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review 2019-09-09 11:07
A modern A Rake’s Progress facilitated by a lottery win
Malibu Motel - Chaunceton Bird

Thanks to NetGalley and John Hunt/Zero Books for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

I’ve seen this book described as a cautionary tale (that it is), although it also reminded me of the morality plays of old (or even Hogarth’s series A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress, their pictorial equivalent), where you have a character that does not learn from life’s lessons and at each step of the way makes the wrong decision, setting the course of his/her life into a downward spiral that the protagonists seem unwilling and/or unable to stop. This novel (although based or inspired on a real case it is a novel nonetheless) is set in modern times (although the time, like many other details are not specified), and therefore, the choice of vices is slightly different, but not by much. Yes, Caish, the protagonist, loves expensive cars (there were no cars in Hogarth’s time, but there would have been expensive houses, carriages,…), some of the drugs and illnesses the character falls for are relatively new, and the fact that the character keeps checking social media is also a novelty, but that’s a change in setting, rather than the spirit of the piece and its message.

As I have mentioned, the author keeps some details vague. Is Caish a man or a woman? (According to what I’ve read, the lottery winner the novel is based on is a male). Much is made, at the beginning of this long book (yes, it is quite long and much of the content feels repetitive, because the main character is self-obsessed and obsessed with money, possessions and social status, and the story is narrated in the first-person, so we get a lot of that) of the fact that people keep getting the name wrong (Cash, of course, but other combinations of sounds as well), although at some point Caish has other problems and things to worry about and stops correcting people’s pronunciation. I assumed, at first, the character was male (the way of talking, the hobbies and some of the behaviours seemed quite typical, at least of male characters in books), then at some point I became convinced the character was a woman, and finally, I thought that the author left it intentionally vague, perhaps to show that it could happen to anybody and everybody, and rather than making readers think that what happens is the fault of a particular character, we should conclude that huge amounts of money that come too easy to somebody can destroy them (in fact, Caish is not the only one in the book to suffer a similar fate).

Caish is self-centred, egotistical, vain, selfish, big-headed, rush, lacking in any kind of insight, has no self-control, no common-sense, and no redeeming features. We do get to know a bit some members of his/her family, but there is no depth to the character, and despite the way things go, Caish never learns anything. As I have mentioned, the story is told in the first-person, and being inside of the character’s head is not comfortable. There are hilarious moments (because the character’s behaviour is so extreme that it’s a bit like watching a person tripping over the same obstacle or slipping on the same banana skin over and over), there are turns of phrase that are very funny, and the way the character misconstrues everything  and insists on talking about statistics and claiming to being an authority on all kinds of things s/he knows nothing about is hilarious (and yes, it does bring to mind some people in authority as well). If we stop and think, it is terribly sad as well, not so much what happens to the character (for somebody who loves the lottery so much, Caish should know that there are chances we shouldn’t take), but the destruction s/he spreads around, that of course, is never his/her fault, is appalling, and, worse still, s/he never has a kind thought for anybody else. If you are looking for a novel where you can empathise with the main character, this is not it. There is nothing likeable about Caish, other than some wit, but…

One of the things that bothered me as I read the novel was the fact that the character seemed quite articulate (if not well-informed or truly literate) when commenting on things, but the few times when Caish quoted her own conversations with others, s/he could hardly string a sentence together. In fact, most of the characters seem to speak in the same way, at least if we are to judge by the quoted conversations we read (it could be a problem of reporting the dialogue, evidently), no matter who they are, their different backgrounds or circumstances. Then, towards the end of the book, Caish comes upon a new scheme to make money — writing a memoir/life-story— and then we learn that s/he gets some assistance with editing. That could explain the different registers, although it undermines somewhat the whole of the story. Is the character truly as awful as s/he appears to be or is it an exaggeration introduced by the editor? Oh, well… If you read it, you can make your own mind up.

By the way, at the end of the book there are a number of documents included: what seems to be the results of the toxicology report and the medical reports following the discovery of a dead body at a motel. All the details fit in with the story and are realistic, down to blacking out the specific details, but I am not sure if they are real or not or whom they belong to.

I thought I’d share a few jewels from the book with you:

When I’m making money again, I think I’ll hire a butler. I have a small house staff, but they mostly just clean. What I need is somebody who can go get my Zippo when I leave it inside. Seems like the type of job for a butler. And if I’m buying a butler, I might as well buy a Batmobile too. No halfmeasures.

The standard of living around the world is higher now than ever before. Just check Facebook for proof of that.

Would I recommend this book? Well, you’ll know from the very beginning where the book is headed, and although there are some surprises in the way, these are mostly small details that don’t derail the story from its course. The novel depicts scenes of drug use (in plenty of detail, including how to go about getting scripts for painkillers, for example), sex (this not graphically or in any detail), homelessness, and a variety of crimes (including arson). There is always a fine line with these kinds of books between sharing enough of the behaviours to put people off and not making them too attractive or too easy to copy. Yes, I know it’s very easy to find information on all those subjects nowadays, but I thought I’d warn you. As I said, if you want to find a character to root for or to empathise with, this is not your book. There are also some issues of consistency that are, possibly, explained towards the end of the novel, but I am sure that the choices the author makes and the style chosen to tell the story will not work for everybody and might put some people off, so do check a sample before making a decision.

Personally, I laughed reading it (yes, I have a pretty dark sense of humour), I was appalled most of the time, and although I knew (more or less) how it would end, I couldn’t stop reading, but I’d recommend caution as some of the topics and the blasé attitude of the character towards them can be upsetting to readers personally affected by them.  I’ll be curious to see what the author writes next. And, I will carry on not buying lottery tickets.

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review 2016-10-30 12:16
A Tale of Forgiveness
Measure for Measure - William Shakespeare

When I was recently in London I picked up a box set at The Globe containing a collection of plays that they had filmed and kindly decided to release. As such when I sat down on the train and began reading this play I half expected to be able to then go and watch it at a later date. As it turned out one of the plays that wasn’t included in the box set was this one, which was a real shame because when I was at the Globe I did see a number of plays that weren’t included that could be purchased alongside it (which I had done with Merchant of Venice). Before I continue I probably should make mention that The Globe is one of the most uncomfortable, and annoying, theatres that I have had the displeasure of visiting. When the seat is labled as ‘restricted view’ the view is actually really restricted (I was sitting in front of a pillar). I’m not going to go as far and say that it is ‘the most uncomfortable’ theatre since there are some in Greece (such as the Theatre of Dionysius, though that isn’t actually used, but the Theatre of Herod Antipas just down the road is) that are probably somewhat more uncomfortable.


Theatre of Dionysius



Anyway, you are no doubt going to hear me harp on about how uncomfortable the Globe is again, which does surprise me a little because they still seem to regularly sell out their plays. I ended up waiting too long to purchase tickets for A Midsummers Night Dream (namely twelve weeks before the show I wanted to see) only to discover that there were no longer any available. That meant that I had to put up with just seeing Macbeth, which really isn’t one of my favourite Shakespearian plays, but still, it was at the Globe, and it was Shakespeare done well, so I’m not complaining about that (though I am complaining about the hard seats and the pillar that was in front of me).


Enough of my experience at the Globe because I’m sure you are more interested in my take on this play. The problem is that like many of the other plays that I have read I would have really liked to have seen this one performed (even if it is on screen) because it actually seems to be one of those really cool plays. One of the things that I particularly like about the version that I read is that it contains essays on the play itself at the end, and these essays can be really engaging. Anyway, the thing about this play is that there are so many Christian allegories in it that it doesn’t actually seem to be very Shakespearian. For instance we have the main plot of the Duke going on a holiday and handing over the rulership of the city to Angelo, who then begins to rule it with an iron fist. We also have the concept of forgiveness permeating throughout the play, and not the form of forgiveness that we see in the Tempest where Prospero decides that he has had enough fun with his captives, reveals himself, and says all is forgiven, but rather more Christlike forgiveness where the guilty party is forgiven without any form of revenge being taken out, and not deserving it one bit.


You have probably guessed the story already, but as I mentioned before the Duke decides to go on a holiday (well, not really, but that is what he tells everybody) and appoints Angelo in his place. However Angelo is a bit of a purist and realises that Vienna is a pretty sleazy place and decides to clean it up a bit (actually a lot). The thing is that it isn’t as if the sleaze is permitted, it’s illegal, it’s just that nobody particularly cares (or at least the Duke didn’t). So, he basically decides that since the laws are on the books they should be enforced, which creates a few problems because Claudio, another protagonist in the play, has got his girlfriend pregnant, which is a big no-no, and he has him arrested and sentenced to death. Mind you, it isn’t as if Angelo is all that pure either, namely because he ended up dumping his fiancee because her dowry was lost when the ship that was carrying it sunk in a storm.


The parable of Jesus that automatically comes to mind is the parable of the vineyard where the master goes off on a journey and leaves his plantation to his servants, and the servants basically run amok causing all sorts of problems. However this is slightly different in that the duke doesn’t actually go anywhere, he just disguises himself as a monk and watches to see what happens. Also, Angelo isn’t actually running amok, but rather he is trying to clean the place up. However there is a little catch – it seems as if there is actually an ulterior motive – get rid of Claudio and thus marry Isabella. This was the plot in the original story. However they decide to get around the problem by executing a pirate instead and passing it off as Claudio, and then having Angelo’s old flame pretend to be Isabella.


In fact now that I think about it it seems as if Angelo is playing the hypocrite in this play – while he is insisting that everybody live moral and upstanding lives, he himself is doing the complete opposite. Sure, maybe it was well within the law to execute Claudio for being a little randy (and it is interesting that it is the man that is being punished here as opposed to the woman because it seems that in our day and age the holier than thou lot seem to want to punish the women), but the fact is that Angelo wants the opportunity to be randy himself, and almost gets himself into no end of trouble in doing so. The thing is that he effectively gets away with it in the end, which some have found to be a little unsatisfactory – here we have a guy that is pretty much throwing his weight around and executing people for minor indiscretions and effectively getting away with it, while commiting those same indiscretions himself.


In the end I guess it is one of those plays that we need to sit down and chew on a bit, and one that I would like to visit again in the not too distance future, though this time I would like to see it performed as opposed to reading it in a book. At least there is a modern, non-BBC version on Youtube (I really don’t like the BBC performances – they were so dry, dull, and completely lacked any life).


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1798034036
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review 2016-10-20 11:42
Die Ausnahme und die Regel - Bertolt Brecht

This is another of Brecht’s short plays that he referred to as Lehrstucke, or more precisely morality the plays, though this one is a little longer than the other three in the book. Anyway the play is about an unnamed merchant who is wandering across the desert to look at selling some oil that he has discovered. However he becomes lost and it appears that the water is running out. His guide, or more precisely the Coolie, had been given some extra water but decides to let the Merchant have some because if he survives and the merchant dies (or at least comes back a lot weaker than when he left) then the Coolie believes (quite correctly mind you) that he is going to get into serious trouble. However the Merchant is hallucinating at this time, believes that the Coolie actually has a rock, and then proceeds to shoot him.


Long story short, the merchant makes it back to civilisation and finds himself in court having to answer charges of murder, and also a suit that has been brought against him by the Coolie’s wife. The thing is that while we know what went on, the judge is only going by the evidence that has been brought before him, and the evidence is coming from two different avenues – the Innkeeper, who supports the merchant, and the Guide, who supports the murdered Coolie. Okay, we also have the Merchant, but the Merchant is always going to be a biased witness.


However, the problem is that I can’t say all that much more without basically giving away the end of the play (which would be a real bummer for somebody who actually wants to read it), but the thing is that based on the outline that I have given you, you can probably work this out anyway, particularly since Brecht is a communist. Mind you, I can sort of see this at work in our world anyway, especially if you happen to be rich and powerful. There are stories of newspaper moguls here in Australia committing outrageous acts of contempt of court (and parliament), yet getting away with it scot free. In a way this the what the title of the play is about – there are the exceptions and there are the rules.


What Brecht is getting at here is that while we may have a rule of law, there are always going to be exceptions to these rules, and the events in this play are clear in that regard. Well, it’s not so much an exception but rather a rule for one person, and a rule for everybody else. When the Merchant says that he was suffering from heat stroke, hallucinating, and acted irrationally because he was hallucinating, then it is accepted. However the Coolie is correct when he decides to be generous with his water because if he isn’t, and the merchant dies, then he is going to be brought to account. However the exception in the eyes of the judge is that the Coolie acted against his character by being generous – what is expected is that when the merchant is weak then the Coolie will take advantage of him, therefore the Merchant was well within his rights to act in self defence.


This brings me to the question of white privilege; or more particularly white male privilege. While there is a huge debate raging as to whether it exists or not, from my experience it does and the reason I say that is by looking at where I am. I am currently gainfully employed, have a university degree, and live a comfortable existence where I want for little, however if I was not white then it is unlikely that I would be in the same position that I am in now. However the catch is that in our society, at least in Australia, it isn’t so much a question of white privilege – if you are Southern European, Indian, or Asian, then no doubt you will be afforded the same privileges that I am. Sure, there are some extreme racists out there that will target people who are not white, but in general as long as you are not an indigenous Australian then you will pretty much be okay.


Yet there is also a question of money – somebody who grew up in one of the lower class suburbs in Australia is less likely to have the same opportunities than those who grew up in the more affluent suburbs. In fact I knew people that would specifically move into a suburb so that their children could go to a specific public school. Therefore I don’t necessarily believe that it is always a case of white privilege, until you realise that the proportion of Aboriginals in goal far outweighs those of the others. In fact it is more likely than not that indigenous Australians are going to find themselves living in areas where the socio-economic situation is much lower – and don’t even think that you are going to have an easy time getting a rental property in the upper class suburbs if you happen to be aboriginal – it is hard enough for middle class people to get rental properties.


What Brecht is on about is that there is human nature, and there are the exceptions to human nature. This comes about through racism, even if the person making the stereotype doesn’t come across as racist. It could be considered a form of racial profiling – such as indigenous Australians (and Americans) are nothing more than alcoholics that are so desperate that they will resort to drinking methylated spirits. In a way it is similar with Afro-Americans who are generally viewed as violent criminals. This is what Brecht is challenging us with here – the idea that we will categorise somebody of a certain race, and certain class, into a certain mould and will not let them break out of it.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1789348475
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review 2016-08-05 06:35
Morality of the Execution
Measures Taken and Other Lehrstücke - Bertolt Brecht,Ralph Manheim,John Willett,Carl R. Mueller,Wolfgang Saueralnder

This is actually a really short play, so short that it only took me four beers to finish it. Mind you, these plays generally aren't available in English (which I didn't realise until I started reading this particular book). Anyway, Brecht himself says that the idea of the plays is that they are morality plays, and further more, he wrote them not to be performed by professional actors, but amateurs. Also, as should be noted, this was written during the time when he was basically a communist so there is a lot of communist language used (and one should also note that it was also written during the rise of the Nazi party, however at this time Hitler had yet to seize control of Germany, and the parliament was divided between two extremist groups – the communists and the National Socialists).



The play is about the revolution in China (though one should note that as of its writing, the Maoist revolution was still a long way off – that was to really hit full swing after World War II, though there was still the beginnings of the revolution sturing) and about how a group of revolutionaries executed somebody, and then tell a story to the chorus (who are obviously the judges) as to why the execution was necessary.



The interesting thing that continued to arise during the play is that the nature of the proletariat and the question as to whether the soldiers (and the police) are the friends or the enemies. One sometimes feels that in such a dictatorship the best job to have is in the security forces, but Brecht suggests otherwise. In fact the security forces are being oppressed just as much as the rest of the population – instead of fighting them one should attempt to sway them over to their side. However, it is hard not to view the security forces as being the enemy in that they tend to oppose your movement, as is the case in the play where the police officer is challenging the revolutionary and the worker over handing out leaflets (which the police officer believes is far, far more dangerous than any bomb or gun).


This leads me to the concept of the power of ideas. Sure, there is a suggestion that political arguments are not won or lost on Facebook (or even during a dinner party), however what many people seem to forget (usually those trying to shut down such an argument) is that you're not actually trying to win over the person that you are having the argument with (because in many cases it is nigh impossible to be able to win them over), but rather you are attempting to persuade those whom are listening as to the validity of your argument as opposed to the other side. The same is the case with Facebook because you're not trying to change your opponent's views, but persuade those who may be listening – it is true that arguments aren't ever won or lost, but it is the audience who are the targets – which is the key to many debating contests, and it is also why the audience are the ones who determine the winner in the debate.

As such this graphic actually isn't true:





Finally, I wish to touch on the idea of winning over the security forces. We saw this in Egypt, and also the case with other revolutions – they are never won or lost through the organisers but rather through bringing the military onside. Sure, there are instances where revolution descended into civil war (as was the case with Libya, and is also what is happening in Syria), but this is because the military has disintegrated and they have split off to their respective teams, or that the military was generally made up of a minority, and the majority who are revolting were able to arm themselves effectively. However, in the case of Egypt, the revolution would never have been won and Mubarack deposed were it not for the support of the military (and this was also the case with France, while in Russia the military had been so decimated by the World War that they weren't able to fight the communists, and by the time the West had managed to mobilise against them they had become pretty much entrenched – and also the communist troops were pretty fresh while the troops representing the White Russians had been exhausted through four years of war).

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1717827045
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review 2016-04-10 03:17
A Book Aimed at Little Boys
Mr. Messy - Roger Hargreaves


As I was reading this book all I could think about was how as a kid my room tended to be quite messy (well, actually it wasn't as messy as some people that I have known) while my sister's room tended to be immaculate. Come to think of it when I started working I suddenly noticed that in the office the opposite ended up being true – the guy's desks tended to be immaculate and well ordered while the women's desks tended to be really messy. However, being a bit of a messy person myself (well, not really considering my house actually isn't all that bad) our main excuse for actually not tidying anything up is that we know where everything is. Anyway, I'm sure we can all picture a room like this:

photo 100_6576.jpg


However, I'm sure we have all walked past a house looking like this (or even been to visit a friend who lives in a house like this):


Rec House Exterior photo Fallout4 2015-11-16 22-16-38_zpsvzbyrkf0.png


Mind you, when I pass a messy house I'm probably one of those people that don't see it as a messy house but rather as an opportunity to renovate, to increase the value, and then on sell it for a profit. I guess I happen to be one of those glass half full type of people, which in a way some messy people are, because even though their house, or their desk, is somewhat chaotic, there tends to be a method in their madness. Mind you, some people are messy not because they 'know where everything is' but rather because they are lazy. In fact I once lived with a guy like that, and the main reason that you can tell that this isn't somebody who sees order in chaos is because they don't actually know where anything is, and when you ask them to find something their response tends to be 'it's in there somewhere, I'll find I when I get around to it' (which usually never happens.


Anyway, as you have probably figured out, I'm sitting on a rather comfortable V-line train heading back home after a rather amazing weekend away with some friends. The problem was that getting the internet was quite difficult (and even I have a few problems uploading things because it was, well, incredibly slow). I did have the idea of doing a couple of other Mr Men books, but due to a rather packed day, and really slow internet connections (though while there was wi-fi at the camp, it was locked, and I'm not in the business of guessing passwords, even if the password happens to be 'guest') I had to settle for my journey home. However I mention that because if you were to look in my bag you would probably think that I'm also a Mr Messy.


Mind you, I have to admit that the book is a little harsh on Mr Messy, simply because he runs into a couple of guys – Neat & Tidy – who take it upon themselves to go back to Mr Messy's house and clean it all up, and then give Mr Messy a really good bath. Okay, he does end up coming out all clean, but I sometimes wonder how long Mr Messy will remain neat and tidy.


Actually, come to think of it, being neat and tidy can actually give people a sense of self-respect. In reality people don't like messy people, which is why you generally can't rock up at a job interview unshaven and wearing torn jeans. The funny thing is that once you have the job, then appearance isn't as importance as that first interview, though I doubt your employer will be all that impressed if you came in wearing torn jeans. However, even if somebody does come along to give your house a good clean, it doesn't take long for it is revert to it's former state.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1605782336
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