Sunday, August 16, 2015

Review: Breathing Corpses (Oberon Modern Plays)

Breathing Corpses (Oberon Modern Plays) Breathing Corpses (Oberon Modern Plays) by Laura Wade
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Saw this at Beckenham Theatre Centre. It wasn't bad (and it was impeccably acted) and it was imaginatively structured, but the character arcs didn't work for me.

Part of the problem was the way it was sold to me: three sets of characters that are mysteriously intertwined. To me, the link was obvious within seconds, so there is no great 'reveal'.

Jim and Elaine's scenes didn't work dramatically: Jim is cheerfully hen-pecked in his first scene and suicidally depressed in his second, after finding a body. Kate also finds a body in equally (if not more) gruesome circumstances, yet her reaction is mere annoyance. Jim is psychologically destroyed; Kate is unaffected. Yet there is no development in Jim's psyche: we don't see how or why he went from normal to suicidal. Similarly, his partner Elaine goes from being self-absorbed and shrewish to attentive and loving (although there's still some selfishness in her concern for Jim, so it's not a total personality transplant).

Amy is amiable but her first scene is a bit dull. If she hadn't been so beautifully played then I would have found the scene interminable.

On the positive side, the dialogue is witty, well-paced and tightly written, and the circular structure of the timeline is imaginative and perfectly constructed. Some playgoers might find the inevitable anachronism confusing, but as Wisehammer says in Our Country's Good, "People with no imagination shouldn't go to the theatre."

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Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: The Weight of Silence

The Weight of Silence The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

At first I thought this was a crime novel, but there's no serious crime (a bit of scene-setting historical domestic violence doesn't count).

Then I thought it was a mystery novel, but there's no mystery: the missing girls give first-hand accounts of their ordeal throughout.

Then I thought it was a psychological thriller, but the characters are such flat stereotypes that anything as subtle as psychology is beyond them – except the obvious bad guy, Griff, but he's the only major character who doesn't get the first-person treatment, presumably because he's the bad guy and the author doesn't want the readers sympathising with him (maybe she should read Nabokov).

The multiple narrator idea is good (maybe she has been reading Audrey Niffenegger, but it's not much use when the characters – implausibly, given the terrifying events that are unfolding – spend most of their time musing about the past. Gudenkauf isn't a skilled enough writer to balance so many characters: they all talk and think in the same way, and eventually they merge into one. This isn't helped by the simplistic characterisation: people are good or bad.

Add to that the pedestrian narration, artless description and flat dialogue, and we have a thoroughly unexceptional book. By that logic, one star seems harsh, as it's not terrible – undemanding sun-lounge readers can flip through it and find it mildly diverting – but at no point does it transcend mediocrity. It shows a depressing lack of ambition on the author's part.

(This was the other book I rescued from the bin at the Village Hall, along with Genesis by Karin Slaughter. Their failings are oddly similar. Maybe the phantom book dumper had more taste than I gave them credit for.)

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Monday, August 3, 2015

The last Krautrock album

There's no doubt that Thomas was the less talented of the Dinger brothers, but Fur Mich – the title "For Me" being a reference to how his brother Klaus dominated their band La Düsseldorf – has some beautiful moments.

His drumming on the almost-title track Fur Dich (For You) is a clear reminder of La Düsseldorf, with a vaguely Christmassy melody, but the groove is infectious in the best Krautrock style and there's something quite lovely about the overlay of swirling synthesisers. Nothing else on the album quite matches it, but this is still a delightful listen. It's also the last time that Neu! motorik beat got an outing till the likes of Stereolab rediscovered it in the 1990s.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Review: Genesis

Genesis Genesis by Karin Slaughter
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I found this in a bin at the village hall. Seeing books in the bin offends me, so I rescued it. Anyway, I like a bit of Rankin, so why not try another crime writer?

The best I can say is it's alright, but it's not really a crime novel. It's soap opera with a bit of crime in the background as a device to connect a group of characters who seem to be the author's main preoccupation. Slaughter seems obsessed with the minutiae of her characters' lives, and the story very much takes a back seat. A third of the way through the novel we've found out almost nothing about the crime or the investigation, but we know the characters inside out without ever finding out why we're supposed to care.

Slaughter is very mush of the 'show-don't-tell' school of novel writing, where everything is explained instead of coming out through the storytelling. She lacks James Patterson's clunky dialogue, but her plotting is much more rambling.

Perhaps that's why I found it a very feminine novel. Male crime writers tend to like taut thrillers rather than the rambling, over-written, easy-reading on offer here. Men like five-minute showers; women like to luxuriate in the bath for an hour. If that generalisation holds good, then this is very much a feminine novel.

It's is anything but taut. The first nine pages consist of the thoughts of a woman whose only purpose in the novel is to be the one who finds the first victim. She sits in a car, looking out of the window and thinks through her entire life story, including the life stories of her family, in a way that absolutely nobody does in real life (any more than they look in the mirror and mentally describe their appearance: that much-loved staple of poor writers who don't know how else to describe their characters. It's a perfect example of the chapter in How Not to Write a Novel called "What color am I?"). Again and again, characters sit back and think about their lives while the story takes a back seat. This gets quite tiresome.

By the time I had read the first third of the book, I still had little idea about the criminal (except that (s)he is implausibly sadistic) because the author was so obsessed with the characters' back stories that the novel still hadn't got going. And that was the point where I gave up.

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