Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Harlequin Rex

Harlequin Rex

I've just read this stunning novel by Owen Marshall. It's his second; reviews of his first novel, A Many Coated Man, were not favourable. Landfall's reviewer claimed he was better to stick to short stories: "less is more", said reviewer Andrew Mason. However he wrote Harlequin Rex anyway, and it won the Montana Deutz Medal.

It's the story of a plague of psychiatric illness, nicknamed Harlequin, which causes the higher mental functions to shut down; this leaves only the "old brain" functions, the basic atavistic urges, running suddenly free. Sufferers in the grip of an "episode" hear and smell acutely, and become wildly excited; their mania may be sexual, or destructive, or playful, or murderous. Episodes become progressively more severe; in almost all cases, collapse and death follow.

Harlequin is spreading rapidly in New Zealand, and sanatoria are set up in isolated places to house sufferers until either a cure is found, or they die. Neither the cause of the illness nor its means of transmission are known. Adults of all ages and backgrounds find themselves committed to institutions from which few will ever leave. Marshall's story is set in one such sanatorium, the Slaven Centre, in the Marlborough Sounds. His central character is David, an ex-convict who has reasons for laying low, and who takes a job as an aide. Himself healthy, he becomes a part of this closed and doomed community, sharing the banal tragedy and the constant petty humiliations of institutional sickness.

Marshall describes his style as "impressionist"; His narrative is a chain of sense experiences and passionate emotions, linked by reflections on fate, mortality, personality and humanity. The style reflects the conflict of the animalistic brain, knowing only the moment and its desires, and the higher mind, aware of the passage of time and lost opportunities.

You can read more about Owen Marshall on his Book Council page. Clicking on the picture or heading above takes you to Fishpond.

New J.R.R. Tolkien book

Apparently the manuscript has been sitting around in pieces, and Christopher Tolkien has joined them together.

New David Hockney portrait exhibition

At the National Portrait Gallery, London. The BBC has a slideshow.

The face looks familiar

This Scotswoman found a portrait of herself as a teenager for sale in an antique shop. From the photograph, it was a good likeness.

Resale royalties for artists

The NZ government has called for submissions on proposed legislation that would award a portion of an original work's resale price to the artist. The NZ Herald has the story. Russell Brown has some comments. Also prominent artist Robyn Kahukiwa is quoted here.

Pensioners' rock band releases single

They want to elbow their way into popular culture. And why not, indeed? And besides, aren't the Rolling Stones pensioners now? The BBC has the story.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Congratulations Seraphine Pick

Phantom Limb by Seraphine Pick, winner of the 2007 Norsewear Art Award. You can see details of the award and view the other prizewinners here. The Stuff news item is here. Some of Pick's other recent work is here. This image appears by permission of Norsewear Art Award.

Women in Art

Kendal, UK, is hosting a huge arts festival showcasing the work of women in the arts. It sounds great. Wish I could be there!

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died this week. I'm sorry that we won't have any more of his books to look forward to. He has left us quite a few, though...Fishpond has these.

The last one I read was Breakfast of Champions. Boy is it strange! It has no minor characters, and there are a lot of characters. Before that I read Bagombo Snuff Box, which is a collection of his earliest published stories, and an essay he wrote about the process of writing: it's a fascinating window on his creative process.

Dickens theme park

"Housed in a modern, aluminium-clad hangar on the Chatham Maritime estate in Kent, its creators promise a flavour of "dark, smoky, moody London, full of smells and mist"."

Read about it here.

Serial novel

Love Over Scotland

I've just read Alexander McCall Smith's Love Over Scotland. It's wonderful, and a wonderful form: short episodic chapters, originally published daily in The Scotsman newspaper. Each chapter gets to have either a cliffhanger or a punchline. How many regular novels have that?

McCall Smith's website is worth a look, too.

Attack of the roombas

Are you afraid roombas might have bigger plans than just cleaning the carpet? Sometimes The Onion is just too funny.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Harvesting the sun

Plants do it, so why can't we? New Zealand researchers at Massey University have discovered a way to harvest energy from sunlight using specially-designed dyes which mimic chlorophyll. You can read more background and history here.

Favourite clouds

What do you like in a cloud? Is it colour, texture, shape? Would you like to compare your preferences with those of other people? Look no further than here. The site shows you tiny pieces of sky, which you rate. It figures out what you like, and shows you more pictures of that.

What does it mean? There's an article discussing all this on Artbash.

And if clouds are a bit abstract for your taste, there's always Kittenwar.

Enormous super-huge giant crystals

No, I'm not exaggerating! Check this out on the BBC.

Shelly West

I have just read Shelly Has a Baby, Shelly West's autobiography. It's the remarkable story of a young New Zealand woman who has lived through crippling arthritis and total blindness and achieved some remarkable things. The degree of hardship she has faced made me cringe, but she writes frankly and without self-pity, and I thought if she could bear to live through these experiences and talk about them, then I could bear to read about them!

And look at all the things she's done: got a degree in Italian and travelled to Italy, sung at country music festivals, got married and had a baby, written a book. She talks about wanting a career in public speaking. The book was published in 1997, and I would love to know what has happened since. Did she become a public speaker, or turn her sights to something else? How is her daughter getting along? Is it nosey to want to know more, when she has already shared so much?

Great book, anyhow. You can buy it here.

Context is everything

A world-famous violinist plays masterworks on a famous violin. At concerts people pay vast sums to hear him play, and he is mobbed for his autograph.

What would happen if he played somewhere outside a concert hall, The Washington Post wondered. Would people still appreciate his playing if he busked incognito in the subway?

"In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look."

The whole fascinating story is here. Thanks to Matthew for the link.