Holiday Diary – Rome, Part 2 (incorporeal) – Iglesias, Tartt, Wright, McCullers

So, as promised, I am now going to deal with matters incorporeal arising from spending two weeks in Rome. Being without access to decent speakers, not a great deal of music was listened to. However, four songs quickly established an unquestioned entitlement to be heard via Spotify on the laptop:

In joint first place, largely because I can only differentiate between them by listening to them one after the other, were We No Speak Americano and Far l’Amore. The sound is a mixture between the Flat Eric song that was on that Levi’s advert almost twenty years ago, and some jazzy Italian singing. Both songs have the effect of making one leap up to dance, and then almost immediately cease due to the clumsily high tempo.

In a high-scoring second place, we have Italy’s 2017 Eurovision entry, Occedentali’s Karma by Francesco Gabbani. I ended up voting for this, as well as Belgium and whoever had the funny leg dance, as well as another one. But this is the one that truly stuck with me. I am still listening to it a lot. It’s a grower. Trust me, honestly, you’ll like this:

Finally, in a very high-scoring last place, the classic Bailando by Enrique Iglesias. This is just our holiday song wherever we go. It has been drummed into us as it is apparently the only song that is ever on the radio in Miami. I always smile when I hear the hyper-Mexican accented guy at the start say, ‘je je je je je—Enrique Iglesias!’

My holiday reading was as thus:

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

This is set in a mill town in a southern state in the USA during the great depression. Carson Mcullers only 23 when this was published. Things like this always make me feel jealous and inadequate, but she is long dead so I guess I can just be happy for her. This is the story of a deaf man, Singer, whose deaf-mute companion is sent to an isnane asylum. It is not plot driven; it builds characters and describes a few events.

After singer’s friend is removed, he changes his lodgings and then builds a series of relationships. These are one sided: he doesn’t talk. He occassionally writes notes, but by and large he just listens. He does not offer good advice, or appear to be particularly wise, but the people who speak to him all seem to see qualities in him that they can’t truly evidence. Based on their prejudices, they assume properties in the him—a black doctor takes the man to be Jewish, because the Jews too have faced persecution. A trade union activist takes him to be a European socialist. A young girl, bizarrely, assumes he understands music theory.

It is only when the man visits his friend in the asylum that we learn what he thinks of them: they are all mad. But the relationship he has with his friend mirrors that his new friends have with him: Singer signs incessantly to his friend; but his friend rarely responds. Singer isn’t even sure that his friend knows sign language, other than for the swear words.

This is a masterpiece. It deals movingly with subjects such as alienation and isolation, and it gives it characters, all of them flawed and lost, dignity and depth.

Native Son by Richard Wright

This is another depression era novel, this time set in Chicago. The first third contained some of the hardest reading i’ve ever done: repulsive and compelling. The actual acts of violence are unforgivably cruel, and the tension at all other times is almost unbearable. Yet, this is a great novel. it presents us with one of the most unlikeable protaganists imaginable in Bigger Thomas. Then it shows us the world that created him: where a celebrated philanthropist, who takes a special interet in the education of ‘negros’, makes his wealth by renting out uninhabitable apartments at exorbitant rents in the black part of town, and refuses to rent to black people elsewhere. Where even well wishing white people lapse into asking him the kind of food ‘his people’ eat.

This is a world where Bigger is supposed to be grateful for whatever crumbs he gets, and you can’t really blame him for not feeling grateful when he gets a cushy job as a chauffeur for a rich white family. You can even almost feel sorry for him when he accidentally kills their daughter (if he ran I wouldn’t have blamed him); but the course of action he sets out on is so morally repugnant that by the end of the novel I thought the death sentence was fairly reasonable.

The prose is unflashy—in fact, it is disconcertingly direct. The writer consciously avoids euphemism as his protagonist places the corpse of his well-meaning, young, female victim into the coal fired toilet, and decapitates her with his switch knife on finder her body too long to fit into the furnace.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I feel I did well to stick this out; I read it on the basis of its reputation. My only previous encounter with Tartt was via the unreadable Goldfinch, which I, a man with a quotidian familiarity with Great Britain’s thousands of pages of tax legislation, could not bear to finish reading. This is better, but overlong, and usually at least a bit boring. We know from the start that Bunny is to be killed, and thank fuck for that as otherwise I would have spent the first half of the book thinking, ‘Why won’t someone just kill this annoying prick,’ rather than, ‘when will they kill this prick?’—a protest that at least contains hope within.

But after they kill Bunny they book gets no better. All that seems to happen is people get drunk and knock on each other’s doors. Tartt must have written the words ‘lighted another cigarette’ more than any other person in all history. Any why must everyone do everything brusquely? Why can’t they be, at least occasionally, curt with one another? Or, and this would be really revolutionary, why not just not have the characters all meet each other and kill Bunny in the first place? It also featured the classic pish literary fiction trope of containing an incestuous relationship. YAWN. I give this two stars out of a million.

Okay, that’s the holiday blog over. Tune in next week for coverage of, what by then will be, last month’s general election.


I am an amateur novelist, an aspiring tax advisor, a cycle commuter, and a graduate of philosophy, politics and law

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Posted in Literary criticism, Music

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