52 weeks – 25 May, 2013

Book

Ground-BeneathThe Ground Beneath her Feet, by Salman Rushdie. I listened to it on CD. I wanted to like this novel, and I remained interested through the early parts set in Bombay—but in the end I thought it was too self-indulgent and uncontrolled to be successful.

It’s a long saga of a book and therefore many, many CDs. About six disks before the end, I was seriously flagging but I decided, having got that far, to finish it. But over the last few disks I found myself many times shouting at the CD player, “That’s it! That’s an ending! No more!” But, no: on and on the story went, Rushdie seemingly unable to finish it.

Based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the story of Ormus Cama and Vina Apsara is a sort of love story. It’s set against the world of rock music from the fifties to the nineties. Rock musicians and their music are referenced constantly through the story—some with their real names, some with composite names that sound like a person or a song you ought to know. The story is narrated by Rai, their friend and a rival for Vina’s love.

One of the many twists on reality is that Ormus makes rock music before anyone else:

And music, popular music, was the key that unlocked the door for them, the key to magic lands.

In India it’s often said that the music I’m talking about is precisely one of those viruses with which the almighty West has infected the East, one of the great weapons of cultural imperialism, against which all right-minded persons must fight and fight again. Why then offer up paeans to cultural traitors like Ormus Cama, who betrayed his roots and spent his pathetic lifetime pouring the trash of America into our children’s ears? Why raise low culture so high, and glorify what is base? Why defend impurity, that vice, as if it were a virtue?

This is what Ormus and Vina always claimed, never wavering for a moment: that the genius of Ormus Cama did not emerge in response to, or in imitation of, America; that his early music, the music he heard in his head during his unsinging childhood years, was not of the West, except in the sense that the West was in Bombay from the beginning, impure old Bombay where West, East, North and South had always been scrambled, like codes, like eggs, and so Westernness was a legitimate part of Ormus, a Bombay part, inseparable from the rest of him.

It was an amazing proposition: that the music came to Ormus before it ever visited the Sun Records studio or the Brill building or the Cavern Club. That he was the one who heard it first. Rock music, the music of the city, of the present, which crossed all frontiers, which belonged equally to everyone—but to my generation most of all because it was born when we were children, it spent its adolescence in our teenage years, it became adult when we did, growing paunchy and bald right along with us: this was the music that was first revealed to a Parsi Indian boy named Ormus Cama who heard all the songs in advance, two years, eight months and twenty-eight days before anyone else.

How could such a thing happen?

It’s an appealing idea and of course you can get swept up in the hypnotic magic of Rushdie’s way with words. The problem with this book for me is that I eventually got tired of the magic realism, alternative reality, in-love-with-language style because there seemed no end to it. Here is a paragraph in which the essential meaning is almost lost by the many parenthetical embroideries:

We must wait a little longer for the answer, until Ormus Cama has returned home from the record store, stunned by joy (because of his meeting with that under-age nymphet, Vina Apsara) and horror (because of his discovery of the “theft” of his secret music by Jesse Parker, Jack Haley’s Meteors, and sundry other quiffed and finger-snapping Yanks). The answer cannot be given until Ormus has first encountered his inquisitive matchmaker of a mother, who is anxious to know how things went with “dear Persis, such an able girl, with so many good qualities, so dutiful, so well-educated, such good marks in her Matric and Senior Cambridge, and quite pretty in a way, don’t you think so, Ormus dear,” to which perfunctory encomium he makes no reply other than a shrug. Then he must lounge lazily through the dining room, past the decrepit old domestic servant pretending to polish the silver candelabrum on the sideboard, Gieve, the kleptomaniac head bearer, whom his father took on from the departed William Methwold, and who now bears the title of “butler,” thanks to Sir Darius’s fondness for Lord Emsworth’s immortal Beach, and who has been very, very slowly stealing the family silver for years…

Yes, it’s a delicious wallow and yes, it’s entertaining—and for a while that is enough.

Rock lyrics occur many times, but they lose power without their musical accompaniment and in their unadorned state they are sometimes so banal that they serve to undermine the power of the story rather than accentuate it.

I believe that Rushdie would have been better served by his publisher if he had been assigned a more ruthless editor. His rich facility with language, plays on words, literary references, poetic ramblings, philosophical lectures, history lessons—both real and fictional—are wonderful in moderate doses, but they need to be reigned in. The embroideries on and tangential outgrowths of the central plot should be minimized. The complexities of the characters—oops, I’m doing it myself. I’ll stop now.

TV series

The NewsroomThe Newsroom, by Ken Finkleman. This Canadian TV series was originally  broadcast on CBC. There are three seasons and a two hour TV movie. So far, I’ve watched seasons 1 and 2.

It’s a darkly funny series, with the main character George Findlay (Ken Finkleman) and the anchor Jim Walcott (Peter Keleghan) demonstrating varying degrees of incompetence. George is self-obsessed, duplicitous and cunning. Jim is completely unaware of what is going on in the world but he presents a slick, smiling front for the news program.

Karen (played by Karen Hines) is the voice of wisdom, good taste and integrity, though she manages to inject some wonderful deadpan comedy into her scenes with George.

George’s sidekicks, different people in season 1 and season 2, are an ongoing support group who listen to his often outlandish ideas with only a slight widening of the eyes or a hesitant repetition of the main points to reflect the sane person’s response to George’s views. My current favourite is Matt (Matt Watts). His eyes flicker behind his glasses as he appears to process George’s latest and decide how to respond to it.

At the end of season 2, there are four episodes done documentary style. These bear a strong resemblance to The Office, the hilarious original British version created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.

I haven’t yet watched Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, the US newsroom drama series that premiered in 2012. It sounds as though it leans more to drama than comedy, though it might be an interesting contrast in styles.

Food

BottlesEarly evening light coming through the wine bottles stored and displayed at Arms Reach Bistro in Deep Cove.

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