Thursday, 26 November 2009

Different Journeys

Maggie's back from olive-picking in the scorching heat (for her adventures and impressions of life on the West Bank, you'll need to read her own detailed and excellent blog,, it's much more interesting than mine, and convinces me I must go out there with her next time, next year.

While she was away I did catch up with quite a bit of reading, though, and can particularly recommend Hans Fallada's wonderful novel Little Man, What Now? This dates from 1932, and is a chilling and quite fascinating account of an ordinary young couple's struggles to survive in Germany with the deutschmark worth almost nothing and Nazism on the rise. Fallada (1893-1947) was a great social realist writer with terrific storytelling ability. The other 2 novels of his that I'd previously read, still more gripping – and even better translated, by the redoubtable John Willett and Michael Hofmann respectively – are The Drinker and Alone In Berlin. Quite extreme and extraordinary, like 'Fallada's' own life! I'd eagerly read anything else available in English by this German author, which means for me he's in the class of Joseph Roth, Brecht and B.Traven…

Picked up a mint and clearly unread copy for 50p in a local charity shop, of Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility Of An Island, his latest, longest and most savagely satirical novel. I think he's my favourite contemporary French novelist: this is no letdown and pulls no punches. It's sharp and funny and scathing about the world and all of us in it. I think he hates and despises religion and bogus belief-systems (including the media and consumer society) as much as I do, so I could even forgive him a couple of passing swipes at 2 of my heroes, Joyce and Nabokov! Houellebecq clearly loves causing offence and tackling the most potentially painful and/or universally sensitive issues, such as sex, aging and death, and good luck to him, for he'll need it if he carries on as grimly, hilariously and outrageously as this, and doesn't drink himself into oblivion first.

As for film, Peter Strickland's exciting debut Katalin Varga is simply unmissable. The best new British indie work in years, made on a shoestring (a thirty thousand quid legacy), subtitled (it's in Romanian and Hungarian), and beautifully shot and acted in some of the most stunning areas of Transylvania. It's the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner like those mentioned above, and is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Thanks, Mr Strickland, you're quite an auteur, and I hope you can get funding to make more movies: those pupils of yours at your Reading school are lucky indeed to have a teacher like you, but everyone who's seen your film will also be hoping that you don't have to stay there for too much longer.

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