Tuesday, 3 June 2008

End of the road...

I like to finish a story so I am pleased to be able to tell you that I did finally finish Ben Okri's 'The Famished Road' this Sunday morning past. It wasn't a book I found easy to get through...often I just didn't feel like reading it, often I couldn't see where it was going or why...but I really do hate not to finish a book (wouldn't you always be wondering what the rest was like?) so I kept going and I got there... in the end... to the end (page 500!).

It wasn't hard-going because I hated it or thought it wasn't any good. I suppose in some ways it just isn't 'my type of book'. All the crazy scenes full of half-man/half-animals, are-they-dead-or-alive spirits...all that kind of thing has never been 'my type of book' - not up to now anyway. All that stuff reminds me of is heavy metal album covers and T shirts (some Iron Maiden covers, once seen, never forgotten). And also I wasn't a child who liked fantasy fiction particularly - I've never read a word of Tolkien...can you believe that...not one word! Sometimes I do wonder how much of that 'me', that 'my type', is inherited from or influenced by my Mum (who doesn't like anything that could be called fantasy fiction with the exception of 'Peter Pan'). Might I have been more tolerant of the undead if I'd been raised on Tolkien, myths and fables (instead of Enid Blyton and Noel Streatfeild's 'Ballet Shoes')? But then, in all honesty, looking back I chose those books myself, to a point. I don't remember being guided to particular books at all and my Mum didn't read to me (that I can remember). I was very happy reading to myself. I was a strong-minded, ambitious, independent child who wanted to grow up...who wanted to be out in the modern world (and I very quickly discovered it wasn't much to do with Enid Blyton..more beer than ginger out there..). Then of course once I'd been out in the grown-up world for a bit I ended up weak-minded, terrified and useless...but that's another story...

All this makes me watch Small Girl very carefully. She is much less independent than I was but much more open-minded. She has a wild imagination and loves any story about any creature. I have read to her a lot and each day on the walk to school I make up a little story for her too. She loves it and it is good for me - makes me use my imagination more than I do when left to my own devices. Today's story, you might be interested to know, featured the Magical Kingdom of Dogs (copyright Small Girl from several posts ago).

There is a connection here. Last weekend I was still struggling to get through 'The Famished Road' and Small Girl wanted to read what I was reading. OK, why not, I thought, she's 8, after all. So she read out one chapter aloud. Apart from having to explain what a prostitute is (I did it as truthfully as I could without being too bitter or twisted about the difference between the sexes...) it went very well. In fact I got more out of that chapter than I had the rest of the book up to that point. Maybe listening to her and going slowly and looking at it carefully word by word made me concentrate better. Maybe just listening suits the story more..it is the kind of thing you feel should be read aloud late at night...Whatever, I girded my loins and got on and finished the book on my own...and I'm glad.

I still can't say it's one of the best books I've ever read or anything. I've read much better on poverty, for example, and that is one of its main themes (some of the scenes showing desperate poverty from Garcia Marquez' 'No one writes to the Colonel' which I studied in Spanish, for A level, have never left me). I did wonder too if 'The Famished Road' might not have been a better collection of stories or long poems - the characters seemed quite vague, the setting was vague, the story meandered in a looking-for-an-editor fashion, it was quite repetitive, the poetic language was...a bit over the top for me at times...but still...it did win the Booker Prize so someone rated it as a novel! And it wasn't all bad or hardgoing. The final chapter is marvellous (and how many novels end badly or limply or not at all?) and somewhere in the final third I learned a new word - 'threnody' - 'lamentation esp of person's death'. Now that is a good word!

14 comments:

hope said...

I thing being read to as a small child instilled my love of books. As soon as I could read, I did...just about anything I could get my hands on, including the back of cereal boxes. I had a 2nd grade teacher who gave books as prizes and I still have them; "Heidi" and "Black Beauty". Guess I was one of those kids who found sitting still boring but having a book in hand made sitting okay. I had to read Tolkien's "The Hobbit" in high school but I read the rest of the trilogy on my own because...I wanted to know the rest of the story. :)

My Mom's favorite answer to my gazillion questions was, "Go look it up." I still do and it seems I've rubbed off on the kids I work with, who now head for the encyclopedia...even if they do call it the "A,B,C" books.

I've discovered I read styles that I would never attempt to write: like Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, Dennis Lehan or Stephen King. Okay, the exception would be those bodice ripper novels...they make me laugh in the wrong places.

Since I commute, I've gotten hooked on audio books. Ironically I've discovered a prejudice I didn't realize I possessed. Most of the books I've listened to are read by men, who seem to be better at "playing" the roles of all the characters. The woman I tried to listen to had a voice that sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard and I couldn't get past the first 2 chapters. I probably would read the book, but I didn't want her reading it to me. My favorite "reader" is a character actor named David Strathairn [Oscar nominated for his role as Edward R Murrow in "Good Night and Good Luck". I love the sound of his voice and he does characters so well I forget it's one person reading.

Then again, his grandfather was Scottish. Maybe that's the key. ;)

Rachel Fox said...

Interesting you mention 'Heidi'. I loved that as a kid (though I probably saw it on TV first - we were a big TV family). It is one of my little girl's favourites and I made sure I read her the book before she watched a movie version! She just loves the idea of sleeping up in the hay!

I think reading lots of different styles is important. It's very easy to read lots of the same thing and never be challenged. I might yet read 'Lord of the Rings'...though I have sat through some of the films with the beloved. The only bit I liked was the talking, walking trees...

You're allowed to have favourite types of voices reading aloud to you though - it's chemical, not much you can do about it. My last post was all about the sounds we like.

hope said...

Tis true...and a scientifically proven fact. Women are moved by what they hear, men by what they see.

To tell you the truth, I enjoyed Tolkien's books more than the movies, probably because I had my own "mental images" of each character and Hollywood didn't get all of it right.

Now I have to go back and read your post I previously missed on this topic. And I promise not to type first thing in the morning so there are no more typos like "thing" instead of "think". :)

Rachel Fox said...

I've never heard that women hear/men see thing before! But I can hear it upsetting male readers from here...
Certainly the visual is my weakest sense but I thought that was just me...I have several female visual artist friends who use their eyes far better. I have a poem about my lack of attention to visual detail called 'Seeing isn't everything' (on website under 'Seeing and believing'). I didn't even notice your typo...

Sorlil said...

Tolkien bores me to death and I'm married to his number one fan! The movies were okay, I liked the soundtrack and the talking trees was one of my fav parts of the film also! I was brought up on the weird and wonderful world of fairytales, I still love to read the Brother's Grimm.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I can't say the films made me want to read the books. I laughed at all the bits that were meant to be meaningful...i.e. most of it. The big hobbit feet had me in stitches...all I could think of was how French & Saunders would look in the spoof... that they would inevitably do! I'm not a huge F & S fan but some of the film spoofs are funny and many a daft movie has been improved by wondering which bits they'll pick out to mock (and I used to love their extras sketch...years before Mr Gervais..).

Fiendish said...

I wasn't raised on Tolkien by any stretch of the imagination, but I did grow up in time for Harry Potter. Even still, I don't read fantasy or sci-fi with any regularity. Like you, I was a Blyton kid.

About Garcia Marquez - I've been thinking of starting some of his stuff. Recommended?

Rachel Fox said...

Ah yes, Harry Potter...I read the first one ages ago and thought it was Blyton with wizards. Then I read it again for Small Girl and enjoyed it a lot more. Her Dad has since taken over wizard-story duty as he is interested in them and I can always seem to find a book I would rather read to her (recently we've read 'Pollyanna', '101 Dalamatians', 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'...). She's kind of an old-fashioned girl and she loves stories where people say things like 'gosh, you're a brick'. Those stories make me laugh...such forgotten language! I'm not sure they help her fit in at school though...

As for Garcia Marquez (or Gabo as the latinos call him) - I read 'No one writes to the Colonel' at school and loved it (as I said). It is to the point and kind of bare but very effective. I did also read 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' later but it didn't make such an impression. It had flying children and more of the magical realism content that he is well-known for but, as I say in this post, that has rarely been what's attracted my full interest. Plus it is a long, dense work and I probably skim-read it in a hurry to get off and drink wine with gorgeous young men (I think I read it when I lived in Madrid...there were a lot of distractions...and I was young...).

Other South American writers I read and enjoyed were Julio Cortazar (he was very popular around the time I lived in Spain) and Mario Vargas Llosa. I keep meaning to read something in Spanish again...then I find another book in English (there are so many!) that I just have to read.

Jim Murdoch said...

I've only read one book by Ben Okri. Since the brain's not in gear yet I looked him up in Amazon to see which one. It was Astonishing the Gods:

This is a story for all ages, set in a time and place best known to lovers of fairytales and myths. It is a modern fable, a way of understanding who we are now and how our search for identity affects our perceptions and actions, shot through with the gentle magic of Ben Okri's imaginative prose.

Or so the synopsis goes. And then I read all the five-star reviews and wondered if they'd read the same book as I had. I do think you're right, it's a mindset thing. I knew next to nothing about him when I picked up his book but I liked the cover and it was cheap.

As for Tolkien, a friend insisted I read The Hobbit when I was in my teens and I have to say I quite enjoyed it but I felt no driving compulsion to read anything else by him and I only went to see the films to see what all the fuss was about and to be honest the first one was quite enough for me. Watching all three was an endurance test and frankly it was only the special effects that kept me entertained.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, that last 'Lord of' film...I think it was a crime and a punishment. I went to see it at the cinema - partly to show my beloved that yes, I will try films that he likes too...I hated it! Cheese with extra cheese...

hope said...

It's a shame really. Those movies pretty much had nothing to do with the books... except character names. Hollywood is well known for buying up something they declare "wonderful", then turn it into movie junk.

If I hadn't read "Time Line" by Michael Crichton first, I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on in the movie. They had to cut out so much to make it a 2 hour film that my hubby kept saying, "What?" while I sat there shaking my head in disgust.

At the moment I'm listening to David Strathairn read me Louis L'Amour's "Hondo". It's a nice change of pace to be read to...maybe that's the little kid in me speaking. :)
Sometimes one's own imagination is better.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I love movies but when they're bad, they're very, very bad! My favourite so-bad-it's-almost-unbelievable movie is 'Showgirls'...well, the first half anyway.

And adaptations don't have to be disappointing. I loved 'Sense and Sensibility', for example, but now we really are in girlie territory. I liked 'Howards End' too so maybe I just have a soft spot for Emma Thompson.

If anyone's interested one my favourite ever films has been 'The Big Chill'...I've liked it for years and every time I watch it I like different bits (as I grow older I find different characters interesting I think). It has so many really good lines and, of course, some of the best US actors of that time. Quite often these days I quote the Glenn Close character...'when you're a mummy you can be mean' and that's followed by 'sometimes I can't believe the things I hear myself saying'...

Ken Armstrong said...

Excellent - The Big Chill - best soundtrack ever!

Did you know that Kevin Costner was in it? He played the body at the start - well, there's more to it than that but that's the truth! :)

I've read loads of books aloud to my kids including Hobbit Lord/Rings (yes *all* of it) watership down and all seven H. Potter books.
The nicest read-aloud (I think) was actually Charlotte's Web. Currently reading aloud Lion Boy, appearing nightly in the bedroom from eight.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, I read 'Charlotte's Web' to my one and we both loved it. Quite a lot of tears of course but crying at the right times is an important skill too! I remember going to see a film of it with school and crying like Gwyneth Paltrow at the Oscars. Great feeling.

Well done on reading out all that Tolkien. I think. I think maybe hearing it read aloud is the only way I'd ever get through all that. Maybe you should broadcast your readings...

Of course I knew that Kevin Costner fact. I have seen the film...quite a few times. I can quote more if it than any other film. I particularly like that it looks at suicide in a grown-up way. As I've said before suicide so often just gets used as a snappy way to end a story or film...easy tears...and we're back where we came in.