Just goes to show. My reading matter tends to be eclectic and all over the place and a recent read just happened to be Lit'rachur. A.S.Byatt's "The Children's Book".
Here's what sold me on this when I first picked it up - from the back matter:
"When children's book author Olive Wellwod's oldest son discovers a runaway named Philip sketching in the basement of a museum, she takes him into the storybook world of her family and friends. But the joyful bachhanals Olive hosts at her rambling country house - and the separate, private books she writes for each of her seven children - conceal more treachery and darkness than Philip had ever imagined. The Wellwoods' personal struggle and hidden desires unravel against a breathtaking backdrop of the cliff-lined shores of England to paris, Munich, and the trenches of the Somme, as the Edwardian period dissolves into World War I and Europe's Golden Era comes to an end."
It was a scenario no writer could be left unmoved by. The world of a children's writer? Who writes secret books for her children? In the Belle Epoque?
It isn't... quite... what it intimates to be. It isn't really about Philip - or not ONLY about Philip, anyway, and his presence seems almost incidental on the fraught and fractured family of the Wellwoods themselves. It is also not an easy book to love, given the fact that Byatt has an irredeemably academic background (I went to an interview with her once, in London, and she had Ivory Tower all over her...)and that a lot of this book consists of a social history of the times, with plenty of name-dropping and events which take place at locations and times which seem to have been chosen for the purpose of illustrating a larger point rather than being organic backdrops to the "family" story. In fact, my book-devouring mother who usually loves big complex books like this could simply not get into it at all.
But I did.
Perhaps, partly, it was the writerly aspects to it, and I got caught up in Olive's imagination, and her children's stories, and the way all that played out - and the way family tangles got more and more twisted as the book wore on. But even had I wanted to drop it halfway through because it was impenetrable (which it wasn't, not really, but it certainly isn't a book for everybody, and if you're looking for a "light read" this is NOT IT...)there was one fatal lantern burning at the end of it which drew this poor little reader-moth in until I not only did not drop the book but instead found myself sitting in my armchair for hours, one day, until the moment I had turned the last page... and I was, by then, in tears.
The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War, has always had a peculiar and potent effect on me. If you believed in reincarnation I could tell you that it was quite possible that I was once some poor innocent cannon-fodder boy who died in the mud and the poison of the Somme and the Passchendaele trench-fields - because I cannot read about that time, those places, without feeling my soul being shredded by it, by the very fact that it existed at all, that so many died for so little that was, in the long view of history, so bitterly unimportant. And so when Byatt wound her story up during the grey days of that war, telling almost dispassionately the grim fates that had befallen most of the characters with whom we stuck while they were growing up and becoming human beings throughout most of the rest of this book, I found myself sitting in my comfortable armchair, clutching the book with both hands, tears running down my cheeks, and the faintest improbable smell of mud and loss and fear and tragedy rank in the air around me.
I don't know that I would easily or lightly say that I "liked" this book. But it moved me, it moved me deeply to the roots of me, and that... is everything, in a piece of writing. The ability to reach in and shake you. To clutch at your heart. To break your mind, a little. To wound your spirit. And all of those things, this book did.
Here's what the author had to say about the book in an interview.
I'm not telling you that this was the best book I have ever read. I am not even telling you that it ONE of the best books I've ever read. I'm telling you... that it moved me. And that if you have the patience for it, if it can survive as a book and a piece of literature in a modern world where attention spans are ephemeral and few have the time or the passion to devote to a book like this, this is one to treasure.
It is one that *I* will treasure.
And that's all I have to say about that.
Today, we went to see "Rise of the Planet of the Apes".
If you haven't seen it, go see it. Now.
This one is a keeper.
It is an intelligent story, well acted (oh, the apes will break your heart), well directed, and all-around well done. It FEELS like it should be floss - I mean, really, PLANET OF THE APES? The original fluff scifi with the bare-chested Charlton Heston in his prime...? REALLY?!? - but this particular incarnation, in a rare case of a "prequel" being much better than the originals, is really something special. It battles with themes that range from identity to ethics to the question of soul, and it is MAGNIFICENT (even with a few "hommage" moments thrown in for good measure - like (I kid you not) the perfectly dropped in line of "Take your hands off me you damn dirty ape!"). It is a storyteller's story, and as a total traitor to my kind, I shamelessly rooted for the apes in the Battle on the Bridge (rdeck says, "but you were shamelessly manipulated into it!" - but don't get me wrong, he loved the whole thing too, and the "shameless manipulation" really doesn't stick out. You find yourself rooting for the "right" side of this fight even without being aware that there are sides, as such. The apes deserve it, the victory, and all that it holds. The humans... often, it's debatable.)
When this one comes out on DVD, I'm buying it. It's a keeper.
Go see it. Now. And don't forget to stay until the very very very end because otherwise you'll miss a very important coda - just HOW the planet came to belong to the apes. It's worth staying for. Trust me on this.
Just go see it. For the first time in a very long time we've walked out of a cinema feeling that the price of our tickets was money well spent. And let me just say one thing - the single scene where Caesar the chimp closes the eyes of his dead gorilla friend made me tear up harder than the ENTIRE last Harry Potter movie. There, I've said it. You can throw bananas at me now if you like. But this film... it has heart.
Go see it.
And now, tomorrow, back to the salt mines. I have work to do.