“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Brain Noodles: Ikon of Light; The Caves of the Sun; Love and Friendship

This week’s soundtrack was provided mainly by the reissue of John Tavener’s Ikon of Light, recorded by Harry Christophers’ The Sixteen for Coro. It’s a special commemorative edition to mark Tavener’s death in 2013, and is composed in the main of a setting of St Simeon’s ‘Mystic Prayer to the Holy Spirit’ – St Simeon being both poet and Orthodox philosopher, which accounts for the subject matter being the ‘uncreated Light’ of the Creator. Heady stuff, indeed. The CD also includes settings for two of William Blake’s poems, ‘The Lamb’ and ‘The Tyger’. Cue ‘dense contrapuntal melodic lines’ and Tavener exploring silence as a musical instrument – all told, it’s an ineffably beautiful offering:
  I know very little about John Tavener beyond The Protecting Veil, but he’s a fascinating character. As the CD’s liner notes (can we still call them liner notes?) note, “In an almost 50-year career defined so strongly by spirituality and mysticism, Tavener worked not only with nuns and priests but with Bj√∂rk and The Beatles, and produced Mercury Prize-nominated music as well as an eight-hour Vigil.”
  Books-wise, I re-read Adrian Bailey’s The Caves of the Sun: The Origin of Mythology, which essentially argues that all mythology – and the established religions that emerged from mythology – originated literally and metaphorically in caves, as primitive man set about encouraging and celebrating the sun, which they believed hibernated for the winter in some great cave beyond the horizon. Bailey does a fine job of deconstructing the myths and folktales we’re familiar with – Theseus, Perseus, Oedipus, Heracles, Jason, Cinderella et al – to argue that their universal nature means that they all originated in the earliest incarnation of human interaction with those natural forces upon which survival depended. I particularly liked his chapter on the earliest cave art, and the idea that such art wasn’t created to be admired or even necessarily seen:
“The artists crawled on their bellies through cramped passageways in the rock, facing difficulties that only cavers and potholers will recognise, pushing before them their wooden poles and animal-fat lamps, their lumps of red ochre and manganese black pigment, on slivers of limestone or on barnacle shells, to reach the vaulted ceilings of the cathedral-like caves ahead […] Many of the drawings are so remote, and hidden in places where access was difficult and at times dangerous, that only the artists themselves may have known where to find them.”
  Art for art’s sake, indeed. Oh, and Adrian Bailey has a whale of a time rubbishing Freud’s feverish, moist-palmed Oedipus-inspired interpretations of mythology, which is always a nice bonus …
  This week’s most enjoyable movie was Love and Friendship, adapted by Whit Stillman from a Jane Austen novella, and which was shot entirely (or almost entirely) in Ireland. To wit:
Adapted from Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, and directed by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship (G) opens with Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) arriving in some disgrace at the estate of her in-laws. The widowed Lady Susan has something of a tarnished reputation as a siren, which intrigues the young heir Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel); but Lady Susan has more pressing matters than romance to attend to, the most important of which is marrying off her reluctant daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to the rich-but-dim Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). It’s a typically Austen whirlwind of love, money and marriage, but Stillman directs the story as something of a French farce, spoofing the conventions of the Regency period drama even as he pays homage. Beckinsale is simply radiant in the lead role, playing an absolute gift of a character: despite the social mores of the time, Lady Susan is brutally (and hilariously) frank about money, men and her ruthlessness in achieving her goals. Xavier Samuel, playing her would-be wooer, is an idealistic contrast to the mercenary Lady Susan, and provides the story with its heart, although it’s Tom Bennett who provides the strongest support, his Sir James Martin a delightfully silly upper-class twit who wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a Monty Python sketch. It’s a deliciously labyrinthine tale of scheming, conniving and multiple reversals of fortune, and once Stillman has negotiated the rather heavy-handed tone of parody he establishes early on, Love and Friendship evolves into a brisk, charming comedy that joins the first rank of Austen adaptations. ****
  This week I also reviewed, in the Irish Examiner, Jodie Foster’s Money Monster and Alice Through the Looking Glass. You’ll find them here

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