Friday, June 15, 2007

To The North

When I picked up To The North by Elizabeth Bowen, it was primarily because it was a Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Edition. The distinctive cover immediately caught my eye on the shelf of the used bookstore. But I'd never heard of her or the book.

I had a hard time getting into it. To The North is the story of Cecilia and her sister-in-law Emmeline. Cecilia is widowed but has a suitor in the form of the rather passionless Julian Tower. Emmeline, quiet and gentle, is surprised by her attraction to the "predatory" Mark Linkwater. Bowen's writing style is a bit flowery for me and took a little getting used to. Here's an example:
But intense experience interposed like a veil between herself and these objects. When he spoke or approached it was for an instant as though the veil parted; something unknown came through -- though he was all the time formlessly near her like heat or light. His being was written all over her; if he was not, she was not: then they both dissipated and hung in the air. But still something restlessly ate up the air, like a flame burning.
It was a little odd at first, but her style grew on me. Once I got to the halfway point, I had a hard time putting it down. There are several other novels and short-story collections of hers available, and I would definitely read her again.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Books and Movies

I finished two books over the weekend. The first was The Monsters: Mary Shelley and the Curse of Frankenstein. It's sort of a biography of Mary Shelley, her husband, Percy Shelley, Lord Bryon and John Polidori -- especially revolving around that infamous night in 1816 when they challenged each other to write ghost stories. Shelley's Frankenstein is the most popular, but I've read Polidori's Lord Ruthven and it's quite good. It's supposedly the first fictional appearance of a vampire in the form we recognize today -- and the model for all vampire characters since. Poor Lord Bryon -- Lord Ruthven is supposedly based on him and it doesn't paint a very nice portrait.

Mary Shelley's life was unbelievably sad; her mother died in childbirth, her father never paid her any attention and she lost her first three children at very young ages. But I learned a lot about her and I'm very tempted to pick up Frankenstein to read it again.

After The Monsters and Mao, I needed something a little lighter and I cruised through The Nanny Diaries in just a couple of sittings. It was exactly what I needed -- something light and fluffy with just enough of a character to root for. It's structured almost exactly like The Devil Wears Prada, but I liked The Nanny Diaries much better.

I've also seen a bunch of good movies lately. Notes on a Scandal was kind of like watching a train wreck; you didn't really want to see it but you couldn't pull away. Judi Dench is unbelievable. I don't watch many foreign films but Zhang Yimou is fascinating to me. I watched Curse of the Golden Flower and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Seriously, watch one of his films sometime. I'm sure I'll get comments about this, but I can't think of an American film director who shoots movies like that. It's almost like color is another character in the movie. Curse of the Golden Flower is Hamlet-like with lots of family intrigue and violence. And definitely worth seeing.

Finally, last night I watched The Queen. I'd had the movie in the house for more than a week and a half, yet I kept putting it off. I think I really didn't want to relive that terrible time when Diane died. I was a very impressionable 15 years old when I got up at 4 am to watch her get married; and she was only four years older than I was. It was hard to have to sit through her death again. And let's just say the members of the Royal Family do NOT come off very well in this film. It is, of course, difficult to judge some of the conversations. You know the Royal Family isn't talking about that and I doubt Tony Blair is either -- so how accurate they are is anybody's guess. Still, given what the public saw, the conversations seem realistic. And Helen Mirren is, of course, fantastic as Queen Elizabeth.

Posts will continue to remain spotty as graduate school takes up more time than I imagined. But my refuge is still reading for my own pleasure, and I'm going to try to do as much as I can.