… though unfortunately not the popular Bulgarian summer dish made with tomatoes, peppers, onion, feta cheese, eggs and fresh spices, which sounds delicious (I was checking to see if mishmash was hyphenated).
Enjoyable night at the theatre last Monday. Relatively speaking is early Alan Ayckbourn – 1965 – and it all seems very traditional now. As a comedy of social manners it’s aged a bit; it has to be done as a period piece. But as a comedy of chronic confusion and misunderstanding – classic Ayckbourn – it still works beautifully. You can cavil at some of the fine details – why would the gal bother to write down her parents‘ address, for example? – but as the set-up for what follows it’s a pedantic complaint. It’s the parents who get the best lines and opportunities to react and Felicity Kendal and Jonathan Coy (‘look, it’s him,’ we’ll soon be saying at the telly) didn’t waste them. I always find it reassuring to be reminded that them on the telly can still actually hack it on the stage. We were well entertained.
Big word-of-mouth title of late is Gillian Flynn‘s thriller Gone girl (2012). I succumbed and raced through it, don’t regret it. Amy Elliott goes missing one day; husband Nick Dunne comes home and discovers she’s missing. Or does he? And the twists and shifting suspicions just keep coming thereafter, right through the police investigation to the end .. and further, because what happens next, beyond the pages of the book, is a debate that can go on and on. As a piece of literary construction it’s a tour de force, alternating as it does the two voices: her diary as back story, his observations on what’s going on in real-time. If that sounds simple, it becomes a lot more complicated than that, but I’m not going to give anything away.
Gillian Flynn is a good writer – she knows, as Amy says, “To show don’t tell and all that other writerly crap” – and Gone girl transcends the crime genre that she has achieved prize-winning recognition in – not that it doesn’t grip as a mystery. Amy and Nick are media exiles from New York, victims of the internet’s spread, returned to Nick’s hometown in Missouri to look after his ailing parents. You get the flavour of both. And as things develop in the full glare of the media (television crime coverage is very different in the States) Nick in particular becomes aware that they are also being forced into playing parts in a script they didn’t write. Add to this Amy’s background: her parents had had great success with a series of children’s books over more than a decade featuring a character called Amazing Amy, and you have a very rich stew; Amy is somewhat less defeated than A.A. Milne’s model for no Christopher Robin in Winnie the Pooh was. As Nick’s lawyer tells him, “You two are the most fucked-up people I have ever met, and I specialise in fucked-up people.“ But the beauty of the book is you can still like them both for some of the time.
Gone girl is full of fine lines and dialogue, and there’s plenty of wit. The aromas of breakfast preparation are “a culinary orchestra tuning up.” There’s Nick’s “speculative sister, she of the rocket-science brain and the rodeo spirit.” I could give you more, but I’ll end with one that never fails to make me cheer (if only it happened on live TV), the on the spot news interview: “ ‘How does it feel?’ she snapped. ‘Are you actually serious? Do people really answer questions like that?’ “ That and, “It was kind of romantic. Catastrophically romantic.“ Good book.
Wish I could say the same about Dan Pedoe‘s The gentle art of mathematics (1958). As you can see, it’s a book I’ve had hanging around for some considerable time, a copy so desiccated that dipping into it in the bath (probably the wrong verb there) would do it no harm (unless I dropped it). I’ve always fancied the idea of mathematics – indeed, the ideas of mathematics – but never studied it after O-level, and the intro suggests I am just the sort of person it was written for. Gentle? You call that gentle? I got lost on page 12. Why? Why have you done what you just did, Dan? It felt like my brain had simply ceased to function, was no longer a working piece of equipment, was blanked. Maybe a better intro, one more suited to me, has appeared in the past half century.
Another well foxed book I’ve picked up of late has been ’60s cult classic Trout fishing in America (1967). I thought maybe I’d, um. grown out of Richard Brautigan, but seemingly not. It’s still a delightful detour. The sheer charm is overwhelming but there’s an awful lot more going on than stoned hippy twee (not that he ever was one, it seems, for all the garb). With a zen logic it’s all over the place, the mixed metaphors, bizarre similes, quirky juxtapositions of locations, people, history and objects make for an entrancing brew. He even looks a bit like Vivian Stanshall. Opening chapter is called The cover for Trout fishing in America, and Trout fishing in America continues to make appearances as a character in Trout fishing in America, as well as your actual trout fishing. Which prompts a word about the title, an original thought (in as much as I’ve never seen it in print); Trout fishing in Europe was the title of a newspaper piece filed by Ernest Hemingway early in his career, and you can certainly hear the rhythms of Hemingway’s prose in Brautigan’s. How much of the uniqueness of Trout fishing in America would survive if it were not laid out unjustified in old style American typewriter font (Courier New is the closest in your computer) is a reasonable question, but not one I care to address:
Seventeen years later I sat on a rock. It was
under a tree next to an old abandoned shack that
had a sheriff’s notice nailed like a funeral
wreath to the front door.
4/17 OF A HAIKU
Hard to reconcile his work as being that of sad alcoholic prone to depression who died by his own hand at the age of 49.
And I leave you today with a photograph from mine own hand: