Wednesday, 17 July 2013

More concerts in France, and I open my big mouth to diss - slightly - the World’s Greatest Novelist

I’ve been here in Illats, south of Bordeaux, for a week and it is hot. Yes, I know it is also hot in Old Blighty, but it is a little hotter here. The heatwave in Britain is most probably something of an aberration – in several years time folk will be talking about ‘the summer of 2013’ as we still talk about ‘the summer of 1976’ when we were all encouraged to stop pissing and pooing to save water, eat off palm leaves to save on the washing up and to recycle our G&T ice-cubes (sounds impossible, I know, but you would be surprised what skills you can acquire quite rapidly when needs must).

Not that there will be any ‘water-saving measures this summer, however dire it gets and however burnt to a cinder lawns throughout Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire become. The government would simply not dare after all the floods and rain we had until three weeks ago. There must be enough water down there in our acquifers (or whatever the technical term is) to last us two or three scorching summers, so a hosepipe ban is surely oompletely out of the question.

I am staying, as I have been for, I think, the past three years with my stepmother’s aunt and accompanying her to concerts. Her husband isn’t interested (and, anyway, he has been ill these past few days, although he is slowly recovering – according to the doctor ‘there’s a lot of what he’s got about among old people in these temperatures’). Because my aunt stayed home to keep an eye on here husband last week, I went to the first concert, on Thursday evening, on my own. It given by a group of seven singers who call themselves Scandicus and sing late 15th, early 16th music a cappella. It’s not to everyone’s taste but I like that kind of music a great deal. The next concert was by Maxim Vengerov and a pianist called Itamar Golan (I looks rather like what I should imagine a Mossad field agent would look like – he looks liked the kind of toughie you wouldn’t want to mix it with).

They played duos by Beethoven, Schubert, Franck and Saint-Saens, followed by two encore pieces by Brahms, both thoroughly rousing, designed, I suspect, to get the audience to demand a third encore, which we got. It was a gentle piece by Faure designed to calm us all down again and indeed we did and afterwards all went quietly. My aunt commented that she though Vengerov had gained weight and that his fingers seemed thicker, especially around the joints, and as she had a sister who developed appalling arthritis and gained a great deal of weight because of the steroids she had to take, was wondering whether Vengerov, too, is developing arthritis.

There was to be a concert on Saturday, but that was cancelled, so our next concert is tonight. Apart from attending those concerts I have been doing very little (which suits me well). Yesterday, we went off to Bordeaux and called in on a 92-year-old former colleague of my aunt’s, a Liverpudlian woman who met and married a Frenchman just after the war and has been living in France for the past 62 years, but still hasn’t lost he Scally accents. She also rates in my book because she can still laugh at the silly jokes I sometimes hear and pass on to her which my aunt will treat with sheer and disdain. (An example: a chap went to the doctor and asked him whether he could give him anything for persistent wind. The doctor gave him a kite.)

My aunt, who is 82-years-old, is rather crotchety these days and anything not being exactly in the place she is accustomed to it being has been earning me a stern rebuke on each occasion, even though I have no idea I had done wrong. There are several things I always look out for and have done so for the past three years – ensuring the lavatory seat is down if I take a leak during the night, for example, and not overfilling the kettle (a bad one, that), but even though I say so myself, I am a considerate guest, never take anything for granted and am getting just a tad cheesed off at being treated like a naughty, rather dense schoolboy. But she is 82, after all, and naturally I say nothing. Lord knows what I shall be like at that age, if I ever actually get there.

. . .

I have just finished reading The Human Stain by Philip Roth. I bought the novel after seeing the film and was rather taken by it. And I only saw the film because I had watched Bad Company with Jeff Bridges, which was rather good, and was looking for other films by its director, Robert Benton. His film stars Anthony Hookins, Ed Harris and Nicole Kidman and is a reasonably entertaining potboiler. Actually, that’s unfair. Hopkins and Harris are both good actors and give great performances. Kidman was thoroughly miscast, but I didn’t realise that until I had read the novel.

As for that novel, well I should say straight off that it is more complex than the film. Indeed, like many films ‘of the book’ it is more a film based on material presented in the book. One character, in particular is wholly excised from the film’s version, a young female and highly ambitious French professor called Delphine Roux. Oddly, although she is well-realised in the novel, she did strike me as being something to close to a plot device for comfort, and doesn’t really even make an appearance in the novel until the last quarter. And dare I say this? After all Roth is now regarded as one of America’s ‘great’ novelist hand has been ‘awarded prizes’, not least the Kellogg’s Golden Wheatflake for producing literary masterpiece after literary masterpiece while starting each working day on a bowl of cornflakes.

But in my extremely humble, though it has to be said, firmly held opinion, The Human Stain is rather overwritten. It has to be said that given Roth’s talent for the telling phrase what he does supply in excess paragraph after paragraph is very readable and very entertaining, but I sincerely feel his novel would have gained by being trimmed by a third and perhaps even a half. The trouble is that for the past 40 years, it seems, novels in America are sold by weight, so there is no reason for a writer to limit himself. And given all ‘the prizes’ Roth and others have received, I dare say there is a tad too much deference in his publisher’s office when Phil (or one of their other star novelists) turns up with his or her latest manuscript. (‘Do you know, Philip, I hardly thought that it could even be possible, but, by God, I do think this is even better than your last novel!’) Anyone reading this might or, more probably, might not have read The Human Stain, but I would love to be able to hear another’s point of view.

Anyway, what do I know?

. . .

Yesterday, I took a little time out and made my own way home from Bordeaux. I was looking for a pleasant bar with a shady courtyard where I might sit quietly on my own and enjoy a cigar or two and a glass of lager or six. As it turned out, and despite meandering through the countryside as I mad safe, I couldn’t find any, so I settled for a small bar in Podensac, the slightly bigger town near where I am staying. The Tour de France was on the telly, but inside the bar was empty. Outside, on the street, were four tables, and I can confirm that

1) the French also have the chavs (‘les chavées’, perhaps), and

2) that the bloody awful love affair the Westen world now has with getting a tattoos all over your body is doing exceptionally well here in the corner of south-western France. The pic below, in keeping with the bar

(though I did still manage to enjoy my cigars and lager) was taken on the way back from ‘la toilette’ at the back to my table.

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