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Let me preface this opinion by stating that I am an ardent traditional (‘GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!’) and ALSO a fervent socialist (‘WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!’). I’ve read through many of the opinions in this category and found some of them quite excellent (even the ones I wholly disagreed with). But one point which emerges quite clearly is that (amongst others ‘groups’) there are ‘traditionalists’ who support the Crown and the House of Lords [HoL] as an important part of British culture (which I agree with); and there are the ‘modernists’ who see the HoL as undemocratic and outdated, who are interested in the rights of the ‘common man’ (which I also agree with). [a majority of these ‘modernists’ also are in favour of abolishment of the Monarchy—often ostensibly on the grounds that it is a waste of the tax-payers’ money: an invalid argument since the Monarchy doesn’t really cost the taxpayer much at all, but rather, more than pays for itself in tourist-trade.] No ‘traditionalist’ argument is ever going to convince a ‘modernist’ (such as scotgirl, who I find very insightful, even if I disagree with her on many topics), and no ‘modernist’ argument is ever going to convince a ‘traditionalist’. So I’m going to attempt to write an opinion supporting the HoL without relying much on traditionalist-grounds (though I’ll freely admit that I have traditional reasons for supporting the HoL as well). Let us think on the establishment of a sensible, decent, well-functioning government. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE IDEAL GOVERNMENT: Democracy and Representation ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- In an ideal, Platonic world, the best government would be a ‘dictatorship’ of a philoso pher-god-king who also always knew (and made) for right decision for everyone and everything. We can quickly dismiss this notion as we live in a far from ideal world, one sadly lacking in philosopher-god-kings. In the modern Western world, some form of democracy has generally been held to be the ideal form of government. As Winston Churchill once said, ‘[democracy] is the worst form of government except [for] all those other forms that have been tried’. ‘Democracy’ is literally [in Greek], ‘rule by the people’. It doesn’t take a keen eye to note that there is no democracy in the world which is really ‘ruled by the people’. Why not? Again, _ideally_ it sounds a great idea, even if it does have a few drawbacks: whatever the majority of the people decide is what is. One can’t make all of the people happy all of the time, so the next best option would seem to make whatever political decision makes the _most_ people happy. But a true democracy would require that *every* political decision be made via a referendum. This is obviously untenable: this entire populace of nation has neither the time nor, in many cases, the knowledge for a ‘true’ democracy to work. Thus, we compromise by electing those people who views most closely co-incide with ours as our representatives in the government (we say the word ‘representative’ so often, but think about what it really means: a ‘representative’ is someone who stands in for us in government, who ‘represents’ our views—at least, in theory). Again, it doesn’t take a very sharp mind to see how many things can go wrong in a representative-democracy and everyone is aware in fact of how many things have gone wrong in Western representative-democracies. The root of many of the problems of representative-democracies seems to me to be that our ‘representatives’ become career-poli ticians. And what we really want are representatives, and not politicians. But is there really any feasible way to keep the two notions separate? No, no, not really. This is one of the realities of the world. Our representatives become politicians, and, in many cases, corrupt politicians. We do the best we can. But there does exist a means of counter-balancing some of the faults of our representative-democracy, run by representative/politicians in the House of Commons: a second chamber, the House of Lords. Is it a perfected crafted and weighted counter-balance? Does it level the scales of justice completely? No, but have you a better idea? ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE SHAPE OF THE 2ND CHAMBER: Politics and Genetics ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- The advantage of an [unelected] 2nd chamber is that its members are not representative/politicians, but simply *representatives*. Of course, they’re not democratically-elected representatives, but then that’s the whole point, isn’t it? The advantage of democratically-elected reps is that we get to choose them. The disadvantage is that this often makes them much more concerned with their public appearance then with the public good (and, often, none of the candidates is really to our liking), and the party-system means that the elected reps’ decisions are also often heavily-coloured by intra-party politics, rather by the wants and needs of those they are actually intended to represent. So, yes, the HoL is definitely ‘undemocratic’—but, if you keep in mind the flaws of the representative democracy, this emerges as a _good_ thing. Unelected officials have advantages over elected officials: they needn’t worry so much over their public image (as they are chosen for life) and they aren’t so likely to be ruled by party-politics. We wouldn̵ 7;t want a government made up entirely of unelected representatives, but likewise I would say that they don’t want a government made up entirely of elected representatives either. What we want is a balance. Is it perfect? Of course not, but it is optimal – the best of available options. Right. So why not have a second chambers whose members are appointed. I think this is a much worse idea than an elected 2nd chamber. Who is to appoint them? The government? For the government to be able to fill a 2nd chamber with persons of its choosing would be horrendous, for obviously they would choose those people whose views match their own. To allow those ‘democratically-elected’ representatives, whose decisions are likely to be heavily-based upon party-politics which have little or no bearing on the wants or needs of the people, to be the ones who determine the membership of the 2nd chamber is not only undemocratic, but foolish. And if one party later loses favour with the populace and another party gains control of the Commons, that party—no longer supported by the people—may still have a substantial degree of power obtained by cramming the 2nd chamber with its own people. This is obviously not to be desired. If we are to have unelected representatives—as I think we should, for reasons already stated—then they should be chosen by some *disinterested*, *unbiased* mechanism. And—by lucky chance—we already have such a mechanism: Nature. The non-appointment, hereditary peers of the 2nd chamber were ‘chosen’ by Nature. They occupy their positions by the random chance of their birth. And, since they are not thus career-politicians, they often have a much wider experience (in academia, in business, in the arts, &c.) which has the potential in fact to put them _more_ in touch with the ‘common man’; and they are much less likely to be have their decisions coloured by party-politics, since they needn’t rely on the support of any particular party for their position. You might still think this unfair, due to the monetary-status of the peers and the fact that they may be ruled by ‘family-politics’ rather than party-politics. But not all of the Lords are rich, and, on the whole, I certainly don’t think they number within the wealthiest people in the kingdom. And ‘blue-blooded’ children disagree with the forebearers as often as us commoners, so I don’t think ‘family-politics’ is really an issue. But it is still certain families who ‘provide’ the Lords, you might say. But, as of yet, the Lords (unlike Scottish sheep) don’t clone themselves—there is new genetic material being ‘injected’ into noble families constantly. In any case, I see clear advantages to a 2nd chamber selected by an unbiased mechanism. I’ve suggested Nature as such a mechanism—if you know of some other _disinterested_ apparatus… --------------------------------------------- COMPROMISE: A National Lottery? --------------------------------------------- I doubt that I have yet convinced any of the ‘anti-Lords’ of the advantageous of a hereditary membership of the 2nd chamber. The ‘modernists’ are still going to say that the Lords are an out-dated institution, with silly titles, &c. Fair enough. But I think my advocation of the clear advantages of an unbiased, disinterested determination of the membership of the 2nd chamber is a sound argument. So what’s the solution? Delink membership in the 2nd chamber from the hereditary peerages—the ‘modernists’ most likely agree with me on that much—but don’t let’s delink membership of the 2nd chamber from an unbiased source of selection. We can hold a ‘National Peerage Lottery’. Everyone gets one (1) ticket and whenever a Lord dies or retires, we randomly pull a number out of a hat and whosever’s ticket matches is offered a place in the 2nd Chamber. We probably need to limit it to UK citizens over a certain age (30?-I don’t know). To keep the ‘traditionalist’ happy though, we could keep the peerages linked to the seats in the 2nd Chamber perhaps. And just think what fun this could be:-- “Wife: ‘Hello, dear, how was your day?’, Husband: ‘Fabulous, I’ve just been made the Duke of Leicester!’, Wife: ‘That’s wonderful, love. What should we have for dinner?’, Husband: ‘Let’s celebrate and get a take-away curry…er, and in future, I'd prefer you to address me as Your Lordship...’” ------------------------- CONCLUSIONS ------------------------- But all humour aside—and though I certainly labour under no illusions that my ‘national peerage lottery’ suggestion will be adopted—I actually think that it would be a far better idea than either an elected or an appointed 2nd chamber. However, since the hereditary membership is still partially in place, I’m in favour of that (besides, since I’m a ‘traditionalist’ I prefer it anyway, though I’d be happy to settle for the ‘national lottery’ compromise). I do hope Tony Blair’s crusade to ‘root out conservatism’ hasn’t irreparably damaged the HoL. I see the form of the British government as a tapestry: new threads are constantly being woven in, and the colours of these thread and the style of the weaving evolves and changes over time—and this is only as it should be. To weave a new pattern for a new time is only just and proper. To rip out an old section of the tapestry with little thought for the consequences doesn’t make a new, 'stream-lined', ‘modernised’ tapestry. It doesn't create a better pattern. It only leaves us with a torn and tattered tapestry. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- some other 'pro-Lords' opinions I found useful: *'We need two chambers to defend the people's views' - by Dunks *'Yes, a 17yr old supports the Lords!' - by beano *'The House of Lords is the last hope of the common man' - by Alan Rice
‘Indian middle-man (to author): Sir, if you do not identify your composition a novel, how then do we itemise it? Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know. Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a gesture. Sir, the rank and file is entitled to know. Indian middle-man (to author): Sir, there is no immediate demand for gestures. There is immediate demand for novels. Sir, we are literary agents, not free agents. Author (to Indian middle-man): Sir, I identify it a novel. Sir, itemise it accordingly.’ -Epigraph to 'All About H. Hatterr' ******** 'ALL ABOUT H. HATTERR', by the Indian author G.V. Desani is a novel whose popularity is a bit like the rain in some parts of India—either there’s not a drop to be seen or there’s a monsoon. When the book first appeared in 1948, it was greeted with a flood of critical acclaim and rare enthusiasm by many distinguished literary critics, including the poet T.S. Eliot. A few years later it sank into obscurity, dismissed by the previously enthusiastic West as ‘just a little savoury from the colonies’—going out of print in 1951—only to emerge in the seventies as a ‘modern classic’, with a laudatory introduction by English author Anthony Burgess (author of 'The Clockwork Orange' and many other novels, as well as a scholar of James Joyce), who called it ‘a capacious hold-all of a book’. It then again vanished (and went out of print) for another decade, mouldering in crates, until Salman Rushdie—after receiving the Booker Prize for 'Midnight’s Children' in 1981—acknowledged Desani as his literary predecessor and brought 'All About H. Hatterr' back into the spotlight. Sometime in the mid-eighties it predictably submerged once again and is presently out of print (even in India). But one can still find copies floating about (on the ebbing flood of its ‘80s popularity); recently, I quite easily located a nice hardback—the first Indian edition (from 1985!) [note 1: all page number cited refer to the Arnold-Heinmann(India) 1985 edition; note 2: see notes at the end for information about the various editions]. Bas! Enough of printery-shimentery! So, if you’ll kindly allow me to adopt the lingo of H. Hatterr (more on this below) for the nonce, or, to put it most specific, for this paragraph—one might quite understandably be wondering at this moment in time:— Damme, who is this Desani bloke you’re on about? And H. Hatterr, what’s that feller’s obsession with twices, vis à vis, his orthographical peculiarities? What the hell does he need two H’s for, much less two T’s, and two R’s is sheer bloody extravagance. Well, now I’ll tell you all about… …our friend H.H., who is a charming clever-naïve Anglo-Indian seeking  wisdom from the seven sages of India,  a bit of ready lucre and  the elusive charms of certain females, including a lion(ess)-tamer. Mr Hatterr’s ‘autobiographical’ (as it is presented) recounts the various misfortunes and humiliations he undergoes on his quest for the aforementioned goals: wisdom, capital and carnal knowledge [interjection: I just realised that H.H.’s pursuits match nicely against those set down in the ancient Sanskrit ‘Dharma Shastras’ (“Law Codes”): the 'Manusmriti' (social philosophy), the 'Arthashastra' (wealth, material gain & kingship) and the well-known 'Kama Sutra' (love & pleasure)—sorry, back to the story…]. These punishments include being run out of the European club, getting tricked by dubious swamis, his wife leaving him, having an ‘evil spirit’ forcibly ‘exorcised’ and coming damn close to being devoured by a ‘tame’ beast. His only true friend is his ‘Indian pal’ Banerrji, who annoys H.H. by quoting to him from the Bible, Shakespeare and the Kama Sutra, and who inadvertently causes many of Hatterr’s misfortunes. 'All About H. Hatterr' is full of the same bathos as Joyce’s 'Ulysses' (or Apuleius’ Latin classic 'The Golden Ass'-see my review), and like 'Ulysses' and 'Finnegan’s Wake', Desani’s book is a revolution in the art of novel. It is a jumble of philosophy and myth, culture-collision, puns and word-play, bazaar-gossip and irony. Salman Rushdie, in his editorial preface to the anthology 'Mirrorwork: 50 years of Indian Writing [1947-1997]', introduces Desani thusly: ‘Milan Kundera once said that all modern literature descends from either Richardson’s 'Clarissa' or Sterne’s 'Tristram Shandy', and if Narayan [Desani’s literary contemporary, the author of the Malgudi novels: 'The Painter of Signs', 'The Vendor of Sweets', &c.] is India’s Richardson then Desani is his Shandean other. Hatterr’s dazzling, puzzling, leaping prose is the first genuine effort to go beyond the Englishness of the English language. His central figure, ‘fifty-fifty of the species’, the half-breed as unabashed anti-hero, leaps and capers behind [much subsequent Indian writing]….My own [Rushdie’s] writing, too, learned a trick or two from him’ (pg. xvi - 'Mirrorwork'). Anthony Burgess, in his 1970 introduction to 'All About H. Hatterr', says, ‘[T]he "meteque", “the writer with a non-English linguistic, racial or political background” who [, some critics, like F.W. Bateson claim that], being on the fringe of a language and the culture that begot it, lacks respect “for the finer rules of English idiom and grammar…[which leads them to] attem pt effects of style, sometimes successfully, that the English writer would feel to be a perverse defiance of the genius of the language”…Most of us would say that “the finer rules” are essentially the property of non-creative pundits who, at the higher level, compile manuals of usage and, at the lower, scold children for constructing verbless sentences [or write grammar-checker-programs for Microsoft Word—my note]… [English] is plastic, and as ready to yield to the "meteque" as to Mr Bateson. Indeed, if we are to regard Poles and Irishman [presumably Burgess means Joseph Conrad & James Joyce] as "meteques", there are grounds for supposing that the "meteques" have done more for English in the 20th century (meaning that they have shown what the language is capable of, or demonstrated what English is really like) than any of the pure-blooded men of letters who stick to the finer rules…['All About H. Hatterr'] is not pure English; it is, like the English of Shakespeare, Joyce and Kipling, gloriously impure’ (pg. 7, 10). I fear that to give you a real taste of the artistic twists of language of 'All About H. Hatterr' requires a slightly lengthy excerpt (in this review which as of yet shows no signs of becoming any shorter…), so I beg pardon and only hope you’ll thank me for it (or at least bear with me). Here goes: ------------------------------------------- ‘The name is H. Hatterr, and I am continuing… Biologically, I am fifty-fifty of the species. One of my parents was a European, Christian-by-faith merchant merman (seaman). From which part of the Continent? Wish I could tell you. The other was an Oriental, a Malay Peninsula-resident lady, a steady non-voyaging, non-Christian human (no mermaid). From which part of the Peninsula? Couldn’t tell you either. Barely a ye ar after my baptism (in white, pure and holy), I was taken from Penang (Malay P.) to India (East). It was there that my old man kicked the bucket in a hurry. The via media? Chronic malaria and pneumonia-plus. Whereupon, a local litigation for my possession ensued. The odds were all in favour of the India-resident Dundee-born Scot, who was trading in jute. He believed himself a good European, and a pious Kirk o’ Scotland parishioner, whose right-divine Scotch blud mission it was to rescue the baptised mite me from any illiterate non-pi heathen influence. She didn’t have a chance, my poor old ma, and the court gave him the possession award. I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe, she lives. Who cares? Rejoicing at the just conclusion of the dictate of his conscience, and armed with the legal interpretation of the testament left by my post-mortem seaman parent, willing I be brought up Christian, and the court custody award, the jute factor had me adopted by an English Missionary Society, as one of their many Oriental and mixed-Oriental orphan-wards. And, thus it was that I became a sahib by adoption, the Christian lingo (English) being my second vernacular from the orphan-adoption age onwards. The E.M. Society looked after me till the age of fourteen or thereabouts. It was then that I found the constant childhood preoccupation with the whereabouts of my mother unbearable, the religious routine unsuited to my temperament, the evangelical stuff beyond my ken, and Rev. the Head (of the Society’s school), M.A., D.Litt., D.D., also C.B.E., ex-Eton and Cantab. (Moths, Grates, and Home Civ), Protor par excellence, Feller of the Royal Geographical, Astronomical and Asiastic Societies (and a writer!), too much of a stimulus for my particular orphan constitution. (The sort of loco parentis who’d shower on you a penny, and warn you not to squander it on woman, and wine, and song!) <br><br> “Help others! Help others!” he used to say. Knowing that the most deserving party needing help was self, I decided to chuck the school, get out into the open spaces of India, seek my lebansraum, and win my bread and curry all on my own. And one warm Indian autumn night, I bolted as planned, having pinched, for voluntary study, an English dictionary, the Rev. the Head’s own-authored 'Latin Self-Taught' and 'French Self-Taught', the Missionary Society’s school stereoscope complete with slides (my second love after my mother) and sufficient Missionary funds lifted from the Head’s pocket to see me through life. From that day onwards, my education became free and my own business. I fought off the hard-clinging feelings of my motherlessness. I studied the daily press, picked up tips from the stray Indian street-dog as well as the finest Preceptor-Sage available in the land. I assumed the style-name H. Hatterr (‘H’ for the nom de plume ‘Hindustaaniwalla’, and ‘Hatterr’, the nom de guerre inspired by Rev. the Head’s too-large-for-him-hat), and, by and by (autobiographical I, which see), I went completely Indian to an extent few pure non-Indian blood sahib fellers have done. I have learnt from the school of Life; all the lessons, the sweet, the bitter, and the middling messy. I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians. And, pardon, figuratively speaking, I have had higher education too. I have been the personal disciple of the illustrious grey-beards, the Sages of Calcutta, Rangoon (now resident in India), Madras, Bombay, and the right Honourable the Sage of Delhi, the wholly Worshipful of Mogalsarai-Varanasi, and his naked Holiness Number One, the Sage of All India himself!’ (pg. 31-33). ------------------------------------------- But Desani’s 'meteque-masala-Hindustaaniwala' English is by no means due to any lack of proficiency in the English language (as Burgess has already pointed out): in the forties, Desani received high praise in Britain not only for his writing, but also for his oratory. Throughout World War II, Desani lived in England where he lectured widely and was a speaker sponsored by the British Ministry of Information, broadcasting for the BBC (incidentally, at the Ministry, he worked with Eric Blair, better known as George Orwell, who chided him for writing a novel during the war—for it was during the war that H. Hatterr was born). Desani was born in 1909 in Nairobi, Kenya of Sindhi [Indian] parentage. After the war, he went to Burma and India where, for the next 14 years, he studied Sanskrit, philosophy, Buddhism and the occult; practised raja-yoga and meditation under the guidance of gurus, travelling as far away as Japan for specialised instruction. During the mid-‘60s, he regularly contributed to the "Illustrated Weekly of India". He emigrated to the USA in the 1970s to teach at Boston University and later at the University of Texas at Austin, as Professor Emeritus of religion and philosophy. Aside from 'All About H. Hatterr', his only other published work is '‘Hali’ & Collected Stories' ['Hali' is a prose poem]. Though, according to the slip-cover of my edition, he was going to publish another novel (finally!) entitled 'The Rissala'. However, G.V. Desani recently died on 15th November 2000 in Austin, Texas, ill and reclusive. I do not know what happened to 'The Rissala'. Despite only producing one actual novel, Desani knew he had written a classic in 'All About H. Hatterr'. Shoma Chaudhury reports that, though chronically skint, teaching at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London while living out of a dismal, one room basement flat in Chelsea (which had a loo on the distant end of a cold court-yard), Desani once came to his friend Khushwant Singh, who was the Press attaché in the Indian High Commission at the time, and asked him: ‘Can you recommend me for the Nobel Prize?’ Khushwant was dumb struck: ‘But you've only written that one book!’ ‘So?’ countered Desani softly. ‘Eliot's written very little also!’ ‘Only Nobel winners can recommend others’, Khushwant protested weakly (taken aback by Desani's ‘total lack of modesty’.) ‘No, even the government can’, insisted Desani steadfastly. Worn down by his persistence, and undone by his ingenuous self-belief, Khushwant meekly signed the forms. Nothing came of it of course. The Nobel committee in Sweden checked things with Dr Radhakrishnan, who was then the ambassador there, and also a nominee for the Nobel. He was not a bit amused and ticked Khushwant off roundly. Desani continued to live with his inconvenient loo across the courtyard until he decided to set off to study in the Orient [for more about Desani, goto: www.gvdesani.org]. Returning to the novel itself: each of the seven main chapters begins with an ‘instruction’ from one of the sages of India (one sage per chapter). For example, chapter I opens with the ‘instruction’: ------------------------------------------ ‘”In the empire of a Maharaja,” expounded the Sage of Calcutta to the disciple, “there once lived a potter, his name Ali Bee, who was stratagem personified. He owned an exceedingly fluent parrot, called Ahmed…The moral of the tale, fool, is not the chamber-maid. A wise man…must master the craft of dispelling credible illusions…The moral is ‘Be suspicious!’”’ (pg. 39, 41) ------------------------------------------ Each ‘instruction’ from a sage is followed by a ‘presumption’ ; on the part of Mr Hatterr: -------------------------------------------- ‘An international school of thought (minus a headmaster-elect) is antithesis. "Antithesis" is my parlance for the fellers who always oppose. They hate mankind. They maintain that human nature is rotten to the core! I am often tempted to agree with the school, and join the classes of hate…’ (pg. 41) -------------------------------------------- And each ‘presumption’ is followed by a ‘life-encounter’, which is the bulk of the chapter: -------------------------------------------- ‘The incidents take place in India. I was exceedingly hard-up for cash: actually, in debt. And, it is amazing, how, out in the Orient, the shortage of cash gets mixed up with females, somehow! In this England, they say, if a feller is broke, females, as a matter of course, forsake. Stands to reason. Whereas, out in the East, they attach themselves! Damme, this is the Oriental scene for you! Every feller I knew out East, whenever he was down and out, had to answer a literal habeas corpus call from the female side! The member of the specie, who had a crush on me, was the dhobin: viz., my Indian washerwoman. “Damme, Bannerji”, I confided in my pal, “I am in a hell of a trouble!….I loathe the very sight of her…a woman of her age ought to know better!” “Does she suffer from a morbid fascination of the male-sex anatomy? Is she an Elephant?” [asked Bannerji] “Kindly explain that interrogation, old feller. I have lived a sheltered life.” “Well, Mr H. Hatterr,” said my pal, “as an Indian, and a Hindu student-gentleman, I am deeply attached to the ancient classics. According to the sages, all women can be summed up and recognised under four species. In other words, the Lotus, the Art, the Sea-Shell, and the Elephant. These are the four sorts of Woman. The Lotus-woman is A1 vintage. She has a face as pleasing as the moon. She is lovely as a lily. She launches a thousand ships, as Mr Marlowe says…”’ (pg. 41-42) ------------------------------------------- So, if you’ve any interest in modern Indian literature, or enjoy the works of Laurence Sterne, James Joyce, Anthony Burgess or Salman Rushdie, I highly recommend 'All About H. Hatterr'. Like 'Ulysses', it’s not an easy read (but by no means is it as difficult as 'Ulysses'), but it’s a highly-rewarding book which—though regrettably largely unknown—is revolutionary in English literature. One can also find an excerpt from 'All About H. Hatter' in the excellent anthology of Indian literature, 'Mirrorwork', edited by Salman Rushdie & Elizabeth West (Rushdie’s 3rd wife, whom he left for the spicy Tamil model/actress/cookery-book-writer Padma Lakshmi [see my review of her book EASY EXOTIC]). Though 'ALL ABOUT H. HATTERR' is currently out-of-print, it should not be difficult to locate a copy [I believe indiaclub.com has some copies], and again, I do highly recommend it. But let us hope that soon H. Hatterr enjoys another long-overdue ‘monsoon’ of renewed recognition: ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------- ‘An Oriental gent, whose only assets in the world were a sable fur coat and a genuine delight in information and learning, spent the better half of his life digging up a pyramid. He dug, because a seer had confided in him, that inside the pyramid was hidden stuff beyond man’s ken: many priceless diamonds! The task was super-human. But the feller carried on, and on, digging like kingdom come. Afte r years of silent secret toiling, hill-pecking and hammering, at last, the pyramid became hollow…the feller found a perfectly-shaped lair: a tiny cave, with a minute oval entrance, leading thereinto…Did he recover the treasure, do you think? In the now roofless cave he found, instead, a family of white mice…Hell, years of solitary digging, to catch a glimpse of meagre mice! …He gave up digging for good; and – fall of man! – he climbed down; evolved backwards. From the high station of a seeker of wisdom and learning, he went below; to the lowest bottom-rung of the human progress-ladder. He decided to become a writer! – belong to the frisky fraternity of autobiography-makers, the fellers who keep a tally of their does, and, in the sunset of their days, make an oyez to humanity, asserting the motto, Everyman, I will be thy guide! – damme, clowning and vaudeville-turning!’ (pg. 30-31) ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ ------- Edition notes: ---------------- First published – Aldor, 1948 re-issued – Saturn Press, 1950 revised edition – Farrar, Straus & Young (NY, USA), 1951 further revised edition w/ intro by Anthony Burgess – The Bodley Head, 1970 revised edition with additional final chapter – Lancer Books (USA), 1972 this edition with further revisions – Penguin Books, 1972 reprinted – King Penguin, 1982 reprinted – Arnold-Heinemann (India), 1985 subsequently reprinted – ???? I recommend trying to locate a post-1972 edition, due to the revisions+additional chapter.
[note: all of my quotations are from an old edition translated by Jack Lindsay (a reprinting of this is available from Indiana University Press; ISBN: 0253200369); the William Adlington version is an Elizabethean translation, so it might be difficult for modern readers; there are many translation (a summary of these is available @: http://www.cog.jhu.edu/~slade/apu-ed.html ), but the Lindsay translation (which I use for this review) is very good.] ----------------------------------------------------------------------- Lucius Apuleius's 'The Golden Ass' is a bawdy, ribald and hilarious story of magic and erotica from the 2nd century A.D. But don’t let the date put you off—this book is unique, entertaining and thoroughly readable, with a very modern feel. Not stuffy in the least, I assure you! 'The Golden Ass' (sometimes known as 'The Metamorphosis') tells the story of Lucius, a young libertine, whose curiosity and fascination for sex and magic result in his transformation into a donkey. After suffering a series of trials and humiliations, he is eventually returned to human form by the kind intervention of the goddess Isis. Simultaneously a blend of erotic adventure, romantic comedy, and religious fable, 'The Golden Ass' is one of the truly seminal works of early European literature, with a distinctly Eastern flavouring and a very modern feel. Lucius Apuleius lived and wrote in Latin in Romanised North Africa around the middle of the 2nd century A.D. He was well versed in the popular Greek writing of the time, and shows in all his prose a strong interest in the supernatural, in Eastern religions, and in magic. In fact he was accused of casting spells on his wife by her family, and defended himself in the legal defense, or Apologia is still existent. His interest in Greek philosophy led to the writing of a book of philosophical extracts, the 'Florida', an essay on Plato, another on Socrates' theology. The story begins when the hero Lucius travels into Thessaly (in Greece) on business. He stays with a prominent citizen, Milo (a friend of a friend), there in the city of Hypata. Town gossip soon alerts him to the fact that Milo’s wife, Pamphile, is a witch, who transforms herself into different shapes (like that of an owl) in order to sneak out of the house to indulge herself in some extra-marital affairs with the young men of the town (Lucius is also informed that she is apt to transform such young men as displease her into unpleasant shapes, such as cows or rocks). Lucius, dying of curiosity to see such magic performed, decides to kill two birds with one stone. He seduces Milo and Pamphile’s luscious maid, Fotis, and convinces her to secret him in Pamphile’s room while she casts her spells. An extract from this point of the novel will serve to illustrate the delightful erotic style of this book: ‘Fotis was alone in charge. She was preparing the stuffing for some…puddings…ready for mixing with a gravy that tickled my nostrils with its succulently wafted steam. She was neatly clad in a linen apron, with a shining scarlet stomacher which gathered her dress up high under her meeting breasts; and she was stirring the stockpot with her rosy little hands moving round and round above it. As she stirred and turned the meat, she herself stirred and vibrated congruously all over her supple body. Her loins softly undulated, and her agile spine swayed and rippled in time, as she placidly stirred the pot. I was entranced by the sight, and stood in mute admiration—as did that part of me which so far had not intruded. At last I addressed the girl, “How finely, my dear Fotis, how gaily you stir your buttocks as you stand over the pot. What a honeyed relish I see you getting ready. A happy man, a blessed man, is he that you will let dip finger there.”’ Later, his seduction successful —after some erotic escapades with Fotis—she smuggles Lucius into Pamphile’s room to watch her transform herself with her magic: ‘First of all Pamphile divested herself of all her clothes, and opening a certain coffer she fetched out several small boxes. Taking off a lid of one of these, she squeezed out some ointment and rubbed herself all over with it, till she was smeared from the ends of her toenails to the hairs on the crown of her head. Then she muttered a series of hushed charms over a lamp, and twitched her body and jerked it shiveringly. Gradually downy plumes began to jet and flutter out. These thickened into regular wings; her nose hooked itself hornily outwards; her nails bunched together crookedly; and Pamphile became an owl.’ Lucius convinces Fotis to let him try out the shape-changing ointment on himself, and, having received her assurances that she knows the proper counter-spell, begins to attempt the transformation with the ointment: ‘I quickly tore off all my garments, greedily dipped into the box, and took out a large handful, with which I plastered every limb. And then, flapping my arms up and down, I stood waiting and trying to feel birdlike. But no down appeared; no wings burst out. Rather, it was obvious that my hair was hardening into bristles, my tender skin was roughening to a hide. My toes and fingers lost their distinctness and clotted into solid hoofs; and from the end of my spine a long tail whisked out. My face became enormous; my mouth widened; my nostrils gaped open; my lips grew pendulous; and my ears shot hairily aloft. I could see no consolation in this calamitous change save that I was (in every respect) enlarged even beyond the capacity of Fotis…I saw that I was not a bird but an ass.’ Lucius is, of course, unable to upbraid Fotis as he should like, having lost his human voice. But, no worries, Fotis knows the counter-spell for the ass-transfo rmation as well. Lucius need only chew a few rose-petals and he’ll instantly turn back into his human shape. Unfortunately, though Fotis usually prepares rose-garlands for their bedroom romps, she has neglected to do so on this night, and, until she can procure some more roses in the morning, Lucius must wait. In the stables. However, in the middle of the night, thieves break into the house and steal Milo’s goods, as well as taking all of his horses and donkeys—including the unlucky Lucius. What follows is a series of uproariously funny (mis)adventures as Lucius tries to find and eat rose-petals in order to regain his humanity. He eventually escapes from the thieves only to be taken by someone else, and so on. In addition to the main thread of the story—Lucius trying to regain his human form—there are also a number of little stories narrated throughout the novel, tales Lucius overhears other characters telling. These Chinese-box stories give 'The Golden Ass' a feel a bit like 'Arabian Nights'. One of the longest and most important of these encapsulated stories is that of "Cupid and Psyche": Venus is resentful of the beauty of Psyche, a mortal girl, and contrives her death. However, someone rescues her and becomes her husband on the condition that she never try to discover his identity (he only comes to her in the dark of night so she can’t see him)—if she does, he must leave her. However, Psyche’s jealous sisters trick her into lighting a lamp one night and looking upon her husband’s face: it is Cupid, god of love. A drop of oil falls on him, waking him and he sees Psyche looking down on him and regretfully abandons her. I shan’t tell you the ending, but what follows in this mini-story is amazingly close to the Germanic "Cinderella" tale. The "Cupid and Psyche" episode is one of the ‘romantic’ climaxes of the book and is emotional ly important in the tale’s reception. There are other shorter and more ribald mini-tales, like "The Tale of the Wife’s Tub", which I shall give you a taste of here: ‘There was once a hard-up labouring-man who lived a pinched life on his wage as a journeyman-carpenter. He had a wifie as poor as himself, a little slip of a thing but (so scandal had it) incurably lecherous. One day when the carpenter had gone off to his work after breakfast, the wife’s lover sidled warily into the house. But while the adulterers were amorously parleying together and imagining themselves quite secure, the complaisant husband…unexpected returned…The cunning wife, well-schooled in all naughty guiles, at once loosed her lover from her serpenting embraces and secreted him in an old empty tub…”So you’ve come back empty-handed,” she cried, “a gentleman of leisure with your arms folded!”…”What’s all this noise about?” answered the abused husband…”Do you see that old tub? It’s no use, and it takes up such a great deal of space that it’s only a stumbling-block…Well, I sold it to a fellow for fivepence. He’ll be here in a moment to pay me and cart it away. So tuck up your skirts and lend me a hand.” “A fine husband!” she exclaimed…”Why, he’s gone and sold at such a low price the very article that I…just sold for sevenpence…[The buyer]’s been down in the tub, testing and sounding it this long while.” The lover took his cue…”Look here…I want to scrape off the dirt that’s crusted inside, and find out if the tub is any use at all.” The excellently keenwitted husband, suspecting nothing, fetched a light. “But come out, my friend…stand aside, and let me make that tub spick and span for you.”…He set hard to work chipping away the ha rdened dirt…While this toil was proceeding, the delightful lad of a lover bent the wife over the tub on her belly, and then crouched down out of sight to do some other kind of tinkering. The woman had her head thrust down into the tub; and she amused herself with guying her husband with her harlotry-jokes. She kept pointing out with her finger spots to be rubbed, saying, “There…here…there…” until both jobs were finished…’ After many adventures and mini-tales (and after escaping from a particularly ‘evil’ Christian woman), Lucius is sold to a pair of cooks who find out that he’s intelligent and use this fact to their financial advantage—think about the stories of horses who ‘can add’ and answer maths-questions by stamping their hoof a certain number of times. The tale of this incredible [=golden] ass spreads far and wide and the climax of this section is the procurement of Lucius by some women who have a very curious fetish (shared by the late Empress Catherine of Russia). After enduring every possible form of humiliation, Lucius is finally restored to human form by the grace of the goddess Isis, whose disciple he becomes. [The appearance of Isis to Lucius is a bit reminiscent of the Krishna’s revelation of his godhood to Arjuna in the Indian epic 'The Bhagavad-Gita', as Isis is a sort of universal goddess with manifold forms.] The final sections of the book are a bit out of keeping with the rest of the novel, as the tone becomes quite serious as Lucius describes (some of) the mysteries of Isis and Osiris into which he is initiated. Apuleius’s tale influenced later authors, which can clearly be seen in works like Cervantes' 'Don Quixote' or Jonathan Swift’s 'Gulliver’s Travels' or even some of Salman Rushdie’s ‘magic-realism’ novels like 'Midnight’s Children' (in which, at one point, the protagonist is ‘transformed’ into a dog). 'The Golden Ass' can be read as a journey of maturation, or a sort of pagan version of Saint Augustine’s 'Confessions' (without the guilt), with the final metamorphosis as redemption from the slavery of Lucius’s adolescent carnal desires. However, as the translator points out in his introduction: ‘That analysis has a basis of truth; but to state it truly we need a subtler idiom than that of the moralist. The miracle which the goddess works in Lucius is the release of the individual from the distortion of his adult life by the continuing pangs and dissatisfactions of infancy’. Written in the 2nd century A.D., 'The Golden Ass' is partly a counter-argument to the doctrines of Christianity, as is evident in the ‘foulness’ of the one Christian character in the novel; as well, the myth/mini-tale of "Cupid and Psyche" seems intended as a alternative to the story of the Cross. As Lindsay says of 'The Golden Ass', it is a ‘fable of the fettered soul seeking to know its own action that is the true centre of the work…a radiant hymn of hope introduced to counterbalance the image of man’s life as that of a galled beast-of-burden’. And it’s a bloody enjoyable naughty and witty tale of magic and eroticism! ------------------------------------- To learn more, please visit my Apuleius page: http://www.cog.jhu.edu/~slade/apuleius.html and my GOLDEN ASS page: http://www.cog.jhu.edu/~slade/goldass.html
I usually don’t think very much of ‘best of’ albums, but THE CLASSIC YEARS is quite a good one actually. Many are probably not familiar with NICO (born Christa Päffgen) and those who are most likely vaguely remember her from The Velvet Underground’s first album on which she sang three songs. But Nico continued producing music for another 21 years after her work with Lou Reed et al. of The Velvet Underground. Nico, who was a model before she began her singing career, was also an actress, appearing in over twenty films, including Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” (when she was fifteen). She was born in Cologne, Germany in 1938 (she once said that her father died in a concentration camp) and was educated in Germany, Italy and France, becoming fluent in seven languages. If you do know Nico, you probably think of the beautiful, icy Teutonic blonde dressed all in white—almost like a marble statue—from her modelling days, or early albums THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO and CHELSEA GIRL, but later she hennaed her hair and wore black (she tried to de-iconise, de-objectify herself and was once very pleased when someone told her she looked ugly…she wanted to be taken seriously for her art, like Janis Joplin, and not on the basis of her cold and distant beauty). Amongst other rock ‘n roll stars, Nico was involved at one time or other with Jim Morrison, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen (or, at least, he fancied her…), as well as the French film director Philippe Garrel and the French film actor Alain Delon (whose child, Ari, she bore), and knew Sartre. In 1964 she met Bob Dylan in Paris and ran off with him to a small Greek island where he wrote the album ANOTHER SIDE for himself and the song “I’ll Keep It With Mine” for her. Later, trying to track down Bob Dylan in New York, she ran into pop-artist Andy Warhol, who was just then putting together his band, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND. < br><br> After leaving VU, she recorded her first solo album CHELSEA GIRL in ‘67, the songs being written mainly by Lou Reed, John Cale and her then paramour Jackson Browne. After CHELSEA GIRL, she primarily wrote her own songs (saying that, ‘It’s boring singing other people’s songs’) and recorded a number of other studio albums, including THE MARBLE INDEX (1968), DESERTSHORE (1970), THE END…(1974), DRAMA OF EXILE (1981), CAMERA OBSCURA (1985) and the posthumously-released HANGING GARDENS (1990). But, as Nico herself once said, ‘I have a habit of leaving places just at the wrong time, just when something big might have happened for me’ – she never achieved the recognition she sought or deserved. Her music—unique and wonderful as I shall attempt to describe presently—is hard to define and nearly impossible to classify, which perhaps kept her from finding a particular niche within the popular music world and thus a particular following… Each of her albums appears on a different label: from PolyGram to Elektra to Warner Reprise to Island, and then to the more obscure Aura and Beggars Banquet labels. John Cale actually had to cajole Island Records into releasing Nico’s THE END… - he made it a pre-requisite to his signing a contract with them for one of his own albums. Andy Warhol once said of her: ‘Nico was a new type of female superstar. Baby Jane and Edie were both outgoing, American, social, bright, excited, chatty, whereas Nico was weird and untalkative. You'd ask her something and she'd maybe answer you five minutes later. When people described her, they used words like memento mori or macabre. She wasn't the type to get up on the table and dance, the way Edie and Baby Jane might; in fact, she'd rather hide under the table than dance on it. She was mysterious and European, a real moon goddess type.’ The art critic David Antrim described Ni co as possessing a 'macabre face - so beautifully resembling a memento mori, the marvelous death-like voice coming from the lovely blonde head'. Nico’s voice is unique and instantly recognisable – deep, slow, and germanic; sensuous yet ice-cold. If I had to put a voice to Lady Death, it would be Nico’s. Her music definitely changes and evolves through her albums, particularly once she starts writing most of her own music; and each album is recognisably different from the last. But, if you can imagine it, the closest one could come to describing the body of her work would be a cross between classical European opera and American folk/rock music – Mozart and Bob Dylan – “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and “The Marriage of Figaro” – Richard Wagner and The Doors – “The End” and “Götterdämmerung”. ***** THE CLASSIC YEARS contains a selection of her songs from 1965-1974, including her early single (not previously released on CD to my knowledge), all of her songs with the Velvet Underground, and quite a few songs from her first four solo albums (19 tracks – 76 minutes). If I were to try to make my own [1 disc] selection of her songs from 1965-1974, I would have chosen exactly the ones on this disc! (well, except that I would have also included “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, the Dylan song from CHELSEA GIRL, knocking off "Little Sister" if I had to...). The disc opens with the two songs from her first pre-VU single, ”I’m Not Sayin’” (Gordon Lightfoot) and ”The Last Mile”(Jimmy Page/Andrew Loog Oldham) – which are classic Beatlesque 60’s tunes. The next three songs are from THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO(1967)—which, if you aren’t a Nico fan, are probably the ones you’ll recognise: the lovely ”I’ll Be Your Mirror”(Lo u Reed) – (‘I'll be your mirror, reflect what you are, in case you don't know. I'll be the wind, the rain and the sunset, the light on your door to show that you're home.’); the famous (and self-descriptive) ”Femme Fatale”(Lou Reed) – (‘Here she comes, you’d better watch your step, she’s gonna break your heart in two, it’s true…’cause she’s a femme fatale.’); and ”All Tomorrow’s Parties”(Lou Reed) – (‘And what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow’s parties? A hand-me-down dress from who knows where…’). Next, are four songs from her first solo album, CHELSEA GIRL (1967): ”The Fairest of Seasons”(Gregory Copeland/Jackson Browne) – (‘It’s now I know - do I stay or do I go and it is finally I decide that I’ll be leaving in the fairest of seasons.’); ”These Days”(Jackson Browne) – (‘I’ve been out walking – I don’t do too much talking these days – these days I seem to think a lot about the things I forgot to do and all the times I had a chance to') [also very apt for Nico]; ”Little Sister”(John Cale/Lou Reed); ”Chelsea Girls”(Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison). The four selections from THE MARBLE INDEX (1968) (probably her best album and the first which is truly ‘Nico’s’ music, i.e., written by her): ”No One is There”(Nico) – (‘Across from behind my window screen - demon is dancing down the scene in a crucial parody. He is calling and throwing his arms up in the air and no one is there’); ”Ari’s Song”(Nico) – (‘Sail away, sail away my little boy – let the wind fill your heart with light and joy…’) [written for her son]; ”Frozen Warnings”(Nico) – (‘Into numberless reflections rises a smile from your eyes into mine – frozen warnings close to mine – close to the frozen borderline’); ”Nibelungen”(Nico) – (‘Since the first of you and me asleep in a Nibelungen and – titanic curses trap me in a banishment of stay – symbols vanish from my senses – stem and stave the view appears – symbols captured in a trance vanish from my glance’) [wonderful acappella song, with resonances of Wagner, unreleased until 1991 when the CD version of the album appeared]. The compiler of this collection chose very well from her third album, DESERTSHORE (1970): ”Janitor of Lunacy”(Nico) – (‘Janitor of lunacy, paralyse my infancy, petrify the empty cradle, bring hope to them and me…’); ”Abschied”[‘Farewell’](Nico) – (‘sein körper bewegt sich nicht im Traume sich endlich sein Zwingen vergisst…’); ”Afraid”(Nico) – (‘Cease to know or to tell or to see or to be your own – have someone else’s will as your own…’) Appropriately enough, the compilation concludes with three songs from THE END…(1974): ”Secret Side”(Nico) – (‘Without a guide, without a hand – unwed virgins in the lands, tied up on the sand…are you not loyal to your pride? are you not on the secret side?’); ”You Forget to Answer”(Nico) – (‘When I remember what to say – You will know me again, and you forget to answer’); and an ethereal cover of The Doors’ most famous song - ”The End”(The Doors – Jim Morrison). All in all, a very good collection of Nico’s songs. It is, however, missing any representation of her later work. Admittedly, her next album THE DRAMA OF EXILE (1981) I’m not sure I care for much – it’s Nico’s attempt to do ‘traditional’ rock ‘n roll and it just doesn’t come off somehow, though it does have a few good songs and nice covers of VU’s “Waiting for the Man” and Bowie’s “Heroes” (the latter of which Nico claims was written for her). However, the last studio album released during her lifetime, CAMERA OBSCURA (1985), is actually quite good and, if you enjoy Nico, you should definitely get it. As I said previously, Nico’s music is very hard to classify, but if you like The Velvet Underground or The Doors or Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen or David Bowie or classical opera, you might just enjoy the morbid charms of Nico's unique music as well. Those already fans of Nico may also want this album, as it is nice compilation, plus it has two songs previously unreleased on CD (to my knowledge). Overall, this is an excellent collection of the music of the Teutonic ice-sculpture, femme fatale, memento mori with a death’s-head voice, NICO.
Two Fabulous Works: a Galactic Astrological Concert & a Song with an Unsolved Riddle ----------------------------------------------- I own three different recordings of ‘The Planets’ and two of ‘Enigma Variations’ (and I’ve heard more of both) – and this disc has my favourite version of both! Sir Adrian Boult (1889-1983) conducts both pieces, and he is a fantastic conductor – Holst and Elgar being two composers whose music he directed many, many times. Boult, in fact, was a friend of Holst’s and conducted the world premiere of ‘The Planets’ in 1918! I’ll continue this article by reviewing the two pieces separately and then giving a general summing-up of the disc as a whole: ---------------------------------------------------------- Gustav Holst – The Planets (1914-16) [duration: 47.17]  Mars, the Bringer of War  Venus, the Bringer of Peace  Mercury, the Winged Messenger  Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity  Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age  Uranus, the Magician  Neptune, the Mystic If you’ve heard anything by Holst, most likely you’ve heard ‘The Planets’, or at least the first movement, “Mars” – it is often used in films (particularly “Mars”). I must have heard “Mars” in at least 3 or 4 films (most recently in the Bollywood [Hindi] film, “1942: A Love Story”—considering that Holst was inspired by Indian sources [see below], I found this amusingly appropriate). “Mars” has been called ‘the most devastating piece of music ever written!’ In fact, if you like ‘orchestral’ movie-music (like John Williams ‘Star Wars’ music), you’ll probably really enjoy ‘The Planets’. I don’t mean to under-rate ‘The Planets’ in any fashion by sayin g this (nor do I think John Williams is anywhere close to as good as Holst) – I simply mean that it’s an easy classical piece to listen to, even if you’re not much of a classical music fan. “Mars” captures the horrors of war quite uncannily(remember that World War I lasted from roughly 1914-1918)—bestial, massive and terrifying. “Venus, bringer of peace”, as the title suggests, reminds one of a tranquil pool in a green forest, with sunlight filtering through the leaves. “Mercury” is like someone running, feet barely (or not) touching the ground, and has a mischievous quality to it. “Jupiter” is the centre-piece of the opus (and Holst’s favourite movement) and is very noble and grand, and somehow uplifting (it was later arranged to the words of "I Vow to Thee, My Country"). “Saturn” is very heavy, slow and black-like a grim struggle for life. “Uranus”, following this dark bit, is a crazy, ‘magical’ movement—starting out slow and then speeding-up (and sometimes ‘crashing’). “Neptune” is the ethereal finale, with a chorus of ghostly female voices. Holst was influenced by the music of Edvard Grieg (‘Peer Gynt’ – “In the Hall of the Mountain King”) and particularly Richard Wagner (‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’-see my review of Götterdämmerung). Though Holst is primarily known today only for his orchestral pieces (and mainly just for ‘The Planets’), he wrote many different types of music, his early work being mainly opera. He was influenced in his choice of themes by ancient Indian texts; his early work includes the operas ‘Sita’ [1900-6] (based on the heroine from the Indian Sanskrit epic the ‘Ramayana’) and ‘Savitri’  (based on an episode from the Sanskrit epic the ‘Mahabharata’), as well as the c horal piece ‘The Cloud Messenger’ [1910-12] (based on the Sanskrit poem ‘Meghaduta’). He also wrote an orchestral piece based on the writings of Thomas Hardy: ‘Egdon Heath’ , as well as many works for ballet, chamber, string orchestra and other arrangements. His early interest in astrology is revealed in 'The Planets'. As I said before, this is my favourite recording of ‘The Planets’, made in 1978-Boult conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra. ------------------------------------------------------------ Sir Edward Elgar – Enigma Variations(1899) [duration: 31.17] One day when Elgar returned home from giving music lessons, he was fiddling about with the piano, trying to relax after a frustrating day (probably teaching mediocre students…) and being improvising a little tune. His wife overheard it and complimented him on it – and then he set to speculating how some of their friends might play this tune: thus the ‘variations’. So the first track is the ‘original’ tune [probably more properly called a ‘theme’, I’m not a classic musician….], and the remainder are how Elgar thought that some of his friends (and one of their pets!) might play the tune, or how the tune might be altered to portrayed them:  Theme  First Variation - C.A.E.: Elgar's wife, Alice, lovingly portrayed;  Second Variation - H.D.S-P.: Hew David Steuart-Powell, a pianist with whom Elgar played in chamber ensembles;  Third Variation - R.B.T.: Richard Baxter Townshend, a friend whose caricature of an old man in an amateur theatre production is captured in the variation;  Fourth Variation - W.M.B.: William Meath Baker, 'country squire, gentleman and scholar', informing his guests of the day's arrangements;  Fifth Variation - R.P.A.: Richard Arnold, son of the poet Matthew Arnol d;  Sixth Variation - Ysobel: Isabel Fitton, an amateur viola player from a musical family living in Malvern;  Seventh Variation - Troyte: Arthur Troyte Griffith, a Malvern architect and close friend of Elgar throughout their lives - the variation focuses on Troyte's limited abilities as a pianist;  Eighth Variation - W.N.: Winifred Norbury, known to Elgar through her association with the Worcestershire Philharmonic Society - the variation captures both her laugh and the atmosphere of her eighteenth century house;  Ninth Variation - Nimrod: A J Jaeger, Elgar's great friend whose encouragement did much to keep Elgar going during the period when he was struggling to secure a lasting reputation - the variation allegedly captures a discussion between them on Beethoven's slow movements  Tenth Variation - Dorabella: Dora Penney, daughter of the Rector of Wolverhampton and a close friend of the Elgars;  Eleventh Variation - G.R.S.: George Sinclair, organist at Hereford Cathedral, although the variation allegedly portrays Sinclair's bulldog Dan paddling in the River Wye after falling in;  Twelfth Variation - B.G.N.: Basil Nevinson, an amateur cellist who, with Elgar and Hew Steuart-Powell, completed the chamber music trio;  Thirteenth Variation - ***: probably Lady Mary Lygon, a local noblewoman who sailed for Australia at about the time Elgar wrote the variation, which quotes from Mendelssohn's Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The use of asterisks rather than initials has however invited speculation that they conceal the identity of Helen Weaver, Elgar's fiancée for eighteen months in 1883/84 before she emigrated, also to Australia;  Fourteenth Variation - E.D.U.: Elgar himself, Edoo being his wife's pet name for him. The are actually two ‘enigmas’ in this piece: the first is who each variation portrays (answers given above :) ). The second is t hat Elgar suggested that there is ‘a popular tune which does not itself appear in the variations but of which the theme is the counterpoint’, though he may have been joking. Joking or not, this has, of course, invited much speculation and probably theses have been written on the topic—possible answers being variously given as “Auld Lange Syne”, something from Mozart or “Rule Britannia”. I’m not quite sure how to describe this piece, other than that I like it and also find it ‘easy to listen to’ classical music, particularly as it is made up of 15 short bits (the variations on the theme), rather than consisting of very long movements. This particular recording was made in 1970-with Boult conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. If you know Elgar, you probably either know ‘Enigma Variations’ or his lovely ‘Cello Concerto in E minor’ (particularly the version performed by Jacqueline du Pré). I know less about Elgar than Holst (http://www.elgar.org has good info), so I won’t provide any more background for him here. --------------------------------------------- Even though these pieces were recorded in the 70’s, and thus are not digitally recorded, the sound quality is excellent and both were later digitally remastered, further improving the quality. Sir Adrian Boult, personal friend of Holst, conducted both pieces throughout his lifetime and the two pieces were recorded at the height of his career, after he had had about 60 years of experience! I don’t think you can find a conductor who understands either piece better than does Boult. Even if you are someone who must have DDD recordings, I only suggest that you consider that the conductor and musicians make more of a difference to the overall quality and you probably couldn’t distinguish this from a DDD recording anyway. Overall, as I said in the beginning, this is a wonde rful disc because I think it has the best versions of both of these pieces of music (at a great price, usually round £9). ‘The Planets’ and ‘Enigma Variations’ are classical music which are fun and easy to listen to, even if you aren’t a classical music aficionado.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Live (1942) Bayreuth / conducted by Elmendorff / Record Label=Music & Arts / ASIN: B00004SCE8 ********************************************* --------------------------------- As Twilight Falls....Germany 1942 --------------------------------- This "Götterdämmerung" performance is among the best I’ve heard, and the theme of the opera (‘The Twilight of the Gods’): the crumbling of an old order, the saga of war and betrayal, makes the ‘historicity’ of this war-time concert (a live recording from the Bayreuth festival in Bavaria from 1942) an incredibly interesting recording. For those unfamiliar with Wagner’s "Götterdämmerung" – it is the fourth part of his epic operatic (4-day) cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen: (‘The Ring of the Nibelungs’ [the Nibelungs are evil dwarves who fashion a cursed Ring]) based on Nordic/Germanic mythology and drawing largely from the mediaeval German epic _The Nibelungenleid_ (‘Song of the Nibelungs’) and the Norse _Volsunga Saga_ (note: Tolkien’s _The Lord of the Rings_ makes heavy use of the same sources as Wagner and Tolkien probably drew some inspiration from Wagner’s opera as well). [Biographical note: Many are probably turned off from Wagner because of his notorious anti-semitism. Whilst I neither dispute nor defend this charge: (1) it is important to separate an artist from his art and (2) Wagner’s personal relations with Jews are complex – for instance he strongly suspected that his actual father was Jewish and he had complex relations with Jews as stage-managers, &c. What I can make out from his writings is that he began to equate Judaism and capitalism and it is the latter which he actually despised. Again this is not a defence of Wagner, just an attempt at an explanation. But Wagner’s vision of the German Volk certainly would not have in cluded the Third Reich, nor would Wagner have applauded it. Hitler’s adoption of Wagner’s music (which shows, in part, like his adoption of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings, that he had little true understanding of either) is regrettable, leaving Wagner with a bad flavour, much like Hitler’s tainting of the ancient Indo-European symbol for good luck: the swastika (which Hitler used the wrong way round). An especially prominent symbol in India (the name of the symbol itself, swastika, is Sanskrit, not German), though it is found also on old Anglo-Saxon graves--being a truly primaeval Indo-European symbol, it is truly lamentable that the swastika should now have such evil associations.] ***** For those unfamiliar with the story of the Ring Cycle, I shall attempt a brief synopsis of the basic plot (leaving out many details, one must understand). [If you are familiar already with the Ring Cycle or do not desire to read through this section, skip down to the next set of ***’s]: The first opera of the cycle, "Das Rheingold" ('The Gold of the River Rhine'), tells of the fashioning of the cursed ring of power (again, does this remind anyone a bit of Tolkien?). The evil dwarf Alberich comes up from the depths of the earth and encounter the ethereally-beautiful Rhein-maidens swimming in the Rhein. As he is hideous ugly, they reject his clumsy advances, but accidentally tell him of the Rheingold they possess and what power one might wield were he to fashion a ring from it (and renounce love, for some reason). So Alberich does just this. Later, Wotan (=Odin), the king of the gods, with the help of Loge (=Loki), the trickster-god manages to take the ring from Alberich. A number of events occur (which I shall not relate here) which force Wotan reluctantly to ransom the ring to the giants; then, at the end of the opera, Erda (=’Earth-Mother’) comes to Wotan and prophesises that th e curse of the ring will bring about the downfall of the gods. In the second opera, "Die Walküre" ('The Valkyries'), Wotan, in order to protect Valhalla (the home of the gods), has sired eight daughters, the valkyries, and commanded them to gather up an army of dead heroes to guard Valhalla against its foretold doom. Meanwhile….a weaponless man called Siegmund is fleeing and comes across a house: he is wounded and exhausted and cannot go on, so he decides to rest here. Sieglinde, who lives in the house, finds him and invites him inside. She informs him that the house and she herself belong to Hunding and bids her guest wait for the master of the house. Siegmund says that bad luck haunts him and that he must leave lest he should bring bad luck to the house but Sieglinde convinces him to stay, saying that he cannot bring bad luck where bad luck already lives. Siegmund names himself ‘Woeful’ and waits for Hunding. Hunding arrives and greets Siegmund in a formal manner and then wants to hear his story. Siegmund tells his father was ‘Wolf’ and that he [Siegmund] had a twin sister. One day, Siegmund returned home, to find that his mother had been killed and his home burned. His sister and father were nowhere to be found. Later he saw a damsel in distress: she was being forced into a marriage he did not want. Siegmund rushed into her defence and killed some of her enemies - only to learn they were actually her brothers and kinsmen. Siegmund fought, but was wounded and eventually lost his sword. The girl was killed and Siegmund had to flee. At this point, Hunding declares that he was summoned to avenge on a murderer who had killed some people nearby, who has turned out to be Siegmund himself. Hunding says that his house will protect ‘Woeful’ for the night but that he must prepare to fight Hunding to the death on the morrow. Siegmund is left alone and recalls his father promised him a sword when he most ba dly would need one. Sieglinde enters. She tells him she was forced into marrying Hunding against her will. Their wedding party had an uninvited guest: a fearsome stranger whose large hat was pulled down to cover one eye [this is Wotan, who gave up one of his eyes]. Everybody except Sieglinde feared him. The stranger had a sword and he thrust that sword in the tree trunk that is in the middle of Hunding's house and said that the blade would belong to anyone who pulled it out of the tree. Many have tried but none of them succeeded. They both reveal their true feelings to each other. Sieglinde reveals to Siegmund that she is his lost twin sister as well, and calls him his true name, Siegmund. Siegmund draws the enchanted sword from the tree and names it Nothung (=‘Need’). They embrace each other passionately. In the next scene, Wotan gives orders to his favourite daughter valkyrie Brünnhilde to guard Siegmund in the coming battle. Then, his wife Fricka (the goddess of wedlock) objects and forces him to have Hunting warded instead, so he must command Brünnhilde to guard Hunting. Brünnhilde decides to disobey and to protect Siegmund instead. Wotan is forced to intervene and shatters the sword Nothung with his spear and Siegmund is slain. But Brünnhilde has found Sieglinde and at least carries her off to safety. Wotan is furious: he says Brünnhilde will be a valkyrie no longer, she will lay defenceless in deep sleep and will become wife to the first person who finds her. The other valkyries protest, but Wotan tells them to leave lest they wish to share Brünnhilde's fate. The eight valkyries flee in terror, only Brünnhilde and Wotan are left. Her last wish is that Wotan surround her with a wall of fire which only bravest of all heroes can penetrate. Brünnhilde falls in deep sleep and Wotan gives her a long goodbye - and then kisses her godhood away: she is a mortal woman now. Wotan knocks the ground three times with his Runespear and thus summons Loge ( in his fire-elemental form) to surround the sleeping Brünnhilde. "Siegfried", the third opera, named after the hero of the cycle, begins in a cavern in the wilderness. Siegfried, who is the son of Siegmund and Siegliende, has been orphaned and adopted by the dwarf Mime. No matter how well Mime forges a sword, Siegfried’s strength always manages to break it. Siegfried questions Mime about his parentage and Mime shows him the pieces of the shattered blade Nothung of his father. Siegfried himself forges Nothung anew. As Siegfried forges, Mime brews a drugged potion, intending to kill Siegfried as Wotan has told Mime that Siegfried is destined to slay him. Later, Siegfried asks Mime to teach him the meaning of fear and Mime sends him to meet the dragon Fafner. Fafner is actually one of the giants, who has transformed into a dragon himself by means of the Tarnhelm (another dwarvish item, taken by Wotan and ransomed to the giants) and killed his brother. In dragonish form, he sits on his hoard (which includes the cursed ring of the Rheingold). Siegfried slays Fafner with Nothung, in the course of the battle his hands are covered in the dragon’s blood and by tasting the blood he is able to understand the speech of birds. One bird tells him to take only the Tarnhelm and the ring and leave the rest of the treasure and also warns him of Mime’s treachery. After slaying Mime, Siegfried asks the bird where he might find a companion and the bird tells him of a maiden surrounded by a ring of fire. Siegfried finds Brünnhilde and is astonished by her, never having seen a woman before (he thinks at first, covered in armour, she is a man). Waking her with a kiss (sleeping-beauty-fashion), they declare their love for one another. The final opera in the cycle, "Götterdämmerung" ('The Twilight of the Gods'), is a glorious and horrible saga of love and betrayal. A new day dawns around the Valkyrie Rock where Siegfried and B rünnhilde are. Siegfried wishes (despite just falling in love) to go wandering in search of new heroic deeds. Brünnhilde lets him ride her horse, Grane, and Siegfried gives the Ring to Brünnhilde, as a token of his faith. After a passionate farewell, Siegfried rides down the mountainside toward the River Rhein. Brënnhilde can hear the sound of his hunting-horn from the distance. Meanwhile…in the hall of the Gibichungs, lord Gunther asks his clever half-brother Hagen (whose father is Alberich, the evil dwarf) how could he win more fame and glory. Hagen tells Gunther that he should marry and that there is only one woman noble enough for him: Brünnhilde, who is surrounded by magic fire which only the bravest of heroes can pass. Gunther laments that he lacks the courage for such a task. Hagen says that, indeed, the only one with such courage is Siegfried. And to kill two birds with one stone, Siegfried should be persuaded to marry Gunther's sister, Gutrune. Gutrune thinks Hagen is jesting: how could she charm the bravest hero in the world? Hagen reminds her of a magic potion which would make Siegfried lose his memory and fall in love with the first woman he sees. Siegfried, riding along the Rhein in search of noble quests appears. He wants either to fight Gunther or to befriend him. Gunther, not the bravest of men, prefers to become his friend. Gutrune appears and gives a ‘welcoming toast’ to Siegfried, with the magic potion of course. Siegfried then forgets Brünnhilde and falls in love with Gutrune. When Siegfried hears about Gunther's ‘beloved’, Brünnhilde, and the fires which surround her rock, his mind is struggling to throw off the spell of amnesia, but up to no avail (a very moving moment in the opera). He devises an ingenious plan: he will use the magic of the Tarnhelm to disguise himself as Gunther and win Brünnhilde for Gunther, if Gunther lets him marry his sister, Gutrune. Gunther and Siegfried swear an oath of bloodbroot herhood before Siegfried leaves to conquer Brünnhilde for Gunther. He does so (in the form of Gunther), takes the Ring from her finger, spends the night (chastely) with her, and returns the next day to the Gibichs with Brünnhilde. The Gibichs begin to prepare the feast for the double marriage. As the crowd of Gibichs watches, Brünnhilde and Gunther come from a boat. Brünnhilde is shocked, seeing Siegfried and Gutrune together. Then she notices the Ring on Siegfried's finger and says it was Siegfried who took the Ring from her. Siegfried is confused: he can now remember slaying a dragon and thus winning the Ring. Hagen suggests to Brünnhilde that Siegfried has played some trick. Brünnhilde screams: trickery! treachery! She even claims that Siegfried forced delight from her, at which Siegfried decides to swear a new oath that he has spoken true. Hagen offers his spear for the oath. Siegfried swears: if I have sworn falsely, let yours be the blade that pierces me. Suddenly, Brünnhilde also places her hand on the spear and blesses the blade for this purpose, for, she says, falsely has Siegfried sworn indeed. Later, Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther are together. Brünnhilde wonders aloud what has happened to Siegfried - what devil's trickery has made him betray her? Hagen offers to avenge her on Siegfried, but Brünnhilde doubts his combat prowess: a single flicker from Siegfried's eyes would suffice to make Hagen's courage falter. Surely, asks Hagen, he would still be vulnerable to his spear because of the false oath he swore on it? Brünnhilde says that she has protected Siegfried with magic which makes him invulnerable to any weapon - only his back she spared protection as she knew Siegfried would never turn and run from any combat. There shall my spear strike, declares Hagen. Gunther is desperate: the events have put him into a terrible shame. Hagen's answer is that only one thing can restore his honour now: Siegfried's death. Gunther falls silent a nd hesitates, but Hagen makes him come around with a hint of the all-powerful Ring which Siegfried is wearing. Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunther decide that Siegfried shall die and plot to kill him during a hunting party. Meanwhile…Siegfried is again riding along the Rhein during the hunt. The Three Rheinmaidens are singing and swimming in the river, as Siegfried arrives. He is hunting, but has lost his prey. The Rheinmaidens spot the Ring and try to persuade (almost seduce) Siegfried into giving it to them. For a moment Siegfried holds the Ring in the air and is indeed going to give it away, but when the Rheinemaidens warn him of the dangers which he will meet if does not yield the Ring, he declares indignantly that he does not care for his life and will not be threatened into parting with the ring. The Rheinmaidens swim away calling him a madman - and they utter the prophecy that the Ring will today go to a certain lady, who will make a more reasonable decision. Siegfried meets the rest of the hunting party: Hagen, Gunther and some vassals. Gunther is very depressed as Hagen mixes a drink for Siegfried, who also offers the drink to Gunther. To brighten Gunther, Siegfried decides to tell a story from the years when he was but a boy. He now remembers Mime and how he could understand the bird which told him not to trust Mime - and how he eventually slaughtered Mime. Hagen gives him another drink which wakens his memory. Now Siegfried tells the others how he found Brünnhilde - Gunther is shocked: Siegfried remembers now everything (and what's more, his beloved turns out to be none other than Brünnhilde)! Two ravens (symbols/servants of Wotan) fly up and circle above Siegfried, then fly away. Hagen asks him if he was able to understand what the ravens said. Revenge they cried to me, says Hagen, and plunges his spear in Siegfried's back. Siegfried falls down. Gunther and the vassals are terrified and ask Hagen why he acted thus. Hagen maintains it was a vengea nce. Siegfried opens his eyes, sees a vision of Brünnhilde, and then dies. Siegfried's corpse is taken to the hall of the Gibichungs. Hagen tells Gutrune that Siegfried has fallen prey to a wild boar. Gutrune accuses Gunther of murdering Siegfried, but Gunther replies that Hagen was the ‘wild boar’. Hagen confesses murdering Siegfried, but as Gunther proceeds to take the Ring, he attacks Gunther and strikes him dead, saying abruptly: ‘Give the Ring here!’. Now everyone present is shocked, as Gunther is killed by his own half-brother. Nobody makes any attempt to stop Hagen as he now proceeds to take the Ring - but miraculously Siegfried's corpse raises its hand as Hagen draws near. Hagen is terrified and dares not go any nearer. Brünnhilde enters: she has heard everything and now knows what occurred. She declares that Siegfried belonged to her all the time and Gutrune weepingly admits this. Brünnhilde instructs the vassals to pile logs into a funeral pyre and leave Siegfried's corpse atop the pyre. She understands that it was not in fact Siegfried who deceived her as he in turn was betrayed himself and thus forgives Siegfried and mourns her loss. She wishes him peace saying that she knows now everything. Taking the Ring, she pronounces that the fire that shall soon consume her will cleanse the Curse from the Ring and that the Rheinmaidens shall be able to reclaim their purified gold from the ashes. She puts on the Ring and takes a torch from one of the vassals. She bids Wotan's ravens to fly home past the Valkyrie Rock and bid Loge to go to Valhalla: the downfall of gods is nigh. The funeral pyre is lit. Brünnhilde mounts her steed, Grane, and, speaking a last greeting to Siegfried, she rides into the blazing pyre (a bit like a Hindu widow of old flinging herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre [suttee]). **** The cast in this production of "Götterdämmerung" are very good. Set Svanholm as our hero Siegfried is excellent. Friedrich Dalberg (who was actually an Englishman who Germanised his name) makes a glorious villain as Hagen. Some do not find Martha Fuchs the best Brünnhilde (she has a bit of trouble with some of the higher notes, but the lower notes she hits perfectly and chillingly), but I enjoy her singing of the part and think she understands the role and text better than some other singers. Camilla Kallab is also quite good in her long monologue as Waltraute (a valkyrie) in Act 1. It is largely the conducting by Karl Elmendorff that makes this a definitive production of "Götterdämmerung". I do not find that many of the more recent conductors of this opera (like Solti) are really of the same calibre as Elmendorff. This fact by far outweighes any disadvantages this recording has in being an older recording (and thus being made with less sophisticated sound equipment than more recent productions). The sound quality is actually quite good, especially for a broadcast from 1942. It does not have any noticeable noises and I only know that it’s mono sound because it says so on the case. The Music & Arts label which released this recording has done a fabulous job cleaning it up and the discs themselves are well-manufactured (one finds a number of classical recordings on inferior CDs). However, it does not come with a libretto (the German lines and the translation), so you may want to purchase one. I highly recommend this recording of "Götterdämmerung" to any Ring aficionados, or anyone who enjoys Wagner. Those who enjoy Tolkien or epic mythology are also likely to appreciate the epic drama and power of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. If you’re new to Wagner and/or opera in general (as I was until quite recently), you may just want to fling yourself into it anyway – I found that the best way; the Ring Cycle, and "Götterdämmerung" in particular, being a particularly thrilling opera, i s a good best bet. However, you may want to start small: "Plácido Domingo & Deborah Voigt sing Wagner Love Duets" (from "Tristan und Isolde" & "Siegfried") is a very nice, well-recorded one-disc CD. If you’re looking for the complete Ring Cycle, I highly recommend the "Clemens Krauss 1953 Bayreuther Festspiele" production of all four operas of the cycle (and it’s very affordable). But this recording of "Götterdämmerung" remains my favourite.
FURY is a novel which is difficult to place in relation to Rushdie’s other works. It does not stand so far outside the body of the rest of his work as does his first novel GRIMUS [a sci-fi fantasy novel with an Amerindian, rather than ‘India-Indian’, protagonist], yet it does not seem to quite belong with MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN or even his most recent preceding novel THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET. On the prosaic side, it is much shorter than his other novels (a mere 279 pages); however, it also simply has a different feel from his other books (see more on this below). One practical effect of FURY’s brevity (compared to his other works) is that we do not get to see the entirety of all of the characters. There are some characters, who though very vividly invoked, make but brief appearances in the novel (much more characteristic of a Mike Leigh film than a Rushdie novel). I do not think FURY is quite the equal of MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN, but their differences make them hard to compare (and, my rating shows that I still think FURY an excellent book). That said, I would still rather recommend MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN or THE MOOR’S LAST SIGH to a reader who wants an introduction into Rushdie’s work. Despite being set in New York (and despite some reviews to the contrary), FURY is not an ‘American’ novel. It is a novel by an author who, like FURY’s hero Prof. Malik Solanka, was bred in Bombay, educated in London and recently taken up residence in the USA. Besides, it does not seem particularly useful to attempt to classify Rushdie’s books by such national adjectives, at least no more than to see Joyce’s FINNEGAN’S WAKE as an ‘Irish’ novel. FURY involves America, India and England (as well as Fiji, under the Swiftian pseudonym ‘Lilliput-Blefuscu’). The story itself is part murder-mystery, part romance, part sci-fi, part political allegory—it is a bit ter satire of the ‘money-mad burg’ of New York and black comedy about human nature in general (thus, again, not really centred on America in particular). While dark and perhaps disturbing in parts, these elements are mixed with a moving love-story and the novel is filled with many moments of lighter humour. As in his previous novel THE GROUND BENEATH HER FEET, Rushdie examines the relation of the artist to his creation and his audience. Solanka is a Cambridge-philosopher-turned-dollmaker who has unwittingly (and unwillingly) created a pop-culture phenomenon that represents almost everything he despises about modern culture. His pop-culture heroine, a BBC-TV star named Little Brain, originates as an intelligent, if irreverent, girl-doll who travels through time to have discussions with people like Galileo. However, Solanka loses control over Little Brain and the TV programme becomes internationalised, low-brow, mindless drivel (in Solanka’s opinion at least). The title refers to the somewhat inexplicable fury (part of it seems to stem from the ‘Little Brain saga’) of the protagonist, who at one point in time finds himself standing over his sleeping wife and son with a kitchen knife and at another point suspects himself of being the serial killer (in a sort Jekell-Hyde fashion) murdering women in NYC with a block of concrete. It is this fury which causes him to flee London, without a word of explanation to his family, for New York, seeking to ‘define’ himself—or, rather, erase himself: Eat me, America, he prays, and give me peace. But the fury is not just that of the protagonist, but of almost everyone in the novel: Muslim taxi-drivers curse mindlessly at the other traffic in Urdu. Solanka’s black friend Jack Rhinehart turns from being one the harshest critics of rich WASPish Americans (one kind of ‘racial’ fury) to trying to join their ‘club’ (and experiences another kin d of ‘racial’ fury-frustration at not being fully ‘admitted’). It also concerns the ‘political’ fury of one of the female protagonists, Neela Mahendra, at the treatment of Indian ‘Lilliputians’ by the indigenous ‘Lilliput-Blefuscians’. Also, the Greek Furies themselves put in a sort of appearance at one point. Having left his family and retreated into the anonymity of New York (a strange kind of modern sanyasi-behaviour?), the first part of the novel partly concerns his relationship with Mila Milo, a young Slavic-American girl who is a sort of fashion-chic-guru to a consortium of young computer-technology wizards. This relationship has reverberations of Lolita (due to the age difference and implications about Mila’s father) as well as Pygmalion (as Mila reveres and emulates Little Brain, particularly her pop-culture manifestation). Mila is key to the latter development of Solanka’s new creation: an internet sci-fi saga about a cyberneticist whose android-creations (like Solanka’s Little Brain doll) eventually no longer obey his wishes (this mini-story about the relation between human and androids is also reminiscent of some of the issues about ‘humanness’ raised in Philip K Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? [and the film BLADERUNNER, derived from that novel] ). The main female protagonist in the novel, the one who pulls Solanka out of his fury and despair, is the ethereal, apsara-like, literally traffic-stopping Indian beauty (or, rather, Indo-Lilliputian beauty), Neela Mahendra. This character is transparently Rushdie’s current girl-friend, the South Indian model/actress/cookery-book-writer Padma Lakshmi [see my review of her book EASY EXOTIC], down to the herringbone scar on her right arm. This and other aspects of the novel make one feel it to be perhaps the most autobiographical of Rushdie’s novels, though not in any unpleasan t way. The latter part of the novel is primarily focussed on Solanka & Neela’s relationship and Neela’s part in the revolutionary activities in Lilliput-Blefuscu [read Fiji]. One of the striking differences between FURY and Rushdie’s previous novels is the lack of what is often called ‘magic realism’. There is nothing akin to the telepathic or other extra-ordinary abilities of the Midnight’s Children in FURY (even Neela’s ability to stop traffic Rushdie claims—and I don’t doubt it—is true of her model Padma). The closest FURY comes to that sort of Rushdiesque touch of the not-quite-natural is the blending which occurs between Solanka’s sci-fi internet saga about androids who revolt against their maker and the uprising of the Indo-Lillputians who start wearing masks based on the some of the android characters in Solanka’s e[lectronic]-epic. My opinion of FURY is that it is outstanding, like all of Rushdie’s novels, even if it is very different from his normal fare. Again, I would recommend some of his earlier novels to those unfamiliar with Rushdie, but Rushdie-fans definitely should not miss FURY. Also, as some other reviewers have observed, FURY takes on a new relevance in the aftermath of the 11 Sep. events (the fury that incited them, as well as the fury they have provoked).
POWER POLITICS is a short work (125 pages, including glossary and end-notes) by the Indian author Arundhati Roy, whose first novel, THE GOD OF SMALL THINGS, won the Booker Prize [the UK's most coveted literary award]. POWER POLITICS is focussed on the travesties being committed in India by foreign (mainly US) companies, in the name of ‘globalisation’. The two main matters discussed are the privatisation of India’s power supply to US-based energy companies and the construction of massive dams which will dislocate hundreds of thousands of people. The primary arguments are well-articulated, logical and easy to understand, even for the econo-political layman (like myself). In the first section, ‘The Ladies Have Feelings, So…’, is partially a forward to the ‘meat’ of the book, outlining some of her basic grievances – though it also gives some interesting and ‘fascinating’ (in the same way that car-accidents are fascinating) facts like ‘[c]lose to forty percent of Delhi’s population of twelve million…live in slums and unauthorized colonies. Most of them are not serviced by municipal services – no electricity, no water, no sewage systems. About fifty thousand people are homeless and sleep on the streets. The “noncitizens” are employed in what economists rather stuffily call the “informal sector”, the fragile but parallel economy’ (pg. 21). However, the majority of the this introductory section (pg. 1-33) is a defence of her right to write about econo-politics (or anything else she wants), some of the normal things which people usually say (but still bear repeating) about free speech and objections to being called a ‘writer-activist’ (‘like a sofa-bed’ (pg. 10)). Roy seems worried that writers will see her as ‘aligned’ and therefore shallow and uncool; and that political activists will see her as an ivory-t ower intellectual who has no right to speak on such issues—she wants to defend her right to be fiction writer while still be able to speak out on political issues. I don’t have any problem with this, so it wasn’t particularly useful to me, but I have no particular objection to her defending her right to do so. She also mentions in the intro (and the conclusion) how the Indian Supreme Court chastised her for writing an article protesting the Narmada Dam project ['I was told that the three-judge bench ranted and raved and referred to me as "that woman" (I began to think of myself as the hooker who won the Booker)']. The latter part of the book is much more informative though. The ‘meat’ of the text, “The Reincarnation of Rumpelstiltskin” (pg. 35-86), is truly interesting and very eye-opening. The main thrust of her book is a protest against the Narmada Valley Development project (building a series of 3,200 dams along the Narmada River, which runs from the state of Madhya Pradesh in central India through to Gujarat, in the west of India) which, if completed, will displace hundreds of thousands of people—with absolutely no scheme even for their relocation. The beginning of this section serves as a sort of appetizer for the discussion of the Narmada Project by presenting the horrendous details of the ‘Enron deal’—the first privately-built power plant in India [for a different point of view, see Shashi Tharoor’s book, INDIA: FROM MIDNIGHT TO THE MILLENNIUM], in the state of Maharashtra. Enron is a Houston-based natural gas company contracted to build the first private power plant in India. ‘The Power Purchase Agreement between Enron and the Congress Party-ruled State Government of Maharashtra for a six hundred and ninety-five megawatt power plant was signed in 1993’ (pg. 53). The Hindu-nationalist parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (roughly, ‘Indian People’s Party’) [BJP] and the Shiv Sena (a extreme Hindu-fundamentalist party, literally ‘The Army of Shiva’) protested this contract and joined forces to win the state elections and throw out the Congress Party (and, ostensibly, the Power Purchase Agreement as well). However, following the annulment of the contract, the USA government started to pressure the State of Maharashtra led by the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition: ‘U.S. ambassador Frank Wisner made several statements deploring the cancellation (soon after he completed his term as ambassador, he joined Enron as a director)’ (pg. 54). The upshot of which is that, in 1996, Maharashtra signed a new contract with Enron: the original contract ‘had involved annual payments to Enron of four hundred and thirty million U.S. dollars for Phase I (six hundred and ninety-five megawatts) of the project, with Phase II (two thousand and fifteen megawatts) being optional. The “re-negotiated” Power Purchase Agreement makes Phase II of the project mandatory and legally binds the Maharashtra State Electricity Board [MSEB] to pay Enron a sum of thirty billion U.S. dollars! It constitutes the largest contract ever signed in the history of India’ (pg. 54-55). Roy goes on to say that, ‘expert who have studied the project have called it the most massive fraud in the country’s history. The project’s gross profits work out to between twelve and fourteen billion dollars. The official return on equity is more than thirty percent. That’s almost double what Indian law and statutes permit in power projects’ (pg. 55). OK, you might say, so Enron is making a big profit, but India got a state-of-the-art power plant for power which the state of Maharashtra desperately needs (as does Mr Tharoor in INDIA:FROM MIDNIGHT TO THE MILLENIUM) – and new power facilities are always expensive, but they pay-off in the long-run. However, ‘[t]h e power that the Enron plant produces is twice as expensive as its nearest competitor and seven times as expensive as the cheapest electricity available in Maharashtra. In May 2000, the Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Committee [MERC] ruled that temporarily, until as long as was absolutely necessary, no power should be bought from Enron. It was based on a calculation that it would be cheaper to just pay Enron the mandatory fixed charges for the maintenance and administration of the plant…than to actually buy any of its exorbitant power. The fixed charges alone [for maintenance and admin.] work out to around two hundred and twenty million U.S. dollars a year for Phase I…Phase II will be nearly twice the size’ (pg. 56). That’s US$220 million a year for the next twenty years for a power plant that’s doing nothing. So who benefits? Not the business and industries of India, because they cannot afford Enron’s power – so there’s no argument to be made that the ‘Enron deal’ is stimulating the economy in any way. In fact, it is only creating an additional burden of $220 million a year for the Maharashtran tax-payers. According to the state’s electricity commission, ‘even if it were to buy ninety percent of Enron’s output, its losses will amount to 1.2 billion U.S. dollars a year…more than sixty percent of India’s annual Rural Development budget’ (pg. 57). So who benefits? Enron, of course (and its new director, former US ambassador Frank Wisner), as well as current US President George W. Bush, Jr (Enron was one of the biggest corporate contributors to his presidential campaign). OK, there are some people in India who benefit from the ‘Enron deal’: ‘Enron has made no secret of the fact that, in order to secure the deal, it had paid out millions of dollars to “educate” the politicians and bureaucrats involved in the deal’ (pg. 54). An d, this is just the first course of the book – ‘There are plenty of Enron clones in the pipeline. Indian citizens have a lot to look forward to’ (pg. 59). The main course, as I mentioned, is a protest against the Narmada Valley Development project. An interesting fact: ‘The international dam industry alone is worth thirty-two to forty-six billion U.S. dollars a year. In the first world, dams are being decommissioned, blown up. That leaves us with another industry threatened with redundancy desperately in search of dumping grounds. Fortunately (for the industry), most third world countries, India especially [India has the third largest number of Big Dams in the world], are deeply committed to Big Dams’ (pg. 62-63). What are the dams being used for? 90% are irrigation dams, to aid in farming – part of India’s ‘food security’. How much food do they produce? ‘There is no official government figure for this’ (pg. 65). However, the India section of the World Commission on Dams ‘deduces that the contribution of large dams to India’s food grain produce is less than ten percent…The Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies says that ten percent of India’s total food grain produce every year is spoiled or eaten by rats. India must be the only country in the world that builds dams, uproots millions of people, and submerges thousands of acres of forest in order to feed rats’ (pg. 65-66). Right, so there’s a problem – but one might fairly ask, how big is it really, how many people are actually affected? ‘The India Country survey says the figure [of people displaced by Big Dams in India over the past fifty years] could be as high as fifty-six million people…That’s almost twice the population of Canada. More than three times the population of Australia’ (pg. 67). And the government has no official rehabilitation project. That means not o nly do the people displaced by the dams have no say in the matter, but they aren’t even offered new places for their homes (or jobs, many of which are connected to living alongside the river). One of Arundhati Roy’s main goals is to try to stop the ‘four-hundred-megawatt Shri Maheshwar Hydel Project…which boasts of being the most ambitious river valley project in the world. It envisages building three thousand and two hundred dams (thirty big dams, one hundred and thirty-five medium dams, and the rest small) that will reconstitute the Narmada and her forty-one tributaries into a series of step reservoirs. It will alter the ecology of an entire river basin, affect the lives of about twenty-five million people who live in the valley, and submerge four thousand square kilometers of old-growth, deciduous forest, hundreds of temples, as well as archaeological sites dating back to the Lower Paleolithic Age…India’s first major private hydel power project…[I]t’s not only part of the most bitterly opposed river valley project in India, but also…a strand in the skein of a mammoth global enterprise’ (pg. 38-39). This massive private power venture is a joint-deal between two companies in two of the world’s greatest democracies: India and the USA. Important question: who are these companies planning this grand project? ‘Ogden Energy Group, a company that specializes in operating garbage incinerators in the United States, and S. Kumars, an Indian textile company that manufactures what it calls “suiting blends”…what might garbage incineration and suiting blends possibly have in common? Suit-incineration? Garbage-blend? Nope. A big hydroelectric dam on the river Narmada in central India. Neither Ogden nor S. Kumars has ever built or operated a large dam before’ (pg. 38). So why are they doing it now? The obvious answer is: because they can and because it will make bot h of them a lot of money. Who cares about the hundreds of thousands of people it will displace or the destruction of the environment or temples or archaeological sites? Or even whether it will benefit anyone other than Ogden and S. Kumars. Money’s the thing. POWER POLITICS is an excellently argued book and the author provides numerous citations and references (many of which are available on the Internet – for general information on the Narmada Valley Project, goto: http://www.narmada.org). If you are a fan of Noam Chomsky's political works or are interested in modern India or the global economy in general, you should read POWER POLITICS. As Arundhati Roy says, ‘What is happening to our world is almost too colossal for human comprehension to contain. But it is a terrible, terrible thing. To contemplate its girth and circumference, to attempt to define it, to try and fight it all at once, is impossible. The only way to combat it is by fighting specific wars in specific ways. A good place to begin would be the Narmada valley’ (pg. 86).
SMALL CHANGE" is a classic Tom Waits album—one his fans should not be without and a great introduction to Waits for those less familiar with his music. "Small Change", along with "Swordfishtrombones", "Raindogs", "Frank’s Wild Years" and the unreleased bootleg "Alice", are my favourite Waits albums; "Small Change" is one of Waits’ earliest albums (from 1976). "Small Change" is a folk-lyrical series of ballads sungs—if you might imagine it—by a beer-and-whisky-soaked, down-on-his-luck, broken-hearted man who’s caught you by the elbow down the pub. It’s a bar-stool confessional (as Waits bums the money for another shot off of you) a drunken tale of unrequited love and hard luck. The music is uniquely Waits, but the best description I can give is of a cross between American folk, jazz and blues. This album brilliantly demonstrates Waits’ talent both as a song-writer and as a singer. The album opens with a classic, “Tom Traubert’s Blues” [which has been covered by Rod Stewart], as Waits catches your elbow as you get up from the bar, mistaking you through his empty whisky-glass for an old friend (‘Wasted and wounded, it ain't what the moon did…got what I paid for now…See ya tomorrow, hey Frank can I borrow a couple of bucks from you?…Now I lost my Saint Christopher now that I've kissed her…and the one-armed bandit knows…and the maverick Chinaman and the cold-blooded signs...And the girls down by the strip-tease shows…Go, waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda. You'll go a waltzing Matilda with me’). “Step Right Up” is an upbeat, hilarious, probably extemporaneous piece of ‘beatnik-satire’ on capitalism and advertising, Waits singing the figure of an ‘everything-must-go’ salesman of a incredible (if undescribable) product which ‘no-one should be without’ (‘Step right up, step right up, step right up…everyone's a winner, bargains galore…that's right, you too can be the proud owner…That's right: it filets, it chops, it dices, slices…Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn….and it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school…How do we do it? How do we do it? volume, volume, turn up the volume…and it’s only a dollar…c’mon and step right up’) In “Jitterbug Boy” you come out of the pub late at night and Tom, leaning unsteadily against a street-light, tugs your sleeve (‘So you'll ask me what I'm doing here holding up a lamp post, flipping this quarter, trying to make up my mind: And if it's heads I'll go to Tennessee, and tails I'll buy a drink, if it lands on the edge I'll keep talking to you’) “I Wish I Was in New Orleans”, Tom sadly recalls the ‘good ol’ days’ in New Orleans (‘Well, I wish I was in New Orleans…I can see it in my dreams…Arm-in-arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me’) Next, Tom stumbles over, sits down at the bar-piano and begins crooning out “The Piano Has Been Drinking” – a down-and-out bar-room singer fallen on bad times, and the worse for drink – another sadly humorous song (‘The piano has been drinking…My necktie's asleep and the carpet needs a haircut…the telephone's out of cigarettes and the balcony is on the make…’cause the piano has been drinking….not me, not me, not me’) Sobered-up the next day, Tom visits a greasy-spoon diner somewhere out on a lonely highway and we hear his inner speculations over the life of pretty, if tired-looking, waitress he’s ogling and trying to screw-up the courage to chat-up in “Invita tion To The Blues”: (‘Well she's up against the register, with an apron and a spatula, with yesterday's deliveries and the tickets for the Bachelors…She's a moving violation from her conk down to her shoes…but it's just an invitation to the blues…You wonder if she might be single…This ain't nothing but an invitation to the blues…But you can't take your eyes off her - get another cup of java…And it's just the way she pours it for you…’ ”Pasties and a G-string” - Tom slums it in a strip-club and sings sexy, dirty lyrics: ‘Smelling like a brewery, looking like a tramp - I ain't got a quarter, got a postage stamp…Been five o'clock shadow boxing all around the town…And the porno floor show - Live nude girls - Dreamy and creamy, and the brunette curls…Pasties and a g-string, beer and a shot…Cleavage, cleavage thighs and hips from the nape of her neck to the lip stick lips…She's hot and ready and creamy and sugared and the band is awful and so are the tunes…Crawlin’ on her belly, shakin’ like jelly and I'm getting harder than Chinese algebraziers and cheers…’) “Bad Liver and a Broken Heart” - Tom tries to drink away his romantic problems and confides in you: (‘Well I got a bad liver and a broken heart…Yea I drunk me a river since you tore me apart and I don't have a drinking problem 'cept when I can't get a drink…And I wish you'd a known her - We were quite a pair: She was sharp as a razor and soft as a prayer…’) Waits’ “The One that Got Away” is another unrequited love-ballad sung by a street-wise Tom somewhere in the depths of a big city: (‘Well I've lost my equilibrium,my car keys and my pride. The tattoo-parlor's warm and so I huddle there inside - Then grinding of the buz z-saw: Whatchuwanthathingtosay? I said, just don't misspell her name, Buddy, she's the one that got away…’) In “Small Change (Got Rained On With His Own .38)”, Tom chronicles a midnight murder of some small-time gangster: (‘Small Change got rained on with his own .38 And nobody flinched down by the arcade, and the marquise weren't weeping - they went stark-raving mad and the cabbies were the only ones that really had it made…And his cold trousers were twisted and the sirens high and shrill and crumpled in his fist was a five-dollar bill…And the naked mannikins with their Cheshire grins and the raconteurs and roustabouts said “Buddy, come on in” – ‘cause the dreams ain't broken down here now - No, they're walking with a limp, now that Small Change got rained on with his own .38’) To end the album, Tom, working a late-shift at shop or diner is left to close-up; and sings to and dances with his broom: (‘Well I don't mind working ‘cause I used to be jerkin off most of my time in the bars. I've been a cabbie and a stock clerk and a soda fountain jock jerk and a manic mechanic on cars…It's nice work if you can get it…Now who the hell said it? I got money to spend on my gal…But the work never stops and I'll be busting my chops working for Joe and Sal…”Tom do this and Tom do that and Tom don’t do that”…And I can't wait to get off work and see my baby…She'll be waiting up with a magazine for me – “Clean the bathrooms, clean um good”… Oh your lovin’ I wish you would come down here and sweepameoffmyfeet - This broom'll have to be my baby…If I hurry, I just might get off before the dawn’s early light…’ "SMALL CHANGE" is one of Waits’ best and most solid albums – brilliantly written, bee r-and-booze-soaked love-ballads of the late-night life of being down-and-out and heart-broken (but not defeated) in big American cities. If you’re already a Waits’ fan – you shouldn’t be without this album, of all of his albums. If you’re not a Waits’ fan (you should be and) – I still recommend this album (as I said before, it’s an excellent intro to Tom’s work). If you enjoy jazz, blues, American folk music or beatnik poetry you’ll surely enjoy Tom Waits – and "Small Change" is one of his best - a desert-island disc!
HALF A LIFE is the latest novel of the Trinidadian author V.S. Naipaul, who was recently awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for works that ‘compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories’. (Naipaul was quoted as being surprised and honoured at receiving the prize, saying that ‘it is a great tribute to England, my home, and to India, home of my ancestors’ [while neglecting mention of Trinidad, his birthplace]). Naipaul also received the Booker Prize in 1971 for his book IN A FREE STATE, amongst other awards. As in many of his other novels, HALF A LIFE draws heavily from Naipaul’s personal experiences, in particular his experience as a Trinidadian Indian immigrating to the old imperial centre, London, in the 1950’s. One might divide HALF A LIFE into four sections: the first being the story of the protagonist’s father, the second as the experiences of the protagonist, Willie Chandran, in India and his early experiences at university in London, the third the protagonist’s latter experiences and successes in London and the final section is Chandran’s life in an African nation in the last throes of colonialism. The novel opens thus: ‘Willie Chandran asked his father one, “Why is my middle name Somerset? The boys at school have just found out, and they are mocking me.” His father said without joy, “You were named after a great English writer. I am sure you have seen his books about the house.” “But I haven’t read them. Did you admire him so much?” “I am not sure. Listen, and make up your own mind.” And this was the story Willie Chandran’s father began to tell. It took a long time. The story changed as Willie grew up. Things were added, and by the time Willie left India to go to England this was the story he had heard…’ The remainder of the first section is told in the fi rst person (Naipaul slips seamlessly from third to first person a number of times in the novel – I didn’t even notice the transition at first). The father begins by telling how he became the model for a character in Somerset Maugham’s novel THE RAZOR’S EDGE, the indirect result of heeding the call of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s call for ‘sacrifice’ compels the father to sacrifice in the only way he feels he can – by turning his back on his high-caste Brahmin heritage and marrying a ‘tribal’, low-caste woman. This ill-fated union causes the father much regret and resentment, as do the children that issue from it. Here again we can see Naipaul’s masterful and fascinating painting of familial relations, although this element plays a much smaller role than it does in his lengthier (and excellent) novel A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS (in part a fictionalised biography of Naipaul’s father). The father’s idea of ‘sacrifice’ ends up creating much bitterness in his wife, his son and himself. The second section of the novel begins the development of the protagonist, Willie Chandran (in the third person). Willie’s ‘difficult’ home-life impels him to begin to re-invent himself (and his family), first in his English composition class, for which his writes about himself as being part of a happy Canadian family, which goes to the beach for its holidays. Willie’s re-invention continues through-out the novel, and seems to be part of the notion of ‘half a life’, to which the title refers. Willie is often uncomfortable around other people as a result of this re-invention and his apparent inability to ‘live fully’ also stems partially from this ‘rewriting of his self’. Willie’s father is later able to gain him a scholarship to university in London, where his begins rewriting his identity. One detail he re-invents is—ra ther than his father being a Brahmin and a mother a member of a ‘backwards’ caste, half-educated at a Christian missionary school—that he is a Christian Indian belonging to an ancient Christian community in India (there do indeed exist such communities in India). In fact, he is actually commissioned to do a piece on India’s ‘old’ Christian communities versus its newer ‘missionary’ Christian communities for the BBC [here is another autobiographic fact, that Naipaul worked for the BBC during his early years in London]. Through his work with the BBC and through his university, Willie meets other people whose life stories echo his own woes of mixed birth and ethnic/cultural ‘displacement’. One such person is Percy Cato, a Jamaican of mixed parentage (Indian, African, European) who is not, strictly-speaking, Jamaican, as he was born and bred in Panama (‘I am the only black man or Jamaican or West Indian you’ll meet in England who knows nothing about cricket.’). Percy also re-invents his past, making his father a literate clerk in Panama rather than a heavy-labourer. Another is Marcus, the son of a [black] West Indian who went to live in West Africa as part of the Back to Africa movement, whose fondest desire is to have grandchildren who look completely white (claiming that ‘the Negro gene is recessive’), and whose second greatest desire to be the first black man to have an account at Coutts, the Queen’s bank (though it is not clear that they don’t already have black clients…). Willie struggles in London, attending bohemian parties, and is frustrated both with trying to write a book and to overcome self-doubt in his sexual adventures (had mainly with the girl-friends of his friends). He is finally ‘rescued’ from his careening despair by Ana, one of the erstwhile fans of his poorly-received sole publication. Ana is another ‘mestizo’, of mixed Portuguese and African blood. Willie clings to Ana, eventually following her back to her unnamed Africa homeland [very probably Mozambique] to live for eighteen years on her father’s crumbling estate. One day he slips on their marble stairs and after waking up in a military hospital tells Ana that, ‘I am going to leave you…I can’t live your life any more. I want to live my own.’ The final section of the novel is told once again in the first person, by Willie to his sister (who has married a German), of his life in Africa with Ana. They live in an estate manor, socialising almost only with other ‘mixed breeds’, Portuguese ‘tainted’ with African blood, who are accepted as second-class citizen by the pure Portuguese colonists during the colonial government (and again are not accepted by the ‘native’ post-colonial regime). The re-occurrence of persons of mixed blood is another of the ‘halves’ of HALF A LIFE. Willie begins frequenting African prostitutes, even though they do not really satisfy him, until he meets Graça, with whom he begins to have an undisguised affair. Willie thinks at first that during his time with Graça that he is truly living, but his despair is never far from him. Willie’s sexual encounters, both in London and in Africa, are narrated with an unusual frankness. But they are far from being erotic, titillating descriptions, rather they are written with a hard and weary honesty – somewhat reminiscent of the tone of some of J.M. Coetzee’s work (particularly of his 1999 Booker-Award winning novel DISGRACE). Despite his neglecting to mention Trinidad on receiving his Nobel Prize, Naipaul has written some excellent books which give a lively and colourful picture of Trinidad—if you like HALF A LIFE, I recommend (of his Trinidad volumes) A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS (a longish novel mentioned earlier) and THE SUFFRAGE OF ELVI RA (a short novel). If you enjoy the Africa section of the book, I also recommend his novel A BEND IN THE RIVER, which chronicles the life of an Indian shopkeeper in an Africa village as the country undergoes a revolution. Don’t read HALF A LIFE expecting a facile story of man whose struggles with his inheritance and identity before achieving a happy acceptance of ‘who he really is’. ‘Everything goes on a bias,’ Willie observes, ‘The world should stop, but it goes on.’ It is an intimate and direct account of the bitter ironies and despair of a half-borrowed life. Naipaul paints a starkly realistic portrait of what it is to be someone who staunchly refuses to accept what he has been given to be, who tries to take on the identity of what he feels he should be and thus lives but ‘half a life’.