Sunday, January 27, 2008

A great book, a great movie - Atonement

On Friday we saw the movie Atonement.

As this was one of the best books I have read in the past few years (and the other -Saturday was by the same author, Ian McEwan) I was anxious to see it. As always when attending a movie based on a book, I wondered whether it would do credit to the writing or whether it would disappoint. It did not disappoint.

It amazes me, thinking about it, how the author managed to create the mood, delineate the characters - and not only in snapshots but as evolving beings that grow and mature through time- and how he managed to get a complex message across without preaching but with that tender treatment that is so necessary to open the reader's mind to it.

The movie captures almost all of this. The visuals show the WWI era in England needed for the story through well chosen settings, costumes and vignettes. The casting is wonderful although the actors were mostly unknown to me, except for Vanessa Redgrave who has a cameo at the end. They all do a tremendous job. Especially the young Briony. The tensions are well displayed not only in the dialogue but in their body language, and in their little mannerisms. The twists of the plot are nicely eked out in the subtle replaying of events through different characters' eyes (a technique used in the book). The reality hidden under the surface dawns slowly as it would in real life for the characters involved (although having read the book, and knowing more than I should, this suspense was spoiled somewhat for me)

And the sound track! Wonderful. At one point we hear a group of men at Dunkirk singing the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" (to the tune Repton) one familiar to me. It was so moving; it seemed to so accurately express the yearning of the men for home and all that was good and dear to them and which must have seemed so far away at that moment as they were in retreat, near defeat on the Beach.

I love the almost frantic typing that the movie begins with and which recurs at points throughout the movie. The book the movie is based on is about writing. It is about childhood and the loss of innocence. It is about how we create worlds in our mind that only over time we see as fantasies, our own constructions, not God's truth. As Briony says about her manuscript " it's about something I saw... and I thought I understood but I didn't". Ah, how true that is of all of us. Blind to our own ignorance. It is well named as it is about atonement. It reminds us how flawed we are and how we have such hubris and how we cause such pain. The story of Atonement was Briony's guilt and awareness of her faults put on paper. It was her attempt to fix the injustices of the world on paper, trying to put it right. Isn't this what many writers are trying to do? Recreate the world.

With an excellent book there is a good chance for an excellent movie in the right hands. And the movie Atonement deserves to be called a triumph.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's Next

I'm reading Michael Crichton's book NEXT. Crichton always takes some scientific "news" and then asks the question that Stephen King advises writers to start with, that is "what if...". What comes after the what if of course is up to the author and makes or breaks the book. In this one Crichton asks - what if genetic "advances" got out of control, or are they already out of control. What if a genetic "advance" was accidentally found which allowed humans to modify violent or unreliable behaviour such as addiction and was exploited by various interests and what if other genetic experiments allowed transgenic modification of primates such as chimps or parrots which allowed them to learn human language and other "human" skills. And along the way we learn about theft of body parts, strange genetic diseases, patenting of human genomes, stem cell research and other concerns of the biotech business.

I always enjoy Crichton's books and this one is no exception. I always learn so much. The reader reviews for this one weren't all that good; fans were disappointed and said it didn't live up to previous efforts, others said it was too segmented, jumping around from character to character, following different storylines which then intersect, so they found it hard to follow. Some called it "middling" Crichton.

I am just over half way through and I might agree that this isn't his best book but the quality is not so low that I would not recommend it if you like this kind of book. The author does jump around a lot and I usually don't like that but perhaps I am getting used to it as a technique, or maybe it just suits the kind of story he is trying to tell. The book is punctuated with seemingly true excerpts from various media - print, internet etc.- about various biotech research results. One for example- supposedly from the BBC- reports on experts in Germany who suggest that blondes will become extinct by 2022. " Scientists say too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last much longer." Another of these pseudo reports is about transgenic species - a cactus which grows hair, or a butterfly with two different wings - displayed by artists as art or genetically modifed fluorescing fish marketed under the brand name " glofish" as a pet . All too believeable given the proximity these items are to what we read in our morning newspapers or in Discover magazine. It is hard in fact to distinguish which parts are true and which are fiction. As one reviewer said:

It’s tempting to stop and look up each of the genetic, legal and ethical aberrations described here in order to see how wild a strain of science fiction is afoot. Save a step. Just believe this: Oddity after oddity in “Next” checks out, and many are replays of real events. “This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren’t,” Mr. Crichton writes, greatly understating the book’s scary legitimacy.

And he's right because I did want to bring the book down to my computer and look up some of these things, to check which of these startling scientific practices are really of the present rather than the future.

Yes, the characters are a bit one dimensional and not very lovable (except for Gerard the telltale parrot) but I do want to find out how they end up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A movie I won't miss

That is Atonement. The book is still in my top ten list of best books and I MUST see how it is interpreted on film. I like very much the website promoting the movie which I have linked above. It seems to set the mood very well which bodes well, I think, for the movie. Some good clips, too, without giving anything away.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 blog resolution

I haven't done very well keeping up with this blog have I ? So should I bother making a resolution? I guess it can't hurt. But perhaps I should be more specific than just saying I will post more often here than I did last year. I should say I will post at least once a week. That perhaps is something to aim for although I would hope to do better than that.

I got a couple of books as gifts for Christmas one of which I almost finished. The book I started to read was "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid. It is about Antigua which I thought would be interesting as we spent some time in Caribbean and the first chapter was, I thought, charming in an acidic way.

However, as I went on I became more and more disappointed; it turned into a rant against the perpetual sins of colonial times (The blame is never ending. The ills placed at the colonial doorstep seem to persist even though the British have long gone). The author has too much of an agenda, in my view. She could have said the same things more convincingly and with better effect had she kept it more balanced. I didn't finish it and will not keep it.

The other one I got in my stocking was Next by Michael Crichton which I look forward very much to reading it although some readers' reviews are full of disappointment. Tonight would be a good night to start it.

I hadn't started that one because I also dipped into books I bought for my so (significant other, ie. my husband!). The first one I finished quickly as it was a very easy read, though worthwhile. The Man who Forgot how to read by Howard Engel (the author of the Benny Cooperman mysteries) is about the author's experiences in having a stroke and being left unable to read (though he was still able to write!) As a writer and a reader (and since my husband did have a mini-stroke a couple of years ago which affected his short term memory somewhat, I thought this book would be of interest to both of us and it was. I had enjoyed reading a couple of Engel's Cooperman mysteries so was happy to learn he could still write and it was fascinating to learn of how he learned to cope with this rather rare brain disfunction.

The other book, which I have only read a bit of, is Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
This too is about brain function, delving into musical skills and love of music and it's relation to brain function.

Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people--from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds--for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson's disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer's or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

My husband loves to play guitar and he sings in a barbershop chorus where one of the members had a stroke which affected his speech badly but which did not at all affect his singing! So this book is of interest also and I look forward to getting back at it (as soon as my husband is through with it!!!)

So there is my work cut out for me for a while.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)