The Pillowman, not as comfortable as he sounds

I went with family members to The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin to watch Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman last week. I was expecting a bit of a detective mystery kind of thing, and ended up in some sick, twisted, dark recess of a playwright’s mind. It was great place to visit, but you probably wouldn’t want to live there!!

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Reading the blurb before booking I knew there was a story writer being questioned by detectives about some murders done in the style of his stories. Hence my thought that this might be a little bit of a whodunnit, or something about social injustices (as it mentioned totalitarian state).  About 15 minutes in to the play, when there was much shouting ab0ut children being f*cked up, I was beginning to think how much darker it was than I expected, and by the interval I knew we were in real ‘wtf’ territory.

So, the storywriter writes stories that are macabre and kind of creepy. Reviews I’ve read since talk about Quentin Tarintino meeting The Grimm Brothers, so that gives you an idea what we are talking about. I’d maybe go Roald Dahl for adults (more adult than Tales of The Unexpected). More intellectual reviews will discuss the writer trying to tell us about the message of the role of a writer. “To tell a story”. That’s all a bit beyond me.

I’m not sure why its set in a totalitarian state, other than it allows the detectives to issue threats and acts of torture alongside the inevitability of execution.  I guess it removes and locations, and among the actors there is a strange mix of sometimes Irish sometimes American and sometimes something in between.

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The story continues revealing some of the stories that have been copied, and we learn about the writer’s brother who has been rendered brain damaged from his torturing parents.  We learn the story of The Pillowman, a story that will send shivers up your spine. I won’t spoil it except to say he has what’s described as the saddest job in the world, and they may be right.

The first half far exceeds that second in tension, darkness and general intensity. The second half for me descended a little into the absurd.  There’s a story of a Chinaman that had audience members giggling through fingers covering cringed faces. They were probably wondering, like I was, if what looked like casual racism was necessary in the telling of the story. Then I was wondering what the f*ck that bit was about completely.

Overall, its a great play though, or at least I  thought so.  There are funny parts. It is however very dark, and uncomfortable in large parts. Anyone that may have lost a child in the past might be best advised to stay away. The youtube video below may give a better idea about reactions to the play.

I’ve been to The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by the same writer. That’s a much lighter kettle of fish. Its dark in its own way, but not by the standards of The Pillowman.

If you’re looking for something that makes you think, and shift on your seat. Then this is a great night’s ‘entertainment’. If you’re easily discomfited, that maybe seek out The Beauty Queen of Leenane which is on in the Gaiety later in a few weeks.

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Recent reads, bit of football and family strife.

Couple of books read since I last posted both with their share of happy times, but ultimately filled with some regret and wondering about where it all went wrong.

 

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I grew up supporting Leeds Utd. I began supporting them in the 1970’s when they were a bit good, but they have been mostly a team that disappoints more that they have delivered. Still though, after a few years in the old division two, they managed to get promoted, win Division One before it became the Premiership, and even got the the  Champions League Semi Final, before financial disaster saw them plummet to the third rung of the English football ladder.

Promised Land: An Northern Love Story by Anthony Clavane covers all of this and more. From the early 60’s through the glory years, to about 2014, it gives a potted history of the club’s fortunes, linking them the the fortunes of the City itself and it’s Jewish population. Its a social history linking the three together. Its an easy read, very accessible, and recommended for supporters of the football team, or people generally interested in social history.

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The Green Road by Anne Enright on the other hand, is a novel about a disfunctional Irish family whose matriarch decides to sell the family home, prompting all of her children to return home from around the world for Christmas. Familiar resentments aren’t long about coming to the surface as the family get to grips with their mothers machinations.

Its a good read. Touch of melancholy. Familiar enough story for Irish readers. Set in modern years rather than the 50’s thankfully. Its well told, beautifully written and for the most part satisfying. I didn’t love it though. It didn’t grab me or engage me emotionally. I didn’t especially care what happened to the different characters. That was probably the point. Each child had something interesting going on individually. But as a family they just aren’t as interesting or don’t quite get it together.

There is a lot to like in the book. Maybe I was in the wrong headspace reading it. I admired it, and wouldn’t put anyone off it. I can’t quite explain why I didn’t love it, I just didn’t connect emotionally.

Two very different books. Lots of stories within stories, and both tracing highs and lows of individuals within a family or community. Both recommended for different readers, for different reasons.

A book that won’t rub you up the wrong way (That will make sense if you read it)

What to say about Martin John by Anakana Schofield?  It’s odd, it’s dark, it’s kind of funny in a slightly twisted way, it’s written in an unconventional style, and it’s really good.

 

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Martin John Gaffney, is from somewhere in the West of Ireland, but he lives in London, banished there by his mother for an unnamed misdemeanour that made girl’s brothers beat him up. He’s not a nice protagonist, or maybe he is just inadequate and somewhat deserving of our sympathy. This conflict runs through the book. His mother likewise. Deserving of sympathy or contempt – not quite decided a few hours after I have finished the book.

The writing style is unconventional, but it works, for the most part. Anakana Schofield has created a character that makes the reader uncomfortable but intrigued. She writes about a subject matter that probably makes the average reader a bit more uncomfortable than a bit of good old-fashioned honest murder. She manages to make those of us with a slightly perverse sense of humour laugh from time to time (or at least find the humour in some certain situations).

If you hated The Wasp Factory, then avoid this. If you want everything spelt out for you, with a nice tidy ending, then avoid this.  Everyone else, give it a go. Its great. Really. Ok it’s twisted. Its complicated and there is a certain amount left unsaid and you need to draw some conclusions of your own.

If you’re female it might be best you don’t read it on public transport

I don’t know if its wonderful, but it will stick with you for a while. I’m off to find something lighter to read next.

 

 

 

 

Crosstalk – Connie Willis

Telepathy, meets smart technology meets love and romance. I love a bit of speculative fiction, but this mixed bag of a novel doesn’t quite get there.

 

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I’ve read Doomsday and Blackout by Connie Willis before Crosstalk. Both books that feature Time Travel, something the author might have considered using to go back and tighten up this novel before it got published.

I enjoyed it. Some parts more than others. Some things annoyed me. Some stupidly small things that shouldn’t have annoyed me. The protagonist’s name is Briddey. This jarred with me, as she is meant to be from very Irish roots and the extra D just irked me everytime I saw it. I wanted to pronounce her name Bridey (sounds like bride) but the extra D makes it seem like Bridge sounding…does that make sense? Anyway, its a very small thing, but (obviously) it got under my skin.

The story centres around Briddey Flannigan, who works for a communications company that rivals Apple. She is going to get a neural enhancement which means she and her boyfriend will be able to feel their  emotions towards each other, confirming their connectedness. There features a supporting cast of work colleagues and her slightly bonkers Irish family. Her sister Mary Clare is a very annoying and unbelievable character. The procedure has some unintended consequences, and a wee bit of sci-fi, romantic farce ensues.

I know I’ve been mostly negative so far, but I actually did enjoy the book, just not as much as I hoped I would.  The story could be shorter. There are some silly bits in it, and a couple of characters I could have done without…maybe Mary Clare was needed as a plot device for her daughter.

Blurb mentions Norah Ephron, and  the romance is of typical Ephron Rom-Com style. A perfectly suitable (on the surface) relationship, the introduction of a colleague she initially dislikes but slowly falls in love with.

The explanations of how the unintended consequences work I enjoyed. The few scrapes and avoiding detection were also parts that added pleasure and it all comes together in a satisfying way. There is a message there about how too much communication can be a bad thing.

Doomsday was my introduction to Connie Willis. It brilliant. Blackout was great, although for some reason I haven’t gotten round to All Clear. I got Crosstalk as a Christmas gift, and give it a hit and miss 3 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

First book of 2017 – Born to Run

My first book in 2017 was not typical of my reading, but certainly was a treat. As a Christmas gift I was given Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, with accompanying record (yes record, a lovely bit of vinyl) ‘Chapter and Verse’.
bruces-btrI’m not a die-hard Springsteen fan. I enjoy his music, have a few cds and his (and the E-Street Band) Live 1975-1985 Box set on vinyl is a treasured possesion. Its an 80’s purchase after all. But, I’ve never seen him live, I don’t know all of his songs and I’m not able to singalong confidently to the best of his music. I’m just a casual fan that enjoys his music.

I don’t read too many biographies, but I enjoyed this one. I imagine die hard fans probably didn’t find too much new material in it. For me each chapter was new ground. He didn’t go deep into too much. A cursory knowlege of his music (even if only the live version of The River in the afore mention box set) would tell the listener he had some father issues.

There are some revelations about his mental health, some insights into his unusal upbringing and the formation of the E-street Band and for me the most interesting of all, the background to the music, to the albums and the songs. But this is no exposé. There isn’t loads of dirt thrown around, no grudges settled. He discusses some disagreements, but even those he had major legal cases with, he talks about how great they are, how much he likes and respects them. Either he’s genuinely a really nice guy, or just doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers unneccesarily.


My impression of Springsteen is one of a driven character, sure of his talent, and of the limits of that talent. He comes across as a generous control freak. He seems to be a caring father who wants the best for not just his family, but all of those around him.

The book is a nice easy read. The chapters are short allowing  the reader to dip in and out quick and often if preferred. If you are a big time fan, it probably just completes much of the picture you already had, but if you are like me, this is a great addition to the music. I loved the Chapter and Verse album, especially the old pre E-Street music. It made be listen to the different albums again. Sometimes with book in hand.

 

Recommended. Wholeheartedly.

 

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Giving it another go

Almost a year since I last wrote in this, but its a new year and all that, so lets give it another crack.

I’ll start 2017, by referencing my Goodreads page which gives a helpful infographic on each user’s books of 2016.

Mine can be found at the following link
https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/32344686

I set myself the challenge of reading 50 books. I managed it.  What it doesn’t tell you is what was my favourite. I don’t necessarily have a stand out this year, but I did rave about The Sellout when I read it and there are a few others that got 5 stars for different reasons

 

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Here’s hoping for another 50 books and plenty of writing to go with them