52 weeks – 7 October, 2012

book

The second part of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Laguna is so different from the first that it seems as though it ought to be clearly labelled a sequel.

In the earlier part, Fletcher is depicted growing up with his feckless mother in Mexico, moving from place to place, and finding positions first in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and then with Lev Trotsky. The text is lavishly sprinkled with Mexican words and Frida Kahlo’s version of English is gloriously mangled. The world is colourful.

In the second part, Fletcher makes his rather grey, adult life in the US after the death of his American father. At first, he succeeds as a writer and it seems as though this lonely character has found a suitable niche. But he is living in the US during the McCarthy era and he comes to the attention of government agents. His former associations are taken as clear evidence of Communist sympathies.

Here, there is another lacuna: missing notebooks that could be used against Fletcher. It is also the gap between truth and reputation. Kingsolver delivers a frightening portrait of a net closing in around Fletcher, where wild accusations are given the weight of truth and the words of a character in one of his books are repeated endlessly as his own, supposedly treasonous, view. How can a modern country be gripped by such hysteria? Well — looking at some of the news coverage of US politicians over the past decade — only too easily, it appears, and it is still possible for accusations without a shred of hard evidence to be taken as truth by those who are receptive.

His secretary, Mrs. Violet Brown, a simple, straightforward woman who becomes deeply loyal to her employer, narrates much of the second part of the book. Her old fashioned American small town colloquialisms (“My stars,” “Fiddlesticks,” “Mr. Fletcher, how be ye?”) are perfectly rendered.

food

October brings a three-course fixed price special dinner to the Salmon House. For dessert, I had the Floating Island, a heavenly confection of lightly poached meringue on créme anglaise with little puddles of dulce de leche in it. It was so good, I could have licked the plate.

movie

Saw Rust and Bone at the Vancouver Film Festival. Before going, I knew only that it was by a French director, Jacques Audiard, and it starred the wonderful Marion Cotillard.

The move is powerful and, most of the time, unpredictable. Cotillard and her co-star, Matthias Schoenaerts, are an unlikely pair. He makes a precarious living: he does odd jobs to support his young son and does no-holds-barred street fighting to make more money; she is a killer whale trainer. You’re left off balance by the twists and turns of their relationship and the events of their lives. A brilliant, disturbing film.

52 weeks – 30 September, 2012

book

Listened to Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, read by the author. I didn’t notice who the reader was at first, but I noticed how careful she was to enunciate clearly — almost too carefully, as if English were not her first language. But by the end of the first disk I had adjusted to the slow pace and careful pronunciation and started to rather like it. There are a lot of Mexican words, but you can usually guess what they mean from the context.

The way Kingsolver reads is a fitting counterpart to the way she writes. Her use of language is uniquely fresh — never for a moment does she resort to cliché.

25 August

Today begins the year of all suffering at the School of Cretins, Deaf-Mutes, and Boys of Bad Character on Avenida Puig. The classroom is like a prison hall full of writhing convicts, its iron-barred windows set high along one wall. Small boys and monkeys for pupils. No one else there could be fourteen or anything near it, they’re the size of baboons. The Holy Virgin feels very sorry but remains outside, on her cement pedestal in the small tidy garden. She has sent her son Jesus in with the other wretches, and he can’t flee either. He is pegged to his cross on the wall, dying all the day, rolling his eyes behind the back of the Señora Bartolome, even He can’t stand the look of her clay-pipe legs and those shoes.

She teaches one subject only: “Extricta Moralidad!” The tropical climate inclines young persons of Mexican heritage to moral laxity, she says.

Señora Bartolome, perdon. We are at an elevation of 2,300 meters above sea level, so it isn’t tropical, strictly speaking. The average monthly temperature ranges from twelve to eighteen degrees Centigrade. It’s from the Geographical Atlas.

Punished for insolence. Bad Character accomplished, the first day of term. Tomorrow perhaps, Deaf-Mute. After that one could aspire to Cretin.

The Lacuna is the story of the life and times of Harrison Fletcher, who spends several periods of his early life in Mexico and later lives in the U.S. (He has a Mexican mother and a “gringo” father.) The history of the two countries in the Thirties through to the Second World War forms the backdrop of the first part of the novel. Fictionalized historic figures appear: Fletcher spends time in the household of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and is a secretary to Trotsky. Even though we are reading fictionalized history, Kingsolver makes us realize how much of a lacuna — a gap, something that is missing — there is between events and the memory of them, particularly when events become history with all the filtering and shading that happens as history is written.

Kingsolver herself says,

This novel about memory, history, American political identity, privacy, celebrity, gossip and truth, I had contemplated for decades … It is without doubt the most difficult and satisfying work I’ve done.

more …

food

Sushi and shrimp/scallop skewers at Deep Cove Osaka.

TV series

Parade’s End. Oh dear: I was so sure I was going to love Parade’s End. But love has not blossomed after watching the first two episodes. Probably I should watch a couple more episodes before coming to hasty conclusions. It didn’t help that the sound was somewhat murky on the recording.

It has such promise. Ford Madox Ford’s story is one of moral struggle. The adaptation is by Tom Stoppard. Benedict Cumberbatch does a fine job of stiff integrity and conservatism as John Tietjens. So far, I am finding Rebecca Hall a bit over the top in the role of his selfish and shallow wife and Adelaide Clemens just too young and naive as his platonic love interest. But I want to like it. So I will continue watching.