Thursday, 29 March 2012

'The Darling Buds Of May' by H. E. Bates (Audio book read by Bruce Montague)

This gentle classic of the Larkin family is a perfect summer read with eloquent descriptions of the beauty of nature, the countryside and the people who inhabit it. It's an humorous read and one that makes the reader long for the kind of life in the kind of summer that the book describes.
It makes one yearn for a 'simpler' time such as one experiences in youth and it's no wonder the television series adapted from Bates' books was perfect Sunday night fare.
Another thing the book does is to make you hungry. The Larkins are forever eating and the descriptions of the meals they indulge in is as rich and as comforting as Bates' loving description of the English countryside.

The plot serves primarily to introduce the reader to the life-loving Larkins themselves through the character of Cedric Charlton who arrives, like an alien visitor, from a more urban background. through his encounter and experiences with the Larkins he finds a new lease of life.
In many ways this metaphor for the vigour and restorative qualities of nature is a wonderful marketing tool to make the reader, well this one at least, want more of it.
The book might be seen as somewhat quaint and it does have terminology that may be alien to some modern readers but this is a small quibble.
Get back to nature and get with the Larkins!

The unabridged audio book is pleasant to listen to and Bruce Montague, a well established actor, reads with a clarity and an ease that is perfect (or 'perfick') for this book. He also creates characters that are performed quite differently to the much-loved television series and one quickly gets accustomed to this difference. The audio book is a pleasure to listen to and instills all the feelings and emotions stirred up by both the book and the series.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

'The Color Purple' by Alice Walker, read by the Author

This is a book that I count as one of my favourites and it has characters that are alive and colourful, events both tragic and heart-warming. It speaks of more than one thing and different things to different people. I have never seen it as 'anti-men' as some critics have and the language, though crude at times, is never used as a 'shock' tactic. Rather, the language is appropriate to the people who utter the words and write the letters that constitute this book.
Yes, some leeway must be given over some of the discrepancies that occur over the period the book covers (for example some secondary characters are not as old as they should be at the end of the novel) and the ending can be seen as somewhat coincidental (though that is far from the correct word) but, I think, it serves Walker's beliefs well; that, ultimately, God, in whatever guise, will take care of things.

The audio book, which was actually the first I purchased and listened to, is read by Alice Walker herself and she does an excellent job at it. I've read some reviews that say she is too languid in her reading but I do not believe that to be the case. I think her pacing to be relaxed and easy in that she allows us to take all the language and events in without rushing ahead of the listener. It also would be detrimental, I think, were she to be talking rapidly as this is not a book full of 'action'.

Walker reads the letters primarily as the character who wrote them and has slight variations for most character's dialogue. It is a sometimes subtle variation but it is enough to help distinguish one person from another whilst also giving them a separate voice in themselves.
Walker is also able to bring her understanding of the history of the people she writes about to the table and her voice is filled with it. She is a natural storyteller and this, her most famous work, is, perhaps, the story she was born to tell.

Listening to the book is a different experience to reading it (which I've done several times over the years); a new understanding comes with the hearing of it, almost as if this were a story made to be told, rather than read, like the tales of old. The characters are more real than I imagined them and maybe that's because, as a Briton, I am not attuned to the voices of America or its history as an American would be.

Walker's story is one of faith, friendship, hope and love and, whatever the medium, is one that I think should be experienced as a reminder to the reader/listener of the good that can come out of the bad.
I recommend both the book and the audio version immensely.


'The Color Purple' is available from Whole Story Audio Books and from Clipper Audio.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

'Carrie' by Stephen King, read by Sissy Spacek

This is the first audio book review for my blog and, since it is my blog, why the hell should I not review audio books here?

I've read 'Carrie' several times before over the years. It still holds up as a great story. It's length isn't overlong and King's writing (this is his first published novel) is paced well, his descriptions not too florid or overly detailed and the dialogue truthful. Of course, this being Stephen King, there are extraordinary situations and events in the book and I'm sure that most people know about what happens when outcast Carrie White is taken to the Ewen High School prom (It's Bates' High School in the film)!

I've gotten into audio books of late simply because I find that, sometimes, the symptoms of my fibromyalgia preclude me from reading, taking in and understanding the written word. It is easier, for whatever reason, for me to take it in aurally.

The audio book begins with an introduction, read by King himself, on the origins of the book and this is indeed somewhat insightful.
Sissy Spacek reads the novel proper and I'm sure most readers will be aware that she played Carrie in the film version. Her narrative skills are quite excellent and she tells the story well, providing enough vocal variety in characters to ensure that interest never wanes. She is a skilled actress and storyteller and her characterisations are perfect. To think that she has come back to the story some 30 years after the film with fresh insight (admittedly the book is somewhat different to the film) is more credit to her. She does not simply re-treas the character she and others created in the film version but instead works with the words that King put down.
Spacek's portrayal of the various teens, news clippings and other documents, not to mention the primary roles are wonderful and she excels in the scenes featuring Carrie and her Zealot mother, Margaret White and the scenes between the two are especially powerful and chilling.

My only issue with this otherwise faultless production is the editing which, on occasion, seems a little sloppy with different takes clearly edited together during ongoing passages. The balance between speakers should also have been looked at closer since Spacek's voice seems to come from one direction then another throughout.
That said it's a great audio book and I do recommended it.

The audio book is available from Simon and Schuster audio.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Sad But True

It's a sad thing to know that, here in the UK, whilst I am technically free to move from country to country (Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland) my health limits my options.

Being as reliant as I am to the NHS (which David Cameron is all but destroying) when considering a move I must first and foremost consider what the health services are like in any particular area/country. I'll say here now that I have not the slightest interest in moving to Ireland and that's not because I dislike it. It simply doesn't appeal to me for whatever reason.

Out of the remaining three it seems that Scotland is the best health-wise as they have free prescriptions (as does Wales whilst England charge more than £7 per item!), excellent services and waiting times are not excessive (in Wales they can be). Were I to live in England the mere cost of the drugs I have been prescribed this past year (and which have had no effect on me - and, no, I don't continue to take them when that is the case. Rather I trial a drug for a period and then move on if need be) would have set me back several hundreds of pounds which I am no position to afford. Yes it's true that those on benefits do not pay for prescriptions in England but were I to be in a low paid job then the cost of drugs would put me off putting in the prescription in the first place. And I don't think the waiting times are as good as in Scotland (correct me if I am wrong). I would not be doing myself any favours, in other words.
When I lived in England previously I also came across quite a lot of xenophobia which also puts me off living there again, although there are many parts of England which are not so biased. In fact England, indeed all countries that make up the UK, have much to offer ranging from countryside to culture and arts. And were I a healthy man then, perhaps, I would look to move back into England.
But I am not a healthy man and as such I must put my health first.

I love the UK, I really do, and it angers me so much to see all the divisions and differences - policy-wise etc. - that exists between the nations. It also angers me that the current government seems to be intent on ripping up all that the things that the UK should be proud of - a national health service, the ability to help those in need with compassion and empathy (this the current ConDem government has none of).

There have been times when I have thought about moving abroad but then I am faced with that same wall - money and health. If I were born in a time before the NHS then I would have been left to fend for myself, unable to pay for the most basic of medical care. I would have been left to rot.
What frightens me now is that Cameron is on the road to bringing such times back to this country. And that is indeed frightening to me and anyone else in my position.
We are able to have some, basic, standard of living because of what the UK was able to do in the past century. I just hope that this century doesn't undo all the good that has gone before and that this dark period is but fleeting moment in time and that the Sun of humanity will reveal itself in the not to distant future, restoring the qualities of old so that I can once again move about without having to ponder the differences in services and quality that each country has to offer. In other words; I hope that the separate countries of the UK can celebrate their uniqueness whilst being in harmony when it comes to the public services they offer.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The Reality Of Friendship And Being Ill

I'm sure that every person is guilty of having let time pass them by without them realising it; letting many months pass between meetings with a friend, unconsciously forgetting to get in touch etc. etc.; I know I am!
But I have come to realise that, since fibromyalgia has really started to affect my day to day living, my friends have, perhaps not intentionally, distanced themselves and have made little effort in continuing our relationship, despite my own efforts.

I wonder if it is all too easy to put aside the person who is 'ill' and who is rarely able to attend social gatherings or 'nights out', after all when one is in the hubbub of the excitement and events of such occasions then the person or persons who are not present are usually the farthest things on the mind. But it appears that this constant fact, no doubt repeated since the 'ill' person is rarely ever able to attend, becomes habit and the lack of thought extends into the every day.

When these friends are reminded of one's existence one is usually met with an 'oh, it's been too long' response together with a half-hearted attempt at a reunion. Which, as yet, has always led to nothing.

That is not to say that I don't still treasure my time with my friends, when it does happen, but this is all too rare and human companionship is a vital part of life. I have all too few friends who I see on a quasi-regular basis and loneliness is a major factor of my life these days.

Making new friends is, perhaps, even harder since the ways in which one usually meets new people, at social gatherings, through other people etc., are not always available to me because of the condition I was blessed with. the fact that most of my existing friends have metaphorically moved themselves away from me further exacerbates the fact.
These days I am virtually reliant on the internet and its online world. Making friends of any value online is almost impossible and I do not truly count any association made online as a 'real' friendship. After all, what is friendship? I mean, real friendship? Think about it.

And to further the discussion; I have all but given up hope of ever finding a romantic partner as a) it is difficult to meet new people (see above), and b) the mere mention of an illness (I will not lie) is enough to either put people off entirely or reduce me, in their eyes, as someone unequal to themselves who should be pitied - and any partnership that I want means one of equal stature.
I will probably never be able to earn like any future (if only) partner or have the quality of life and all its experiences that the other may want and obtain. So, I wonder, could any future romantic involvement be an an 'equal' one?
I wonder, indeed.

But I am thankful for small mercies. I am grateful that, when the weather is good, I am able to look at the world and see the beauty and glory that exists; beauty and glory that most people overlook.
In my life being involuntarily slowed-down I can look and experience, almost at leisure, the simplest things that another might take for granted.
And most of the time I can observe people and their interactions with their friends and with their partners without jealousy. Most of the time.

Friday, 2 March 2012

"An Appointment With The Wicker Man", Glasgow Theatre Royal, 1/3/12

This is only the second production I've seen from the National Theatre of Scotland (I think) and though I'm sure there are those who believe 'National' companies should produce more worthy and artistic work than this (why? Theatre should be as varied as possible) I enjoyed this production far more than their atrocious butchering of 'Peter Pan' a while back (for which I can never forgive them).

The plot is quite simple; a small amateur theatre troupe is staging 'The Wicker Man' and have called in a pro to take the part of 'Edward Woodward' as the original actor has mysteriously vanished.
As the rehearsals proceed the action off-stage starts to parallel the 'Wicker Man' story.

The writing is witty and funny even if some of the situations and surprises are old hat. The cast perform well and the direction is appropriate.
As an homage to the original film it excels, especially in that, rather than make laugh at the film (though the recreations of scenes from the film are quite funny) we are laughing at the people performing and the lengths they will and will not go to.
The play also has moments of real psychological horror especially in the in the latter half.
The performances of the songs from the film (which is really a horror musical) are among the highlights of the evening as they were performed sincerely if staged rather flamboyantly at times (intentionally so - the 'amateur' choreography and performances are a hoot).
The play is also a charming nod to the amateur circuit and the social importance of such groups. Indeed the characters are written as something akin to caricatures of 'amateur' performers yet I have been witness to such people and performances in reality.

The play begins as if we were actually watching the amateur performance, complete with cardboard boat, flat direction and wooden acting before moving backstage to rehearsals (complete with shoddily put together set pieces). We then begin to see the lines blur between play, rehearsal and the 'reality' of the situation (as seen by the pro whose presence echoes that of the character he plays). The blending of these written and directed especially well so that one bleeds into the other without any obvious transition.

While the play may not have anything to really say about the importance of amateur groups and their role within communities (or in keeping theatre alive) or anything important at all, it is still an enjoyable trek complete with laughter, sex and a little bit of terror thrown in.
If anything, despite this being a 'comedy', this does make me think that a fully staged, 'serious', crack at 'The Wicker Man' might be something truly magical.
Maybe one day ...