“Can you never just stay quiet and let me think?”


We watched Revolutionary Road a few nights ago. I read the book six years ago and I loved it and for some reason I always thought the movie had been panned when it came out. Apparently not – nor did it deserve to be panned. It’s very faithful to the book and the acting all around is strong. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I had the rare feeling of encountering a work of art and having a different reaction to an aspect of it. When I read the book, I could see how those rows started and how they kept going and I felt Yates had gotten them down to a tee. I felt for Frank and April. This time, I felt that if Frank had stayed quiet sometimes, or said nothing for a while, things could have been better at significant moments.

Now, that’s to say: Frank, you have some learning to do yet.

I never felt that five years ago. I didn’t understand the wisdom of silence then, and thought like Frank, that you had to sort things out there and then, and if that didn’t work, well, you got pissed off and starting listing things that were wrong, things that you were sick of putting up with. But this time it was staring me in the face: April even says it to him. She says: “Can you never just stay quiet and let me think?”

Photo: rottentomatoes.com

Hoodwinking a genius

I hadn’t heard of this guy, Emil Gilels, before. Russian piano virtuoso. So I got a CD of him playing Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. Hadn’t heard of them before either. Some of them are nice. The nicest of all is the first one, Arietta (op 12 no. 1).

Gilels recorded them in Berlin in the early Seventies and he wanted to find exactly the right mood for each of the pieces. He’d practice on a piano they put in his hotel room and then he’d come straight into the recording studio, and the thing he was mad about was the microphones. The sound engineers knew which mics gave the best sound, but Gilels had his own ideas, and he’d make them move the mics around for ages, and then he’d tell them the definitive recording had to be taken from this particular microphone. The lads said okay, but they’d been codding him. Some of the mics he really liked weren’t even plugged in.

I want to get this anecdote to Milan Kundera because I’m sure he could get some beautiful meaning out of it, or write a book where whatever is at the heart of this anecdote – this friendly deception, this indulgence of whim – would be at the heart of his book.

“I did not feel sinful about missing Mass, because…”

I picked up Edna O’Brien’s Girl With Green Eyes and read it through. I’d never heard of the book before, never read any of her stuff. It’s great.

The story’s about Cait, a country girl living in Dublin, working a shitty job in a grocery store. She and her pal Baba, also a country girl, drink gin and tonics (“not because we liked the taste, but because we wanted to look fast”) and say things like “let’s go to a hop”.

Cait falls in love with a man who has a wife – divorced – and child in America. She has sex with him. Sex! In 1962! In Ireland – where women are brought up to think of sex as “something unmentionable, which a woman had to pretend to like, to please a husband.” Even before the sex her alcoholic father comes up from the country to kidnap her back to morality.

It’s class. When Cait is on her way to see her man it’s a Sunday morning and she skips Mass. She says: “I did not feel sinful about missing Mass, because it was early and I had washed my hair.”

This is a world where young women put pancakes on their back to suppress their spots; where you’re given a cup of something miserable called hot senna when you’re sick; where a girl’s period is referred to as her “bad time”; where inside a church door women fill lemonade bottles with holy water; where it is disrespectful to a priest for a woman to cross her legs in his presence – this is the world of our parents’ youth.

Hollywood Autism 1988

I can’t watch Rain Man all the way through. I want to because I’d like to see them in Vegas but I’ve watched it with two stops and still I’m only an hour and a quarter in to it.

Is it just harder to watch an asshole character kidnap an autistic character in 2014 than it was in 1988?

The most amazing thing about the movie is the distance between us and it. At one point a doctor says of Raymond (Dustin Hoffmann): “He’s pretty high functioning. Most autistics, they can’t speak, they can’t communicate.” Just before that, Charlie fills out a form and when a nurse reads it she says: “He’s artistic?” When Charlie corrects her, she says: “I’m not familiar with that.”

I suppose we have to assume that no one was back then, and that’s why Charlie has to keep telling people to speak in plain fucking English whenever they try to explain autism to him.

Can you bear the conclusion, the two men making each other better people? I can’t. Even if that’s not the ending – I can’t remember if it is – the whole movie is running that way, and it stinks.

Get Along, Little Doggie, Get Along

There’s a story in the paper today about Ernest Blythe, who, as Minister for Finance in 1924, “infamously” cut the old age pension by a shilling. The story is that despite the hard times back then, he was still able to find money for books to be translated into Irish. In 1929, for example, the department of finance allocated £6,400 for novel translation. One of the books was Dracula (vampire: súmaire; undead/zombie:neamhmarbh)

They published a couple of translated novels under this policy – An Mairnéalach Dubh (The Nigger of the Narcissus), Cú na mBaskerville (The Hound of the Baskervilles), Scéal Fá Dhá Chathair (A Tale of Two Cities).

After Blythe lost his seat in parliament he was elected to the Senate, where he wondered aloud about songs in Irish. He said: “My feeling is that it would be worth consideration whether we should not get somebody to write Irish words to the tune of ‘Get Along, Little Doggie, Get Along’ or ‘The Isle of Capri’.”

Ireland: Best small country in the world to be bilingual in…

See: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/dracula-irish-translation-funded-by-minister-who-cut-pension-1.1849581

I should have worn my pink dress. How annoying…

ImagePhoto: telegraph.co.uk

Ah here. They’re at it again. The French. They just can’t leave the bourgeoisie alone. 

I was reading another posthumously published Némirovsky, All Our Wordly Goods (Les Biens de ce Monde, 1947). Here she is laying in to them. The scene is an engagement dinner:

Their families surrounded them, forming a king of guard of honour, a solid barricade mounted by wealthy men with large, healthy bodies who had invested in government bonds and intended to protect the young people from the pitfalls of destiny, and their own desires, for ever.

The bourgeoisie say things “disapprovingly”. They feel better when their holiday is over and they’re home, away from “excessive seaside distractions”. They invest in government bonds and try to contain the passions of their children.

They are not like the people who stay further down the coast, in luxury hotel. Those people dance and gamble till dawn. Those gentlemen dress for dinner and those ladies go riding every day.

I felt like I was “reading a novel”.

This is what people who don’t like reading novels must feel when they read one. It’s a family saga by numbers. The little provincial town. The big fish in the small pond who own some wealth-generating interest. The tyrannical family patriarch. The young lovers. The “claustrophobic” values of their society. And of course, it’s “evocative and beautifully paced” and it’s “taut” and there is “sly humour”. But in case you don’t want too much sly humour rest easy that there is “clear-eyed compassion” too.

So there you go.

The novel starts around 1910 and carries itself along to the German occupation of France in 1940. She writes a lovely passage, set in 1938, on how people lived their daily lives under the constant fear of war:

And still people carried on living as they always had. They hosted grand dinners, […] sliced the truffled foie gras and imagined future wars as if they were right in the middle of them. […] The women shook their heads and murmured, ‘Awful, just awful…’ while thinking, ‘I should have worn my pink dress. How annoying…I’m underdressed.’ They were predicting the Cabinet would collapse on Monday. The maids served the ice cream on crystal dishes with little gold-plated spoons. Someone announced that a trustworthy source had told him that Hitler would be sending his troops to the Ukraine in the spring. […] People got married, died, brought children into the world.

Taut, and beautifully paced.