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French Film Festival: Non Fiction


non fiction 4

This film, directed by Olivier Assayas will have special appeal to writers. There are animated discussions about the nature of fiction, the future of print media — everyone huddled over wine and finger food. I felt very much at home!

Near the end of the film there is a reference to words from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard: Everything must change so that everything can stay the same. And indeed, this can be seen as the main premise of the film — most significantly as a response to discussions about the future of literature, but also as an underpinning to the lives of the main characters in the film. Should the publishing company focus on E-Books and audiobooks? There is an amusing suggestion that Juliette Binoche would be a good person to read a particular audiobook: Binoche plays the part of Selena in the film.

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Leonard , played by Vincent Macaigne

The film opens with writer Leonard discussing his latest book with his publisher. He has published several books — Leonard describes his writing as ‘auto-fiction’ — but his critics say it is actually autobiography — a case of blurring the line between fact and fiction, because each book is about one of Leonard’s affairs — and we, the audience, discover that his latest affair is with Selena, the wife of his publisher. Unaware of this, the publisher tells Leonard that, on this occasion, he won’t offer Leonard a contract.

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Leonard with Selena

Leonard is a lovable, seemingly naive character. When Selena breaks off the affair, Leonard tries to tell his wife, who isn’t particularly interested. At the end of the film, we are on tenterhooks when Leonard and his wife have a beach-house lunch with Selena and her publisher husband. Will the truth about Leonard and Selena’s relationship slip out? It comes close when Leonard, in his naive way, admits that he’s been to the house before — he must have gone there on some occasion with Selena. All is well — and the countryside, a remote beach, is beautiful. On the way home, Leonard and his wife take a break (they are on a motor scooter) and, lying under a beautiful coastal pine tree, his wife tells him she is pregnant. Leonard seems stunned, but ultimately delighted. His writing will probably take a new direction. And near the end of the film there is mention of a ‘spike’ in the sale of print books in the US.


Brian Aldiss: master of metaphor

Maybe this is a grandiose claim, and I am referring to only one book by Aldiss. But, as I read Comfort Zone, his novel published in 2013, when he would have been 88, I found that I was picking out more favourite phrases and metaphors than usual. So I decided to write something in the ‘Writing’ category of my blog, rather than a book review. As I read, I kept saying to myself, this man who at the time had been writing books for more than 60 years, really knows how to write.

I took a little while to get into this book, in which we are confined by the daily routines of an 80 year-old man living in a village on the outskirts of Oxford. But the writing is beautiful, with an underlying wit and honesty about what it’s like to be shuffling around in your eighties. At one point Aldiss finds the need to jump into the text and tell us that the main character, Justin, isn’t him. In parallel with coping with life: the end of a love affair, an adult disabled son, the need for a medley of medications, Justin works on a thesis about the evils done by religions in the world today and the suggestion that everything is governed by chance.

Some metaphors and phrases that I particularly liked are:

windows with their pouting sills (page 8)

complaint crept in like a hungry slug among lettuces
(page 32)

a woman of bustling corpulence
(page 78)

the summit of Justin’s happiness
(page 97)

[a face] alight with anger
(page 110)

his rickety old voice
(page 122)

his … voice clogged with a junket of hope and dread
(page 254)

[a] tumbledown man
(page 264)

the suited man whinnied with laughter
(page 290)

Charlotte Wood:The Natural Way of Things

This book won the 2016 Stellar Prize for women’s writing. The language is masterful, conveying a pent up, simmering anger towards misogyny that is rife in our present society. Through the book we suffer the experiences of ten young women – some still in their teens –who come to from a drugged state and find themselves in a horrifying captivity. The story is told from the viewpoint of two of these young women, Yolanda and Verla.  In some ways the prison – a kind of run-down remote sheep station – is timeless. The girls are forced to wear scratchy uniforms and have their hair shaved like women in 19th century prisons. Yet they are contained by a high and powerful electric fence. Along with Yolanda and Verla, it takes some time for the reader to realise why the girls have been imprisoned. But we come to realise that each has been involved in some kind of sexual misadventure – scandals involving powerful men, footballers, a politician; the kinds of situations where the victim is accused of being the perpetrator. The novel has been labelled dystopian. How plausible is it that in today’s world, Hardings International Agency might run such a prison to remove women whose presence is an inconvenience (the politician, for example does not want his wife, or his electors to find out about the affair)? Force the women into hard labour, situate them in a place that is completely removed from any form of communication, feed them nothing but watery powdered food. What happens?

I do not see this as any kind of fantasy novel although some aspects are implausible.  The two guards seem to be imprisoned too. Supplies run out (and the electricity goes off, though not the electricity for the fence) but Boncer and Ted can do nothing about it. A pathetic woman, Nancy, who is supposed to be a kind of nurse, is almost as much a captive as the girls. Ultimately the girls kill their two captors, but this doesn’t mean they can escape through the fence. And prior to this they offer up (or force to submit) one of their own as a ‘sacrifice’ to Boncer’s sexual needs. There is no sense of sisterly bonding. Hetty waits ‘lumpish and squinting’ to face her ordeal – which ultimately leads to her suiciding by touching the fence.

For Yolanda and Verla there is some kind of return to the ‘natural way’, where Yolanda gradually, almost metamorphoses into a rabbit and Verla has a kind of obsession (not an addiction) with mushrooms. These women will not return to their former world or their former selves. Whereas – implausibly again – after months of captivity and after their captors have been killed, a bus comes to collect the remaining girls and – an overwhelming cynicism here – they delight in the expensive department store sample bags that are distributed to them. The bus takes them through the electric fence’s gate (and Yolanda and Verla slip through too), but where will it take the girls?  ‘The girls . . .burrow back into their treasures, not caring, not seeing that the bus turns west, not east.’ [page 309] And when the bus driver says, You poor girls. He ‘did not mean what had happened to them back there. He meant what was to come.’ [page 309]

Metaphors and phrases I like

As a new writer, I often marvel at the language of other more experienced writers. One beautifully chosen word sums up a feeling or paints a picture. So for a couple of years now, I’ve been ‘collecting’ these examples as I read. I use an index card as a bookmark. I usually have a pen nearby, so it is no trouble to record these phrases when I read them. I apologise that I haven’t noted all the publication details of the books. Here are ten phrases from my collection.

Judge Beggs lay on his stern iron bed Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p.16
The leggy pier Beverley Farmer, A Body of Water, p 134
The clatter of his wife’s existence Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, p 33
The glacial neatness of Mrs Peniston’s drawing-room Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, p 42
Their fathers were all ruddy, explosive men Toni Jordan: Addition, p. 41
The hoarse voice of the preacher blew death into his soul James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p.120
Nancy, dressed at enormous expense by the greatest artists in Paris, stood there looking as if her body had merely put forth, of its own accord, a green frill. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, page 157
They stay turtled up to the bar Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, p.199
the ceiling fan’s blades . . . slowly shucked time Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p.146
the red and grey huddle of Kiplington Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p. 61

Here are ten more that I’ve collected:

My heart flopped in my chest like a hooked fish. Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, p.45
Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. Cormac McCarthy: The Road
the words fidgeted in her mouth Markus Zusak: The Book Thief, p. 147
a gust of annoyance Cate Kennedy: Former Glory (novella), p.34
irrepressible vitality Vera Brittain: Testament of Friendship
a crackling aura of purpose Helen Garner: This House of Grief p.169
curdled with contempt Helen Garner: This House of Grief p.224
We were all standing in a soup of grief. Margaret Drabble: The Pure Gold Baby p. 177
her nicotine-cadenced throat Margaret Drabble: The Pure Gold Baby p.182
her red coat bled into view Emily Bitto: The Strays p.1
a rambling collective

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