A List for 2009 – Fables by T F Powys, Animals In The Dark by William Elliott Whitmore and Escapism by Yi-Fu Tuan

AliA List for 2009, Recommendations

Nineteen days after the year in question came to an end, I finally complete my list for 2009.  Not particularly timely, I know, but here are my final three nevertheless.  And although this list was never in any particular order, I do consider these three things to be my favourite discoveries of 2009.  So without further ado… T F POWYS – FABLES The only book by T F Powys that’s widely available these days is Mr. Weston’s Good Wine, which I’ve yet to read but am really looking forward to laying my hands on some time in 2010.  Two others, Unclay and Kindness In A Corner, have been reprinted by small publisher The Sundial Press, but for Fables you need to look in second hand bookshops (I got my copy from an online one for a pittance, and the good news is it was easy to find).  It seems that Powys may be one of those forgotten gems of English literature: too elusive in style to fit happily among his contemporaries, too reclusive in lifestyle to counteract that.  Fables was published in 1929, but eighty years later it felt to me potent and fresh.  But I should explain more.  Theodore Francis Powys lived and worked in the tiny Dorset village of East Chaldon (population today, one hundred and sixty six), where from what I can tell he kept his head down and reflected on the nature of life and religion through the means of his writing.  Evidently he was a very spiritual man who would have termed himself a Christian, but his take on religion seems to have been unconventional at least.  That’s about all I can tell you about him specifically, other than pointing you at an article by John Gray in the New Statesman, but you can pick up a lot of Powys’ sombre, pensive character from Fables.  This is a collection of twenty short stories, all set in and around the fictional West Country village of Madder.  In this locale, everything can talk, and each story has at its heart a dialogue between two such conversationalists.  When I say everything, I mean everything.  Candles, buckets, the waves of the sea, the spitoon in the inn, the headstones in the church yard, everything can talk.  Generally the less human a thing is, the more wisdom it has to impart.  And wisdom is something Fables has in abundance, and little gems are given out at regular intervals by the least likely of speakers, alongside opaque messages that are dark and strange.  This book reminds me in a lot of ways of Hans Christian Andersen, whose stories are similarly full of talking objects and sudden moral interludes.  Yet Powys is darker, stranger and less studied.  Plot isn’t important to Powys, but humour is, which is a good thing given that most of the conversations held in Fables turn ultimately to the nature of mortality.  Here’s an extract that seem to me to touch on everything Fables is about, taken from the end of my favourite … Read More

AliA List for 2009 – Fables by T F Powys, Animals In The Dark by William Elliott Whitmore and Escapism by Yi-Fu Tuan

A List for 2009 – District 9

AliA List for 2009, Recommendations

This was the best movie I saw all year.  District 9, by Neill Blomkamp.  It’s like a creature from a bestiary, made from the parts of many different animals.  It’s a sci-fi blockbuster with aliens and giant robots, yes, but it’s also an exploration of prejudice and a take on possibly the best short story ever written, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.  It has an engrossing central performance by Sharlto Copley and because it’s from South Africa it’s gloriously free of boring Hollywood cliches. I know this film divides people.  The sci-fi and action movie parts don’t appeal to everyone.  But if you’re unsure about it I’d urge you not to be put off by its genre.  It’s one of those works that exposes genre as the ugly, blinkered beast that genre really is.  As for me, I’m waiting with bated breath for whatever its creators do next. With 2010 newly arrived, I’m going to be wrapping up the list soon with a final top 3 post.  Before that I have a few bits of house-keeping to do on this site, as well as some book news to impart.  More soon…

AliA List for 2009 – District 9

A List for 2009 – The Ooser

AliA List for 2009, Recommendations

  I just love this fella.  He’s the Ooser (who I wrote about in the summer).  Knowing that this big, dopey-looking wooden head exists is enough to bring a smile to my face.  Since initially posting about him on this blog, I’ve found two great pieces of journalism that I wanted to link to.  The first is an article from the Guardian that interviews some of the Morris dancers who accompany the Ooser on his dancing trips, and the second is a short BBC video posted by folkmagic on YouTube.   Reading and watching these, the things that strike me are the comments by the dancers.  They don’t appear to view themselves as pagans, or the Ooser as any sort of religious symbol.  There’s no hokum here or analysis about fertility rites.  They do this simply because “it makes you feel good to be alive.”  And what better thing to write about on a cold New Year’s Eve than life-affirming May Day rituals? A very happy New Year to everybody reading this.  Thanks for following this blog, and I wish you all the best for 2010.     

AliA List for 2009 – The Ooser