In the current issue of the London Review of Books there is an article by John Lanchester in which – although he’s writing about Brexit – he makes an observation that seems to resonate with a novel I read recently: ‘England’, Lanchester writes, ‘is both a small country and a big one …there is a lot of Deep England out there.’
Tom Bullough’s Addlands is set in deepest Radnorshire, a story of hill farmers battling with the forces of nature in one of Britain’s wildest, poorest and least populated areas. Historically a Welsh county, culturally Radnorshire has been a law unto itself, its people declaring their identity as neither Welsh nor English, but Radnor folk, people of the Borders; and fiercely-contested borders between fields and farms form one of the threads in a novel that spans the decades from the 1940s to 2011. Continue reading “Addlands: the inescapable ties of geography and place”
We’re not making a sacrifice. Jesus, you’ve seen this war. We are the sacrifice.
On 1 July 1916, 2,069 men of the 36th Ulster Division were among the among the 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. That day was also the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, and some of the men of the 36th went over the top wearing orange sashes.
With the centenary of the Somme less than two weeks away, it was apt to have the chance of seeing a revival of Frank McGuinness’s great war play Observe The Sons Of Ulster Marching Towards The Somme at the Playhouse in Liverpool – especially as this was a co-production of Headlong, Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, and the Everyman. Continue reading “Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme”
Marceline Loridan-Ivens is one of around 160 living survivors of the 2,500 French Jews who returned after the war, of the 76,500 sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau. ‘I was quite a cheerful person’, she writes in the opening words of But You Did Not Come Back, her moving memoir addressed to her father. Aged fifteen when she and her family were rounded up by French police before being despatched to Auschwitz, she survived but her father did not return.
After seeing the acclaimed film Son of Saul, Marceline Loridan-Ivens’ slim volume has been the second journey back into the dark heart of Auschwitz that I have made in recent days. Continue reading “But You Did Not Come Back: love letter to a lost father”
This morning I was reading War and Peace, and had just reached this passage when news began to come through of the carnage in Brussels, and the casualties mounted. It’s the scene during the battle of Borodino when Prince Andrei is is hit by an exploding shell and suffers a terrible stomach wound. Lying in agony in the dressing station, he sees Anatole Kuragin, the man he despises for attempting to elope with Natasha to whom he was engaged; Anatole’s leg is being amputated.
The tent which serves as a dressing station is a scene of bloody horror. Everything changes, it seems, but nothing changes. Continue reading “Reading War and Peace as news arrives from Brussels”
Writing about FW Murnau’s silent film Sunrise
in my previous post, I mentioned a poem called ‘Silent Cinema’ that I had come across. It was by Arthur Tessimond (1902-1962), a poet about whom his current publisher, Bloodaxe Books admits on their website
‘almost all trace … has disappeared.’
Continue reading “The British: ‘a people living in shells, reticent, awkward, deeply suspicious’”
A city, Orhan Pamuk once told me, would be a museum for our memories if we live in it long enough.
– Narration, ‘The Innocence of Memories’
Director Grant Gee’s last film was Patience (After Sebald), a film in which passages read from Sebald’s book The Rings of Saturn complemented images of the Suffolk landscape with absolute perfection. Now he has done something similar with Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence, taking the viewer on atmospheric journeys, drifting through the deserted streets and alleyways of Istanbul at night, accompanied by readings from the novel and extra material also written by Pamuk. It’s a stunning film, perhaps the best invocation of the spirit of a work of literature that I’ve seen. It also provides a guided tour of the Museum of Innocence itself, established by Pamuk in Istanbul to house real objects that trace the fictional love affair described in the novel. Continue reading “The Innocence of Memories: a story of love, obsession and a city”
There was another fascinating exhibition on at the British Library when I went there last week to see West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song. The Alice in Wonderland exhibition, on until April 2016, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s story. I recently finished reading The Annotated Alice, a deeply engrossing labour of love edited by Martin Gardner, so I was irresistibly drawn to a captivating exhibition that explores the enduring attraction of Carroll’s book. Continue reading “Alice in Wonderland at the British Library: a ‘sacred text’ and reinterpretations”