Thursday, August 31, 2006
The basic drill is: if people like your hair, they say so. If they don't, they say nothing. This is fine and polite, and I'd much rather hear silence than, "I like your hair better longer," or "I liked your hair better before you got it cut." But the silence is deafening.
Being a normal American woman, I don't like my hair. Well, I don't mind it, really. But hair is like clothing to me: a necessary evil. The more comfort and the less fuss the better. I love my hair super short because it looks so neat and takes literally a minute to blow dry. My waves can't wave in funny directions. My bangs don't hang in my eyes. And I like the way it looks when I look in the mirror.
Looks can be deceiving, however, and so can our perceptions of ourselves. I think I get a truer perspective on myself outside the bathroom mirror, in a mirror at the gym, say, or a reflection in a window. When I catch a glimpse now, it hits me: man, my hair is short (and its corollary, I don't like my glasses).
Everyone says I look better with longer hair. So, what shall it be? Should the cut of my hair be what others dictate?
My opinion has always been that my hair is my business, so no, I shouldn't do anything with it because of what other people think. Besides, it's awfully short right now, but it will grow and look fuller soon. So, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, "Hey, you, get out of my hair!" Oops, I forgot, nobody's saying anything.
Monday, August 21, 2006
Daniel's father takes him to the Cemetery at 5 a.m. "Now?" Daniel asks. "Some things can only be seen in shadows," his father replies. The Cemetery itself is described as "a basilica of shadows." Daniel entered the cavernous building with awe and finds himself drawn to a book, as if by fate. The Shadow of the Wind, by Julian Carax.
Daniel devours The Shadow of the Wind in one night, he's so taken by the story. But we see that from the very start this book will mean more to him than words on a page when he almost immediately finds a scene from the book repeated in his own life. He steps out of the balcony in the small hours of the night and sees a man, gazing in his direction, with one hand in his jacket. In The Shadow of the Wind, it is the devil who strikes this very pose when the protagonist goes out on his balcony at night.
It turns out that Shadow is very rare. Julian Carax's books never sold much in the first place, but some mysterious man had been buying them up and burning them, it was rumored. The day of his 16th birthday, Daniel meets the devil he saw from his balcony. The man has a burned face, and he intimates he wants to buy The Shadow of the Wind from Daniel and burn it. This frightens Daniel, and he goes back to the Cemetery to hide the book once again.
The rest of the book follows Daniel as he unravels the story of Julian Carax and unwittingly begins to follow the same path as Carax himself. Woven in are the story of the effects of war, the changing fortunes of the rich, the nature of love and courage, and, most of all, fate. The shadows of the dead fall long upon the living, shaping their outlooks, moving them along the path of time.
This novel is rich, in both language and plot. It was translated from the original Spanish in a masterful fashion by Lucia Graves. The blurb on the front cover of the paperback edition quotes Stephen King saying, "One gorgeous read," and he's spot on. The story harkens back to 19th century literature, with its complicated plot twists and turns, the role of fate and social class. The language follows suit, being more often lyrical than straightforward, and at times almost flowery.
The main characters are wonderful, and some are truly characters, like Daniel’s friend and colleague Fermín. He is described a small, wiry man with a big nose and big ears, whose manner of speech outstrips his size. Opinionated on all things, especially the political, he gives Daniel advice in love, and moves the story forward where Daniel, left to his own devices, might have been more cautious.
Daniel himself, who is our narrator, is a sympathetic character. He is hard on himself yet self-aware. He thinks himself a coward but others see him as brave, and he keeps us guessing right up to the end as to which he really is.
Daniel's life is taken over by the life of Julian Carax, because that story had not ended by the time Daniel entered it. While being a story of love and fate, The Shadow of the Wind is essentially a mystery, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón reveals details slowly to Daniel, so the reader cannot know exactly where he is headed.
Zafón does a fine job in turning a complicated, old-fashioned story into a page turner, and Graves did it justice in her translation. The Shadow of the Wind is both a gorgeous read and a satisfying one, enjoyable from start to finish.
Cross posted to Blogcritics.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
Anyone familiar with Lipton's approach knows that he starts at the beginning of the person's life. He made quite a bit of the many names given to British males (James Hugh Calum Laurie is actually shorter than his father's and brother's names). Lipton also dwelt on Laurie's upper crust education, poking fun at some of the public school slang.
All that was probably just fine for Hugh, who got a big laugh from singing the rowing song Lipton had dug up for him, but I have to admit I was uncomfortable with much of what happened next. Laurie is obviously a great admirer of his father but had a distant relationship with his mother. Asked about his statement that he never shed a tear for his mother when she died, Hugh went on for quite a while trying to explain that it didn't mean he didn't mourn her or miss her. During this time he teared up and actually had to clear tears from the corners of his eyes. Thanks to James Lipton, Hugh Laurie has now shed a tear for his mother.
Lipton's questioning was likewise uncomfortable when he raised the issue of depression. Hugh admitted he had been depressed and had gone to "shrinks," which he found "extremely helpful." I've read that Laurie regrets ever having mentioned the fact once to a reporter, because the issue won't die.
For someone as shy and funny as Hugh Laurie, it must have been excruciating for him to have to go through such personal questioning in complete seriousness. (Whatever happened to acting? Aren't they supposed to talk about acting on Inside the Actors Studio?) He also had to endure many clips from his career, beginning with a 1981 clip of him and Stephen Fry, a very silly Blackadder sequence where he clucked like a chicken, and three or four clips from House. Hugh winces when he hears his own voice, I can only imagine what his face looked like during these sequences. The camera did catch one look of great chagrin.
After the difficult parts, Lipton mentioned the piano in the room. "I thought it was left over from a wedding," said Hugh, before he sauntered over and said, "Awww, it's locked, what a shame!" He then launched into his 1986 song "Mystery." Done with not quite the youthful vigor of the original version, he none-the-less had the pitch perfect timing and delivery which made it very funny. (If you want to see a comparison of the two versions, head over to YouTube.com).
The program included three questions from the audience. The first was one about the plot of House: who would Hugh Laurie like to see House have a relationship with, Cameron, Cuddy, or Wilson? I couldn't tell if Laurie was aware of the desires of House/Wilson "shippers" (relationship advocates) on the web, but he took the question in stride. "Robert [Sean Leonard] might have something to say about it...but, you know, I'm game," he replied.
Being a Hugh Laurie fan with access to the Internet, where very article ever written about him and clips of everything he's ever recorded are available for viewing, I didn't learn much new from his appearance on Inside the Actors studio. I was sorry to see him appear uncomfortable and see him pushed about his personal life. All that being said, man I wish I could have been there!
The writing is masterly, and the author's depth of understanding of the Scottish and Scotland, as well as New York City, are amazing. The structure of each section, a story in the present with flashbacks to the past, is interesting, and it worked well in the two novellas. The long middle section, though ... something didn't work with it there. The "contemporary" story was contentious and therefore somewhat tedious. The flashback story, of a character dying, was frustrating.
The main characters are well-drawn and believable. One of the interesting things about the unusual structure is that we get to see many characters from different people's points of view. Each section is told in the first person of a different character, but the cast is the same throughout (give or take deaths, births, and the introduction of a new narrator character in the final section.) Interesting as well, the first two sections are told by men, the last by a woman.
Three Junes won the National Book Award, and I can see why was I write about it, but it is not so satisfying a story as say, Jeffrey Eugenides ' Middlesex, was. Still, it could be that right now I am more interested in reading mythic stories like Harry Potter than realistic modern fiction .
My husband recognized Mr. Laurie right away and said, "It's Bertie Wooster!" I hadn't seen Jeeves and Wooster, the early 1990's Wodenhouse adaption for the Grenada TV that Laurie had starred in with his long-time collaborator Stephen Fry, so I ordered it up on Netflix. I was absolutely flummoxed by how different a character Bertie Wooster is from House. Bertie was standard stock for Laurie, though, who also starred in the Blackadder series. Jeeves and Wooster is quite a delightful show, and I’m happy that seeing House prompted me to see it.
Seeing House also prompted me to learn a lot about Hugh Laurie. There are great web sites with all sorts of pictures and articles, most of which I have now read. I feel I know as much about him as one can about a celebrity.
The more I find out about him, the more I like him. I think he's a fine actor; he's great as House, and his comedy work is brilliant. But given all that, I like him even better as a person than as actor. As one of the articles says, he is one of life's good guys. He's smart, funny, and modest, and he comes across as real human being who fell into acting, rather than the ego-maniac model of star we are used to here on this side of the pond.
It also sounds like he is very hard on himself, though, which makes me a little sad. He is self-deprecating to a fault, downplays his considerable talents (musical as well as theatrical), refers to himself as not being very bright. According to reports from the set of House, he's despondent every day because he believes he hasn’t done a good enough job. He's had some issues with depression (sorry Hugh! I know you don’t like it being made a big deal of). He seems to be a tortured soul.
Must that be, must one be a tortured soul, in order for someone to be nice? First I must explain what I mean by nice, since to some people that’s not a compliment. What I mean is being kind, gentle, and thoughtful of others, rather than being bland or mediocre. From what I can gather, this description fits Mr. Laurie to a tee. (Not to mention he's very funny.)
To answer my own question, I don’t think being a tortured soul is required for being a nice person. It doesn't necessarily follow that nice people browbeat themselves regularly. And many people who browbeat themselves do the same to others, and therefore cannot be considered nice by my definition.
So what is it about Hught Laurie? The Australian paper The Age attributes it partly to his being English, in that it is very English to be modest about one’s accomplishments. But Mr. Laurie almost seems a little out of touch with reality when it comes to himself. Perhaps something he told the reporter for The Age sheds some light. "I don't want to think I may be doing something right. I'm too scared to admit the possibility of that. Because then the game is over. Isn't it?"
Hmm, the game is over if you think you're doing something right. Interesting. It could be the thrill of the hunt, or the enjoying journey rather than the destination. But it doesn't sound like he enjoys the journey. He's just afraid it won't continue if he lets down his guard (maybe God will notice and exact retribution?). So he doesn't. Last I heard he was still putting off buying real estate because it's a sign of permanence and refusing to admit House is a hit. "I'm superstitious," he says. No kidding.
I'm sure it would be much to his chagrin to hear it, but I think Mr. Laurie’s "affliction," if I may call it that, is touching and makes him more attractive. (Of course he thinks he’s not good looking.) It’s not that he's unattainable, he's inconsolable. He’s not rationalizing bad behavior, he's dismissing his own good qualities. It makes you want to soothe him because he doesn’t deserve such criticism. People behaving badly need to be told to stop. People behaving well or doing good work should be complimented. Mr. Laurie, doing such good work, should be allowed to enjoy his accomplishments. But he doesn't; it seems it's not in his makeup.
Aimee Mann’s song "Beautiful" comes to mind. In it, a woman is talking to a man she has broken up with but still loves, and she laments, "You're beautiful... I wish you could see it, too, baby, how I see you."
And that’s what I wish for Hugh Laurie. That he could see himself as we see him, if only just a little bit.
Even though it was published six years ago, I just finished Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies. This debut collection of short stories is nothing less than a work of art, and Ms. Lahiri won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Literature, and other prizes as well, for good reason. I have her novel, The Namesake, waiting in my pile of books to read, and I am truly glad.
The range of characters is interesting and quite far-ranging: a young American boy, a middle-aged man giving tours in India, a young American woman. All the stories involve Indian immigrants or their children and take place mostly in the U.S. – Boston is a favored locale – although some stories are also set in India, notably the title story, “Interpreter of Maladies.” I loved this story, of a middle-aged Indian man who accompanies tourists to local sites on the weekends. During the week, he interprets for a medical doctor, hence he is an interpreter of maladies. But he also interprets the psychic and moral malady of the young American mother, herself a daughter of Indian immigrants, he has taken on a tour. He finds himself attracted to her and thinks perhaps she feels the same when she remains in the car instead of accompanying her family at one spot. But instead she makes a confession and seems to seek absolution; the man cannot help but tell her the truth as he sees it, which far from absolves her, and upon hearing it, she jumps out of the car.
Ms. Lahiri is also a truth-teller and interpreter of maladies, those of immigrants to America from the Indian continent and their children, the first generation of Americans. Her characters feel completely real, and her prose is beautiful but not overwrought, being incredibly evocative without calling attention to itself. And her stories work in layers, just as the title of the book both comes for a story and tells us part of the author’s story. It is a clear-eyed portrayal of life as these people experience it. Although the characters always run into difficulty (where is the story if there is no conflict, after all?), the author is never melodramatic.
Interpreter of Maladies is a work to be admired, savored, and enjoyed, and should take its place among the best of American literature. It is an important to work have there, because it interprets for us the world of one of our latest immigrant populations.
Cross-posted to Blogcritics.org.