The cultured teenager

the best of literature, film and music, shown through my rather short-sighted eyes

Tag Archives: literature

No Country For Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Modern crime fiction is often cast off as being, for one reason or another, dross, it is the scummy underbelly of literature, read by lonely men on the train to work. Predictable for the first half, some ‘twists’ which aren’t as clever as they’d like to think, a moderately acceptable style of writing and usually based around around a Scottish police officer with a drinking problem, so unsurprisingly are never highly praised or generously given awards, because, well, they don’t deserve them. However, in my opinion, modern crime fiction is great, because it’s either really crap or exceptionally good, and usually all the latter takes is an ingenious, creative novelist willing to be striking and emigrate from the crime fiction mould. Yep, that’s all it takes. That shopping list of qualities is basically based on Cormac McCarthy, because, as evident from No Country For Old Men, he is one of the greatest modern American crime authors. He is, according to my incredibly irrelevant opinions, one of the best American Novelists ever in any context anyway, No Country … is now one of a number of his novels which I truly consider to be brilliant literature.

Men in great crime novels are always poor decision makers, and Llewellyn Moss is a prime example of this. I doubt I am not the only person who would avoid taking a large case of money I found in the centre of what was clearly a large drug deal gone drastically wrong, day old clots resting between the bundles of notes, burly Mexicans with holes through their foreheads laying next to it and a hell of a lot of evidence to suggest that someone who isn’t exactly Elmo would go a long way to retain his $2,000,000. This plot perfectly leads the book into becoming gritty and noir, somehow making Texas seem like even more of a dingy hellhole (apologies to all in Texas). The understated and integrated nature of the narrative, speech and imagery also further builds this brilliantly dark portrait of American rage and destruction, showing the chilling weakness and stupidity of man, and immense evil that lurks in the backdrop. If there is a character who has redeemable qualities then don’t expect them to live very long, because McCarthy makes it vigorously clear that in the society of this narrative, and a lot of societies generally, in America and elsewhere, brutality and lack of fear is what is ultimately victorious. A serious, dramatic, bloody book which is an utterly enthralling read, if not exactly a quick, lay back in your deckchair sort of book. Read it at home with plenty of time on your hands, because, for once this isn’t throw-away crime or western fiction but effortlessly deep and consuming. Please read and enjoy, regards 🙂

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Brighton Rock by Graham Greene

I can safely say, this is probably one of my favourite books. It’s cleverly written, has a lucid narrative, but also contrasts an embedded bleakness with many aspects of a thriller. It was through ‘Brighton Rock’ that Graham Greene found major commercial success, written in 1938, and by 1947 had been moved to the silver screen for John Boulting’s adaptation, which was itself brilliant, namely for Richard Attenborough’s ferocity as Pinkie Brown.

Pinkie Brown is the ultimate literary anti-hero, such that his malevolence and anguish still resonates with modern audiences and creates an utter fascination through the entirety of the novel. I am 17. Pinkie Brown is also 17. There is a slight contrast between us, lifestyle, time period, oh and I’m not a sinister power-hungry gangster, desperate to make not only cash, but a name for himself and a menacing reputation. One sentence in and Greene has already instilled the tone of the whole novel; “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him”. The novel is structured around Pinkie’s attempts to cover up Hale’s murder, but these are somewhat thwarted by Ida Arnold, whom had met Fred hale in his last hours. Through Pinkie’s efforts to close the case on his gang’s and his own personal connection to the death, his story becomes intertwined with that of a young waitress, Rose. It is Ida’s purpose to stop Rose fulfilling her terrible, ominous fate; Greene shows Ida in complete contrast to Pinkie and Rose as a loud, secularist femme-fatale, allergic to the religious overtones and the images of redemption running parallel to Pinkie and Rose’s tainted relationship. Relationship isn’t the right word, it is more like a prison, or maybe purgatory. The only thing bleaker than Brighton and the gangster culture that inhabits it, is Pinkie and his aggressive, twisted attitude which devours all emotion he bears witness to.

Few people reach the disturbing evil that is enmeshed within Pinkie Brown and gang culture, but it is a story which still resonates, particular with youth culture, with this cultural boom of the 30’s foreshadowing those in the later 20th century, whether it be Mod, Punk or Urban culture. There will always be a dark undercurrent within society, but that makes it all the more interesting to me and, I expect, to those who read this bleak, brilliant novel. A consuming, outstanding read which I would highly recommend. Regards 🙂

‘Great’ is the right word

I am embarking upon reading more novels in the way of classics, as teachers often bark at you to do. I am doing this by my own choice, though it is, more or less, preparation for what I will be engulfed by as I enter a new school year. I have therefore read ‘The Great Gatsby’, an American Classic which I think me and my fellow students will be studying, and much to my relief, I found it surprisingly enjoyable.

Ernest Hemingway, a writer of American Classics himself, once said, ‘Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know’. Very true. This novel completely confounds this truth, the intellectuals never appearing happy, though they live in an utterly hedonistic lifestyle, however this is only enjoyed by the rather less intelligent guests. Although Gatsby is a  likeable character, as shown through Nick Carraway’s narration, his life and the lives of those around him are corrupted with greed and incredibly sad and unfulfilled. Carraway is obviously sympathetic to Gatsby, who he befriends, and is cleverly used to narrate by Fitzgerald, constantly moving between his own traditional society and the indulgent extravagance of Gatsby; Fitzgerald here showing the difference between western and eastern values in America at this period of time. Gatsby lives in what many would see as a perfect world, nothing but hedonism, however he is dissatisfied by this, as it was all an attempt to get closer to Daisy Buchanan, whom he had desperately loved for numerous years. Nick is then used to connect the pair, and arrange a meeting between, submerging Carraway into their affairs, which soon becomes a rekindled affair. Not only is Gatsby dissatisfied by his life but as is Daisy, in a loveless relationship with Tom, whom is also having a secret affair. Unsurprisingly this does not lead to a happy ending, not that I will spoil it for you if you are going to read the novel. Gatsby is not the hedonistic, millionaire playboy we expect, merely in love, however his emotions are based on rotten values, and the ending could be therefore seen as retribution against these values.

I really enjoyed this book, and am more than happy to be studying, however it doesn’t leave me begging for more. Its definitely worth reading and definitely worth appreciating so read if it sounds your cup of earl grey. Regards 🙂

10 years later

Unfortunately for you lot, tonight I will be embarking on the arduous journey to France for my summer hols, so therefore I’m going to cram quite a lot of different stuff into this post. As the name suggests, this will be a cultural leap back 10 years, giving an example of may favourite forms of culture which were born in the year of 2001.

Film- Monsters Inc. : This choice brings me back to my child at heart; in 2001 I was seven and of what I remember of the time, I remember fondly, particularly my love of Pixar films. When I was smaller my favourite, unsurprisingly, was Toy Story, however as an elder of the children, my film favourites have undergone numerous transformations, with ‘Monsters Inc.’ now most-loved animated film. You will have watched it and know what it’s about so rather than telling the narrative I will focus on why I still love to watch it, being the cool teenager I am. If films are designed to entertain then there can be no better animated film; it’s fast-paced, witty and has numerous loveable and slightly bizarre characters, which is expected considering the strange scenario in which the film is set. Not only do I find it quite witty how the writers satirize modern working life, particularly through Mike and Sulley, but also find the industrial nature of scaring children an unusual setting for a children’s film, causing humanity to ooze from the adventure which ensues through Sulley’s attachment to Boo. My favourite character though is Randall, as one weird recurring theme in Pixar films is that they have excellent and evil villains, who many would assume quite scary for small children, examples being, Hopper in ‘A Bug’s Life’, Sid in ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Syndrome’ in ‘The Incredibles’ to name a few. This film is adorable, witty and modest, but one of my favourite parts is the excellent casting, particularly Billy Crystal’s Mike who I would argue as being one of best animated characters ever.

Training Day: This film is intense. It is what earlier police drama/action films such as ‘The French Connection’ ought to have been. Not an incredibly clever film at first look but it must be somewhat clever in order to give a film this level of panache and verve, keeping it fresh and effortlessly stylish. It is this therefore which makes it surprisingly watchable and timeless, not that it is a film that will be ever-remembered but keeps to the traditional good cop/bad cop format and could be therefore be watched in many years to come. This format is only as tense and lucid as it is though because of star turns from Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, Hawke perfectly cast to effortlessly show the transformation from rabbit-in-the-headlights to a hardened individual, making it compelling and realistic. Washington compliments this with his gritty, morally confused performance, asking both the audience and Hawke whether his techniques are ones of selfish gain or in order to get results. Yes, the ending is cliched and the bizarre coincidence that could only happen in a film, but this takes nothing from the tense script, the terrific performances and what overall is an intelligent and intense film.

Literature- The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre: As I mentioned I am leaving for holiday later today, and am therefore packing, but in my eyes clothes packing isn’t the most important thing, rather the ‘summer read’ I’ll take for when I’m sat in a deck chair somewhere in central France. One the books I will be taking this year will be ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ if I can find it, Le Carre giving his take on the cold war; however for this novel he moves his focus to Northern Kenya and Sudan, bringing up the dangers of humanitarian aid. Many in damaged countries deserve it but the savages who caused the initial problems have a way of disruption to humanitarian efforts, not surprising really considering how little humanity these people have. I am saying this because the novel is from the view of First Secretary at the High Commission, Justin who in the opening pages has to identify the severed head of his wife, who had been butchered in Northern Kenya. This a harsh and slow novel, dragging along the story of Justin’s journey for answers taking him back to Britain but also, Le Carre paints an image of Africa and the bleeding of society that walks parallel to it. Realistic, sharp, but also beautifully harrowing literature.

Music- White Blood Cells by The White Stripes: Ten years old yet hasn’t aged. It sounds like it should be a debut album, fresh vibrant and with the a buzzing naivety that culminates in their own, slightly cheery version of garage rock. It was this album that started to establish the White Stripes name, proving themselves to be an excellent proto-rocker duo, a superb mix of Meg White’s simple and thudding drumming, and the intense blues style guitar from Jack White. However, blues guitar is far more simple than the superb riffs that help to sculpt the album. On some levels, there is a superb economy to the music, giving no more than is needed giving it a simplicity and striking sound, that is the musical meat-and-two-veg meal. One of the best examples of this is the punchy ‘Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground’, and although at times it is no more than a riff, it still gives thrills, as does my favourite track, ‘Fell in love with a girl’, which reminds me of early Beatles, keeping up the momentum and infectious riff. You will like this album; well, you ought to like this album. This is ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, enjoy the also brilliant video. 

I could write more but I will just leave it that. I will spend my holiday working at what to write about next and hopefully will write something enjoyable for you. I hope you check out what you’ve read about, assuming you read it, because if you do, you will definitely enjoy it. Please comment about anything, regards 🙂     

Man and boy

One of my favourite films of all time is ‘No Country For Old Men’, but not only is it is great watch but also a terrific book. This led to me explore other books by the author, Cormac McCarthy, which caused me to read ‘The Road’; I had already known of its pedigree, as a book constantly mentioned on all literary websites, given multiple awards and therefore made it seem obvious that it would be a good book. However now I have read it, it would seem almost offensive to call it ‘good’. It is a beautifully harrowing story, showing the transformation of civilization and emotions when plunged into this frighteningly realistic, post-apocalyptic future. McCarthy paints a stunning image of the barren landscape and America’s future; however, drained of all colour and vibrancy, leaving only vivid memories of any natural life and humanity. The few humans that do exist are still drained of all life and vitality, an “ashen effigy” of their former selves walking through the dense of soot and snow in search of warmth.

Almost everyone is dead, ironically giving a certain humanity to the novel, and particularly to the man and his attempts to shelter his son. The whole way through the book, The Man and The Boy are unnamed, highlighting how nothing is important, not even names, in this hopeless, uncivilized world except for survival. Survival is therefore paramount to the emotions and actions by The Man, particularly where he shoots a barbaric figure trying to murder his son; it is harrowing and disturbing how such vulgar and grotesque actions become commonplace, especially cannibalism. McCarthy plods through the tense yet slow narrative, constantly increasing the fear and desperation running through the Man’s veins, not just his fear of starvation, rape and cannibalism, but he is also terrified for his son, which was further increased by being left by his wife, due to her immense fear of being attacked and preyed upon. The child is used by McCarthy to draw parallels with the reader, as the unaware and naive boy asks constant questions, the reader is intrigued by the same questions as we have the same level of ambiguity towards the apocalypse.

This makes me appreciate the humility and humanity built into modern society, rather than the barbaric nature of the characters here; parallels can be drawn with the recent London riots, as this novel highlights the break-down of society and the actions that come with it. Destructive actions come from anger and frustration, but also from fear, where the rioting is making a statement it shows the barbaric nature within people, however McCarthy shows the opposite being that the Man has every reason to be monstrous  and destructive yet the humanity of his relationship with his son stops him from doing that. Please read this brutally astonishing masterpiece. Regards 🙂