It’s been over two years since my last literary week, which is weird given I enjoy writing these posts that explore the literary content or implications of other parts of my life. I am writing this one, for a number of reasons, prime of which is that I’ve not written a review this week and need to write something! I have been reading, just not enough to write about – yet. There’s been too much going on.
Now, an admission … this literary week is more like literary season, which I hope you agree is fair enough. Who says bloggers can’t invoke artistic licence, after all? By season, I mean winter, which ends this week, here downunder. Thank goodness.
Mr Gums and I enjoy musicals and have seen two this month, one this week in fact. The first, which we saw earlier this month, was Hamilton. We must be among the last musical enthusiasts in Australia to see it, but we finally got there. I loved it. Besides its colour-blind casting, I loved its Shakespearean quality. It has the hallmarks of great Shakespearean tragedy, from the great man brought down by his own flaws to the fool (in this case King George III) who provides comic relief while also saying some wise things. And, the political machinations have such relevance to today. I loved, for example, the reference to transparency, or lack thereof: “I want to be in the room where it happens”. A real treat – though we were briefly thrown when, after Interval, the actor playing George Washington changed from an average-build white man to a thinner, younger looking black man. There had been an announcement but in the rustle of everyone returning to seats, we’d missed the crucial piece of information about who was “now being played by”? We worked it out soon enough.
The other musical, the one we saw this week, also has strong literary content, The Girl from the North Country, which, as many of you will probably know, features Bob Dylan’s songs and tells a Depression era story. Given Dylan – albeit controversially – won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, it’s hard to deny the “literary week” credentials of this one. I didn’t engage with it as quickly as I did with Hamilton, mainly because the story and characters were not familiar, but by the end, the characters had won me over with their stories and the actors with their performance.
I’m just going to mention one of the movies I’ve seen in recent times, Where the crawdads sing. Yes, a popular movie, though I have been to some more arthouse and classic fare too (like John Farrow’s gorgeous-to-look-at The Big Clock just last night). But I want to mention a conversation (by letter) with my American friend Carolyn, on Crawdads. Both of us enjoyed the movie. It’s beautiful to look at, well-cast overall, and the adaptation felt true to the book. Any problems it has, we agreed, are due more to the book – the stretching of credulity and generally stereotyped characterisation – than with the film itself. (My review of the book explains why I felt I could accept some of these challenges in the book.)
Now is the winter of our discontent…
This section is the saddest part of this post, because here I want to pay brief tribute to some special people who died this season and who also happen to have some literary or arts relationship with me.
The first occurred at the beginning of winter and was, in some ways, the most shocking – because it came with no warning, and because she was the youngest of the people I’m talking about. It was my reading group’s fabulous member Janet Millar who died, suddenly, of a heart attack in early June. She had moved to Sydney but, once a reading group member aways a reading group member and we had stayed in contact over the years. A journalist by training, Janet was warm, intelligent, funny, subversive and could be relied on to enliven any group. So sad, so missed.
Then there were two people who were not as close to me personally, but who were meaningful acquaintances, Liz Lynch who was in Mr Gums’ Advance German Conversation class and with whom I’d discussed reading group experiences, and Geoffrey Brennan, who was on our local Musica Viva committee and hosted, with his wife, many lovely musical afternoons in their home. These afternoons were equally about socialising as about music, because Geoff, like Liz, was a people person. They will be so missed too.
And finally, there was ex-work colleague and friend, Richard Keys. The oldest of the four here, Richard was in his 80s. He was a loyal, warm-hearted and fun colleague and friend, whom I met him through work at the National Film and Sound Archive. We quickly connected over literature as well as film, because both were dear to Richard. After he retired, we stayed in contact, and frequently ran into each other at film events, literary events and folk festivals. I would also occasionally find a letter from him in my mailbox – containing some newspaper clipping or other about Jane Austen! Richard could also quote Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, and may or may not have approved of my heading for this section! I’m going to close here, though, not with Shakespeare, but with a quote Richard had over his desk at work. It was from The sentimental bloke which is both an Australian film and literary classic. I used it in my last message to him:
Sittin’ at ev’nin’ in this sunset-land,
Wiv ‘Er in all the World to ‘old me ‘and,
A son, to bear me name when I am gone.…
Livin’ an’ lovin’—so life mooches on.
“so life mooches on” … on that note, I’ll mooch off and try to finish the unfinished books next to my bed, so I can bring you some reviews next week. Meanwhile, vale Janet, Liz, Geoff and Richard. You will all be remembered.