“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, June 12, 2016

Brain Noodles: Debbie Wiseman’s Wolf Hall; Ed O’Loughlin’s MINDS OF WINTER; Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next

I really enjoyed the BBC’s mini-series adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall last year, one of the most enjoyable aspects being Debbie Wiseman’s score. At the time – the soundtrack wasn’t available until after the final episode screened – it sounded as if Wiseman had created a Tudor soundscape using instruments of the period. Listening to the score in its entirety (Wiseman conducting the Locrian Ensemble of London), you realise that Wiseman certainly pays homage to the Tudor period (The Scholar in particular, with its harpsichord and vielle violin) but that overall the score is a modern piece that is rooted in, but not shackled by, history, musical or otherwise. It’s a mixture of melancholy (Still I Love Him), bittersweet (Anna Regina) and prophetically doom-laden (Master of Phantoms) pieces, with Prophecies and Dreams one of the stand-out tracks as a hauntingly tender piece:
  Underpinning it all are the insistent, sinuous strings of the first track, Wolf Hall (the theme is most fully reprised in the final offering, the mischievously titled Entirely Beloved), the overall effect beautifully evoking the arch-Machiavellian Thomas Cromwell and his relentless scheming.
  Ed O’Loughin’s MINDS OF WINTER (riverrun) is easily the most enjoyable novel I’ve read this year in terms of narrative imagination – the story, which is rooted in the disappearance of the Franklin expedition, which was trying to find the Northwest Passage, in 1845. A veritable Russian doll of a narrative structure takes us to South and North Poles and quite a few places in between, it revels in its deliciously old-fashioned approach to storytelling: O’Loughlin has his tongue firmly stuffed into his cheek when he has one character complain to Jack London that the author’s baroque style has passed its sell-by date:
“It’s a new century, you know; that gothic, sort of supernatural thing, is going out of style. Everything is very plain and modern now.”
  Undeterred, O’Loughlin presses on with tales of adventure and derring-do, of spies and outlaws and epic treks to the Poles, of naval voyages that would do Patrick O’Brian proud, all of it detailed in crunchy, evocative prose, such as when the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen finds himself poised on the cusp of a life-changing decision:
It was a warm autumn evening in Madeira, the sun gleaming on the harbour and the breeze soft in the trees. He could stay here forever, dissolved in this air. But some tiny flaw in the fabric of the universe, some original sin in space and time, determined that he was doomed to exist, to be one thing or another.
  MINDS OF WINTER will be published on August 25th. If bravura storytelling is your thing, you won’t go far wrong here
  Movies-wise, it’s a dull time of the year, this early-season slump as we wait for the summer to ignite. This week’s most enjoyable film was the latest documentary from Michael Moore – he may be predictable, but he’s always watchable. To wit:
Where to Invade Next (12A) is the latest documentary from Michael Moore, the iconoclastic filmmaker who delights in pointing up America’s failings. The idea behind this film is that Moore himself is a one-man ‘army’, invading various countries – most of them European – in order to steal their best ideas and take them back to the United States to cure its ills. The irascible Moore is in good form here, pretending to be horrified at the very notion of paid vacations and maternity leave, free college education, a 36-hour working week, the decriminalisation of illegal drugs and women taking charge of the political system, all of which makes Europe sound like a veritable utopia (i.e., one many Europeans may not recognise). It’s a Europe viewed through rose-tinted lenses, of course, and Moore does make the point that he is in the business of picking flowers, not weeds, on his travels, but the presenter has an engaging talent for making serious points while employing his trademark blend of chutzpah and black comedy. As always with Moore, the film isn’t so much a balanced documentary as it is a polemic, a gentle broadside on behalf of the liberal agenda. His breezy, irreverent Everyman style isn’t to everyone’s taste, but Moore should be cherished as a unique filmmaker, as provocative as he is entertaining. ****
  The other movies reviewed this week in the Irish Examiner are Melissa McCarthy’s The Boss and Mother’s Day, starring Jennifer Aniston and Julia Roberts.

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