Posts Tagged ‘fontana’

Obviously, this is not my picture. It comes via. but it’s kind of a much better picture than the one I took and can’t upload because none of the three PCs at the house I’m currently staying at have bluetooth capacity. WTF? So it’s probably here for good, you guys. Learn to love.
While reading The Mystery of the Blue Train, I realised why I liked reading Agatha Christie books so much when I was younger: this book is full of odd, decent young women eager to be told nice things about themselves (3000 BOOKS: now with psychoanalysis!). And Aggie writes them as deserving of attention; Katherine Grey (guess what colour her eyes are) is a lady’s maid from St. Mary’s Mead, a gentle and empathetic soul who comes into quite a bit of money. Lady Tamplin, her rather distant and conniving cousin, invites the newly moneyed Katherine to the Riviera. On the luxurious Blue Train, Katherine meets Ruth Kettering, a wealthy and self-absorbed woman who takes Katherine into her confidence about her man troubles: she is in love with a dashing Count, but is still married to her playboy husband. But alas — in the morning, Ruth has been murdered.
Agatha, she is a pinnacle of verbal efficiency. Not a word in The Mystery of the Blue Train is unnecessary. And it’s so goddamn British: I think of old white men sitting in stuffed armchairs, reading this book and chortling to themselves while raising a glass of port to their pouchy lips. The thing is so easy to read and such a breezy pleasure. Excellent hangover fare. Even when I realised I’d seen a television adaptation of this book some time ago (about halfway through — not so impressive, really, my powers of remembrance), I stuck with it. What else can you do, faced with dialogue like this:
‘I was wondering,’ said Lady Tamplin, again drawing her artistically pencilled brows together, ‘whether–oh, good morning, Chubby darling: are you going to play tennis? How nice!’
Chubby, thus addressed, smiled kindly at her, remarked perfunctorily, ‘How topping you look in that peach-coloured thing,’ and drifted past them and down the steps.
Have you never read any of Agatha’s books? You really should, and if you take my advice, heed also this advice sub-item: read one of her Hercule Poirot mysteries. It’s been a long time since I read any Miss Marple books — I think I went through a phase when I was in high school — but Poirot resembles nothing so much as a big, clever, self-satisfied frog. Which is quite fitting, considering how tastefully his Frenchness is portrayed:
‘I ask myself,’ said Poirot, ‘I, Hercule Poirot’–he thumped himself dramatically on the chest–’ask myself why is M. Papopolous suddenly come to Nice?’

Repetition, emphatic italics, bad grammar, weird self-referencing hand action, first and therefore redundant third-person establishment of identity: ol’ Aggie would have won herself a goodly number of those 25-words-or-less promotional competitions, had she chosen to enter them. Edit: Quel embarrassment! Our friend Poirot is Belgian, not French. There goes my crap metaphor. Thanks to OUP Development Editor, Michelle, whose fact-checking skills almost reach the heights of her fondness for bananas.
It’s sad to end the review like this, but I must sound the Bad Ending Alarm. The final chapter is brief and ties up a couple of loose ends, but it’s more syrupy and sickening than the middle of a peppermint cream. I guess you can’t have it all.

‘Count Robert,’ Koroviev whispered to Margarita. ‘An equally interesting character. Rather amusing, your majesty…he was the queen’s lover and poisoned his own wife.’
‘We are delighted, Count,’ cried Behemoth.
One after another three coffins bounced out of the fireplace, splitting and breaking open as they fell.

When the Devil comes to town, he doesn’t hold back. Don’t let the patronymics put you off–the wicked games of The Master and Margarita can be enjoyed on as many levels as Moscow contains arms and legs. In what may rightly be called his masterpiece (don’t ask me, it’s the only one I’ve read), Bulgakov puts plenty under the microscope, from the entitlement-as-desperation of the Russian middle class to the insularity of the literary establishment.

To begin, a strange outsider, Woland, engages two Russian gentlemen in a seemingly harmless Socratic dialogue. Not much later, one is dead and the other is headed for the asylum. It seems obvious that this diabolical dude is not who he says he is. Meanwhile, the Master is in the same asylum, a deflated but likeable man who has written a novel about Pontius Pilate. Excoriated by the press at the height of Russia’s enthused embrace of atheism, he has retreated from life and his lover, Margarita. Many tricks that are much more than tricks ensue.

Bulgakov plays with traditional ideas of the good/evil dichotomy. Devil Woland, with his anarchic tricks and playful entourage, resembles no-one more than the trickster god Loki. If Bulgakov reconstitutes the Devil as a trickster, he posits Jesus as a philosophical human, albeit one with the power to enchant for millenia. The Master’s novel forges an anastomosis between the eras of New Testament Jerusalem and Stalinist Moscow, as well as an accord between the forces of good and evil that is balanced yet ineffable. It is in the nature of good and evil that true understanding of them should be elusive, and so the most enduring impression left by this novel is its reverence for integrity in literature: as much as the hijinks and high historical drama are the dream of a repressive political regime, they are also the triumphant and enduring product of a writer exorcising his demons.