Sunday, January 23, 2011

You're Wrong. It's My Dad

It's back. What you say? The MacBook, I reply. Yes, due to my inability to think before 10am in the morning I left the MacBook in the Heathrow hotel safe before flying to India with no plans to return to the UK until May at the earliest.

Therefore, thanks goes out to my Dad, who is now officially the best Dad in the world (I know you probably thinks it's yours, well you're wrong. It's my Dad), and Steve and Anne for helping in the relocation process and getting it back to me in two weeks.

Tomorrow I'll blog properly about plans for the the next six months. For now, book reviews.

The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I first read Yoshihiro Tatsumi last year when I completed ‘A Drifting Life,’ the story of Tatsumi during his formative years as he struggled to become a successful comic book artist in Japan. He created in 1957, gekiga; a stark, realistic, cinema verite take on manga, that moved away from fantasy and portrayed the lives of the Japanese working class, more often the sort of damaged characters that exist on the edges of crime.
‘The Push Man and Other Stories,’ is the first in a series of publications from Drawn & Quarterly that plans to reprint the early works of Tatsumi, many of which are not easily accessible in the English language. This first collection, dated 1969, examines the lives of the working multitude in Tokyo, their relationships, loves and hates and sexual mores. He examines a tight, suffocating world that seems both alien in its foreigness to western audiences, but at the same time completely recognisable to any modern urbanite.
The art is thick line black on white. The faces of his characters are simple but convey emotion freely. He lavishes curving lines on both the naked female form and adds detail depth to cityscapes which stand out, full of incidence and cinematic in presentation, with just a little film noir darkness. It is not surprising that comic book producers such as Adrian Tomine find him so thrilling.
His writing style is sparse, though of course this work is in translation and it’s hard to give careful analysis based on the fact. That said, the comics are short, eight pages mostly, giving the stories a straight to the point with often a very matter of fact conclusion, often when dealing with shocking material. I’m looking forward to reading the others as D&Q plan to release one book a year.

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

I’ve been planning to read the Gormenghast trilogy for some time as I know it will have an impact on a project that’s been burning at the back of my mind for several years. The trilogy is one small step towards bringing that work into fruition. I already know the story having seen a television adaptation several years ago, which built up the lofty gothic heights of Gormanghast castle and introduced the Machevellian Steerpike and the new born Titus.
The story itself is small and short for a 500 page novel. In times the book hardly seems to move forward at all, but then that is the life of Gormenghast. It is rigid and constrained, the same monotonous and ancient rituals taking place each day, the stuffy, cold corridors, vast halls, towers and rooftops acting as a prison to the royal family and their servants inside.
It is then the language that sets this book apart. From the very outset Peake builds a world that though small is contained and completely believable. It is crumbling, twisted, archaic, fanciful, freezing, damp and muddy. The language builds on this so that the world becomes more of a character than those that inhabit its decaying walls.
The book is not an easy read, and by today’s standards it’s hardly a book of constant adventure and mystery, instead it reads like a leather bound book found on the shelf of some mysterious book shop, something from a time past.

Bowl of Cherries by Millard Kaufman

Every so often I read a book that having finished I assume was meant for an audience other than me. ‘Bowl of Cherries’, is one such work. I read it and all the time a little voice in the back of my head kept saying, ‘you’re not getting this.’
The book is American Jewish in both tone and concept. The sort of book that gets rave reviews in the New York Times but makes little head way with someone from the middle of England. It felt almost alien to me.
It’s a comedy of sorts, that unravels the history of why its young protagonist is being held in a dirty, hovel of a prison, all mud walls and dysentery, in a small (fictional?) kingdom in Southern Iraq. It follows the boy’s adventures as he is kicked out of university, falls in with some odd ball quacks, falls in love, works on a ranch and gets involved in the porn business in New York.
The language is hard going (I had to stop several times to look words up), as if Kaufman is showing off a lifetime of language skills, plus it reads as if set in the 1950s rather than the modern day. Surely no kid talks like this? Perhaps both of these facts are because Kaufman was well into his 90s when he wrote the book (he has since died).
It has some amusing moments, a few laughs, but more often than not it left me scratching my head.

1 comment:

Annabel said...

These are wonderful stories. And I definitely think my dad is the best one. :D Regards from Heathrow Airport hotels