Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Book Review: Farewell, My Lovely (1940) by Raymond Chandler

Book Review:
 Farewell, My Lovely (1940)
by Raymond Chandler

   Wow, I slipped right into the DM's of 1940s literature without even knowing it.  It seems like just yesterday I was finishing up the 1920s.  Some of the temporal confusion is a result of listening or reading major works well after they would occur under some kind of loose chronological order.  Looking at decades of literature in the twentieth century, 1900-1910 is basically a continuation of the Victorian/Edwardian continuum. 1910-1920 is dominated by the experience of World War I, and the impact of that experience on "serious" fiction.  Both the 1920s and 1930s are alike, with literary trends from the 1910-1920 period continuing through to the end of the 1930s, and presumably up until World War II, with another radical fissure after that, similar to the disruption caused by World War I in literature.

  Farewell, My Lovely was Raymond Chandler's second Phillip Marlowe novel, after the popular and critical success of The Big Sleep.  You can feel the success of The Big Sleep percolating through the text of Farewell, My Lovely.  Where The Big Sleep obscured the literary pretensions of Chandler's "detective fiction," Farewell, My Lovely positively embraces it, with the character of Phillip Marlowe making MULTIPLE Shakespeare references and calling one police officer "Hemingway" because of his terseness.  I think you could make a compelling argument that The Big Sleep is the superior work because it lacks the wry knowingness and Shakespeare references, but for people who grew up on Coen Brothers films like Blood Simple and The Big Lebowski, Farewell, My Lovely is a more appropriate point of reference than The Big Sleep, let alone The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett.

  As is the case in almost all detective fiction, the "city"and surrounding locales are often more vibrant than the dialogue of the characters. Los Angeles is as much a star as Phillip Marlowe, specifically pre-World War II Los Angeles, an entirely different place than what would emerge after World War II.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Power and the Glory (1940) by Graham Greene

The Power and the Glory loosely concerns the events leading to the Cristero War, a peasant revolt, sponsored by the Catholic Church against anti-clerical laws.
Book Review
The Power and the Glory (1940)
 by Graham Greene

Graham Greene Book Reviews - 1001 Books 2006 Edition
England Made Me (1935)
Brighton Rock (1938) *
The Power and the Glory (1940) *
The Heart of the Matter (1948)
The Third Man (1949)
The End of the Affair (1951) *
The Quiet American (1955) *
Honorary Counsel (1973) *
* =  core title in 1001 Books list

   The Power and the Glory is the third corner of the triangle of "English authors writing novels about Mexico in the first 50 years of the 20th century."  The other two corners are Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano and D.H. Lawrence's The Plumed Serpent.  In all three novels "Mexico" itself appears as  a kind of grotesque version of itself, Mexico in a fun-house mirror, if you will.  From the perspective of a colonialist/imperialist literary critique, all three are risible.  All three English novelists based "their" Mexico on scattered travel and as part of a wider trend of Anglo-American engagement with Latin America in the late 19th and early 20th century.

 In light of the rise of Latin American literature in the mid to late 20th century, it's hard to really...take offense.. at the white-guy takes on Mexico.  Surely, we can say that the subsequent success of Latin American authors in English translation mutes any reasonable offense one would take at the presumptions and assumptions of white, English, male authors taking on Mexico.

  Even as I enjoyed each of these books, I felt compelled to wince and mentally apologize for the crude, apish way that many Mexicans are depicted.  This characteristic of the early 20th century "Mexico novel" is common to much colonialist literature, both by those supportive of and critical of the system alike.   Greene, of course, is a "Catholic" author and this Catholicism influence his depiction of the priest persecuting state of Tabasco in Mexico during the 1920s.

  I was generally aware of the history of Mexico and the struggle between the left-leaning government and the Catholic priest, but I actually had to look up the specific episode that the book details: When Catholic priests were declared "traitors" within the state and forced to marry, all the Churches were closed.  Priests who refused to marry were executed or fled.

  The hero priest of the novel- unnamed throughout-  is the last priest standing in Tomas Garrido Canabal's Tabasco state, where he ruled as a dictator between 1920 and 1935.  According to all, Canabal's Tasasco was the "apogee of Mexican revolutionary anti-clericism."  Thus, the plot of The Power and The Glory, about a nameless priest who is hunted like a criminal by police, military and paramilitary "Red Shirts" implicates the excesses of both Communist/Socialist and Fascist dictatorships in the 20th century.

   This depiction of authoritarian fascistic-socialism spans all three books.  In The Plumed Serpent the concern is with creating a "New Mexico" of native, non-Christian elements in a way that clearly anticipates the rise of Nazism.  Under the Volcano has a character who is murdered by right-wing, fascist thugs for being a communist.  And then you've got the nameless priest of The Power and the Glory.   If you want to leave the obvious Colonialist/post-Colonialist critique out of the mix, I quite enjoyed all three books.

  Part of engaging with other cultures and nations involves understanding how our own culture understood other places in the past, and the depiction of early 20th century Mexico is so dark that it seemingly set the tone for popular beliefs about the reality of Mexican existence.  I can see where someone would rather read Latin American authors themselves but when it comes to the 1920s and 30s there is a lack of domestic material to draw from. At least these books are in print and considered classics.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Tartar Steppe (1940) by Dino Buzzati

Book Review
The Tartar Steppe (1940)
by Dino Buzzati

 Surprisingly, the Wikipedia entry for this book and the movie of the same name cite this novel as being influential in developing the "magic realism" genre. (Wikipedia)  This is disclosed in a Wikipedia entry that is called a "stub" where the level of detail is so minimal that the entry is considered a mere placeholder.  Yet I was struck by the reference to the influence of this book on Magic Realism, since that is not something that the introduction to the book mentions.  The Amazon product page for this particular translation, by Stuart C. Hood for Verba Mundi, references The Castle by Franz Kafka.  

  The Tartar Steppe also fits within the broad parameters of the early existentialist literature.  Wherever an individual reader locates The Tartar Steppe would likely depend on their point of entry, but generally speaking you can see The Tartar Steppe as a kind of substitute for a high school student having to read The Castle or The Trial: Still European, around the same time, same set of concerns.  The Tartar Steppe is also an easier read than Kafka, and combination of early twentieth century modernism and techniques that would later be associated with Magical Realism.  Most notably, the elastic, fairy-tale like compression of decades of time into a couple hundred laconic pages.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Party Going (1939) by Henry Green

Book Review
Party Going (1939)
by Henry Green

  English author Henry Green placed four titles into the 1001 Books Project:  Blindness (1926), about a blind soldier after World War I.  Living (1929), about the lives of Birmingham factor workers. Loving(1945), about the servants in an Anglo-Irish castle during World War II and Party Going.  The library edition of Party Going is part of a three-in-one Penguin classic's edition along with Loving and Living.  The foreword to this edition is written by John Updike, and if you take Updike's introduction with Living, Party Going and Blindness you have the portrait of an author whose work places him after the Modernists but before the careful character driven fiction of mid to late twentieth century, or 'New Yorker short story fiction" as I think of it.
  This style is a kind of literary miniaturism.  Unlike the high modernists, who deployed the everyday and mundane in the service of grand ideas about life, the universe and everything, Green does not seem to be concerned with the world outside the universe of the particular characters.  These characters are sharply drawn.  Shifts between narrators are accomplished with a  minimum of fuss.  Green is in the business of domesticating the disorienting narrative techniques of the high modernists.

   Party Going takes place entirely in a single afternoon, at a fogged-in train station, with the main characters huddled at a close by hotel while crowds mill about aimlessly outside.  As the two hundred page story spools out, the upper class characters are questioned about infidelity.  Green is a careful, subtle writer, and my thought is that he wrote on multiple levels.  The Wikipedia entry for this book hints at a "symbolic" analysis of Party Going that relies on Greek mythology and the god of Hermes.   I certainly didn't get that, and Updike doesn't mention literary symbolism in his career summarizing foreword


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Show Review: Is Kate Tempest the next Eminem? @ The Echo Los Angeles, CA.

Kate Tempest is a 29 year old poet/playwright/musician who made her US musical debut at the Echo last night (March 14th, 2015)

Show Review:
 Is Kate Tempest the next Eminem?
 @ The Echo Los Angeles, CA.

   The week before SXSW is the traditional opening of the season for live music in Southern California.  Bands either start their journey in Los Angeles (many foreign bands) and play here before heading there, or they continue on from Austin to play Southern California after the festival (many bands from the East Coast and Midwest.)  After that happens, the pre-Coachella period begins, where many of the non Coachella artists start touring the West Coast, then Coachella, then post-Coachella, etc, on through the summer.

  For me, this period is typically one of reengagement with music and live music in particular.  Several years running I've hardly done a music related thing between November and mid March, and the traditional period of detachment was brought in to focus by my decision to leave Zoo Music.  I'm currently talking to Alex of Dirty Beaches about working with him on something, but who knows really.  If my relationship with music is meant to be a hobby, then I've had my fun and why not just end it.  If it's something that I can grow into a separate profession alongside lawyering, I'm nowhere close, so either way no rush and why worry.

 It was with those thoughts in mind that I agreed to attend the Kate Tempest show at the Echo last night.  She was sold to me as a published poet and playwright from London who also did music.  Doing no prior research, I expected  a singer songwriter type.  My first inkling that I was hugely mistaken was when my companion, a music industry professional, Id'ed Steve Berman AKA the man who signed Eminem to Interscope and as of 2012 the 96th most powerful man in the music industry according to Billboard Magazine. (BILLBOARD POWER 100: STEVE BERMAN)  He was escorted  by a half dozen healthy looking music industry bros and as I sat there on the patio of the echo watching the gaggle of them kill time waiting for the headlining set to start, I joked, "What, does Steve Berman think that Kate Tempest can be the next Eminem?"

  Turns out the Eminem comparison is not wholly unmerited, and certainly more appropriate than other white, English, female artists who were influenced by hip hop(who will not be named here, you know who I'm talking about.)  Kate Tempest fairly commanded the stage in a way that you would expect from an artist who was not making her US musical debut that very night.  She had a great report with the audience and the stage show, which featured a backing female singer, a guy on drums and a producer with backing tracks, was far beyond what I normally see at Echo level venues.

  The idea of Kate Tempest being signed to Interscope is not particularly far fetched.  She is managed by ATC Management.  ATC Management also manages Twin Shadow.  In November, Twin Shadow announced that he was leaving 4AD (after two records) for Universal.  4AD is not known for giving artists two record deals, so Universal either bought him out OR he had negotiated a two record deal with 4AD. 

  I'm not sure what Steve Berman thought of the act.  I left about six or seven songs in and it looked like Berman and his Interscope bros had beat us to the exit.  Personally, I found Tempest revelatory- a voice with authenticity and a well worked out, positive message.  Although it is clear that she developed her delivery in the context of the poetry slam circuit- not really something I'm into- the sophisticated production of her backing tracks added an element of interest for people like myself who have little interest in poetry slams.

  I frankly shudder to think what a major label would do with Tempest- I can imagine her debut single being a duet with Iggy Azalea- I mean that is how the major label system works.    But I wish her all the best, and she seems like she has a clear vision for herself and her art.  Kate Tempest can take care of herself is what I'm saying, and if she wants to sign to Interscope, and Interscope wants to sign her- or some other major label- more power to the both of them.  The world needs more artists like Kate Tempest.

  And if you are shopping for SXSW musts- she is most certainly a must watch to believe.  The recordings don't even give you a sense of her charisma on stage.

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