Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Saltwater by Lane Ashfeldt 

Throughout "Saltwater", it is the sea which is the most constant. The sea characterises each story in this, Lane Ashfeldt’s first collection of short stories. The sea both causes and bears witness to our despairs and triumphs.
Ashfeldt’s stories take place in a variety of destinations. Haiti, Greece, England, and New Zealand are all settings where the sea both destroys and redeems mankind.

Set during the earthquake which hit Haiti in 2010 "Catching the Tap-tap to Cayes-de-Jacmel" tells the story of Lucien a young man trapped under the rubble of a collapsed cinema where he worked. A country boy he longs to return to the countryside and the familiarity of his home town.

"Dancing On Canvey" relates how a girl, who wants desperately to grow up, survives the flooding of her island home, in the Thames Estuary.  First loves and their mysteries are swept away and nothing for her will ever be the same again.

The title story "Saltwater" concerns the a group of sailors who take their craft from Ireland to Cornwall to collect china clay for the Arklow Pottery. A seemingly innocent commercial journey but one which is set during WWII. As the sailors battle for survival the story also relates an outing the wife of the captain takes with her children, but even this simple trip is not without incident.
The main strength of this collection is the ability of the author, in a few deft sentences, to get into the mind of her characters. We empathise with them and find ourselves cheering them on as they battle through whatever life throws their way.  Lane Ashfeldt is an author destined to have a bright and glorious future.


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pump Six by Paolo Bacigalupa 

"Pump Six" is the first collection of short stories by American science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi. Set in the near future on an Earth where the citizens are seemingly trying to come to terms with society around them.
In "Pocket Full of Dharma", Wang Jun a young homeless boy is chased through the streets of Chengdu city. Unbeknownst to him Wang carries the soul of the Dali Lama in a datacube.

"The Tamarisk Hunter", tells the story of Lolo, and his attempts to eek out a living in the now desert state of Utah. All Lolo wants is dignity for himself and his wife.

While in "Pop Squad" we learn of a world where immortality is declared compulsory. But what happens if people want something more than everlasting life?

Food shortages and genetic modified crops, wars for natural resources and environmental degradation, bioengineering gone horribly wrong, religious and political fanaticism, are just some of the problems Bacigalupi presents us with. His is not a vision of humanity grappling with the stars rather one of the individual struggling with the earth.

However there are positives to be taken from these dystopian tales. The refusal of the main characters to surrender to bigger forces and their willingness to fight against impossible odds. The ability of the individual to strike out and see that there’s more than just running with the herd. 

Bacigalupi’s thought provoking tales cover fears and concerns many in the 21st century will be more than familiar with.


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham 

Charles Strickland is a well to do London stockbroker. He is apparently a happily married family man. Those who know him describe him as a dull, plain man, a hardworking stalwart of Edwardian England.
Inexplicably then he vanishes leaving telling his wife that he has gone to live in Paris. His wife stunned asks the narrator to find Strickland and tell him to return home. Rather reluctantly the narrator obliges.

What emerges in Paris is not a married man having one last fling with a paramour in a fine hotel but rather a burgeoning artist who has left the stifling conventions of London behind in order to pursue his innate calling.

As the novel progresses we learn that Strickland has risked all in pursuit of his art. He lives in dire poverty in Paris taking help from all who offer it. He travels to Marseilles where after an altercation he works his passage to Tahiti.

All of which sounds very virtuous and noble. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a character Strickland is totally dislikeable. He is arrogant, vein and irresponsible. His actions bring death and disaster upon those who love him most.  He cares nothing for his wife and children and less for the concerns and worries of others.

Written by Somerset Maugham in 1919 and based loosely on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, "The Moon and Sixpence", can said to be both a meditation on genius and a damning critique of Edwardian society.   


Friday, December 14, 2012

Just Kids by Patti Smith 

Patti Smith has written a memoir recalling her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Touching and incredibly vivid Just Kids tells of their initial meeting as penny less artists in New York in the 1960’s. It relates their love affairs, both together and apart, their struggles to establish themselves and ultimately the successes they both achieve.
Throughout Smith makes no attempt to disguise the affection she held for Robert Mapplethorpe who at times would serve as Smith’s friend, lover, teacher and inspiration. The story of their life and times together is extremely touching and highly personal and I’d imagine it was an extremely difficult story for Patti Smith to recount.
Many will be fascinated by the time Patti and Robert spent in the Chelsea Hotel where as young artists they first encountered the good and the great as they paraded in style through the corridors or buried themselves behind their doors. Here Smith throws a less than glamorous light on the lives of the various artists she encounters. But she also relates the many touching moments and acts of generosity she experienced.

Great names of the artistic and rock n roll world stride through this memoir. Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol and of course Bob Dylan are just a few of the great ones the reader will meet. Looking back the late 1960’s seem to be a time of high ideals with a dark destructive underbelly. You had the scene in New York and the reaction against war in Vietnam. Smith captures the atmosphere of the time and the reaction to both.
Ultimately though it is the tragedy of Robert Mapplethorpe’s death from an AIDS related disease that is the reason for the memoir’s existence.  Once the initial spark of friendship is ignited Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe vowed never to leave each other. Just Kids proves that up to Robert’s death and beyond, they never have. 



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sidney Nolan. Ned Kelly Series at IMMA Dublin 

Australian artist Sidney Nolan painted his Ned Kelly Series of paintings between 1946 and 1947. The paintings numbering 27 in total depict the life and times of the infamous Irish Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. Accompanied by his fellow gang members Ned Kelly is portrayed wearing a black suit of armour and accompanying distinctive helmet.
On first regarding the paintings they may seem almost cartoonish. The colour of Kelly’s armour is in contrast to the vivid depictions of the wild Australian bush. Be warned however humour was the furthest thing from the painters mind. For Nolan the outlaw Ned Kelly stands for the rugged individual striking out against the establishment. Kelly is the warrior chief going into combat against the occupiers.
The paintings each of which is highly stylised, contain vivid colours which makes them the perfect prism from which to view the Australian outback. Up to this artists had struggle to depict their native  countryside and had resorted to using formal European methods which in fact were considered inadequate. 
In time Nolan’s rendering of Ned Kelly dressed in a suit of metal, complete with helmet would catapult him onto the world stage. The image of Ned Kelly outlaw battling the dark forces of imperial oppression would become part of Australian national consciousness.
Sidney Nolan, Ned Kelly Series runs in the Irish Museum of Modern Art until 27th of January 2013.


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