May 10th, 2010

breaking bad

The Final Solution

I don't get so many opportunities to listen to audio books as I used to, because I rarely walk into work these days (working from home, driving in for meetings) and H comes with me on my country walks - a welcome development but less reading gets done. But I made special time this weekend to listen to The Final Solution by Michael Chabon. It's only three or four hours long, a novella rather than a novel. It is about Sherlock Holmes (not actually ever named as such) coming out of retirement at age 90-ish, to solve his final case, involving a young Jewish refugee fleeing the Nazi exterminations. It features a wonderful and endearing parrot called Bruno. Can you marry fictional parrots? Not sure.

I always remark how a good reader or actor enhances text. This one was read by Michael York in a lovely restrained musical cadence, which I can hardly describe, but was quite beautiful. So, it may be this is giving me a heightened impression, but it seems to me that this is exceptionally well written. The sentences are complex and yet under complete control, and the metaphors vivid and consistent. The emotional development of the story seemed perfect to me, both moving and dry.

All in all I can not recommend it more highly. I really enjoyed it; as a genre pastiche it's in a class of it's own.

ETA Here is a single sentence, which I have transcribed from audio, so the punctuation is my best guess. The pov at this point is a Malayalam Anglican vicar.
He felt a mounting sense, as they headed down towards Bethnal Green Road, a sense that had obscure roots in that vanished market morning when he had passed among the hectic stalls of the dealers and animals, that they were penetrating to the heart of some authentic mystery of London or perhaps of life itself: that at last in the company of this singular old gentleman, whose command of mystery had at one time been spoken of as far away as Kerala, he might discover some elusive sedation of the heart-breaking clockwork of the world.
breaking bad

Luther and Justified

I don't know if you remember but I wrote a post a couple of months ago about Timothy Olyphant (Seth Bullock in Deadwood), wondering whether he could make a career out of his 'No more mister nice guy' act, which kalypso_v expressed better as a 'A very violent man who mostly manages to contain himself (but) always takes the violence so far it's clear that he enjoys it'.

Anyway, his new TV show 'Justified' seems to be simply a weekly dramatisation of this very premise. I've only seen one episode, but it appears to be about a (present day) sheriff who puts himself into situations where he is legally 'Justified' in killing someone. The clue is in the name. It is a little like Dexter, as the victims are bad guys, and the lawman's a psycho, but obviously the killing is occurring in the public sphere.

I think the premise is quite promising, but the first episode was a bit disappointing. It could get much better, as his colleagues and friends sort of figure out he is a violent lunatic, but at present it's rather tame.

This and Luther, also last week, are I think spin-offs by writers who love Deadwood and The Wire, and have tried to extract some of the magical essence of these two shows for mass consumption. This isn't just parasitism, I think, it is a genuine homage to quality - like using Nessun Dorma for football, or putting Shakespeare into Doctor Who. If something is wonderful, but hard to access, can some of its power be opened up via a more accessible and simplified form.

Unfortunately I think neither show has quite managed it. They seem too safe. I think in trying to simplify and make accessible they have somehow lost the essence they are trying to convey. I respect the writers for figuring out the jewel - for example the violence inside the man - and trying to replicate it. I hope both shows find their feet and succeed, not least because I like both actors, but they haven't quite made it yet.