Friday, 30 December 2011

Less than Great Expectations

While it is understandable that screen versions, big or small, require books to be filleted, one would have thought it well nigh impossible to rob Dickens' greatest book (certainly in terms of craft) of almost all its humanity.  But this, astoundingly, is what the recent BBC adaptation has managed.  Here we had a Pip entirely without character, a Joe Gargery without warmth (not a lark to be seen or heard), an Estella with feelings, and a Miss Haversham with the curtains open.  Jaggers was reduced to hard-bitten efficiency and Wemmick was robbed of his Aged P.  Herbert retained some hint of innocence and Bentley Drummond was perhaps the only character close in his malevolence to that portrayed by his original creator.  Ray Winstone as Magwitch was excellent. This was Great Expectations as social realism, missing humour and warmth and, most of all, love.  Dickens would have loathed this dull, inanimate thing.

Monday, 19 December 2011

R I P Havel & Hitchens

"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvellous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons."
                                                             Robert Whittington on Thomas More (1520)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest

A slight misnomer: the attempted conquest of Everest, surely?  But it is wrong to quibble.  This is a book as big as its subject, a truly epic work.  The quite extraordinary men involved in the attempt to climb Everest had almost all been involved in World War One (Irvine, who disappeared with Mallory on the last attempt, was too young).  All had seen a lot of death. The hell of Everest was chosen in a way in which the hell of war was not.  While the latter had to be survived, Everest was to be lived.  It is humbling to get to know some of these characters, and it is Davis's greatest triumph to have brought them so vividly to life (and where possible he has done the same with the Sherpas who left no record).  None were without fault, but their virtues were greater than their vices.  They all wrote terrifically well - letters, journals, notes, reminiscences.  It is hard to imagine a present day expedition of such hardship that would bring forth so literate and so evocative a flood of prose.  A wonderful book, and terribly sad.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Hitchens v Nietzsche

Christopher Hitchens' latest report from the front line of his battle with cancer.  As engaging as ever and somehow forbidding mourning.  Here.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Jeremy Clarkson: "disgraceful and disgusting"

Jeremy Clarkson's remarks about shooting public sector workers are, according to Ed Miliband, "disgraceful and disgusting".  Isn't that rather the point of comic exaggeration? Replace with "Jeremy Clarkson should be taken out and shot" (chortle chortle) and I'm sure no-one would bat an eyelid. Seems to me the best piece on this is by Index on Censorship's Padraig Reidy here.