peteg's blog

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

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More Irish lad lit, and as far as I know the last of Murray's books for me to read. He takes us to a prestigious private Catholic boarding school in Dublin, attended by the titular character who dies in the nearby doughnut palace in chapter 1. The end! But 600 pages follow.

The school is infested with the sorts of characters you'd find in a John Hughes movie from the 1980s. The adults stake out roles familiar from David Williamson's The Club: the hypocritical traditionalist, the old fogey, the neo-corporatist, the ineffectual critic, the druggies, and this being set where it is, the dodgy priests, the absent parents. Dismal old-boy teacher Howard, who gets the deepest treatment, never shoulders the tragedy he was created for. The loads of 2003-ish pop culture refs and criticism hew to mainstream views; this is not Jarret Kobek or Michael W. Clune, and all these dualities/oppositions don't add up to Hegelian synthesis. Dodgy teenage scientist Ruprecht is used to gesture at outre science (string theory and so forth) with little heat and less light. Pachelbel's Canon is something aliens should understand. Vacuous teen beauty queen Lorelei, investment banker sex object Miss McIntyre, American Halley and Skippy's ill mother prove that Murray can't inflate a female character to save his life.

There are too many characters, too many one-note characters, it's too often too cliched and way too long. Momentary transient transcendence shows that he can write, and he is at his best when he's showing and not explaining. But ultimately there's not a lot there.

Widely reviewed at the time. Dan Kois. Goodreads. And so forth. Congratulations to the publicist.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

The Indian summer rolls on. Got a felafel roll from Erciyes at Coogee for lunch; they wouldn't make one on Turkish bread for me, unlike the Cleveland St original. Read some more book. Quite a few people. Had a brief paddle: the shore dump was brutal. Very pleasant in. More book on the headland while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Yet another beaut sunny day, but with a strong onshore wind. Ate lunch around 1:30pm on the rocks at the Clovelly carpark. Apparently Randwick Council is developing a masterplan for Clovelly Road. I attempted to snorkel off the scuba ramp but the strong swell (small waves) made things a bit too rough to relax into. Visibility was OK. Loads of small fry, heaps of ludderick just sitting around, some small gropers, no larger ones. Read some book on the rocks in the sun while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A beaut day. A touch cold out of the sun. Coogee was running its classic shore dump when I got in around midday. I dried out over lunch after on the headland near the Mother Mary Apparition. Not many people around and very few in.

Paul Murray: An Evening of Long Goodbyes.

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Kindle. Continuing a run of mediocre (laddish) Irish writing, and having forgotten how irritating Paul Murray's hand wringing repetition can be. This one indulges in some cribbed-from-her-autobiography Gene Tierney fandom on a lightweight side track; there is nothing to recommend this version of her sad story. Sure, everyone agrees that Laura was awesome, but Whirlpool? The plot made little sense to me as the characters crowded in and somehow got along despite their origins in very distinct social strata (with very different drinking habits). Does anyone even remember the Celtic Tiger? So much pointless misdirection, so often, and such a self-deceived narrator makes for fake fiction.

Stephen Amidon. Goodreads suggests Murray did better with his next one.

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Over three or more sittings. Continuing with the Cary Grants. B&W. I didn't really get into it as the comedy is mostly slapstick with references to horror (much is made of his brother looking like Boris Karloff; I guess the stage show traded on him being played by Boris Karloff). A couple of Aunties have taken to relieving lonely men of their lives. Grant is a theatre critic and adamantly a bachelor, so much so he gets married in his first scene. There are cops, another brother, a graveyard and many bit players. The odd zinger is obscured by endless frenetic action. Highly rated by a large number of people at IMDB.

Someone at the New York Times at the time.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got down to Coogee beach about 12:30 for a brief paddle. Hardly anyone there. Flat, tide going out, about the same temperature in as out, at least in the sun. Ate my lunch on the headland after. Beaut day, and there can't be many left.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A frustrating morning: the charging socket on my old iPhone now seems defunct, and the people at Bondi didn't want to sell me a new one for a decent price. The IRS is playing a strange game with my U.S. taxes. What to do but go for a mid afternoon paddle at a mostly-deserted Coogee. Flat, tide going out, not entirely clean but not too bad. Warm in and warm out, at least in the sun.

It Had to Happen

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A Rosalind Russell jag from His Girl Friday. She seems a bit out-of-sorts in this clunker. The framing story has her returning from Europe and encountering some Italian migrants as she disembarks into b&w NYC in 1936. Clichés ensue: one (an entirely flat George Raft) takes a shine to her, and by means unexplained turns into a sort-of Robert Moses who "seems to hold all offices but none..." There are vast piles of high-minded civic BS, probity!, but ultimately this is about picking up another man's wife and how easy it was to make good in the USA back then. You too can marry an heiress! And she's entirely willing!

Raft fared better as a gangster, e.g. Spats Colombo in Some Like It Hot. His secretary Arline Judge's performance was more like what Russell later did.

Frank S. Nugent at the time.

Kevin Barry: Dark Lies the Island.

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Kindle. I was in the mood for more shorts. Well, these have little new to say. There are a few that click but too many seem derivative (of Irvine Welsh, of Snatch and lesser works like Tresspass Against Us, of the Irish storytelling tradition). Titular Dark Lies the Island muses over teenage self-harm, isolation, and the story about Lennon's island that Barry later spun into Beatlebone. Berlin Arkonaplatz — My Lesbian Summer is very tired.

Rachel Nolan at the time. Some critical opinions at Goodreads, e.g. Lorenzo Berardi points to the highlights that I'm too lazy to.

Shadow

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On the strength of Glenn Kenny's review and expectations of Yimou Zhang's directing. There's not a lot to this that isn't a cliché. The kids are in charge of a kingdom in ancient China and intrigue as a distraction from their dismal little screens. Most of the movie is ponderous exposition with a pretence to cleverness. The camerawork/cinematography evokes a grim mountainous landscape, and yes, it's always raining in the valley of the shadow. The action is same-y same, claiming that "feminine moves" might win these days of bigly testosterone. The best parts involved zither playing.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

It was surprisingly dry in the morning so I thought I'd sneak in lunch and a swim down at Gordons Bay. The rain started around 11:50am, just as I was hopping on the bike, but I was lucky enough to ride down and get in off the southern rocks before the street effluvia made it too far. (There was a huge amount of runoff from the storm drain on the beach, and enough to get a waterfall going off the southern cliff.) Seemed clean, the tide was out, very flat. Initially there appeared to be nobody in the bay at all (apart from the omnipresent mating call of the jackhammer/concrete saw of great wealth creation), then a few people slogging through the rain on the walkway. At some point a scuba flag appeared. Afterwards I ate my lunch under the cliff.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got some sushi for lunch and ate it down on the Coogee headland. Crazy traffic today with roadworks everywhere. Two helicopters were out searching for something, and a boat. (One was the lifesaver, the other blue-and-white.) Cool, cloudy but no rain. Read some book on the headland then went for a brief paddle at a mostly-empty Coogee beach. Tried drying out on the headland afterwards with more book.

The Philadelphia Story

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Another highly-rated Cary Grant headliner, but really this is Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart's show; both are so young here, and bounce off each other wonderfully. It's an east-coast high society sex farce which gently roasts and finally endorses the old moneyed. Despite the unappetising premise it's very funny even as the dialogue gets obscure. Second-stringer Ruth Hussey delivered her part flat, and was therefore the funniest.

Bosley Crowther at the time, and sixteen years later on the remake High Society staring Grace Kelly, Sinatra, Bing Crosby.

Citizen Kane

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It's been a while. The parallels with the present day are striking: a lock-him-up rabble-rousing populist campaign speech; Kane being told to check his privilege (over working men, who might eventually expect things as their right, not his gift); a pile in Florida; a Gatsby-esque excess in a guilded age; the manipulation of the news; the vacuity of stuff; the over-extended mogul; etc. Still #74 in the IMDB top-250 but getting squeezed out by lesser works.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1998.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Warm around midday, but the duration of the swimmably warm parts of the day is shrinking rapidly, and out of the sun the wind is starting to bite. Ate my lunch on the Coogee headland then went for a paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay. Fairly clean, the tide was up, and absolutely flat. Not as many people there as I expected. Tried to dry off a bit afterwards again on the headland.

Samrat Upadhyay: Mad Country.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Shorts from Nepal via a review by Robin Black. A bust: it too often slid into Bonfire of the Vanities or traded in cliches or got repetitious or found other ways to lose me.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Another warm-to-hot and clear day. Walked down to Coogee, read some book on the headland, got in the extremely flat water around 3pm. (It is as if the huge surf down south has sucked up all the ocean's energies.) Quite a few people but not as many as yesterday.

This is Spinal Tap

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It's been a while.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late-afternoon trip to Coogee, where the pubs and parks were as packed as I've seen it. The beach wasn't so full. Read some book on the headland and then had a very brief paddle in the surf, then back to the headland to dry out.