Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Alchemist

Paulo Coelho's 'The Alchemist' is a book I used to see everywhere; on buses, on park benches, wherever there was a casual reader, there was that cover. I had the opportunity to read it last week and did so. Was it gold?
A young shepherd goes on a quest for treasure and in the process learns about himself. You'd laugh at the clich├ęd nature of that summary were it not so nauseatingly accurate. Following true to the well worn quest template, you can practically see Coelho ticking off the pages in a dog-eared copy of Joseph Campbell, as innocent Santiago sells his flock and travels to North Africa. At every step of this shallow parable we are entreated to pursue our personal legend, achieving the destiny God has put the world to helping us discover. And just in case we could doubt the validity of the central wisdom, Coelho treats us to an introduction explaining how many books he has sold, how many languages his novel has been translated into, and how much money he has made; see, he seems to say, you too could be a fabulously successful novelist if you just pursue your personal legend like me.
I suppose it is to the writer's credit that this reader did read the entire book and did so without vomiting, but there were some close calls. It does take some skill to generate the atmosphere of fairytale, but put in the service of what amounts to 'What Colour is Your Parachute?' meets 'The Bible for Dummies', that does not necessarily make for a good book. And 'The Alchemist' is most definitely not a good book.
Thinking of 'Blackadder II', I remember Lord Percy trying to discover the secrets of alchemy in one afternoon. At the end of his efforts, Blackadder points out that the resulting splat is green. "Oh Edmund can it be true," asks Percy, "that I hold in my mortal hands a nugget of purest GREEN?" Well, while reading 'The Alchemist' that is what I held in my hand, a splat of purest Green. I just hope it washes off.


John Carpenter's The Ward

In a psychiatric hospital (resembling the Overlook Hotel), a group of young women are terrorised by a killer who can appear at will and murder with ease. Could there be a homicidal ghost in the hospital?
John Carpenter has not made many good movies in the last, ooh, 30 years, but I'll always give him the benefit of the doubt and I've looked forwarded to seeing 'John Carpenter's The Ward' for quite a while. Some impressive opening credits, and a Goblin-esque score, had me hoping for the best, but in the end I cannot say it was a return to the exceptional form of yesteryear. The cast of relative unknowns (only Jared Harris is somewhat well-known) were fine (even if Jennifer Heard was a little unsubtle), but they were hampered by their (necessarily) stock characters. The frights were effective, but very predictable (camera pans away and then back to have the monster behind the victim). The only sign that there was anyone other than a hack behind the camera was clear only in the choice and variety of shots. He made his hackneyed location still manage to be fresh, that despite the fact that we have seen this very same set-up in a very recent film, 'Sucker Punch'. That movie was execrable in every way, whereas Carpenter's (despite having a cast of similarly pretty, young things) is not. However, it does highlight what is the main problem with the whole enterprise; there is nothing original here. The sequel to Carpenter's own 'Halloween' featured a psychopath in a hospital, while the usual panoply of labotomy picks and electric shock generators are trotted out again as on so many occasions before (anyone see 'The House on Haunted Hill', or 'Session 9', or 'Asylum', or...). But the real killer is the story itself which is a very, very close reworking ****SPOILER ALERT! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE TWIST**** of James Mangold's 'Identity', and that was made in 2003! I could see what was coming from a very early stage, and knowing that, suspense, if it ever was there, disappeared.
So rich in production value, but short on originality. I guess we'll have to wait some more for that Carpenter come back.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

More Books

Two more books just finished:

Ten Tales Tall and True - Alasdair Gray
Nicely written and often entertaining, so why did it take me so long to read such a short book? (And it has pictures.) Some stories display an admirable sense of political anger, but generally these are anecdotes rather than full-blown short stories. Still I remember each one (almost), so it must have made an impression.

A Brief History of Infinity - Brian Clegg
Charting the predominantly mathematical problems and wonders of the concept of Infinity, Clegg treats his subject with an amiable broadness. For instance, when any mathematician, scientist or philosopher is introduced, we get a potted biography; rivalries and fights (eg. between Newton and Liebnitz, Cantor and Kronecker) are given blow by blow accounts. Related (or even unrelated) ideas, such as irrational numbers or quantum physics, get as much explanation as the main idea, often it strikes me, more. Indeed, given that this book should make the topic clear, it drops the ball more than once, though it could be argued that is natural with such a slippery notion as Infinity. Still enjoyable and I promise I'll investigate set theory again. Oh, and one last thing the book reinforces in my mind is what a git Newton was!

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Thursday, August 04, 2011


Read a few books earlier in the week:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Memories of My Melancholy Whores
Michael Chabon - The Final Solution
M.J. Engh - Arslan

I'll try to write something on each soon. (I'm still recovering - slowly - from that last one.)

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