Sunday, September 24, 2006

'The Producers' by Mel Brooks

24 September 2006

I'm not a real fan of musicals but we have had some of Jeannie's relations from Montana staying with us and 14-year old Gabrielle was determined to see a big West End show during her first visit to London. So we queued at the half price ticket booth in Leicester Square and came away with tickets for 'The Producers' - Mel Brooks' musicalisation of his much-loved 1968 film. I knew the show had received very good reviews but even as it started I was still sceptical. By the interval I was completely won over, and by the time we got to the 'Springtime for Hitler' mock Busby Berkeley routine there were tears rolling down my cheeks - it was fantastic! The most fun I've had in a theatre for years - absolutely brilliant!

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Friday, September 22, 2006

'Never Let Me Go' by Kazuo Ishiguro

22 September 2006

Kathy H. is 31 and looking back over her life, particularly her days at Hailsham - a boarding school for very special children. Much of her story is a recognisable tale of childhood but beneath it there is an nagging feeling that all is not quite what it seems: this is a parallel universe and these children are being prepared for a very special purpose. 'Never Let Me Go' is science fiction, I suppose, but extremely subtle science fiction. Ishiguro has a particularly measured style: you feel that each word has been very carefully and deliberately chosen. Kathy's reminiscences are not linear and you gradually build up a picture of her life as she flits backwards and forwards in recounting her history. I have really enjoyed Ishiguro's other novels - including 'When We Were Orphans' and even the impenetrably surreal dreamworld of 'The Unconsoled'. This book has a similar tone but is much more straightforward in terms of plot. Essentially it's a love story - gentle, moving and very very sad.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

'The Dusty Foot Philosopher' by K'Naan

19 September 2006

I'm really enjoying 'The Dusty Foot Philosopher' - the debut CD by Somali/Canadian rapper K'Naan. Andy Kershaw starting championing him some months ago on his Radio 3 show and I saw part of K'Naan's set at WOMAD in July but I wasn't sure it was my kind of thing. Nevertheless I thought I would give the album a go and it's really hooked me now. As a young boy K'Naan escaped war-torn Somalia on the last commercial flight out of Mogadishu in 1991 and eventually settled in Canada. Now he is rapping in English with a Canadian accent (which reminds me of another Canadian rapper, Spek) about his childhood and the plight of his homeland. 'The Dusty Foot Philosopher' is a refreshing mix of styles and approaches but still feels like a single rounded work. There's a little swearing here and there but this is intelligent, revealing, funny and very catchy rap. "Why are his feet so dusty?!"

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Monday, September 11, 2006

'The Plot Against America' by Philip Roth

11 September 2006

It is 1940 in an America remarkably similar to the one we are familiar with - but here aviator Charles Lindbergh sweeps to victory in the US Presidential election, develops strong links with Hitler's Germany and keeps America out of the Second World War. The creeping anti-Semitism of the Lindbergh administration is seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy and his family in Newark, New Jersey. This is a nightmare vision played out very carefully and subtlely by Roth. He resists the temptation to tear his imaginary world too far away from the real thing and the closeness to real events and real people makes it all the more believable. His prose is dense with meticulous attention to detail and his first person narrator - the boy Philip with an adult hindsight - often flits back and forth chronologically in retelling particular incidents, all of which makes this a book which demands your attention - but is nontheless gripping. Occasionally I found the jump away from domestic family life to the macro political story a little too disjointed (as was also the case in Louis de Bernieres' 'Captain Correlli's Mandolin'). But viewing the small incremental changes in American society through the local life of the boy's family and friends provides a fascinating insight into how such apparently 'evil' regimes win popular acclaim. I was reminded of Edgar Reitz's 'Heimat' which shows the development of fascism in Germany through the eyes of a small local community. But as well as demonstrating the ways in which fascism could take hold of a democracy in the 1940s, 'The Plot Against America' is also (perhaps primarily) a post-9/11 novel drawing parallels between Jews then and Muslims now. A clever, chilling and thought-provoking work.