Unplanned and Second Hand

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope" - Dr Seuss

"Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint." - Mark Twain 

Poetry Pickings: Heaney, Yeats and Kipling

Recently I have been enjoying discovering Yeats and Kipling. Two poems in particular I have read over and over, and though I understand only a little of what they mean, they are a joy to listen to or to read aloud, and reminded me how wonderful a poem can be - and how clumsy it makes all other forms of writing appear.
See below for links to both poems in their wonderful, flowing entirety. It is the combination of lyrical language and imagery that strikes at common truth that made me fall for them, and the theme they share of the poets strife to achieve a work of art that made me want share them in a single blog. 
Lyrical language 
As I read the end of the first stanza of the Fisherman:
 "The clever man who cries/ The catch cries of the clown/The beating down of the wise/And great Art beaten down"
it takes me a while to realize what it is that I love about it. It is not the meaning of the words necessarily, for, like many a Bob Dylan song, I love the way they sounds while appreciating little as to what they mean. Rather it is the clever, beautiful use of language, the alliteration, the rhyming, the re-use of "cries" and simply the image it creates. 
I feel the same when I read (from conundrum of the workshops)
"The tale is as old as the Eden Tree - and new as the new-cut tooth - 
For each man knows ere his lip-thatch grows he is master of Art and Truth;
And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art ?" 
Oh to be able to write like that. 
 Imagery that strikes at common truth
Often the best thing a poem can do is make a reader sit back and think  >> yes, boy is that true >>. 
Certainly there are moments in both poems that do this for me. In particular:
[The Fisherman] "The living men that I hate,   
The dead man that I loved". So often in our fields we admire great figures of the past, but despise well-known contemporaries. 
[Conundrum..] "We have learned to whittle the Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg,". An Ironic outlook on the achievements of the human race: wasteful, useless. "
[Conundrum..] And each man hears as the twilight nears, to the beat of his dying heart,
The Devil drum on the darkened pane: "You did it, but was it Art ? ". Art or not, most will look back on their lives with similar worries. 
Shared theme 
Yeats' Fisherman is not real. He is an idealised character who "is but a dream". In considering him Yeats relays the task all poets and artists and in fact all humans place before themselves; to create that one perfect work of art, as "cold and passionate as the dawn".
Kipling deals with a similar problem: "You did it....but was it Art?", a question which is as "old as the eden tree" . Despite our progress as a race, to the stage where we can whittle the he Eden Tree to the shape of a surplice-peg, we are no closer to knowing what makes art art than "our Father Adam was". We can put a man on the moon, build buildings like this, but we are no closer to solving the most fundamental of human question. An anecdote I heard concerning a cab driver who'd had Bertrand Russel in his back seat. When asked what it had been like to meet the great philosopher he responds: "I asked him 'so what's it all about eh?' Point is, the bugger didn't have a clue". 
Do read the full versions: 
And before I go.....With the recent, much-mourned death of Seamus Heaney I realized with sadness that I had never gotten round to reading any of his  poetry. As I set about changing that I came across this amusing verse which the Nortern-Ireland-born poet penned in response to his inclusion in an anthology of British poets:
"Don't be surprised if I demur, for,
be advised my passport's green.
No glass of ours was ever raised
to toast the queen" 
I really must read some of his work. 
Images from here and here

Accused by Mark Gimenez

Accused. Mark Gimenez - Mark Gimenez

Renowned Texas lawyer A. Scott is a single father trying to raise two teenage girls, facing a career dilemna and plagued by regret and loneliness. Out of the blue he receives a desperate phone call from his ex-wife Rebecca - who has been charged with murdering golfing sensation she left him for. Unable to afford an attorney, A. Scott can either risk his reputation and career to defend the woman who divorced him, or watch the mother of his children disappear behind bars for life.


The good points: the story is set up well and there are several nice twists as the case unfolds. The final chapters are riveting and are page turners in the purest sense. The not-so-good point: the middle of the book drags, with many barely interesting and highly skippable chapters. 


Rebecca is a strange character, who like the rest of A. Scott's suspects never seems either entirely guilty or entirely innocent, and the ending is never clear. For this and for the suspense the book is worth reading. Half legal thriller half whodunnit Accused builds up to a terrific courtroom climax and keeps you hanging till the very end - but leaves you meandering unnecessarily beforehand. 




The Three Day Rule by Josie Lloyd & Emyln Rees

The three Day Rule -

More chick flick-script than novel, there is little argument that this book is on the trashy side. Yet I finished it in less than two days, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it.


As the Thornes come together for a family christmas the story follows the events that unfold from the point of view of four of the characters. An affair, dealing with the death of a son, new love, first love and teenage rebellion are on the menu in this christmas drama. The story is told piece-by-piece, in a fragmented manner as we flick between the characters and their respective pasts and presents.


Although often slow, and not very well written, an interesting plot begins to form as you skip through the quite readable pages. It culminates in a pacey and highly entertaining finale which cleverly intertwines the various storylines and produces some unexpectedly gripping moments.


While the style of writing is not memorable, some of the content is. In particular, the Stephanie passages, which take us through her struggles to deal with the loss of a child, her inability to forgive her husband for it, and her being cooped up with a sister-in-law she cannot stand.


If you're looking to quench your literary buds don't expect wonders from this book, but, if you're after something that will quicken that train journey, it'll do the trick.


The Witness by Nora Roberts

The Witness - Nora Roberts

"You can't run forever" reads the adage inscribed on the cover. Elizabeth, or Abigail as we come to know her, is the she who is running. Who she is running from: none other than the Russian Mafia.


A witness to a double-murder at 16, Elizabeth carries a testimony that the organization will go to any length to ensure she does not give. Unable to rely on the authorities to keep her safe, Elizabeth has no option but to hide where they can't find her.


A decade and a half later she lives as Abigail in the quiet rural town. Hidden behind security cameras, guns, a false identity and a large but loveable dog, she avoids people, and attaches herself to nothing and no one. No one, that is, until she catches the fancy of the local police chief, Brooks.


The plot then turns, tentatively at first, but with increasing sure-footedness, down the path of romance. The cloud of tension, although never quite dispersed, begins to ease as we realize that Abigail, with Brook's support, is ready to stop running, and start hunting.


The ending is unexpectedly quick - but nevertheless gripping, and the build-up is enjoyable. Abigail is an endearing character, whose exceptional intelligence and less-than-exceptional social skills remind one of the Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper. Her romance with Brooks is kept interesting by his attempts to scratch beneath the surface, and her conflict in deciding whether or not to let him.


Teeters on dragging at some points, but still keeps you interested. A good summer read: 4 stars

Dublin 4 by Maeve Binchy

Dublin 4 - Maeve Binchy

Dublin 4, the title a nice double-entendre, snapshots the lives of four people living in this exclusive south Dublin post code. Binchy does a good job of grabbing your curiosity from the word go, and for the most part she doesn't let it go. 


In the first, and my favourite of the four, Carmel plans a dinner party and invites her husband's mistress. The interest and suspense grows as we near the date, and we are as unsure as the rest of the neighborhood whether she knows about her husbands affair. In the second, Jo, a country girl, moves to the city, and we experience her wide-eyed naivety and loneliness at first hand. 


Next comes Pat: young, pregnant and too scared to tell her parents. A similar situation in which her sister Cathy had found herself a few years earlier. We share Pat's journey as she tries to understand both Cathy's story and her own. Then finally there is Gerry, who returns from rehab to his wife and family, and attempts to return to his former glory days as a photographer. 


Each story, it feels, finishes before it is complete, leaving you thinking - with your curiosity not entirely satisfied. And this is probably the best thing about the book, you find yourself with the same feelings and uncertainty that each character is left with at that point in time. 


A quick and enjoyable read, tinged with the sad realities of life. 



Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Double Fault - Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault is a story of competition set, not on the tennis court, but in marriage. It is a poignant, and at times harrowing, exploration of the struggles encountered in a relationship between two professionals.


Willy has always lived and breathed tennis. At 23 she is a star in the making. When she meets Eric, who is himself an aspiring player, a passionate relationship ensues. Yet Eric’s character stands in stark contrast to Willy’s. Far from having built his life around becoming the next McEnroe, his has been one full of intense but fleeting interests. For Eric tennis is a chance to make money, but for Willy “tennis is everything”.


Double Fault is drenched in irony. From the outset Willy is the prodigy, who has devoted her life to tennis. Yet it is Eric who rises up the rankings, increasingly destined for the big-time, Meanwhile Willy’s career falls apart, and she is left to watch with no small amount of bitterness as he plays the tournaments she has always dreamed of.


Shriver deliberately creates characters that are “hard to love”, and this book is full of them. Willy finds herself unable to feel happy for Eric, and their relationship disintegrates. Her self-loathing and resentment towards Eric make hard reading at times, to the point where we wonder how believable a character Willy is. For Shriver: “I use my characters to examine aspects of myself of which I’m suspicious, or with which I’m not terribly comfortable”. Our reading of Willy makes us consider to what extent we could have felt happy for Eric, had we been placed Willy’s shoes, and we are forced to contemplate our own selfish nature.


We are left to wonder why it is Eric, and not Willy, who succeeds. Every part of Willy craves it, and needs it, but Eric has none of Willy’s desire or passion. The answer, which Shriver reveals with her opening quote: “Rarely do you get something if you want it too much”, stands as a theme for the story. Eric does not fear failure in the same way that Willy does, partly because tennis does not mean the same to him, and partly because he simply does not believe that he will lose. This is reflected powerfully in their relationship too. Eric never seriously entertains the idea that their marriage is doomed, but Willy becomes convinced that it is over, bitterness and defeat around every corner are all that she can envision.


A striking realisation that Willy makes is that her capacity to love Eric is at the mercy of circumstance, in particular the status of her tennis game. If she is not in love with her game, she cannot bring herself to love Eric. We are left to contemplate whether it was her injured knee, or the rivalry she created with Eric that destroyed her career, whether the latter caused the former, and to what extent Eric himself contributed. We wonder how she is able to so thoroughly destroy the one thing she loves most: tennis, and what she will ever find to replace the empty void that it has left.


While masterfully written and thought-provoking Double Fault has never enjoyed popularity to rival Shriver’s highly acclaimed We need to talk about Kevin.


I thought I’d hit on a very timely subject in Double Fault —professional competition in the two-career marriage—and the bloody thing sold a meager 5,000 copies. Go figure” tells Shriver (http://bombsite.com/issues/93/articles/2774).


To some extent this may be due to the tennis backdrop. Details of the tennis circuit and on-court descriptions may strike many readers as tedious, and, while I personally enjoyed them, as a tennis fan I am a highly partial judge. Ultimately, tennis serves (excuse the pun) as an example, one that could be replaced by any other profession that becomes impossible to disentangle from a marriage.


Reading Double Fault, you are headed towards a depressing conclusion with all the inevitability of Rafael Nadal moving through the Roland Garros draw. There are sporadic rays of hope that left me thinking an upset could be on the cards: that Willy did love Eric and would work it out, but these moments were rare and deceiving. As Willy says herself “… in a way resuscitation was cruel – like the gift of an orange to a prisoner who would return to bread and water”. In many ways it left me feeling disappointed, empty, but it gives plenty of food for thought. An excellent and gripping, if not happy, read.


4 stars