Tag Archives: Salman Rushdie

“Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water!”……….What I Thought Of ‘The Last Weekend’ by Blake Morrison

Jaws 2……….That “safe to go back in the water” phrase was the strap line used to promote Jaws 2 in the 70’s – it was a line that stuck in my brain at the time and has become one of those cliches that I trot out every now and then  – much to my families boredom and dismay!!!!

It’s up there with “Sounds like something monstrous is going to happen!” from Sylvester The Cat, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” from Monty Python, “Think romantical thoughts! You and me, me and you, together!” from Monsters Inc, “That’ll do donkey! That”ll do!” from Shrek and a clutch from my favourite film of all time, ‘Where Eagles Dare’, including the legendary “Broadsword calling Danny Boy! Broadsword calling Danny Boy!” and my most romantic line for my partner “I tell you what Fraulien! We will have one more schnapps together and then I will escort you to your quarters!!!!”

But of all the times I’ve used the nonsense line from Jaws 2 to describe something really creepy, unwelcome or weird,  never has it been more apt than for the character of ‘Ian’ in Blake Morrison’s odd, shocking, yet utterly compelling novel, “The Last Weekend”.

I just finished the book today but had to write the review straight away, even though I’ve got a backlog to write about, simply because I need to get it out of my system – Ian gave me the creeps – and I’m a bloke – God knows how this book, and Ian as a character, must feel for women who read this!!!!

But of course the fact that it creates that feeling is a sign of just how good a writer Blake Morrison is!The Last Weekend

The story grows smoothly, almost unnoticed, into its ultimately menacing and rather scary skin. It’s a book that sort of frightens you not because it just jumps out unexpectedly and shouts “BOO!” but because it’s a book that invades you slowly, like a dark shadow moving minutely, gently but dangerously and inexorably across the floor towards you!

The story follows a weekend get together of two couples – Ian and Em, on the surface are your archetypal lower middle class pairing of social worker and primary school teacher (I’m allowed to say that in a slightly disparaging way as both my partner and I are ex-primary teachers!) and Ollie and Daisy are your archetypal successful upper-middle class couple, much edgier, much more flighty and therefore less “solid”, and of course much wealthier!!! Ollie, Daisy and Ian are old friends from Uni – partly a case of brotherly man-love between Ian and Ollie and partly a case of unrequited love between Ian and Daisy – whereas Ian had found and fallen for Daisy first she quickly left him when she fell in love with his best mate Ollie! But the threesome survive the romantic to-ing and fro-ing as a rather odd menage-a-trois (though in Ian’s case its all friendship but no sex!)

They get together for a weekend, also accompanied by Milo, an artist guest of Daisy’s, with his kids, at a bizarre, rambling country house booked by Ollie. Over the course of the weekend the story unfolds, centred largely on a bet and the resultant competitive edginess between Ian and Ollie. There are emerging tensions between the characters, between the couples, between the families and even between the humans and the landscape and the humans and the house itself. These tensions rise to a crescendo in a fairly shocking climax.

I thought this was both an intriguing and beguiling book. It was one of those odd occasions when I really didn’t like any of the main characters, apart from Rufus the dog(!) and yet I found every character fascinating, almost vying to see which of them I’d dislike most by the end (Ian won that prize for me but I might have been biased against him from the off BECAUSE of that primary teacher connection!). It’s very cleverly structured, with just enough movement back and forward in  time between their uni days and the present to peel off and lay bare, layer by layer, their relationships, insecurities, jealousies and in some ways downright madness! The prose is great, there’s a sparse feel to it in places and an economy of language that for me added to the overall seedy, menacing, atmosphere in the book.

Since I finished it, I’ve tried to think of other creepy characters in books I’ve read and considered how they compare to Ian. There was the equally odd and amoral Mike Engleby in Sebastian Faulks book of the same name, the utterly vicious and cold Ripley in Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr Ripley”, the scariest taxi driver of all time Balgram, in Aravind Adiga’s magnificent “The White Tiger”, the second scariest taxi driver of all time, “Shalimar”, in Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar The Clown” and of course the master of cruelty and amoral actions, Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up The Bodies”.

But are any of them as creepy as Ian in The Last Weekend – I don’t think so!

Some of them are more violent, some even more amoral, some colder, and some more disturbed, but NONE of them are quite as – well – creepy – as Ian is! It’s a brilliant piece of writing – it gave me the same shudder that Jaws film poster did all those years ago – so much so that next time I’m asked by my daughter about things that scare me, I can add a third thing to the list:-

After reading “The Last Weekend” I’ll be avoiding sharks, psychotic Indian taxi drivers and any primary school teachers from the West Midlands called Ian!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I Wonder If My Favourite Albums And My Favourite Books Would Talk To Each Other If They Met At A Party?……….

……….I got this odd, fanciful notion years ago when I read something similar in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. In the book they had a discussion about the idea of vetting potential girlfriends through a questionnaire focused mainly on their record collections – it was a very funny dig in the ribs for musical snobbery which, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve indulged in myself in the past.  I mean there’s no way that a man who loves Ryan Adams and The Cardinals could go on a date, never mind spend their life, with a woman who enjoys listening to Gloria Gaynor screeching about survival!!! (This is as you might imagine a far from random example – my love for all things Ryan Adams can only speak its name when she who loves Gloria Gaynor is not at home!)

Anyway I’ve often wondered if my record collections and book collections are well matched – or if they signify some deep-rooted, sub-conscious, split personality on my part! One of the ways I’ve reassured myself on their compatibility over the years has been the frequent references to music I’ve got on my shelves, in either books I’ve read, or in comments by authors I like. I’ll give you an example. I know from listening to Radio 6 and from his Twitter feed that Ian Rankin likes Teenage Fanclub. So in my mind I then perform the following psychological equation:-

I Think Ian Rankin Is Great + Ian Rankin Thinks Teenage Fanclub Are Great + I Think Teenage Fanclub Are Great = My Book and Record Collections Must Be Compatible!

Obviously, authors use musical tastes and preferences as part of the development of characters in their books and from these I make connections like the one above! In addition there are books, like High Fidelity, or Salman Rushdie’s “the ground beneath her feet” with popular / indie music as the setting or context for their novels. Since I loved both of those books and they focus on much of the kind of music I like, it is of course further evidence of the compatibility of my music and book collections! (Of course when evidence occurs to the contrary – such as some of the country music that DI Thorne likes in the Mark Billingham crime novels – well……I ignore that!)

However as I was listening to the radio this morning I heard Lloyd Cole and The Commotions singing “Rattlesnakes”, with it’s name-check for Simone de Beauvoir in the lyrics, and it suddenly struck me that while I can think of several references to music in my books, the number of references to books in my music are few and far between. So I tried to compile a list and this is what I came up with!

First up is that Lloyd Cole song ‘Rattlesnakes’, which has the wonderful lines “She looks like Eve Marie Saint in On The Waterfront, She reads Simone de Beauvoir in her American circumstance!” Secondly, The Police song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” makes a reference to Lolita with the line “just like in that old book by Nabokov!

Next up is a Green Day track called “Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” (Personally my sharp intellectual guess is that Billie Joe Armstrong already knows the literal answer to this question!). Most influentially of all for me, the genius that is Ryan Adams wrote a song called “Sylvia Plath”. I love it ( in fact I may have written this post just so I can encourage anybody who reads this to listen to the song!). It goes:-

I wish I had a Sylvia Plath
Busted tooth and a smile
And cigarette ashes in her drink
The kind that goes out and then sleeps for a week
The kind that goes out on her
To give me a reason, for well, I dunno

And maybe she’d take me to France
Or maybe to Spain and she’d ask me to dance
In a mansion on the top of a hill
She’d ash on the carpets
And slip me a pill
Then she’d get pretty loaded on gin
And maybe she’d give me a bath
How I wish I had a Sylvia Plath

Beyond those it starts to get a bit tenuous I think. I know the Beatles made a reference to Edgar Allan Poe in I Am The Walrus and I know that while the lyrics to Aqualung’s “Strange and Beautiful” don’t specifically mention Shakespeare, the song is based on the story of A Midsummer Nights Dream –  at least I’ve always thought it was! Even more tenuously, I’ve got a Sheryl Crow album in which one of the songs makes a reference to Aldous Huxley, but as I have never read anything by Huxley and as I hardly ever play the album this isn’t one that’s big with me!)

And, for a final two suggestions, both linked to classics, I’ll first offer Kate Bush going all “out on the wild, windy moors” with Wuthering Heights and lastly the lyrics to Don’t Tell Me To Do The Maths by Los Campesinos refers to Jane Eyre – but not perhaps in the way I’d like. They wail out ” We know that we could sell your magazines, if only you would give your life to literature just
DON’T READ JANE EYRE!!!”

So as I’ve reached the point where I’m struggling so much to list references to literature in my record collection that I am reduced to quoting a song slating one of my favourite books I think it’s time to give in!

Though of course, if you can think of any other songs which make references to great books or authors, let me know! (And let me know if you like Ryan Adams! – I might use the weight of popular opinion to try to re-introduce him at home! Then again, on second thoughts…………………………..)

Simon Cowell, the “filthy” rich and fifty pound notes……………………………..

A while ago, while visiting a zoo or a theme park or somewhere, my daughter bought a packet of paper tissues with £50 notes printed on them (like most kids our best efforts to educate and introduce her to culture, heritage and nature founder on the inevitable truth – what she’s really interested in is going to the shop!)

This morning she decided to take them to school and share with her friends in the playground! All well and good. But she then broke the sleepy ease and soothing silence of our school run with the following statement “Some rich people use real £50 notes to blow their nose you know!”. She then went on to regale me with the details of how they will use a handkerchief if they have one but if they haven’t they just go into their wallet (it’s always men who display this decadence never women – I think she believes that even fabulously wealthy women have some sense!) and then they take out a £50 note and wipe their nose with it! To this tall tale she then added slander by stating that she knew Simon Cowell did it. When I asked her where she heard this and how she knew this was true she told me “It was on the internet!”

This got me thinking about three things

1. I’m thinking of writing a novel and currently gathering ideas (I’ve shared the basic plot with my daughter – her constructive and practical criticism was “Sounds boring!”). I’m inclined to use this information about the filthy rich and their nose blowing techniques for one of the characters! In addition I think I’ll litter the text with odd and a-typical uses of £50 notes!

2. If Simon Cowell and the filthy rich do this in real life (I’m sure they don’t, although the evidence that “It was on the Internet so it must be true” is powerful stuff!!!) then I’d dislike it intensely – I’m too plain to like anything ostentatious or bizarre in real people! But in books – that’s a different matter! It struck me that instead of being put off by outrageous behaviour such as this in book characters I tend to rather like them for it. I loved Cameron Colley in Iain Banks’ “Complicity” sitting behind the wheel of his car driving with no hands at 100 miles an hour while rolling a joint on his knee – I admired the sheer chutzpah of Don Emmanuel washing the fluff from his genitals in the stream in Louis De Bernieres “The War Of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts” – has there ever been a more charming and likeable asocial serial murderer  than Sebastian Faulks’ “Mike Engleby” – and on the nose side of things my favourite book character ever,  Saleem Sinai in Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, was in part at least, a glorious evocation of all things snot!

I wondered if I only like the outrageous side of life on the page rather than real life – but that can’t be true because I really didn’t like Bernie Salazar in Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad” (mind you I didn’t like anybody or anything about that book!) and in real life I love Eric Cantona!

3. I worry like hell for my daughter and her generation and those to follow – we seem to be making a right bloody mess of the world we live in and which they’ll inherit – but my worry increases a little further when I realise that at the moment she thinks if it’s on the Internet it must be true! If that was the case then Nicholas Cage really might be a vampire, Steve Jobs may well have been a ninja warrior and the Seven Dwarves really were a metaphor for the different stages of cocaine addiction! (This garbage and much more is out there – why aren’t there warm and comforting rumours on the internet like “God sends a message to Earth that Scotland will qualify for and win the next World Cup”!). But, more than anything, if what is on the Internet really is all true then it would also mean the most ludicrous thing of all was true and that I’ll never accept, so I’ll end my post by stating it clearly – Katie Price is NOT a proper author and as far as I am concerned never could be and never will be!!!

Now excuse me while I go blow my nose – where have I left my wallet……………………………………!