Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Don't Look Now

Don't Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: October 28th, 2008
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

John and Laura have gone to Venice in the hopes of putting the past behind them by revisiting places they loved when they were whole. They haven't been whole for awhile. They have been drifting apart, trapped in depression since the death of their daughter Christine due to meningitis. Venice is supposed to reinvigorate them. Instead what starts as a pleasant trip soon turns incomprehensible. One day they see elderly twin sisters in a restaurant. Laura runs into them in the restroom and discovers that one of the sisters is blind and claims to be a psychic. She tells Laura that she sees Christine there with her and her husband and that she is happy. When Laura tells John this story he claims they are nothing more than charlatans and goes out of his way to avoid them. Yet fate has other plans. That night after getting lost in the labyrinth of Venice they again meet the sisters in a restaurant and the sisters are very enthusiastic to meet Laura again.

John, in his cynicism, thinks it's the sisters sinking their claws into Laura, while Laura insists it's because the sisters have a message for John from Christine; he is to leave Venice at once because he is in danger. John scoffs at this but when they get back to their hotel there's a message that their son Johnnie, who is away at boarding school, is sick with appendicitis and Laura thinks this is the reason that Christine wanted them to leave. Laura is able to get an early flight out but John has to wait. When the plane was supposed to be in the air he sees his wife and the sisters on the grand canal. Thinking there must have been a mix up or the sisters are up to something he spends the day trying to find his wife and the sisters. But perhaps he should have paid more attention to Christine's warning and the sister's insight that John himself has the power of psychic understanding.

"Don't Look Now" is an odd little story, perhaps best remembered by the movie with the same name. The problem I faced with this story is that we are given this glimpse into the marriage of John and Laura but it's as if we are looking through glass from the famous Murano workshops. There's this weird distance that stops us from forming any real connection with the couple. This entire story is written in such a way that the reader always feels like an outsider. It's not just the lack of connection with John and Laura but "Don't Look Now" was written with an insider's knowledge of Venice. Of course during the time period Du Maurier wrote this story her readers would have been more familiar with Venice as it was a common tourist destination but that doesn't help me. I've sadly never been to Venice so the way John rattles off locales makes me think he's smug and is just another way I am excluded from becoming a part of the story. But then again, John is kind of an idiot. His ham-handed approach to finding his wife to his complete unwillingness to actually listen to the sisters means he gets what's coming to him. As for the supernatural of it all? Du Maurier has done better, but that ending. It is a shocker. Mostly because it was so vaguely foreshadowed.

But if you've only read Daphne Du Maurier's novels you truly haven't experienced her range as an author. Yes, her novels are some of the best and most beautifully written and suspenseful books you'll ever read from Rebecca to Jamaica Inn to The Scapegoat, but they often cover the same ground and don't even touch on the supernatural and strange that her short stories, such as "Don't Look Now" and "The Birds" delve into. It's like Du Maurier felt a freedom in this shorter format that let her handle the outre, the other, and the persecuted that will surprise you in their range and occasional depravity. Each story is easily worthy of Rod Serling and The Twilight Zone with a supernatural agency at work in the everyday lives of our heroes and heroines that is never quite fully explained. In "Blue Lenses" Mrs. Marda West has ocular surgery with special lenses inserted to regain her sight only to open her eyes and see that everyone has an animal's head. At first she thinks it's a joke being perpetrated on her but soon comes to realize that these visions are giving her insight into the true nature of people. People whom she trusted are animals of dubious nature and ill repute.

"The Blue Lenses," besides showing this "otherness," showcases an ongoing theme in these shorter works. Du Maurier's protagonists often think that they are the object of a joke being played at their expense. They are the victim of a con and the proper authorities are often viewed as conspiring against them. From "Split Second" to "La Sainte-Vierge" to "Don't Look Now" to the aforementioned "Blue Lenses" delusion and trickery are what everything hinges on. But this paranoia that has these people confused by what they see, hoping they are mistaken, actually shines a light on Du Maurier's true interest, plumbing the depths of humanity. The fact that these characters are so willing to believe that someone would go to the trouble of conning them shows a fear of the "other," a fear of what people are capable of. Because looking deeper, past the supernatural trappings, at the root these stories show that people are capable of murder.

In fact sometimes Du Maurier forgoes the supernatural entirely and tells a tale that is, in the end, just about murder. In fact my favorite story, "Kiss Me Again Stranger," is about a troubled girl who kills RAF men she meets. Of course it wouldn't be a true Du Maurier story if you weren't bamboozled into thinking it was a love story until the very last page, but again and again that is why these stories work, she is continually subverting your expectations. Yes you could boil this all down to man versus nature, be it's man's inner nature or actual nature or something against nature, but trying to condense it down does an injustice to the writing. Du Maurier through stories about killer birds, "The Birds," and killer usherettes, "Kiss Me Again Stranger," and women joining mountain cults that may be leper colonies, "Monte Verità," touches on so many truths and so many weighty topics that you can see why she was always miffed that people called her a "romance" author. She is so much more. If you don't believe, just pick up this book. I think it will change your mind.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Babylon's Ashes by James S.A. Corey
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: December 6th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 544 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The sixth novel in James S.A. Corey's New York Times bestselling Expanse series--now a major television series from Syfy!

A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.

The Free Navy - a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships - has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny, and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante's problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity."

I've only read the first book, but I have all the rest sitting here waiting for me to read them, and I guarantee that will be sooner rather then later!

The Twist by George Mann
Published by: Titan Comics
Publication Date: December 6th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 128 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

Collecting Year Two #6 - 10 of the ongoing Twelfth Doctor comic adventures!

The Doctor visits planet Twist, the colony with 'the best punk scene this side of the 40th century!' But something is amiss when a murder mystery occurs, leading the Doctor and the planet's inhabitants to question their very origins!

A haunted house also causes problems for the Doctor, having strange ramifications a house should never have... and this one feels decidedly Time Lord!"

My friend George writing Doctor Who is ALWAYS a must buy!

In Sunlight or In Shadow edited by Lawrence Block
Published by: Pegasus Books
Publication Date: December 6th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A truly unprecedented literary achievement by author and editor Lawrence Block, a newly-commissioned anthology of seventeen superbly-crafted stories inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper, including Jeffery Deaver, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, Lee Child, and Robert Olen Butler, among many others. "Edward Hopper is surely the greatest American narrative painter. His work bears special resonance for writers and readers, and yet his paintings never tell a story so much as they invite viewers to find for themselves the untold stories within."

So says Lawrence Block, who has invited seventeen outstanding writers to join him in an unprecedented anthology of brand-new stories: In Sunlight or In Shadow. The results are remarkable and range across all genres, wedding literary excellence to storytelling savvy.

Contributors include Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Olen Butler, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Craig Ferguson, Nicholas Christopher, Jill D. Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Justin Scott, Kris Nelscott, Warren Moore, Jonathan Santlofer, Jeffery Deaver, Lee Child, and Lawrence Block himself. Even Gail Levin, Hopper’s biographer and compiler of his catalogue raisonée, appears with her own first work of fiction, providing a true account of art theft on a grand scale and told in the voice of the country preacher who perpetrated the crime.

In a beautifully produced anthology as befits such a collection of acclaimed authors, each story is illustrated with a quality full-color reproduction of the painting that inspired it. Illustrated with 17 full color plates, one for each chapter."

Combining my love or art and literature into one book, YES PLEASE! 

Friday, December 2, 2016

TV Movie Review - Daphne

Starring: Geraldine Somerville, Andrew Havill, Christopher Malcolm, Elizabeth McGovern, Nicholas Murchie, Malcolm Sinclair, and Janet McTeer
Release Date: May 12th, 2007
Rating: ★
To Buy

There was a time when two women were Daphne Du Maurier's life entire. Ellen Doubleday was the wife of Daphne's American Publisher, Nelson Doubleday, and Gertrude Lawrence was an actress with whom Daphne sated her unrequited love of Ellen. The news of the death of Gertrude leads to Daphne baring her soul in writing to Ellen, because Ellen was the beginning. They met on a transatlantic crossing. Daphne was coming to America to stay with the Doubledays to defend herself in court against accusations of plagiarism stemming from her most famous book, Rebecca. Ellen wafted into her cabin with her arms laden with presents and from that moment on the trial was nothing but a nuisance to Daphne who liked to do nothing better than bask in the presence of Ellen. Ellen is aware of Daphne's growing infatuation and confides to her that she doesn't judge her, she just can't love her in the way she desires. Daphne returns to England and does what she does best, control her emotions in her work. She writes a play, September Tide, wherein the character of the mother-in-law is Ellen and Daphne's avatar is the son-in-law. In a twist of fate the mother-in-law is played by Gertrude Lawrence, whom Daphne met at a party of Ellen's. Soon Gertrude and Daphne begin an affair, much as Gertrude and Daphne's father Gerald did years earlier. Yet Gertrude isn't Ellen and Ellen will forever be between them.

When I first read Rebecca I knew that it would forever be one of my favorite books. So much so that I actually stole my mom's copy from her collection of Franklin Mysteries despite being only about thirteen and not getting the full impact of the book. One of the first things I remember reading when looking into the life of the author of this classic was that this female writer shared a lover with her father. Right there I knew there was a story that needed telling. It might be a weird story, it might be a disturbing story, but the more I read about Daphne's relationship with her father, the famous actor Gerald Du Maurier, the more I needed to know. And I needed to know this from someone who wasn't Daphne. Daphne had a habit of censoring herself. Just read her autobiography, Myself When Young, and you'll see what I'm saying. She just tells her story in a very flat and conventional way. Her life could have been the life of any of her contemporaries. There was no plumbing of her depths, no hints of what she was so artfully and carefully concealing. Therefore when I first read about Daphne in some catalog I got in the mail I was excited to see that there was a film out there finally dealing with the complexity of Daphne Du Maurier. Her sexuality, her relationships, everything she tried to keep hidden. I wanted in. I wanted to know her better.

Perhaps I had too many expectations of a short movie made for television. Because all I got was surface. There was no complexity. If anything Daphne conflates and condenses until there's almost no story to tell. I can't help but think of the adaptations of Sarah Waters's work, who is herself a big fan of Du Maurier, there risks were taken, here... here is a movie that won't offend the sensibilities of the after church crowd gathering around to watch PBS. Because nothing is explained, nothing really happens. Daphne is a confusing mess of repressed emotions and stilted acting. It felt of another time. As in it felt like a movie made post Hayes Code, but only just. The film stock and direction made Daphne look and feel like a BBC adaptation from the early 70s. But not a good one like Upstairs, Downstairs, one of those ones you saw once and never wanted to see again and have since expunged from your memory. In fact I would go so far as to say that this isn't so much acted as a "historical dramatization" akin to the historical reenactments on the History Channel that are interposed between interviews with scholars. Only those are better acted.

In fact, if Daphne had gone all American Horror Story: Roanoke on us perhaps this would have worked. There is just SO MUCH that is glossed over and omitted, and this coming from someone who has only a passing knowledge, that this movie NEEDED those scholars interjecting and explaining what is happening in Daphne's life and mindset in order to grasp what is going on. Someone who is not at all familiar with Du Maurier would be totally at sea. For example the plagiarism lawsuit was just brushed aside for long awkward glances at Ellen Doubleday. Whereas the countless claims and sole lawsuit against Du Maurier for plagiarizing Rebecca could have alone made an interesting movie, instead of a few quick snapshots that brought her into the orbit of Ellen. Sure a successful book will bring the kooks out of the woodwork, but there is a possibility that Rebecca wasn't all Du Maurier's making... see, I'm already hooked right there, now I want that movie as well! But this movie was never about clarity. Daphne's complex relationship to her father is basically reduced to a not very witty line delivered by Noel Coward.

This here is the fatal flaw. Here is a movie about Daphne Du Maurier that never once goes into the depths of her psyche. Never once goes into the whole creepy control her father tried to exert over her with his countless laments that he wished Daphne had been a boy or the whole THEY SHARED A LOVER. Here she's portrayed as butch, the word "lesbian" literally shan't be uttered, if there has to be a mention of her proclivities, just call it "Venetian" as the unexplained ergot of her family demands. This simplification discounts so much of how Du Maurier viewed herself. Most likely due to the roles her father made her fit she isn't able to be simply called bisexual. She quite literally had a split within her, I'm not saying a split personality, but it could almost be called such. She viewed her creative drive as masculine and home life as feminine. Her creative drive was tied into her passion and therefore her romances with both Ellen and Geraldine, why else does she keep referring to herself as a young boy? And yes, that is never explained within Daphne. These issues needed to be handled with care and insight, not just dressing her up in plus fours and having her walk around the countryside!

This movie was such a missed opportunity that it just, ugh. I just don't want to think about what it could have been. But the true horror is that this movie was brilliantly cast. I mean seriously, you have some of the TOP actresses in British Drama and the directing and writing reduced them to this? Cora Crawley! That doyenne of Downton! Lily Potter! Harry Potter's freakin' mother reduced to this! But what really drives me batty is Janet McTeer. I've always admired her, from bumping people off on Marple to getting the sorcery going in The White Queen to taking on that most famous of mothers, Mrs. Dashwood, she's always been good. But this past February I got to see a broadcast of the National Theatre's live production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses which she stared in with Dominic West and holy shit people, if she doesn't win every award available to her for this it is a crime against humanity. The depth, the complexity, the humanity. I was moved more by that production and her acting than anything else in recent years. To know that this movie had access to that talent and then didn't utilize it? It is yet another crime against humanity.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Du Maurier Decemeber Deux

My opinion is, with regards to most things, if you enjoyed it once why not try it again. This has happened with several theme months on my blog, from Downton Denial to Mitford March to Regency Magic. I view these theme months as a kind of institution, but more, a time to read books I love. Though really, I do attempt to make my blog all about books I love because I want to love ALL books, but nothing ever turns out as you expect. Therefore I'm bringing back a theme month I loved doing; Du Maurier December. As I've said before, the ambiance of Du Maurier's books is perfect for this time of year, in fact from October onwards you're pretty good but the alliteration works so much better in December. As for her lack of celeb status this side of the pond, it is tragic. Everyone should know who she is if just because of Alfred Hitchcock! In fact, it's thanks to a Hitchcockian themed month early in my blog's history, A Hitchcockian Hoot'nanny, that was middling in it's success that first brought about my comparing Du Maurier's written work with the adaptations that were to follow. In fact, I might just happen to be revisiting one of those adaptations... and no, it's not going to be the 1939 version of Jamaica Inn, I can NEVER go there again. So sit back, grab a book and a remote, it's time to dwell with Du Maurier!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gaiman Gala Reminiscence

OK, I will admit it is odd to have a reminiscence about something that has JUST happened... but the thing is, this is my thank you not to Neil Gaiman but to all of you! When I first sent out my deluge of emails to friends, family, and acquaintances, I was inundated with enthusiastic responses. Not everyone had the time to write a toast or contribute, but most wished they did, and others were just excited to read the posts. I had a few toasts appear so quickly in my inbox I felt as if the words had been waiting years to be written and finally had found an outlet here on my blog. This response gave me such bookish glee. Yes, if there was a rock star of the literary community it would be Neil Gaiman, but to see all of you fangirling like me, well, it warmed the cockles of my heart. Now read that sentence back while looking at the above picture and you'll be oddly disturbed and I'm sure Neil would approve. Moving on... you guys seriously rock. You guys have also been asking (in some cases begging and pleading) for more. So who knows... perhaps in the near future another glass will be raised? Perhaps to another author? Perhaps to Neil from all those who wanted to but couldn't this time? But today. Right now. This one's for you.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tuesday Tomorrow

Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: November 29th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this collection of personal essays, the beloved star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood reveals stories about life, love, and working as a woman in Hollywood—along with behind-the-scenes dispatches from the set of the new Gilmore Girls, where she plays the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore once again.

In Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham hits pause for a moment and looks back on her life, sharing laugh-out-loud stories about growing up, starting out as an actress, and, years later, sitting in her trailer on the Parenthood set and asking herself, “Did you, um, make it?” She opens up about the challenges of being single in Hollywood (“Strangers were worried about me; that’s how long I was single!”), the time she was asked to audition her butt for a role, and her experience being a judge on Project Runway (“It’s like I had a fashion-induced blackout”).

In “What It Was Like, Part One,” Graham sits down for an epic Gilmore Girls marathon and reflects on being cast as the fast-talking Lorelai Gilmore. The essay “What It Was Like, Part Two” reveals how it felt to pick up the role again nine years later, and what doing so has meant to her.

Some more things you will learn about Lauren: She once tried to go vegan just to bond with Ellen DeGeneres, she’s aware that meeting guys at awards shows has its pitfalls (“If you’re meeting someone for the first time after three hours of hair, makeup, and styling, you’ve already set the bar too high”), and she’s a card-carrying REI shopper (“My bungee cords now earn points!”).

Including photos and excerpts from the diary Graham kept during the filming of the recent Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, this book is like a cozy night in, catching up with your best friend, laughing and swapping stories, and—of course—talking as fast as you can."

Yes, it feels a little bit too much of a tie-in to the show returning, but really, who cares? It's Gilmore Girls! 

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice
Published by: Knopf
Publication Date: November 29th, 2016
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From Anne Rice, conjurer of the beloved best sellers Interview with the Vampire and Prince Lestat, an ambitious and exhilarating new novel of utopian vision and power.

"In my dreams, I saw a city fall into the sea. I heard the cries of thousands. I saw flames that outshone the lamps of heaven. And all the world was shaken . . ." --Anne Rice, Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

At the novel's center: the vampire Lestat de Lioncourt, hero, leader, inspirer, irresistible force, irrepressible spirit, battling (and ultimately reconciling with) a strange otherworldly form that has somehow taken possession of Lestat's undead body and soul. This ancient and mysterious power and unearthly spirit of vampire lore has all the force, history, and insidious reach of the unknowable Universe.

It is through this spirit, previously considered benign for thousands of vampire years and throughout the Vampire Chronicles, that we come to be told the hypnotic tale of a great sea power of ancient times; a mysterious heaven on earth situated on a boundless continent--and of how and why, and in what manner and with what far-reaching purpose, this force came to build and rule the great legendary empire of centuries ago that thrived in the Atlantic Ocean.

And as we learn of the mighty, far-reaching powers and perfections of this lost kingdom of Atalantaya, the lost realms of Atlantis, we come to understand its secrets, and how and why the vampire Lestat, indeed all the vampires, must reckon so many millennia later with the terrifying force of this ageless, all-powerful Atalantaya spirit."

Seriously, if you're laughing as hard as I am after reading this synopsis, let's be best friends! 

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Toast

"There was a time when reading had stopped giving me joy, and then you entered my life. Through the magic of your storytelling you reignited a flame in me and now it burns brighter then I ever thought possible, giving my life focus. Through your stories I have met and connected with some of my dearest friends both on and off the page, because even if some is "fictional" it doesn't make them any less real, something you have amply shown. Your work has become a part of my life's journey and made it have that shimmer, that something wonderful, that something magnificent. The knowledge that something unexpected could be around the next shadowy bend and I can meet it head-on. The fact that I met you still seems as if it was some sort of fever dream. But you sat there and indulged me while I told you how in reading Neverwhere I now have a cherished memory of my cat Spot. I cherish all the memories you have given me over the years. My little Gaiman Gala was just a small way to reach out, to say thank you, to let you know that what you've done matters to me, even if you never know. Thank you." - Elizabeth

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Club Neil Reminiscence

As summer drew to a close in 2015 my book club took advantage of the fine weather for our meeting and sat in cafe chairs sharing a Caprese salad while the last warm breeze teased the air. It was a day where you could feel the shift of the seasons, summer was ephemeral, much as the impression left by The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Ironically the member of my book club who put Neil's book into the hat was unaware of the unofficial book club outing two years previously, but somehow, the book getting picked, despite the attempted rigging to get The Martian selected, seemed right. The Ocean at the End of the Lane was coming full circle. We got to talk about our previous adventure but having now read the book there was a deeper meaning to that journey. What struck me, and the rest of book club, was that while we all rated it highly we agreed that it was a hard book to discuss, because much like summer, the book was slipping away from our collective conscious.

Much like the unknown narrator's continual memory loss as to what exactly happened in those days with the Hempstocks, this is a book that you enjoy while reading yet somehow when you finish you don't quite remember what happened. Oddly enough I don't think that this is a deterrent for the book. I think often of A Wrinkle in Time and how many endless occasions have led to me re-reading that book since it was first read aloud to me in forth grade, and yet I can not for the life of me tell you what exactly happens in that book. Yet both these books leave behind this feeling of childhood and hopes and dreams and endless possibilities that are just there for the taking. They are both classics in that they capture something true. Something crucial to hope and life. Now The Ocean at the End of the Lane might not be my favorite book by Gaiman, but I connect it to hope, and these wonderful experiences I have had with my friends, and that is pure magic.

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