Thursday, 25 April 2013

Lost in translation

First thoughts about the 2013 IFFP

For the past three years I've belonged to (and help run) a book group that reads books that have been translated into English.  We've read our way around the world and all manner of genres and met a lot of interesting writers and translators.

This year we are shadowing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and have been sent two books to read and discuss in advance of a reader's day in London which some of us will be attending.

I've been reading the first of the two "Traveller of the Century" by Andres Neuman (translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia) for over two weeks now and this is very unusual for me as I generally either race through a book or give up on it.

The book is nearly 600 pages long but that isn't the reason for my slowness, in fact I am at a loss to explain how I am reading it.  The story is very slow and ponderous, to be honest after 460 pages not an awful lot has happened, but there is just enough plot to keep me interested. I like the translation strand of the tale, many of the same questions we've grappled with as a group are discussed but I really could do without the sex scenes. I'm not a prude but these seem both badly written and gratuitous.

I want to know how Neuman can resolve so many threads in 150 pages without changing the style. I fear that I am going to feel unsatisfied but the skill shown so far is keeping me hopeful.

I think there are going to be some good discussions around this book both at our next meeting and at the reader's day.  I am glad that our second book is a bit shorter however...

Monday, 22 April 2013

Theatrical Interlude 8 (2013)

Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios, London. April 2013

Where to start with this one?

It should have been so good, in fact early reviews and talk were what encouraged Rebecca and I to squeeze this in to our schedules. I wonder if it was this buzz/hype that has left us feeling so ambivalent about this one?

The chance to see the Scottish Play with a predominantly Scottish cast from a director whose work we've previously liked - on paper is sounded perfect.  If only it had lived up to it all for us.

Before we went I knew that it was going to be a bloody performance and it certainly lived up to that.  I wouldn't be surprised to know that there was a nationwide shortage of Kensington Gore by the time the play closes! However it wasn't just blood as a bodily fluid that was represented on stage.  I'm pretty sure that the original stage directions didn't include Macbeth throwing up on stage...

I'm struggling to find many positive things to say here. The production was dark - as in I couldn't see the actors a lot of the time.  It was shouty - I'm sure that there are other ways to express emotions rather than raising the voice. It was incomprehensible at times - characters wore masks and then didn't enunciate. It was violent - so violent and gory that by the end it had lost all impact and was like a cartoon.

For me the biggest problem was the Scottish accents - rather than adding to the play they also seemed affected and overblown (despite that being the natural accent for several of the cast). All I could hear throughout the play was the exaggerated, comedic accents of Hamish and Dougal as voiced by Graeme Garden and Barry Crier.

All in all this wasn't an afternoon I enjoyed and at all. It felt all style and no substance and I couldn't connect with any of the characters at all. I'm sure that actors were very good but as I either couldn't hear them clearly because of the masks or because they were shouting I'll have to take other people's opinions on that!

I'm just hoping that I enjoy the version of Macbeth that the Globe are staging later on in the is one of the classic Shakepeare plays after all!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Theatrical Interlude 7 (2013)

Wicked, Apollo Victoria, London. April 2013.

My love of theatre is spreading again - this time my companion was my aunt. In fact this was her long postponed Christmas treat - bad weather and ice thwarted our planned trip in January.

I've seen Wicked before but I often listen to the soundtrack and was pleased to be going again. This time we had seats in the stalls, only a few back from the stage.  I was a little worried that we'd be too close (and a little too much to the side) but in the end I think that we were in almost perfect seats.

I've sat in the stalls at a large scale musical before but never so close and it was a real treat to see just how much performers in a big theatre do still act - being able to see the facial expressions really added to the experience.

It has been quite a while since I've been to a large musical and I'd forgotten just what a feel good spectacle they can be, I was swept away from curtain up and 3 hours haven't passed so fast in ages.

Our day wasn't just the theatre however as we also became ladies that lunch with a two course meal (and champagne) at the nearby Grosvenor Hotel.  Our food here was delicious, the setting stunning and the service attentive and unobtrusive.  If you are ever looking for a reasonably priced but fancy meal in London I heartily recommend the Brasserie here.

The sun shone all day and we had a very nice walk around Belgravia beforehand - although it was a disappointment at the time I am now very pleased we had to reschedule as this was a perfect spring day.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Book review including Cakes and Ale...?

Shakespeare's Local by Pete Brown

On the main road leading from London Bridge, a spit and a cough from The Globe Theatre, is a pub whose origins can be traced back to the time of Chaucer. In fact it stands near enough next door to the Tabard Pun, from where Chaucer's pilgrims departed in the Canterbury Tales.

In this book by beer writer Pete Brown the fascinating 600 years of the building's history is peeled back slowly and carefully. The reader learns about the history of the area, the history of beer and of the Inn itself.

As some one who likes this sort of personal history, and Pete Brown's style, I liked this book immensely. Unusually for me I did find it a book to dip in and out chapter by chapter as it was quite dense but I still read it over the course of 2 weeks rather than it laying discarded for months!

On my first trip to the Southwark area in a while I did search the building out, and while I only had time for a lemonade this time I will be back to have a more detailed look and to poke around into some of the remaining galleries.

As for whether or not this was Shakespeare's Local - you'll have to read the book to find out!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Theatrical Interlude 6 (2013)

Proof, Chocolate Menier Theatre, London. April 2013.

It finally seemed as if spring had sprung. It was a warm(ish) day, the sun was shining and the daffodils were in bloom along the South Bank. Were Rebecca and I mad for spending so much of a lovely day on trains and then in a dark theatre seeing a play which we knew little about?

The simple answer to this was absolutely not.

We had a very nice morning pottering in the sunshine, and while we didn't manage lunch outside we did have a swift drink outsides at The George Inn, this pub is the subject of Pete Brown's book Shakespeare's Local which I read recently and will blog about soon.

As well as the play being new to us so was the theatre, but when I mentioned it to my mum she instantly said that she knew it because she could see it form the train when she comes to London. This hint was invaluable as we were wandering around the side streets of Southwark as we started our zen navigation by looking for the railway arches!

We knew that the venue was small however it was a little unnerving to get to a theatre 10 minutes before curtain-up and see practically no one around.  The theatre was accessed through a bar/restaurant and then down a few steps into the auditorium.  Due to the size I don't think that there can be a bad seat in the house and for this play the stage was dressed as the back porch of a run down house which was revealed to be in Chicago and while small was used to far more purpose than some of the larger ones in the West End.

The play itself was a four-hander, a mathematician father, his two daughters and a former student.  It was about many things - metal illness, death of a parent, family relationships, love, maths and proof being the topics I saw.  I feel that every person who sees this play takes something different from it, depending on personal circumstances. Being married to someone who works in a science based department at a university I found a lot of the throw away lines about faculty departments funnier than the people next to me for instance.
The scenes between the family members felt very realistic and unlike some domestic dramas I found the  ensemble piece to be true to life and neither under played nor overblown.

Proof wasn't a long play but I found it to have quite a punch, and I am really glad that I saw it.  I wish more plays like this happened in the provinces.  If we are honest the draw of this play was the actors. If we hadn't and admired Jamie Parker in other plays we'd probably never have tried an unknown play, in an unknown theatre and that really would have been our loss.
This was worth the seat price and the train fare, it has given me a lot to think about - like the best books, plays and films should.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

To infinity and beyond - or Low Earth Orbit

Spacewalker by Jerry Ross

I was lucky enough to obtain a copy of this through NetGalley just before a recent trip to the Space Coast in Florida.

I am a great fan of astronaut memoirs, while I can appreciate the beauty and engineering of space craft it is the human stories that really interest me. I've read many of the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo memoirs and I am on the look out for translation of Russian memoirs and Space Shuttle era books too.

A few months ago NetGalley offered Reaching for the Stars by the first Mexican Astronaut but due to the style of the book (Hernandez appears to have written it in English although this isn't his first language or translated it himself) I had to give up - it didn't flow at all and I wasn't captivated by the story enough to persevere with it.

Spacewalker by Ross on the other hand was a treat from cover to cover. He manages a nice blend of technical details, family details and impressions of space to make the book readable and enjoyable.  He had to work hard to get where he did and isn't afraid to talk about the failures in his own life and in the space program overall.
In total Ross took flew on 7 missions, including the very first mission to construct the International Space Station. He was an expert spacewalker and was the only astronaut to be involved with the entire lifespan of the Space Shuttle.

What was even luckier was that while we were in Florida Jerry Ross was at the Kennedy Space Center giving talks on 3 days and so I got to hear him in person and to tell him  how much I liked his book.

It might be that the Space Shuttle program doesn't seem to be as captivating as the early missions but with memoirs like this around this could easily change.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Theatrical Interlude 5 (2013)

A Life of Galileo (RSC), Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, March 2013.

I saw this play a few weeks ago now on an over night trip to Stratford. I'd hoped to see something by Shakespeare in his birth place but unfortunately the dates didn't work out this time.

In the end it didn't matter as I loved every minute of this play. The theatre itself reminded me of an indoor (and if I am honest more comfortable Globe) and the staging very much of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

However as time has now passed since I saw this (Mr Bookworm and I went to the States to indulge in our other interest - space travel) all I can think of to say about A Life of Galileo is that if it transfers or tours I urge you all to go and see it.

At times it isn't easy watching - Galileo (in this version) was very lucky that his daughter was a forgiving person or he could have been in a whole heap worse trouble. It is however intelligent, fun and very thought provoking and I am sorry that I didn't have the time to write a proper review while it was fresher in my mind.

From a lot of books I've read about theatre it seems that you are either a Beckett or a Brecht person. I've now seen one of each and at present I feel I am more drawn to Brecht, but that could just have been thanks to the new translation...I shall have to try more of both to come to an informed decision!