BOOK REVIEWS

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Aye, there’s the rub

The Rub of Time [2017] Martin Amis

The Bad Boy of English letters, Martin Amis, has been holed up in New York, not-writing his next novel [it will be his seventeenth if and when it turns up]. Instead he has aimed his considerable talent at journalism, both cracking and being wise across the full gamut of lofty, literary publications: Harpers, New York Times Book Review, Times Literary Supplement, New Yorker, Talk, and Vanity Fair [to name-drop a few].

This roundup dips into the zeitgeist – politics, prurience, past and present giants [Nabokov, Hitchens, Bellow, Roth] – all the time astute, learned, smartypants and full-on funny. He even admits to being a disciple of our own Clive James – an admiration pilloried by his literary lion father, Kingsley, who subsequently insisted on reading the prodigal son’s reviews with an Australian accent.

This is one for us wannabe writers, although it is so effortless and shiny that it is more likely to act as a deterrent. But go on, learn something about porn, John Travolta, poetry, about Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn and Amis’ unlikely love affair with tennis. Then go back to your own novel. If you can. JD


Repackaging Utopia

Player Piano (1952) Kurt Vonnegut

Smartphones. PC’s. Walkmen. Colour television. Wireless radio. Are the little boxes fulfilling us? What are the implications when we give into the ever-decreasing-in-size boxes that permeate our ever-increasing-in-waistline society? As quickly as rare-earth elements were mined to build our gadgets, dystopic tales were disseminated by those who wondered if society was heading toward a fate far worse than mutually assured atomic destruction.

In The Time Machine H.G. Wells imagined an inherently slothful human race evolving into diverging species: Eloi (the human equivalent of wagyu beef), and the predatory working class Morlocks. In We, Yevgeny Zamyatin gave the inhabitants of One State a glazed existence – where one’s relationships, communication and behaviour are dictated by logic. And in Huxley’s Brave New World the genetically-modified population of the World State is colourfully classist and hooked on Soma.

Where are we? Dystopia or Utopia.

Fordlândia – a logical name for a town if your name is Henry Ford – was set upon the banks of the Tapajós in Brazil. A fine example of packaging the American dream; a wholesome mid-western town built around industry. Unemployed? There’s work in the sawmill or harvesting latex from the plantation. Hungry? There’s cafeteria food – hope you like vegetarian. Bored? We have a church and dancing – prohibition is in effect though. Sick? Come to the hospital and see the state-of-the-art X-ray machines. Within two years of its proclamation the local inhabitants had grown tired of the American food and revolted in the town’s cafeteria. By 1934 Fordlândia was deserted, with remnants of the failed rubber empire being reclaimed by the surrounding forest.

Sometimes Utopia emerges out of boredom. Designed in 1933 on an ocean voyage by a group of architects, including the famous Le Corbusier, the “City of the Future” would be divided into zones; space for recreation, commerce and industry. Vehicles would travel on elevated roadways and people would live in the sky. Given the opportunity to rebuild post-war, the neighbourhood of Bijlmermeer would emerge in south-east Amsterdam; tall concrete housing towers erected in hexagonal groupings. Dutch locals hated it – the neighbourhood was disconnected from public transport. However by 1975 migrants from Dutch Suriname were joining their fellow citizens and moving into many of the abandoned apartments. Perhaps the secret to a successful Utopian society is inclusiveness and evolution?

Reflecting upon his first novel, Kurt Vonnegut would describe Player Piano as “a cheerful ripoff of another ripoff” – referring to Brave New World and the Russian predecessor We. The fictional city of Illium that Vonnegut describes, is just a sleeker version of Bijlmermeer that rests upon the ruin of Fordlandia. Whatever your feelings are toward the heavily borrowed plot, Player Piano addresses some of the issues that Victorians of 2018 are facing. What becomes of the working class when automation replaces flesh and blood? Does a having a university education guarantee a high-paying job? Are we doomed to living in a McMansion hell?

Step away from the little boxes for a while.

If you have some movie-related questions, or some feedback, please email me at movies@ thewestsider.com.au


Tomb Raider

This film was a highly anticipated reboot of the Lara Croft franchise. It has been well over a decade since her last outing on the big screen. Tomb Raider is the modern Indiana Jones, but with a female lead – Alicia Vikander is Lara Croft , the strong, smart, resourceful female character from the video games of the 90’s and early 2000’s.

From the beginning, Director Roar Uthaug sets up her character – a fighter, destroying men in a bike race proves she is the new Tomb Raider. Being an origin story, of course they need to dig through the past, sketching out her upbringing and her search for her father. The puzzle solving in this movie is absolutely absorbing, using her father’s knowledge to survive on this mysterious island where she finds herself marooned. Although sometimes you feel like yelling out at the screen “What did you do that for, you should have done this instead!!”. It does frustrate at times.

The fast-paced action and problem-solving kept me on the edge of my seat. It truly is a new Indiana Jones, with treasure hunt, bad guys and all.

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