Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “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 8, 2016

Brain Noodle: Alan Glynn’s Paradime; Tchaikovsky’s Nine Sacred Choruses; Florence Foster Jenkins

Alan Glynn’s PARADIME (Faber) didn’t so much as noodle around my brain when I started it earlier this week as punch straight through to the cerebral cortex – his first novel since GRAVELAND (2013) is a doppelganger tale of conspiracy and paranoia which starts in fourth gear, quickly revs up into fifth and thereafter roars along like an Exocet in agony. I can’t say too much about it right now, because I’ll be reviewing it in the Irish Times next month, but suffice to say that it’s his most inventive novel since THE DARK FIELDS (2002) – which was adapted into the movie Limitless – and arguably a more fascinating psychological-thriller-cum-tragedy. More anon.

On the music front, it’s been something of a Tchaikovsky-fest this week – for some reason (over-familiarity, probably) I hadn’t listened to Swan Lake for a few years; sometimes your eyes glaze over as your gaze passes across certain albums, simply because – I’m guessing – the brain craves the blazing of new neural paths. That said, I was mainly listening to Nine Sacred Choruses and the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, a 1997 recording from Helios with the Corydon Singers under the baton of Matthew Best. The link below is the Liturgy courtesy of the USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir under Valery Polyansky:

I’m a rank amateur when it comes to classical music, and I’m not noticeably religious and / or spiritual, so I really don’t know why I find ‘sacred music’ – most recently Arvo Pärt, Palestrina, Hildegard von Bingen – so appealing, other than it’s gloriously beautiful to listen to. Apologies for the lack of insight, but there it is.

As for movies, my film of the week is Florence Foster Jenkins, with Stephen Frears directing Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant. My review runs a lot like this:
A minor tragedy of self-delusion on an epic scale, Florence Foster Jenkins (PG) stars Meryl Streep in the eponymous role, playing the beloved patron of New York’s classical music world in the mid-1940s. Florence, a talented pianist in her youth, adores music and has a wonderful ear, but when Florence decides to sing at Carnegie Hall, disaster looms – Florence in full cry sounds like an alley swarming with dying cats. Based on a true story which is adapted by screenwriter Nicholas Martin and directed by Stephen Frears, Florence Foster Jenkins is by turns laugh-out-loud funny (Streep stumbling headlong through the scales is comedy-of-embarrassment gold) and heartbreakingly poignant, partly because Florence’s ambition so far exceeds her grasp and partly because she is daring, emotionally fragile and utterly charming in her lack of self-awareness. It’s Meryl Streep’s finest turn in years, mainly because her performance is sotto voce, allowing the character’s endearing quirks and idiosyncrasies to speak for themselves. It would have been easy for Florence, adorned in feather boas and tiaras, to appear utterly ridiculous, but Streep’s delicate touch gradually strips away the eccentricities to reveal Florence’s human frailties. She gets strong support from Hugh Grant as Florence’s long-suffering and (mostly) dedicated husband St Clair, and Simon Helberg, who plays Cosme McMoon, a pianist commissioned to accompany Florence, aka the little boy who dare not point out that the Empress, musically speaking, wears no clothes. Stephen Frears directs with panache (complete with old-fashioned screen wipes), fully aware of the story’s comic possibilities but never forgetting the tenderness and compassion that underpins the tale. ****
The other movies I reviewed this week (in the Irish Examiner) are the Hank Williams biopic I Saw the Light and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups. For more, clickety-click here

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