Tuesday, February 23, 2010

return to me

In December last year the bloggers at The Auteurs Notebook posted lists of "fantasy double features": films that, they thought, deserved to appear together, like Miyazaki's Ponyo and Osamu Tezuka's Legend of the Forest, Part I. I thought: I wonder what it would look like if you used books.

And I dawdled over the idea for weeks until the Guardian book blog beat me to it.

A few suggestions:

Martin Boyd's Langton Quartet and Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.

I haven't finished the Quartet, but unless the last part is dramatically different to the first, I think this would work. Both authors owe a debt to Proust; and the tone of voice in both cases seems to me similar, being decent, reflective, friendly, settled, British (even though Boyd is not), male, and fairly socially privileged. (Whispering Gums suggests similarities between Boyd and Austen.)

Colette's My Mother's House and Sido, and Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.

The two writers remember their parents, taking particular notice of their mothers. Lucille Clifton's poem oh antic God could be inserted before the main feature to take the place of a short.

… return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother's calling …

Clifton died recently. The Poetry Foundation website has a selection of her work.

For a more dramatic contrast: My Mother's House and The Man Who Loved Children.

Two poems: Cesário Verde's The Feelings of a Westerner and Bysshe Vanolis' City of Dreadful Night.

This double bill was inspired by the Wuthering Expectations blog's investigation of Vanolis, a Scot whose real name was James Thomson. Both poems are narrated by men who feel extravagant and distressing emotions as they walk through large cities; and both were written in the second half of the 1800s.

Daniachew Worku's The Thirteenth Sun and Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

Worku takes the language of Faulkner's ideas and uses it to describe Ethiopia during the reign of Haile Selassie. You could also pair Worku's book with Williams Sassine's Wirriyamu, comparing the polemic fiction of African anti-colonialism to the pessimistic self-assessment of an African country that has not been colonised. (Calm pessimism is a luxury.)

George Eliot's Middlemarch, and Victor Hugo's Les Misérables.

You could mix these around with Bleak House, War and Peace, or any of those other books that try to swallow a whole country from the higher parts of society to the lower. A Suitable Boy perhaps?

Hannah Arendt's On Revolution and Melville's Billy Budd.

Arendt draws on Budd as she discusses the intersection between Rousseau's ideas about the native virtue of Natural Man, and the men who saw the French Revolution transform into the Reign of Terror.

Elizabeth Jolley's Lovesong and Alex Miller's Lovesong.

Purely for the titles. I haven't read Miller's book.

The Selected Poems of Gwen Harwood and Jolley's Lovesong.

Music is important to both books, and the two writers share an impressionistic or pointillist method of putting a piece of work together.

Pierre Louÿs' Aphrodite and Jacob's Room, by Woolf.

One writer's worship of the ancient world versus the other writer's sane and smiling glance at ancient-world worship. I would read them in that order too. Aphrodite contains the quintessential decadent line: "It is almost three hours since I arose; I am dying of fatigue," uttered by a character who has spent most of that three hours sitting in a chair or lying down in a bath.

En-hedu-ana's Inana and Ebih and Antar (or Antara, or Antarah, or 'Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-'Absī)'s The Poem of Antar.

Two warlike narrators and a chanting style, at least in translation. (I am thinking of this version of Inana and this Antar.)

Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate. Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Grossman's book would not have existed in its present shape without Tolstoy's. He is even faithful to the idea that we should spend intimate time with the leaders of both sides in his story's war. One of the book's daring surprises -- which I am about to ruin for you if you have not read it -- is the sudden plunge into Hitler.

Paul Theroux's The Mosquito Coast and Christina Stead's The People with the Dogs.

The two authors look at utopias. Theroux approaches the idea from one angle, Stead approaches it from others. His approach is quite clear and driven, hers surrounds the idea like an amoeba and bores into it.

Christina Stead's Letty Fox - Her Luck, and Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders.

Letty is like Moll, sexually pragmatic.

Two short stories: Alice Munro's Runaway and Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Ovid's Metamorphoses and Satomi Ikazawa's Guru Guru Pon-Chan.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Fernanado Pessoa's Book of Disquiet.

Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines and today's newspaper.

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