My Tango with Barbara Strozzi, by Russell Hoban: a quirky little novel that Hoban followers will love. Me? Not so much. It held a lot of promise: Phil Ockerman, gloomy over the reviews of his latest book and uneasy about Pluto coming over his Sagittarian ascendant, visits the Royal Academy and falls for the image of Barbara Strozzi, a seventeenth-century Venetian singer and composer. He has a transcendent moment:
Perhaps I fainted, I don’t know. I didn’t fall down, but it was a Road-to-Damascus kind of thing. A girl of twelve or thirteen and her mother approached as I stood there. ‘That man has an erection,’ said the girl.
‘Nonsense,’ said the mother as they moved on. ‘It’s probably his iPod.”
There was music in that look — not her own lamentate but something more coarse and sexual and a rhythm of controlled passion. I don’t know the dances of Guardi’s time and Strozzi’s, but for me the music and the dance became tango.
Naturally, following this, Phil enrolls in the Saturday evening beginners’ tango class in the basement of St. James’s church in Clerkenwell. There he meets Bertha Strunk, who seems to resemble Barbara Strozzi, and they begin a passionate but troubled relationship.
To this point and for a couple more chapters I was finding this all very funny: the combination of bizarre situations with meandering disquisitions on music and art was appealing. But it all starts to get odder and more difficult to follow and, after a couple more chapters, I would have abandoned it if it weren’t for the fact that this was a book club choice and so duty required that I finish it. There was too much about astrology and, really, too much of everything, resulting in a shapeless whole. The sentences, even paragraphs and pages, are often beautiful:
The carriage was full of young people and vernal expectation but I am a November sort of person, and I thought of the big rain that always comes in November to leave the trees black and bare the next morning and the ground covered with brown leaves.
But there is a haphazardness and lack of cohesiveness about the whole book that didn’t work for me.
Watched The Tudors, the TV mini-series about the court of King Henry VIII. It is well done, although some of the historical facts as we know them have been modified to suit some of the sideline plots.
Casting must have been more than the usual challenge, since we all have pictures of these figures built up from our history books and other book and screenplay treatments. Jonathan Rhys Meyers has the sensuality and arrogance that suits my picture of the king, although I imagine Henry to be physically taller and broader. I think Maria Doyle Kennedy is perfect as Catherine of Aragon: kind, devout, regal in a good way, and tragic as she senses Henry drawing away from her. And Sam Neill could not be better as the ruthless Cardinal Wolsey.
There is all that we have come to expect from this epic story: rich surroundings, pageantry, intrigue, betrayals, lust and violence. It’s a visual feast.
Tofu Teriyaki at Sushi Bella on Lonsdale in North Vancouver. Sushi Bella is a lively, noisy place with creative expressions of sushi and other Japanese dishes. My Lady Mango Roll (avocado, beets, and yam tempura roll with mango salsa) was a lot more delicious and less confused than it sounds. The Tofu Teriyaki was good but too much for me: it could have served three or four people. Go with a crowd.