Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Christmas Reading

Stoner by John Williams

A real slow burner by an author previously unknown to me.  The uneventful and mildly tragic life of a farm boy turned academic at a Mid-Western university. It's the density and quality of the writing that pulls you in.  The late author reminds me a little of James Salter. The scene where the conniving student is guided through a exam committee by his mentor is a classic - as is the dying scene at the conclusion.

Breakfast with Lucian  by Geordie Greig

This is more an admiring gallop through the life than a biography. It's beautifully illustrated with Freud's ruthless paintings and is easy reading but it never gets to the core of what made Freud such a brute.  The writer doesn't skip over his subject's appalling behaviour towards his women and children but seems to relish each unsavoury anecdote.  Only the whippets around Freud were treated respectfully.  Everyone else had to accept things on his own monstrously egocentric terms or be excommunicated.  There were moments of grace like his tendency to read Flaubert's letters to his girl-friends but these instances were overwhelmed by the astounding levels of callous abuse.

Olivier by Philip Ziegler

A serviceable biography of the tyrannical old thespian. Olivier was very far from a luvvie.  He flew with the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War and brought an unprecedented physical bravery to many of his parts.  He was an extremely hard worker but he was also a stone autocrat.   He liked to act, produce and direct - all the better to maintain total control over a production. His triumphant films of Hamlet and Henry V were examples of this. Actors working for him were told how to do it and he brooked no debate.  Art always came before life and he had little interest in the world outside theatre.  His private life was of secondary importance although he was initially besotted with Vivien Leigh before she went of the rails. No great depths to the book, or perhaps its subject, but a bit of a page turner nonetheless.