I’ve been meaning to finish The Rhetoric of Fiction for a while. One thing that stuck out at me, from what I have read, is the idea of a narrator as a distinct, always-present voice, even when distinct from a protagonist. And particularly, that the narrator makes choices about what is, or isn’t revealed to an audience.
That was an idea I found extremely useful when I was watching Calvary the other week [SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read ahead if you don’t want to know the end of the movie].
Particularly, because the movie opens with a priest in a confessional – told, by a person on the other side, that he’s going to kill him. In a subsequent scene, he tells his clerical superior that he knows who it is. But narrator (and, incidentally, the protagonist) doesn’t reveal who the person making the threat is, for the duration of the movie.
Which is odd. Quite odd. There were other things that I didn’t like about the movie – it felt slightly disjointed, and sometimes it felt as though it was lapsing into comedy simply because it was too easy, even though overall the tone was the opposite of comic. But in retrospect, this … omission stands out.
Because it means that, having reached the end of the movie, one of the scenes from earlier on suddenly becomes somewhat farcical. It also means that we can’t, really, get into the story of the priest; because we’re separated from him, we can only see him from a distance. So as the camera follows him, it feels distant, like a series of disjointed tableaus, rather than the story of a man’s last week.
I’ve just finished a book of short stories by F Scott Fitzgerald. They were quite good; Fitzgerald writes drunken flapper parties well, although he’s condescending as hell when he tries to tell the story of two working class soldiers.
One of the stories was The curious case of Benjamin Button. I haven’t seen the movie, but just watching the trailer I can tell it’s barely related to Fitzgerald’s short story. I enjoyed the story, for what it was; a farce of an idea played out, that leaves a sad note lingering, a reminder of the shortsightedness. A faint hint of what Kundera unpacks more fully in his novels.
The idea underlying the movie doesn’t seem unworkable; but it does seem a shame to stretch a short story to fit a different idea that’s really quite a separate one. Just for the association with Fitzgerald?
I’m only about six episodes into the US version, but I’ve already seen the UK one. It’s interesting to see the differences. [NOTE: some mild spoilers below].
The more recent US version has some somewhat blatant Sony product placement (I don’t know if there’s funding involved, but I have noticed that there seem to be a lot of Apple phones around).
They have more space in the American format, so I’m enjoying how they develop the characters more. Claire Underwood is fascinating; about midway through the season (where I’m up to), they’ve shown her to be both as ruthless as her husband, and some interesting interactions with weak people that don’t seem fully developed. I’m not sure where that goes yet, but I’m interested to see.
There are no characters that are really outside the circles of power; not in a meaningful way, although there are some brief cameos that I suppose make Frank Underwood a little more likeable. When vulnerability or gentleness, or anything less than total ruthlessness is shown, it’s portrayed as weakness, and nothing more. There’s no real … anything – outside of Underwood’s machinations, so far. Which both makes the show fascinating, and makes my skin crawl when I watch it. It’s almost like a train-wreck that it’s hard to look away from; Underwood is a deeply, deeply wrong character, but there’s no offsetting redemption. This may emerge later, but given how the King fared in the UK version, I’m not optimistic.
On a strangely related topic; I was reading Order out of chaos: Patronage, Conflict and Mamluk Socio-Political Culture, 1341-1382, recently. It’s one of the best explanations I’ve come across of the interactions of personal relationships and structural systems as they relate to power, and particularly patronage. And a lot of the ideas that the author (Jo Van Steenbergen) talks about show up in HoC; patronage, opportunity, service and favours.
A friend recommended Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief several years ago, but I just got around to reading it recently, and I haven’t yet seen the movie. It was a good read.
Zusak has a particular habit of using unusual words – typically transitive verbs – in describing scenery, in a way that seems to work.
A mountain range of rubble was written, designed, erected around her.
Houses were splashed from one side of the street to the other.
It’s beautiful language, and it seems to work. The story itself is gripping, even though there’s very little narrative tension. His characters, too, are beautifully rounded; there’s a depth and shading to the whole he creates that’s lovely to read.
Well worth it.
I enjoyed the British House of Cards. It felt a little dated, but not in a meaningful way. I found the first two seasons a little heavier going, because it overplayed the Svengali-like relationship that Francis Urquhart has with a young woman in each case. I much more enjoyed the third season, where the party politics were front and centre, and there was a broader cast of characters.
It was bleak watching a show where the central character is so clearly evil, and there didn’t seem to be much chance of improvement, of hope. The final scene of the series (don’t worry, no spoilers here) features the quintessence of the show’s bleak outlook. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was a brilliant piece of television; and it might not have worked as well with a happier outcome.
Some interesting pieces I’ve come across. One is from The Atlantic – another example of automation (electronic, in this case) replacing human workers (in this case, writers). It’s a trend that I think has extended for centuries; ever since the first human domesticated an animal or used a tool, I suppose. But I think it’s getting faster.
And, from a different source – the very excellent theworstthingsforsale.com [sometimes NSFW] a beautiful statement, excerpted from a post on a grilling thermometer:
… this is a world whose economy is bolstered by convincing us that skills are too much work, and that the goods we consume are the one true way to a life well lived. Our ingenuity, we’re told, is just a way for us to cheap out on buying the good stuff. Our techniques and traditions are too time-consuming and cerebral to compete with a stock image of a smiling face next to a piece of shit we have to buy to live a complete life. Our time is stolen and sold back to us as convenience. Our health is stolen and sold back to us as pills. And at the end of it, we still fight with each other, endlessly, to the last moment. Not for truth, happiness, or love, but to get more shit