Every 14 Days…(56)

Katalin Street (Magda Szabo)

This is the third novel by Szabo that I have read (and essentially the third widely available in English translation, well, not now that “Abigail” has just been released). The first – perhaps the most famous outside Hungary – “The Door” didn’t grab me as maybe it could have; but the second, written earlier, “Iza’s Ballard” agreed with me much more.

Along with the aforementioned “The Door” and “Abigail”, “Katalin Street” is the first in a trilogy of books exploring the changing times in post-war Budapest. The Elekes, Biro and Held families live on top of each other in three adjoined houses on the titular street at the foot of Buda Castle. Before the Second World War, they lived an idyllic life, with the four children (one boy and three girls) destined to spend forever together.

But the outbreak of war sees the three families forced out of their homes and broken up for various reasons, with the Helds, a Jewish family, not surviving. The daughter, Henriette, haunts the three surviving children in their adult lives as they think back to the days of their childhood.  

As in “Iza’s Ballard”, Iren Elekes is a strong female character who finds her approach to others pushes them away, and is the novel’s central figure. Marrying the sole male, Balint, as the story develops, so do their relationships with one another, and Iren realises that the destined love she had with Balint isn’t quite what she thought or wanted. She tries to carry on with their lives as if everything is the same. But Katalin Street is no more and you can’t go home again.

This sits between “Iza’s Ballard” and “The Door” for enjoyment for me, and will no doubt be reading “Abigail” at some point to see how she starts to alienate herself from the other people in her life.

  • Days to read: 12
  • Days per book: 14.6

Dishonesty is the Second Best Policy (David Mitchell)

It was Christmas recently…well, not that recently, but having also recently read some mega-big-bastard books (“Japan Story” and “Art, Cult and Commerce”), it took me a few weeks to get round to reading the two books I got for Christmas (I actually got three books for Christmas, but my wife obviously doesn’t read this blog, hence not aware that I had already also recently read Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Silent Cry“).

Anyway, for Christmas, I got the Peep Show star’s second collection or articles for The Observer (apparently the column that the character of Stewart Lee took over for a period for his collection “March of the Lemmings“) for my eyes to read and my mind to absorb.

I’ve always subscribed to Mr Mitchell’s opinions, and so I generally find the articles agreeable, though some in this collection perhaps don’t always leave a mark. Many of the articles refer to Brexit, which all things in life over the last few years have, but other topics where dishonesty can play a part are also included.

I found many passages that I enjoyed, though some of the overall articles lost me part of the way and I drifted off. The strongest pieces are when looking at specific politicians in the closing section. But as a collection of essays, it’s more about having various moments of Tube-distraction (oh, to be on the Tube again) thoughts that entertain along the way. And there are more than enough of them present here.

  • Days to read: 12
  • Days per book: 14.6

Ayoade on Top (Richard Ayoade)

Ayoade’s “Ayoade on Ayoade” saw Ayoade interview himself in what is an at times bizarre account of his opinions on cinema. It was something of a strange read. I didn’t opt for his follow-up, “The Grip of Film”, as a result.

His new book was bought for me, and so I felt obliged to read it. Once again bizarre, this is an analysis of the Gwenyth Paltrow vehicle “View from the Top” in what his first namesake Mr Herring might describe as “too much detail.”

I’ve never seen the film, and its 5.2 rating from 24,719 (at time of writing) IMDB finger-clickers, combined with the fact that it stars Gwenyth Paltrow, means I am probably never likely to. But it’s exactly the sort of film that you’ve probably seen before: bland love story, zero to hero made good with a bit of hard work and a montage, backstabbing friends, etc., etc..

From Ayoade’s description, you get that this is the sort of film that just doesn’t need to be made. It is a sarcastic look at this type of lazy filmmaking to highlight just how bad Hollywood can be. But with simply too many films being made nowadays, the genuine question is should this film have been made at all? It is simply a way to make already rich people more money for little real effort.

Red Letter Media’s analysis of Adam Sandler’s “Jack and Jill” highlights this more sinister aspect of Hollywood filmmaking and how the whole affair was a mass advertising campaign. Ayoade perhaps doesn’t get into this sort of politics; more from a perspective of “art.” He weaves in some autobiographical elements of his childhood in Ipswich along the way, which, as with his writing, you take with a pinch of salt.

But, this does work overall as a book. As with Charlie Brooker’s television reviews and the aforementioned Red Letter Media’s analyses, sometimes looking at something really shit in detail can be far more entertaining, interesting and enlightening than that of any masterpiece. 

  • Days to read: 11
  • Days per book: 14.6

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