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dorsalfin

dorsalfin@bookwyrm.social

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Vengeance is mine, all others pay cash (2017) 4 stars

"Told in short, cinematic bursts, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash is gloriously pulpy. …

Vengeance is mine, all others pay cash

4 stars

This a story about violence and masculine trauma and impotence. About the allure of the open road to pull us out of the restricting communities where we grow up. About being too fucking stupid and stubborn to be with the person we love.

You make mistakes when you are young. When you get older you think you have gotten wiser but in fact you're just as dumb, you're just a little better at hiding it. Maybe you can talk someone out of making the same mistake you did, but probably not. You misunderstand what they want, they lie to you about what they can do.

None of this gets tied up neatly, no one achieves integration or resolution or happiness.

This book is vicious and brutal, but extremely funny. The kind of book where an unsuspecting teenager might start to idolize the characters for acting tough or being cool, but …

Ashenden (2000, Vintage UK) 4 stars

A celebrated writer by the time the war broke out in 1914, Maugham had the …

Ashenden

4 stars

A British writer gallivants around Europe conducting light espionage during the first World War. Based on Maugham's own experience doing the same, this book contains a number of separate stories, clearly chronologically linked but with no shared plot. Ashenden is batted around a bit by his handlers, and must learn the ropes quickly. He muddles through with a deft touch, a dry sense of humor, and a lot of luck.

This work is a kind of anthropology of the world's nations. Ashenden's portraits of a Mexican general, a British diplomat, a German fraulein are funny, unsparing, a little racist, but ultimately full of love. In the final story, the longest and most emotionally affecting in the book, our narrator gets tangled up in St Petersburg with an American businessman and a beautiful Russian intellectual during the autumn of 1917: the chaos that comes to surround this little group draws out …

Brighton rock (1943, Penguin) 4 stars

An atmospheric crime thriller featuring a teenage sociopath intent on becoming the underworld boss of …

Bleak and devastating

4 stars

Brutal psychological portraits of people we are not meant to love. A gang war with no glamour or illusions on either side. We begin to sympathize eventually with a somewhat pathetic and naive middle-aged woman, who lives for simple pleasures and takes no shame in lust. If virtue is to found in this world at all, she is the one who possesses it, and it gives her the strength she needs.

I found this a bit inaccessible, full of obscure-to-me midcentury British gangster slang, but well worth the effort.

Craft as management, management as craft

4 stars

This book is about turpentine, and about how to use turpentine to make Form and Structure and Meaning. It is full of beautiful, funny little anecdotes from Lumet’s dozens of films, most not so well-known. Lumet comes across as practical, dedicated, kind and wise. The chapters are organized thematically: The Script, Actors, Music, etc.

By far the most interesting chapter was The Camera. Lumet makes simple physical tweaks that completely change what an audience gets from the movie. Angle, lens choice, light and color: not just in each shot but telling a story across the scenes and with different characters.

I also loved seeing the call sheets and his detailed breakdowns of them.

Movies are the most complicated, multi-authored works of art our civilization produces. Beyond the vision, there is a great deal of craft and an obsessive focus over months, with limited room for mistakes. It’s not glamorous, but …

This Earth of Mankind (Buru Quartet) (1996, Penguin (Non-Classics)) 5 stars

This Earth of Mankind

5 stars

Toer was an Indonesian intellectual imprisoned by the Dutch during the struggle for independence in the 1940s, after which he set out to write about the birth of Indonesian nationalism. He began a decades-long research effort, but after the 1965 coup he was imprisoned on the island of Buru for suspected communist sympathies and all his work destroyed. He composed his greatest work, the "Buru Quartet" orally while imprisoned, and then published it later. The works were seen as subversive, and banned in Indonesia from their publishing in the early 80s until 2000.

This is the first work in the series and is fully as powerful as its origin story suggests. Its narrator Minke comes of age in 1890s Java, and due his high birth is educated at the top European school in the "Dutch Indies". But his place in the racial hierarchy is clear: he is a "Native", below …