The baby seal book club
I've been watching the outcry over The Great Gatsby movie with interest. I might even break a lifelong aversion and see it if the hype goes on for much longer.
This is probably a good time to confess that I really, really hate watching movies based in my favourite books. An old friend came up with a theory about this shortly after Philip Pullman's wonderful Northern Lights was made into a flop of a movie titled "The Golden Compass".
Because of that movie, I went around on high-alert for weeks, blinkering my eyes whenever I spotted a promotional poster. As soon as any advertisement for "The Golden Compass" came on television I had block my ears and leave the room.
"I know what it is," said the friend one day. "It's like the director is killing the characters as you imagined them and then replacing them with new ones, isn't it."
That idea seemed a little too brutal at the time, but recently I found out about a psychiatric disorder named Capgras delusion that seems to fit better.
Patti Smith is an amazing musician, but there's more to her than that.
Like many other young New Zealanders, I first heard her music in the award-winning 2004 film adaption of Maurice Gee's novel, In My Father's Den. Character Celia gets a perfect introduction to Smith's magnum opus Land when protagonist Paul sits her down with his favourite record. The scene follows Celia and Paul's faces as the music builds, showing their expectation and excitement before that amazing chorus rolls out like a warm tidal wave.
"Suddenly Johnny gets the feeling he's being surrounded by
Horses, horses, horses, horses
Coming in in all directions
White shining silver studs with their nose in flames.."
Land played non-stop in my head for days until I bought the "Horses" album, and from there onwards it was love. As this is a book column, I'll refrain from making piles of recommendations, but I will suggest that those who enjoyed "Horses" should turn the stereo up as loud as possible for "Radio Ethiopia". If you ever happen to be driving down the Desert Rd on a sunny afternoon, roll down the windows and be ready to sing along when Ask the Angels comes on. I promise it's worthwhile.
Smith is also a poet, a novelist and writer of inspiring memoirs. I'm usually a hard sell on autobiographical work unless it's written by Gerald Durrell or Oliver Sacks, but Smith's Just Kids was one of the best books I read in 2010. A relatively short work at 278 pages, Just Kids is the story of Smith's unconventional relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe and, indirectly, a treatise on the nature of creativity.
My reading material has been lining up with current events in eerie ways lately.
The day before Margaret Thatcher's death, I had begun reading Irvine Welsh's Skagboys, which came out last year as a prequel to his famous Trainspotting. While primarily about a group of young Scottish heroin addicts, Skagboys, Trainspotting and sequel Porno can also be read as a kind of patchy underground memoir about the effect of Thatcher's welfare reforms on the British working class.
Skagboys contains little pieces of political reflection titled “Notes on an Epidemic” which expand on this idea. The notes are inserted between the drama and Scottish vernacular, like bookmarks or chapter summaries. Welsh's work as a whole isn't really worth reading for the Thatcher insight unless, like me, you're oddly fascinated by his grubby and exotic world, but it was interesting to compare and contrast with epitaphs like the one written by Russell Brand.
On the same library trip, I also picked up Fiona Kidman's poem collection Where Your Left Hand Rests. Halfway through the 2010 collection, I was intrigued to find a poem called “Poets' mile” that refers to the Boston marathon.
When I was a student, I used to live in a big old villa in Wellington next to a grassy lane called Arcus Way, and this is where Kidman's poem begins. In the poem, she strolls past agapanthus and the gardens of friends with Simon and Garfunkel songs ringing in her ears, feeling mellow and pleasant. The mood darkens as she heads uphill towards Hataitai School.
Hugh Howey is an American author currently touring Australia and New Zealand to promote his dystopic science fiction novel, Wool. Having previously worked as a computer technician and yacht captain, Hugh began his writing career by self-publishing stories online while working in a bookstore.
Since e-book sales of Wool took off on Amazon and other platforms, Hugh has enjoyed phenomenal worldwide success. The book has been hailed as the next literary craze, and even described as "science fiction's answer to Fifty Shades of Grey." Hugh recently sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox.
You've had a pretty exciting life. Do you think that's necessary for a writer?
I think you need to do something, even if that means you have a career as a lawyer so that you can write court dramas.
Like John Grisham.
Exactly. Or volunteer in your spare time in some way, or go on travels before Uni. I think you can really only write about the things that you know, so the wider variety [of things], the better the writing.
Were there any parts of Wool that were specifically based on things you've lived through?
Yes. There's some of my life in everything. Certainly my boating days made it into Wool, just the idea of living in a stratified culture like that. Really, the yachts that I've worked on were very much like the silos in that there were different levels for different classes, and the further down you went the more likely you were to find myself.
The crew quarters and engine room and the bilges were all down below, and the observation decks and the places where the owner and his or her guests hung out were higher up. The ocean was just about as desolate as a wasteland, you could only survive in this very small, glass world that you fit on.
Hugh Howey's novel Wool is being touted as the next big thing in popular fiction. It's been compared to Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, and even described as “science fiction's answer to Fifty Shades of Grey.”
There's no doubt Wool is very original. It taps into the current fashion for dystopian visions, set in a world where the human population has been reduced to just 50 large underground silos. Each silo has been deliberately isolated from the others to ensure more complete social control, and is self-sufficient. The populations keep an eye on the outside world through a video link, but the toxic air outside means that leaving the silo to clean the sensors is a death sentence. The wool used for this task is what inspired the title:
“Holston held out his wool and approached the first [sensor]. He imagined the view of himself from inside the cafeteria, staggering forward, becoming impossibly large. He had watched his wife do the same thing three years ago. He remembered her waving, he had thought at the time for balance, but had she been telling him something?”
The plot is complex and satisfying. Main character Juliette is an engineer, hired from the working-class “mechanical” section of the silo to take over as sheriff. Determined to uncover the mystery of why the last sheriff committed the suicidal act of volunteering to go outside, Juliette uncovers a larger conspiracy that threatens to unravel the silo's entire political structure.
For all its many layers, Wool is almost too much of an easy read. The writing was fluent, but there were very few passages that made me want to stop and think about what I'd just read. Depending on the outlet, Wool is sometimes marketed as a young adult novel, and that does show in its unchallenging narrative style and somewhat predictable minor characters.
Blog terms and conditions
You're welcome to post in the comments section of our blogs. Please keep comments under 400 words. When submitting a comment, you agree to be bound by our terms and conditions.