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Thursday, September 14, 2006

What I'm Reading

Got some good books on the go at the moment.

The Innocence of Father Brown

This one's by Chesterton. It's brilliantly written, almost every line is a one-liner, as you can tell from the quote below. Chesterton was a bit like the romantics, except where the romantics set gigantic emotional dramas in a rural landscape, Chesterton liked to do the same thing in the town or the city. Maybe it's the fusion of romantic writing, busy city scenery, and perceptive one-liners that makes the writing so attractive:
The street they threaded was so narrow and shut in by shadows that when they came out unexpectedly into the void common and vast sky they were startled to find the evening still so light and clear. A perfect dome of peacock-green sank into gold amid the blackening trees and the dark violet distances. The glowing green tint was just deep enough to pick out in points of crystal one or two stars. All that was left of the daylight lay in a golden glitter across the edge of Hampstead and that popular hollow which is called the Vale of Health. The holiday-makers who roam the region had not wholly dispersed: a few couples sat shapelessly on the benches; and here and there a distant girl still shrieked in one of the swings. The glory of heaven deepened and darkened around the sublime vulgarity of man; and standing on the slope and looking across the valley, Valentin beheld the thing which he sought.
The writing drops off in the later chapters - that's one of Chesterton's failings; he just doesn't have the staying power of other writers.

Creme de la Phlegm

This is a collection of well-written bad reviews from the pages of Australian publications over the last 50 years. It's already scored some reviews, and I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I was expecting unrelenting critical bile, but the tone of many of the reviews is quite moderate. Anyway, it's great to see an anthology of articles and columns from newspapers and magazines for once - you can find some of Australia's best literary moments in there, like, for instance, A. D. Hope's hilarious take down of Patrick White. Margaret Olley, who as far as I know does nice pictures of fruit, gets a great review written about her: "The drawings by Margaret Olley at the Macquarie Gallerys in Sydney are not distinguished by great subtlety of mind or execution." And I love the review of a rock'n'roll concert from Nation:
Many people became aware of the Rock through a tune called "Rock Around the Clock", a bowdlerised version of an old song describing the details of a sexual encounter in chronological sequence. Bill Halley and his Comets, whose rendition of this tune was used as background music to the film Blackboard Jungle, did not hold their popularity for long. Paradoxically, this was probably due to their competent musicianship, though they tried to disguise it by playing their instruments in unorthodox fashions. The pianist scorned a stool, the bass-player preferred to straddle his instrument, and the saxophonist, though far from lethargic, lay on his back and pointed his horn at the ceiling.
All quite true, but his conclusion - 'the whole art is to keep an essentially repetitive and monotonous noise from becoming boring. It's doubtful how long they can keep it up' - seems, from the perspective of forty-something years, a bit dubious.
Also reading The Vivisector and Invisible Yet Enduring Lilacs, but I've only just started the one, and in the second, the one-liners are all ten lines long. So I'm done for now.

4 comments:

Tim said...

I'll have check out Father Brown. I've read Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thusrday, I recall it being pretty good.

TimT said...

Yeah, it was great. I love the way all this ridiculous stuff happens in the previous chapters, like spys and bombings and automobile chases, and then in the last chapter, it all ends in a garden party. He can be a hilarious writer, though the passage I quoted here is more just descriptive. Do a google for Chesterton quotes - there are tonnes out there.

He wrote a whole series of these Father Brown books, too.

Helen said...

Y'know, I have an embarrassing tendency to forget what i've read. It's not alcohol or drug related, honest -when I read the Innocence of Father Brown, I was as Judge as a Sober, m'lud. (yes, seriously). Anyway, as with a few Patrick White novels, I can say
1) Have I read it? Yes
2) Did I enjoy it? Loved it!
3) Do I remember any of the passages you've quoted?

NO!!

I suppose this kind of premature senility is an advantage of sorts; I'm a great re-reader and I can choose a book of the basis of "read it before, loved it, can't remember a damn thing about it but I know it's good value." Can't argue with that.

I loved the Heaven's Bolt or whatever - the hammer dropped on someone. Was that in Innocence? Or another Father Brown book?

TimT said...

That happens to me too - I come back to books that I read and loved even mere months afterwords, and I can barely remember anything about them. But you pick them up and leaf through and start to recognise the characters and scenes all over again.

The hammer of God story is indeed in Innocence. Dropped from the top of a gigantic English cathedral - the scenery is marvellous. And the first story (that's the one I quoted from, above) is superb - Father Bob matches wits with a master French criminal known as Flambeau (chortle). 'The Invisible Man' is great - apart from an invisible man, it also has robots in it! Then there's the hilarious story where Flambeau tries to swindle a London fish fanciers society.

Come to think of it, Father Brown reminded me a little bit of Peter Wimsey.

Email: timhtrain - at - yahoo.com.au

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