This is an outstanding title in the "Opera Explained" series, one free from a lot of extraneous detail and unneccessary introduction. We get right into the opera almost at once. And what an opera it is, containing as it does a political message, a paean to the joys of married love, and a score so demanding one wonders at the endurance of its performers. While the plot appears at first glance to be somewhat commonplace, it nonetheless shows the triumph of good over evil, justice over tyrrany, and hope over despair.
Furtwängler praised the opera, saying its political message and music "will always represent an appeal to conscience." But perhaps just as much, it is a monument to its composer's own statement: "Strength is the morality of the man who stands out from the rest, and it is mine."
Even if you're not a great fan of opera, if you love Beethoven, you're likely to enjoy this brief look at the incredible work he swore would win him "a martyr's crown" for his trouble. It is nothing less than a wonder to behold.
Pile into the Citroen with the Holzers and Sybil Leek and join them on a wild California road trip to investigate hauntings and sightings of the early-to-mid sixties. There's a ghost-inhabited closet, a spectral Carole Lombard, the discarnate monks of Etna Springs, and of course, the recurring Holzer theme of psychic topless dancers!
The most interesting story was that of Count Degenhard von Wurmbrand. A tall, elegant Austrian officer who relocated to America in 1927, Wurmbrand had a stunning tale to tell that gives new meaning to "rara avis." The ominous ravens, a castle south of Vienna, and unusual characters could well serve as the foundation of a compelling horror novel or screenplay. (For all I know, they have done).
Tom Pile's narration is excellent. He never sounded campy or silly portraying the female characters. His voice is just right for this kind of story: sort of "Robert Englund meets Jeffrey Combs" in the best way.
When you grow up in a haunted house, as I did, it leaves an impression. Especially on house guests. I started reading Holzer when I was a small child to help me make sense of what we lived with in that house. Whether it was a ghost, "leave-behind," energy imprint, or a grand mass delusion, he helped me come to terms with the fact that not everything can be explained, nor does the unexplained need to be feared.
Holzer had an usual gift for combining the "unheimlich" with the "gemütlich." Perhaps only a Viennese gentleman could pull that off! He always gave the impression that he was sincere and honest. He was not a trickster but a seeker. With a gift for friendship and writing, he told it as he saw it. Even though I don't agree with everything he believed or did, I respect him for his spirit and courage.
This little collection is filled with stories ranging from a bayberry-scented apparition in the home of a conservative banker in Philadelphia to a premonition of death given to a striptease artist on the night train to Zurich and so much else. Whether you believe the stories or not, they'll give you something to think about.
In 2004, I took "The Ghost Writer" on a long, dreaded flight. By the time the plane landed, I knew I would be reading everything Harwood published for the rest of my life.
Listening to Simon Vance's performance was such a treat. It's like when you listen to a piece of music and love it on an emotional level, then listen again to find the deeper structure and beauty. "The Ghost Writer" is all the more impressive ten years after.
Harwood plays fair and respects his reader. All the clues are there but he expects you to pay attention and think things through. His foreshadowing is subtle and well-timed. There is no dumping of information or meaningless backstory, and every scene contributes to the advancement of the plot. His writing is masterful, and as a poet, some of his imagery is arresting, but his prose never calls attention to itself. Add to that compelling characters and layers of intriguing mysteries waiting to be solved, and you've got a writer worth reading every time.
In a world of overwritten, self-conscious twaddle we are told is "literature," modern masters like Harwood shine all the more brightly. He provides everything I read fiction for and I hope he will continue to write novels for many years to come.
Friends have been telling me I need to read John Boyne for years, so I looked forward to the experience. Having finished "This House Is Haunted," I could scarcely be more disappointed.
The first three chapters could be cut as they only introduce irrelevant backstory. Removing overwritten passages of description and scenes in which nothing happens to advance the story would bring it down to the size of a novella. Even then, the plot is so contrived and predictable that it would not be worth reading.
The most aggravating things about this book are the modern attitudes, speech patterns, and social customs that permeate every chapter of the book. These "intrusions" continuously break the attempt to create a fictional dream of the past and are as jarring as a sneezing fit during a chamber concert.
Also, I found it hard to believe the author had spent any time with real children, even precocious or eccentric children, of any century.
Alison Larkin is a charming narrator, but even she could not bring life to these wooden characters.
Reincarnation was never anything I considered until a strange experience in 1991 knocked me sideways. Unbidden, spontaneous, and dramatic, it changed my life and made me question many things. Unfortunately, I still don't know what to make of reincarnation, having neither the faith to believe nor the confidence to deny.
In the early seventies, I read a good many of Holzer's ghost stories, but I don't remember BORN AGAIN so I thought I'd take a listen. Overall, it is worth a listen, mostly for the questions it provokes rather than any which it answers.
The book is largely made up of stories from female subjects. Unfortunately, there is a heavy reliance on hypnosis. Much has been written about the perils of this approach, particularly regarding expectation and suggestion. (Weiss' popular works are similarly problematic).
The science of memory has advanced greatly since 1973, and we know a little more about the way memories are stored and retrieved. Many things may seem to be true memories which may in fact be something else, from forgotten information, imagination, or fantasy to confusion, neurological disturbances, or even dissociation. In that so many things may be at play, it's hard to discern what is or is not a past life recollection, or even if there is such a thing.
The skeptical Schermer-Nickell-Randi crowd would find much to mock in this book, especially in the case of June Volpe. Hers is not a case that weighs in favor of reincarnation, nor is "A Tale of Two Katherines." In the latter, a woman experimenting with planchette and board is led to believe she is the reincarnation of Katherine Parr.
Another Tudor queen? Seriously? Once again, there is the impression that people recall only "special" lives which may be based on vanity or fantasy. (Judy Hall addresses the "queen" phenomenon in her work, with an interesting theory).
The final case in the book, from a male subject, is more interesting and varied. Overall, it is more suggestive than the two mentioned above.
Ian Stevenson's work is mentioned, and his study of children is fascinating, if far from definitive.
It is natural that we wonder why a certain child has a disability or deformity and another has perfect health. Are such things "deserved" based on past life actions?
Holzer is of the mind that child prodigies carry over abilities from previous existences. I was a child prodigy in music, but have never attributed this gift/curse to paranormal circumstances. It may be that such things cannot be explained.
Perhaps the late Roger Woolger's view was the most useful: the meaning of the "reincarnation experience" is for the one who has it. Its literal truth is not important.
I wish you well in your present existence. As for the rest, who can say?
This is a great story and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in art or true crime. There are so many characters, lines of inquiry, and bits of history woven through the story, and a feeling of "being there" in real time. The authors' style and organization in handling such a complex story are admirable. Writing about art in an engaging way is tough, but these two keep the story moving all the way to the end.
The authors portray Myatt with great sympathy. Most of the time, his part in the crimes is downplayed, as if being a good father and going to church were enough to offset the rest. In fact, he willingly participated in the scheme for 8 years before Drewe began acting ever more erratic and Myatt feared he'd end up in jail with him.
Maybe Myatt is just the sort of criminal people love, one who got one over on the establishment. He fell into Dulux emulsion and came up with gold!
Unfortunately, the narrator sounds like a computer speaking the words, with no pacing or character to her voice, and mispronunciations abound. Plus, as this is a story about a couple of British cons and much of the action has to do with London, why not get an English narrator?
A quick check to update the afterword was revealing. In a nutshell, Drewe was sentenced to prison again in 2012 for defrauding an elderly woman of her fortune; Mary Lisa Palmer was thrown under the bus by the Giacometti Foundation; John Myatt continues to sell "real fakes" and make appearances on telly.
Twenge and Campbell provide a wide-ranging study of social psychology with many useful insights. Unfortunately the tone in which the book is written and narrated is off-putting, arrogant, and grating on the nerves. The "look at me" author intrusion was over the top. They would have written a much stronger, more cohesive book if that fault hadn't been so distracting. The narrator sounds snarky and disdainful, which doesn't help.
This book goes a long way to explaining how we find ourselves in this situation. Even if you take out the statistics and somewhat outdated cultural references, there's a lot in here that is important to consider. I wish every parent and grandparent would read it and at least think through some of the issues raised.
If you need strategies to deal with a narcissist, you won't find them in this book. For that, I'd recommend looking at Rokelle Lerner's THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION IS IN MY REFLECTION and Eleanor Payson's THE WIZARD OF OZ AND OTHER NARCISSISTS.
This next bit is just my own experience, so feel free to skip if you wish.
I read this book to understand "small-n narcissism" because there is more and more of what this book talks about in the arts.
Three examples from the last week. (1) An inexperienced twentysomething painter threw a screaming tantrum when her inadequate work was not accepted for inclusion in a national, highly competitive exhibition. (2) A teenage boy asked me how long it would take "to get good" on classical guitar. When I told him many years of dedicated study and practice, he said he was "gonna get one of those 'learn guitar in seven days' things online" and wandered off. (3) A twelve year-old bragged to her adoring parents that she had "mastered" the flute and called herself "really gifted." She was not a prodigy, just an ordinary kid who'd finished her fourth lesson.
Those who have something to teach are getting tired of dealing with superannuated two year-olds who have a tantrum every time they find work is required of them, or discover there are others more talented, experienced, or willing to learn from their mistakes than they are. Entitled narcissists want instant fame, accolades, and praise for nothing more than showing up. Like Icarus, they fly on their frail little wings of self-adoration and fall when they come into contact with reality. Then we are expected to clean up the mess.
We need better parenting that includes the establishment of realistic boundaries and a return to a sense of community. None of us exists without the other. Not one of us is better than another. Narcissism destroys all that is good about a civilized society, and only we can stop it from taking over.
A self-described "plain dealer proud of the honesty of her transactions," protagonist Rachel brings us into the world of Oscar and Dorrie and their extended family. The couple is newly wealthy from an undisclosed windfall from the football pools. Rachel is, to their minds, best friends with their daughter Heather. Unfortunately, it isn't clear that either Rachel or Heather understands the precise nature of their relationship. This "friendship" is the true focus of the book and explores Brookner's obsession with misunderstandings and misalliances, as well as the nature of feminine interactions.
Much of the beginning is told in straightforward exposition without much dialogue, which does become a bit wearing after a time. But things pick up when Heather becomes engaged. Rachel has her doubts about Michael, Heather's Peter Pan of a fiancé, and more doubts still about his over-protective father.
Brookner's well-known gifts are evident throughout: close, telling observations which reveal deep character; a deft, painterly touch with description; the creation of an uneasy expectation about what may or may not come to pass.
Still, having read "A Family Romance" the same week, I found this a little less satisfying. There seemed to be less at stake here, and less intimacy in the viewpoint. But time spent with Brookner is never wasted, and I still enjoyed this story very much.
The beautiful Ms. Lunghi's narration is well-suited to the story. As Rachel, she delivers a slightly disdainful view of the circumstances with swift, impeccable enunciation.
Having listened to all three volumes of the complete stories, I am once again amazed by the talents of WSM. Were I an aspiring young writer, I would study his work as we figure painters study the draftsmanship of Degas and Klimt. He maintains intense focus, clear motivation, and never wastes a word as he captures character, dialogue, and situation. Times have changed, to be sure, but excellent technique endures, which is reason enough to study the masters.
The short story is a merciless, demanding mistress: one wrong move and there will be no end of trouble. When an author is a master of this medium, it shows his talents to best effect.
Some listeners have groused about Charlton Griffin's not being British. I don't mind that, though some of his pronunciations can be a little eccentric. His rich, world-weary voice is perfectly suited to the character of WSM's observations here. I highly recommend this series to students of human nature, good writing, and days gone by. Enjoy.
Jane Manning is a characteristic Brookner protagonist: rather shy, intelligent, sensitive, and by design and circumstance, rather alone in the world. Her aunt, Dolly, is a great contrast to her: maddeningly self-absorbed, designing, intriguing, and glamorous. Her many faults do not keep her niece from caring very much what happens to her.
In a culture of oversharing, where the facile observation is mistaken for wit, I find myself looking to writers like Brookner more often. Her depth of psychological wisdom and beautiful voice shine all the brighter by contrast.
Of course, she is not for everyone. But she may be for you.
If you are someone who values her privacy and independence, if you require "a ruminative space," as Brookner puts it, you may find solace here. Perhaps you learned your hardest lessons early in life and designed your life accordingly, determined to live on your own terms as many Brookner heroines do. If so, you will know what it is to be alone within the crowd, the observer at the party, knowing what it is to remain "the other" even if you are on stage. She speaks to those of us who know these truths, and we listen to her voice in awe.
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