Steve Hayes - Ball of Fire

Is there a better enthusiast than Steve Hayes? This is his most recent recommendation - Ball Of Fire - and every bit as good as he tells you it is

He's nearing 100 - recommendations of great and classic movies, that is - on his youtube page: he makes you want to watch them all.