Jim Crace – The Melody

The Melody


A few years ago Jim Crace came over to Malta to give a talk and I’m sure that influenced his latest novel, The Melody, for there are elements, the most glaring one is a newspaper the main protagonist is reading which is published in Malta’s capital city, Valletta.

Jim Crace’s previous novel, Harvest was a masterpiece so I had many expectations for The Melody. Will it be better? or will it be a big disappointment? As such it’s a strong novel but it doesn’t top Harvest.

The book focuses on Alfred Busi, a musician who is attacked by a creature. Busi thinks it is a feral boy who emerged from the forest near his house, which he has lived in since childhood. The reason is that when he was a boy, Busi believed that there a group of people lived in the forest. Eventually he finds out that both his childhood home and the forest will be destroyed by his nephew. The second half of the  novel deals with a septuagenarian Busi dictating this incident to his flatmate.

The melody is a complex novel as it tackles the effect of memory on a person. Busi believes that the fables of his youth are still a reality and spends a lot of time trying to prove that people do exist in the forest.  Then Crace includes a lot of subplots and then the attack becomes a maguffin.

In reality The Melody doubles up as an ecological tale as Busi’s nephew believes that the forest and old houses half to be destroyed but when his plan goes through and few years later nature starts to infiltrate the buildings and the narrator encounters evidence of a human creature as well, which means that nature cannot be suppressed (a theme explored in Crace’s early novel Arcadia, linked below).

The melody also is a satire on the media as one of the main protagonists is a power hungry journalist, who manipulated Busi’s story for a magazine and both parties pay for the repercussions involved.

Last of all The Melody is about love, Busi is a widower but also has feelings for his wife’s sister. Throughout the book his attitude towards her shifts from infatuation, to suspicion, dislike, forgiveness and then love. Like the nature theme Busi’s love for Terina is cyclical.

The Melody is a rich novel with its themes being thrown at you at every page but this is also one of the reasons why I couldn’t gravitate to this book: there was too much going on and it feels overstuffed at times and even a bit random but one cannot say that this is an uninteresting novel, one just has to be alert for sudden changes in the plot.

If this is going to be Crace’s last novel (Harvest was supposed to be) then he is still going out in style. The Melody is not a career high but it is a good novel that is proof that Crace has not lost his magic to tell an offbeat tale.

Here’s my review of Arcadia 

Thanks to Picador for sending a copy of The Melody in exchange for an honest review.


The Shape of Water – Guillermo del Toro (dir)



The Shape of Water falls into that category of films that are solid, beautiful to look at but have a predictable story. Despite the predictability the film is so good that the simplistic plot can be easily ignored. The other films that are in a similar vein are Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre and Michael Radford’s The Postman.

The film is essentially about a mute cleaner who works at a top secret  building, who falls in love with a fishlike humanoid, not too dissimilar to the creature from the black lagoon. She smuggles him out of the building and he lives with her and her close friend. Obviously the nasty head of the agency wants him back due to pressure of the military and eventually discovers where the creature is staying, which leads to a showdown but the fishman does escape and takes his love with him to the sea where they live happily ever after. There’s also a tiny subplot which concerns Russian spies but there’s no need to delve into that. All I can say is that it ties nicely with the main storyline.

A more cynical person could point out the flaws instantly. You can spot the bad guy after the first five minutes, you know that there will be a happy ending, you know that there will be a death. However, I didn’t care.

The Shape of Water, is an aesthetic masterpiece. After the credit roll my girlfriend remarked that the coloration of the film is like Jean Pierre Jeunot’s Amelie that, combined with del Toro’s distinct visuals heightens your senses when watching the film.

There’s also a lot of charm, the characters may be one dimensional but it doesn’t matter. You will still emote for the main protagonists or show hatred for the bad guys in this film. The Shape of Water sucks you in. It’s a wonderful story from beginning to end.

I did have one gripe though.

The baddy of the film, compulsively eats mints. When he is nervous he bites them but normally he sucks on them loudly. I cannot stand the sound of people eating, let alone the clacking of mints against teeth and every time I heard that character suck his mints I would shudder. Thankfully this only happens about five times throughout the movie.

What else can I say? now and then we need a film that is well structured but also manages to welcome you into their world and seduce you. I felt that Shape of Water managed that. After all cinema is supposed to be a form of escape and del Toro’s latest follows that maxim excellently.



Ryan Leas – Sound of Silver


Sound of Silver is definitely one of my top 10 fave albums of all time, so I was hoping that Ryan Leas will do it justice. Well no worries, he does and I like the way he approaches the album.

Rather than a detailed history of recording techniques, Leas focuses Murphy’s ideas behind the album. This includes meditations on age, as an New York outsider and James Murphy’s role in the New York music scene. Obviously there are some stories behind the songs but the focus is on Murphy’s cultural impact when Sound of Silver came out.

This volume is lovingly told and a great companion to the other books in this series, which are about the New York punk scene.

The Man Booker International 2018 Longlist.


A few minutes ago the Man Booker International Longlist has been announced. This prize focuses on translated fiction. Here’s the Longlist.

Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor, The 7th Function of Language

Javier Cercas, Frank Wynne, The Impostor

Virginie Despentes, Frank Wynne, Vernon Subutex 1

Jenny Erpenbeck, Susan Bernofsky, Go, Went, Gone

Han Kang, Deborah Smith, The White Book

Ariana Harwicz, Sarah Moses & Carolina Orloff, Die, My Love

László Krasznahorkai, John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet & George Szirtes, The World Goes On

Antonio Muñoz Molina, Camilo A. Ramirez, Like a Fading Shadow

Christoph Ransmayr, Simon Pare, The Flying Mountain

Ahmed Saadawi, Jonathan Wright, Frankenstein in Baghdad

Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft, Flights

Wu Ming-Yi, Darryl Sterk, The Stolen Bicycle

Gabriela Ybarra, Natasha Wimmer, The Dinner Guest

Out of  the 13 mention, I have read one. It is highlighted. I DNF’s the Binet as I felt that it too similar to Eco’s books, and yes I know Eco makes a guest appearance in the Binet book.

Die My Love is on the TBR stack.

As for the others, I am very curious about all of them, especially the Han Kang and Virginie Despentes but I’ll have to hold back and wait until the shortlist is announced. I will definitely read the winner.



Simon Okotie – In the Absence of Absalon


In the Absence of Absalon is the sequel to Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon. Although I did not read the first part of this series, I was not confused as plot is not important for this novel and Okotie explains what happens in the previous book succinctly.

With Absence… an unnamed detective is taking over his predecessor’s Marguerite’s case, which is investigating the sudden disappearance of Harold Absalon. The reason why is because Marguerite has gone missing too.

In the Absence of Harold Absalon has the most simple plot to ever grace a novel : The unnamed detective enters a gate, looks for his key, enters a house and goes downstairs.

That’s it.

However with Okotie takes these everyday actions to new dimensions. All the actions, from patting the pockets to find the key to each step the detective takes is told with meticulous detail with the odd diversion.

I am a huge fan of books which focus on the minutiae of life, at times I was reminded of Nicholson Baker or Tom McCarthy but I felt that Okotie stands out as his obsession with detail comes out humorous and there were times I chuckled at the frozen pizza digression or how the detective thought about frisking.

Weirdly enough, despite this book being more an exercise on using Ockham’s Razor to obsessive levels, Okotie does drop some clues which actually do shed light on the mystery. Most of the time though this done through footnotes provided by the narrator of the book and it does pique curiosity.

In the Absence of Harold Absalon is a book that stands out and it is worth noting that it was longlisted for the amazing Republic of Consciousness Prize. There is nothing like it.Really my only gripe is that this mystery will probably be solved by the time I hit my 75th year (2053)


Here are some other Republic of Consciousness Longlisted books:

Playing Possum 

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace


Leni Zumas – Red Clocks

Red Clocks

Leni Zumas’ debut novel, The Listeners was an excellent exploration of depression, albeit executed in a post modern way: a non chronological history of the main protagonists depression symbolised by a toy octopus. It seems bizarre on screen but in reality the reader got a touching story on how depression can overtake a version and Zumas’ quirky dressing made the story more heartfelt.

For her second novel, Red Clocks Zumas visits the same territory, however only style-wise. Zumas still uses the post modern techniques that were present in The Listeners, however  Red Clocks is more ambitious, more experimental and cleverer.

The book takes place in near future America where abortion is illegal. Not only that but in order to adopt a person has to be married. The plot itself focuses on five women and their experiences with these laws.

The first Ro wants a baby but has problems and has been rejected for adopting a child, the second Susan, wants to split up from her husband, Mattie,a high school student, is pregnant, Gin links all the women together as she gives medicines to women in trouble and all the the characters visit her. The fifth woman is the subject of a biography Ro is writing. Throughout the book these five characters destines criss-cross each other. Until something happens to Gin and unites everyone.

Red Clocks, is ultimately a novel about breaking free from the constraints of male oppression. Each of these characters have problems and need to solve them in order to become independent sometimes it happens and sometimes it leads to other things. A stated above all events are not in order so you need to read a few chapters in order to get a clear picture but when it happens the novel becomes rewarding, especially in the last hundred or so pages.

Controversial and eye opening, Red Clocks definitely forms a part of the canon that includes Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things.

Wes Anderson Retrospective: The Royal Tenenbaums



Mother’s day 2002.  I was having lunch with my grandparents but my mind wasn’t there, it was on the 4:00 screening of a film which received positive reviews. It was by the same guy who did Rushmore, a film I missed out on due to exams and I was determined not to miss this one, mainly because I also read quite a few Wes Anderson interviews and this heightened my expectations. I HAD to see why the media were going crazy over this director.

After watching The Royal Tenenbaums I instantly declared it my new fave movie: it was quirky, funny and was in the form of a story, an aspect I still like to this day. For me, this film even looked different; lots of bright colors, walls with funny patterns and the use of futura. One month after the film’s screening, I went to watch it again at our art house cinema.

Now many years later and several viewings later. I can say that I think The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson at his best. It is perfect. The viewer can feel that Anderson has got total control over everything, from the story to the overall look.

Royal Tenenbaum left his family and seperated from his wife and after twenty or so years is hearing that she is remarrying, something he does not like so he decides to move back to his old house, Royal, though always has an ulterior motive and he also being kicked out of the hotel he lives in.

At the same time his three children, all prodigies gone wrong have returned to the house as well. At this point Royal believes that it is time to make amends for all the things he did in the past.

Calling the Royal Tenenbaums a family saga is not doing it justice, Anderson pulls off complex familial relations and yet makes everything seem light and breezy. Sure over the bright colors there are pretty dark undertones but it’s balanced well. As always a great film needs an strong supporting cast and The Royal Tenenbaums has a big one, something Wes Anderson would continue doing for many of his films, and they all give a 100% effort. Gene Hackman is a perfect loveable sleazeball , Gwyneth Paltrow is superb as the moody Margot Tenenbaum, the Wilson brothers reappear Luke as failed tennis star Richie and Owen as his crazed best friend Eli, Ben Stiller is an excellent neurotic Chas Tenenbaum, Bill Murray gives a funny performance as the hopeless but determined Raleigh St Clair and Anjelica Houston as the long suffering Mrs. Tenenbaum – just great.

The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, and although not my personal favourite film, it still ranks highly as the essential Wes Anderson to watch if you are new to his work. Of course the soundtrack is perfect, no need to mention that.

Quintessential Wes Anderson Moment: So many to choose from but I love the part when Royal takes his grandchildren for a fun day out, which involves gatecrashing tormenting drivers, shoplifting and betting on dog fights.