Book review: Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_etcBelieve it or not, this is my first Salman Rushdie. He never struck me as the kind of author would appeal to me, but when I read he’d tackled magic realism genre with a literary somersault … Well, it’s got to be worth a look, hasn’t it?

The inconveniently-titled Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-eight Nights is an account of the war between humanity and a race of mythical genies who’ve breached the barriers between our world and their own. The genies are all-powerful, all-knowing and sex-mad. The human race is understandably bewildered. Along the way, we dip in and out of the lives of several mortals who happen to be descendents of one particular genie who has a soft spot for humanity. They live fairly ordinary lives, aside from being blessed/cursed with a random super-power. We have a baby that inflicts skin decay on anyone who tells a lie in its presence, and a gardener whose feet don’t touch the ground. These mortals are eventually gathered and recruited by their jinnia ancestor to fight for humanity…

All very odd.

The book is told from an extreme omniscient viewpoint: the storyteller is recounting the history of the war from a thousand years in the future, which lets him to jump from scene to scene and character to character (living or dead) with an almost manic abandon. It’s a very effective way to write a story covering centuries of religion, mysticism and numerous locations, but the book tends to sacrifice character development to do it. You never get a real sense of depth from any of the players, and after a while they all seem very similar.

The story itself is deeply philosophical and very dense; it clearly demonstrates the authors knowledge of religion/mythology, and his ability to weave these ideas together into a thought-provoking epic. It unashamedly aims to be a literary work, and while I was reading it I wondered if it was perhaps trying too hard. I like the odd passage of flowery exposition as much as the next man, but in many places I found it a bit repetitive: we’d have a passage of near-poetry telling us about a character, and then almost straight away, another passage saying the same thing. The book was a classic slow-burner, but the pace picked up as the war progressed: the expositions thinned out and the writing became much tighter.

I sometimes stumble into the school of thought that says the reader should expect to work hard to appreciate literary fiction. Well, for me this book was quite hard work, and while I appreciated the effort that had gone into it, I wasn’t sure I completely enjoyed it. Some of the phrasing certainly made me think, ‘Wow – that was bloody good’, but on the whole it didn’t really move me, and when I’m reading literary fiction, that’s what I’m looking for.  A good story though: highly original, well told and with some genuinely funny moments.

Six out of ten

 

Jessica Jones: Superheroes with soul.

Netflix and Marvel’s Jessica Jones shows how these things should be done. Yes, it’s another superhero series, but this one is every bit as good as Daredevil, and what makes it good is what’s been left out:

jessica-jones-netflix-poster.jpg

  • No one seems to have any super powers; well, nothing earth-shattering anyway. You won’t find anyone here who can knock down a building by breathing on it. Jessica gets by on modicum of super-strength, and seems to be powered by vodka and very little else. She’s a private detective by day, and like all good gumshoes, she drinks to forget.
  • There are no city-levelling fight scenes.
  • No hi-tech armour, no mystical hammers and no indestructible shields.
  • No Scarlett Johanssen, but I’ll get over it.

What it does have is an easy slow-burning plot and a rather seedy feel that comes across as a sort of film noir shot in a slum. The script is deadpan, not overdone, with a hint of dark humour. They’re not trying to send a message or save the world; none of the heroes and villains here give a hoot about anything or anyone.  It’s surprisingly heavy on the sex scenes, and the director hasn’t pulled any punches in any of the fight sequences – and there aren’t that many of those.

I didn’t make it through the first episode of Supergirl; I’ve watched four episodes of Jessica Jones, back to back, and when I’m done here I’m going back for more. Great stuff.

Eight out of ten.

Film review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

I’m one of the Hunger Games’ unlikely fans: I didn’t think I’d like it, but the first two were brilliant (we should see more of Donald Sutherland). Mockingjay Part 1 was okay (kind of), and having seen Part 2, I’m pretty sure that’s where they should have stopped at Part 1

Yes, it was beautifully shot: the actions scenes were real edge-of-your-seat stuff, and the sets were breathtaking. The acting didn’t disappoint (no one’s going to win an oscar, but the performances were creditable).

So, my only real problem was with the movie itself: what was the point? Aside from the obvious (to make the studios a big pot of money), I struggled to see what they were aiming for. I had a similar problem with the Fantastic Four, except that film had been cut to fit into ninety minutes, Mockingjay 2 had been stretched to cover two and a half hours.

mockingjay-2-new-poster-143042

There was an awful lot of travelling about; a lot deep, meaningless conversations in rooms alternating between pitch black and blazingly lit; the heroine wandered back and forth between home and the frontline while sighing and gazing into the middle distance… I started wondering if this could have all been wrapped up in Mockingjay Part 1 with a bit of judicious editing. Maybe not, but there certainly wasn’t enough here for two and half hours.  I guess that the studio (quite rightly) wanted to feel that the audience was getting its money’s worth; I’m just not sure this was the way to do it.

Still, if you’re a Hunger Games fan then you’re going to see it to find out what happens, and so you should. (Just don’t worry too much if you show up late). There are a few interesting twists along the way, though you won’t be hard pressed to see them coming, and as I said, Donald Sutherland was manically brilliant.

Five out of ten.