Monday, 12 June 2017

A Fine Madness

Title: A Fine Madness

Author: Elliott Baker

Year of publication: 1964, Penguin edition 1966.

Back cover blurb: 'He is a poet, and the world is not shaped for poets. His ex-wife's father is after him for long overdue alimony and his violent relationship with the woman he now lives with threatens to destroy them both. So when the psychiatrists start to 'help' him, they had better watch out for their own minds - and their wives! Because this poet will always flee from sanity.'

Reading reveals: Samson Shillitoe is the worst kind of Twentieth Century creative male - a hard drinking woman-beater who will sleep with just about anyone as long as it destroys lives. A series of unfortunate incidents leads to him coming under psychiatric care, with hilarious lobotomy-involving consequences.
   Actually a finely-constructed farce, only let down by a few too many minor characters getting the limelight and the odd needlessly confusing scene (a group of psychiatrists get the results of a vote while in the middle of voting on something else, for instance). Maybe not quite as funny as it needs to be. It's no Confederacy of Dunces, but it's next rung down.
   Cover shows Sean Connery up a pole from the film version. Disappointingly, he does not spend the whole film up the pole, as I had at first assumed.

Random paragraph: '"But I did dream it last night." Shillitoe sat up and stretched. "I often dream of things I've read. One night last year, I dreamt most of War and Peace. Naturally I overslept."'


Friday, 12 May 2017

Night Games

Title: Night Games

Author: Mai Zetterling

Year of publication: 1966, Panther Edition 1968

Back cover blurb: 'we live in the mind of a teenage boy - the macabre, grotesque nightmare of his memories: sexual obsession with his promiscuous mother; the ageing aunt who shares his strange cannibalistic games; the great luxurious house that envelopes them like a womb - or a morgue... And in the present there's the beautiful Mariana, his one hope of rebirth. But first he must exorcise his past, so they enter the human hell of the night games - humiliating, degraded, profane...
   MAI ZETTERLING, the Swedish actress and film director, astonished the world with her first outrageous novel, and then turned it into an outrageous film - hailed, damned and the first to be censored at the Venice Film Festival.'

I met Mai Zetterling once, when I was fourteen. It was at the premiere of the film version of Roald Dahl's The Witches, directed by Nicolas Roeg, which was held at the prestigious location of the newly-opened Cannon multiplex at Ocean Village, Southampton. Zetterling, who during the fifties and early sixties was a stalwart of British film, adding a touch of Swedish sophistication to many a potboiler, played the grandmother in it, and I had come second in a short film competition with my existential super-eight meisterwerk, The True Face. That there were only two entries in total is neither here nor there. Anyway, after receiving my plaque, Zetterling introduced herself and explained that she was an actor and filmmaker and suggested that perhaps one day I would follow in her footsteps and become a professional filmmaker also. This, of course, did not happen. Well, you know, with one thing and another... I'm sorry, Mai. It's just not the way my life panned out. Please forgive me, Mai. Why can't you forgive me? Get out of my head, Mai. GET OUT OF MY

Zetterling did not mention that she had also written a novel, which she had then adapted into her first feature film as director. I did, nevertheless, go on to write a couple of novels myself. Is that enough for you, Mai? Is that enough? WHY ISN'T THAT ENOU

The novel, like the film, is a bit much. While the film version is like watching Fellini, Bunuel and Bergman put through a mangle (John Waters is a fan), the novel is similarly excessive, with every detail thoroughly mined for psychodramatic effect as we examine a man's fucked-up childhood memories of his sexy mother, which overall is quite exhausting. Nevertheless, that someone so established in one field would throw caution to the wind and do something quite this barmy in another is to be celebrated. It is the type of novel Martine McCutcheon one day needs to write.

Random paragraph: 'Our cover is, I suppose, not unoriginal, though at first I don't approve of it. Our atrocious efforts are bound in pubic hair. Myself rather taken by textures, I will reluctantly admit that it is a pleasant thing to handle - though in the end becoming rather goatlike and cheesy in a locked drawer. But Albin says it is such an agreeable pastime to hunt for it that I haven't the heart to deny him this one small pleasure.