Categories
cinema

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time (2021)

So, it’s December now and I thought that this would be a year (like most) which would pass on without me having to cry about watching a movie and lie about not crying about it later.

Like how most grown men do.

But I was proven wrong, like how most grown men are (often).

So, I had read Slaughterhouse-5, sometime just after I could squeeze in a membership in a decent library to which I could cycle to.

Usually, people who do read books, talk about reading slaughterhouse-five in college. Others would have had a passing glimpse of the Cat’s Cradle cover, those folks ended up with an MBA.

Nowadays, people look at you as a genius if you remember that if you merely remember the author and the book title. They might even give you a prize for it.

So it goes.

Nevertheless, nothing ever prepared me (even reading Slaughterhouse-five) for Bob Weide’s documentary Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time. Otherwise, I would have carried a box of tissues with me.

The tears came not only because of the realization of the fact this was a thoughtful, cheerful and wonderful documentary on arguably America’s greatest man of letters of the 20th century.

Ok side note:

how to determine if you are really reading the greatest author of your generation?

Answer: If your parents have heard of him/her; then better throw the book away, far away.

Side note ends.

The tears came because, it is possible to lead a fruitful life by a man of letters (as this documentary shows).

Vonnegut Jr, died in 2007, he was eighty-four and he had retired ten years earlier. He regarded life very seriously and hence wrote funny novels about it.

The tears came because, any career length feature about Vonnegut would have simply been awe-inspiring.

But this doc which was forty years in the making where the writer-director is himself a character (a trait Bob inherits from Vonnegut) and makes it another great film about family, friendship, loneliness and the struggle of the creative process.

Just like Simla Special.

Ok, that was supposed to have been my punchline.

So, do yourself a favor and use the weekend to watch Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

Like most of the movies that matter, this is not on any OTT that you maybe paying precious money on.

That’s life, spending on all the wrong things, when all the right things are for free.

Simla Special can be watched for free on YouTube.

If you don’t know how to get hold of a copy of Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, you are using the internet wrong.

So it goes.

Categories
Books crime fiction

The Galton Case

Top of the heap # 3

For a novel that is hardly 250 pages, I did take a lot of time in finishing Ross Macdonald’s eight novel featuring his private detective Lew Archer.

Anyone who has read Raymond Chandler would recognize the name Ross Macdonald from his quote that appears frequently on the Philip Marlowe books; ” Chandler wrote like a slumming angel” it would say.

I was no stranger to Ross Macdonald, having read the first two novels and seen one of the Paul Newman films; but the novelist’s apparent claim to Chandler’s lineage did not sit well with me.

Until today.

Like most great novels, this appears to be about something and then ultimately about something else, something deeper and filled with true emotion; here the something is a 20 year old missing son case that Archer takes up with little hope.

Social commentary should be your protagonist’s second language if you do wish to find a place in Chandler’s family tree; but Lew Archer is not the detective who has a witticism ready for any occasion- he doesn’t want to prove his worth in words or in wisdom.

The quality of being there and yet not being there is Ross Macdonald’s greatest achievement in creating this protagonist; he balances the novel with the right amount of depth and cool, without ever having to show off. This quality, by no ways a reflection of poor prose but restraint and ultimately treating his characters as though they were real and he caring about them, and yet not trying to get a tear out of us by pumping in pity.

Lew Archer, named one half for the writer of Ben-hur and the other half as a hat-tip (pen-tip?) to another crime writing great, prods along never resorting to unnecessary judgement but carrying on with the case, the Galton case. (I mean)

I often feel that a success of the crime novel lies in the moments that when I stop being the reader and become the detective; the Galton Case is filled with many such excellent moments but there also moments where other characters too become identifiable.

One of the all time greats; it’s the novel where I could relish a distinguished voice of Ross Macdonald and one which I hope to return for years and years.

As fate would have it- in a novel about finding one’s true identity.

Over to the next one.

Categories
Books

Top Of The Heap: Blue Light Yokohoma

It’s always a good feeling to keep notes and forget about them for a while.

Only after reading Nicolas Obregon’s Blue Light Yokohama, which I thought I had discovered after weeks of lurking on crime fiction blogs, only to be amazed to find an earlier to-read list with the same title.
In that way, what I am seeking is something I already have?
Tokyo is a million cities. You ever wonder if some of those cities are good and some are bad?”
I love cities, it is something we need to be proud of; somewhere that encourages and allows everyone to be together yet different.
Blue Light Yokohama is a moody Tokyo city novel central to which is a provincial-obsessive detective Iwata.

Kosuke Iwata is fighting against second hand treatment, treacherous team mates,corruption, insane cultists, the Yakuza and more importantly himself to stop the ‘black sun’ serial killer.

I know there are a lot of self-absorbed detectives in crime fiction; maybe this is a recency effect but I have not read anyone as angry as Kosuke Iwata and the pages bleed with his pain and to know that the second Iwata novel has already released puts an expectant smile on my face.
The praiseworthy prose demands multiple note taking. Sample : ” He is happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home”
Detectives are seekers and a detective novel has more scope to explore philosophy through ruminations that pop-up in the detective’s head and Obregon does this at points that elevate the novel much above a ‘follow-the-threads’ serial killer story, which begins with an unspeakable killing of an entire family.
Dreams & reality intercut in ways that made me feel Iwata’s fever.

Yes, this is that kind of a novel where slipping into the detective is the best option.

Along the way, Iwata is given advice, thrown out of service, double crossed and of course bashed to near death; as I said best way to get this heightened experience is to be Iwata for the length of the novel.

The fact that this is Nicolas Obregon’s first novel itself gives me sleepless nights. A twisted-cracker of a novel, the one that ended a short phase of my reading drought and possibly one of the best I’ve read this year.
Oh yes and people speak to Iwata like ‘ I think you are the type of person who will disappoint yourself before you let life disappoint you’
Very relateable.
Over to the next one.
Categories
Books

Top Of The Heap: The Man Who Went Up In Smoke

Some critic has quipped on one of the Beck novels as follows  “pick up the books, block out a week, lie to your boss, stay in bed and finish the series”.

Normally critic-quips are for the show, but this time I tend to agree.

The Martin Beck novels are the written record of “this is what police work looks like” or as we say in this part of the world “Idhu Dan Da Police”.

A far- cry from the constructed problems that has come to dominate the crime novels or the detective story. Inspector Beck from Stokholm Homicide is no Hercule Poirot, but very much a working man(a character in the novel calls police-work a curse); who is met with walls of problems with every turn.

Sample this from the words of the inspector himself about this case:” Unpleasant. Very unpleasant. Singularly unpleasant. Damned unpleasant. Blasted unpleasant. Almost painfully so.” The disappearance of a person is not a problem for a gentleman detective to solve but a genuine human tragedy.

In their second outing, authors Sjowall and Wahloo send Martin Beck to Budapest to trace a Swedish journalist Alf Matsson who has literally disappeared into thin air. It is said that this writing couple alternate chapters and sometime even paragraphs between themselves, but I was unable to tell the difference.

Shady characters populate Budapest as Beck tries to make sense of what is happening to this case, while he should be vacationing with family on an isolated island and he knows only one thing, that this case cannot be solved alone. Yes, this is a summer holiday book and somehow I took it up at the right moment.

Even at 200 odd pages, the authors are able to convey a world of detail and observation only proves that words, like bullets, only work when used judiciously.

Oh, just realized that the title of this book is a wicked pun. So good these Swedes!

Do check out their Edgar Award winning novel “The Laughing Policeman”

 Top of the heap is an occasional column on books

 

Categories
Books

Without A Clue: Five Little Pigs

The title here slyly refers to the fact that this writer has little or no clue about writing about books, the title also miraculously achieves in telling something about Christie’s enduring detective Poirot: who literally solves the case without a clue.

Readers who sink into the detective novel expecting it to be a puzzle that needs solving would find all the elements that Christie usually puts in, few over enthusiastic readers might even guess before the ending.

But I think Five Little Pigs is much more than the classic crime novel, yes it does involve a murder and a list of suspects, each of whom with many an intention to commit and of course a meticulous detective looking for clues. Only there isn’t one because the murder happened decades ago.

This conceit is hardly new and adds to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the novel; but I see it as a statement that a crime novel by itself is not about the crime but about people.

Let’s also get it out of the way that Christie wrote this during the height of human emotions: the second world war and makes not even a passing reference to it, the murder happens of course in the method of her choice: poisoning.

Playing ‘what’s your poison?’ with Christie would have been difficult, she had so many favorites, in Five Little Pigs it is coniine.

Maybe the oppression of the time is manifested in the deeply oppressed relationships that the characters share among themselves.

Returning to the ‘puzzle’ nature of the mystery novel which treats characters as clues or just things with name and a coat (Christie herself has been accused of not treating her characters with character), in contrast she creates the strongest set of female characters in FLP.

Women who are not afraid to speak out, women who realize that they are being played and willing to play, willing to kill for another and ultimately prove that they are the better race on earth by taking the fall in sacrifice.

Yes this is Hercule Poirot novel only, and he is tasked with piecing together the narratives, something like a Virumandi or Rashomon; a unique feature of the novel for which it is also remembered.

Christie also usually makes up for the lack of emotions in her character with the persona of Poirot, something again that doesn’t happen in this novel.

Here is more of an observer, not a resolver. Hence a novel, not a puzzle.

Fin.