Monday, 24 November 2008


One thing I thought I might do with this blog is write a review of every book I read (as is probably evident from the entry below). I'm just going to shove a list of books I've read recently on here without reviews - if anyone else has read them then get in touch and tell me what you thought - I love arguing about books!

Saturday by Ian McEwan
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo
Homer's Odyssey by Simon Armitage
'The Laying on of Hands,' 'The Clothes They Stood Up In' and 'Father! Father! Burning Bright' by Alan Bennett
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
'The Yellow Wallpaper' by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

There are more and the list above isn't chronological, but I can't really remember all of them. I'll add some more books as I remember them. Currently I'm reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi.

Also, has anyone else ever seen Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods?



Steve Purcell said...

Hello Roz,

I've been following your blog for a bit - I very much enjoy your style and your ideas. I just thought I'd post a comment, anyway, firstly to say the above, secondly to say 'I've read Saturday by Ian McEwan', and thirdly to say that I saw Into The Woods for the first time very recently, and loved it! Would be interested to hear your thoughts on it...


Rozzie said...

Hi Steve! Thanks for your lovely comments. What did you think of Saturday? I loved it more or less until the end, when I thought the whole plotlie became a little too implausible, or something. I think I felt that after such careful, subtle writing we'd be rewarded with a similarly good ending, but for me it was just rather too melodramatic.

Into The Woods, however, I find almost impossible to fault because I was brought up on it and can't see it from a critical distance any more! I suppose too many people die in the second half, but one thing I've been chewing over recently is the use of one actor to play both Cinderella's Prince and the Wolf (I don't know if Sondheim instructed this), which throws up some interesting questions. Did you see a performance or a recording of it? R

Steve Purcell said...

I really enjoyed Saturday, though I was rather bored by the long Squash sequence halfway through - I'm all for McEwan's painstaking dissections of everyday events, but I just found myself rather uninterested by that part. I loved the sense of simmering tension, though, and I found the invasion of the house and near-rape of the protagonist's daughter genuinely chilling (since the novel had done so much to invest the reader in the sanctity of both). I agree about the climax, though - the action hero bit didn't really fit with the tone of the rest of the novel, and I wondered whether McEwan had rather chickened out of seeing his carefully set-up hostage situation play out to its natural (and probably rather horrible in a mundane way) conclusion.

I loved a lot about Into The Woods. Firstly, I loved its exploration of the symbolic quality of the woods in fairy tales: transitional spaces, spaces where anything can happen, spaces which change you, spaces which represent every kind of 'straying from the path' and the resulting combination of fear and liberation. I always had a problem with stories that end '...and they lived happily ever after' (as a child, I used to add 'until they got divorced' whenever I was told this!) so I love the deconstruction of this fairytale convention in the second half (and that the final words of the play are 'I wish...'!). I particularly love the moment when the characters break the frame and cruelly gang up on the narrator, sacrificing him to appease the giant, and then realise - too late - that by doing so they've denied themselves the comfort of a story with a comfortable beginning, middle and end. The Baker's Wife's liaison with the Prince in the woods is such a funny, touching and oddly subtle scene. And yes, the Prince/Wolf thing is interesting... I suppose it links ideas of male sexuality and 'devouring' (the sexual undertones are quite evident in the original telling of Red Riding Hood, in fact, something which Angela Carter has made a lot out of), and suggests something at once both appealing and dangerous about being 'led astray'. I read somewhere that something both characters have in common is an inability to control their physical desires.

I saw the DVD of the Broadway production. I kept thinking what an incredible film it'd make.

Rozzie said...

I'm the opposite of you: I loved the squash sequence, which for me captured exactly how friendship is still subject to our own pride and ambition, even to the most banal points of conflict. And I found the near-rape pretty uninteresting, especially as we had been built up to expect an evening of the daughter and her grandfather heckling each other about poetry, which I was really looking forward to.

Anyway. I'm also a huge fan of the original Broadway cast - they're all spectacular, especially Joanna Gleason as the Baker's Wife. I do wonder if James Lapine had read any Angela Carter - or perhaps his book was before The Bloody Chamber? - because there does seem to be a strong link between the monstrous quality of the woods and a deviant sexuality, which is more or less neutralised by the end of the story (in fact we end up with a slightly odd pseudo-mother relationship between Red Riding Hood and the emotionally-stunted Jack). It would be very interesting to analyse it properly, the politics of sexuality in the musical - why, for instance, did they cast quite a short man (Chip Zien) as the Baker and a tall woman as his wife? All good stuff.

Steve Purcell said...

I see what you mean about the grandfather/daughter thing in Saturday, although for me that sense of frustration was part of the climax - the protagonist's anticipation of (and anxieties about) the forthcoming family reunion really grounded me in the characters and their interpersonal tensions, so the disruption of this insular world that had been so carefully drawn was really quite intrusive. At the same time, though, part of me was always expecting Baxter to reappear and cause trouble, so although I'd been lulled into a false sense of security by the time he actually did show up, it didn't seem implausible to me - shocking, yes, but I thought it had a sort of inevitability to it. I think perhaps that's also why I found myself getting impatient with the Squash bit (I had a feeling that there was a plot somewhere that McEwan was trying to distract me from!).

Joanna Gleason is brilliant in Into The Woods - the song she sings just before she's killed is the best of the lot. And I completely agree about the slightly sanitised ending... Angela Carter's take on Red Riding Hood wins on that count!

The sexual politics of musical theatre really are fascinating - something I'm always trying to impress upon my (generally musicals-crazy) Performance students. On the surface it's one of the very most sexually conservative theatre forms: 'leggy line-ups', the seemingly ubiquitous necessity for heterosexual romantic leads, helpless heroines, camp caricatures, etc. But there also seems to be room for a lot of sub- and counter-cultural celebration and affirmation for minority sexualities... Have you come across these two numbers?:
(Sondheim himself gets a mention in this one!)