Friday, 27 September 2013

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - Review

This is Iain Banks first novel from 1984, and it is the first Iain Banks novel I have ever read. This has been sitting, lonely, on my shelf for about a year and I had every intention of reading it a hundred times. If I'm being honest, the size of the novel makes it convenient to read, sitting comfortably in the hand at 184 pages. Don't be fooled by this! This is 184 pages of beautifully uncomfortable reading. I am equally impressed and disturbed by this novel, slightly worried I haven't let this novel settle into my mind and that I am writing this review too soon, having finished the novel 10 minutes ago. That is the intelligence of this novel, it forces you to sit down, back straight and pay attention to it. If you laze around reading a page or two at a time you're likely to miss the fine details, and then loose the plot. At one point, and you'll know where I mean, I had to hand this book to my partner as I couldn't continue reading, I couldn't even bare to have it in my bag, but that lasted about 5 seconds before I just had to know what was going to happen.  This novel doesn't give the game away at any point, even the ending is a slow burner, but the more I think about it the more I want to chew over the finer images of fire and running, drunken haze's and kite flying.
The novel follows an *cough* eccentric period in the eccentric life of Frank as he methodically grooms and cultivates the island that is his home. In the process we discover some of Frank's achievements and are given an in-depth view of Frank's mind. It's a journey,  pack a cheese sandwich and an apple in that backpack and be prepared to ramble the dunes. The blurb gives away that Frank has killed three people, children, two cousins and his brother, two boys and one girl, and these murders dropped from a great height *still a bit raw!* fall into the lap of reader and force you to accept them and move on, or you'll miss them. Murder mingles with animal abuse and the border line of sanity and insanity are amongst the side lines. The relationship of a secluded family with a history of macabre, and how these twisted jigsaw pieces fit together is the true plot of this novel. 
The imagery contained in Banks novel is beautiful, set on the north-east coast of Scotland and allows for a connection between plot and  nature that accentuates and isolates all characters in the novel. The glory of nature is juxtaposition against the mechanical thinking and construction that Frank takes out on the island itself. Turning beautiful rolling sand dunes into dams, or erecting poles high in the sky that will break up the horizon line and a step further adorning them with the dried heads of gulls and mice, or the occasional cat. There is a real fight in this novel between nature and human intervention, which leads subtly to the end of the novel.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Three Birds by Janice Okoh - Review

The play follows three siblings, Tianna, Tionne and Tanika as they play house in the absence of their mother. The eldest Tianna has to deal with growing up and becoming the head of the household whilst Tionne is dealing with it all in his own way through mysterious and disturbing experiments, meanwhile Tanika, the youngest, is trying her best to understand and keep hold of childhood.
    This play comes from Janice Okoh and is the product of 2011's Bruntwood Prize for playwriting.It was performed at The Royal Exchange in Manchester this year and has then went on to London's Bush Theatre.
Unfortunately I didn't get to see the play performed, but I have read the script after a few recommendations.

The script itself is brilliant, and refreshing. I tend to be attracted to the dark imagery of the macabre and this script, set along side a familiar home setting is a perfect juxtaposition. The situation the children find them in 
escalates to unbelievable proportions, and Okoh has shown her talent by making it believable. Each character functions on their own in the play and as part of the cast and the detail of the play. This play works well with the cogs of theatre by enticing the audience /  reader into itself and enveloping them thoroughly into it's world.
    Of particular note is the reveal at the end, which makes you want to re-read the play to look for clue's to the ending. The imagery builds upon itself to prepare the audience for the ending in a way here you half expect it, but being confronted with the macabre and bizarre is still disjointing. The layering of the script is particularly interesting, especially the small tear in these layers, as seen with the introduction of Mr. Mistoffelees the hand puppet. The true childish nature of these characters can be missed as they present themselves, particularly Tianna, as grown-up's but in these slips the reality of their ages and their circumstance is very daunting.
A word on the Bruntwood: this is obviously the quality of work that is being submitted to the prize and The Royal Exchange the product of quality to give something extra to these scripts. It is definitely a prize that carries a reputation for the winner and brings in new imagination to the theatre itself.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

On Being Taught Creative Writing...

After reading THIS  great article by Fay Weldon I feel provoked to say a few words about Creative Writing, particularly studying it at undergrad level.
       I have to admit, to myself mostly, that I was sceptical about the whole thing. My first choice had been music, and that hadn't worked out, essentially I was having a life crisis at 17. That was until my photography tutor told me that I should study writing. She said I was good with words and I liked to string things together, essentially what I'd tried to do with my images and failed, scrapping through by giving ridiculous and long explanations and writing essay's (in both photography and music) to explain what I was trying to express without words. Looking back I can't understand why words weren't good enough, now they are. I spoke with my literature tutor who was happy I was going to pursue reading but she was sure I'd get bored with it, so a joint degree was a brilliant option. That's how I ended up writing. 
    Of course there's the old 'I've always written', 'it's part of who I am' and they are true, I have a million stories, poems and snippets written all over the attic boxes but it wasn't until writing was given that priority that I thought seriously enough about it. Words are what we do, they are all around us. Conversation separated us from the animals, or something like that. If you can be taught to speak, you can be taught to write, and I think everyone should. Then maybe we will avoid those essay facebook status', for instance,twitter is great, it forces you to put an entire rant into 150 characters! (unless you cheat like me and put See last post at the end of everything)
      In music and photography they teach you how to put your own expression into the act,to take the technique that you've been taught and the passion that inspired you and combine them to produce your masterpiece of the moment. So why shouldn't they do this for writing. We express ourselves daily through facebook, twitter, email, text and on the phone with words, it makes sense for us to be able to tailor those words effectively. 

One day, when it's all over, I'll write something insightful about writing at university level, for now, onwards with the Masters in Creative Writing. 

Missingwer x