Just read Libba Bray’s - A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY. About 4 girls in London’s Spence school in the 1800s. It’s like stepping into a delicious, gothic, time warp. It’s about friendship, cliques, power and pushing against society’s expectations for ‘proper girls’. A wonderful read, two thumbs up. Great atmosphere. Ever since I read that teeny séance scene in Graham Greene’s THE MINISTRY OF FEAR, and Bronte’s JANE EYRE, I’ve wanted to feel that spooky ambiance again. In fact, it’s part of the reason I loved SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, an opera by Stephen Schwartz, which debuted last year in Santa Barbara. It’s a remake of the old black and white movie of the same name and directed by Bryan Forbes.
Went to see Ian McEwan at City Arts and Lecture last week and he gave this terrific story of the genesis of his novel, ATONEMENT. He was in Holland and he had this idea of this young woman inside a house filling a vase with flowers. A young man was waiting for her outside and she was torn between wanting to see him and wanting to avoid him. McEwan then sketched the scene out in this notebook where he allows himself to jot down things he’s not working on. He forgot about the scene. Months later he had a different image of a younger girl watching a scene play out near the fountain, from her bedroom window. The third scene came weeks later when he realized the young girl at the window was looking back on her life and that one moment of misunderstanding that would reverberate throughout their lives.
Until that point, McEwan had thought the first scene could have been a short story, possibly something set in the future; it wasn’t until months later that he realized he had a novel. The first scene of course, is the character Celia (played by Keira Knightley in the movie) wanting to avoid Robbie Turner (played by James McAvoy).
It was fascinating to hear how the story came to him like a gift. Sometimes writers sit down with a definite plot in mind and other times, you’re backed into it and given small gems to piece together. And who are we to say no, to scoff in the face of the muse crooking her finger? The best you can do is scramble for a notebook and pen.
I had this experience myself, writing THE FIVE-FORTY-FIVE TO CANNES; I was with my mother in-law in Cannes, where I was supposed to be taking a break from writing. We were sitting at this sea-side café. It was a gorgeous sun drenched day and we were watching families come into the square from the beach for lunch. And I thought to myself, in my day-dreamy way, ‘how nice, these families must meet every year in Cannes over the course of their lives’. Even though they could have been locals, I decided they were visitors. And my next thought was, ‘What if one year, one family member, the golden boy, the black-sheep, doesn’t make it to Cannes?’ All I knew at the time was that the young man’s absence was ominous. That evening I sketched out an outline. Throughout the trip I wrote feverishly for three weeks and at the end of our vacation I had hand written THE FIVE-FORTY-FIVE TO CANNES in three notebooks in three weeks. It was an amazing, very Jane Austen, experience.
There’s something liberating about working on something ‘just for the fun’ of it, to see where it might go. There are times when you have a plot first and there are times when the story takes you by the hand and whirls you up in its dance. I recommend both.
I devoured Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and had nightmares. Fun! At first I was skeptical, a zombie book? (As in book vs. movie) How will that play out? Except I did enjoy director, Danny Boyle’s 28 WEEKS (and the sequel 28 DAYS) LATER. And then the book opens with her mother…and I’m hooked. Great book. I haven’t had a ‘oh god I’m glad it’s a dream nightmare’ moment, in a long while. Fun! Of course then I had to go out and consume THE DEAD TOSSED WAVES, in like two nights. Wonderful, intense read.
Speaking of Danny Boyle (and now I’m letting my Books section mix with my Brando section) have you seen the list of credits to this man’s name? Wow. Here’s just a few: SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, TRAINSPOTTING, SHALLOW GRAVE, MILLIONS, it goes on. He’s one to watch, isn’t he?
I’ve just finished INCARCERON. What a wild Alice in Wonderland ride. It’s about a young man who may or may not have been born in a prison that’s as vast as the dessert. Who may or may not be a dead prince. Fisher continually kept me guessing. My only critique of the book, if you can call it a critique, is I wanted to sit with the characters for just a breath longer. Love that Keiro. (Why is that? I loved Damon in LJ Smith’s book too). The sequel SAPPHIQUE is next, maybe it’ll be ‘all about Keiro’.
After Reading and giving a lecture for BLESS ME ULTIMA at the Hayward Library I made comparisons to Pan’s Labyrinth and Salem’s Lot----The scene with the preacher in the kitchen when the vampire leader breaks in and grabs the cross the preacher holds to ward him off and the nosferatu looking vampire says, “Your Faith against mine,” is one of my favorite showdown scenes. So now I feel the need to recommend the two. Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT is one of my all time favorite vampire movies, the scary factor is just unrelenting, and then the brother scratching at the window is, priceless. Smart-scary without the gore.
AN EDUCATION – A story about a girl’s coming of age in 1960s London. Okay, here’s the deal. I thought the acting was superb and Carey Mulligan is just a revelation. The entire cast is strong and I really like Peter Saarsgard, I thought he was intense in BOYS DON’T CRY, JARHEAD, SHATTERED GLASS, and his acting is always great, BUT-----spoilers coming so close your eyes. I didn’t believe that a young sixteen(?) year old, even a precocious one would fall in love with someone who was made up to look more like her father’s crowd. Maybe if she was college age…What would have been more believable to me was if he had switched places with Dominic Cooper. Cooper looked more the part of the ‘playboy’, someone I would believe a young girl, dozens of young girls, to fall head over heels and risk her future for. Cooper would’ve put a different spin on the whole throw your life away story-line.
Saarsgard is more of the quiet, steadfast, goodlooking, older brother type. I didn’t believe he was this playboy. I don’t know. Dominic Cooper would’ve been way more believable to me. It was a thorn in my side the entire movie. I wanted them to switch parts so then I couldn’t focus on the movie. I couldn’t get past it. Rosamund Pike is wonderful as the shallow, passive aggressive, girlfriend. Such a turn from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE’S gentle Jane.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Irish) – Ken Loach film about the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 and the Irish Civil War. Cillian Murphy is heartbreaking as is his character’s plight. You also learn a little bit of history.
Pan’s Labyrinth – Guillermo Del Toro. Set during Franco’s Spanish Civil War and filled with magical realism. A dark fairy tale of a girl’s coming of age. The young girl Ivana Baquero is TERRIFIC as Ofelia. She reminds me of Natalie Portman’s star turn as Mathilda in--- and also a great film, THE PROFESSIONAL.
Bequet caramels from Montana. Oh my gosh. Salty-sweet. Individually wrapped.
Luxe Cappuccinos, Los Angeles – oh so creamy goodness….sigh.