I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Nose doesn't blow it

Although I've never seen Shostakovich's opera The Nose before it's difficult to imagine better direction than yesterday's live NY Met transmission in a Hereford cinema. This bitter, uproarious Gogol satire has a simple theme: man wakes up, his nose lost, pursues it through a Russian city as it  follows its own aspirations - to become a flaneur, a member of high society, praying in a cathedral. "Not a likely story" self-mocks the chorus but by then  I found myself thinking: "I'm not so sure..."

Mostly the nose is a silhouetted larger-than-life shape attached to a dancer's body projected on to a screen. Its movements are persuasive, eloquent and touching. Initially the music is hard to take (I nodded off frequently) but then it matches the pell-mell action and could easily be Mozart, Well, almost. Better than Tosca or, God forbid, Downton Abbey.

SILENT JAWS The Montalban Sicilian cop series, available in a two-hour chunk on Saturday evenings, has never reached the popularity of its Scandinavian predecessors like The Killing but has its moments. Commissario Montalban prefers not to talk during his lavish fish lunches, drives a Fiat Punto, and many Sicilians, it seems, live in palazzi. The sun shines a lot. Escapist.

GASTRONOMIC TIP Scatter dried onion flakes on tuna paté, preferably smeared on Polish bread.

WIP Second Hand (43,277 words)
FROM THE fourteenth floor the south-western suburbs were a worn carpet. At first glance an impressive expanse but in the end just an area, lacking any natural or architectural identity. The city twelve miles away was a hazy blur on the horizon.

He noticed her staring and said, amused, “Monarch of all I survey. But not much of a kingdom, not much of a king. More a district manager.”

He was young but then they were all young.


  1. It strikes me that Downton Abbey might have been a lot better if the script had been entrusted to Nikolai Gogol. Pity no one thought of it!

  2. Shostakovich has been high on my list for a long time, but I am not familiar with The Nose. I was surprised at your nodding off remark - his music, for me is always anything but boring.

    The contrast and variation of scenes in your snippets make me curious in the best way about the overall picture of this novel. I think it is going to be a must read.

  3. Shostakovich always has an evocative, hypnotic effect on me, which I love. Your last line here is confusing too. Could "but then" be replaced with "of course", or does "then" refer to the past? It has a sing-song effect with comma(s) absent.

  4. Joe: I must confess I've never seen a single scene of Downton Abbey other than the mush the Radio Times tries to force down my throat. The thing is I've never been tempted and that surely is the first hurdle any TV drama series has to overcome. Mind you, I have form in this area. There are many TV masterpieces I appear to have missed over the last decade.

    Sir Hugh: We are great Shosta fans, that's why we went. During the first scenes the dissonances didn't worry me but the small-scale musical repetition did. This sort of thing often happens in operas (even more so in Shakespeare) when there's a need to get the story off the ground. I believe it's called exegesis. To give him credit Shosta does his best by inserting a visit to the barber which fails because the hero thinks the barber's hands stink. Quite funny but rather out of context. One problem is that here the music is thinnish (you may not have heard Shosta as an accompaniment to voices) and a certain monotony develops. The story really takes off when the hero seeks to advertise the nose's absence under Lost And Found in the newspaper and is told he cannot - simply because nobody has done it before. There's a great duet between the hero and the chief printer which confirms that things are brightening up.

    Your view of Shosta sounds as if you've confined your listening to the strictly orchestral works (notably the symphonies) but he has other voices. Have you tried the quartets for instance?

    A must read. Let's hope so. I re-read a whole chapter yesterday and for the first time ever, with three completed novels behind me, I told myself I now know something about novel-writing I didn't know before (to do with structure which doesn't show up in snippets). I wouldn't be able to prove this to anyone, other than by wasteful labour, but I feel I can rely on my instincts to some degree. Technically this is the best novel I've written. Alas this isn't a guarantee that anyone will want to read it.

  5. MikeM: I hope I've answered your observations about Shosta in my response to Sir Hugh.

    Confusing? Sing-song is good because what I'm doing (or risking) is inserting authorial view and hoping it will be accepted as a thought passing through Francine's head. Alternatively some kind of extra-terrestrial view not immediately ascribable to anyone. So a change of tone, for me, is no bad thing. Here, "then" stands in for something like "come to think of it". Certainly "of course" would also work.

    The absence of commas is one of those judgment calls. The sentence is very short and this might make commas look fussy. Comma-ing off "then" might also add an unwanted formality where I hoped the observation might be thought to float.

    When I started writing fiction (journalism's another matter) commas were much on my mind and there is no doubt their usage has evolved. George Eliot (whom I idolise) would never let them drop but I was astonished to find far fewer commas in modern authors who have a reputation for clarity. Say John Updike. All those comma musts (round things like "however") which English teachers insisted on were going by the board. In fact one writer, who may have been been talking casually (Kingsley Amis, perhaps) came up with the prescription: if in doubt, leave out. The problem then is consistency and my only defence is my inescapable rule: devote as much time to revision as to the original draft. I read and re-read trying to come upon the MS not as the author but as a normal reader. Transferring the MS to my Kindle is a great help here since the "printed" page (I jest, I jest) in Kindle helps separate the content from the act of writing.

    To sum up. Second Hand is not yet half-written but it has been read and re-read quite a lot already. Once it is finished I will re-read it many more times. I may decide to rewrite this sentence though, for the moment, I can't see why. I'm aware I'm taking a risk with it (and I'm grateful that you have, in effect, pointed this out) and I assure you I'll read it with greater attention in the future.

  6. Got the Shosta(quartets are mesmerizing too) got the commas thanks. If my parsing gets annoying I'm sure your replies will become less generous.