Monday, 29 March 2010

Bad girls and cherry blossoms

Told over a 30-year period The Bad Girl tells of a man's infatuation with a woman who drifts in and out of his life, always reappearing with a new identity.
The narrator, Ricardo, first meets 'Lily' as a teenager in his native Peru in the 1950s when she claims to be from Chile but her story comes apart and she disappears.
He meets her again years later in Paris where they have a brief affair, although she denies being 'Lily' before she travels to Cuba to be trained as guerrilla.
Peruvian politics form a backdrop as Ricardo follows developments as an exile who feels more and more removed from his native land and never really a part of his adopted one.
This is as much a story about exile and a sense of never quite belonging as it is of a man's obsession with a woman.
There are fine period pieces here, describing the revolutionary fervour that gripped many in South America in the wake of the Cuban revolution. The hippie scene in London in the late 1960's also has an authentic feel.
Other characters drift in and out of Ricardo's life but ultimately die or move off in different directions and he is a lonely man who seems to have got caught in rut.
Each time The Bad Girl reappears he becomes re-infatuated with her even through she treats him with contempt and ultimately abandons him.
Even though he knows that she will betray him Ricardo can not help becoming involved with Lily – saving her life on one occasion and leaving him with a huge financial debt only to be abandoned by her again.
The story moves between, France, England, Japan, Peru and finally to Spain where 'Lily' comes into Ricardo's life for the final time.
Vargas Llosa is a visceral writer whose story flows easily and with a logical inevitability.
A man's love for a woman is also the central theme of the German film Cherry Blossoms.
At times I cringed as I thought it was about to dive into sentimentality or pure smaltz but always it redeemed itself.
Rudi is dying from a terminal illness but his wife Trudi keeps the information from him and tries to persuade him to live a bit more and break from his routine.
They travel from Bavaria to Berlin to see two of their children but find themselves regarded as a nuisance by their offspring who are too caught up in their own lives.
Trudi has always been fascinated by Japan and the highly stylized Butoh dancing but Rudi has no interest in going there to visit their youngest son.
When Trudi unexpectedly dies, without telling Rudi of his own illness, he is left floundering to understand what has happened and comes to realise how his wife had sacrificied her own ambitions to look after him and their children.
He travels to Japan for the Cherry Blossom festival but finds like his other children in Germany that his youngest son has little time for him and resents his imposition.
Rudi's vulnerability and total sense of loss is superbly portrayed by Elmar Wepper and I felt myself squirming for him as, dressed in his wife's clothes, beneath his overcoat, he "took her" to see the sights she had always dreamed of.
Like Butoh dancing there are a number of stylized scenes here, particularly when Rudi meets Yu, and 18-year-old homeless girl who he sees practising Butoh dancing in a park.
She accompanies him to Mount Fuji, where Trudi had yearned to visit, for the final inevitable but genuinely moving finale.
It is a film about selfishness, interdependence and coming to terms with loss, setting the Japanese way of coming to accept death with the inability to cope of many Europeans.
The soundtrack is also stunning and took a bit of tracking down but is now hopefully in the post.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Requiems for the Departed

Requiems for the Departed – Irish Crime, Irish Myths is a short story anthology from Morrigan Books edited by Gerard Brennan & Mike Stone.
It features 17 writers, including one who modesty prevents me from naming, but who is listed in the press release below.
The anthology is due out on June 1, which is my birthday.
Anyway press release reads:

It has been said before, that every story has already been told.
Maybe so. But if you’ve got the gift of the gab, you can tell the same tale as often as you like and still give it a life of its own every time.
Requiems for the Departed flaunts that gift seventeen times over with top shelf stories from Ken Bruen, Maxim Jakubowski, Stuart Neville, Brian McGilloway, Adrian McKinty, Sam Millar, John Grant, Dave Hutchinson, and many more.
The children of Conchobar are back to their old mischievous ways, ancient Celtic royalty, druids and banshees are set loose in the new Irish underbelly with murder and mayhem on their minds.
Requiems for the Departed contains seventeen short stories, inspired by Irish mythology, from some of the finest contemporary writers in the business.
Requiems for the Departed

Queen of the Hill - Stuart Neville
Hound of Culann - Tony Black
Hats off to Mary - Garry Kilworth
Sliabh Ban - Arlene Hunt
Red Hand of Ulster - Sam Millar
She Wails Through the Fair - Ken Bruen
A Price to Pay - Maxim Jakubowski
Red Milk - T. A. Moore
Bog Man - John McAllister
The Sea is Not Full - Una McCormack
The Druid's Dance - Tony Bailie
Children of Gear - Neville Thompson
Diarmid and Grainne - Adrian McKinty
The Fortunate Isles - Dave Hutchinson
First to Score - Garbhan Downey
Fisherman's Blues - Brian McGilloway
The Life Business - John Grant

Pre-orders can be made soon

Thursday, 18 March 2010

2017 By Olga Slavnikova

History seems to collide with the present and manifest itself physically in this novel. “Mountain Spirits” and even an occasional ghost also glide through the pages.
Olga Slavnikova’s Russia of 2017 is an ugly consumer-driven society far removed from the dream of a proletarian utopia that sparked a revolution 100 years earlier.
In 2017 everything is a commodity, even death—funerals are as much a lifestyle statement as the clothes people wear, the cars they drive, or the mobile phones they use.
The fictional Riphean region, which seems to be vaguely located east of the Urals in the Asian part of Russia, still contains vast wildernesses, but even these are suffering under the impact of human exploitation. Rivers are polluted and forests are dying, while in the cities a rich elite flourishes as a disenfranchised underclass is kept subdued on a diet of trashy television.
Krylov, the novel’s dysfunctional anti-hero, hovers between the two strands of society, born into the underclass but given access to the elite through his rich ex-wife. He tries to stay an outsider from both. “[T]he main goal of a Riphean man was not to fit into society—including female society—in a nice way. His main goal was to remain an outpost unto himself.”
Krylov is a talented gem cutter whose mentor, Professor Anfilogov, sets off to a remote river in the Riphean Mountains in search of valuable stones. The illegal plundering, cutting, and sale of these rare gems for human adornment is symbolic of humanity’s exploitation of its environment in the name of shallow consumerism, sacrificing the very soul of the Riphean mountains for the sake of vanity.
As Krylov sees off the professor on his expedition he meets a woman at the train station and they begin an affair, conducted at a series of random locations chosen by sticking a pin into a street map. Neither Krylov or his lover know each others’ true name or where one another lives and they thrive on the precariousness of their relationship and the disastrous possibility that if one of them misses an assignation they might never see each other again.
An omnipresent private detective spying on them and Krylov’s ex-wife complicate the relationship in a series of set pieces that combine surrealism and farce.
The characters and scenarios are more Borges than Dostoevsky, the plot dipping into the realms of science fiction. A scene in which White Guards and revolutionary Red soldiers appear to be playing out episodes from the 1917 October Revolution turns violent and the line between reenactment and actual historic events echoing from the past into the modern day becomes blurred.
“The virus of History, which you’d think had been suppressed long ago and barely existed anymore, was spreading freely,” writes Slavnikova.
This Russian Booker Prize-winning novel, translated by Marian Schwartz, sets out to deliberately disorient as reality and the ethereal, past and future, conscious and unconscious intersect, leaving the reader scrambling to find his bearings in Slavnikov’s dystopian premonition of Russia in the near future.
It is an unsettling but satisfying experience.

This review was written for and first published in The New York Journal of Books

Friday, 5 March 2010

Life has taken a slightly 'Eastern' tilt this week, at least in terms of reading and music listening, although all involved are Irish. Gabriel Rosenstock has been looking to Asia for many years now for inspiration even though the bulk of his work is written in Irish.
He is a highly regarded Haikuist and has written about travelling along the Ganges (Ólann mo Mhiúil as an n Gainséis). India was the inspiration for his 2007 bilingual collection Bliain an Bhandé/Year of the Goddess on whose blurb John Moriarty wrote: “Yeats has said that until the Battle of the Boyne, Ireland belonged to Asia. In these poems by an Irish bhakta, the ancient connection is being restored from our side, and that delights me.”
Rosenstock’s most recent collection, Uttering Her Name, is entirely in English and is described as a series of “spontaneous, ecstatic utterances in what the author calls a neo-bhatik style”.
If they are spontaneous (in the sense that they haven’t been reworked) then they are impressive achievements, reminiscent of Robert Grave’s poems to his ‘White Goddess’ – a beautiful, demanding and slightly sinister muse.
The Haiku is a much misunderstood genre of poetry whose Japanese ‘on’ are often clumsily transposed into English (and Irish) as syllables.
Journalist, and former Horslips drummer, Eamon Carr travelled to Japan in 2002 to follow the Republic of Ireland squad during the World Cup. In his introduction to The Origami Crow he writes: “My plan has been to retrace the steps of Matuso Kinsaku, the zen monk known as Basho, who in 1684 began a series of hazardous journeys throughout old Japapn in search of spiritual enlightenment. However, Roy Keane puts paid to my fanciful notions.”
The departure of Keane from the Irish squad and the high drama that surrounded the team’s gallant, but ultimately unsuccessful bid for world cup glory, serve as a slightly jarring backdrop to Carr’s journey through Japan, his musings and scene setting which all build up to a series of rather superb Haiku.
Describing a Robbie Keane goal he writes:
Finnan to Quinn, then Keane
harmony and geometry,
cool zen goal
More orthodox, in terms of Haiku at least, he writes:
warm evening on Ohashi Bridge –
ah, but where is
the sudden downpour?
Kíla have obviously taken my criticism of their gig in Belfast last year to heart and decided to tone things down a bit on their new album. Soisín is so mellow that you could easily drift off into enlightenment while it is playing in the background.
Rónan Ó Snodaigh’s tribal drumming has been tempered to a few bodhrán brush strokes while his multi-instrumentalist brothers (Colm and Rossa) and the band’s other trad players, Dee Armstrong (fiddle) and Eoín Dillon (uillean pipes and whistles) are allowed to showcase their considerable talents.
The album’s sleeve notes say that it had its genesis while Colm Ó Snodaigh was reading a book by Maria O’Halloran and was inspired to write a tune. The note continues: “ Marie ‘Soishin’ O’Halloran was a young Dublin woman who travelled to Japan to join a Zen Buddhist monastery and in three short years came to be regarded as a Buddhist Bodhisattva or saint of compassion. Meaning pure heart, enlightened mind, Soshin, is the English phonetic spelling of he give Buddhist name. We have given it an Irish spelling – Soisín.”
All the tracks are written by the various band members and although clearly in the category of Irish traditional it has more than a passing nod to Eastern influences.