Oblique Aphorisms #4

Three more nuggets of wit, wisdom, philosophy and spiritual guidance lovingly curated by the Obliques.

“Water will wear away a stone, but it won’t cook supper.”

Ann Leckie

“Every bad day has an end.”

Ash’s dad

“There are no such things as problems, only opportunities for development.

Mark Oblique

 

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‘Running Girl’ and ‘Kid Got Shot’ by Simon Mason

These novels were two of the batch I recently received from the Ms O. #1 Lending Library. (See  The Ms Oblique Library )

Running Girl‘Running Girl’ was, to use a hackneyed phrase, a breath of fresh air. I suppose it’s a Young Adult detective story. The main protagonist (why do people seem to frequently say “chief protagonist”?) is Garvie Smith, a disaffected teenage genius. A former girlfriend of his has been murdered and he is, naturally, drawn to find the killer. Detective Inspector Singh has been assigned to the case; he is described as “stiff and uncompromising”. Their two paths intertwine; the story is told from both viewpoints, although Garvie’s predominates.

So far, so standard, and the plot is just that: a standard detection story, with characteristic twists and turns. Why then do I think it’s so fresh? To start with, it’s told well. There’s no gimmicky or attempt at unnecessary  novelty. It can be followed with no difficulty apart from the puzzle itself. Perhaps this is a function of reading a YA detective story after more convoluted adult versions.

Then the characters are involving; I think we always have to have a concern for what happens to characters and to feel some sort of empathy for them. Garvie and Singh are well drawn, rounded people, with their virtues and faults.

The language used, especially in descriptions, is nice and clear. (Yes, I do mean nice.) I like “black holly and pale beech trees darkening with rain” and “his short black hair stood up from his head in a layer of fine bristles”. The author avoids overdoing similes and metaphors or straining for them. The dialogue sounds accurate.

Kid Got ShotIn ‘Kid Got Shot’ we encounter the same principal characters in changed circumstances. The storyline again involves a teenager who is murdered. There is an interesting mix of racial backgrounds; the victim is Polish, and I forgot to mention above that Garvie is mixed Scottish and Barbadian, the detective Singh a Sikh. New characters include a comic but menacing gangster.

Once again the descriptive passages, which normally I skim through in my lust for a plot, are evocative and involving, making me read them more than once. Some noteworthy examples are the description of wire fences chattering in the wind, while “clouds tore  themselves to pieces and tossed the bits against the dark sky”; shredded cherry tree blossoms “like party-coloured fish flakes in the gutters”; and tower blocks like “vast grey Stickle bricks…. sequinned with satellite dishes, standing in a concrete pool”.

There is only veiled mention of sex and some limited violence. This may or may not please you.

There is more emphasis on Garvie and his peculiar, reckless personality than before, perhaps less attention to Singh and Garvie’s friends, less attention to school. There is more plot; is again rather involved and I’m not sure even now that I am completely clear about what led to the murder and the motives for it. There are some loose ends which could be tied up nicely in a third book: How does Garvie get on in his exams? What is the outcome for Singh? I recommend both books.

Did you notice I split an infinitive? Apparently that’s O.K. now. But there are some grammatical rules up with which I will not put. And that’s my last word.

Oblique Aphorisms #3

If you wish, you can regard these as gnomic utterances; or you can ponder them as Zen koans; or just ignore them totally.

“We (shops) sell everything you want, but nothing you need.”

Mrs Oblique

“What if the Hokey Cokey really is what it’s all about?”

Source unknown

“The early bird catches the worm- which is great as long as you’re not the worm.”

Our Girl, BBC1

Earlybird_gets_the_worm_(16888219726)

Photograph by Airwolfhound [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Oblique Aphorisms #2

The management does not necessarily agree with these pithy observations.

“(As a nation, we are) spending money we haven’t got, on things we don’t need, to impress people who don’t care.”

Mr Oblique Senior (aged 91)

“Sometimes, when you get what you want, it doesn’t taste as good as you thought it would.”

East Enders, BBC1

“You never blow your trip forever.”

Daevid Allen

Daevid_Allen

Photograph of Daevid Allen by Ilan Lukatch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Oblique Aphorisms #1

Aphorisms, apparently, are pithy observations which contain general truths.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Source unknown

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, expressing in her words the view of Voltaire

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it.”

Samuel Johnson

Samuel_Johnson_by_Joshua_Reynolds_2

Picture of Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds

Grime: An Oblique View

Grimes

I have been challenged by Mr Oblique Junior to explain why I think he likes the musical genre of Grime. I had intended to write a post about Grime anyway, but this gives me a way to approach it.

Now listen carefully if you don’t know anything about Grime. According to Google, it is “a form of dance music influenced by UK garage, characterised by machine-like sounds”. It is not hip-hop, which features “rap with an electronic backing”; but apparently, our researchers tell us, it “draws influence from dancehall, ragga and hip-hop” (Wikipedia).

Clear? No, of course not. A curse of modern music is the continual argument about what defines a particular genre, to the extent that there have even been fictional genres created and believed. I like the idea of “Progressive Death Country”, although William Gibson was ahead of everybody else with fictional bands “Dukes of Nukem”, “Lo/Rez” and their ilk. No, I won’t explain. Go read William Gibson.

Grime is a particularly English genre. Prominent figures are Stormzy, Skepta and Dizzee Rascal. To appreciate what it is actually like you of course have to listen to it. To me, after some limited exposure, it’s characterised by a very bare, stripped down musical sound, almost minimalist dance music with often clever elements of electronica, with lyrics rapped in what seems to me frequently to be a very slow style across the top. But, as I said, you have to listen to it to appreciate what it is.

What seems to characterise it lyrically is a preoccupation with sex and violence, and usually a focus on the personal life- even the life as a celebrity- of the writer. I am not necessarily referring to any of the artists  named.

There really is in some of it a very dismissive attitude towards women and what really grates on this middle-class, late middle-aged, rather liberal-minded, white male listener is the frequent use of the N-word and the B-word. Oh, go on, you know the words I mean.

I’ll probably keep my f***ing b*****s ’til I’m 49”

goes the lyric I’m being played at the moment. Although that may not be grime, I believe.

“I make her think I love her, so I can f*** her when I want.”

However, to put my point of view was not the aim of this blog. Why does my 21 year old son like Grime?

He is very open about music, and will patiently listen to my choices, to the point of planning to come to a techno gig with us. I wonder if to some extent the fact that I am uncomfortable with the lyrics is a factor in his liking for it. Although we might deny it (I certainly did- but see “An anecdote” below) there is perhaps for all of us a wish to move on from the music of our parents and perhaps to shock them; or just to find something that is our own, and definitely not theirs.

I am sure that this wish is often unconscious, and I am sure that this is not the only reason or the main reason for Mr Oblique Junior liking Grime. The music is very striking, bare, new and challenging. It is a very fresh and young form of music; I wonder if anybody over 30 makes it or really gets it. It’s rebel music for a new generation. I speculate that this is the appeal to him.

So there you are. It is of course about the music, but it’s also about the cultural aspects. Popular music is all about change, and all about moving on from the choices of previous generations. Disco (still don’t really get it), punk (oh yes), and then electronica (definitely) were all new forms of music that moved me on from the rock music of my teenage years. But certainly for me, Grime is beyond the point at which I can understand my children’s choice in music. No, I don’t really understand why Mr O. Jr. likes it. Try asking him.

Please note: I almost certainly don’t understand the nuances of the N word as used in grime and hip-hop. Apparently the spelling, with an -a rather than an -er, makes it acceptable when used by certain groups.

An anecdote: When I was a teenager, I only used to listen to records when my parents were out. When they came back from the shops one day, Tony McPhee of the Groundhogs was concluding a rather noisy feedback guitar solo on that catchy little number, ‘Split Part 4’. My father and I had a very rare parent/ teenager spat:

HIM: Do you call that music?

ME: It’s better music than your silly old Beethoven.

Ho-hum. He did later go in with me on a new hi-fi system we could listen to away from the living room.

 

‘Underworld’ by Don DeLillo

I wanted so much to like this novel, because it was given to me at a special time (see ‘A Literary Wedding‘) and it looked like a special book.

Hopeful anticipation is always in danger of disappointment. I want to consider carefully why it didn’t really live up to my expectations.

It begins with a prologue, set at an epic baseball game in the 1950s. Characters include Frank Sinatra, J. Edgar Hoover, a radio commentator and a boy playing truant to attend.

Next setting is an art installation in the middle of nowhere, at which redundant aircraft are being painted by volunteers. We meet Nick Shay and start to discover his life; it appears he might be the first-person protagonist of the novel. Themes from the baseball game start to reappear, and I feel I’m getting a grip on it, just. Then Mr de Lillo drops in a chapter where every paragraph is a different part of Nick’s life, and I start to find it wearying.

We encounter the civil rights movement, student protest, nuclear bombs and the Cold War, comedian Lenny Bruce, the baseball from the epic game, The Highway Killer, another possible murder, Jesuits, adultery, chess and a miraculous apparition. Among others. Viewpoints, settings and chronology vary wildly.

It’s a book of epic length, 827 pages in the paperback edition, and soon I started making notes. I’ve done this with Dickens and Tolstoy, to keep track of the characters. With ‘Underworld’ I did it to keep track of the plot.

There is some beautiful writing in it: “They’re all back there in the railroad rooms at the narrow end of the night.” The speech of Italian/ Americans is evocatively written. There are some superb set-piece descriptions, for example of the enormous art intstallation of painted aircraft.

UnderworldI am very aware that I’m not a literary reader; I am primarily plot-driven. I can’t grasp the overall narrative arc (or do I mean plot?) of the story. Is it centred on nuclear warfare? The baseball? A murder? A life- Nick’s? I’ve briefly looked at reviews, which seem universally good, and have seen the novel described as “cinematic”; but this is clearly not plot-driven mainstream cinema. I searched in my mental cultural database for a suitable comparison, and could only come up with the Beatles track ‘Revolution Number 9’, which has a similar repetition of themes, only perhaps without the closer ties of the narrative themes in ‘Underworld’. I am however reminded of other variations of chronological narrative structure, such as ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell as well as books by Martin Amis and Sebastian Faulks. I can’t at the moment think of any that are particularly satisfying. (William Gibson tends to write in trios of chapters, each centered on a particular protagonist, but brings them all together eventually; and there are of course flashbacks in all sorts of novels. I am not familiar with more experiment work; I am not going to attempt James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’. As I have remarked before, I am over reading books because I think they will be good for me.)

In the end, I just wanted to get to the end, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book.

Oh, and it’s too big, at least for a paperback. It makes my wrist ache. This is a good reason for Kindles.