I said I’d report back on the erotic potential of Khachaturian‘s Piano Concerto, claims for which are made by novelist Peter Robinson – or at least by his detective alter ego, Alan Banks – in one of his books. Nah. I’ve given it three goes now, but my attention wandered fairly quickly and indeed, allowed the CD to drift onto other material which sounded more interesting, actually, unspecifically. “Why are you listening to this?” Andrea asked – too much plinking and plunking (more plunking actually) for her and I have to agree – not that I was playing it with any intent.
And I wondered if Simon Armitage‘s poetry was going to be as interesting or as much fun as his book about becoming (coming out to his dad: “Dad, I think I might be a poet”) and actually being a poet. Now … poetry can be hard work, even the reading of it, and I struggled a bit to find a handle with these later slim volumes, ‘The universal home doctor‘ (Faber, 2002) and ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid‘ (Faber, 2006). Not helped by the latter’s clever sod fatuous opening conspiracy theory nod of an ode on the death of David Kelly (remember WOMDs?) – a setting of official hand-washing instructions. First skimmed impressions of the collections: “So what?” and “What?” and “Why bother?” Then the odd decent phrase worming its way in – “jobbing pedestrians” say, and from a different poem, “the soles of your feet on fire in your sensible shoes” or “Oh to be wassailed like the apple tree” – so I put in the work; he has the reputation. And yes, fine, some pretty good stuff in there, a real variety, of poignant contemplation, wit, love, a certain rage, and wonder. Encapsulations of personal moments, events, unexpected juxtapositions (never quite surreal), oppositions working at tangents giving meaning, a broadening of context, sometimes vast … I discover a bloke not unlike me, I suspect, noticing stuff. Still a few duds, mind, I think, but I like the birthday poems (quirky lists, there’s one in each book), the elaborate conceits (like DIY as epic battle), the self-examination. Did the almost great ‘To the Women of the Merrie England Coffee Houses, Huddersfield‘ really need that line about gay sex in toilets? A few marred like that. But the last poem of the second book, ‘The final straw’, a nice touch. I shall search out and read more.
And on with the aforementioned Peter Robinson project:
Title: Dead right
Number in sequence: 9, published 1997
Themes and settings (beyond Eastvale & the Dales): far right political groups, drug dealing, police & race relations; Leeds again & a nostalgic working trip to Amsterdam
Murderee/s: young fascist Jason Fox
Music: too much to list in full, really, many and varied (but see the quote below); I daresay Abdullah Ibrahim doesn’t get too many mentions in crime novels – the man has taste; book opens with opera-going as source on conflict in his marriage (Bizet’s ‘Pearl fishers’); couple of live bands (one Oi) & son Brian in a blues band; murderee’s father a vinyl collector but not a music lover; a stoned romantic memory of ‘Sad eyed lady of the lowlands’; earlier radio memories of Uncle Mac & Brian Matthew.
Distinguishing characteristics: the conflict with his boss’s boss, Jimmy Riddle – fast track, mason – is out in the open; some powerful writing after Banks thumps him. Colleague Susan getting more of the game.
State of marriage/relationship: he’s in denial for most of the book about the collapse of his marriage; colleague Susan getting a touch of the Siobhans for her boss (a la Rebus)
Quotes: “Karaoke. Banks felt himself shudder at the thought. the only other words that had a similar effect on him were country-and-western music. An oxymoron if ever there was one.” (p12, pbk edition)
“Banks stood by the phone for a moment, head in his hands, tears burning in his eyes. Then he did what any reasonable man would do in his situation. He cranked Mozart‘s Requiem up as loud as he could bear it and got rat-arse drunk.” (p289)
Any other thoughts: continuing with the team approach to develop the narrative; the re-appearance of Dirty Dick Burgess; Banks trying to cut down on his smoking. The perils of a writer introducing new technology – a really embarrassing discussion about the internet. Banks “doing his Columbo impersonation”.