Sunday, October 23, 2005

Neil Gaiman - Anansi Boys

If I lived under a rock and had never heard of Neil Gaiman, the caption “God is dead. Meet the kids.” would still have tempted me to pick up Anansi Boys. As a fan, it was never really in doubt.

Anansi in African/West Indian folklore is a bit f a prankster, occupying a role similar to that of Loki in the Norse tradition (or even Brer Rabbit). He’s associated with spiders and storytelling – the spider’s web has always been a metaphor for the well-crafted tale. Gaiman fans will have already encountered Anansi in American Gods, but as a relatively minor character. In Anansi Boys he plays a much greater role – surprising, since he’s dead throughout.

Anyway, Anansi Boys is the story of Anansi’s son Fat Charlie, who discovers at his father’s funeral that not only is he the son of a God, but he has a brother (Spider) who he never knew about. Spider pays Charlie a visit and successfully ruins his life to the point that Charlie turns to a group of eccentric voodoo practitioners to get rid of him. In the process, he makes a bargain he is really, really going to regret.
Oh, and the police are after him for embezzlement.

This book is considerably lighter than American Gods, more *grown up* than Stardust, and far better than Neverwhere; and probably a good introduction to Gaiman’s work for those who haven’t yet read him. His prose in the scenes at the Beginning of the World is gorgeous, though the imagery itself isn’t that original. However, some of his best scenes are the lightest ones – Charlie’s aeroplane related woes and his nightclub debut.

Gaiman seems to like giving dead women important roles. Here, luckily, she’s a rather attractive ghost, instead of the rapidly decaying corpse we saw in American Gods. This actually says a lot about the difference in the mood of the two books. I’m not sure which I like better. I certainly had more fun reading this one.

My copy of the book includes lots of fun stuff like an interview with Gaiman (though people who read his journal won’t learn anything new) and proof of how terrible his handwriting is. All very endearing, of course, the man is adorable. Look at the picture on the inside of the front cover (or on the back of the book if you’re rich and got the hard cover version), and you’ll probably end up buying it simply because you want to add to the man’s (probably considerable) fortune.

Monday, October 17, 2005

melancholia, mon cher

I looked at the director and thought of the countless directors and playwrights and actors and stage designers who had sat at mine and Christiane's kitchen table, had stood under our shower, had slept in our beds; I thought of their voices on our answering machine, their night-time banging on our door, the smashed glasses and unread letters; I thought that there was always something that wasn't quite enough, and this time, too, something wouldn't be enough; I thought of you, of the frost flowers, of the smell of smoke; I thought we're not enough either.

The stories in 'The Summerhouse, Later (A Book About the Moment Before Happiness)', by German author Judith Hermann & translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo, are about nothing being enough, are in fact about ennui. Very pomo, yes, but in a very good way. The time in which they are set is usually winter; this has partly to do with the place, Berlin, but winter carries over into the silence and space and sparsity of the prose style. I for one am a dedicated champion of purple (or at least purpley) prose, finding entire novels built on staccato sentences that often hammer significance too rudely in with devices such as repetition irritatingly mannered. But here the form is the short story - and I have to say that Judith Hermann, (not to be confused with the similarly named author of 'Trauma and Recovery'), with her clipped sentences and variations thereof, succeeds in making her content inextricable from her style. There are touches of humour, of the sort that make terrible sense and that you find yourself laughing hollowly at.

I keep returning, especially, to 'Bali Woman' and 'The Red Coral Bracelet'. The passage I quoted at the beginning is from the former. I keep returning to them because they are almost frightening in their evocation of disappointment and futility. The absences in this book are not those that have been left behind, but those that are, and out of which something is bound to come, something positive, but what? The book's subtitle suggests happiness, but here, too, is uncertainty. Whatever it is that happens before the moment of happiness is at once depressing and more real than the moment itself, which is illusive and found only in retrospect. All of Hermann's exquisite, cool details are necessary beyond the fact of their having to be so because of the very genre: they are the story on the surface, and the absences between the lines are the essence we gather from it.

To be overwhelmed by history, or to create one's own; the rage-red of an ancestor's coral bracelet, or the melancholy grey of a life being lived. Faced with these choices, Hermann's protagonist in the first story, 'The Red Coral Bracelet', eventually takes action, and her choice is the more difficult one. But that makes nothing easier.

Someday I think I'd like to read, as a matter of curiosity, a book about the moment after happiness. I don't know if it's already been written, or who has written it. In the meantime I'll be looking for Hermann's second book, which I hear is called 'Nothing But Ghosts'. Now that can't possibly be flufflit...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

kablooie for a cold

It’s mildly surprising to me even after twenty-one odd years of unexpected events that chemistry can be so dastardly. Take two perfectly nasty burny things like hydrogen and oxygen and what do you get? Water. I am reminded of this valuable life lesson upon having concocted a drink of hot water, lemon and honey to nurse a cold so evil that it even being called a violator of its own female relatives cannot encompass its villainy. On their own, lemon and honey are perfectly nice things. In a mix, they taste like the last breath.

Hyderabad was bombed last night. Most of us immigrants to the city are too poor or too lazy to own a TV, and none of the familiar newspapers are in print today thanks to yesterday’s public holiday. This added to the scare caused by yesterday’s Deccan Chronicle, (a paper that keeps delivering itself to my doorstep even though we’re paying for The Hindu, honest!) which carried a front-page article about possible bomb hazards to Americans in the city, which affected me and the flatmates in a rather direct fashion, since some of the Americans in the city happen to employ us.

One of the flatmates who arrived back from dinner a little late noticed that all the <i>haleem</i> shops were shut by ten p.m., something unheard of around our area. Hyderabad generally seems to go to bed early but Ramzan, until yesterday, has meant long and busy evenings for the Muslim restaurants we know. From where did this city learn to be so cautious?

current musix: handsome boy modeling school - rock and roll (could never hip-hop like this) part two. BEST SONG EVAR.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


Totally sick Renaissance tragedians! England hath need of thee at this hour.

At least, Aishwarya and I think so.

(18:03:27) aishwarya: I'm thinking. The image of stagnation and rot in hamlet and the duchess of malfi..
aishwarya: are they an element common in revenge plays, or is this a coincidence?
(18:04:23) supriya: i dunno, dude
supriya: what image, exactly? is it a single metaphor or like part of the framework?
supriya: all i can remember about revenge tragedies is BLOOD
(18:04:52) aishwarya: they're there throughout.
(18:05:22) aishwarya: I mean, malfi the court is supposed to be stagnant and scary and scare me!
(18:05:29) supriya: yeah, i know. :D
(18:05:44) aishwarya: and "something is rotten in the state of denmark"
supriya: yeah. but that's how tragedy generally starts out, right? i mean, you take a bad situation for a good man (or woman) and then watch him wallow
(18:06:27) aishwarya: true, true
aishwarya: I haven't read hamlet in years
(18:06:35) aishwarya: I need to.
(18:06:39) supriya: i haven't read hamlet at all
supriya: i really should.
aishwarya: *nods*
(18:06:59) aishwarya: tis the best
supriya: macbeth: NO. I AM BEST.
aishwarya: =-O
(18:08:23) supriya: macbeth: … please? let me be best? or my wife'll make me kill hamlet. and i won't like that.
aishwarya: LOL
(18:09:07) supriya: othello: i'll kill him anyway. i'm JELUSZZZZZZ.
(18:09:34) supriya: king lear: yes, yes, alright. but does he love me best? more than aaaaany other daddy in the world?
(18:09:40) supriya: lear: *licks lips *
(18:10:05) aishwarya: elizabethan audience:wtf?
supriya: lear: come on. come to daddy.
(18:10:54) aishwarya: webster:oi! I'm the one that writes incest!
(18:11:27) supriya: will shakespeare: suck it up, johnny, i was doing this when you were eating rats in the green room of the rose.
supriya: will shakespeare: * goes back to reading tom stoppard to plagiarise for his next masterpiece*

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Going Postal

(The Thud! review will happen after I receive it from the boy. It will take a while.Growl.)
So while the entire Discworld fandom is talking about Thud!, I finally find Going Postal in paperback, and squee over that instead.

Firstly, I tend not to be as fond of the stand alone stories. I mean, with the Watch, the witches, (though not so much with the wizards) character has been built up over the books till the point where it has reached incredible levels of complexity. The stand alone books - Small Gods, Pyramids, The Truth, Monstrous Regiment, etc...they are all good books, but you never get *that* close.


The story here is almost a classic movie. Reformed criminal, outwardly frigid, chainsmoking heroine who turns out to be nice, rich and evil villain, honest men in corrupt system.

Moist is ...likeable. Not particularly complex, by Pratchett's standards, but a good character. Cute, too. I think I liked Adora better.Women with nicknames like "Killer"/"Spike" make me very happy.

Anyway - basic story. Moist van Lipwig has been sentenced to death,but is offered an alternative - a job in the Ankh Morpork Post Office. Except the post office is run down, old, full of undelivered mail, and staffed by two people, neither of them very sane. Plus the post office has to compete with the Clacks, and the man in control of the Clacks, Reacher Gilt, is EVIL.

Anyway. Stuff. I love books that talk about the power of words, especially the written word. So I loved the post office. It's interesting MR there were those scenes with the spirit of the Duchess.Here, it's the spirit of the letters. I don't recall him having done something like this before these books.

Also the Clacks fascinate me. I mean, the parallels they have, the idea of a method of increasing efficiency and making information available to 'the masses', and in MR you see how this actually helps swing Public Opinion. And here you have the other side of it - that letters are so much better than Clacks messages (or emails ...see, D? Mr. Pratchett understands...:-P)

Look, it's past 3 am. I'm allowed to write like this after 3 am, right?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Horrible Histories

History is one of the things I'm quite good at. (No, we will not bring up my board marks here. *frown*) I like subjects that deal with people and what they do and why they do it. Fascinating stuff.
I suck at remembering dates. What I am good at is remembering silly little anecdotes from history. And really random facts.

When I was about six or seven I discovered the Horrible Histories series by Terry Deary. These books had ridiculous titles like The Rotten Romans, The Awesome Egyptians, The Vicious Vikings, etc. They were full of little cartoon versions of events, fake diary entries, even recipes. Pure joy.

I actually learnt a lot from those books. When we moved back here, though the only history the system seemed interested in teaching me was Indian, (I did Indian history three times over. The first two times were actually fun) I kept up with my world history through all the Horrible Histories books I could find. They affected me - a couple of months ago in an English history class (they have to teach us English history now, so we can contextualise our English lit.) I inserted limericks from The Terrible Tudors into friends' notes. Why not? We're old enough now that we don't need them as aids to memory, but isn't it fun when you're discussing the Tudors with someone (if you're the kind of person who discusses the Tudors with people of course) and you can suddenly stand up and say
Bloody Mary, they say, was quite mad.
And the nastiest habit she had
was for Protestant burning
seems she had a yearning
to kill even more than her dad.

...and get stared at? (People tend to edge away from me a lot)

Yesterday I was in the children's section of a bookshop and found The Groovy Greeks. When we studied the Greek Tragic playwrights, why did no one tell me Aeschylus died when he was hit by a falling turtle? (...and this leads me to a Pratchett post, which I promise will be my next one) I demand ridiculous bits of information like these!

I have a friend who is always buying good children's literature, saying that even if she's too old for it now, at least when she has children they'll grow up right. I don't intend to have kids - hell, I'm buying them for me.