This Week’s Page Turners
I haven’t caught up with any graphic novels for a while, so I tried Albert Monteys and Ryan North’s adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse 5’. It was never a favourite novel of mine, an uneasy and peculiar mix of satire, war memoir, farce and science fiction, but this is a superbly realised project that captures the freewheeling strangeness of the original and actually improves it in places. The art is appealing and the script never puts a foot wrong.
I’m a fan of certain 1940s noir films but found the much-lauded ‘The Fade Out’ to be all fur coat and no knickers, I’m afraid. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ take on old Hollywood studio corruption is sumptuous and at times dazzling, especially in itsÂ atmospheric recreation of Los Angeles architecture and its scuzzyÂ nightlife, but the characters are hard to care about and the mystery is unsatisfying, turning the final fade out into aÂ fizzle. Why do writers get so seduced by Hollywood noir? Was it ever satisfying again after ‘Sunset Boulevard’? At least it all looks beautiful.
‘National Treasures’ by Caroline Shenton is about saving Britain’s art treasures in wartime. There had been a plan in place for nearly two decades before war broke out. Museums, galleries and galleries had come together to protect the nation’s most valuable artefacts, but covertly moving them to places of safety tested the mettle of everyone involved.
The Domesday Book had been hidden in Somerset and other priceless pieces had to be tucked away in country houses, mines and underground tunnels.Â Getting them there and keeping them from being bombed was the job of ordinary men and women working in the arts at an extraordinary time. Ms Shenton has uncovered some delightful untold human stories. I shall be repeating the packing crate story for months.
I’ve talked about ‘The Bloodless Boy’ here before. Robert J Lloyd is a fine, erudite storyteller, and his use of the real-life Robert Hooke as an investigator is inspired. Its setting in 1678, swooping about in a London overrun with assassins, plots and Catholic suspicions, is superbly realised, and there’s a sequel not far behind.
The world’s greatest architects took commissions but what did they really want to build? According to Philip Wilkinson’s ‘Phantom Architecture’, if left to themselves they came up with crystalline skyscrapers, robotic walking cities, pleasure pavilions, horizontal homes in the sky, supersized glass streets and the infamous Watkins Tower.
The need to construct on a massive scale seems common to most of these dreams – a spherical cenotaph bigger than the pyramids! Most super-tall buildings failed because of structural problems caused by wind load. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Illinois tower was planned to be a mile high but was doomed for a variety of factors. How would the enormous number of people using such buildings get there? How would they live? Today the Shard looks like a dumpy version of the Illinois, so we’ve a long way still to go.