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Tony Grist

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Books And Pictures And So On. [Dec. 16th, 2017|10:46 am]
Tony Grist
Hilary Mantel can't bear Dickens- "such awful stuff- coarse, sentimental, conceited". And I can understand that. Dickens is such a full on blast of Victorian values you either duck out of the way or take a deep breath and let yourself to be carried along. He's our biggest writer- barring Shakespeare, of course. But Shakespeare  is wonderfully impersonal- or rather he's hundreds of different people- whereas Dickens is an enormous single personality. He comes on like a weather front. He bullies, brags, imposes; you will all now rejoice with me. And now you will weep.

Mantel's anti-recommendation made me want to pick up something of his, but he hasn't put out anything new for quite a while  and I have a need right now to read things I've never read before. Give me the new, always the new.... So I went through the shelves and found a copy of Ishiguro's An Artist of The Floating World which I bought a few years back, never got round to reading and didn't know I still had.

I just finished Ali Smith's How to Be Both- a book that couldn't be less Dickensian. Light- airy- all glances and suggestion- with doors left open, stories unfinished and issues unresolved. I love her imagining of the painter del Cossa. If I were more mobile than I am I'd  hop across to Ferrara to stand in front of his three months in the Palace of Shifanoia. They're my new favourite art works and Peter Breughel can stand a little to the side for the time being. Actually Peter and Francesco have a lot in common- and that must say something about the way I look at life too. Both love the manyness of things- all those people, animals, objects that crowd their pictures- Francesco belonging to the spring of the renaissance, when all was promise and hope, and Peter to its end when rather too much of that promise and hope and been stomped over by people in muddy boots.

Talking about muddy boots I just read the New Yorker Story Cat Person which has been so much discussed on social media. Muddy boots is pretty much what it is about- how two people who have a nice, light, superficial  connection- who can joke with one another and share harmless, whimsical fantasies- get drawn into a deeper connection which is entirely unsuitable- because of the muddy boots side to human nature. It's fairly cheerless. I gather female readers tend to take the woman's side and male ones the man's- which rather highlights the point the writer is making.  

[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2017-12-16 01:27 pm (UTC)
I flipped past Cat Person on both the print and the online version because I found the image so unappetizing.

I can't bear Dickens, either, except for A Christmas Carol, and I suspect I like that one because I've seen endless dramatizations, including several prior to reading it. (In fact, we just re-watched Alistair Sim last night.) It's that being-so-arch type of sarcasm he uses for his social criticism that sticks in my craw. I've opened A Tale of Two Cities repeatedly, only to throw it down again midway through the description of the high-ranking cleric getting dressed.

Art-wise, I've recently been most interested in the work of a group of early 20c Canadians called the Group of Seven, including especially the work of Tom Thomson, who would have been a charter member of the group except for the inconvenient event of his death two years prior to its formation. He fished and painted his native Algonquin Park in Ontario, especially Canoe Lake. He died mysteriously at the age of 40 -- a boating accident or possibly foul play, no one knows. His both was found in the lake, as was his canoe. He sketched in oils, which give those works a startling immediacy.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-12-16 01:45 pm (UTC)
Cat Person is very short. I didn't time myself but I imagine I got through it in about a quarter of an hour. The illustration is apposite- capturing the "feel" of the story very well.

I have always loved Dickens but he's a very strong flavour and there's no disputing about tastes. The Sim version of The Carol is excellent. I was surprised last time I watched it by how much of Dickens's political bite it retained.

Those Thomson's are strong and immediate- with a great sense of weather and season. It looks like he used a knife- and also maybe his fingers.

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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2017-12-16 01:32 pm (UTC)
P.S. If you should happen to be in London between now and 1 March and might at all be interested in Lindley Library's "Collecting in the Clouds" exhibition, focusing on five early 20c plant hunters, I'd love to hear about it and see copious photographs if photography is permitted.

They're having a special behind-the-scenes showing of Reginald Farrer's watercolors one day in January -- it would make me raid our retirement fund and fly over if I hadn't let my passport expire and then lost it.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2017-12-16 01:53 pm (UTC)
Don't raise your hopes too high but we might be able to get up to London between now and March. Plant collecting isn't something I know much about- but one should never call a halt to one's education.
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