Fowles was a writer who always seemed content to remain in the shadows, on the edge of things. He would emerge now and again to play the part of the cantankerous recluse, but he was, in essence a private, even hermetic man.
With camp, hedonistic and sexually vulgar films, notable for their strong, flamboyant women and their comic, melodramatic treatment of everything from necrophilia to the need to keep your eye on the gazpacho, Almodóvar has risen to the top of the Spanish film industry. But now…
Many continue to see the director’s films as cold and cynical, as being somehow stripped of heart and sentiment, as being products of a hard and rational intellect.
Three books changed my life. George Orwell’s 1984, Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The novel is narrated by August Brill, a writer, a widower, an old man. Brill is recovering from a car accident and sharing a house with his daughter and granddaughter, who are both grieving their own losses. Brill can’t sleep and so tells himself a story about a man called Owen Brick, who wakes up to find himself in another America, an America at war, but with itself rather than Iraq. An America in which the Towers stand while all around them falls apart.
He refuses to accept the dominance of money over medicine and the alarming diagnoses of bipolar disorder in infants. ‘We now have a system that inhibits our abilities to find cures while encouraging companies to seek short-term profits by co-opting bipolar disorder for the purposes of increasing the sales of major tranquilizers to infants. Giving major tranquilizers to children is little different from giving children cancer chemotherapy when they have a cold.’
His cold restraint, often criticized, is the source of his tremendous power as a novelist. His themes—displacement, power, the value of literature, the fictive possibilities of personal history—are worked and reworked into novels which shine hard like diamonds, unbreakable.
‘Coffee table book’ is a familiar pejorative used to describe an intellectual lounge ornament which, should the need arise, can also serve as a doorstop, table prop or weapon in marital dispute.
Hobbie suffers from acne vulgaris, which has forced him into a retreat from life. ‘Other than work, I rarely go out, avoiding people as much as possible. I shop the 24-hour Wal-Mart, rent movies from the Internet, and basically stay hidden as much as I can. Having to endure people’s stares is what has made my jobs so tortuous. Sometimes I dream about pulling on this magical mask that makes my face flawless.’
There is also something conversational about the way he writes, a straightforwardness, and a beguiling, gentle rhythm. And of course, there is that dry wit. Bennett has a genius for the sardonic one-liner, his timing is immaculate.
‘The Flynn Effect’ was the phrase Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray coined in their book The Bell Curve, to describe the enormous gains in IQ scores in the 20th century from one generation to the next, which James R Flynn, Professor Emeritus at the University of Otago, did so much to measure and document.
One day, a young boy scares Noogie when he is the middle of restocking a machine in Fast Eddie’s Drug Hut by shouting ‘bang’. Noogie drops four thousand dollars in twenties all over the floor, screams at the kid and then gathers the notes up. It is only when he has loaded them all into the ATM that he finds a stray twenty under his shoe. It is then that the idea for the ‘perfect slow-motion heist’ occurs to him.
The childishness, the pettiness, the jealously, the nitpicking, the backstabbing, the politicking, of all this is delicious, authentic, accurate and brilliantly realised. Ferris’s office is one of pranks and games; sushi rolls find their way behind people’s bookshelves, things go missing from desks, and chairs are mysteriously swapped. There are the customary shifts and swings of popularity and power; endless arguments about who deserves to go, and who deserves to stay; and regular colloquies about some of the more unusual behaviour of the staff. But Ferris’s novel is as much about the way we act when thrown together with strangers, as it is office life.
The Arlington Park of the title is a ‘green, ruminative, inchoate suburb’ with ‘avenues and well-pruned hedges’. We follow five married women who live there, all of whom, we are to imagine, are in early middle-age. They have young children and live in nice, comfortable houses. They do not want for money. But each is beset by worries as to the nature and meaning of their domesticated, suburban lives.
David and Eleanor’s story is an unremarkable one. But their ordinary disappointments and frustrations are precisely what make the novel memorable. McGregor generates great poignancy by naming each chapter after various fragments of the characters’ lives, a letter, a photograph, an old wooden boat. Like Roddy Doyle, McGregor takes uncelebrated lives and invests them with dignity and depth.