Thursday, November 27, 2008

Damsel in Distress, P.G. Wodehouse

Posted by lea at 4:28 PM 0 comments Links to this post
At the risk of sounding clichéd, the first words that spring to mind are 'madcap antics' and 'comic caper'. P.G. Wodehouse is a master of these elements and he's right at home in Damsel in Distress. There are - as usual with Wodehouse - budding romances, mistaken identities, clever butlers, evil aunts and, of course, a whole array of shenanigans in between. What's a shenanigan? Who knows exactly, but this book's got them in spades.

The plot begins when Lady Maud Marshmoreton travels secretly to London to meet the unsuitable suitor she's unfortunately fallen in love with. Spotted by her aristocratic brother Lord Belpher (a fat bosh if ever there was one), she dives into a taxi occupied by American composer George Bevan, whose chilvalry is as spontaneous as his falling in love with her. To add to the complications, her pompous and overbearing aunt, Lady Caroline, is determined to marry her off to her own highly suitable stepson Reggie, a vacuous young gent who is smitten by the sight of Alice Faraday, secretary to Maud's father, Lord Marshmoreton.

P.G. Wodehouse writes English comedy-of-manners like Michelangelo painted. It's an art form that dominates the field - noone even comes close. As a huge fan of his most popular Jeeves and Wooster series, I really enjoyed Damsel in Distress, with the slight exception of some of the dialogue. Lady Maud Marshmoreton, the damsel of the title, tends to be a little too clever in her speeches, which can be a bit annoying at times, but other than that, it's a great read - still light and funny after all these years (first published 1919).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quantum of Solace, movie review

Posted by lea at 2:39 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Quantum of Solace is another James Bond movie that's touted to be 'different from the rest'. I'm not sure exactly what's different here, except that Bond is more rough around the edges than his smooth predecessors, but we already knew that of Daniel Craig from the last movie.

From the thrilling car chase at the beginning to the blow-em-up firebomb at the end, it's all in, all action, all over the world. From Italy to Bolivia, Bond chases, bashes, rescues, pursues, shoots and maims all manner of people. The plot is thin, and why he rescues and ends up tying his fate (and the storyline) to the girl Camille (played by Olga Kurylenko) is never quite clear. That sort of non-self-interested chivalry seems out of character considering that he's so driven by avenging the death of Vespa. Or is it avenging the attempt on M's life? Who knows. Who cares. The action takes over and the multiple 'coincidences' that happen to speed along the story are a mild nuisance rather than a showstopper.

Personally I never liked Bond the smoothie who ended up in bed with a different girl in every movie, and this Bourne-like angry action Bond makes better viewing in my opinion. The sexual tryst in Quantum of Solace seems more like a token nod to Ian Fleming's misogynistic original than the Bond that Daniel Craig delivers. A better plot and some sharper dialogue would've made it a better movie, but the action is great.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Pronto, Elmore Leonard

Posted by lea at 11:22 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Elmore Leonard, prolific author of crime comedies such as Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Be Cool, does what he does best in Pronto. His stories are slick, the plots fast-paced and characters cool - misfits in the above-board world, they're right at home in the criminal underworld, and so, it would seem, is Elmore Leonard.

In Pronto, Harry Arno is part of the Miami underbelly - a crooked bookie who skims from his mafia boss, Jimmy Cap, and then gets set up by the FBI as a fall guy in order to get Jimmy. Enter US Marshall Raylan Givens, a Stetson-wearing niceguy who, despite having been given the slip twice to the jeopardy of his career, still likes Harry and tracks him down in Italy in order to capture, as well as protect, him from his old boss and the FBI.

Pronto is a good read - quick, interesting and funny. The plot isn't overly convoluted, and although there are a number of big and small characters involved, Leonard fleshes them out nicely. The only criticism is that the protagonist switches halfway through from Harry to Raylan, which requires a mental adjustment that jars an otherwise smooth plot. But on the plus side, he teaches Italian swear words along the way, like testa di cazzo -'dickhead'. A crime caper that's also educational? Couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

Posted by lea at 11:20 AM 0 comments Links to this post
Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly is a rivetting read because it covers a lot of ground: Bourdain's personal journey through drug-addiction to maturation as a chef, his love and obvious passion for food, and the ugly yet strangely charming (in a very crass way) unseen machinations behind the industry of fine dining. And to top it all off, it's written with wit, warmth and honesty that you can't help but appreciate.

He describes his cohorts in the kitchen - those who deliver dishes of utmost perfection - endearingly as:
wacked-out moral degenerates, dope fiends, refugees, a thuggish assortment of drunks, sneak thieves, sluts, and psychopaths.

He obviously loves them, loves his job, loves food and is passionate about the industry - and all of that really comes through. Although I started without even the slightest interest in the New York fine dining scene (the book was a gift), Kitchen Confidential gave me a real appreciation for the passion, talent and dedication of those involved in the craft. There's nothing more enjoyable than having a whole world opened up for you by someone who knows all its ins and outs and who can write - absorbingly, engagingly - about it all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Then She Found Me, Elinor Lipman

Posted by lea at 11:54 AM 2 comments Links to this post
Imagine you grew up as part of a loving adopted family. Your adoptive parents pass away (they were pretty old) and suddenly you're contacted by Kerri-Ann Kennerly. She says you're her long-lost daughter, torn from her tender 17 year-old bosom, and now she wants a relationship with you.

This is the situation that faces April Epner, protagonist of Then She Found Me. April is a realist - a quiet school teacher who isn't interested in fashion or fortune. Her birth mother, it transpires, is a flashy fashionista who hosts a third-rate talk show and loves fame and all its trappings. Having reached a 'certain point' in her life, Bernice makes contact with her only child, which is the catalyst that sets the story in motion.

Elinor Lipman is an old hand at bringing everyday, flawed characters to life, and she does so again with true mastery in Then She Found Me. Bernice is wonderfully drawn and colourful as a conflicted drama queen who wants to redeem herself with April, despite the selfishness with which she's lived the past 36 years since giving her up. There's also a surprising love interest for April, and only Lipman could make this guy endearing so that you're actually rooting for him.

Then She Found Me is written with a great balance of light wit and deep pathos, and recommended for people who don't need Hollywood excesses in their stories (tear-jerking dramatics, violin-inducing romance, etc).

Oh and yes, it's Helen Hunt and Bette Midler you see in the image. Helent Hunt both directs and plays April in the movie version, and it's pretty good. Low key. Midler's great.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Addition, by Toni Jordan

Posted by lea at 4:02 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Addition is a story written from the point of view of Grace, a woman with obsessive compulsive disorder. She marks her days by numbers - the number of steps from her home to her local cafe, the number of poppyseeds in the cake she orders everyday, which then determines the number of bites she takes to eat it. The orderliness of her everyday is broken when, at the supermarket, she discovers she has accidentally picked up nine bananas, not ten - a tragedy in her world. So she steals a banana from the basket of the man behind her at the checkout, which brings his world into collision with hers. The victim of the theft, Seamus, turns out to be a lovely (in fact slightly too perfect) man who unstintingly accepts her for who she is.

Addition was a little disappointing because the reviews were so positive, and the angle so promising. Apart from the charming beginning when she meets Seamus, the rest of the novel is a bit... light on. Grace is not particularly likeable - just because she has a disorder doesn't make her arrogance any more attractive. In her sexual encounters, her unfolding relationship with Seamus and her conversations (so sparklingly witty), one can't help but feel that the author is screaming, 'See, she's normal, just like you!!'

It's a quick read and not a bad one, but not particularly good either.

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