Saturday, 26 February 2011
Revolving around a close-knit group of friends and lovers (Willie, Dominique, Jean-Michel and Liz), the novel explores the theory that all human relationships are fluid and impermanent. It is unsettling for the reader to consider the possibility that, despite being part of a complex social structure, eventually all human bonds break down. Whether this happens as a result of disloyalty, envy, hate or death is irrelevant – the point is: it happens.
The novel spans the period from the early seventies to the late noughties, with much of the action set against the backdrop of the explosive homosexual revolution of the early eighties. Willie and Dominique are in an apparently loving gay relationship, while Liz and Jean-Michel (Leibo) embark on a decades-long affair. Willie is introduced to Paris’s gay scene by the older and more experienced Dominique, and together they explore and enjoy the burgeoning sexual liberation afforded to homosexuals during that period.
But, nothing lasts forever. Everything changes. A newcomer arrives on the scene intent on spoiling the party; the arrival of AIDS causes the euphoria of the period to give way to fear and suspicion.
This novel is not for the faint-hearted. It is complex, multi-layered and challenging, dealing with a wide range of philosophical and political themes. A story of life, love and loss, the novel forces the reader to confront issues that we generally prefer to ignore. The author’s remarkable philosophical insight and brilliant command of narrative makes this a highly readable, if somewhat harrowing, piece of work.
Hate, A Romance is published by Faber and Faber.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011
So prodigious was her output that many refused to believe that Blyton herself wrote every book that bore her name. Her response to this accusation was predictably indignant. Vigorously denying any association with the controversial business of ghost-writing, she insisted that, at the height of her career, she would often punch out 10,000 words a day. A word-count such as this would be beyond the reach of most authors, but in Blyton’s case, it is likely to be an accurate estimate; no ghost-writer has ever come forward to claim authorship of any of Blyton’s books, despite the fact that Blyton herself died in 1968.
The seemingly inexhaustible productivity of Ms Blyton’s pen is all the more remarkable when one considers the effect each and every one of her books had on her legions of fans.
Despite this success, Enid Blyton was not without her critics. There have been some who have questioned the quality of her writing – for a period of almost thirty years, the BBC steadfastly refused to dramatise her books for radio, declaring her work to be “long-winded and stilted … and really not very good".
Undeniably, Enid Blyton was a polarizing figure, but love her or hate her, most agree that she was a force to be reckoned with. It is hardly surprising, then, that news of the discovery of a previously unpublished Blyton manuscript has made the headlines in recent days. The document, thought to date from early in her career, was unearthed by a cataloguer
Tuesday, 22 February 2011
However, when taken in the pure and unadulterated sense of the word, there have been some groundbreaking artists who merit the description. Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Beethoven, Mozart can all be accurately described as visionary: they are artists and musicians who have produced far-sighted, innovative pieces of work, which have immeasurably impacted the way we perceive music, art and the world in general.
Frederick Chopin, despite being one of the aforementioned pioneering musicians, has been called ‘visionary’ for entirely different reasons. During his short life, the Polish composer, famous for his piano sonatas,
It was widely believed at the time that these episodes were a by-product of the composer’s immense musical ability. This was a conviction perpetuated by Sand, who wrote that the visions were “manifestations of a genius full of sentiment and expression.” During the early 19th century, very little was known about what we now refer to as neuroscience, so it is hardly surprising such a conclusion was reached, no matter how ridiculous it may seem to the modern observer.
So, with the benefit of hindsight and the advance of medical science, can we discover the cause of Chopin’s terrifying hallucinations? A recent study by a team of Spanish doctors has come up with a convincing theory – it seems very likely that the composer suffered from a form of epilepsy, temporal lobe epilepsy to be exact. The reasons for this diagnosis are numerous: the type of hallucinations described by Chopin are common with this form of epilepsy; the composer suffered bouts of severe melancholy, which is also a symptom of this condition; and perhaps most significantly, Chopin did not hear voices, which rules out schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and most other forms of psychosis.
Unfortunately, Chopin’s medical problems were not confined to hallucinations – his short life was marked by ill-health. From an early age, he suffered from a variety of respiratory problems which were to plague him all his life. He died in 1849, at the age of 39, from some form of pulmonary disease, or possibly from cystic fibrosis. It was, nevertheless, his infamous visions which still ignite the interest of medical experts today. We may have discovered the reasons behind his legendary hallucinations, but we will never know if they in any way impacted the nature of, or the development of, his astounding musical ability.
Wednesday, 16 February 2011
The debate centres on the merits of watercolours as an art form, or indeed their lack thereof. It is fair to say that, up to now at least, conventional thinking has often dismissed watercolour as the poor anaemic cousin of oil painting. This is mainly due to the pale, translucent quality of watercolours which are sometimes regarded as insipid, bland, even feeble when compared to the vibrancy of oils. Indeed, the dream-like, ephemeral nature of watercolours promotes an image of transient impermanence, while the opposite is true of the stronger, energetic oil paintings. In short, the general consensus seems to be that while oils pack a punch, watercolours whimper softly in the background.
The Tate exhibition challenges this status quo. Featuring a wide array of works which date from the 13th century to the present day, including early maps by a Benedictine monk to miniature portraits of Henry VIII, the show highlights how watercolours have played an important part in witnessing and recording our long and varied history. This broad collection of subjects also deftly contradicts the notion that watercolour is merely a medium favoured by novice painters who like to dabble in nature scenes. The perception that watercolours depict a limp representation of real life is also challenged. Eric Taylor’s 1945 painting, Human Wreckage at Belsen, proves that watercolour can portray disturbing and harrowing scenes every bit as effectively as oils.
Linbury Galleries, Tate Britain
16 February – 21 August 2011
Entry Fee £12.50 (Concessions £10.50)
Free to Tate Members and Tate Patrons
Tuesday, 15 February 2011
The novel revolves around William Boot, a bumbling, unassuming nature writer who, through a case of mistaken identity, finds himself plucked from the obscurity of his country home and shipped off to the fictional African country of Ishmaelia by the editor of The Daily Beast. As the Beast’s man in Ishmaelia, Boot is charged with the task of reporting on the impending civil war, which is expected to erupt at any moment. A raucous comedy of errors ensues, which ultimately sees Boot, despite his breathtaking incompetence, eventually land the scoop of the decade.
Loosely based on Waugh’s own experiences as a special correspondent reporting on Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia, the novel deftly paints a vivid portrait of Fleet Street as an ineffectual, bloated, egotistical monster, more concerned with newspaper sales than reporting the truth. (Sound familiar?) It becomes apparent that journalism, with its pervasive expenses-claiming culture, was the poster-boy of excess long before today’s bankers and politicians took over this dubious mantle.
A quick glance at today’s tabloid headlines is enough to convince the reader that not much has changed in the intervening years since Waugh wrote his illuminating, if cynical, parody of tabloid reporting. As such, it is essential reading for anybody interested in a career in journalism. In fact, why not avoid extortionate university fees altogether; invest in Scoop instead– it’s the only textbook an aspiring journalist will need!