Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Reading The Time Traveller's Wife

So why am I reviewing a 3-year-old book that was huge and pretty much everyone already knows about?

One reason is that Niffenegger's big novel touches on just about everything - fate, memory, happiness, fear, bereavement, illness, disability, religion, the future, hope, love, self-destructive anger, sex, jealousy, self-centredness and existential problems about the self, including that feeling of being disconnected from something important. The author's genius is to not simply to create the bizarre concept of a man with a time-displacement disorder, slipping out of time to other points in his or his wife's lives, but the genius is in how she makes this situation human, and then uses it to explore the way we look at ourselves, our relationships, our lives.

In the course of its pages, which plot out the relationship between Henry de Tamble the time-traveller and his great love (and time-static) Clare, we identify with Clare, as she feels the distance in the relationship created by time, and also (for instance) as she struggles with commitment to Henry and feels guilt about that - and has to conquer her fears for their future, often through producing some quite bizarre, and physical, art. But we also appreciate Henry's often strange reflections on life and how it works, and we can understand the way he resents the other version of himself he meets in his future; Niffenegger knows how, during the confusing teenage years, we can have ambiguous, even hostile, feelings about ourselves and our bodies. What is more, in the way Henry studies his older self, Niffenegger clearly perceives our resentment of those who have a better sense of security than ourselves, and reflects on how us creative types want to be in control of our own lives, not merely feel we are fitting in to a pattern laid out for us.

The book is filled with astute observations of how we work. Often the author draws attention to the human body, I think to celebrate the excellence of the way we work, move, interact, reproduce, and sometimes showing how frail we are and the enormous problems caused by just one thing being wrong with us. It seems to warn us to make the most of our time, and not to play around with other people's lives, something we do when we are young and impatient with what life is giving us. Niffenegger uses all kinds of settings and situations (a club in Chicago, a Christmas day mass, the apartment Henry's dad has let deteriorate) to examine how we treat those around us, and the way our values change as we become older.

Although it is mostly concerned with Henry's survival, Clare's next big challenge and the love story, there is a section some time after the midway point where it becomes too much about representing their feelings abstractly, through dreams and other more obvious techniques. And the book bares all, including the ugly side of attempting to conceive a child, and some unhelpfully explicit details of their sex life (outrageously, the incredible gift of sex is exploited for our analysis and entertainment purposes when the sensation is designed to be shared between two people and not compared and dissected).

Having said that, Niffenegger clearly knows what makes a good yarn, and has read her Homer. The end of the novel is exceptionally well done, finding a neat (and intriguingly non-spiritual) solution which still leaves you feeling full of hope for the pair of lovers and for the time ahead, widening our own horizons: What things have we yet to see, and to discover? What are we holding on for?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Another heavy, epic, action anime to watch?

This anime should be worth watching (over 18s only please)! There seem to be more and more of these kind of projects - fusing Eastern artistic talent with Western ideas (here Dante's Inferno, which is all about Hell). See Batman: Gotham Knight and (especially) The Animatrix, for other interesting examples. (I liked the Batman one, it was a mixture of one-note shorts which were brutal, mysterious, and simple little stories.)

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

November tune-age

Here's a new playlist for your Spotify browser (because I enjoyed making the last one): November tunes. Discovering Vampire Weekend, White Lies (thanks Joe) and finding some classics from Goo Goo Dolls and Genesis have been the highlights this month. I must make more time for the Muse album, which sounds incredible. You will also find some Switchfoot, Killers and a track from Mark Ronson's album Version. Click on the tag "music-related" to find other music reviews from the blog's past, including Elbow, who have been on top form the last couple of years.

I've also written about the Killers and Jars of Clay. Let me know what music is catching your attention at the moment!

Monday, 9 November 2009

Visiting Penguin publishing in London

So last Thursday I travelled up to Penguin Books for a day called "Getting Into Publishing". As you can see, it wasn't hard to find the place :)
I met some fantastic people: editors, publicists, publishers, sales and finance and marketing and book production people, assistants, and students and graduates looking for work. It was exciting to be amongst so many great people who were really passionate about books.

This has thrown up some more questions for me: I love working with words, ideas and communicating the best aspects of a book, the experience I've had with it, the fresh take it gives on big themes. So do I want to work in marketing, focusing on how to promote a book through its cover, informing the trade press, writing newsletters, etc. Or do I want to work on actually producing the books themselves? And then, there's other questions, such as children's or adult? Fiction or non-fiction?

Hearing how publicists make opportunities to spotlight books by generating news stories was interesting, and explains a lot. I guess this fuels the book industry, and gives newspapers a lighter story or a story in a completely different area that wouldn't have come up otherwise. Of course it also helps sales in independent book shops (which are struggling) as well as helping Penguin make money!

It was a really interesting day, and hopefully not the last time I visit Penguin. They gave us lot of tips about how to start with Penguin, and generally in publishing. We were also given some books, including "Twitterature" which is so WRONG but so FUNNY.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Graphic novel: Silverfish

Now I am not a big fan of horror, although I do enjoy some of the darker and more violent crime thrillers in Hollywood, such as Kiss the Girls or even the classic, The Fugitive. Here's another exception.

In this black-and-white graphic novel, we are taken on a movie-like journey through Hitchcock suspicion and mystery, through the tension of the "serial-killer-is-lurking" territory, to a high-stakes, high-adrenaline, almost-teen slasher climax. And it all works - particularly as the creator adds something that could only be done in comics: the bizarre 'silverfish' which seem to be fantasy breaking in on our reality. And we are still left with some questions tantalisingly unanswered. What really drove the villain to kill? (There are many suggested reasons.) And what do others know about the strange titular 'fish'?

A good read. In my book, not quite a must-have comic - but that reflects more on my philosophy that it owning stuff isn't everything than this book's quality.

I'm off to visit Penguin Books tomorrow, on a numbers-restricted Open Day. Let's hope this leads to something...