Sunday, April 6, 2014

Review: Maleficium, by Martine Desjardins


MaleficiumMaleficium by Martine Desjardins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Written very much in the dark and twisted tradition of Guy de Maupassant, Maleficium creates a single story comprised of eight short stories, all charged with sexual deviance, repression, greed and pretty much the embodiment of the seven deadly sins, save for murder. It is exotic and reveals an extraordinary imagination. For lovers of dark erotica, this is your drug.

Which is to say, I am a lover of none of these things, and hence this review may be coloured by that prejudice.

That aside, the translation is deftly handled, balancing an homage to 19th century writers of dark fiction, and modern sensibilities of literary style. Martine Desjardins herself demonstrates impeccable historical research and an understanding of a variety of arts and trades, so that details of the various artifacts and arts, so lustily pursued by our seven protagonists, form a credible backdrop.

Overall, a haunting read which lingers like the dark euphoria of an opiate.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Mango cashew salad

This is a succulent, fresh salad to serve as a compliment to chicken or fish.
a bounty of ripe mangoes

Mango cashew salad

1 large, ripe mango, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 small apple, preferably a tart variety, washed, cored and cut into small pieces
2 green onions finely minced
1 orange, peeled and sectioned
1/3 cup whole cashews
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbs. honey
cracked black pepper
pinch of salt

Combine the prepared fruit, zest and cashews in a medium bowl. Set aside. Whisk together the remaining ingredients and pour over the fruit mixture, tossing well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour before serving. Wonderful served on a bed of tender greens, as a side to chicken or fish, although wonderful as a side to a rare steak.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rachel Joyce has written a novel which, despite its improbable premise, quickly gathers the reader into a story both uplifting and shattering. On its most basic level The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is about a man who receives news of an old friend who is dying, and decides upon a whim to walk a ridiculous distance to visit her on her death bed, and thereby keep her alive just a little longer.

What starts out as a whim and ill-considered journey quickly becomes a pilgrimage in the truest meaning of the word, visited by physical, moral and spiritual pain; by travellers seeking solidarity, redemption and notoriety; and in the end by a very private journey into the depths of Harold's personal inferno.

Joyce crafts this story with simple elegance, employing a witty, unpretentious style which is highly readable, utterly captivating. Her characterization reveals an insightful understanding of human motivation and foibles.

For the tender of heart, like me, you will weep, you will laugh, and in the end close the cover of the book somehow edified and transmuted. Which is what the best storytellers cause to occur.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

The would-be jurors

Recently a colleague from SFCanada posted a link to a review site which published an article, entitled Is genre fiction creating a market for lemons, about the rise of self-publishing and the proliferation of reader reviews.

Despite being intelligently written, I'm afraid it hit the Taz button for me. You know, the Taz -- Tasmanian Devil, the misunderstood growly beastie.



Why? Well, here's why:

I am heartily weary of this discussion, that somehow self-publishers, or small presses, or gods forbid the unenlightened, uneducated hordes might dare to think they, also, could create art, that somehow art is only art when adjudicated by a precious few who are somehow authorized to canonize a writer for their work. Only THEY can say, ‘This is worthy of publication.’

Oh horse-cookies.



People have been writing stories for millennia, and recording them either through their memories and retelling them as the shaman or bard or wise-person, or through pictographs, scratching on papyrus or parchment or vellum or paper, or now digitally. And people have been listening to stories for millennia. The stories which are remembered generations from now are the ones which resonate with some part of the human spirit. If not, the stories diminish; they die.


So many of these would-be gatekeepers, these chickens who wail, “The sky is falling. Art as we know is under siege!” forget that but 150 years ago people wrote their stories and yes, grab the smelling-salts, they self-published! They created their own kickstarter campaigns, only then contributors were called patrons, and every patron received a copy of said book. And so many of those published works are forgotten but perhaps by a precious few. And that’s okay. Really, it is.

For the love of sanity, I do wish these toffs would get over themselves. The public will read what they will read. And if you don’t like the marketplace, well, take your stall somewhere else.

Just one last comment regarding reader reviews: Whether they’re fake or not makes little difference, because since when did we allow someone else to decide what we should and should not read? Why not just read or watch something because you think the subject matter might be of interest? And then, gasp, make up your own mind whether you wasted your time or not.

And you know what, even if you didn’t like said piece of art, it wasn’t a waste of time finding that out! Why? Because YOU’VE LEARNED SOMETHING! Even the negative can teach us something.

Geez.

Rant off. Apologies in advance for the myriad people I will have pissed off. Going back to my Taz-Devil ways in the loft.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Maple ginger chicken drumsticks

Recently had another Sunday kitchen therapy day. Had a quantity of chicken drumsticks in the freezer. Had a hankering for something slow-roasted, sweet and savoury. Came up with this concoction which turned out to be schmecking good.
light to dark maple syrup

Maple Ginger Chicken

1 1/2 cups dark maple syrup (don't use pancake syrup)
1/4 cup lemon juice
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup teriyaki
3 cloves garlic
2" fresh ginger
1 dried chilli pepper
2 long peppers
12 chicken drumsticks (or whatever chicken pieces you wish to use)
long pepper
available in most East Indian food shops

In a large rectangular oven proof glass pan whisk together the maple syrup, lemon juice, zest and teriyaki. Finely grate the garlic and ginger and whisk into the syrup mixture. Crush the chilli and long peppers in a mortar and pestle, and whisk into the syrup.

Arrange the drumsticks in the glass pan, foot side in, turning in the syrup mixture to coat the pieces. Cover with foil. Place the pan on a baking sheet and place into the oven. Set the oven to roast at 250F degrees for five hours. Check periodically to make sure the syrup isn't burning.

Serve with a mango cashew salad on a bed of tender greens. (recipe for the salad to follow)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

In pursuit of the perfect novel

Over the years I've read my fair share of how-to books on the subject of writer's craft, scoured magazine articles discussing the particulars of writing scintillating dialogue, taken workshops with established authors in the hopes of finding the formula for creating that perfect novel. There are quite literally thousands of books on the subject, from the dos and don'ts, to world-building, character-creating, genre writing, motivation, and every facet and nuance you can imagine, some written by world-renowned names, others by little-known authors hoping to carve out a living and recognition by sharing insight.

And over the years I've also read a considerable body of literature, across themes and genres, time periods and subjects, from authors canonized and crucified, known and not.

If I'm honest, I'll admit I've learned more analysing literature than through study of how to write literature.

What have I learned? I've learned (and be prepared for howls of horror) there is no magic formula. There is no right or wrong way of writing. Sure you have to have the fundamental tenets of language well in hand. But the rest, the caveats about exposition, or run-on sentences, or any of a myriad mind-numbing details are all at the whim and purpose of the writer. Language is your palette and you choose how to mix and apply colour of words to suit your own expression.

Why? Because it doesn't matter a blessed damn whether you've followed So-and-Such's rule about world-building, or This-and-That's caveat about exposition. What matters, what really matters, is whether you can actually tell a story. What matters is whether the blood of the bard is in your heart, how well you spin a yarn, tell a tale, fabricate a fiction.

I have read in some of Rushdie's work such passages of run-on, breathless verbiage as to not only laugh at writing conventions, but shatter them completely, and realized in doing so Rushdie has created a story so vivid, so immediate I cannot help myself from turning the next page, and the next, and the next, from thinking on these characters and places and situations until my dreams are drugged with them.

Martel can employ exposition in such a way as to flip the bird at caveats, and do so in a manner that ends up a tale of such fascination it will remain beloved generations to come. Atwood writes such lean, spartan dialogue without identifying the speaker that sometimes the reader looses themselves in the rapid-fire wit unfolding paragraph after paragraph.

In realizing what these masters have done there is now a sense of freedom: Be not bound by convention, rules and regulation. There is but one rule: Tell your story. Tell it from your heart, as though you were speaking to a person sitting in the chair across from you; tell it so that their eyes remain wide, so that you slide like acupuncture beneath the fat and into soft tissue.

That's it.

Throw out the manuals, the guides, the magazines. Just write. Write as though you were Sherazade and your life depends on your skill to spin a yarn, tell a tale, fabricate a fiction.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To successfully write a novel like Life of Pi requires a skilful author capable of revealing the fantastic in a credible, engaging manner. Yann Martel clearly is one such writer, following in the footsteps of adepts at magic realism from the time of Jonathan Swift through Salman Rushdie.

The story itself is simple: a boy who survives 227 days aboard a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean. But what Canadian author Martel explores in this fantastic tale is far more. Martel reveals the struggle between the spiritual and the bestial, high moral ethics and the brutality of survival, the divine and the profane.

Martel chooses as champions for this struggle the characters of Piscene Molitor Patel, a practising Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and the awesome power of the Royal Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker. Of one body and yet two entities, thus the struggle to control the beast while maintaining the fundamental principles of the human in the grasp of the divine. How to balance this? How to reconcile that in each of us dwells the killer, the predator?

The answer Martel delivers in one of the last, frank, heart-breaking scenes when Pi responds to his interrogators after his rescue: And so it goes with God.

That only in embracing the divine can humankind find balance.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone 16 years of age and older. It is a profound work worthy of your time.

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