2017-05-12

sovay: (Otachi: Pacific Rim)
Tonight I got to hear Matthew Timmins give his first author reading at Pandemonium and at long last I have a print copy of his novel The Miseries of Mr. Sparrows (2015). I am very fond of this book. I read it in draft in 2012 and wrote at the time:

It's a hard book to synopsize, not because nothing that happens in it matters, but because so much of what happens in it matters on a level that is barely perceptible to its harried protagonist. Late in the year 1869 of a Victorian century that somewhat resembles our own, or perhaps early in the same 1870—the calendar is not the only bewildered authority in this story—the task of delivering a mysterious box to its equally murky owner devolves on Robin Sparrows, the long-suffering clerk of the wickedest law firm in Claudon. He is supposed to return it to a prisoner by the apt name of Tarnish, the man who over twenty years ago embroiled Albion in the disastrous Crocodile War and broke it from an imperial power to something the sun is quite definitely setting on. It is a story known by every schoolchild in Albion, the shame and tragedy of the Empire; it is these bright painted colors of heroes and villains and patriotism and myth that Robin finds himself raking up and reevaluating as he traces the ghosts of the Crocodile War from Minister's Tower to the slums of Scurwell—and he scarcely has time to notice, overtaken as he is by misadventure after misadventure as he tries gamely and rather hopelessly to fulfill his commission. It's very funny, with a strong component of the absurd and the grotesque; it can shift gears instantly into real, three-dimensional consequences or poignancy and even now and then a touch of the numinous. The city is a character. So are the islands of Crocodon. The elevator pitch would probably be, "A bit like Bleak House if one of the original Jarndyces had started the Trojan War. Also, Kafka." And although the book is titled after Robin, it cannot help but feel significant that the one character who really understood everything that happened those long, legend-burnished years ago is the person with whom Robin cannot communicate at all.

—adding later that what all of this means is a baroquely written, tragicomic, alt-Victorian (but not steampunk) semi-mystery which works some clever changes on the expected colonial-imperial forms while recalling Charles Dickens and Mervyn Peake, which is why I buttonhole people about it and have been trying for years to convince Matthew to write one of his promised sequels. It reads well aloud.

Earlier in the afternoon, I saw Nacho Vigalondo's Colossal (2016) at the Somerville with my father. Having slept about three hours last night, I am not in shape to say much about it, but it gives great sympathetic magic and Anne Hathaway, whom I had never actually seen in a straight dramatic part. Her Gloria is one of the kinds of characters I really like and hardly ever see when they're not male: smart, fucked-up, against the odds but not unsalvageable. The film itself was more complicated than I had expected from knowing only the premise; like Vigalondo's earlier Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes, 2007), it makes its genre elements almost a metaphor, but not quite, because metaphors don't run around with their heads wrapped in pink-tinged bandages or fall full length on buildings half a world away. It was very interesting to see a movie more or less cold, take against one of the characters almost instantly, second-guess whether I was supposed to be cutting them more slack or interpreting them through a lens of forgivable cinematic jerkiness, and then discover, no, actually, I'd been reading the warning signs right. I'm glad Tim Blake Nelson is working. I will be fascinated to see what both Hathaway and Vigalondo do next.

And after the reading, half a dozen of us went out for dinner at Veggie Galaxy, so I even got a coconut-milk chocolate malted to round off the night. The mail appears to have brought me another book from the mysterious internet, this one a Spanish-language study of Powell and Pressburger. (I should be able to read it, so long as I can use a dictionary.) Altogether it has been a pretty decent today.
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