My Mind’s A Blank Page

Books, Film

So, the tingle. It doesn’t happen very often – less and less these days, if I’m honest, but occasionally I still get the tingle, a prickling of the senses that comes from reading, hearing or seeing something entirely unexpected.

It happened when I read ‘Less’ by Andrew Sean Greer and again with Edward St Auban’s earlier books. The curse of British writing is that it’s too often locked into class. ‘Shuggie Bain’ was wonderfully involving writing, married to a familiar grim tale.

I had the same problem with Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Belfast’; a prettified film telling an over-familiar, over-saccharine story. This may have something to do with having lived through the grim times covered by certain period books and films and remembering that it wasn’t like that.

I much preferred the 1920s-set ‘Passing’, from director Rebecca Hall. Irene (Tessa Thompson) bumps into her old school friend Clare (Ruth Negga), now married and passing for white in uptown New York. Irene stayed close to her Harlem roots and married a black doctor, while Clare recreated herself as a platinum blonde and married a white racist.

A limited budget plays to the film’s strengths and allows us to focus on a drama of the two women faced with slipping identities. Particularly, Negga’s subtle shift of moods prove riveting and heartbreaking. Both women recognise their need for change, but where Irene is wary, Clare jumps in impulsively. The film preserves the ambivalent ending of the novel.

‘The Magic Box’ purports to be a history of British postwar television, but it’s more a quirky personal memoir of growing up in front of the goggle box. No matter; Rob Young’s memories marry with mine and his skewed tastes, which veer toward science fiction, fringe productions and original one-off dramas, are pitch-perfect. Sometimes I felt he could have pushed the connections he makes further, but it’s still an addictive read.

I gave up on ‘The Oxford Brotherhood’ from Guillermo Martinez, the author of ‘The Oxford Murders’, which made a rather good film. This time the usually excellent Alberto Manguel is behind the wheel on translation, and it’s surprisingly old-fashioned and clunky. Another thriller built around the Reverend Dodgson’s ‘secret’ diaries – really? The ending isn’t what you’d expect but neither is it satisfying.

I’m trying again with ‘Under The Volcano’. Let me leave that there. Peter Ackroyd has written an updated, readable ‘Morte D’Arthur’ but it’s rather characterless, which Arthurian legends should never be. Perhaps he’s producing too many books.

I was hoping to review Leonie Orton’s ‘I Had It In Me’ today but it arrived with half the pages blank, which has never happened to me before, especially from a small press house. If I can get hold of a complete copy I’ll cover it here. Although in its blank state it more accurately represents my mind today.

I’m on the well/sick rollercoaster at the moment and desperately trying to finish a fiendish edit. As I can’t go out, I’m afraid I may have to simply chat with you for a while.




13 comments on “My Mind’s A Blank Page”

  1. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Send a contribution to Quirky Press (good name, under the circumstances) and chances are you’ll get the missing pages. New marketing ploy obviously being tested to show the true value of a book, that is — the ‘you get what you pay for’ strategy. Want more content ? Pay more.

  2. Helen+Martin says:

    Chat away, Chris. I know it’s lauded, but there’s nothing says you have to read Under the Volcano. I still haven’t finished Gormenghast, although I enjoyed War and Peace. A lot of it has to do with your internal self. I refused to read Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, although I’m not sure why I took against the latter. Translation issues can certainly affect a reader’s reaction.
    I didn’t think that pronouns could indicate class until I discovered that the use of “one” as a third person (is it?) indefinite said that the speaker was sniffy nosed and thought poorly of the person addressed. When did we lose that indefinite neutral pronoun? It’s very useful.
    Hope the rollercoaster is flattening somewhat in a positive direction.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    While I (and I’m certain the others) would rather see you out and about, assuming the ‘down’ part of that ‘roller coaster’ is only a momentary drop, you might start with what that ‘fiendish’ edit is all about ? Then mayhap on to the Oscar nominations which are scheduled to be out tomorrow (8 Feb). Moving along: how, where once you despaired of it ever seeing the light of day — you convinced a publisher to take on your short story collection. Blackmail ? A well-timed and sufficient backhander ? The wonderfulness of the stories ? Do tell.

  4. Jo W says:

    Good morning Chris, hope you’re on the up today?
    That book makes for a quick read and looks a lot like a biography of my life. Keep going. 😉

  5. Paul+C says:

    Thanks for recommending The Magic Box – I’ll try that one.

    The last tingle I had was reading Chasing the Last Laugh by Richard Zacks – an uproarious account of Mark Twain’s bankruptcy in the 1890s and his 5 year worldwide speaking tour to pay off his crippling debts. Sheer delight. Amazing to think the most popular global entertainer of the age was a writer…..

    Hope you’re feeling stronger today. The more posts the better !

  6. Jo+e says:

    I think you have been sent the author’s version. You are supposed to fill in the missing pages and send it back.

  7. John Griffin says:

    You can get a sort-of ‘tingle’ from non-fiction too. “Sentient” by Jackie Higgins, despite its media popularity, has such moments of ‘wow’ revelation in it, especially the chapter about dogs and smell – not what you think. “Into Great Silence” by Eva Saulitis packs an emotional punch about the loss of our natural world. “The Great Billy Butlin Race” by Robin Richards is a flawed but interesting read with an evocative first chapter that throws you back into a lost world of post-war Britain – and would make a great scenario for a retro B&M.

  8. Peter T says:

    Blank pages could be a cunning ploy to see if anyone actually reads the book. For reviewers, well, there’s a long history of journalists reporting on events of which they know ony a couple of facts. For normal ‘readers,’ it’s a great opportunity for publishers to save money. Do judge a book by it’s cover.

  9. Peter T says:

    Yikes, its. Hate autocorrect.

  10. Paul+C says:

    Len Shackleton’s 1950s autobiography The Clown Prince of Soccer contains a famous blank page entitled The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football. Amazing player who played one-twos off corner flags, sat on the ball during games to goad opponents and even scored a penalty with a backheel.

  11. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Paul+C Paul: Careful. Another mention of football and CF will hand you at least a yellow, if not send you off.

  12. admin says:

    Thanks John – some terrific recommendations.

  13. Alan R says:

    Getting the tingle, even occasionally, should not be underappreciated.

    Maybe reading too much over the years has gradually dulled my senses and left me tingleless. I can admit to remembering a massive surprise tingle, many years ago, that made me put my book down and slip under the bed cover. It was no great literary work. It was Steven King’s “Pets Cemetary”. I reread the book much later and did not get the tingle. Puzzling. Just one of those nights I guess.

    I can also remember a bit of a tingle while reading “Spanky”. Thank you for that Martyn. Worth reading again in hope?

    Something also happened in 1966 that was tingle worthy but my memory fails me.

    I have noted some of the books recommended here and will try them in an attempt to rediscover a tingle. Thank you all. Any tingle would do really.

    Chris, may your “sicks” be fewer and your “wells” be many. And may your tingles become more abundant. Looking forward to your new books.

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