lunedì, dicembre 07, 2009

The joys of being middle class on a fast train to Paris

Had a smashing weekend in Paris. There's a sentence I never thought would come out of my brain but I guess eventually things just stop doing your head in, which is a good thing to know in the present context. La New Yorkaise is moving home definitively on Wednesday, and like a good former fellow inmate of the fucking madhouse that is Pars when you're underemployed, I swanned down on the Thalys and helped her pack. Which translated into about two actual hard slog hours - she's already shipped most of her stuff - and me getting some really great castoffs that wouldn't fit in her hold luggage, like a camping chair and an awesome sleeping bag and enough good quality acrylic paint to make the F-word's eyes light up. So the time spent with her was lovely and the time spent with Miss C, whose loft we stayed in once more, was even lovelier, in a way. She starts a year-long treatment programme for hepatitis today, and has no idea how it will go, so I suppose she drank her last few glasses of wine for a long while with us . . . both of those women are so dear to me in such different ways.

And discovered my theory about Paris is correct - if you have lots of money, it's actually a great place to be.

And read two books on trains - well, finished one, read the other - Bad Medicine by David Wooton and Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh. Decline and Fall - well. Brideshead Revisited was such a nasty little downer (in a good way, though) that I was not expecting that surreal little romp. I enjoyed it a great deal though. Very talky, very visual. I've written before about how awful I think authors like Ian McEwan and that guy who wrote The Hours are, in that their shitty books read like script treatments instead of novels and it's an abuse of the medium. But besides me hating Ian McEwan et al, I think that also has something to do with the way I hate most movies. Because Decline and Fall reads a bit like a treatment for an exceptionally good stage show - very dialogue driven - and I still loved it. But then the narrative voice was still awfully good, so not completely. Anyways. It was ace.

Bad Medicine was alright too but sometimes the argumentation was a little laboured. Wooton keeps so busy reminding you that he has an argument that it can get quite distracting from the actual elements of the argument. He was fitting so much into such a small book that I have a feeling a few conjunctions ended up on the cutting room floor when a few too many protests from Wooton about why he should be allowed to write about progress as a historical fact stayed in when they shouldn't have.

I get it. Progress. You like it. It exists. You wrote about it in your fucking introduction. Please, write a history of medicine, and write a history of the history of medicine, but if you're going to splice them don't do it in a mere 320 pages (though I understand it fits nicely onto the bestseller list at that length, but that's no more excuse for writing an insufficiently readable book than the fact that 'novelists' like McEwan make the big bucks from actually selling their books as film treatments), not unless you've got Darrin fucking McMahon level expressive finesse. And I'll tell you - Bad Medicine isn't a bad book, but Wooton does not have Darrin Fucking McMahon-level finesse.

It's a valid comparison, even if I'm only making it because I got the F-word Happiness for Christmas. McMahon, when he wrote about happiness and the history of happiness, forswore historical accounts of people who didn't write much or who wrote outside of the 'canon' (ie everybody post-Bhagavad Gita in Asia) as it was called back in my undergrad days. Wooton restricted himself similarly. Obviously that still leaves you with rather a lot of material, so if you're going to spend 15% of your words explaining to the reader that you're picking a fight, and if you lack McMahon-type finesse - honestly it's a wonder the book is readable at all. But it is, almost despite him.

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