Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Dawn (Short Fiction)

Just a bloke running to the station. Not for any reason other than running is faster than walking and I never was one for bikes. Autumn at seven in the night. Mayfair looks just as beautiful as it does in the Summer. Bright lights reflecting off sleek surfaces. Lots of sleek surfaces in Park Lane, a sea of slowly moving cars and big red buses. Sirens fill the air and flashing blue lights. A procession of police cars and ambulances and your mind reaches out. Some poor bastard.

I run through black gates into Hyde Park, turn right and away from the gentle tides of the Serpentine. I'm close to five on the park's clockface, running anti-clockwise. You only see beautiful people running around Hyde Park, I have come to conclude. It's like a montage of every sportswear and cosmetic advertisement that ever contained shorts and trainers. And white iPod cables.

Bikes sweep passed, flashing lights hanging from every place. I pass joggers with L'Oreal hair swishing from side to side. Tanned muscles running in the opposite direction. Brave New World I always think. The blue flashing lights of the Police cars reach through gaps in the trees. I can hear more coming around behind. Something major. That's when it happened.

I'd like to say it went really slow but the truth is I never knew it was happening. Not at first. A flash of light from the same place as the sirens. Not just any flash of light, like Marble Arch is filled with spotlights and they all turned on at the same time. Dazzling, that much light makes you blink. Sending long shadows through the park. I recall orange like the dawn, seeing trees for a millisecond bending towards me. Like you see in pictures of hurricanes. A high pitched sound like demonic banshees charging towards me. Then it hit me. Nothing more than very hot air and a shit load of debris. It picked me up and didn't let go.

It was like I was back wearing a parachute but in that hurricane. Was aware of other bodies rolling with me, dolls with no control, flapping arms and legs at all angles. Just this invisible enemy that threw us all about with no thought for bones. I think back and that must have been me as well, rolling over and over. Leaves everywhere and that orange colour in the sky, the banshees really giving it some.

My head hit hard and I struggled to bring thoughts together. I kept rolling. Hitting something again, this time my back. Not sure if I was breathing anymore. But I kept rolling. Then an impact so hard all my bones felt dislocated at the same time. And so wet I must have been through water. But that was just blood from all the abrasions.

I opened my eyes and was grateful not to be moving. The wind kept coming but even that had lost its vengeance. The world a blurred mess and all wrong. Slowly it stopped being blurred and I was mostly upside down. Like a crucified Jesus, toppled on a mostly rolled over fence.

The body has two hundred and six bones and I had eight major breaks and forty two fractures. Which are smaller breaks. Somehow I turned myself around on that fence. Sat for a while looking back over Hyde Park. Looked like the hand of god got tired with the game and swiped the pieces from the board. Which I think is what happened, if you look at it in a certain way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SRL – Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato

The words Mathilda Savitch caught my attention. A first name that contrasted the surname, in time and culture. The front cover showed a picture of a young girl looking over her shoulder and the authors name was distinctly European. And they are a lot more liberated about topics such as coming of age. It turns out Victor Lodato is American, at least he lives there. But this book is still brilliant.

Mathilda Savitch is struggling to deal with the death of her sister, almost exactly one year ago. But Mathilda has plans. Her ceaseless, enquiring mind soaks up information from the world around her. Experimenting through peoples reactions to what she does. Always working towards breaking into her sisters email in the hope she will find who pushed her from the platform.

Mathilda Savitch is a coming of age story that might be compared to books like Lovely Bones. With the story here told from the surviving daughters perspective. But it is not. It's a lot sharper, a lot cleverer. It's not just a story, but the mechanism of a child's mind and how it is shaped by loss and by the world she lives in.

It is tempting having just closed one of the best books of this lifetime, to endlessly wax lyrical. Too tempting in fact, but I will limit myself to just this paragraph. Mathilda Savitch is a book that mesmerises, will make a fictional character feel so real you can almost hear her breathe. A book of this time that is timeless for that very reason. Its peers are classics written by the likes of Nabokov, Bronte, Austen, Fitzegerald et al. It is utterly charming and heartbreaking. Palpably so. It is utterly brilliant and damning.

You should probably read it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

SRL – Underwater by Elizabeth Diamond

I came to this book purely because I liked the cover. Although a woman's attempt to understand dreams that hint at a forgotten past, seemed as interesting a subject as any.

Jane is a woman that lives alone. Her male companions are much older and retained for friendship only. Her husband and son estranged. Recovering from treatment for a lump in her breast she dreams of her brother. Being dragged underwater by him. Dreams that bring her to realise there is a lot about her childhood she cannot recall.

This book runs to 360 pages, with each page written in a great,  very readable style.  By page 50 I was utterly hooked into this woman's world. Soon adapting to the frequent flashbacks as they rarely failed to move the story on. Bringing us closer to a pivotal point halfway through the story.  From which a quite thrilling finale promised to unfold.

But it didn't. Instead of intrigue as Jane chased down her memories we just got more and more exposition. Flashbacks that expanded on what we knew and rarely taking us forward. It was so disappointing because I cannot emphasis enough just how the first 180 pages captured my imagination. The last half here was just as well written but the story a complete contrast. Such a contrast when you consider the first half put me in mind of acclaimed authors like Cormac McCarthy.

Jane herself is an especially strong character. I totally got her, she literally lived and breathed with each turned page. I would certainly seek out  other books by Elizabeth Diamond based on that alone.

Sadly for this the last half really limited my overall enjoyment of a book that for a while glowed as one of the best so far this year.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SRL – Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

Out of curiosity to see what I would think, a reviewer of a previous SRL post suggested I read this, which I had never heard of...

Very occasionally we read a book that seems so in tune with our disparate thoughts it manages to draw them together and a truth dawns as if quietly whispered. These kind of books are rare. In this lifetime it has been Sartre's Nausea for its realisation of the real world, Nabokov's Lolita for a joyous depiction of the despicable. And now Koestler's Darkness at Noon for its gloriously twisted nation state and the noble Comrade Rubashov, forever pacing his cell and ever towards a realisation of humanity.

As Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov paces his prison cell he reminisces. Of his part in sweeping his revolutionary party to power in a nameless country. Of his life as a prominent force within that totalitarian government, working tirelessly and at times ruthlessly in spreading their ideals to other countries. And how over time he became disillusioned with the ideals now twisted out of shape by the evolving needs of the party and its leader: No.1. Which ultimately leads Rubashov to be arrested by the state he helped put into power and tried for revolutionary crimes.

Through the interrogators attempts to make Rubashov confess a crime he is not aware of committing and the relationships he builds with fellow inmates, he recalls the lives he touched and faces the reality of the decisions he has made. How they impacted people and of the countless that died as a result. Coming to a realisation about the meaning of humanity and the value of life.

Although Koestler does not explicitly state, this book is an analysis of the Soviet Union under Stalin in the twenty years following the Revolution in 1917. The absolute brilliance though is its context to any point in time. The problems faced by Rubashov's totalitarian party and its No.1 are the mechanisms of social control and commerce, problems faced by any government. How they dealt with them and the decisions they made may seem absurd, but I lost count the number times this story echoed with news of the day.

To consider this book as political or just about Communism then, is to miss it's point. It is about man's attempts to manage mankind. About pure ideals that turn to poison and shape generations of minds. A book that might even be lost on the young because you almost need to have seen the world and mankind for its ills before someone like Koestler can pull each together to form a singular realisation.

For all its brilliance though it is a hard book to get to grips with initially. It almost expects you to come knowing what it is about, I had no idea. The writing style is also very much of the time, so there are plenty of paragraphs that cover more than a page and long sentences. Which can make for hard reading for the modern reading mind.

Darkness At Noon is a timeless book that is very well worth your time, a book that will allow you to see the world and the mechanism of mankind with new eyes and an additional level with which to filter all that happens around you. Written in German during the 1930's it is widely credited with slowing Communism's spread after WWII and heavily influencing writers such as George Orwell. I cannot recommend it highly enough.