Orphan Black, season 2

tumblr_n2w6c7vKaA1rh0u2ko1_r3_500How ironic that I am moving to the UK and will no longer be able to see this BBC America show. Wait–is that irony? Alanis Morissette has completely ruined my ability to discern irony. Whether it’s ironic or not, it’s definitely annoying and stupid.  I really love this show. I think it’s a good show, and I think Tatiana Maslany is spectacular.  The fact that she hasn’t been nominated for an Emmy at this point is an actual crime.

There’s a scene where Sarah is handcuffed to a shower (happens to the best of us), and Helena appears with a massive knife.  I’ve never seen anyone look as afraid as Sarah does in this scene.

0Particularly when you consider the fact that a-the person she’s pretending to be afraid of is herself, and b-there was no one there to react to at the time. The Helena part was added afterward.

Season one ended with a focus on Sarah and Helena, who are apparently twins, born to the same surrogate mother. We also saw the inner workings of the Dyad Institute, including the clone-in-charge, Rachel.  Season two begins with Mrs. S and Kira gone, Cosima and Delphine ‘infiltrating’ the Dyad in order to learn more about the clone program. Alison is turning to drugs and alcohol to deal with the fact that she let her friend die–note to self, never run the garbage disposal while wearing a decorative scarf. Or any scarf, I suppose. Most disturbingly, Cosima is starting to show signs of the illness that killed Katja.  I swear, if they kill of Cosima I’m done. She’s my favorite.

Helena is a close second.  Helena is amazing.

timthumbShe goes through some shit this season. Kidnapped by a creepy Eugenics cult that seemed to combine the most horrifying parts of Mormonism and Nazi medical experiments.  Very very gross. Forced to wear horrible clothes out of Little House on the Prairie, and injected with (her own) eggs fertilized by the creepy prophet/cult leader.  Nope, nope, nope. On the upside, she gets to have a dance and a kiss with a guy in a bar, and she eats a lot of food.

The season focuses on a few things. Rachel, the uptight psycho who runs the Dyad Institute and treats herself and her fellow clones like subjects in a science experiment, but secretly harbors extreme anger over her loss of her parents, and her inability to have children. Major rage issues. The clones all learn more about themselves, both through Cosima’s work in the lab and by finding their ‘creator’, who also served as Rachel’s adoptive father, before he went into hiding. They (and we) learn that the clones are infertile by design (Sarah and Helena are the only known exceptions), and the respiratory problem (caused by tumors) can be treated with stem cells–from Kira.  We also meet Kira’s father, who looks and acts like Aiden from Sex and the City, but clearly has something to hide.  The question is, what did he know when he was dating Sarah?

I love all of the characters in this show, and I really enjoyed the plot. Shows like this have to walk a tightrope. Reveal too much and you lose audience interest. Reveal too little and you frustrate everyone (e.g., Lost).  Orphan Black does a great job answering questions and keeping interest.  You feel like you’re getting somewhere, even if the somewhere you’re getting is into deeper trouble for all the characters.

My only real complaint about the season is the same as everyone else’s, I think. Tony.

orphanblack_2x08_tonyLook, I have no issue with seeing transsexual characters on TV–it’s great for improving acceptance.  But this was not well done.  Tatiana Maslany didn’t do that bad of a job with the acting itself, but there were a few big issues.  One–the terrible pasted-on, barely-there facial hair.  No.  Do better.  The look overall, actually, was quite badly done in my opinion. Look at Boys Don’t Cry for better examples.  Actually, that terrible Amanda Bynes movie She’s the Man made a more believable male character.  Of course, Tony isn’t actually male (anatomically). He’s a pre-op transsexual, if memory serves.  He’s taking hormones, which would account for facial hair and a deeper voice. But I was thrown by the long hair and feminine eyebrows they retained.  But other than just the appearance, the writing of this character was not good.  He wasn’t likeable, and the pseudo-flirtation between him and Felix made me feel a bit gross, just because…Sarah is Felix’s adoptive brother and best friend, and this is basically Sarah’s twin.  I find it weird when people date their best friend’s family, particularly if they look similar.  Part of why Harry and Ginny bother me as a couple. The whole episode just made me unhappy and it broke the cognitive dissonance and left me cringing. I was also annoyed by his appearance, his possession of cryptic information, and then *poof*, he’s gone.  Annoying. I’m ready for him to never come back.

Setting us up for next season, they also introduced Marion. Marion is above Rachel in the Dyad Institute and whatever else they are connected with. I recognize the actress from her turn on True Blood, so I was all ‘Danger, Sarah Manning!’. She cannot be trusted.  Or killed, if she’s anything like her True Blood character.

Orphan-Black-210-Marion-Sarah-CharlotteCharlotte is the little girl in the foreground of this picture.  Marion tells us that, after hundreds of attempts, Charlotte is the only clone they’ve produced since the first batch.  Sarah’s face kind of says it all–imagine coming face to face with your 8-year-old self.

I’m going to have to figure out a way to watch this next year, because I really like it. It surprises and amuses me, and how often do both of those things happen in a TV show? That being said, I hope Tony only makes one more appearance, relaying a cryptic but important message before being tragically killed.

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The Crimson Petal and the White

7263Before I read this book, I heard rumblings that it was unsatisfactory. This seemed weird, because the front and back cover were filled with critical praise. And it’s a lovely long book, set in the 1870s. My novels are set in the 1870s, so I was excited to read this one.

The book spans, in Dickensian fashion, nearly 900 pages and begins with the lowest dregs of society (whores near St. Giles) before taking the reader through the middling neighborhoods to the upper echelons (ladies enjoying the London season, the newly created ‘suburbs’ of Notting Hill). Though there are many characters, two are the most important.

William Rackham. At university, he was a dandy and an intellectual. As he grows older, he is intensely dissatisfied with his life. His wife is mentally ill and hates him, his father will no longer pay his expenses if William does not begin to be responsible for the family business, Rackham Perfumeries, and he’s had no great success in his attempted literary career. He is mediocre to the nth degree. Until he meets Sugar.

Sugar is a prostitute. Her mother roped her into that life when she was a tween, and it’s all she’s known since. She is unique for a whore of this era, because she is (self-)educated, and she knows how to manipulate men emotionally as well as physically. She is thoroughly unimpressed with William when she first meets him, but he is utterly taken with her. She hates men and is working on a novel about a prostitute (named Sugar) who disembowels the most pathetic of the species.

After their first night together, William decides to turn his life around. To stop dithering and to take over the family business, to make a large fortune, and to spend a good deal of it on Sugar. Within a few weeks, he’s paying for the privilege to be her only client. His fortunes continue to rise with her careful stroking of his ego (and his other parts), and her advice on matters of business and etiquette. A month or so later, he has moved her from her dingy whorehouse to her own private abode.

There’s a lot going on in the book, and a lot to wrap your mind around. William’s wife, Agnes, was raised to be the female ideal. That means she is pretty, naive, and plays the piano. It also means she has no knowledge of sex, and doesn’t understand why she bleeds every month. She thinks it’s a demonic affliction. She has similar feelings toward her baby girl.

Sugar, on the other hand, has grown up with experiences of everything vile (death, disease, poverty) and everything sexual (she’s been a prostitute since she was 13, and has a reputation for never saying no to any sexual act).

In the end, as you might expect, both female characters inspire far more empathy than William. William is a blundering, selfish, disloyal villain of a man. His least likable quality is that he feels he’s accidentally pushed into these situations where he hurts the women in his life.  But he’s not. He chooses to be a complete ass, and attempts to explain it away with any available excuse. Pitiful.

The narrative style is engaging, and the writing is good. Technically good. I wasn’t bored, I wasn’t over or understimulated to the point of distraction. The characters were realistic and relatable, very fully developed. (WordPress, why do you insist that relatable is not a word when it is a completely cromulent one? Why are you now insisting that cromulent is not a word?)

So what is keeping me from writing a glowing review? Two things.

1) The Ending. It was nonexistent.

Agnes departs the story about 70% through, and we’re never entirely certain what happened to her. We get the beginning of a denouement between Sugar and William, but then we’re left to fill in the blanks ourselves. At the end of the book, I couldn’t help wondering what the real point had been.  Why start the story where it started and end it where it ended? What was this story saying?  After 900 pages, you don’t want to feel that way.

2) The strange and constant fixation on bodily fluids.

Here’s the thing about fiction. You’re taking a huge data set (all things you know about the world) and you’re editing. You’re taking out what’s unimportant, and leaving in only what furthers your story. This can mean you take out the guy standing in line at the grocery checkout. Or it can mean you leave in the checkout line, when the guy has a complete meltdown because the lady in front of him has more than 10 items in her basket and how dare she.  It depends on the story. But there are a few almost universally omitted things.  Like trips to the toilet.

How many times do Jane Austen’s characters mention a chamber pot?  Did anyone from the Great Gatsby stop to pee? What about the Hunger Games? How on earth did they go to the bathroom while attempting to not be killed?

Why do writers omit it? Because it detracts from the story. It’s not important, it’s just something that has to be done. It only makes its way into the story if it’s suddenly significant. The shower scene in Psycho, the heinously awful scene in Trainspotting that nearly made me sick, and I can’t even think of a third one.

In addition to detracting from the story, it also conflicts with the purpose of the characters. They are simulacra; they are not human. The purpose of a book’s characters is to help us understand humanity, not to accurately capture humanity. You don’t need to know that the character sneezed (unless the character is sick), or that they have something stuck in their teeth (unless they’re on a first date!). Their humanity is exposed only when it is in service to the story. The rest of the time, it isn’t present.

This author, Michael Faber, does not approach literature this way. He is somewhat obscenely fascinated with body fluids. There were many descriptions of the sound, smell, and sensation of someone (usually women) emptying their bladders or their bowels. There were many mentions of the slippery dribbles of semen down women’s thighs. There was a particularly grotesque scene depicting a woman having a miscarriage on a public toilet.

The worst part, for me, was descriptions of the red inflamed skin of the vulva of a young girl, because she habitually wets the bed.

I’m not a prudish person, in general. I’m not overly fond of raucous humor, but I am not the type of person to pretend I don’t have a human body. And a human body sometimes means unfun things, like bogeys and belches and menstruation. But this was too much for me. It made me uncomfortable, by the end of the book. And it served absolutely no purpose, that I could tell. The miscarriage was obviously a ‘plot point’, but is there some reason I needed to know that the maid scrunched up her nose at the smell of diarrhea on the 3rd day the governess was in the house? No.  Did I need to have my attention directed to the vulva of a young girl? No.

It was creepy. It was unnecessary. I’m not in favor of censorship, I’m not saying this should be taken off the shelves. But…I wouldn’t recommend reading it. It’s more scatological than it is meaningful. Although if you have a fetish for urine or feces, this might be just the book for you.

There is a miniseries. It came out in 2011 and stars Chris O’Dowd plays William Rackham.

the_crimson_petal_and-the_whiteThough I’m sure they’ve removed much of the strangely biological portions, I’m still afraid to watch it. I adore Chris O’Dowd, particularly since Moone Boy, and since I saw him on Broadway in Of Mice and Men. I’m not sure I can handle watching this. I’m working up my courage, but no promises.

 

The Fall

The-fall-highres_8colI don’t think I knew about this show when it originally aired in the UK (early summer 2013). It’s on Netflix Instant here; it never aired on US TV.

There are a lot of police procedurals on TV. Way more than the world will ever need. There have been nearly 750 episodes of CSI and its spinoffs. And they just ordered another CSI spinoff focusing on computer crime. And don’t get me started on Law and Order (original, Criminal Intent, SVU, UK, Elevator Inspector’s Unit). So…most of them aren’t even good shows. They’re completely unrealistic with their ludicrously attractive casts, featuring police women in 6″ stiletto Louboutin shoes, lab scientists who are inexplicably present during police raids, SWAT missions, interrogations, the incredibly posh sets that no government could afford for what little lab resources they have, and their superhuman ability to zoom and ‘enhance’ CCTV footage to make a picture clear enough to identify perps and even take their fingerprints off the water bottle they can see through the camera. They are all stupid shows. The only good ones are those that either a-makes the situation goofy or b-show the darkness that comes with the job. Psych is my favorite version of the former, and Luther is a great version of the latter.

The Fall is neither as dark or as devastating as Luther. But it has a lot going for it, and is infinitely more worth watching than any episode of CSI (even that one Quentin Tarantino directed).

Reason the first: Gillian Anderson.

3619467-high_res-the-fall.jpgI have seen very little of her acting, as the X-Files scared the crap out of me when it was on TV–I was 12 when it premiered.

But I did see her in the recent miniseries of Bleak House and she was wonderful in it. In The Fall, she plays DSI Stella Gibson. She travels from the Metro Police to Belfast because of a missing woman. If Stella Gibson were a man, the character wouldn’t be much different, and would be a bit of a cliché. Cold, unemotional, focused on the hunt for the killer. Serial killer, Gibson believes after examining several similar cases. Gibson is smart, logical, eminently capable, and confident to a fault.  She asks to be introduced to a fellow cop because she thinks he’s handsome (she doesn’t say that last part). When she starts talking to him, she just casually (but pointedly) mentions her hotel’s name and her hotel room number. I don’t think I would ever have the guts to do something like that, but omg I wish I had that sort of confidence. I had to stare at the screen for a minute with my mouth open to recover from that scene.  The guy gets the hint and shows up later, and Stella is just as take-charge in that scene as she is during press conferences. Her character and her performance are very interesting and fascinating to watch.  She does approach her job as a hunt, and uses her ability to understand the killer to help find him.

Which brings us to reason the second: Paul Spector

-James-Jamie-Dornan-once-upon-a-time-31217066-569-740

Jamie Dornan plays the killer. He hasn’t been in much before (an American show, Once Upon a Time), but he’s about to be much more famous. He’s playing the lead in the 50 Shades of Grey movie.  A movie I plan to avoid with all resources available to me. Same strategy I’ve applied to the books, and it’s worked so far.

In the Fall, the viewer spends almost equal time between Gibson and Spector. We see the killer prepare, research, stalk.  We see him kill. We also see him at his mediocre job, with his wife and children. We see his infatuation with the babysitter. It’s a bit like Dexter, in that we see from both points of view. But though Dexter is a terrifying person and a serial killer with a much higher body count, I find Spector far more terrifying. Dexter has his ‘code’, his set of morals, and that makes the bitter pill easier to swallow.  Spector goes after professional women, brunette, pretty. He strangles them, slowly. He bathes them and paints their fingernails after they’re dead. And then he goes home to his wife (a neonatal nurse) and 2 children. His daughter suffers from night terrors. He has a normal life, and when he is with his family he seems like a normal man. In the end, he is able to keep his family together, which keeps him from being exposed as a killer. He is able to feign normalcy well enough to be assumed innocent.

Which leads us to the big problem with this show.  The ending. After 5 nailbiting episodes, the show ends with a cliffhanger.  The hunt is on a break, because Spector has left town. It’s not just a cliffhanger, it’s more of a no-ender. No resolution, no pause to collect thoughts, just a fade that leaves you thinking you must have accidentally hit pause and of course there should be another 5-10 minutes to this damn show! Frustrating!

The good news is that they are filming the second series soon. From what I’ve read, it should pick up exactly where the last one stopped. Right back to the pursuit.

This is a minimalist show. Not a lot of dialogue. Sparse. This makes it difficult for me to qualitatively describe what I liked so much about it.  I can only say that it was well-made, well-written, well-acted, and kept me interested without the need for big twists and unexpected coincidences. And how many shows can you actually say that about nowadays? Very few. I totally recommend watching it.  But keep in mind that you will be irritated when you reach the end.

 

In the Flesh, season 2

in_the_flesh_series_2_0

The first season of In the Flesh was very good, but also very bleak. As bleak as its setting in a lonely North England town. It drew some fairly obvious allegories, using the zombies Partially Deceased Syndrome Sufferers as stand-ins for homosexuals, religious and racial minorities, immigrants, HIV/AIDS sufferers, and any other group that can most easily be trodden upon by the heartless masses.

I really grew to like Kieren and Amy, who have a pretty adorable friendship. The terrible prejudices and actions of the citizens of Roarton were really difficult to watch. Excruciating, in some cases, because of how easy it is to relate the way the PDS are treated to the way gay people are still treated, and the fact that some of them are attacked. Sometimes by family. In 2014, for fuck’s sake.

The second series is longer (6 episodes, rather than 3), and uses a different sort of allegory.  A new political group, Victus, has been winning seats at Parliament by campaigning with aggressive anti-PDS policies. They (like most far right parties) are channeling people’s fears to enact policies that restrict and control the PDS population. In Roarton, a new MP from Victus shows up, Maxine Martin.

in_the_flesh_wunmiSoon, she has put a system in place to invalidate the passports of all PDS persons. Kieren discovers this when he tries to leave town, to head to Paris and to live a life where he is not completely surrounded by people who hate him and his kind. In order to ‘earn’ his passport back, he has to work to ‘give back’. All the PDS people have to do a certain amount of community service in order to make up for some of the damage they wrought. But as time goes on, it becomes clearer that this is not a system that they can really get out of. The ‘community service’ is mandatory, and they shift the guidelines at a whim. You can draw obvious parallels to concentration camps and internment camps and no-fly lists and ‘random’ inspections of people of color, or anyone with Muhammad in their name. Also to immigrant populations, vilified and contained, mistrusted by the generally douchy public.

The overarching story of the season is the fabled ‘second rising’. There are a few schools of thought on how it may come about, and whether it should come about.  The Undead Liberation Army and its creepy prophet is trying to bring about the second rising. Enter ULA member, Simon. He’s Irish, and he’s all in for the ULA movement. Amy has a crush on him, but in typical Amy fashion, he turns out to be more attracted to Kieren. Que sera, sera.

Simon helps Kieren start to accept who he is–going out without the ‘mousse’ and the contact lenses, looking like the undead person he is. His family hates this, and sees it as such a radical move that he may need to be sent back to a treatment facility to be re-brainwashed.

The second rising can only happen with the help of the first risen. The actual first person that came up from the ground.  Simon thinks this is Kieren. But it’s not.

Amy, once she gets over the fact that Simon isn’t straight, turns her attention back to Philip. She’s going through some stuff–she has tremors sometimes, and occasionally forgets that she’s dead and tries to eat something. Things are changing for her and she’s not sure if that means she’ll turn back into a ‘rabid’ or what. Scary stuff.  The good news is that as soon as she reaches out to Philip, he immediately stops being incredibly creepy and pathetic, and starts to be a little bit adorable.

6017485-low_res-in-the-flesh

 

 

In typical Roarton fashion, that doesn’t last long.

It’s a very bleak show, but I actually really enjoy it. The whole zombie thing is such an easy stand-in for so many awful social issues in history and in the modern day. I’m hoping it gets a third season/series, because I still want to see what happens next. It did not end on a resolution, but a cliffhanger. I don’t mind a cliffhanger when the show has definitely been renewed, but I get pretty annoyed when I watch a cliffhanger and then have to accept the fact that I’ll never get to see what happens next. There should be some sort of post-season special. Whenever a show is cancelled after a cliffhanger, they should shoot one more episode to wrap it up. If you are reading this and you work in TV, make this shit happen.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Hard_Times-GradgrindAnyone who has read more than two Dickens novels knows what they’re going to get from all the rest.  Just like every John Grisham novel has a morally-upstanding lawyer, every Dickens novel will have a society in disrepair, at least one poor wretch dying before his/her time, and at least 15 characters.

Hard Times was published in the 1850s. Unique for Dickens, it is not set in London. It’s set in fictitious Coketown, a stand-in for all of the industrial towns of the North. Defined by its factories and the working people that file in and file out all day. As is always the case with Dickens, there are very rich characters. Mr. Grandgrind, a mansplainer if ever there was one, runs the local school. He is a utilitarian, and pushes his own children and his pupils to live a life based only on facts. Not on feelings or art or morality, but only and specifically on fact.  His friend, Josiah Bounderby, is a manufacturer/entrepreneur and a very rich man. He makes it a point to tell everyone he meets that he has pulled himself up by his bootstraps. He grew up in a ditch without mother or father, love or affection. Or so he constantly says. Gradgrind’s son, Tom, works for Bounderby, and his daughter, Louisa, marries him. Loo and Tom are about as happy and well-adjusted as you would imagine they are. They are miserable, in other words.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are the poor characters. Cecilia Jupe comes home from Mr. Gradgrind’s school to find her father has deserted her. She must choose to either follow the circus (of which her father was a part) when they leave town, or stay and go to Mr. Gradgrind’s school. She chooses to stay because her father wanted her to be educated. And it’s good that she stays, because everyone in Mr. Gradgrind’s family needs a kind person amongst them.

There’s also Old Stephen, the Tiny Tim of this piece. He is an honest man, a hard worker, shackled to a constantly-drunk wife. She reappears in his life periodically to sleep on his bed and trade his belongings for gin when he’s at work. He gets fired from his job, loses the support of his fellow workers (for not agreeing to join their union), is accused of robbing the local bank, and falls down a mineshaft. He dies. Typical Dickens.

It’s a short book, for Dickens. His shortest, in fact. And I think it lacks a little depth, compared to his real masterpieces like Bleak House. The whole story, and all its characters, relate to this idea of Fact vs Fancy. Gradgrind starts the novel explaining that he only believes in Facts. There’s no room in his world for amusement, art, fiction, creativity, morality. And in the end? His daughter is a nearly-soulless automaton, and his son? He robbed the back.  Gradgrind tries to get his son out of the country, so that he won’t face consequences for his actions. But one of the students of his school, not in the least confused by notions of emotion or frivolity, captures the sun before he can escape.  The whole book shows how a ‘Utilitarian’ society can be corrupt and terrible. I think the whole book is a little obviously manipulated. Coincidence, in fiction, is a delicate thing. Dickens is always walking the line, and I think with this one he steps over it. To manipulate the story into one that punishes Grandgrind and humiliates Bounderby, he sacrifices verisimilitude. And you also get the sense that he’s not as fluent in the lives of the North Country folk. It’s a new world, the North of England in the 19th century. It makes sense to set this novel in the North, but it was a little like taking a tour led by a non-native. For a better account of the North, and labor unions, read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

 

Wild Things, season two

WildThings-ShowThumbThis show could also be titled ’45 minutes of me watching through my fingers’.  Because…there are almost always snakes. Case in point: In the first episode, Dom is searching for a ‘Giant Spitting Cobra’ in Kenya.  Cobras are, without a doubt, the scariest animals in the entire world. I have a difficult time even standing next to the life-size cardboard cobra at our zoo. And as amusing as I find this picture:

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The picture scares me so much I think I have to delete it from my computer right away. My mom told me once that she rented Silence of the Lambs. She watched 15 minutes of it, and couldn’t go any farther. She had to rewind it immediately and take it back to the video rental place (kids: ask your parents what this was)–she didn’t want it in the house. My fear of snakes is really strong. I am prepared to move one day to New Zealand, Ireland, or Hawaii.  No snakes in those places. None at all. But what if I’m flying to my new snake-free haven and the plane is filled with snakes?!  I’m not Samuel L. Jackson; I will not survive that shit. I’d probably fling myself off the plane rather than deal with that.

But I digress. Back to the show.

This season, Dom continued to search for unusual, unique, and difficult-to-find animals. Usually of the non-cuddly variety. He looked for a Gaboon Viper in Zambia, the aforementioned cobra, the Titan Beetle in Brazil, Gila monsters in the SW US, Box Jellyfish off the coast of Australia, etc. There was a truly fucking terrifying bit with an anaconda that I had to watch from the other room. But, there were a few more cuddly and likeable animals in the mix this season. He looked for the Ghost Bat (yes, bats are cute. if you disagree, you are wrong), a tiny Lemur Leap Frog, and the Slow Loris, possibly the 3rd cutest animal ever. If you’re wondering, my dog was the cutest animal ever.  That’s just a fact.

There were also some great moments when Dom helped a sloth cross a road, hung out with some tiger cubs, and there’s a really interesting bit with an elephant.

DominicMonaganWildThings02_m_0324They have to sedate it so that they can help to dress a would it’s received from poachers. Poachers, by the way, are the world’s worst people. They help the elephant, but there are a few really sketchy moments after it wakes up.  Frank (the cameraman) almost gets trampled.  Later, Frank gets hit with a nasty bit of jumping cactus.

My favorite part of the season was when Dom re-united with his fellow hobbit, Billy Boyd.  Part of the reason I’ve had a crush on Dom for the last ~10 years is because I watched/listened to all the Lord of the Rings special features. He and Billy are hilarious together and I have a sort of deep affection for them both. So a reunion was very fun to see, though Billy is starting to look like an adult man, and I disapprove of that in general. I mean…he’s 45, but still!

tumblr_n54865IyDS1sm6um6o1_500Luckily, Dom still looks like a 10-year old, who is about to see a fire truck.

They toured New Zealand together, looking for the Giant Wetapunga. Billy brought his snake stick, which is particularly funny since there are no snakes in New Zealand.  I would definitely watch a show that just followed the two of them around in their regular lives.  Get on that, TV gods.

My only real complaint is (once again) with BBC America.  WHY do you, BBC America Execs, choose to show me only 45 minutes of a 1 hour show? You suck. Just make it an hour and 15 minutes. Then you can fit your commercials in, and I still get to see all of the stuff. Or if you can’t do that, put the cut scenes on the website so I at least have a chance to see them. It’s fucking ridiculous. I missed major scenes in Broadchurch, which made me irritated. With this show, I knew because of interviews (and the presence of a bandage) that Dom got hurt during the filming of the 2nd season. In the interviews, he admitted he needed 40 stitches, but didn’t want to say what animal it was, so people would tune in and see what happened. Well, they cut that bit. Fuck you, BBC America.  You know, in the age of the DVR, there’s no need for this crap.  I record the show, so I don’t care if it ends at 9 or 9:15. Just show the whole show. Or at least make it possible for me to see the whole thing. What is the point of you, you network? You make me unreasonably angry. I want to stomp on your foot.

To make myself less angry, here’s a picture of Dom and a sloth.

domincmonaghan-april14-1

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The-LuminariesLet me start by remarking on how immensely large this book is. It is 832 pages long. In fact, it’s the longest book to have ever won the Man Booker Prize (it won last year) and Eleanor Catton is the youngest author to win that award (she’s 26). I’ve been working on my own novels for 4-5 years at this point, and if I added everything together, it might be 400 printed pages.  And I’m 33.  So…way to make me feel totally pathetic, Eleanor Catton.

Moving on from my jealousy, let’s talk about the book. It is set during the New Zealand gold rush during the mid-19th century. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set in New Zealand before. I suppose the Lord of the Rings is the closest, only by its association with the movie locations. The New Zealand gold rush seems to have been very similar to the gold rush here in the US. When you have the chance to make a fortune, you attract all manner of people, and nearly everyone is from a different country. Some are high-born and wealthy, seeking to bring the civility to the frontier, others are rough workmen, bringing a distinctly not-civil attitude to their labors, others poor servants or slaves. And you attract all the things that survive and thrive in the periphery of these male-dominated, mostly lawless, harsh places in the world. Prostitutes, gambling halls, strong drinks, opium, and minority migrants (mostly Chinese and Mexican/Native Americans during the US gold rush, but Catton’s book features a Maori man and two ‘Chinamen’). The most unifying thing about these places, is that all manner of people who would, 50 years earlier, have never met, are occupying the same little patch of land and hoping to radically change their lives.  This is what Hokitika, the town, looked like during the gold rush:

Hokitika_township_2C_ca_1870s_2_m-1

Similar to most mid-19th century tales, The Luminaries features a long cast of characters. There’s a page in the front listing the character, their occupation, etc.  It’s a list of nearly 20 characters. That alone could make it difficult to hang onto all the facts of the story. But (again a common facet of Victorian novels) there are several people who go by false names, change their names, have several naming variations. It can be very complex to remember which descriptions, stories, and actions are attributed to which character. The book features a Maori man, Kiwis, Scots, Irishmen, Englishmen, Chinese men, Australian men & even a few women. Catton is extremely good at bringing each of these characters to life, of offering a perfect snippet of how and what they see in the world, and how those traits will motivate their actions. Trends have changed, throughout the last few hundred years of literature, in how much or how little to reveal about characters, but I think she strikes a perfect balance. Each character is almost immediately distinguishable, recognizable, but not so well known as to prevent a surprising turn of action or character.

The plot of the book revolves around a large fortune (£4000, which would be approximately £325,000 now), and how it passes from one character to the next. I think every character has their hands on it at one point or another.  It turns up as gold as fine as sand (if this statement confuses you, I recommend you watch Treasure of the Sierra Madre), as large nuggets of gold, as bricks pressed and measured. It is stuffed into a dress, in a bag under a bed, buried in the desert, stolen from a safe, hidden piecemeal throughout a dead man’s house.  It turns up everywhere, and it’s hard to keep straight who and where and why and how this gold passes through these states.

To add to the many characters and many incarnations of this fortune, the story is told through a series of parts, spanning forward and backward in time at will. It’s hard to keep track of who, what, when, and why. As The New York Times put it in their review, “it’s a lot of fun, like doing a Charlotte Brontë-themed crossword puzzle while playing chess and Dance Dance Revolution on a Bongo Board. Some readers will delight in the challenge, others may despair”.  Very true.  I found it fun to read, because the storytelling was so good. But it’s a circular and confusing novel, and there were portions that left me confused.

The structure of the novel–as its title suggests–is based on astrological concepts.  I’m not a believer in astrology, so many of the allusions and illustrations of the different signs were probably lost on me. Each part opener identified the date, the astrological signs and their positions, but I can barely remember my own sign, let alone the other 11.

8657216However, I have it on good authority (Wikipedia) that each of the 12 main male characters involved in the ‘mystery’ of the gold corresponds to one of the 12 astrological signs. The other 7 (living) characters correspond to ‘heavenly bodies’, i.e. the planets. Maybe to people more versed in astrology (or astronomy), this conveys some significance. But not to me.  I had a hard time finding my own sign in the little drawings, and I have no idea what the other scratches mean. Might as well be in cuneiform.

But it doesn’t matter. You don’t have to know or believe anything about astrology to enjoy the book. You do have to put forth some effort to pay attention to the shifting timelines, the ups and downs of each character’s journey, and everything said about the elusive gold. I really enjoyed reading this book. Most of the time, as Jane Austen said, “if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” This was not the case with The Luminaries. I enjoyed it as I read it, but at the end I felt a bit spent. I exerted a little more energy to get through than I got back in satisfaction, and that is disappointing. I think it could have done with a trim here and there. All of the book is well written, but more words are crammed in than the story needs to tell itself. Catton’s first novel, The Rehearsal, is under 400 pages, so I think that will be do-able.

They are discussing a TV miniseries, which I think could be excellent. This is the sort of sweeping Dickensian story that works fabulously in a 6 or 8 part miniseries, particularly if they actually film it in New Zealand.  If it ever plays in a format to which I have access, I will definitely watch.