Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Taking a Stand

At long last I steeled myself to tackle the 1,400 page doorstop that is Stephen King's The Stand.  Almost all books this length are too long, and this was no exception, but that aside, The Stand is a powerful and impressive novel.  It wears its desire to be the American The Lord of the Rings on its sleeve (Tolkien is referenced explicitly several times, and the final quest across the mountains to destroy a dark lord with his all-seeing eye will be familiar to most); but all 20th century fantasy writers owe a debt to Tolkien, and The Stand succeeds on its own terms.

Indeed, so adeptly does it build its apocalyptic narrative on the late Cold War American zeitgeist, that a case could be made that it is The Great American Novel, defined by Wikipedia as "presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen".  Actual real live Americans may send me screaming for the hills for a) forming a judgement on this most American of questions and b) suggesting that fantasy/horror novel should be admitted to the company of The Catcher in the Rye & co.  I merely offer it as a suggestion...

King's virtues as a writer are unarguable: he sharply and economically delineates character; he understands pace and structure (to pull off a 1,400 page novel, you have to); and he can terrible significance in the most everyday details.  His core gifts of character and plotting are seen as almost too humdrum to be worth celebrating, except perhaps by anyone who has settled to the business of writing their own novel.

The Stand is not without its imperfections, but whole is immersive and accomplished.  I highly recommend it - but make sure you have a lot of spare time once you pick it up...

Monday, May 09, 2011

TV Review

More Cops 'n' Robbers

The Saturday night slot on BBC4 once filled by the Danish noir The Killing has in recent weeks been given over to another foreign language cop show - this time the French Spiral.  In its stark exploration of the French judicial system, and its cops who'll do anything to get a confession, it's certainly as dark as The Killing.  It was less immediately compelling than the Danish show, but more consistent in its footing (it didn't leave a slew of loose endings or mar the conclusion).  The acting was impeccable, especially Catherine Proust as unwashed obsessive Inspector Berthaud and  Thierry Godard as the incorruptible prosecutor Roban.  There was very little in the way of happy endings, but this was powerful and compelling drama that, once again, made me wish British TV could offer something similar.

The opening episode of the much-touted The Shadow Line, starring Chiwitel Ejiofor and Christopher Eccleston, did not immediately camp out in the same territory.  The cast is top-notch, but the brooding and portentous tone of the first hour, underpinned by stilted dialogue and almost palpable desire for noir cool, was not a sure-footed debut.  It was like Luther, but without the overacting which, perversely, saved the Idris Elba  vehicle.  I'll stick with it, but with expectations suitably muted.