The Disturbing Bone(r)

It’s been nearly three days now since I finished  The Lovely Bones, and I am still struggling to deal with the enormity of the questions that it raises.  Unfortunately, I get the feeling that these are not quite the questions the book would have me ask.

For those of you who don’t know, The Lovely Bones is a 2002 novel by Alice Sebold which sold well over a million copies and won the Bram Stoker award for first novel.  In fact, it was ultimately so successful, that the illustrious Peter Jackson swooped in to make a film adaptation, a proposition that would make most writers swoon with envy.  The plot centres around our narrator, the fourteen year old Susie Salmon, or at least kind of.  As Susie tells us in the second sentence she was raped and murdered, and we’re getting all of this via some kind of celestial messenger service.  The main body of the book involves Susie watching from Heaven as her family try to carry on, and the police try, somewhat ineptly, to catch her killer.

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The film poster, as pilfered from Wikipedia.

It’s honestly a lot better than it sounds.  The novel proceeds with a good deal of sensitivity towards what are, ultimately, very sensitive issues.  There’s  nice moment when Susie wishes her Father would die so that she could have him to herself again, which, while horrible, adds a great depth to her and her situation.  The varying ways her family deal with her loss are as varied as they are emotional, which is great because they are the heart of the book.

But here come the awkward questions.  How on earth did Sebold get away with calling her narrator Susie Salmon?  Even if everyone instantly jumps on it and goes, “Yes, like the fish.”  Furthermore, how did she get away with calling Susie’s schoolgirl crush Ray Singh?  What kind of parents would do that to their child?  Did they want him to be bullied?  Are they the true monsters of the story?  How did I miss that for most of the book?  We may never know the answers.

 

For me though the most awkward thing of all comes near the end, and there will be Spoilers Ahead so if you want to avoid them you may want to skip ahead, I’ll leave another marker for you guys.  Anyway, many years have passed.  Ray Singh is now most of the way through medical school and is looking round the old neighbourhood with Ruth, an overly intelligent lesbian who sees dead people.  They are best friends.  Nothing wrong so far.  But it is now that Susie’s killer drives past, and Ruth is so overcome by the experience of seeing all his past victims that she collapses, and, somehow, Susie ends up in her body.

It is here that things get really weird.  Ray comes running up, naturally concerned, and pretty much the first thing Susie does is ask him to kiss her, and then just a moment later, to make love to her.  There is so much wrong here I don’t even know where to begin.  You find yourself in the mortal coil for the first time since your brutal rape and murder, your killer, who remains at large and active, is driving away in that car over there, and is your first thought to catch the bastard?  No!  It’s a desperate bid so that at least next time you return to heaven, you won’t be a virgin.

Despite this, Susie and Ray toddle off somewhere and, after revealing herself to him, the pair make love.  This is clearly supposed to be a touching, nay, tender scene, but it may be even worse.  Ray, who I repeat, is most of the way through medical school, watches his lesbian friend fall over and bang her head.  When she regains consciousness, she seems disoriented, speaks differently, inexplicably wants the D, and now claims to be the ghost of your murdered crush from eight years ago.  The first response should be to take her to a medical professional, not try to stick one in her!

And even beyond the gross medical negligence committed by Ray Singh, Friend of the Year 1981, there comes the incredibly complex notion of consent.  If Ruth is possessed by a ghost, is she able to give consent?  If being horribly drunk and unable to control your actions means you can’t, then being possessed means you definitely can’t.  Next on the list is the slightly disturbing realisation that Susie was fourteen when she died, and, lacking a body all this time, hasn’t really grown up.  So twenty something Singh is now doing it with a teenager.  Way to go Ray.

Like I said, the book is obviously under the impression that this is a beautiful and tender sequence of events, but the whole time I was unable to get out of my head how morally questionable the whole thing was.  Perhaps the most unbelievable part of the whole exercise was when Susie returns to heaven and a discombobulated Ruth gets her stark naked, and probably sore body back.  A naked Ray walks into the room, realises Ruth’s back, and what I want to know is, what messed up universe is this where those two people remain friends?  Apparently this one.

Spoilers Over.  

Despite all of that, this is a good and very readable book.  I won’t lie and pretend that the ending there hasn’t coloured the rest for me, because it absolutely has, but I would definitely recommend it.  Nothing here’s going to change your life, but if you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable read, this is as good as any.

Except Harry Potter.

 

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Who Ya Gonna Call?

This post is later than I would like.  Fortunately that isn’t because I haven’t done anything new worth writing about, quite the opposite in fact.  In the last week I have for the first time, in no particular order: seen Deadpool; presented a woman with a single, red rose; visited the British Museum; read Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (or at least 98% of it); and I witnessed the conversation between Kazuo Ishiguro and David Mitchell (no, not the comedian) at the Royal Festival Hall.  Today I’ll talk about two of these.

Yesterday was a day of themes.  Mostly they were disaster themes, but also ghosts.  I spent the day up in London, visiting the British Museum before heading off to hear the authors speak like a good little Creative Writing student.  I nearly didn’t get there at all.  On my way to the station I got stuck behind a lorry doing twenty mph in a fifty zone, but I’m not here to talk about that, or of lost umbrellas, or wrong restaurants or delayed trains, or even of the other two lorries that followed the first.  No, I’m here to talk about writers and ghosts.

For those of you who have never been there, The British Museum is vast.   There are rooms and rooms of glass cases, full of objects from all over the world.  Knowing the British Empire, most of these were probably stolen.  It really is a novel approach to theft.  Instead of trying to hide your plunder from the law you stick it in a big building, invite the public in, call it a museum and request a donation of £2 a visitor.  Brilliant.  Assuming this was the case, the British Museum surely reflects the lifetime haul of the most prolific thief of all time.  My friend and I were there for nearly two hours, and we didn’t even complete a single room.  That is how big it is.

Still, our slow rate of progress may in part be due to my interest in one particular object.

 

Before you start, no, I wasn’t interested in it for that reason.  Well, maybe a bit.  You see, what you’re looking at is a trumpet from 18th century Tibet.  Fashioned from a human thigh bone, it was used in exorcisms, and it was this fact, combined with its somewhat distinctive shape, that had me so amused.  For whatever reason, I was struck by these Tibetan exorcists, like saffron robed Ghostbusters, turning up at some poor child’s bedside, reassuring the Mother that they were professionals and then getting out their equipment.  The real challenge being not snorting with laughter as they blew on their dick-trumpet.  Professionals indeed.

The British Museum’s an interesting place though, I really need to go back.

Then there came the talk between Mitchell and Ishiguro, distinct in its obvious lack of dick trumpets.  Mitchell (not the comedian) is most famous for Cloud Atlas, a novel that is great, even if its as weird as it is long.  Ishiguro on the other hand had been writing for decades, and it would be hard to say which he is most famous for.  Let’s go with The Remains of The Day, a book which has a real subtle beauty to it, even as it contains the single saddest bus stop in fiction.

These literary giants talked a lot about ghosts.  Mitchell’s brother is responsible for instilling a healthy fear of ghosts at an early age  through a horrific story involving dead Grandparents and ripped out livers.  Mitchell was quick to defend his brother, but since the sibling concerned was in the audience, this may have been less out of honesty than  fear of retribution.  Ishiguro almost seemed to make fun of his colleague’s fear, suggesting that western ghosts weren’t really that scary when compared to their Japanese counterparts.

It was an interesting evening, full of deep philosophical insights, and if there’s one problem with deep philosophical  insights, it’s that they’re hard to make amusing without making fun of them.  The major problem with that is how difficult that is when you agree with them.  Still there was one moment when Mitchell tried to encapsulate all of Ishiguro’s novels in a pat summary, asked if Ishiguro agreed, to which he responded…

“Maybe.”

Classic Ishiguro.

Of Spoons and Other Things

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Earlier this week I was invited out by my coursemates to a screening of The Room.  It was a thing I had heard of only in vague, half-whispers, and I knew virtually nothing about it.  I said, “sure, why not.”  I had no idea what I was in for.

For those of you as ignorant as I was, The Room is a film directed by Tommy Wiseau, produced by Tommy Wiseau, written by Tommy Wiseau, and starring… well lets just say not Tom Cruise.  Released in 2003, it was obliterated by critics in a manner so complete that it could only have been bettered by a tactical nuclear strike, and now holds the rather dubious privilege of being considered the worst movie of all time.

And it was this, once described as “the Citizen Kane of crap”, that I had unwittingly agreed to see.

I found this out only a few days before the actual event.  I had neglected googling it since I hadn’t wanted to “ruin” it for myself, and by that point it was a bit late to pull out.  I arrived at the cinema thinking this would be either ok, or ninety-nine minutes of my life I would never see again.

Turns out it was neither of those things.  When the film began the atmosphere was more like that of a football game or a rock concert than a cinema.  The audience’s enthusiasm was so intense as to be measurable only on the Richter scale and to be perfectly honest, it was just a little bit amazing.

The phenomenon of the film that is “so bad it’s good” is not a new one.  I may never have borne witness to classics such as Sharknado or Birdemic, but I have seen Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus.  At the time I was incensed by the fact that an enormous shark could swim fast enough to leap out of the sea and rip a cruising jumbo jet in half, yet couldn’t catch a submarine with a top speed of maybe thirty knots.

The Room, however, laughs at such minor inconsistencies.  These words are bandied about a lot, but words genuinely cannot adequately express how monumentally terrible it is as a piece of cinema.  As an experience though, it is unparalleled.  The audience interact with the film continually and viscerally.  An example of this is the aforementioned spoon.  I understand that the eponymous room was furnished somewhat haphazardly, and so the picture frames still contain the stock images they did when they were bought.  This has resulted in the protagonist having a picture of a spoon inexplicably framed on his coffee table.  Every time this appears the audience lets out a cry as one.  “Spoon!” they roar, over and over as if in a frenzy, and then the air is filled with disposable plastic spoons that they brought along especially for the purpose.

The film’s mad cinematography is engaged with just the same as the spoon.  Every time the camera cuts to a shot of San Francisco where the film is set, and it does this an unconscionable amount, the audience rhythmically chants “Meanwhile in San Fran-cis-co!”

Honestly I could go on, really I could, for a long time, but I won’t.  I’ll say just this more.  The Room is a truly terrible film, but watching it was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had in a cinema.  It’s something that has to be seen to be believed.

Just don’t watch it alone, it really isn’t that sort of movie.

A New Kind Of Hero

I’ll start by getting something off my chest.  I’m not really an anime kind of person, so when I watched the new One-Punch Man I didn’t really have high hopes.

How very wrong I was.

This leaves me with a major problem however.  How on Earth do I write about this thing without it turning into some gushy love letter?  Well, that’s a risk we’ll just have to take.

For those of you who don’t know, and are even less anime literate than I am, One-Punch man is an anime that debuted in Japan last October.  It follows the struggles of Saitama, the titular One-Punch Man, a superhero so overwhelmingly powerful that he can defeat any enemy in a single punch, and as a result he is monumentally, even catastrophically bored.  Violent mutated monsters appear through his ceiling, and is Saitama concerned?  Certainly not about the monsters.  The only thing that bothers him is the hole in his ceiling, and just who the hell is going to pay for that mess?  The whole thing is ridiculous… and wonderful, but for the most part it’s ridiculous.

Take this as an example.  Saitama, quite possibly the single most powerful and absent-mindedly destructive force ever to walk the Earth, is virtually unkown, whereas one of the most well known heroes is Munen Rider.  Guess what his power is.

You were probably wrong, but if not, well done.  He rides a bike, not a motorbike, an ordinary pedal bike.  It sounds almost like the Mitchell and  Webb sketch about superhero duo Angelsummoner and the BMX Bandit.  The only thing is that Munen Rider doesn’t ride a BMX, he just rides a bike.  He doesn’t do outlandish wheelies or tricks, he simply rides to trouble, gets off the bike and then is invariably beaten up.  At one point he does actually throw his bike at a giant sea-monster, but that has all the effect you’d expect i.e. sod all.

That said, Munen Rider is a wonderful character, and so many of them are.  Saitama himself is consistently hilarious, as despite his incredible power he is also an incredible muggins.  Generally his turning up and saving of the other character’s respective rears causes more problems than it solves.  Think of him as a deus ex machina that’s really, really bad at its job and you won’t be far wrong.

Basically the whole thing is a beautifully animated and conceived parody of the superhero genre.  We’ve got too many superheroes these days, and their stories have rapidly become formulaic.  So it’s really refreshing to see One-Punch Man come along and kick the stuffing out of all of those tired tropes.  Even the fight scenes, which you might think would suffer from One-Punch Man’s overwhelming power, are brilliantly done.  These often involve other characters who engage in a brilliantly choreographed fight sequence, desperately fighting to save the city from total destruction.  Then they have their arses handed to them, requiring Saitama to do that deus ex machina impression he does so well.

In short I love it, and, in spite of how insane it sounds, I could not recommend it more highly.

 

I think this whole, doing a new thing idea is paying off.

The New, the Bad, and the Ugly

“Every aspiring writer should have a blog.”  This idea has been drummed into me over the years.  I have read articles recommending it, many of my Creative Writing tutors suggested we did it, and there were even a few courses that had us make one as a requirement.  I did not take those, and so never did.  Whilst sitting in my MA class the other day, the lecturer asked if any of us kept a blog.  No one did.  Stupidly this did not galvanise me into action.  I thought, as well I might have, “Aha!  Here are all these talented and aspiring writers, and none of them do it.  Obviously I am in good company.” I felt if not validated, at least relieved.

No, it was my parents that finally pushed me into doing this one night in a post-dinner heart to heart.  Unsurprisingly, given that they’re thirty years older than me, they know quite a bit more about the world, and that if you’re ever going to achieve something you need to stop contemplating your experimental novel, get off your haunches, and put yourself out there.  Fortunately these days you can get yourself out there from the comfort of your own desk.  Handy that.

Still, exploring the world from the safety of a swivel chair is not really exploring.  I put off starting this blog for lots of reasons.  I was too busy, too tired or too (insert excuse here) to ever do it, and we all put things off for the same sorts of reasons.  We’re all too scared of putting ourselves out there in case we’re rejected, afraid to try something new in case we fail.  I thought of all the things I hadn’t done while sitting at my desk, on my little island of safety, in my nation of procrastination, and I realised something.

 

I was being a complete pillock.

 

I’d never even seen The Lion King for gods sake.  What was wrong with me.  I’d always joked when people found out and their jaws hit the floor that it was a good conversation starter, and to be fair, it was.  I had a lot of conversations over the period of my undergrad about just that.  I would point out that The Lion King was ubiquitous, so omnipresent that even if I’d never seen it I could still sing most of the songs, and more to the point, wasn’t it basically Hamlet with lions?  I’d seen Hamlet.  Despite all that, I was undoubtedly missing out on something, even if it was only the sight of a drug peddling hippie duo of a meerkat and a warthog.

Something had to be done, and this blog was that something.  As the opening song says, “there is more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done,” and I was missing it.  (No, I still haven’t seen the Lion King, that song just gets around a lot.)  So, every week I’ll see a new film, or read a new book.  I’ll go to a new place or try something different.  Then I’ll write about it.

And if the Lion King is right and there really is “more to be seen than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done”, then I won’t be running out of material anytime soon.

 

And yes.  I will be watching The Lion King.