Superbly written and read, this book turns what could be a dry subject into an exciting adventure. I didn't want it to stop. It was fascinating and wondrous. Poetic, and provocative. American English is treated with the respect it deserves, Shakespeare with freshness, and all through it all the English language is treated like a real hero, strong and determined, yet with large flaws such as a rapacious appetite for devouring other languages and spreading like an infection to places it was not invited. The author delivers a story that is inspiring, and gives language itself a humanity that makes it easy to relate to like an old friend.
The one serious flaw is that the author appears never to have lived long periods in various parts of Australia, for if he had, he would have discovered that the various books purporting to celebrate the Australian vernacular that have been published during the 20th century have more to do with a certain Australian mythology than anything else. City based authors report word usages that, like story's about levitation, are sworn to exist in some place beyond the black stump, but cannot normally be witnessed except when an Australian is 'bunging it on a bit'. Likewise writers from the country tend to exaggerate the bush culture for the benefit of outsiders.
By relying on these written reports and no doubt watching movies like 'The Adventures Of Barry MacKenzie', or 'They're A Weird Mob', the author seems to believe that Australians actually have spoken like this in real life. Maybe they do when living in Kings Cross, in London. This kind of larger than life Australianism bonds expatriates in a tribal manner. Back home in a Sydney suburb they often do the opposite when they return by 'putting on' an English affectation.
The section on Australian English was full of absurd phrases that I have never heard in my life, and, as described, was as foreign to me, as an Australian, as the author's native Northumbrian.
Slaughterhouse Five is a brilliant book that gets better each time I read it. I love the way Kurt Vonnegut crafts words, I love the way he interfaces reality with his poetic idea of what reality is or might be. I love his ability to weave humor into such a humorless subject, and put little touches of humanity here and there in unexpected ways.
I especially love the part of the book where Billy is watching a movie. Billy is either mad because it is his way of dealing with trauma, or he really can move through time in a random manner. He watches a movie one night, but he watches it in reverse because time is going backwards. It is a war movie. It starts with a city on fire but there is a mysterious force that sucks the fires and explosions out of the city and puts it into cylinders which are magnetically lifted into the belly's of passing bombers where they are stacked in neat rows in the bomb bays. The aircraft fly backwards towards Britain. They are damaged but as they fly over France German fighters fly up and suck bullets out of the bombers so that they are suddenly perfect again and no one is injured anymore. Crashed bombers fly up from the ground to re-join their friends. The dead pilots come to life again.
The planes land back in England, and the cylinders are shipped to the United States where workers, mostly women, disassemble them and separate the dangerous contents into safe minerals which are then placed back in the ground where they remain safe forever. All the characters grow younger, including Hitler, until they are all babies and unable to harm anyone. It is a beautiful movie.
This section of the book was read by Vonnegut in 2003 and set to music. It is called Tock Tick. It is reproduced at the end of the book along with Vonnegut discussing the book and its origins. The reader is superb (he is better than Vonnegut himself). It is a provocative book, challenging, and wonderfully well written. Recommended.
Few biographies have the ability to reveal a subject without being either overly reverent or overly critical. This book manages to balance strengths and flaws of character in an absorbing way. At times one can admire O'Keefe, at other times decide that one does not like her at all, yet at no point does one feel like putting the book down. On the contrary, I actually felt like not reading the last chapter simply because it meant the book would draw to a close, and I was left wanting to remain in Georgia's world.
I liked the reader. She is clear and has a little of Georgia's own 'matter of factness' in her reading style that I thought fitted the subject well. She had good material to work with, however, as the author structured the account in a thoughtful way that gave appropriate balance to the various elements of Georgia's life from New York and Stieglitz, to the West and her independence.
The only thing lacking, if it is indeed a lack, is the discretion used in accounts of Georgia's male friends. I cannot help but feel that Georgia would herself approve of leaving some things unsaid, but there were times when I felt that peculiar American prudery that seems to sanitize iconic figures in matters intimate. Maybe there was nothing to sanitize in this case, but I was left wondering in several places what the real truth might be, and the author at such places has neither speculated, nor admitted that there might be something to speculate on. Perhaps this is all a result of Georgia's active manipulation of her own legend, for it does appear that she liked to be in control as much as she could.
Overall a highly recommendable biography of one of the 20th century's most interesting artist's, one who was prepared to do her own thing no matter what might happen. It is a mark of a good book that one can, at the same time, dislike the main character, admire her, and love the way it all unfolds.
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