Archive for Jonathan Coe

The Dead

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2011 by xi'an

“His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” James Joyce, The Dead, Dubliners

In The Guardian of last Saturday, Jonathan Coe wrote a piece about film adaptations of great books, mostly siding with Hitchcock’s views that masterpieces were bound to produce terrible films. (Thus connecting with my post of yesterday. And a much earlier post about subways and books…) However, he manages to find exceptions, such as Huston’s The Dead, which is perfectly translating Joyces’ sublime short story into a film, concluding with

The last few minutes of the film follow Joyce’s final pages closely but not exactly. Fragments of dialogue are transposed, a funny story Gabriel tells at the party being cleverly turned into a ruefully futile attempt to stir his wife out of her melancholy silence during their cab journey home. The painful conversation between husband and wife in the hotel room is just as Joyce wrote it, and flawlessly played by Donal McCann and Anjelica Huston. Then comes the celebrated final monologue, for which the film slips into voiceover for the first time. The script truncates and rearranges it, but holds to its tenor and spirit. As McCann’s voice unfolds, the screen offers us simple shots of wintry landscapes at dusk, the folk tune recurs, distantly, on a solo clarinet, and we are treated, for a few overwhelmingly moving moments, to what film can and should but rarely does become: a perfect counterpoint of word, music and image.

I cannot but agree as I do remember watching this film in Chicago, more than twenty years ago, during a December snowstorm, and emerging speechless from the movie theater, stunned by the masterly way Huston had translated my own apprehension of the story on the screen. (Actually, Huston managed a similar feat, earlier, with the Maltese Falcon.)

Reading in the subway

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , on September 7, 2009 by xi'an

There is a paper on the joy of reading in the Subway in the New York Times today. I indeed noticed when riding the Subway a few weeks ago that a lot of people were reading books (or Kindles) there. It is also true in the Parisian RER, but the difference seems to be that people like to share about their books, something you would never hear in the French metro! For instance, I witnessed a trio getting engaged into a lively conversation about Salman Rushdie after one noticed the other reading Midnight’s Children and mentioning how much she liked it compared with the Satanic Verses, to which the reader and a third party acknowledged they had not read it… I had to leave the train in the middle of the conversation, unfortunately, but this was an interesting moment! I hope those comments make their way to the Subway Book Club. Incidentally, my last book started in the métro is Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club and, were it mine, I could easily forget it there, so poorly impressed am I with the story, even though the rendering of the seventies in Birmingham—where I used to go at about this period—is tolerably realistic.