Ghost Stories (Henry James)

It’s rare for me not to finish a book, but I simply couldn’t connect with these stories. The main story in this book is a classic, the plot of many dramas, but it did nothing for me. Too many words, and a meandering narrative seemingly getting nowhere. It might be me, but I can only respond as I feel.

I bought the Kindle edition of this book because Naomi and I had recently watched The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix, which is based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The drama was truly scary, the book not at all.

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2021 books here.

Tenet (Christopher Nolan)

Christopher Nolan is one of my favourite movie directors. He doesn’t patronise his audience, he expects you to pay attention and keep up. He always provides everything you need to know in the visual and spoken narrative, but he’s always one step ahead. That’s what makes him such a great craftsman and storyteller.

Nolan took five years to write the screenplay for Tenet after deliberating on the concept for over a decade, so the audience is always going to be playing catch-up. Some see this a weakness. For me, I relish having my mind stretched and blown, it’s what I love about his movies. Other 10/10 examples are Memento and Inception, where repeated viewings reveal what you missed the first time, but even then present you with ambiguous endings.

In Tenet, Nolan takes an idea central to science fiction and gives it a new twist. I don’t want to give anything away, other than to say it’s an action thriller unlike any you’ve seen before. The DVD cover says: ARMED WITH JUST ONE WORD – TENET – and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.

If you don’t fully understand it first time, don’t worry – just enjoy the stunning visual feast.

Nolan always baffles and leaves you pondering further possibilities. His creativity inspires and empowers me, stretching my brain and expanding my thoughts – like all good art should, be it music, art, poetry, or prose etc.

Kiwanuka wins Mercury Prize 2020

Michael Kiwanuka has won the Mercury Prize 2020 for his self-titled third album Kiwanuka, one of my favourite albums of 2019.

The judging panel said: “KIWANUKA by Michael Kiwanuka is the well deserved winner of the Hyundai Mercury Prize 2020 for Album of the Year. Classic yet contemporary, drawing on the history of music while remaining an intensely personal work of self-expression, this is an album that will stand the test of time. Songs such as ‘Hero’ and ‘You Ain’t The Problem’ deal with hot button topics like race and identity, but in a reflective way that draws the listener in. From its narrative flow to the interludes, from Civil Rights speeches to its panoramic mix of everything from psychedelic rock to piano jazz, KIWANUKA is not only a complete work, but also one that is borne of the courage of its creator to build his own world and invite us in. Warm, rich, hugely accomplished and belonging to no one genre but its own, KIWANUKA is a masterpiece.” (Source)

My Last Duchess (Robert Browning)

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This narrative poem is of an altogether different nature to the ones I’ve been posting here recently. This is sinister and full of intrigue, one that amply repays careful and repeated reading. A favourite poem of mine for many years.

FERRARA

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!