Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Barbados Diary: Day 7: Sunday 19th August 2006

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

Barbados Diary: Day 7: Sunday 19th August 2006
I’ve just finished another James Lee Burke novel ‘Bitter Root’. There’s a really good villain in it, Wyatt Dixon – who is the personification of evil. At the end of the book Dixon is simply arrested and put in jail for a long time. The hero, Billy Bob has the chance to kill him but resists – not wishing to carry that burden around with him. It was quite disappointing NOT to have a grisly come uppance for Dixon – yes I know that this completely contradicts what I said yesterday – but that’s the difference between fact and fiction. In fiction we LIKE to see revenge. Burke’s novels are about redemption though – not revenge – hence his choice.
In a similar way I’ve noticed P.D. James ‘back off’ at times – as if she hasn’t got the guts to kill a character off – notably where children are concerned. I once went to a brilliant lecture given by P.D. James – she spoke so clearly – her talk was so logically laid out. She started by saying how ‘everyone likes a good murder’, so afterwards, when the time came for questions, I asked her opinion about the real life murder of James Bulger – which was in the news at the time. Her eyes became filed with tears and she copped out by pointing out the difference between fact and fiction – just as I’ve just done above.
One of my favourite literary villains is Count Fosco in ‘The Woman in White’ who you may remember was played the “act-tor” Simon Callow in a 1997 TV adaptation – and totally miscast in my opinion. So much better, was the legendary Sydney Greenstreet in the 1948 black and white version.
Wilkie Collin’s description of Fosco sitting with his pet white mice interweaving themselves around and through his fingers, is one of the great examples of 19th century descriptive writing – worthy of his friend and colleague Charles Dickens. ‘The Woman in White’ is a fascinating book – laid out in the various characters’ testaments – which was revolutionary at the time. Reading it is a bit like doing jury service – with the various characters stepping up to take the dock. Incidentally, Collins is also credited as having written the first ever detective novel: ‘The Moonstone’ – which is equally good. Where Wilkie Collin’s disappoints though, is in the demise of Fosco – he is killed off stage – suspectedly by a group of masons. Fosco over-reaches himself and becomes victim to an even greater evil than himself. But we only learn of this through rumour from abroad. I think that this is because Collins wanted to stay focused on the main plot – and not leave the house in which the book is set and thus risk losing momentum. Compare this with Dickens – and you will see that the greater writer always gives the reader what he wants – e.g: the end of Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist. If you are squeamish and want to look away though – then that’s fine too - Dickens always prepares you with a clue – a premonition - in the case of Sykes, by killing off his pet dog, ‘Bullseye’ first – as a dark metaphor for what looms ahead.
Another example of ‘murder off’ is the 1984 TV mini series ‘The Jewel in The Crown’ where Captain Ronald Merrick – brilliantly played by Tim Pigott-Smith, DOESN’T reach a grisly end. I remember staying tuned in especially to see the mashing of Merrick. Years later I met Tim Piggot Smith when I had an exhibition at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. I naively expected him to be ‘nasty’ like Merrick and was surprised by his charm. Anyone who knows actors will also know that it’s much more fun playing a ‘baddy’ than a hero. My friend Gareth Tudor Price has pretty much made a career out of playing pantomime villains every Christmas – and loves it. Of course I had to tell Mr Pigott-Smith of my disappointment, to which he just laughed. Incidentally, the cycle of novels of which ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ is part is so sprawling that one wag suggested that P.S. Scott could have just put the initials of his Christian names instead of continuing after the first volume - thus saving us all a lot of time and effort!
Footnote: Digression - Greenstreet was 62 years old and weighed 300 pounds when he made his film debut: ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941) one of my favourite films – if you haven’t seen it then I urge you to do so. John Huston directed and took great pleasure in setting the camera at Greenstreet’s feet – so that he literally FILLS the screen. I take great heart at Greenstreet’s late start – so much more uplifting than looking at Egon Schiele’s or Raphael’s paintings – knowing that they died so young. The only other example I can think off – US presidents apart (“Boring” as Tom would say) – is Colonel Saunders who discovered his eleven different herbs and spices at the age of 65. Can you suggest any more late starters? - No ‘crudities’ please!

You can see pictures of my mosaics on my website: www.martincheekmosaics.com
The Barbados work is shown on page:
www.martincheekmosaics.com/html/barbados_floor.html

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