Thursday, August 28, 2014

Book 155, Monaco: "Loser Takes All" by Graham Greene

Guess what? I decided that I *would not* let a second month go by wherein I'd only read one book for this blog. So I hitched a ride with my dad over to Jurong East Regional Library, and lo and behold, procured this:

It's a novella about Bertram, a 40 year-old London assistant manager of accounting and a bit of a loser - except that he's about to marry a sweet 20 year-old girl named Cary at a quiet church ceremony. Then, through the off-handed magnanimity of the major shareholder in his company, he ends up having the ceremony in Monte Carlo, Monaco - but when they're stranded at the hotel without the cash to pay their way any further, what can they do? Gamble their way into millions, that's what! And encounter all the ups and downs of riches while that takes place.

Now, I've only read one other Graham Greene novel, The Quiet American, which happens to have been published in 1955, the very same year this came out. And I can't help but be struck by the similarities between the two. Both feature:

1. A middle-aged, unremarkable first-person protagonist who is British and male,

2. and who also happens to be with an innocent 20 year-old (in The Quiet American, her name's Phuong) who appears bubble-headed and flighty but is in reality utterly devoted and surprisingly canny about the ways of life,

3. although there's an awful middle-aged woman involved - in The Quiet American it's Fowler's existing wife who won't grant him a divorce so he can remarry; in Loser Takes All it's Bertram's cheating sexpot of a deceased wife, plus a lady he picks up in the casino just to make Cary feel jealous.

4. Oh yes, and there's a handsome young man around who makes the protagonist jealous (the eponymous quiet American in The Quiet American; a young gambler named Philippe in Loser Takes All), but who does not deserve the girl, dammit.

5. And there's also machinations of power in the background - it's the Vietnam War in The Quiet American; it's the battles for money and power amongst the shareholders in Loser Takes All.

6. Plus, they both take place in exotic locations most Brit readers could only dream of visiting - Monaco! Vietnam! Not so much unlike an Ian Fleming novel after all. (Although it is remarkable that Loser Takes All was published a year before Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier - hence, it's set in the dowdy days of Monaco, before its great glamorisation.)

Of course, the two books are different, in substantial ways. First off, this one's just a novella, 110 pages long in fairly large print. And second, while The Quiet American is about the corruption of war and imperialism and all, Loser Takes All is about the corruption of wealth and greed - the money spoils everything, and Cary's the only one who can see that clearly.

And yes, this was a hell of a fun read. Probably useful for my writing, too. Although I do still feel bad about losing my copy of The Ruling House of Monaco. Will have to cough up some cash for that.

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote: There are so many faces in streets and bars and buses and stores that remind one of Original Sin, so few that carry permanently the sign of Original Innocence. Cary's face was like that - she would always until old age look at the world with the eyes of a child. She was never bored: every day was a new day: every grief was eternal and every joy would last for ever. 'Terrible' was her favourite adjective - it wasn't in her mouth a cliché - there was terror in her pleasures, her fears, her anxieties, her laughter - the terror of surprise, of seeing something for the first time. 

Next book: Johanna Spyri's Heidi, from Switzerland.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gah! I've gone and lost my book!

I was reading this yesterday on the train:

Later I checked my bag for it and found it was gone. I think I mislaid it somewhere in Bugis Junction. Am quite pissed because it was full of juicy gossip about the late Princess Grace of Monaco and her ridiculously wealthy and privileged and dysfunctional family, plus the absurd casino-driven dictatorship where they make their home.

It also happens to be a National Library book, and their last copy. Ah, but I shouldn't feel bad for them. Plus, I've noticed they've started monitoring our borrowing record and using it to recommend books to others online. Creepy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Further IndigNation events!

I'm in Singapore now! And since I haven't picked up my Monaco book from NLB, so I'm gonna promote a few more literary events at IndigNation!

For starters, this Sunday we're having a queer feminist performance poetry event!

Mass Hysteria: Relapsed
Sunday August 24
3pm and 7pm
The Arts House, Play Den

Attention: Health Notice

Mass Hysteria has spread beyond detention and secondary school graduation. There are no expiry dates, no LUGs, but some spectres continue to haunt.

Shrugging off uniforms and habits, the queerdos set their sights on the world outside, to re-act and negotiate the hysterical and the historical, great tropes and expectations, memory and homophobic violence, nightmarish dyke drama and the life cycles of lezbo love.

Come quantify the insanity. Come queer the jealousy. Just come.

Featuring words and performances by:
Ad Maulod, Germaine Yeo, Mrylyn Tn, Rak Shakalaka, Sage Lee,Stephanie Dogfoot, Vanessa Victoria and music by: Illi Syaznie

AMOK Collective and Sayoni

Also, our closing event: A Minor ContraDiction!

A Minor ContraDiction:  Indignation SG 2014 Closing Night
Saturday August 30

The Reading Room

To bring Indignation to a close, take a peek into the future of Singapore’s queer literary community as present you with a night of readings and performances by some of Singapore’s most dynamic emerging LGBTQ voices. Raw. funny, honest, angry and hopeful, these young writers will show you what it means and how it feels to grow up queer in 21st century Singapore.

Ng Yi-Sheng, Stephanie Dogfoot, Vanessa Victoria, Eugene Tan

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book 154, France: "In Search of Lost Time, Vol I: Swann's Way" by Marcel Proust

Boy oh boy. I still can't figure out if I made a mistake with this one. I mean, I could've read an action-packed classic novel for this segment - Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera - and no-one would've thought less of me for it.

But instead, I decided I had to go with the major work of world literature I was least likely to get around to reading otherwise. But the one I chose was only one volume of the seven-volume In Search of Lost Time, and not even the most acclaimed volume, either (which I believe is In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower). 

Still, it is the one with the famous madeleine scene in it!

TBH, the book's not bad, if you know you're diving in for some experimental writing - you can put up with the long sentences and the endless introspection and the utter lack of plot, and enjoy the sketches of the ridiculous grandmothers and maidservants and aunts, not to mention the absurdly lovestruck M. Swann and his coquettish peacock of a lover/wife Odette, who may or may not be cheating on him, we have no idea. The most beautiful prose pops up in the section Names of Places, when he's reflecting on the many towns and landscapes he might have chosen to visit as a child had his health been better:

"...between Bayeux, so lofty in its noble coronet of rusty lace,w hose highest point caught the light of the old gold of is second syllable; Vitré, whose acute accent barred its ancient glass with wooden lozenges; gentle Lamballe, whose whiteness ranged from egg-shell yellow to a pearly grey; Voutances, a Norman Cathedral, which its final consonants, rich and yellowing, crowned with a tower of butter; Lannion with the rumble and buzz, in the silence of its village street, of the fly on the wheel of the coach; Questambert, Portorson, ridiculously silly and simple, white feathers and yellow beaks strewn along the road to those well-watered and poetic spots; Benodet, a name scarcely moored that seemed to be striving to draw the river down into the tangle of its seaweeds; Pont-Aven, the snowy, rosy flight of the wing of a lightly poised coif, tremulously reflected in the greenish waters of a canal; Quimperlé, more firmly attached, this, and since he Middle Ages, among the rivulets with which it babbled, threading their pearls upon a grey background, like the pattern made, through the cobwebs upon a window, by rays of sunlight changed into blunt points of tarnished silver?"

But I'm also rather lucky that I was concurrently reading David M. Halperin's incredibly insightful book How To Be Gay, that examines how there is a gay culture of irony and beauty-worship despite activist claims that this is mere stereotype. Halperin points towards Proust's work as an exemplar of his ideas - how, even in the early reaches of the 20th century, even in a work that does not explicitly declare its author's sexuality, we still have this tale of a terrible longing to be loved by one's mother (Proust's mum believed that over-excessive displays of love were unhealthy, and tried to restrict her warmth, clumsily) and the sheer camp surrounding the depictions of the absurd men and (especially) women of upper middle-class French society. Hell, even his childhood crush on a girl called Gilberte doesn't redeem him orientation-wise.

Nonetheless, I do think reading Hugo or Dumas would have been better for my writing. Another day!

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote: The reality that I had known no longer existed. It sufficed that Mme Swann did not appear, in the same attire and at the same moment, for the whole avenue to be altered. The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

Next book: John Glatt's The Ruling House of Monaco : the Story of a Tragic Dynasty, from Monaco.

Friday, August 1, 2014

ContraDiction: Ten Year Series on Fri 1 Aug, 8pm

Almost forgot to post about this! TONIGHT is the opening of the tenth ever IndigNation Queer Pride Festival in Singapore, and it's taking the form of an evening of LGBT writing and music, at the Arts House!!!

ContraDiction: Ten Year Series
Fri 1 Aug, 8pm
The Arts House, Chamber

This is gonna be an event featuring some of the most prominent names in queer Singapore writing: Ovidia Yu, Cyril Wong, Joel Tan, Tania de Rozario, Adrianna Tan, Iris Judotter...

I won't be there, alas. In the UK now, back home in two weeks. Which means I'll be involved in other IndigNation events. 

Check out the full calendar here: