Stephen King’s Elevation is a novella about a guy who is mysteriously losing weight. It’s a good story, a bit heavy on the current state of politics, but not especially great. It also contains the weirdest concept for a department store e-commerce website I’ve ever seen: you go to a website, and after an old-fashioned splash screen, you see an empty room and a search bar. By entering a keyword, the room then gets filled with furniture and other trinkets in that particular style. I don’t believe that would work, but what do I know? Anyway: decent story that would not have been out of place in one of his short-story/novella collections. Don’t know why this would warrant a stand-alone release.
Earlier this year, I also read Laurie, another short story, released online (PDF) this summer. It’s a sweet little tale about an old guy who gets a dog from his sister. At first, he’s not quite impressed, but then, as always, stuff happens.
Stephen King — Elevation
Scott Carey knocked on the door of the Ellis condo unit, and Bob Ellis (everyone in Highland Acres still called him Doctor Bob, although he was five years retired) let him in.
Stephen King — Laurie
Six months after his wife of forty years died, Lloyd Sunderland’s sister drove from Boca Raton to Caymen Key to visit him.
Upon finishing my reread of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I am pretty sure it is my favorite book of his. And I suspect that is because I have absolutely no clue what to make of it.
It is an absolutely fantastic story, in every sense of the word. But despite all the maiden-mother-crone triple goddesses, all the weird and wonderful and very evil things that happen, I cannot help but feel that there must be so many layers that you have to peel back before you get to the story’s true meaning. Layers all the way down. When you read, say, Neverwhere, you know it’s all, well, made up. Ocean is nothing like that.
She goes on to say that for this book, he turned the blender down a lot, and that that was hard for him to do. But know this does not bring the story behind the story within reach. In his 2012 Zena Sutherland lecture, What the [Very Bad Swearword] Is a Children’s Book Anyway?, Gaiman acknowledges that this is a very personal, nearly autobiographical story:
It is a book. A glorious, uplifting and satisfying book, that does not really give you any answers as to what it really is about. Do I want to know? Bet your ass I do. But also, no.
Neil Gaiman — The Ocean at the End of the Lane
It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm.
“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.”
“The dread had not left my soul. But there was a kitten on my pillow, and it was purring in my face and vibrating gently with every purr, and, very soon, I slept.” (😻)
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World was a selection of The Missus’s book-club she didn’t get to. I had previously read Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and since that was a nice, quaint, strange, weird, but enjoyable little book, I dove in.
Well, these books were little alike. This one took hard work to get through.
There are two narrative threads, presented in alternating chapters: in “Hard-Boiled Wonderland” is a cyber-techno-punk sci-fy crime story, in which we follow a nameless human data-crusher, sent to do some calculations for a nameless scientist hidden away in a subterranean lair. From there, it gets complicated. “The End of the World” is a more surreal, fantasy affair. There we follow a nameless man arriving in a nameless Town surrounded by an impenetrable wall. He tries to find his place there, while doing his designated work as a ‘dream reader’. This involves skulls, but as staying there means having to lose your shadow and your mind, it, too, gets complicated.
“Hard-Boiled Wonderland” suffers from unlikable, uninteresting, flat characters, incredibly dull stretches of data-dumping and the scientist’s chubby pink-clad granddaughter. As a character, she’s pretty useless, and, well, our nameless protagonist is kind of a jerk about it. I liked the “The End of the World” chapters much better. But to make sense of those, you need the dull parts in between. Because those dull parts explore all the whole metaphorical, (sub)consciousness issues that you’re are probably supposed to make sense of. I know this is not going to make much sense, but I did like how it gradually all the metaphorical stuff made both stories come together. But by then, the damage was done.
Lets just suppose that this sort of modern fiction is probably wasted on me, and that reading this while commuting was probably not the smartest choice.
Haruki Murakami — Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (translated and adapted by Alfred Birnbaum with the participation of the author)
The elevator continued with its impossibly slow ascent.
“I say I understand when I do, and I say I don’t when I don’t. I try not to mince words. It seems to me a lot of trouble on this world has its origins in vague speech. Most people, when they go around not speaking clearly, somewhere in their unconscious they’re asking for trouble.” (🙊)
“Still, getting a penis to erect itself is not the sole purpose of life.” (🍆)
“I ordered a second draft, when I was hit by the long overdue urge to relieve myself. And piss I did. […] Afterwards I could have sworn I’d been reborn.” (😌)
In the case of Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti’s Hansel & Gretel, the pictures came first. They were created in 2007 for an exhibition to celebrate the opening of the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of the opera of the same name. Later, Gaiman was shown Mattotti’s stark, black ink art, and asked to retell the story.
And that is it, I guess. Unlike Gaiman’s adaptations of Snow White (“Snow, Glass, Apples”) and Sleeping Beauty (“The Sleeper and the Spindle”), this is a straight-forward retelling of the Grimm version. It’s done very well, with some humorous passages like how the kids got their names (The child was named Margaret, which they shortened to Greta, and then to Gretel. Two years later the woodcutter’s wife gave birth to a boy, and they called him Hans, which, because they could make it no shorter, they made longer and changed to Hansel.), but it’s the story you know about two kids lost in the woods and an evil old woman in a gingerbread house.
Neil Gaiman & Lorenzo Mattotti — Hansel & Gretel
This all happened a long time ago, in your grandmother’s time, or in her grandfather’s.
Every friday, there is a classical lunch concert in TivoliVredenburg. For free. So when I had a week off and I saw a potentially interesting program consisting of three early works by Prokofiev, I made a point of attending.
I know very little about classical music. I couldn’t tell you anything useful about exactly what style of ‘classical’ music Prokofiev composed. As long as it’s orchestral, I’m usually fine with it.
This program, played by students from two conservatories from Rotterdam and The Hague, worked very well for me. It started with Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34bis, which sounded familiar enough, with its Fiddler on the Roof themes. Next, the Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19 with soloist Karen Su, who has just graduated Summa Cum Laude at Codarts. As you can hear and see below, that was quite impressive.
The final piece, Scythian Suite, Op. 20 was also quite impressive. It alternates between quiet movements, and all-out, orchestral bombast. I liked that a lot.
I really should make a point of doing this stuff more often.
Symfonieorkest Koninklijk Conservatorium & Codarts, conducted by Thomas Goff & Ivan Hut, with Karen Su (violin), on September 21, 2018 at TivoliVredenburg (Grote Zaal), Utrecht
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34bis
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, Op. 19
Sergei PROKOFIEV: Scythian Suite, Op. 20