Monday 22 November 2021

Short Story Review: Bullet in the Brain By Tobias Wolff

Bullet in the Brain by Tobias Wolff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is the pivots in this short story which are superbly crafted to great effect, ratcheting the reader like a cooker dial.
(available for listening on Audible Plus and for reading in the collection The Story Prize: 15 Years of Great Short Fiction ed Larry Dark)

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Short Story ChapBook Review: Friendship For Grown-Ups by Nao-Cola Yamazaki, translated by Polly Barton

Friendship For Grown-Ups Friendship For Grown-Ups by Nao-Cola Yamazaki
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my first read from this series of chapbooks beautifull produced by a collaboration between University of East Anglia (famous for its writing MA) , Writers' Centre Norwich, and Norwich University of the Arts - see

Nao-Cola Yamazaki was not a familiar writer to me, her 3 stories in this chapbook are all translated by Polly Barton, see , who is the translator of a few Japanese women writers that are on my to be read list.

The 3 three linked stories total 45 pages and are bound in an 'arty' cover somewhat reminiscent of the 70s and are introduced with a Foreward written by surreal short story writer Aimee Bender.

The first story, entitled "A Genealogy", is a downright 'weird' meditation on evolution and the genealogical lineage to the character of Kandagawa.

In the second story, entitled "The Untouchable apartment" we again meet Kandagawa whose somewhat dream like state is interrupted by a phone call from her previous boyfriend, Mano. They end up going to see their old apartment which now no longer exists, just like their relationship. They spend the day together but Kandagawa realises she is no longer the girl she was when they were together four years ago - not quite Jesse and Celine or Before Sunrise / Before Midnight.

"Lose your Private Life" , the third story is about a young women Terumi Yano, writing under a pseudonym of Waterumi Yano, as she struggles to come with what this means for her identity as she becomes more well known as a writer, how new people she meets will only know Waterumi and never again know the Teruni that her university friends Mano and Kandagawa know.

These weren't stories that 'blew me away' but at points did intrigue me. I thought about whether there was an autobiographical element to the final one or whether this was a clever slight of words illusion on the part of the author for example when she had Waterumi's book be entitled "Friendship for Grown-ups"

Thursday 11 November 2021

Book and Movie Review: Once Were Warriors by Alan Duff, Movie directed by Lee Tamahori

This book and the movie are a must read and must watch. 

But be prepared to be disturbed. The story is raw, violent, brutal, abusive. Set in society's underclass within the dysfunctional family of Jake and Beth Heke and their children, within the community of Maori people in New Zealand in the fictional town of Two Lakes, this novel won its writer Alan Duff PEN Best First Book, and movie Director Lee Tamhori numerous awards including both the Australian Film Institute and audience awards, the Montreal FIlm Festival Jury Prize, People's Choice Award and its lead actress Rena Owen Best Actress. It won the NZ Film and TV Award and was voted the best New Zealand movie of all time.

I first came across the movie years ago and recently rewatched it after we read the book as the last in our New Zealand Literature reads in my in person book group. There is a most obvious difference in the ending and  in the aggressor in one specific event.  I think it can be argued either way as to which is best. Either way the movie is a marvelous working of the book which of course has more detail and more nuance of the characters, But the performances in the movie are excellent and the reality of the cinematography is excellant, at some points close to the bone. .

You may not have heard of or read anything else by Alan Duff and you may not recognise any of the names for the movie but you will have watched other movies by the director (lee Tamahori - - Die Another Day, The Edge, Along Came a Spider, Mulholland Falls) and others which starred both the male lead (Temuera Morrison - - has recently played Bob Fett in the Star Wars franchised Book of Boba Fett and The Mandalorian) and female lead ( Rena Owen - in various TV series Vegas, Siren, The Gloaming). In my opinion Rena Owen's performance in this movie ranks up there with the best I've ever seen.

Neither is for the faint hearted but readers and viewers who do get all the way through will never forget either, and should try both.

Thursday 4 November 2021

Short Story Review: The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen

The Demon Lover The Demon Lover by Elizabeth Bowen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent. It seems so modern in its style even thought the setting is clearly just post war. I loved the build up, everything is very unlike a horror or a ghost story, then author drips in some odd aspects, the letter but no caretaker, no stamp, and then some more sinister apsects with the flashback to Mrs Drover as a young woman sayng goodbye to a soldier going off to war. He is most definitely cold and there is an abusive, controlling feel to his words, which makes the reader feel quite uneasy.

Then Bowen brings the reader back to the Drover house as Mrs Drover searches for the things she has come back to their London home for . The author drops in some well chosen words and phrases which set the tone for Mrs Drover's increasing panic - 'the letter writer sent her only a threat' and 'just at this crisis the letter writer had, knowingly, struck', a moment of respite comes when 'Six has struck', then more tension as Mrs Drover makes up the parcels in a 'fumbling-decisive way' - that contradicory juxtaposition of fumbling and decisive is so good - as she recalls 'He was never kind to me', 'I was not myself' and then the 'draft that travelled up to her face' reminiscent of the creepiness of cobwebs on your skin......'down there a door or window was being opened by someone who chose this moment to leave the house.'

Then it all comes together - 'the clock struck seven' ' the taxi had turned before she....recollected that she had not "said where"', the breaking to a stop, being flung against the glass and 'remained for an eternity eye to eye' with all the unsaid clarity that their goodbye under the tree had lacked - and then the scream.

Such powerful, well crafted writing. A masterclass in short story telling in my opinion. Very impressed. Great choice.