At the Byron Writers Festival this weekend a late-afternoon session titled “This Book Changed my Life” incited considerable discussion about the influence of story. Chaired by Adam Suckling with Tracey Spicer, Susan Wyndham and the vivacious Barry Jones, each panelist in turn presented pivotal books from their childhood and adult-hood, followed by a recommendation for the Prime Minister, and then a tome they believe changed the world.
Amongst the socio-political manifestos and megaliths of literature, dystopian novels featured more than any other single genre, both in the panel and in contributions from the audience after. Surprising? Perhaps not. In recent years there’s been a noticeable trend toward dystopian narratives, in fiction, graphic novels, cinema and television. Classic masters such as Phillip K. Dick, Margaret Atwood and George Orwell are returning again and again to centre stage with screen adaptations, political goofs, and a growing suspicion that these fairy tales are not so far removed from reality as we think.
‘Ben, what is this swill?’
‘Mercutio! Well met, my coz.’
‘I’m not your coz, coz. My mother is no relation of yours, thank the gods.’
‘But could we not be coz’s all the same.’
‘By no gods shall we be coz’s.’
‘Not even by the god of wine.’
‘The god of wine? He has left this place, he is not to be found in these darkened hipster rooms. I wish the same could be said of your beard.’
What we can learn from the rise of the caped avenger.
The hero, it seems, will never die. From the ancient empire-creating adventures of Odysseus to the poetic quests of Sir Gawain, masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time have been tantalisingly heroic. Why? People like them.
Fast-forward a millennium or two and the narrative world is overrun with neon spandex and flying shields. Almost forty superhero blockbusters have been released since 2000. One has even made it into the top ten most popular movies of all time (according to the IMDb). Guardians of the Galaxyis already at 8.5 (at time of print) placing it on the same rung as Taxi Driver, American Beauty, even Citizen Kane. And this is a movie that features Bradley Cooper (two-time Oscar nominee) as a talking raccoon.
Halloween, All Hallow’s Eve, Allhallowtide, Night of the Dead, whatever you call it and however you think it came into being one thing’s for sure, it’s become a majorly lucrative chocolate-selling and movie-renting business. This year why not save your consumerist fervour for Christmas and instead stay home for a quiet evening read, with a flickering candle and a glass of brandy or something. What to read, you ask? We have just the thing.
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of fictional dads that doesn’t lead with Atticus Finch, so here he gets a category all of his own. This guy had it all. A lawyer raising two kids, teaching them to be real humans (the audacious character of Scout alone is testament to his fathering abilities) and defending the indefensible from the vilest aspects of human nature, all the while dispensing ageless advice to his children on the front porch of their Alabama home.
Last weekend Byron Bay hosted one of the largest writer’s festivals in Australia, with three days of marquee action in the Byron Arts & Industry Estate and many more satellite events and workshops in the surrounding area. Writer’s festivals are a sublime experience, crammed with ideas and reflections on culture, politics and current events as well as the wonder of fictional worlds and the nuts and bolts of the writing profession. As usual I returned home with a stack of new books to add to my bedside pile, all bearing the scribble of their maker and some rare insight into their creation.
Few movies have the boldness to be both utterly romantic and painstakingly realistic, holding our emotional response in some sort of excruciating stasis between hope and despair, made all the more raw by the immensely empathetic nature of the lives and thoughts and feelings of the two central characters. This movie came out in 2004, a year before I first visited Paris, and now the two are inextricably linked in my mind. I cannot visit Shakespeare & Co without imagining that heartbreakingly casual reconnection between Jesse and Celine, nine years in the making.
Not for the faint of heart, or short of mind.
Snaps for Marlon James, the first Caribbean to win the Booker Prize since V. S. Naipaul won in 1971 with In a Free State, and the third in a row of winners who have not been Irish, English or Indian.
James’ win should put a smile on many a rebellious face, much like the subject matter of his book A History of Seven Killings, which covers the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the 1970s and traces the cultural fallout through the following decades, employing a surprisingly diverse array of narrative voices.
Last week I got a bit academic on you and started down this road of form and structure, and what it means to readers and writers and so on. The reason for this dialectic digression stems from my own exploration of the concepts of form over the past few months while I have been structurally editing my manuscript. As anyone who has ever done this knows, ideas of form are integral to the structural process.
Literature and philosophy have been inseparably entwined in the thoughts of humankind since we first had such thoughts about such things. Almost all our modern thinking about narrative structure and form has its foundations, at least in part, in Aristotle’s famous examination of story, Poetics, which itself was a product of centuries of development of dramatic art and narrative experimentation.