Flat storytelling dulls new YA series (Book - Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel)
Sylvain Neuvel's Sleeping Giants (Del Rey, 2016) is the first volume of a planned YA fantasy series. A young girl happens upon a giant hand at the bottom of a hole dug into the earth. It is composed of an unidentifiable metal, is several thousand years old, and sits in a square shaft whose walls are painted with symbols. Fast forward 20 years and this girl has become a scientist who joins a team of quirky experts - military and scientific - who are charged to understand the origin and purpose of the hand. Has it been placed here for good or evil? Who by, since humans were not known to be technologically advanced enough to build such an object 3,000 years ago? Unfortunately, this potentially compelling story is told as a series of diary entries or interview transcripts, the result being chapters that explain what has already happened. The narrative is fast-moving, but dull because we are at a remove from the action of the story. It is full of pseudo-profundities about the power of ultimate destruction and international relations. Even reading this during the Brexit vote while traveling in the UK did not conspire to ignite the kindling under these timely ideas. Neuvel's attempt to create suspense by having the main interviewer of each of the characters stories be an invisible but powerful presence (think Charlie in Charlie's Angels) is his best idea, but falls flat due to a prose style that manages to feel too cute and show-offy. Where Neuvel is most effective is in capturing the feeling of scientists at work on a problem. The lab sequences ring true but aren't enough to drive me to read further in this series.
Bookeywookey is the blog of Ted Altschuler who directs Baruch Performing Arts Center. His NY life straddles the worlds of creating interdisciplinary programming, directing theatre and opera, coaching acting, neuroscience, music, reading, and compulsive book acquiring by any means necessary.
I do the writing here. I do not endorse products, services, post advertising, accept comments with commercial links, or invite guest posts. I'm happy to accept review copies but will say exactly what I think. Anything I write about books, acting, neuroscience, or my other fascinations reflects my thoughts on the matter, not that of any institution I work for, and is certainly not meant as advice.
Ali Smith's Artful is art criticism but it's also a dialogue between a woman and her dead lover, and it was originally delivered as a series of lectures, which really means it is a dramatic dialogue. It is a masterpiece of integrity, Smith may be well read, but her take on Dicken's Oliver Twist or a Cezanne painting, or a Charlie Chaplin film, or a Wallace Stevens's poem, is never erudite. She doesn't mean to dazzle us with her greater knowledge of these subjects, she wants her listener to get inside of how art brings us experience. I challenge you to get to the last page of Artful and not dive for a copy of Oliver Twist, or immediately order a copy of Sylvia Plath's poems. Read my full rave here.
Bernard MacLaverty's Cal - 150 pages that are as densely packed with passion and tension as any I've read in Dostoyevsky or Hardy. The 19-year-old title character lives in Northern Ireland. A Roman Catholic, he is hounded and physically attacked by the Protestant Orangemen. His friends have joined the IRA in response to the violence with which they are threatened. Cal finds the violence too much for him. The struggles of nations would not be important if they didn't effect the lives of individual people. This book is about the converging of conflicts political and personal - the political and religious struggles of an oppressed people, a first great passionate love, and the dilemmas of a sensitive and thoughtful teenager as he makes the moral choices that are going to shape his whole life. I felt deeply the greatness of these struggles as I read. Read my full rave here.
This book has everything - love, suspense, moral conflict, social criticism, psychological acuity, and crack writing - but none of it is expected. It is pitch-perfect on the a fast-paced, ostentatious, brutal beauty of Rome. Lambert's writing is rich with observations both interior and exterior that imbue character and place with clarity and instantaneous complexity. This novel, though entertaining to read, is an unambiguous critique of the moral hypocrisy that infects the powerful and the nature of that crime, which combines an abuse of power with the dehumanization of innocent people. Read my full rave here.
Molly Fox is a celebrated actress - a woman who delves deep into what makes up a 'self.' It is her profession to create characters from that knowledge through the medium of her self. Yet, when it comes to letting others truly know her, she does not. 'Can we ever know another?', this novel asks. The Irish novelist Deirdre Madden fashions a deep and beautiful book on this potentially abstract musing that is redolent with the pain of the distance we have from all others - even those we love most - and simultaneously rich with the rewards of the communion we can make through long acquaintance. She is particularly good at using the processes of the actor and writer to reflect on the ways we can inhabit the inherent contradiction of knowing another, but the mechanisms are so integrated with the events of this narrative that it is difficult to reveal them without ruining your own reading of this book. This book is a powerful work of art with an undisturbable sense of wholeness. Read my full rave here.
The struggle to keep the champagne bubbling when it's gone flat is the action filling Evelyn Waugh's 1930 satire Vile Bodies. Stephen Fry's brilliant film adaptation, Bright Young Things released in 2003 captures the feel of one, breathless, manic party. Jim Broadbent, Stockard Channing, Peter O'Toole, Simon Callow, Stephen Campbell Moore, Emily Mortimer, James Mcavoy, Imelda Stuanton, and Fenella Woolgar are some of the beautifully cast actors who maintain an understated hysteria, if you can imagine understated hysteria. The love that director and cast have for these characters is what impresses me the most. It would be so easy to show us how vile these people are - how silly, how louche, how fey - but instead they love them to death. Raveworthy. Read my full rave here.
Human beings are messy and that's why Michel Gondry's film The Science of Sleep, with its hyperactive imagination, its beautiful cast and designers, reveals the inner life of its characters with such accuracy and tenderness. Utterly beautiful. Read my post.
Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway . I opened this book last night and didn't stop reading it until I had finished it. The nearest voice I can think to compare Sarah Salway's to is Lorrie Moore's, and coming from me that is a big compliment. In it Molly experiences a few breaches of trust as a young woman that leave her seriously wounded. She closes down and protects herself by eating. When we meet her she has become one of life's castaways, seriously overweight without a job, a home, or any sense of herself. She meets five people - Mr. Roberts who gives her a job, Mrs. Roberts, Tim - a man of mystery, Liz - a librarian who recommends French authors, and Miranda, a hairdresser. With these relationships she begins to reclaim herself. The story is full of perfectly wrought descriptions, complex observations of human pain and fantasy, and cogent storytelling. Read my full rave here.
Read in '18
5. An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic - Mendelsohn
4. Becoming Myself - Yalom
3. The Dark Flood Rises - Drabble
2. Sergio Y. - Vidal Porto
1. Quick and Nimble - Bryant
Seen in '18
9. Jerry Springer - The Opera - New Group Theater
8. The Desire|Divinity Project - Judson
7. Farinelli and the King - Bway
6. Sheila - The Associates
5. Penny Arcade - Longing Lasts Longer - Pangea
4. Fellow Travelers - Prototype Festival
3. This Beautiful Fantastic (2016) - film
2. Conte d'Hiver (1992) - film
1. Brooklyn Rider/Aaron Diehl Trio Concert - Steinway Hall
Read in '17
37. The Golden Age - London
36. Call Me By Your Name - Aciman
35. Go, Went, Gone - Erpenbeck
34. Origin - Brown
33. Curtains? The Future of the Arts in America - Kaiser
In-flo-res-cence - from the Latin inflorescere - to begin to blossom. 1. the producing of blossoms; flowering; 2. the arrangement of flowers on a stem or axis; 3. a flower cluster on a common axis; 4. flowers collectively; 5. a solitary flower, regarded as a reduced cluster.