04 November 2006

The lovely bones - Alice Sebold

I'm still under the shock from reading this book. I still have a knot in my stomach and my insides are twisted - in a 'good' way, as in 'i've been so moved my body hurts'.

The story is told by Susie Salmon, who is 14 and will always be 14, as she was raped and killed by a neighbor. She is telling her story from her heaven as she watches over her family, friends and murderer, and follows them over the years after her death.

It's grim and yet it's beautiful, it's sensitively felt and beautifully written. It is a story of life and love, lives shaken, love broken, love found, healing love. It depicts the endurance of life and love, in spite of the traumas that you thought shattered you for ever. The characters will haunt you, as Sebold made them made real, flesh, blood and bones, never choosing the easy way of cliches but instead acknowledging the mix of good and weak in everyone and beautifully rendering how struggling is ultimately only human.

My stomach still hurts...
"I would lay those photographs down in my mind, those gathered from my constant watching, and i could trace how one thing - my death - connected these images to a single source. No one could have predicted how my loss would change small moments on Earth. But i held on to those moments, hoarded them. None of them were lost as long as i was watching."

24 October 2006

Women in Iran

Better late than never, i have at last read Marjane Satrapi's 4 comic book saga Persepolis in which she retraces the story of Iran through the prism of her own experience, as a child suddenly covered in a black veil, a troubled teenager struggling with her identity and a woman butting against the repression of a fundamentalist misogynist regim reminiscent of that other repression - extreme to the absurd - imposed by the Taliban in Afghanistan until the US invasion.

Satrapi continues her exploration of the feminine condition in Iran in Embroideries, an endearing and loving ode to women of her family and their courage, humour and grace under repression. Finally, her Chicken with plums offers an infinitely moving and tender tale that immerses us into the intimate psyche of one of her uncles, a great musician whose life and death were marked by thwarted love, a universal story that Satrapi's quill makes so beautiful.

A chance encounter on the shelves of my library brought me Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran as an excuse to continue my exploration of the lives of Iranian women. The book starts as something of a memoirs of a litterature teacher in Iran mixed with insightful and passionate thoughts on the works of Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James or Jane Austen. It then evolves into a more personal account of her life and that of her students, in particular those that come to her house for a clandestine reading club jokingly baptized "Jane (Austen)'s friends".

The relationship between the individual and society provides the backdrop to a story offering beautiful portraits of women. The author pays tribute to the integrity and courage of those who resist and she shakes with indignation when, after they are worn out day after day by the Iranian regime, something ends up breaking in them. Nafisi writes with respect, intelligence and undertone, in order to avoid falling into simplicism. She points out the flaws of western society that one of her students dreams as being an ideal way of life, but she also highlights how another of her students, profoundly religious, suffers to see her decision to wear the headscarf become devoid of its meaning when the regime makes it mandatory to wear it. How would her decision - symbolic of a personal and moral commitment - retain all its value when wearing the headscarf is imposed on all women who have to comply, whether it would be their choice or not?

As i closed this Iranian cycle, i felt once more how fiction - and art more generally - is invaluable when it allows to bring closer, create understanding and spark empathy for lives so distant from ours, by giving them flesh and soul.

20 October 2006

Never let me go - Kazuo Ishiguro

Never let me go... Beautiful title, whispering of yearning and melancholy, and beautiful book. It is difficult for me to say much about Kazuo Ishiguro's last work, not because i have little to say about it - far from it - but because it would be a shame to dispel any of its mystery and spoil the discovery of the poignant story of Kathy H. and her friends. I know, many reviews have already disclosed the gist of the story, but this is just in case you somehow managed to preserve yourself from it...

What i can say is how moved i was by this novel. It is a tale of innocence lost, confused identity, loves astray, and life... The life that we dream of, the life that we have and struggle with, the life that happens the way it does without us realizing at the time...

"It never occured to me that our lives, until then so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that.

But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we'd understood that back then - who knows? - maybe we'd have kept a tighter hold of one another."

There is also the life that Kathy and her friends in particular cannot escape for one reason that will leave you in horror, dismay and sadness, and full of questions about science, responsibility and choice.

I can't wait to continue exploring Ishiguro's world of subtlety, finesse and empathy.

02 October 2006

Il n'y a pas beaucoup d'etoiles ce soir - Sylvie Testud

I'm not sure if this has been translated into English. But check it out if it is... and if it isn't, learn French!!

First novel of actress Sylvie Testud,
Il n'y a pas beaucoup d'etoiles ce soir (There aren't many starts tonight) treats us with funny chronicles on the life of a girl (a bit) like the others who happens to be actress. So she finds herself in extravagant situations, naked against a near stranger also naked for whom she must be seized by passion on order, naked again getting some make-up on the butt by a near stranger suddenly very intimate, not naked (well, not always, come on!), so clothed and ordered to jump from the 3rd floor for a movie and rebelling to defend her life against this order which insanity nobody-but-her realizes. There are others still, like her efforts to pretend to walk normally whereas she must calibrate her footsteps exactly to step between the rails that enable the camera to make a beautiful travelling and her unfathomable disappointment that her efforts go unnoticed by the audience, her dumstruck awe when she is lent a haute-couture dress, HER, one-night princess before returning to being a Cinderella who knows how to appreciate the loveliness of a glass of wine with her janitor...

Bitter-sweet chronicles, funny and caustic, but first of all funny. She has a sharp eye and a lively writing. This gives an extremely endearing book, evidenced by the fact that it's an undroppable page-turner. And we look at the actress in a different way. Next time we'll see her walking casually in a travelling sequence, we'll know. Sylvie, we'll know all the efforts you've done to walk exactly between the rails and we'll be swooning in admiration.

28 September 2006

Show me the lyrics!

Showing the lyrics of the song in the video. One simple idea, two brilliant videos. Director Kim Gehrig is just having wicked fun on Basement Jaxx's Do Your Thing while Michel Gondry makes it poetic with an accumulation of Parisian snaps for Jean-Francois Cohen's La tour de Pise.

26 September 2006

John 2/14 - Shivaree

Shivaree - the band with the coolest album title with its debut LP I oughtta give you a shot in the head for making me live in this dump - reminds us that fairytales are for adults. See the band's dark and sexy twist on a Valentine tale.

Romulus - Sufjan Stevens

I love the contrast between the soft and delicate singing of Sufjan Stevens and the bleak and cruel reality he sings about. A contrast reflected in the way the video alternates shots of the simple beauty of Nature and the harsh light of consumer's heaven. Romulus is taken from Stevens' third LP Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State, the first delivery of his ambitious project of a "musical map" of the USA with one record for each of the 50 states. A project no doubt inspired by his love for his country, his sincerity transpires in the music. He has since released another "state record" with Come on Feel the Illinoise. Only 48 more to go! Genius is insanity, insanity is genius...?

Fever - Pink Grease

So bad it's so good... Sheffield is proud to present Pink Grease's infectious Fever. If you ever get a chance to see them live, don't miss it. They're as insane as they seem. This is for real...

It's a wonderful life - Sparklehorse

A bit of delicate beauty in this brutal world. A transmission of musical genius Mark Linkous. Never has a track worn its name better.

Into my arms - Nick Cave

I don't believe in an interventionist God
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Not to touch your hair on your head
But to leave you as you are
And if He felt He had to direct you
Then direct you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

I don't believe in the existence of angels
But looking at you I wonder if that's true
And if I did I would summon them together
And ask them to watch over you
To each light a candle for you
To make bright and clear your path
And to walk like Christ in grace and love
And guide you into my arms

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

But I believe in love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candle burning
Make a journey bright and pure
That you'll keep returning always and evermore

Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms, O Lord
Into my arms

25 September 2006

All is full of love - Bjork

Beautiful. Cold. Erotic. Water. Metal. Robots in love in a masterpiece by Chris Cunningham for Bjork.

Stop in the name of love - Bang Gang

Icelandic band Bang Gang - fronted by ghostly Bardi Johannsson - covers The Supremes' hit Stop in the name of love and masterfully turns the light cheerfulness of Diana Ross and co's jewel into bitter sweet melancholy. A perfectly fitting video in which the manifest twosome bliss becomes unsettled - and almost threatened - by the regrets lingering in the lyrics. Also makes you want to dance in a little white dress and a smurf's bonnet in the icelandic countryside... or is it just me?!