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“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”

This week, I went to see Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, which was produced by the Everyman Theatre Company with Michael Twomey directing.  It was an enjoyable play.

The only work by Wilde I am familiar with is The Portrait of Dorian GrayLady Windermere’s Fan is set in the same 19th-century London society and it was great to see it in action.  Wilde’s play can be seen as a critique of this society who is highly concerned with class and keeping up the appearances and whose favourite pastime is gossip.

“although they never talk scandal, they – well, of course - they remark on it to everyone”

Everybody in London assumes that Lord Windermere is having an affair with Mrs Erlynne, except his own wife.  On her birthday, the affair is revealed to her.  Despite her disbelief, Lady Windermere is forced to face this fact when she discovers that her husband has given large sums of money to Mrs Erlynne.  As Lord Windermere invites Mrs Erlynne to Lady Windermere’s birthday party, Lady Windermere decides to run away with Lord Darlington, her fervent admirer.  However, she is stopped by Mrs Erlynne, whose past is a secret Lord Windermere wants to hide from his wife.  Although Lady Windermere never learns this secret, she is convinced by Mrs Erlynne of her husband’s innocence.  Most importantly, she discovers that the world is not divided between good and bad people.

Although the beginning was a bit slow, everything contributed to a plot that was intriguing.  There were many twists and not a minute of boredom.  Many moments in the play were hilarious, such as when the Duchess (Ronnie O’Shaughnessy) reveals the affair to Lady Windermere (Rose Donovan) and begins rambling about men:

 “And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.”

One of my favourite moments was in act three, when the five men wittingly discuss women and their society.  It was full of repartee and humour and was particularly well acted.

“Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. Now, I never moralise. A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I’m glad to say.”

The play reflects on issues such as love and marriage, good and bad, vanity and pleasure.  Lady Windermere, who is the epitome of innocence at the beginning of the play, discovers that you cannot divide the world between good and bad people, that there is a bit of both in each of us.

I thought the acting was good.  Vanessa Hyde was particularly impressive in the role of Mrs Erlynne.  I also enjoyed the performance of Caroline Murphy.  She plays a minor role as Lady Agatha and does not speak many lines, but her attitude as the Duchess’ docile daughter was well enacted.

Overall, it was an entertaining evening.

The two stories I have chosen to review today are the first stories of James Joyce’s collection, Dubliners: “The Sisters” and “An Encounter”.  For those of you familiar with this collection, you will know that the collection is a short story cycle and has a clear structure.  The first three stories revolve around childhood, the next four are concerned with adolescence and young adulthood, the next four are stories of maturity, the next three are focused on public life and finally there is one more story, breaking the symmetry, The Dead, famous for its moment of epiphany.

“The Sisters” and “An Encounter” are stories of childhood, each narrated in the first person by a boy, whose perspective on the world (a world in which he does not grasp and understand everything) and those around him is thus conveyed.  As the title of the collection reveals, the stories are about Dubliners, and indeed each story is clearly located in the Irish capital, giving details of street names and such.  They both reflect Irish society at the beginning of the twentieth century, making comments on religion and education for instance.  However, they are also stories about people and each story is focused, through the boy’s eyes, on a particular, or shall I say peculiar, character: a priest in the former and a pervert in the latter.

In “The Sisters”, the narrator tells us about the death of his friend, Father Flynn.  However, there is an atmosphere of mystery around this character.  Nothing is clearly stated and the story works through suggestion, leaving the reader free to imagine.  For instance, old Cotter suggests that the priest might be a bad influence on children, yet never really says why.  During the wake, the priest’s two sisters also reveal that since Father Flynn had broken a chalice (although an altar boy is blamed for that) he had never been the same and they seem to imply that he had lost his mind.  However, nothing is at any point clearly explained. 

The narrator of “An Encounter” relates that day he and his friend skipped school to go playing the “Wild West”.  We thus follow their adventures on that day.  The central event of the day is their encounter with a peculiar character, with a “strangely liberal” attitude, who sits with them and discusses school, books and sweethearts.  At one stage, the man absents himself and moves further in the field.  When one of the boy looks at him, he exclaims “Look what he’s doing! . . . He’s a queer old josser!”.  However, we are never told what they actually saw the man doing, but when he comes back the conversation turns to whipping.  Disturbing, no?

These stories are well-written, but some references or idioms can be a bit difficult and necessitate to consult the notes (provided by my edition).  It is the second time I am reading this collection and I think I am able to appreciate the stories better now.  Although the first time was about eight years ago, the stories had left a strong impression on me, particularly “An Encounter”.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

From now on, every Monday I will join John at The Book Mine Set and others for “Short Story Monday” and will try to post a short-story review or a thought on the short-story genre.

For this first post, I have chosen a story by Alison Moore, “When the Door Closed, It Was Dark”.  But first, let me tell you a few words about this chapbook.  It is published by Nightjar, a small press in Manchester.  Every six months, Nightjar Press publishes two chapbooks.  There are only 200 or 300 copies of each title and all are numbered and signed by the author.  You can order them by contacting Nicholas Royle; a nice way to support a small press dedicated to the short story.

This story is set in a hot stuffy summer, which helps to create the suffocating atmosphere of the story.  It made me feel really uncomfortable, which I guess is a sign of how successful the writing is.  As the story progresses, it gets creepier and at no time do we get any relief.

Tina is a young woman from England.  She has just arrived to some foreign country to work as an au pair for a family in mourning composed of the baby, Father, Uncle and Grandmother, who live in a flat reached by a steep outside staircase.  Her difficulties to integrate the family are worsened by the fact that they have made sure there is no way of escape for her, taking her money and passport away from her.  Tina is thus estranged from the family but also cut away from her own family and country, thus increasing the claustrophobia already present because “when the door closed, it was dark”. 

At some point, Tina muses: “She recalled reading somewhere that if a woman is carrying a cup of tea down the stairs and falls, she won’t drop the cup because she will think it’s a baby”; indeed…

The end of the story brings you back to its beginning.  The story remains open-ended; yet, there are just enough clues through the narrative to allow the reader to come to some interpretation, though not to a closure.  As soon as I finished the story, I wanted to read it again in order to appreciate all the significance present in each carefully-chosen word.  This, I believe, shows how well crafted this story is.

I have just finished reading Larry’s Party by Carol Shields.  I had previously read Unless by the same author and had enjoyed it, despite finding it a bit lengthy at times.  The same can be said of Larry’s Party.  It is not so much that it is lengthy, but that it is sometimes repetitive because of its structure.  The book is indeed divided into autonomous chapters which are connected to a particular year in Larry’s life.  Each chapter could actually stand on its own and make a short story since it does not seem necessary to have read the whole book to appreciate each chapter.  The chapters are also written like short stories: they do not relate the year but only an aspect of it; they are therefore suggestive and evocative.  However, this chapter autonomy also means that some information is constantly repeated, which can get a little annoying.

Through these various chapters, ranging from 1977 to 1997, we get a picture of Larry’s life, his emotions and how he has evolved with his society.  Larry having been married twice, with women of a different age, means that we can observe the evolution of gender relationships.  This theme actually occupies an important place in the final chapter, when the party of the title takes place and the guests are found discussing the position of men and women in society:

‘Being a man at this moment of history means -’
. . .
‘Well, we’re certainly no longer providers and guardians.  That went years ago.’
. . .
‘And hunting and fishing? – forget it.  Women sneer when men talk about hunting and fishing.’
. . .
‘A man these days is no more than an infrastructure for a penis and a set of testicles.’
‘That’s not true!  Tell me it’s not true.’
‘That’s all that’s required of us.  Our bodies are just walking, talking envelopes designed to contain our paltry store of genetic tissue.’
. . .
‘Being a man in 1997 means walking on eggshells.  I don’t dare tell a woman that she looks nice anymore.  That I like the color of her dress or the way she’s changed her hair.  They’d have me up for sexual harassment.’
. . .
‘My point is that we – both men and women – ought to cherish this period of confusion.  Our present period of discomfiture – well, it’s a great and ecstatic gift.  We’ve had 5000 centuries of perfect phallic clarity.  Everyone knew the script.  Men buttoned themselves into their power costumes -’
‘But at least we all knew who we were and what was allowed.’

Overall, I enjoyed this read and would definitely recommend the book.  Carol Shields writes with elegance and simplicity about the ordinary; yet, her writing is powerful and raises contemporary issues.

The reason why I picked up this book is that it was recommended to me by a person who is planning to adapt the final chapter, the party, as a play.  I think it is going to work really well.  I can’t wait!

P.S.: I have just joined the 4th Canadian Book Challenge hosted by John Mulford at The Book Mine Set and this is my first review for the challenge.  You can follow my progress on the “Book Challenges” page I have created for the occasion.

Since I finished my exams, I have been reading a lot; mostlylight books to start the summer easily. I’ve come across Peter Mayle’s book, A Year in Provence, and I really enjoyed it. It is not a major book, but a very entertaining one.

As the title states, the book is about the author’s first year in Provence. It is nicely written and one is easily absorbed by it. At first, I was afraid the book would be all about food, describing meals in details. However, this is not the case, it does mention food, but it is nicely balanced with other aspects of rural life in Provence. What I mostly liked about it was how Peter Mayle managed to create an atmosphere, I could even feel the sun shine! It is full of local colour: the markets, the food, the wine, and people from the region. If you fancy a delightful light read, that’s the book for you!

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

That’s how Calvino’s novel starts, addressing you, the reader. The first chapter describes the preparation before starting the book and describes the reader’s anticipation at reading it. It’s not until the end of the first chapter that you, and ‘you’, actually start reading If on a winter’s night a traveller. However, after a few pages, your reading of the novel is interrupted because of defective printing. You are then back to the original narrative to see ‘you’ going to the bookshop to get a replacement copy. There, ‘you’ meets Ludmilla, another reader to whom the same problem has happened. The whole novel keeps alternating between the original narrative and books-within-the-book, which are interrupted for one reason or another. There are a multitude of plots, but the central one is a love story between the two readers, and between them and books. It is a self-reflexive narrative that considers the process of reading, writing, and translating. It is confusing, but certainly most enjoyable. I loved it and would definitely recommend it!

Last night, a friend took me out for dinner to celebrate the end of my degree. I hadn’t been to a restaurant for ages (work excluded!), and I had been looking forward to do my first mini-review on this blog. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera with me! Anyway, I decided to go ahead, but there won’t be any photos for you, sorry!

As it wasn’t planned, we decided to go somewhere close, there are only three restaurants, which include a Chinese, in Cloyne. We picked up Harty’s for its choice of fish: gratin of cod, poached monkfish, pan-fried plaice, pan-fried black sole, and raywing. Cloyne being only a few kilometers from the fishing village of Ballycotton, the chances are the fish is fresh!

The restaurant itself is quite big. It is a long and wide room with a few windows on the side. A couch is sitting at the entrance across from the desk and there’s a fire (fake) at the end of the room. The room is quite rural, unfortunately it looks empty. The walls, painted white and dark red, are bare except for a couple of paintings and some mirrors - too many; the room is big enough as it is! There are a few nice pieces of furniture, but there are empty, why not put some books on the shelves for instance? As a result, the room lacks atmosphere and intimacy, it could be much more cosy with only a few changes. And why, oh why, those white table cloths? I hate them, and they seem to be everywhere around here! It seems to be saying: ‘Look! we have table cloths, we are a high standard restaurant’!

Foodwise, it was good, nothing too fancy, and the prices were reasonable-ish. For starter, I had Shanagarry smoked salmon served with a salad (green leaves, tomatoes, and the usual pickle cucumbers, they seem quite popular around here also!) and a chive crème fraiche. I must say, as smoked salmon goes, it was very tasty. For main course, my friend ordered the poached monkfish with a red pepper sauce, and I ordered the pan-fried black sole with a herb butter sauce. We were both a bit disappointed. His sauce was actually the same as mine with a couple of red pepper dice, and my sole was breaded and a tiny bit over-cooked. However, it was still tasty. Both were served with a selection of veg: carrots, broccoli, and mash. I skipped on the dessert, but my friend had a warm apple sponge cake, which was quite nice.

The wine list was extensive enough for a village restaurant, and there was a bit of variety. I only had a glass of the house wine, French, and it was quite decent for a house wine, fresh and crispy.

The restaurant was quiet enough, and there was only one waitress, but she gave us an excellent service. The only major irritation was that we were under the speakers that churned out the same album three times in a row, and it wasn’t the best choice of music for us, it was like a wedding gig rather than restaurant music…

Overall, it was good but not impressive. I would go back because I live close, but wouldn’t go out of my way for it. It wasn’t that cheap that you could say ‘let’s go for some good value grub at Harty’s!’.

 

I reread ‘The Little Prince’ last night. Actually no, it was the first time I was reading the translation. My grandmother used to read this story to me when I was a kid and I reread it a few times when growing up. I happened to come across a copy of it in English a few weeks ago, and thought ‘why not, it’s been a long time I haven’t read it’. Although I try to avoid translations as much as possible, I still enjoyed the read.

It hasn’t lost any of its freshness and childish innocence. However, behind the light tale are serious concerns. ‘Le Petit Prince’ points to the absurdity of human life. It shows how by growing up as adults, we have lost sight of what’s really important in life. We have become too serious, individualistic, and are unable to reach true happiness. ‘Le Petit Prince’ warns us about the dangers of forgetting how to love with the heart rather than with the eyes, and reminds us how to give a sense to our lives. As the fox says:

“On ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux” (“It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly. What is essential is invisible to the eyes”)

I think this book should be on every bookshelf, it is definitely a beautiful tale of love.

Last night, I went to see a production of Beckett’s ‘First Love’ by the Gare St Lazare Players at the Half Moon in Cork. I couldn’t miss that! It was the first time I ever saw something by Beckett on stage, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was brilliant!

In a few words, the story is that of a man who, after his father’s death, is thrown out of home and meets a woman on a bench (his new home). He becomes obsessed by her, a feeling he associates with love. After a few encounters on the bench, he moves into the spare room where she lives. After one night of sex, he keeps living there, enduring the noise from the clients she receives in rotation. Finally, he abandons her on the day of the birth of their child because he cannot stand the cries, these have kept haunting him to this day.

It wasn’t a play per se, but rather a recitation of the short story, ‘First Love’. I did read it before, but the performance by Conor Lovett gave it a completely different dimension. First of all, there was the man, Conor Lovett, with a physical appearance worthy of a Beckett character. He had an impressive presence on stage and managed to give life to words. Reading the story, I might have smiled, but last night, I laughed! Many would consider Beckett’s writings as pessimistic, I think they are just realist and pragmatic. Death is a certainty, the only one we have, and life is just, well, time spent waiting for death. Now, Beckett’s vision of that waiting for death might seem bleak to some, but I personally find it quite funny. It is definitely ‘food for thought’, if nothing else. Beckett’s characters do not seem too bothered by the apparent insignificance of their life, and his humour highlights that we might take it all a bit too seriously!

“The smell of corpses, distinctly perceptible under those of grass and humus mingled, I do not find unpleasant, a trifle on the sweet side perhaps, a trifle heady, but how infinitely preferable to what the living emit, their feet, teeth, armpits, arse, sticky foreskins and frustrated ovules.” (Beckett, ‘First Love’)

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