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review 2018-11-16 10:08
"V For Vendetta" by Alan Moore. Narrated by Simon Vance.
V for Vendetta - David Lloyd,Alan Moore

"V for Vendetta" is one of the few movies that, in these days of crowded shelves and almost infinite digital storage, I chose to own a physical copy of. It is beautifully shot, perfectly cast and boldly told. It is that rare thing, a movie that dares to be true to its intent, even at the risk of being unpopular. The result is a cult classic.

 

Take a look at the trailer below to get a feel for what I mean.

 

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VCzfxcVrxfE&w=560&h=315]

 

I first saw it in the cinema in 2006 and found it startling and inspiring. At the time I was more transfixed by how well a comic (graphic novel for all you who just groaned) could be brought to the screen rather than by the political message. I saw the anti-fascist stance as obvious and necessary but the idea of fascism gripping the UK so firmly seemed like an exaggeration to make a point.

 

This year, in response to the Guy Fawkes Night book task in the 24 Festive Tasks challenge, I decided to do something new. I read the "novelisation" of the movie or, rather, I listened to the audiobook, expertly narrated by Simon Vance.

 

I've always avoided novelisations. The word itself is ugly and the literary snob in me, which is quite happy to watch movies adapted from books, was instinctively scornful of reading novels adapted from movies.

 

As usual, my literary snob was an idiot. If I had come to this novel without seeing the movie, I would have been praising the quality of the writing and the structure of the story. It's well-written, faithful to the movie but enhancing it in ways that are appropriate to the novel form. I recommend it to you.

 

Listening to the audiobook in 2018, twelve years after seeing the movie, Britain as a fascist state no longer felt like an exaggeration to make a point. It felt like a possibility that we are only a few missteps away from. The mechanics of the manipulation of the media, the creation of enemies of the people, the appeal to national pride in a mostly-mythical glorious past, the exploitation of the fear and hatred of the foreign and the different all felt too contemporary to be dismissed.

 

V, the hero of this story, is not a nice man. Not a man you'd want to make friends with or even spend time with. When I first saw the movie I was horrified by his treatment of Evie, who he shapes into a weapon of sorts.

 

Now, I begin to understand that there may be times when we all need someone like V to remind us that our governments should be more afraid of us than we are of them.

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text 2018-11-15 23:20
Reading progress update: I've read 35%. -wonderful but tough on the emotions
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

This is, in many ways. a beautiful book. The language is rich and diverse without being pompous or self-conscious. The themes of war, loss, fear and purpose are handled with a deft, light touch that nevertheless refuses to look away or to pretend.

 

At the heart of the book stands Billy Lynn - nineteen going on twenty - unassuming - just coming to terms with life and what it holds for him - matured by the war in ways he's only beginning to understand - puzzled and troubled by the ferocity with which his fellow Americans talk about the war as the thank him for his service.

 

Billy is real and likeable. He's not a message or a symbol. He's just a guy in a shitty place trying not to screw up and hoping not to get killed today.

 

I've just finished the chapter with his one-day Thanksgiving visit with his family during his victory tour. This is when Billy finally understands what he has to lose. Yet he goes back to the Army, who will send him back to Iraq because that's what he signed up for.

 

This is a tough book to read but only because it seems so truthful.

 

 

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review 2018-11-15 17:58
"The Elementals" by Michael McDowell
The Elementals - Michael Rowe,Michael McDowell

If you're looking for a deeply atmospheric, well-written and perfectly narrated novel to fill you with an inexorable dread, "The Elementals" is the book for you.

 

"The Elementals" has a remarkably powerful, cliché-free start, that embeds your imagination in the South like a throwing knife splitting a rotting log. What better way to start than with a funeral that goes from dire and depressing to deeply disturbing in a few pages.

 

I'd never read Michael McDowell before but I wasn't surprised to learn later that he was an excellent screenwriter.  The style of"The Elementals" is cinematic in a lots-of-close-ups, see-the-motes-in-the-sunlit-air lighting and strange but intimate camera angles kind of way.

 

The characters, especially Luker and his preciously independent daughter India are engaging and believable. Despite being unconventional people (Luker came from around hear but he raised his daughter in New York City so you can't exactly expect them to be normal, can you?) become the anchor points for sanity in a world that is sliding towards the lethally strange with the slow grace of an unmoored house sliding of a cliff into the sea.

 

The heat becomes almost a character in the story in its own right. India discovers for the first time the heat and humidity induced languor of the South that bends time and alter perceptions. Luker explains to her that this hot humid coastal resort of Beldame is:

"...a low energy place. The kind of place where you can only get one or two things done in a day and one of those is getting out of bed."

 

Not surprisingly, the horror in this book is of the slow but deeply disturbing kind. It seemed to me that the dread in this book had a pulse: slow and strong, like an ambush predator waiting on a branch.

 

Having this atmospheric tale delivered to my ear in R.C. Bray's gravelly but insistent voice was a remarkable reading experience.

 

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review 2018-11-13 10:24
"Beau Death" by Peter Lovesey
Beau Death - Peter Lovesey

I bought this book because it's set in Bath in the UK, a city I've just returned to after sixteen years away, which may explain why I've missed the previous sixteen books in this series featuring the career of Police Detective Peter Diamond dealing with crime in Bath.

 

I dived in to the latest book, without starting at the beginning of the series, because the idea of a skeleton, dressed in what appears to be the style of clothing worn by Beau Nash, being discovered in an attic of a condemned building in Twerton during its demolition was just so Bath I couldn't miss it.

 

The plot of Beau Death is a pergola supporting an artful display of Bath past and present. Diamond does investigate two deaths in this book and finds the guilty parties through a mix of detailed police work and imaginative insight but these activities seem secondary to exploring Bath, its neighbourhoods, its history, its remarkably diverse and often eccentric citizens and of course, the phenomenon that was Beau Nash.

 

The book is peppered with humour. One incident that made me laugh was a pet shop owner is giving the police the code to a smart lock. She tells them her mnemonic is "Hampsters".  They look blank. She explains that hampsters are cannibals. They still look blank. Then she tells them the code (read it aloud and you'll get the cannibal thing); 181182

 

I've been living in Bath since 1985 so I remember the Bath that the young police officers in this book think of as olden days. I recognised all the places and I remember how they used to be as well as how they are now. For example, for years Beau Nash's house contained a restaurant called Popjoy's (the name of Nash's mistress), It's been called something else for years now but it's still Popjoy's to old folks like Peter Diamond and me.

 

There's a lot of close observation of how class and wealth (not always the same thing) work in this town and a firm understanding of how policing here has changed (there is no real Police Station in this town of nearly 90,000 people any more - the old station now belongs to the University and the Police commute from halfway to Bristol when they're needed.

 

This is a pleasant, easy, entertaining read that works well as an audiobook. If you want to take a slightly unorthodox virtual tour of Bath, I recommend letting Peter Diamond be your guide.

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text 2018-11-13 08:58
Reading progress update: I've read 10%. - this is going to be good
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain

"Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" came out in May 2012 but slipped right by me somehow.

 

That's a shame because this is a remarkable book: accessible, authentic and as is the way with such things, taking you someplace you didn't know you were headed to but that you're glad to arrive at.

 

This is the story of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, of Bravo Squad, a hero of the Iraq war being taken on a victory tour of the USA before being sent back to Iraq to complete the last eleven months of his extended tour of duty.

 

Now I honestly thought, when I bought this book in October, that my restless trawling of digital book stacks had rewarded me with this gem but it turns out I'm just another happy cog in a marketing chain. I see now that this five-and-a-half-year-old book was in my sights because Ang Lee releases the movie version this month.

 

Now that should be interesting given that the book opens with a slightly bemused Bravo Squad finding their story being turned in Hollywood movie fodder, with Hillary Swank being considered to play the role of Billy, although whether she'd do so as a woman playing a man or a woman playing a woman is still an open question.

 

I'm reading "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" for the Armistice Day door on the  24 Festive Task reading challenge.

 

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