Dan Sandman

Archive for March, 2016|Monthly archive page

13: Age of Iron by J. M. Coetzee

In Books, Crime, Fiction on 25/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

Age of Iron by J. M. CoetzeeJ. M. Coetzee’s novels do not offer the reader an escape from the problems of society. In beautifully crafted prose, his fiction forces us to confront contemporary issues head on. With virtuous narrative technique, his books shine a light on the inner workings of the human soul. Without coming across as preachy or over discursive, Coetzee teaches us to search within ourselves. What we find might upset us, but by questioning our conscience we come closer to an understanding of life.

The narrator of this epistolary novel is an old classics teacher who is well versed in Latin and Greek. Because she is writing using the letter form, she engages the reader directly at several points of the story. This narrative technique brings extra gravity to the novel, giving the writing a sense of urgency that could otherwise be missing. Critical readers will notice how this form is employed in order to highlight the physical act of writing. It is as though we the reader are privy to confidential material, speculating upon the literary evidence presented to us.

As in other works by Coetzee, old photographs are symbolic metaphors: frozen evidence of times gone by. When we peer at them, we do not necessarily see ourselves. What we observe is a faded image of ourselves, one that is not the face we see today in the mirror. Our childhood memories become tainted by the knowledge of our adult selves; magnified by the inevitable approach of death.

Like I said, this is not escapism.

 

12: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes

In Biography, Books, Fiction, Non-Fiction on 18/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

The Noise of Time by Julian BarnesThis book is about the famous Russian composer Stravinsky. Writing in fragmented paragraphs that capture the thoughts of the protagonist, Julian Barnes uses the concentrated style of a great essayist to analyse both the private concerns and public life of a troubled individual. With his impeccably clear prose, Barnes sets out to explore how life, art and politics interweave inside the heart and mind of a complex character.

Privately, Stravinsky lives in fear of a dark and sinister force named Power. He remembers how, when his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was banned by the party, he narrowly escaped execution for its supposedly anti-Soviet content. Power would prefer him to compose Soviet music, embracing the folk songs and patriotic tunes of old. And so he conforms by producing scores for propaganda films, of which he both dislikes and disapproves of.

In public life, fearing for his safety, he monotonously orates the speeches written for him by the authorities as propaganda messages. On a Cold War peace mission to America, he resents himself for towing the line in fear of party reprisal. The character that Barnes creates sees himself as a coward, and admits to considering suicide on a number occasions. But in an arguably heroic way, his music continues to express the complexities of his soul. In this enjoyable combination of historical biography and prose fiction, we are given a new insight into the life of a great artist.

An elegantly crafted argument in favour of artistic expression.

11: Darkchild by Sydney J. van Scyon

In Books, Fiction, Science Fiction on 11/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

Darkchild by Sydney J. van ScyocI enjoy science fiction, especially the novels of H.G Wells. As a genre, SF is able to transport the reader to fantasy landscapes and make predictions based on science. I would recommend The Time Machine (1895) to anyone with an interest in fiction and / or scientific theory. Wells is brilliant at capturing the scientific imagination of his era, and has barely been dated by one hundred years of technological advancement.

In some ways, Darkchild (1982) is arguably an advancement on Wells’ late nineteenth century scientific romances, seeing as it explores late twentieth centuries theories of space travel. The story is based in a time when the human race has journeyed to different planets, presumably in the distant future. Each separate race of people have technologically advanced at a different rate; each forming different ethical positions on the way that civilization should be run. When a young boy named Darkchild meets a young girl called Khira, conflict begins to arise across racial and social lines.

For me, this is a novel about outsiders. Both of the central characters are children of around twelve, experiencing the complexities of the adult world for the first time. They each begin their story with a sense of loss — Darkchild has lost his memory, whilst Khira has lost her sister — and must face the complicated shift from innocence to experience. Fortunately, they form a mutually beneficial friendship to help them survive emotionally. Unfortunately, this bond is challenge when the adult characters arrive on the scene.

An enjoyable read for fans of science fiction.

10: Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming

In Adventure, Books, Fiction, Spy on 04/03/2016 at 12:00 pm

Live and Let Die by Ian FlemingJames Bond is arguably the greatest spy hero in fiction. He is highly intelligent, incredibly charming, unafraid to die, and invulnerable to pain. When faced with an elaborately conceived death trap, he resourcefully escapes to enact revenge upon the baddies. Surrounded by cigarette smoke, name-checked booze, beautiful woman, expensive hotels — and even more expensive cars — 007 always saves the day.

For the British reading public of 1954, Ian Fleming offered an alternative to post-war rationing and the unpopular Churchill government. His work was the early rock n’ roll of English literature, strutting its stuff on the page with controversial flair. Bond was the adolescent fantasy of an upper class former navel intelligence officer; the popular creation of a well-travelled journalist with his finger on the pulse of the British public. Riffing on 1950s anxieties surrounding sex, race and Russia, Fleming managed to perfectly thrill the imagination of his readers.

And it is the 1950s way in which these anxieties — sex, race and Russia — are presented that rightly appears so dated now. Although there is still inequality between the sexes, feminism has entered the mainstream, with page three of The Sun no longer including a photograph of a topless female model. Despite their being a lack of black nominees at The Oscars, America now has its first non-white president. And although Russia continues to act in a provocative way towards the west, the threat of nuclear war is less prescient.

It has been over fifty years since Ian Fleming died, and the cinema version of the franchise continues to enjoy popular success. These days, M can be played by a woman and Moneypenny is no longer the butt of Roger Moore’s sexist jokes. Today, novelists writing in the style of Ian Fleming are less likely to refer to gangsters in racially discriminant terms. The baddies continue to crave world domination, but the criminal masterminds have mostly severed their ties with the Russian government.

The public gets what the public wants.