Rook

After the wonderful, The Devils Music, I couldn’t wait to read ROOK, Jane Rusbridge’ second novel. I pre-ordered it from Amazon and cleared the decks for its arrival.

When it finally arrived I tore it from the parcel and found inside this beautiful book. The front cover has a picture of a girl, must be the main character Nora, standing amongst a building of rooks, on a grassy windswept landscape. Yes building, I looked it up. There are rooks in the air all around her.

The story begins with Nora, who has returned to Creek House, the family home, next to the village of Bosham, on the Sussex coast. Nora rescues an injured rook, which she finds and nurses back to heath, she names him Rook. Her mother Ada lives in the house and is a bitter old woman with a secret. Nora, who has been away from home, is a gifted cellist and while at collage, then onto performing. She has been having an affair with her older and charismatic teacher. Nora has secrets too.

There is so many wonderful layers to this book, from the opening scene of the Sussex coast and an eleventh century battlefield, to the same ground in the twenty first century. Then there is Jonny, an outsider who wants to make a documentary about King Cnut and an attempted archaeological dig in the little church of Bosham. The characters are all wonderfully written and the family story of Nora, her sister Flick, Felicity and their parents is revealed as the book reaches its end. This has been a hard review to write, no matter what I say about ROOK, I couldn’t with my limited skill, do it Justice. I think Jan Rusbridge is something special and we may look back in years to come and realise this. I hope she writes many more books and gets the acclaim she deserves.

Footnote. You can also have a parliament of rooks, I like building.

Advertisements

Cymbeline

On my second attempt, I finally finished Cymbeline. The first time I set about it, was with a scruffy, old second hand copy of an Arden 2nd edition. I was enjoying it immensely. But, in the margins there were lots of notes, in pencil and the further I got into the play, the notes got thicker and became a distraction. I gave up and looked on line for a new 3rd edition. Arden hasn’t produced one, yet. So I decided to give The Oxford Shakespeare, Cymbeline a try. I was really impressed and found it relatively easy to read. I do love it when I read a passage, then I look down at the footnotes and there, the way it is explained is exactly the way I thought it meant. I think the spelling has been modernised and I felt as though I was gliding across the pages, sometimes. These are great moments for me when I am reading Shakespeare.

Cymbeline is the King of ancient Britain; he isn’t actually in the play very much. It is mainly the story of his daughter Innogen and her Roman husband, Posthumus Leonatus. Early in the play Posthumus is banished from court by the King and so, returns to Rome. Whilst in Rome he is forced into a wager with Giacomo who is on his way to Britain and Cymbeline’s court. Giacomo bets Posthumus he can make Innogen be unfaithful to him. This is all set to the back drop of scheming; by the Queen, the King’s second wife and Innogen’s step mother. She wants her son Cloten, by a former marriage, to marry Innogen. There is also tension between Britain and Rome, with Cymbeline refusing to pay tribute to Augustus Caesar.

I found Cymbeline very enjoyable, there are some who say it is a very convoluted story and the ending is a problem. I didn’t have any problems whatsoever. There is the scene where Innogen takes poison and dies, then miraculously comes back to life. I don’t see the problem, the doctor, Cornelius, later explains that he left an ingredient out of the draft, which made her seem to be dead. But she was only in a coma. Now isn’t that the same as the potion that Juliet took in, Romeo and Juliet?

When I finished reading the play, I read the introduction. I know you’re supposed to read the intro first. But I can’t wait; I’m too impatient to get started on the play. I always do that. When I did read the introduction, I found Cymbeline being compared, maybe not compared. But mentioned in connection, to a few Shakespeare plays I haven’t read yet. They are, Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pericles, The Winter’s Tale and Twelfth Night, which I haven’t read but have seen, on DVD. Also in the introduction, there is some discussion on the name of Innogen. Apparently in the Folio, it is spelt Imogene. But this is thought to be an error and was heard as Innogen in early performances of the play. Some of the evidence for the name Innogen was a ghost character in early editions of:  Much Ado About Nothing. The name was also that of the mythical first Queen of Britain. I just like it, Innogen and I think she is one of Shakespeare’s greatest woman characters.

There are some wonderful scenes in Cymbeline. I love the part where Giacomo climes out of a box or maybe a basket, in Innogen’s bed room, in the middle of the night, while she is asleep. He observes things about her, mainly a mole below her left breast. He steals a bracelet from her wrist. All this, is to use for evidence, to win his bet with Posthumus.

I am sure I have seen lots of Hollywood versions of this play. It just seems so familiar. It reminded me of some of them old swashbuckling films from the golden age of cinema. Maybe that’s why people get confused when the take in a Shakespeare play and think someone else wrote them.  I do find myself, when I am reading them, looking for connections. When you read a modern author, who has a large body of work, you do see patterns in their writing. Sebastian Faulks for instance, I have read all his novels and I can see certain traits in his stories. So I am always on the lookout for those kinds of things in Shakespeare’s writing. I’m sure; someone could point these things out to me. But, it is more rewarding finding them for myself. I can build up a picture of Shakespeare on my own, it might be wrong but it won’t bring down the establishment, because a truck driver from Bathgate got it wrong, or maybe right.

I have tickets to see Titus Andronicus at The Globe, later this month. Along with a tour of the theatre and a long weekend in London, I can’t wait. Hopefully this will break the ice and knock me out of my lethargy. I miss London; it’s been so long I forget what the ale tastes like. The RSC in Stratford is another destination I am hankering to see. To see a play and a walk round the Shakespeare birthplace, now that would be an occasion. I bought the Oxford edition of Titus Andronicus, I was thinking about reading it after I have been to see the play, for a change. I know the story, vaguely so it would be interesting to see how it ends, I do not know the ending. I had also started reading Richard II. But I have put it to the side for now, I’m going to concentrate on Titus. I did read enough of Richard II to know I am going to love it and the Oxford copy it is written in.

Obsession

The Goddess and The Thief is the third novel by Essie Fox. Her last two were the excellent: The Somnambulist and Elijah’s Mermaid. The Goddess, carries on in the same gothic vain, only this time, there is a very mystical theme running through the story. Saying that, the other two are pretty far out too. But The Goddess, is by far her most mystical to date.

It starts with: THE LETTER – NEVER SENT. An unhappy litter from Alice, in India 1851, to her sister Mercy, in England. This letter gives the reader intriguing clues as to how the story unfolds. A story about Alice’s daughter who has been given the same name. After her mothers premature and sad death, the young Alice is taken away from India and her beloved Mini her “ayah” the woman who looked after her and was her Indian Guardian Angel. She is taken by her father, who is a Doctor in The East India Company, to England and the house in Windsor, of her aunt Mercy.

Mercy is a would be clairvoyant, holding séances to contact the dead of rich and gullible widows. She makes young Alice her assistant, to help in her charade. Alice hates this and when mysterious Lucian Tilsbury comes into their home, she is dragged into a plot to steel the Koh-I-Noor diamond from Queen Victoria.

This is a fantastic book, very dark and full of the opiates of obsession. The images and mysticism of Indian Goddesses really work and so does Queen Victoria, as a miner character. The legend of the diamond, The East India Company all the elements go to make up a wonderfully written, classic Gothic novel.

Live Coriolanus

At last my visit to the cinema, came round. I have been so looking forward to seeing Coriolanus, live from The Donmar warehouse, courtesy of  NT Live, I thought it would never come. I had holidays to use up, so decided to take the whole week off. Mainly to avoid the last disaster, when I was late for Othello and missed it.

I have written a fair bit about Coriolanus, on my blog and in tweets, I’ve always said it is my favourite play. I should really say it is my favourite Tragedy. Then again, I’m not sure if I should say that either. I am still very new to Shakespeare, so I don’t think I have earned the right to have a favourite. Of course favourites, all depend on witch one I am studying, watching or reading at the moment and I still have many to read, watch and enjoy.

I wasn’t at my best on Thursday night, I had the beginnings of some kind of migraine or head cold. So loaded up with paracetamol, me and my son Tom, set of to the cinema. We had great seats, coffee and ice cream. So we both settled down to watch “my favourite play.“ I’m not about to do a film review, not sure I’d be any good at that. I didn’t do it for the movie version of Coriolanus with Ralph Fiennes. Loved that film, which at the time, was still so fresh in my mind, from reading the Arden second edition of the play. I bought the third edition of Coriolanus but, curiously, after all my complaining, I prefer the second one. I was a bit apprehensive of Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius, I thought he may have been too young. He was brilliant and I needn’t have worried. Mark Gatiss as Menenius, was also excellent and I thought Cominius, played by Peter De Jersey was outstanding. The mother Volumnia, played by Deborah Findlay was wonderfully annoying and brilliantly acted. Volumnia has always irritated me, I think that is her job. Birgittt Hjort Sorensen, a beautiful actor from Denmark, done her best as Virgilia, there isn’t much for her, to do but, she looked good and to use a football analogy, she was good running off the ball. I also thought the two tribunes were fantastic. Brutus kind of sneaky and Sicinia, scheming in her stiletto boots. Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger.

The play was well acted and I did enjoy it, very much, my only gripe was the staging. I thought the Donmar space was a bit small, especially in the first half. It felt overcrowded and when the actors were not performing they were sitting on seats at the back. That distracted me a little. I don’t think that would have been the case if I had been in the actual theatre audience. The second half was much better and the stage came into it’s own, when the scenes were more intimate.

I love these live staging’s at the cinema, from the National Theatre. They are brilliantly done and well presented by the wonderful Emma Freud. She was so funny and had all the ladies in the theatre and the cinema giggling away, at her Tom Hiddleston remarks. Shameless! I love all the build up to it on Twitter and the knowledge that some off my friends are watching it in different cinemas all over the place. Next up for me, is King Lear on the first of May. With Simon Russell Beale and directed by Sam Mendes. Simon Schama, on twitter said, Do whatever has to be done to see this Lear. There will never be a better one in your lifetime. I’ll have to settle for the cinema live broadcast but. I can’t wait.

Lyrics and Literature

Last weekend I Bought the new Bruce Springsteen CD, High Hopes. I think it is a fantastic piece of work, I’m unashamedly biased, like any other Springsteen fan, I claim he saved my life, when I was in a dark, melodramatic place! One of the tracks on the CD is a reworking of: The Ghost of Tom Joad from a previous album of the same name.

Tom Joad. He is the main character from, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. He is the oldest son of the Joad family. When the family are pushed of their lad and head to California, Tom falls foul of the authorities and decides to leave his family and try to make a stand against injustice. He tells his Ma, in a sad goodbye, to look for him in the eyes of those people, who are being beating, or pushed around.

Springsteen says it this way:

Now Tom said “Ma, wherever there’s cop beating a guy

Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries

Where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air

Look for me Ma and I’ll be there

Wherever somebody’s fightin’ for a place to stand

Or a decent job or a helping had

Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free  

Look in their eyes Ma and you’ll see me.”

I think that is a brilliant piece of writing, with such a powerful message, influenced by an amazing and powerful book. In my younger days, I never used to bother too much about lyrics in a song, as long as it was loud and had a good beat; obviously I paid attention to the words in a story, to a certain existent.  Now days, after reading Shakespeare’s plays and Sonnets I’ve become more interested in words and try to look for the deeper meaning.

Another great and uplifting piece of music and lyric based on The Grapes of Wrath, is Kris Kristofferson’s:  Here Comes That Rainbow Again

The scene was a small roadside cafe,
The waitress was sweeping the floor.
Two truck drivers drinking their coffee.
And two Okie kids by the door.
“How much are them candies?” they asked her.
“How much have you got?” she replied.
“We’ve only a penny between us.”
“Them’s two for a penny,” she lied.

And the daylight grew heavy with thunder,
With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain’t it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

One truck driver called to the waitress,
After the kids went outside.
“Them candies ain’t two for a penny.”
“So what’s it to you?” she replied.
In silence they finished their coffee,
And got up and nodded goodbye.
She called: “Hey, you left too much money!”
“So what’s it to you?” they replied.

And the daylight was heavy with thunder,
With the smell of the rain on the wind.
Ain’t it just like a human.
Here comes that rainbow again.

That is just lovely, sometimes has me in tears, especially when I know some truck drivers wouldn’t give a damn. I hope those two artists don’t mind me using their lyrics, I have bought loads of their albums, over many years and if they put me in jail, I’ll not be able to buy any more.

I am sure there are a lot more songs influenced by books, there are a million films that are. Books mean so much to us all, be it in pop culture or more classical culture. My reading just now. Well, I have just finished a fantastic book: The Girl with the Painted Face by Gabrielle Kimm. I think it would make a great film, maybe even a musical. I am now reading: The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox. All of her books are very gothic and mystical. Victorian mysteries! They would be great Sunday night TV viewing, like Sherlock. My Shakespeare reading… well, I finished reading Antony and Cleopatra and I am now re-reading Coriolanus. All his work can make a great song or movie. Better still, a Great Play.

Coriolanus MMXIV and T. S. Eliot

It’s the new year, so here’s a new post. Coriolanus is on the way, live at my local cinema on the 30th of January. Being filmed from the Donmar warehouse in London. Courtesy of the National Theatre. I did toy with the idea of going down to London and seeing it live, it sold out so fast, I had no chance. There seems to be a whole lot of excitement surrounding this production. Probably because Tom Hiddleston himself, is playing Coriolanus.

I used to think I was the only champion of Coriolanus, thought that nobody else loved it bar me. Then came the film version with Ralph Fiennes, excellent and now this one, which I am so looking forward to. If you have read my blog before, you’ll probably know already, what this play means to me.

Within the first few scenes, I was captivated. In my head, I could see the Roman villas, with the torchlight shining through the windows. The Ancient city of Rome, three hundred years before Julius Cesar. I wonder if I should be thinking of it that way. Maybe I should be picturing it on stage at the Globe or the Swan theatre. All the plays, to be fair, have that affect on me. Yes, just sitting here writing this post and thinking about them, they definitely do. It’s probably to do with the fact, I read the plays first, before seeing them on the stage. I think I must have a cinematic view of them. I’m afraid I can’t do anything about that, it is just the way I see them.

Coriolanus is a very arrogant character, he is a warrior General and hero of Rome after all. I love his first scene….

After Menenius has a conversation with some of the citizens, who are up in arms, because there is a grain shortage and they suspect Caius Martius of taking the grain away from them.

Enter Caius Martius.

Hail, noble Martius!

Martius                                                                                                               Thanks. What’s the matter, you dissentious rogues,
That, rubbing the poor itch of your opinion,
Make yourselves scabs?

2nd Citizen We have ever your good word.

Martius
He that will give good words to thee will flatter
Beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs,
That like nor peace nor war?

It goes on, not a long speech. I don’t think he has many long speeches or soliloquies. But I love the way he has a real go at all the citizens. In the film version with Ralph Fiennes, he spits and hisses the words at the plebeians.
Another Shakespeare, masterpiece.

While researching this post and I hope it wasn’t cheating, looking on Wikipedia for my research. I found a lovely reference to Coriolanus from T. S. Eliot. He wrote a two part poem “Coriolan” ( an alternative spelling of Coriolanus ) I will have to find it. In The Sacred Wood, he says, “Along with Antony and Cleopatra, are the Bard’s greatest tragic achievement.” I have only read Eliot’s book of poems about the cats, read it to the boys when they were small and we loved them all.

If part of my journey has led me to read more T. S. Eliot, then that is a route I’m sure I will enjoy. I found out he wrote a long Poem in 1922 called: The Waste Land, in which he wrote “Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus.” Fantastic! I wonder what the rest of it is like. I will let you know, just ordered it from Amazon and if I like it, I’ll try The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism. Eliot, also proclaimed Coriolanus superior to Hamlet. I agree and in small voice, I would proclaim, if you can proclaim in a small voice and I know it is only my opinion. Coriolanus, is Shakespeare’s Finest Play.