A Poem and an update.

I have missed a month in posting or updating this blog. I think my muse is either dead or drunk in some gutter howling at the moon with a gang of winos, which is where I am headed myself if I do not sort out my life. I guess I need to start doing something, but again this is always easier to talk about or discuss rather than actually taking steps to rectify the situation I am in. Actions speak louder than words they say, and this is true. I could probably write a few hundred words moaning about my current life situation like I have done previously on my blog, but I shall spare you the moan this time. Two years since my marriage disintegrated, and I have more or less turned myself into a wreck because I am still quite frankly reeling from what happened to me when I became homeless. They say forgiveness is divine – after all they claim Jesus forgave his abusers and his betrayers, and that would have been a very strong thing to have done, especially if Mel Gibsons film ‘The Passion of the Christ’ holds any semblance of historical truth, which is a very barbaric and disturbing movie of the final days of Jesus. But I digress. Some things I find hard to forgive and probably always will. I also presently feel as if I am under some kind of Sword of Damocles. I find this hard to explain, but I have this ‘feeling’ of impending doom, as if something bad is about to happen. My sensitivity picks things up and always has done. I try not to dwell on it however.

Next month is National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) and I have one or two ideas floating around to maybe take part, to try and write fifty thousand words in thirty days. That is just under two thousand words a day, and if my muse sobers up then I would like to give this a go. Someone once told me that we all have a book inside us, and this I believe is so true because I think we are all just slightly unique, each one of us has different experiences we can draw on. I see it as a way of producing a first draft, or at least a method of actually getting one of my ideas down on paper (or rather Microsoft Word), and I am not in it to ‘win’ anything, or even probably to find a publisher, but rather I think I will attempt it for my own sake, my own challenge. Wish me luck.

I was going through some old poetry, and I suppose this is what sparked me to update wordpress. After all it is national poetry day today. I try to update this blog at least on a monthly basis, sometimes that doesn’t always work out. But re-reading some old things made me want to share one of them on here. There are a few poems currently on this site,  and one of the old ones is at the end of this post. This particular poem I wrote several years ago when I was reminiscing about my youth; it deals with a time of my life that was very important to me. A time when I was starting college and learning about society whilst I studied a Social Studies course which was an Access Course that allowed me to go onto University. That was nearly two decades ago. That, when you think about it, is a long long time  but to me it seems like it was almost yesterday  – such are the vagaries of time.

I am reading a lot of historical fiction presently. Bettany Hughes book on Helen of Troy is a must read, and puts new light onto who Helen of Troy could have been and her status in Bronze Age society, a status that Bettany Hughes argues was just as equal as men back three thousand years ago. An interesting read. Also reading a lot about King Arthur and the formation of Britain during the years after the Romans left these Isles, when the then Roman Emperor Honorius told us to ‘look to our own defences’, to defend from Anglo Saxon incursions. Really interesting period of UK history. Anyway, time to go. Poem below, titled ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. Comments are always pleasing!

The Age of Enlightenment
dawned
during youth;
questions about the rights
of man and beast
(but mainly about beast)
swam around the receptor
and archive of memories.

Diet was altered;
dead animals now
never entered the lithe, sprightly
holy temple,
causing an enhanced awareness
with a permanent fix.
Oh, dear narcotics
don’t you wish you were as clever?

Questioning words
flittering across wide open eyes,
creating a Brave New World
of alternate thought.
Mr Huxley, sir,
you lit the match
to start the fire
which spread fiercely,
consuming old habits
and thoughts,
turning to cinder
the ‘muck of ages’.

Like tendrils of smoke rising
and vanishing in the wind,
The ancien régime of
hindered thought
unhindered itself.
Enlightenment was here!

 

Frank Herbert’s Dune – A Review.

Dune – a seminal work of American 1960’s Science Fiction. Published in 1965, Frank Herbert probably created a universe to fit his series of books which maybe has only been equalled by Tolkien. Perhaps Dune did for Science Fiction what The Lord of the Rings did for Fantasy Fiction. Both works are heralded as being classics in the alternative novel genre, the Grand-Daddies of their fields. Frank Herbert created this universe after studying about sand dunes in Oregon and wondered what it would be like to create a desert world. Dune is set eight thousand years into the future on the planet Arrakis, a desert planet which holds great political and social importance in Herbert’s Universe. Arrakis, or Dune, produces a narcotic substance called ‘Spice’, a drug which alters ones consciousness allowing some to gain incredible prescience. It is used widely throughout the Galaxy; ordinary citizens; Guild Navigators (who without it would never be able to safely guide Spaceships and see into the future); The Bene Gesserit whom are a Religious Sisterhood and use it for mystical purposes and last but by no means least – the Fremen who are indigenous to Arrakis and have a heavy Spice diet. The melange Spice is an incredibly addictive substance and the people who use it are characterised by their deep blue on blue eyes, denoting a user. When you understand how fundamental this narcotic is to the Galaxy and its adherents, then you slowly begin to understand what importance this desolate, desert planet is to Politics and the Dune Universe.

I think it is clear that this book drew upon the 1960s drug experimenting counter-culture, as basically it is about transcending consciousness using narcotics, and I guess the Spice could be seen as the equivalent of LSD, if you want an analogy. The novel is not just about drugs however. Dune is an epic work of Science Fiction, the first novel containing such a wide spectrum of issues; religion, politics, messiahs, family feuds, conflict, ecology and space-travel are all wrapped up in Frank Herbert’s world. Also, there is this kind of paradox throughout the Galaxy (and the story); yes, the setting is eight-thousand years into the future, but Religion still plays a very fundamental role here along with this medieval kind of Feudalism, as political association is based around Family Houses. We have House Atredies, House Corrino and House Harkonnen – the three main Families portrayed in the first novel. There is not so much advanced technology, and that aspect of Science Fiction is not really what the book deals with. The book, in its appendices explains that there was a Jihad (called the Butlerian Jihad), a holy conflict several thousand years previously that had eradicated computers and I guess most of, what would be seen as, our modern technology. Computers or thinking machines have been replaced by what are known as Mentats – highly intelligent ‘human’ computers. Also, people are fighting with knifes and swords; lasers, whilst they exist along with personal protective shields, are rarely used here. You could describe this as some sort of futuristic Universe that heralds back to a Feudal age with a pseudo-sci-fi slant.

Dune basically is a hero story. A son of one of the Great Houses, Paul Atredies, essentially becomes a messiah figure amongst the indigenous Freman of Arrakis. Paul, it is clear as the book begins, is no ordinary boy; trained in the ways of the Bene Gesserit, a Religious Sisterhood, by his Mother, he from an early age suffers from visionary dreams and acts older than his age should dictate. The Bene Gesserit, for generations, have been trying to breed what is known as a ‘Kwisatz Haderach’, a male version of one of them, and a super-being who has the ability to ‘be in many places at once’. When the Atredies family arrive on Arrakis, both Paul and his Mother become revered amongst the Fremen who, in their religion and prophecy, see him as their saviour, partly due to the Atredies family benignity towards their new subjects, but also fitting into the part of their mysticism and beliefs about their saviour. So, the hero becomes their long awaited prophet and messiah, saves the planet, unleashes a holy crusade with the Fremen, deposes the Emperor and replaces him. Classic hero story ingredients. This book is seen as a classic in the sci-fi world and in some ways it’s a cross between fantasy and science fiction, because of the feudal element. The science aspect mainly deals with ecology. One of the Fremens ideas for their eventual utopia is a terraformed Dune, one where there are plants and an abundance of water, and this they believe their prophet shall lead them into, away from their harsh, strict existence they currently lead. Paul is seen to herald the beginning of this new golden age.

Having read the book in my teens, I occasionally re-read it and with each reading I gleam something new. There was a film version directed by David Lynch in 1984 and also a TV-mini series. Both I think are good, and despite its many criticisms the film is not bad, with I think, great representations of Sandworms. Great series.

The Girl at the Lion d’Or – A review.

This is a historical romance novel, the first of Sebastian Faulks’ ‘French Trilogy’, the other two being ‘Birdsong’ and ‘Charlotte Grey’, and all three are set in France, during the Great War, the Inter-War period and the Second World War. This novel, being the first he wrote in this trilogy, is set during the Inter-War period, the year being 1936 and the time of the Popular Front Govt. of Leon Blum. It is basically about a young Woman called Anne, her life and illicit affair with a rich married Lawyer called Hartmann. Its quite a short novel, but its main themes are those of love & despair, set within an historical wrapper which gives a small insight into French Society during the 1930s, detailing through the lives of the various characters in the book the conflict with Germany, French internal social divisions, life under the Popular Front Govt. (mentioning the paid holidays they introduced etc), and, for a book if its size (~250 pages), gives a strong historical feel of the time.

Anne is basically a young Woman who travels from Paris to a small coastal village to work in a hotel, The Lion d’Or, as a waitress and general worker. It is clear near the beginning of the book that she has some underlying issues, which are well suppressed in her life, but the dreams she suffers from are disturbing to her. Whilst working at The Lion d’Or she meets Hartmann, a wealthy Jewish Lawyer who lives in a manor house near the village. She immediately falls for him and tries her hardest to seduce and eventually succeeds in getting a part time job working as a maid for his house. Slowly their relationship develops, Hartmann finding Anne alternative accommodation, having a weekend away together without his wife finding out and eventually, during this weekend, making love together, thus cementing their relationship.

Both Anne and Hartmann have issues – this is made very clear early on. Anne, trusting her new lover, slowly explains her past and it is not a pretty one. The effect the Great War had on France controls this book and its characters, made all too clear with Annes problems and to a lesser extent, but no more profound, Hartmann too. Anne lost both her parents during the conflict, her Father because he shot an Officer during the time of the mutiny of the French Army in 1917 (and was subsequently himself shot), her Mother as a direct consequence of being victimised by the village they lived in after the war because he was turned into a public scapegoat by the press. How nasty they can become towards victims. She committed suicide as a result of both the loss of her husband and the subsequent abuse in her village. Anne was brought up in Paris by a foster father, but her memories of seeing her Mother dead, and the loss of her Father and the resulting abuse the family received is only opened up with Hartmann. I think he becomes more paternal towards her from her opening up about her past, this is clear, and I suppose the reasons Anne falls totally in love with him is in part due to the fact he is the only person she has ever opened up to, as she had always been evasive about her past.

I found Hartmann to be a confusing character; it’s clear, compared to his friends in the novel, that he is no womaniser, and his relationship with Anne comes as something natural for him – he has fallen in love. His wife, Christine, probably is the only real victim, but she is so upper class that my sympathies lied with Anne (well, she is the focus of the book), but we do understand Hartmann’s problems with his marriage – Christine having miscarried and can no longer bear children seems to be the main underlying factor in their distance as a couple, or at least I got that impression. Towards the end of the book, Christine hears rumours about her husband’s relationship with Anne, and this seems to be the main reason why Hartmann finishes the affair. Selfish of him certainly, and he is the only one as well who knows the effect this will have on Anne, who has being rejected almost a third time; the loss of her parents, her foster father and now the only person she has probably only really fallen in love with all her life. He is as much disturbed by the end of the affair as Anne is I think, because he knows deep down what damage this will cause her and the life she had made in that coastal village. And it does cause her damage, quite severely. She ends up leaving the coastal town, her job and apartment, and travel back to Paris. Walking the streets in a distressed state, she ends up in a garden in a rich area of the Capital, finds a knife in a garden, and almost tries to commit suicide. But she survives and lives another day. She would probably grow up to be a strong Woman.

I liked this book. In some ways, it has more depth to it than Charlotte Grey, but not quite the same as Birdsong (which, in its own rights, is a classic novel). I liked the way it was wrapped up in the fortunes of the Popular Front of 1936/37 (with Hartmann trying to save a minister of that Govt. in the book who later also commits suicide over wrongful allegations), the way also how the Great War of 1914-1918 shaped all the characters in this novel (and probably the whole of French Society of this period), really coming into its own with the relationship of the protagonists. I recommend.