1Q84 (Books One and Two) –Haruki Murakami
The latest three volume offering by esteemed Japanese writer Haruki Murakami – Kafka On The Shore, Norwegian Wood and Dance, Dance, Dance– is a hefty tome with the first two weighing in at six hundred and twenty three pages whilst the third, only available as a separate book, is a further three hundred pages of reading. It is certainly a novel of gargantuan proportions and ambitions but Murakami deploys every device at his disposal in maintaining tension and sustaining the reader’s interest throughout its duration. In fact I can only truthfully say this applies to the first two books as I have yet to read the third although admittedly my appetite has been thoroughly whetted in discovering what happens to the two central protagonists –Aoname and Tengo- who drive the two separate narratives which have become inextricably linked in the climactic chapters of the first two volumes. Very loosely based on the totalitarian themes espoused by George Orwell in his landmark 1984(Q has much the same sound as 9 in Murakami’s native Japanese) with the ever watching Big Brother replaced by the even more sinister and ever present omniscient ‘little people’.
Beginning with Aoname exiting a Tokyo expressway, mid-journey, via an emergency exit she finds herself in the alternate universe 1Q84 where events are slightly askew and the presence of two moons further complicate matters. Acting as an assassin-to ‘deserving’ victims- she finds herself caught up in a sequence of events, relationships and situations which place those around her in a perpetual state of danger if the wrong decisions are made and actions carried out. Tengo-with whom Aoname shared a brief moment of affinity nearly twenty years previously- meanwhile is a teacher with a side line in writing who becomes involved in a ruse to deceive the literary world by assisting a 17 year old girl-Fuka Eri- in translating and rewriting her highly original tale involving the aforementioned little people and the mysterious Air Chrysalis. Becoming involved in this deceit however opens a whole can of worms which continues to draw both his and Aoname’s stories and separate worlds closer together. The idea of a parallel or alternate world is a device that Murakami often draws on in his fiction to add a sense of detachment and other worldliness and a further sense of separateness is attained as he narrates the intertwining stories in the third person thus perpetuating the distance between the couple and himself from the narrative flow.
1Q84 is indeed a brave undertaking by Murakami and in the main it is a successful one. The distance that the third person narrative brings to the proceedings is perhaps its only major flaw as it lends the book a chill that is in contrast to his previous works wherein the reader is drawn into the mind of the first person narrator. Removing this facet the warmth that usually pervades his work is sadly missing and the reader may find it less easy to empathise with the characters as they are not so readily included in their thoughts and internal outpourings. This aside it is still a vast and compelling achievement and as stated before my appetite is thoroughly whetted to discover what the inevitably unpredictable outcome is for the central characters in the concluding book.
Man Who Sold The World : Peter Doggett
Many tomes have already been published about this most enigmatic of rock stars. Most fixate on his outlandish fragmented identity and image changes whilst alluding to vast drug consumption, occult obsessions, misguided fascist outpourings and, of course, the ambivalent sexual practices. Whilst all the aforementioned are referred to- in a book about Bowie none of them can realistically be truly ignored- Doggett places them in the context of the vast body of work that comprised his output from his humble beginnings as a pop wannabe in the mid –sixties until the turn of the eighties, a period that saw the demise of Bowie’s relevance as an artist of any worth or integrity.
Placing the songs in the chronology they were written in it is fascinating to note that the Ziggy Stardust concept that launched Bowie into the stratosphere of stardom was not originally conceived as a concept at all. It transpires that Bowie did not believe in his capabilities as a performer but fancied his hand as a songwriter and originally some of the Ziggy songs were fronted by Freddie Burretti- later to become his costume designer- as Bowie lacked the confidence to create the audacious character he felt they required. This is ironic as Bowie became one of –if not the-most fascinating and charismatic rock performers of all time. It becomes clear that he immersed himself so deeply in his characters-Ziggy, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack and The Thin White Duke- as a means of keeping the insanity that plagued his family, exemplified most notably by his older half brother Terry, at bay. Terry, after several failed attempts, eventually committed suicide in 1985 at a time Bowie had dispensed with hiding himself behind characters and had adopted the least convincing one yet, that of the average, normal guy.
Throwing himself into his work as a means of keeping the madness at bay Bowie’s output was unrivalled in the seventies. One only has to look at his breakthrough year 1972 to see his fingerprints daubed all over it. At the start of the year he was still pushing the newly released Hunky Dory and in the interim released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, wrote, produced and sang on Mott The Hoople’s career saving All The Young Dudes, resuscitated Lou Reed’s stagnant career by producing Transformer gave Iggy and the Stooges a lifeline to record their magnum opus Raw Power-a rock and roll sister of mercy is another role Bowie inhabited- all the while making reasonable successful forays into the American market and at years end was comfortably positioned near the top of the charts-no.2- with the Jean Genie. Such a work-rate would be inconceivable to an artist today when months of preparation go into launching a single.
This was only the beginning however and the next five years saw a workload that was as impressive as it was versatile. It was only after Heroes in September 1977 –only his second album of the year after the ground breaking Low if you are not counting The Idiot and Lust for Life the two albums by Iggy Pop he had a huge hand in delivering- that he took respite for a year and a half before releasing Lodger. Mind you in the interim he did embark on a huge world tour so he was hardly cooling his heels.
So what do we learn about the songs? Well there is a steal from Baudelaire here, a reference to Nietzsche there, allusions to Jean Genet-as well as a pun in the title of The Jean Genie-and themes of post apocalyptic nightmare in Diamond Dogs that predate and predict the punk phenomenon by several years. Queen Bitch from Hunky Dory throws up the convincing argument that although its debt to the Velvet Underground is explicit its coda referencing his adversary and friend Marc Bolan-at the time enjoying the fizzy, heady heights of stardom whilst Bowie still languished frustratingly in obscurity- makes an appearance in the chorus is a little less so until the lyrics are deciphered separately. Indeed opening with a shrill ‘It could’ve been me’ then railing against the ‘satin and tat’ and ‘bipperty bopperty hat’ of its subject he concludes with ‘Oh God I could do better than that’ which indeed proves prophetic as six months later he swept in stealing all of Bolan’s thunder and most of his fans. It is only when Bowie stopped hiding behind the masks however that any honesty started creeping into his work. Actually it began when still trying to exorcise the very nasty Thin White Duke on Station to Station with its heartfelt pleas to return to Europe from the madness that permeated his disastrous stay in L.A which saw him cocooned in a darkened room with vast quantities of cocaine and subsisting on a diet of red and green peppers and milk. Somehow he was still turning out amazing works and this didn’t cease on what was basically the withdrawal pain and blanked out numb alienation of Low which saw him so tired of narrative and unable to communicate that he dispensed with words-if not vocals- on half the album. After this Heroes – the heartfelt vocals of the title track contrast with the weakness of the lyrics which swoop and soar over the sheer majesty of the music- continued along the same themes albeit in a slightly more upbeat manner. This was followed by the travelogue themes of Lodger before concluding with what, in hindsight, could be considered the self appraisal of Scary Monsters in 1980.
If Bowie had quit at this juncture he would have had one of the most impressive, complete bodies of work in rock and roll. Unfortunately he chose to blight his copybook by releasing hugely commercial ventures such as the disappointing Lets Dance which cleaned up all over the planet. And why not? Others had stepped in and stolen his-the arch thief of them all- ideas for years making a mint along the way so in many ways his work was done. In the meantime he had steered a generation through the choppy, unpredictable and ever changeable seventies with style, verve, chutzpah and a huge amount of self belief. In the words of the flying finale of Rock and Roll Suicide ‘You’re not alone, Gimme your hands ‘cause you’re wonderful’ this was a message to savour.
Cooking Without Recipes –Philip Dundas
At a time when obesity is reaching epic proportions and culinary expertise amounts to little more than ordering a take-away or piercing the plastic film on a ready meal this book offers up a solution to problems plaguing British culinary expertise and simple understanding of the basic foods we eat. What it does successfully is re-introduce and re-acquaint the reader with basic knowledge about simple foods and the different ways in which they can be adapted and utilised in creating wholesome healthy meals. It is exactly what it promises on the cover i.e. cooking without recipes as recipes are a bit like diets in that they function best as guidelines that the individual can then embellish or tailor to their own specifications. What really emerges from this book however is the necessary understanding of food in creating a successful, tasty and healthy diet.
Concentrating on the basics such as different types of vegetables, meat, fish, seafood, salads, pastas, rice and various fruits Dundas explains, confirms and debunks certain myths that surround each of these staples whilst providing ways making them more interesting and appealing. A section on which potatoes are best for mashing, boiling, roasting or baking-skin on or peeled?- may initially seem unnecessary but proves itself informative about this most basic of foods. Who really knows which type of potato is best for each of these different methods really? Although I am no slouch in the kitchen myself I must admit I have always been slightly wary of artichokes and usually resort to buying them in jars and dripping in oil just to avoid any potential mishaps or culinary disasters. After reading the Dundas appraisal of them however I am now more than willing to try my hand at preparing them myself in future.
The actual food in creating a successful meal is not all that Dundas pays attention to however. He details which pots, pans, woks, knives and boards to use in different situations as well as a section on how to maintain said utensils in order to constantly achieve maximum efficiency and results from them for as long as possible. All of this is done in a tone which is warm, friendly and comforting. Although the information he imparts may appear basic and ,to some, mere common sense there is never a sense that he is being patronising but simply helpful and informative.
This book would be an ideal purchase for anyone who has a fear or lack of comprehension about food and how to prepare it. The simplicity of the content does not render it unimportant and in fact the opposite is true as the information is essential in basic culinary understanding. As an essential purchase for anyone fed up with the aforementioned takeaways and convenience foods and feels ready for a foray into real cooking this book is as good a place as any to start.