Why David Tennant was wrong about Proust.

Sorry about the evocative title, I promise it isn’t as misleading as you might think.

So, I’ve been making my way through In Search of Lost Time (I’m not going to pretend I’m past volume one, but if you want to presume I’ve read all seven and ignore this admittance, I’d have no problem with that) and, although I sometimes struggle to keep my concentration, I am always held hostage by Proust’s ability to strike through time and space and describe an intimate thought or follow, with perfection, the train of thought my own meager brain might take. But what always takes me most is his ability to make me feel like I’m not alone.

That’s not meant to be as poetic as it sounded, it has a point I’ll get back to in a bit. But first, David Tennant:

Now, I adore David Tennnat; not only was he the best Doctor (and fuck you, I watched the old Doctor Who episodes and Tennant still rules as the Tenth (Also, that doesn’t mean that, because I love Tennant, I automatically dislike Matt Smith, on the contrary, I think Smith is doing a bang up job against the standards and expectations that proceeded him)) but he is a fine stage actor (I like to think his Hamlet will be remembered and looked back upon as one of the most entertaining portrayals there was, one that has brought the play that much closer to mainstream appeal) and a funny and lovely person (his insistence during the last British elections that no artist would find solace in a Tory government was a shamefully unheeded truth) and I wouldn’t normally find anything to disagree with him about (save his latest film role choices… It’s like he has started picking up all Martin Freeman’s sloppy seconds now that ‘Tim from The Office’ has hit it big, I mean, the St. Trinian’s sequel? And now Nativity 2? C’mon David, I know you’ve got a family now but get friendly with some up-and-coming British talent, I bet Joe Cornish could fit you in somewhere!) but I’ve been making my way through the Desert Island Discs podcast backlog (it’s a bit of a British institution, Desert Island Discs is a BBC radio programme that interviews (in)famous authors, writers, actors, sports personalities, the premise being that the interviewed picks a collection of songs they’d pick if stranded on a desert island. Tennant’s interview can be found here) and at the end of the show, along with The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare (which the actor admits to, even though he has performed most of then, not quite having read all of yet), had to pick a book he’d want on the hypothetical island and Mister Tennant chose (and this is where the post’s title has relevance) In Search of Lost Time.

His reasons were as funny and interesting as the actor himself during the interview; not a great re-reader he could not think of any title he thought he’d take great solace in whilst alone on a desert island and, with such a hectic life (the man was just beginning his family at the time), he did not think he’d ever find the time for the famous novels of Marcel Proust, but would love the opportunity to say he had read them.

Obviously, maybe Tennant was wrong for his reasons for wanting to read the great works of Proust, but I’m not such pompous young thing to write a post about that, but I will take issue with the situation in which the handsome Whovian god would read In Search of Lost Time. The reason Proust is able to make me feel like I am not alone obviously has a lot to do with the things I mentioned above: his ability to feel intimate and to get into our heads, but more the implications of these things. Proust is able to bridge a gap, between time and the page, and make me feel like I’m part of a group. No matter how low and depressed I feel, when I read Proust, he enables me to take comfort in the fact that no matter where we’re from, what language we speak or how we look, we are all so similar; we all fear the same things, love the same things and wish for the same things; we are all touched by a writer’s ability to tell us what we thought was our own unique experience or, perhaps more effectively, our own unique dread or concern, and remind us that we are all together in this life. Maybe to read Proust on a desert island might give us a security in his writing, but for me, reading Proust, is when I feel truly connected and to feel truly glad to be able to share these thoughts and these feelings with another, although long dead, person, but if that connection was obliterated and I was put on Tennant’s desert island, Proust would only make me realise how far lost I was and how shallow my existence on that island was. I could not set my first sights on someone and imagine the love I might one day have for them or find small joy in the oddities of an old relative or remember the warmth and chills of my childhood just from the taste of little bit of a thought forgotten world.

I’m not saying reading Proust would have put Tennant over the edge, but it may, with sheer brilliance, only remind me how much I had lost.

That’s why I think David Tennant was wrong about Marcel Proust.


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My Buffy Benson Bother

So I have a few Christmas traditions; I’ll read a fantasy novel (last year I read the Harry Potter series… Again, this year it’s the His Dark Materialstrilogy), I’ll buy a bottle of red wine and watch the Doctor Who Christmas special and, starting on Halloween, running through to the New Year, I”ll watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer (although I cheated this year by starting with season two… For Spike shaped reasons) normally trying to get the Once More With Feeling episode to land around the 20th of December. Puts me in a right good mood, it does.

Anyway, there was always one thing that annoyed me about Buffy though and that’s Amber Benson. Wait! Don’t go anywhere, I think she and her character, Tara, are wonderful and that’s the point: I think she’s so good I can’t quite understand why she was never put into opening title sequence. I mean, it’s not like she isn’t important or a small, sidelined character; I have no hesitation in saying she had a bigger impact on the show than Seth Green’s Oz (who was in the opening title sequence). I just watched the incredible The Body episode again, which is probably the furthest the show ever got from genre television (Glory is put entirely to one side and, besides the very well placed single vampire, has no supernatural elements to it at all) and forces the cast to act (like with emotions and whatever) without distraction and I always feel like she really comes into her own in that regard. The scene with Buffy and Tara sat alone in the hospital waiting room turns from what first looks like a look-these-two-characters-barely-know-each-other scene to a touching and revealing moment that spurs the rest of the episode and her and Willow’s relationship is given weight and honestly as Willow tries to pick the right outfit to support Buffy. Not to mention the on-screen kiss between them and the openess in which they talk about themselves as a couple (I really think, apart from the moment where they openly call each other girlfriends to the Watcher’s council interview, this is the moment where there is no more beating around the fucking bush in regards to their relationship. After this point, they, or more importantly, the show, is 100% out about them).

Season five is obviously full of brilliant characters (It always reminds me that season six and seven might not have been, the whole season treats itself as the final one) and its when the Scooby gang is at its largest (bar season seven and the slayer craziness) and I can understand that a title sequence can’t go on forever but I can’t help but feel like there is a tension between who is in the title sequence and who isn’t. Why is Anya in the sequence and not Tara? By not having Benson appear alongside Anya and Xander seems to me an indication that her and Willow’s relationship is not as important as the, heterosexual pairing of Xander and Anya. Now, I don’t think Joss Whedon was making a statement by not having her there, but I feel it was just plain stupid not to do it, as the implication just makes me feel a little off about Tara’s treatment by the show.

And of course that’s the biggest injustice about Tara, and the biggest difference between her and Anya. Tara seems to be used a plot tool far too often; not only as a metaphor for Willow’s magical power, but as her driving force (the Glory induced madness and her death, being the obvious stand out moments). Anya is given a character arc and things to do, where as Tara is just there for Willow. It gets to a point where Tara is rarely seen using magic anymore. Of course there is the lesbian demon metaphor/backstory that we see played out, but this is introduced, resolved and forgotten about in one episode (ugh, and is it just me, or does that whole episode seem really lazy? (also: ha! Amy Adams!)) when it should have been the episode that put her into the fucking opening title sequence.

I have no problem with Anya, like I said, she had a full arc that brings her from the misanthropic vengeance demon to a loving human (and then back again) that I always enjoy seeing played out (and Emma Caulfield is so good at just being funny!) but Joss Whedon has such a  problem with killing off characters (Spike comes back, Angel comes back, Faith comes back, and, obviously, Buffy comes back), like a comic book, he always leaves them open for future development and stories except for Tara. She gets to die out right. Oz gets to piss off and be a werewolf and then come back (he pops up in Angel too) but Tara can just be a plot point to push Willow into becoming evil Willow. All done. No need for development there.

Was there a reason to why she wasn’t in the sequence? Is there an interview somewhere where Whedon or someone explains why? I’m probably just over thinking it, but it genuinely bothers me. I can’t quite remember who, after Giles leaves, they replace him with in the sequence? I just remember it isn’t Benson… Unless next week I double check and I’m wrong in which case this whole post is moot and you can ignore me.

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Now that’s what I’m Tolkien about.

So today I made my way through J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book was lovely and brisk (Coming off the back of Proust, who is everything except for brisk, it was made quite refreshing) and was not the trudge through fantasy wank and overly long world building that I was dreading (I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin), but I suppose I should have reminded myself that it was intended to be a children’s book (although Tolkien did go back and make The Hobbit darker after its publication when, during the writing of The Lord of the Ringskinda-sequel he realised they were tonally very different) and that I would be allowed to picture Ian McKellan as Gandalf since I had already seen him in The Rings films and as such did not break my preferred sometimes-rules of not letting film adaptations spoil my own chance at picturing the characters (To this day I refuse to watch The Hours as I’m worried the really recogniseable faces in the roles would deform how I see Cunningham’s characters (well, obviously not the Virginia Woolf character who I picture as Virginia Woolf (with that long face and old, old eyes) but at least the Clarissa character, whom I always pictured as looking like my sixth form English Lit teacher).

I did this because 1) my childhood didn’t include reading The Hobbit (it included ludicrous amounts of Goosebumbs books though, for some reason), 2) because I was too busy being a cool teenager (you should have seen how much my ironic t-shirts made me look like I didn’t give it a shit) to read it over the The Lord of Rings film releases and 3) because I am watching The Hobbit tomorrow morning and my hipster fingerless-gloves wouldn’t let me wear them unless I was able to say “of course, it’s not like that in the book…” especially since I told them I don’t want to watch The Great Gatsby film release (for the reasons stated above). I was a little worried before I read the book about what the film would be like. Regardless of all this 44fps nonsense (Ugh) I was thinking that a book shy of 300 pages might get a little stretched to breaking point if pulled out into three films. Not to sound like Kevin Smith, but if there is going to be that much walking, we might as well just throw it all into one big montage of marching and save ourselves the price of an extra whole film. But having read it now, I think I’ve got a bit of hope for the film… There is a lot of suggested events that I was interested to hear about; The Necromancer tale sounded like a wonderful sub-plot that seemed only to be in the book to take Gandalf(-in-the-machine) away from them so that they might find actual danger and make mistakes with consequences (But gosh-darn if Bilbo doesn’t just learn from his absence!) and the amount of times people just explained events to each other (how Gandalf and the dwalves escaped the goblin-riddled mountains or nearly the whole five armies struggle) was especially infuriating when you realise that the tale was told from a third-party and someone who easily shifted from character perspectives.

There are scenes I’m looking forward to seeing on screen too: the glory of the mountain scenery, the dragon’s attack on Lake town (which was written almost as if a damn screenplay action scene anyway; the close up to the Bard’s bow and the tracking along with the arrow as it hit Smaug in the right place) and any scenes with the shape shifting Beorn, as well as the opportunity to watch Martin Freeman in the role of Bilbo. I saw a lovely quotation from Peter Jackson recently about how Freeman reminded him of a hobbit the first time they met each other (English and drinking tea, I believe he went on to mention) and I think the actor will be marvelous as the reluctant hero who struggles between the choice of staying in the security of his hobbit home or taking part in an epic adventure (although, saying that, the opening description of Bilbo’s house made me want to eat cakes by the fire. I wouldn’t have left. Especially not in the weather outside my door (Fucking British winter. It’s just rain. No Dickensian snow for us), it reminds me a little of his role in Sherlock, especially episode one (A Study in Pink) where he thought he did not want the off-the-wall life that Sherlock Holmes lived until he was already caught up in it (If Freeman doesn’t lose his best scenes to being invisible).

I think there is chance to expand on the text in this case. Will this take from the brisk feel of the book? I felt like I was caught up in the adventure very quickly, as the young Mr Bilbo Baggins was, and although there is a lot of mention of days passing and a year being eaten up in adventure, I never felt like I was feeling time pass slowly, (but I was aware the characters were feeling it. Obviously an important distinction) yet there is space for an interpretation that gives the characters a little more time to reflect on what is happening to them and let the action scenes, that come and go, breath and feel more threatening. Something I think Jackson is suited for. I got the feeling sometimes that Tolkien was writing it all in one go and was tired by the end, or he was worried that the fight scenes would just seem boring, so made one character explain an event to another or have Bilbo simply be knocked unconscious during the largest battle so that he did not have to go through the trial of writing such an epic event. There is room in this book expansion and growth. I just hope Jackson hasn’t grasped for too much by making a third film.

There is probably room for a gold/treasure/greed joke in that last sentence, but it’s late.

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Why Woolf?

I just finished re-reading Mrs Dalloway (1925), the brilliant modernist masterpiece by Virginia Woolf. I recently picked up Mrs Dalloway’s Party, the short story collection released in 1973 which contains a taster of the conversations and interactions Clarissa Dalloway’s party (which spilled out beyond the book’s ending) contained. The short story collection is fine (Woolf places her finger on social anxiety and self-obsession to marvelously it is hard not to feel like she writes so that the rest of us feels better about our social incompetence) but I wanted to write a little something about the novel itself (the stories in MDP are thought to be mainly left over ideas and scenes she had written during her creation of Mrs Dalloway, including an alternative opening).

As much as I would like to discuss modernism and cynicism and the post-WW1 fallout that the modernists reacted to, I don’t feel like I know enough about it yet (I have about three books on the subject staring at me from across the room, cross that I haven’t bought a gallon of coffee and sat down to read them, nor have I read any T.S Elliot) and, to be honest, right now I just don’t want to. But I would like to take a moment to talk about possibly the most celebrated modernist: James Joyce. I like James Joyce and I think both A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses are important and seminal work, but I don’t love Joyce. He feels sometimes like an old professor waiting for you to put a hand up in class so that he can shoot you down. Every word feels like its against you, itching for you to misinterpret it – they’re slippery things, his words (unlike Hemingway, whose single words feel like just the right one for the right occasion. They’re solid, like fucking castles). Virginia Woolf, on the other hand, feels like she’s touching something personal. She’s in our heads and, although even her youngest book (Between the Acts, 1941) is nearly eighty ears old, her work still feels fresh and relevant (a mark of all the modernists, perhaps, even Marcel Proust, whose work comes from a   different language, still feels like it is applicable to our lives and our thinking today) and as Jeanette Winterson said ‘Woolf is Modern, she feels close to us’, she hasn’t seemed to age. Whether in terms of feminism, sex and LGBT relationships, Mrs Dalloway still has something to say and especially when we consider our near constant war effort and the men and women coming home from fighting for our country, the post-World War One setting of Woolf’s novel and her emphasis on a country recovering (or not) from the stress of a global conflict, still seems, and forgive the pun, modern.

For those who are unaware of the book (sort that shit out, by the way), it follows the eponymous Mrs Clarissa Dalloway, a middle class socialite, preparing for a party that evening. Yet, as with most of Woolf’s work (I think only Orlando differs from this?), her narrative point of view has the tendency to travel, roaming from character to character, giving you a momentary perspective on each event and occasion. As Dalloway moves through Westminster for some flowers and a plane flies overhead, we feel everyone’s reaction to it, whether it is just a shop keeper’s argument as to what the smoke letters the plane is leaving behind it say, or Septimus Warren Smith and his wife dealing with Septimus’s shell shocked life. Dalloways doesn’t even meet all of the characters we hear from, for instance she has no contact with Septimus, until a tragic event surrounding him is brought up, in idle chit-chat, at her party and, after a conversation with an old flame, Peter Walsh, we see the world through his eyes, experiencing situations (including a short stranger stalking episode) and personal thoughts from his view point.

But the biggest selling point, or at least the reason I keep returning to the book, is its style. A cousin perhaps to Proust, the style is flowing and observant mirroring sometimes the process of thought and sometimes the obsessive and compulsive manner of preparation for perfection but always catching something within you, something you recognize as what you thought was your own. Whether it was an idea that you had always kept to yourself or a truth you had never heard said out loud it becomes utterly personal. There are no great loves and no great hates, everyone is real and nothing is black and white. Unlike Joyce, you don’t feel the need to pull Woolf apart, you want to be carried along by her depiction or emotion and ideas. there’s a great quotation by Alan Bennett: “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feelings, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And is is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.” and that feeling, that someone has held your hand sums up Woolf for me; like she had never let mine go from the first page to the last.

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