A Biography of Story

 

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I am not a great lover of nonfiction books, I do love history and the odd travel book but, when I saw Trish Nicholson was publishing another book, I immediately pre-ordered it from the web site. With some strange quirk, I got this splendid tome at least two months early. The full title is: A Biography of Story: A Brief History of Humanity.

The book, or should I say Story, for it is sort of she who narrates this adventure, starts of at the beginning of mankind, with cave drawings and the short stories of early civilizations from all round the world, Australian Aboriginals, to Indian Temples. She writes about places and cultures with an expertise of an Academic, which she is but, written with an ease so kind to the eye and easy to read.

I love the short stories throughout the book, all surrounded by Nicholson’s wonderful prose. Her own love for the short story comes through on every page. And as she brings the narrative up to the modern age and wonders about Story’s future, in this digital world, you realize how much the written word of storytelling has evolved throughout the centuries and how much they mean to the author, Story.

She must have exhaustingly researched this book but it seems as if she just sat down at the typewriter and wrote it off the top of her head. I have read a few of Trish Nicholson’s books and they are all wonderfully written, from travel books to books on how to improve your writing. She doesn’t dumb down neither does she put on needless flourishes, when you read her books, you are in good company.

The Western World 2

Great writing from Adrian Tinniswood.

Adrian Tinniswood

1905-john-millington-synge-2 John Millington Synge

Synge got three Guardian articles out of Erris, each illustrated with one of Jack Yeats’ oddly haunting drawings of thatched cabins, empty roads and half-formed faces. One day, they drove to the village of Geesala and walked out along the edge of Blacksod Bay until they came to the hamlet of Dooyork. The houses they saw were poor and primitive, ‘broken-down hovels of the worst kind’. People stared from their doorways as they walked by. Women passed them bringing in heaps of seaweed or turf in great panniers slung across horses, often with a toddler perched on top.

They got back to Belmullet to find Carter Square heaving with humanity. It was Friday 23 June, the eve of the Feast of St John the Baptist, and as the sun went down bonfires were being lit all over the west of Ireland. ‘A relic of Druidical rites’, according…

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The Western World 1

Adrian Tinniswood

Jack Yeats.jpg

It is late. The square is full of flaring fire and people.

In the falling midsummer light of a St John’s Eve crowds laugh and gasp at the antics of the boys as they hurl flaming paraffin-soaked sods of turf high into the sky, catching them and throwing them up over and again, leaping over bonfires, colliding with each other, swinging lengths of burning hay-rope around their heads. A child, caught in an ecstasy of pleasure and dread, reaches out unthinking to clutch the hand of a tall man, who just as unthinking returns its grip. This unlikely couple, who have never met before and will never meet again, stand close together, holding hands, until the fire play is done. Then the little girl vanishes back into the crowd and the half-light.

*

On any day, Carter Square in Belmullet is a mass of moving metal. Cars and 4x4s, camper…

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Leda

The Last Days of Leda Grey

This latest novel from, Essie Fox is in the tradition of her other novels, The Somnambulist, Elijah’s Mermaid and The Goddess and The Thief, three individual wonderfully written books, based in the Victorian era. The Last Days of Leda Grey, is a bit different, it’s not based in that period but, Fox has shifted her attention to one long hot summer in the mid seventies and going back in time to the Edwardian era and to the early days of silent films.

Ed, is a hip young journalist, working for a trendy London magazine. We learn he has had a troubled past and is a bit wasted from too much excess from a life in Fleet Street. While in the “Brightland” lanes, he comes across a little shop selling all kinds of hippy and occult paraphernalia, he sees a photo of Bette Davis and on a whim, because it reminds him of his mother, he goes into the shop. The proprietor is an old man, a bit shabby with a Bobby Charlton comb over. As Ed looks round the shop he sees some monochrome pictures of a dark-haired beauty. He is captivated by her and when the old man tells him she is still alive, he decides to track her down, thinking there could be a story in it for his magazine.

I thought this book was fantastic, I’m not great at writing reviews and only do it when something moves me, something I’ve really enjoyed. I read this book very quickly, it just flows along on the page, the writing is rich and descriptive, I like how great writers do that and it was so clever how Fox, made a kind of parallel universe in the town of Brightland, reminded me a bit of Lyra’s Oxford, in Philip Pullmans, His Dark Materials books. When I started to write this, I had to skimm through the book to help jog my memory and was once again, struck  by the wonderful writing of Essie Fox. All the characters are fascinating and well-drawn. Her locations make you feel as if you are in them, with the claustrophobia of the Brightland Lanes shop, to the mysterious shed. The house on the cliff, with its run-down rooms, like an old mausoleum. Every page is a Gothic painting of words.

Surreal Encounters at the Festival

Surreal Encounters.

The Edinburgh Festival is over for another year; amongst all the comedy acts and fringe madness, there was also a couple of art exhibitions, one at the Scottish National Gallery, on Princess Street and another one at The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, just over the Deans bridge. I have been to both but this post will be about the second one, I may write about the first one, Inspiring Impressionism: Daubigny, Monet and Van Gogh, if I find the time. It is a fantastic exhibition and if you are going to Edinburgh, soon! I highly recommend it.

When the Festival comes around I always look for Shakespeare in the mix. In the past I have been lucky to see Kenneth Branagh and his Renaissance company productions of King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, staged in the Kings Theater back in the late eighties. That was amazing and, pretty much led to my total love of Shakespeare. I have managed to see one or two fantastic, independent plays on the Festival Fringe, my favourite being a post-apocalyptic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream but, this year I didn’t spot any.

The Surreal Encounters exhibition is spread out over nine or ten spaces; right at the start in the first part, the corridor actually, there to my delight, are some small pieces by Picasso, we are in for a treat here. The Encounters part of the exhibition refers to four collectors, five if you count the husband and wife, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch. The other three are Edward James, Roland Penrose and Gabrielle Keiller. I knew of Penrose, he was married to the photographer Lee Miller and was a great friend of Picasso. He was a major promoter and collector of modern art; he was also an artist in his own right, with some of his work on display in this exhibition. The other individuals, collectors of surreal artwork, I was not so familiar with, Gabrielle Keiller who bequeathed her art collection to The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art was a top ladies golfer, who fell in love with surreal art later in life. I hope l will get around to reading about them more extensively later, I will probably invest in the accompanying book for the exhibition, it is twenty-two pounds and is a bit of a door step, I didn’t fancy carrying it around Edinburgh with me all day.

The work on display are fantastic, there is a big section on Dali, some wonderful pieces including his: The May West Lips Sofa. I have been to see Dali’s: Christ of Saint John of the Cross, at the Kelvingrove gallery in Glasgow, many times, it is stunning. Seeing these works on display in Edinburgh has more than helped reinforced my enthusiasm for Salvador Dali. With paintings by Picasso, Joan Miro, photographs by Man Ray, great paintings by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Alberto Giacometti. This was a very impressive Exhibition, from a wonderful and, very conveniently close Gallery.

Post Script: This exhibition finishes today Sunday 11th of September 2016.

The Noise Of Time

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes.

I have just finished this unusual and intriguing novel, maybe it’s not so unusual for a Julian Barnes novel, it is the first one I have read, so it may not be so unusual after all. A few months ago I did read his collected essays on art and artists: Keeping an Eye Open, it was a follow on from many years ago, 1989, of reading his book of short stories: A History of The World in 10 ½ Chapters, in which he first wrote about art in a chapter on Gericault’s The Raft of The Medusa. This book too, is about art, music mainly and one mans story in the arts.

I spotted this book as I was browsing the shelves of Waterston’s in Livingston, quite a slim volume, a plane brown dust cover, like a home-made brown paper cover of a child’s school book, with a sort of a cartoon drawing of a man with glasses; looking over his right shoulder nervously, as if he is expecting someone, he is wearing a coat and holding a case.

After I bought it; I walked over the road and settled down in the local coffee shop, only intending to read a page or two, normally, I am too easily distracted to concentrate on reading anything in public but, this book was different, I managed to read a good third before I had to move on. It is a book full of short paragraphs with lots of space between them, this made me read it quite quickly.

I thought the man in the book, who was standing by the lift, waiting for the NKVD to take him to the “big house” in the middle of the night, was a fictitious character, his name is Dmitri Dmitriyevich. I think most people will know who he is, it took me until the middle of the book to realize that Dmitri Dmitriyevich, a composer, is Shostakovich the composer. He mentions his symphonies and his opera: Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk early on, I still I didn’t know who he was. This was a real surprise to me, I almost laughed out loud, I’m not sure if the author was intending to create this reaction in his readers, I think it was an unintentional bonus for me, not to know who Dmitri Dmitriyevich was. I loved the way Julian Barnes tells this story, it is like a biography, though it is I think from his imagination, after much research [I] would imagine. He gets into the head of the man and describes his fears, his bravery and cowardice, under the [power] of Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Over the course of the book, I had the sense of Dmitri Dmitriyevich getting older and the moving passage of time. Barnes’ writing is a treat, all the Russian names and places are seamlessly inserted into the prose without making it a difficult read. This is a very clever story; I don’t know if it is exactly how Shostakovitch thought about his life but, maybe some of you will have a better insight than me, all I can say is I enjoyed: The Noise of Time, and I will be giving his other novels a go.