sexta-feira, dezembro 31, 1999

I killed Fiver: “Watership Down” by Richard Adams



“Watership Down”. 30+ years later I still sometimes get nightmares. "There's a dog loose in the wood... there's a dog loose in the wood..."

Couple the painful nostalgic setting of an old and disappearing rural England, with the horrors of the totalitarian rabbits, and you get something that strikes fear into the deep places of an English born soul I imagine. At least this Portuguese born soul was afraid...We need to get to a high, dry place, where we can see all around for miles, where we will be safe!!!!

I tried to watch it recently for 'research' (i.e., confronting the aforementioned childhood trauma) and lunged to paw wildly at the off switch after 10 minutes. Its sense of suffocating dread is undimmed. A long time ago I ran over a rabbit on the road and instantly I thought "I killed Fiver". I felt like curling up under my desk and silently weep for a while. Even the relatively bloodless bits are horrible - like that creepy Cowslip rabbit and his mates who sit around reciting poetry about death to each other.  Even the instrumental stuff still gives me the shivers. I remember at school having to somehow swallow and somehow manage a particularly difficult conflict in my mind. My Geography teacher was telling me about raised beaches, U-shaped valleys, ancient lava flows, terminal moraines and all that and, hillwalking in rural Portugal, I could see it all, stark and beautiful like the diagrams in the books coming to life. Meanwhile another teacher I had talked of this Flood that seemed to leave behind nothing, merely a supposed (and dismally temporary!) elimination of "sin via" genocide (which even then I found morally sick). And it was recent, there were no traces of it and he even swore blind that our 6,000 year-old Earth has never known ages of glaciation, that fossilisation was either a fraud (it wasn't - I KNEW that because I had found fossils in previously closed pebbles), or was a process that only took a few thousand years. And that latter story was to me a dead story. It offered nothing. No explanation for the world about me, no solace and certainly no moral guidance. Nor was it afraid of trumpeting its disdain for science, for the stories that did sincerely try to and often did sincerely manage to explain the world. That's me over four decades mooching around here. Meanwhile the lies and evasions of his spokespeople only get more obvious.

Re-read it about 5 years ago. It still touches something deep. (Let's gloss over the way that female rabbits are simply not worth writing about and don't exist as characters at all (with one single exception in a small part of the book), when they are mentioned it is more in the sense of cows to be herded. Sad but of its time I suppose.) The whole story of the second 2/3rds of the book hinges on there being NO FEMALES in the group. In the book the hutch rabbits rescued from Nuthanger Farm (two of whom are female) are brave but a liability, due to their domesticated nature. Almost at the very end of the book, the Efrafan females who break out with Bigwig are extremely courageous, but unable to think for themselves beyond petty rebellion because of the oppression they have suffered with the single exception of Hyzenthlay.

The strongest, feistiest female character in the book, I think, is the farm cat, although she is mainly an unseen menace, but what she isTo be more representative of real rabbits, the nomad band who establish the “Watership Down” warren should have been predominantly female to begin with, and that would have addressed the sexism problem (which is about human, rather than alpine society), from the start, but to do that now, it wouldn't be “Watership Down” anymore. Perhaps they should just write a new story, possibly about Hedgehogs, because they could use all the help they can get just now. There will be the new 'Beyonce' rabbit who stands up for all the single lady rabbits and then sings about Lemonade when Bigwig goes over the side.

NB: The male rabbits will all be bumbling fools who take everything as a joke, and get lost in the woods. The fearless female rabbits come to their rescue, dig a new warren and fight off the General and his rabbits, and set up a lesbian rabbit male-free commune.

sexta-feira, dezembro 10, 1999

Elaborateness: "Nightmare Town" by Dashiell Hammett



(Original Review, 1999-12-10)



When one wants to elect the best of Dashiell Hammet, one invariably chooses The Maltese Falcon, Classic that it is, but instead I would go for Dashiell Hammett’s short novel, Nightmare Town” as one of my favourites. The set up is brilliant and the wider issues - American criminality, capitalism, the mirage of consumption - is all combined with some brilliant intrigue, weird characters, and clean hard boiled prose. Unlike the Sam Spade novels, though, Nightmare Town has kind of palpable energy and ambition that gives it greater flavor as well as substance. Also don’t agree with what I read objecting to classifying Lolita [2018 EDIT: Link added in 2018] as Crime Fiction. Clare Quilty is nothing but a criminal, although he ends up pursuing and tormenting Humbert. And the way they both victimize Lolita, not to mention her mum - who Humbert cruelly delights in branding “the Haze woman”. It is a novel about America, and desire, and kitsch, and bourgeois depravity, and it comes suffused in a kind of blowsy desperation - but let’s not forget it is also about a serial paedophile who competes with another man for the attentions of an only just pubescent girl who ends up being sex trafficked to a porn studio/cult across the Mexican border. And if the Haze Woman hadn’t snuffed it by fluke, Humbert would almost certainly have murdered her. The fact that these 2 men are urbane sufficient to impress the drab suburbanites around them does not make their desires less violent or the lengths they go to satisfy them less monstrous - quite the reverse, in fact! Hammett, in a way, reminds me of the way Lee Child goes about his business by using the elaborateness of pushing a sharpened pin punch into somebody's head and what it does to their brain, just before he pushes a sharpened wire cutter into somebody's head and brain. In Reacher's case, it's all about the violence and I just wonder if that's what Hammett is trying to do here, seeing as he was writing with a commercial eye - trying to describe it so that the reader can imagine punching somebody like that themselves and how it would feel to crack someone's jaw and lay them out cold...Maybe that’s why I like Lee Child’s Reacher. Whenever there is a layer two under a person’s persona of what they present to society as being normal, it reminds me of how the clothes of people mask who they truly are. In this regard, Hammett beats Child easily.