Monday, March 31, 2008

Cotillard comes up roses

Even before the Oscars, my friend John was raving about Marion Cotillard's turn as French singer Edith Piaf in the biographical movie La Vie En Rose. He kept urging me to go watch it, but since it didn't show in any local cinemas, and I didn't have the DVD yet at the time, I couldn't oblige him. When Cotillard snatched the Best Actress Oscar from Julie Christie, who truly wowed me in Away From Her, I was taken by surprise, but it also made me all the more curious to see La Vie. Last weekend, I finally got my chance. The verdict? John was so right.

Portraying Edith Piaf, Marion Cotillard is absolutely riveting. It's not just the impressive job the makeup artists did transforming the sexy screen siren into the ungainly chanteuse (for which they also won an Oscar). Cotillard assumes the erratic, melodramatic, tragic, larger-than-life persona of Piaf to perfection, from her stooped stance to her shuffling walk to her theatrical hand gestures to her mournful facial expressions. Perhaps I found her performance so amazing because because I'm not that familiar with Piaf (apart from some of her songs), or because before this film Cotillard was not that well-known an actress, so I didn't identify her with any previous roles. But as this YouTube video shows, the likeness is really quite remarkable. More than the physical aspects of Piaf though, Cotillard managed to capture the raw emotion and heartbreaking fragility of a woman who went from ragged street urchin to troubled teen to mercurial celebrity. As France's singing sensation,
La Môme Piaf ("The Little Sparrow")
led a volatile lifestyle fueled by alcohol, drugs, and passionate love affairs, surrounded by people who adored her and treated her like a diva. Yet Cotillard conveys the sense that there was a profound loneliness about Piaf. Her most moving scenes are those depicting an older Piaf, whose deteriorating health starts to show and threatens to halt her career. When Piaf faints on stage during a concert, then insists on returning to sing one more song, only to collapse again, Cotillard makes one feel her agony, both physical and emotional, and her pitying desperation in clinging to the music that has been her salvation from the cruelties of her tumultuous life.

Just as Walk the Line and Ray succeeded in faithfully and compellingly telling the stories of music legends Johnny Cash and Ray Charles, respectively, La Vie En Rose is a loving but bare-bones tribute to the French songbird Edith Piaf. For someone whose voice was full of soul and beauty, her life was marked with intense melancholy and pain, and thanks to the tres magnifique Marion Cotillard, the paradox of Piaf can be seen not in hues of rosy pink, but in far more complex and mesmerizing shades of gray.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Pushing Daisies: how life (and death) can be sweet

If I could only use one adjective to describe the TV series Pushing Daisies, it would have to be "charming". Everything about this show is coated with charm, from the whimsical, deliberately fake-looking sets, to the vibrantly colorful costumes, to the narrator whose mellifluous voice-overs give each episode a storybook-like quality. The main gimmick of the show is quite fairy tale-ish in itself: mild-mannered pie-maker Ned can bring dead people back to life with a single touch. If he touches the resurrected person again, that person dies for good, but if he doesn't do it within a minute, someone else in the vicinity forfeits his or her life. Ned uses his magical gift to help private investigator Emerson Cod solve murder mysteries, and in the course of one such case, he revives his slain childhood sweetheart Chuck, then chooses not to "kill" her again. Now the two carry on a strange but sweet love affair, never touching (lest Chuck die), but finding cute and creative-- and yes, charming-- ways to show their affection for each other.

Pushing Daisies owes
a significant amount of its charm to its engaging cast of characters. Lee Pace is the sensitive, gangling Ned, owner of the establishment cheekily named "the Pie Hole", and it's refreshing to see a protagonist who's not all macho swagger or dark cynicism. Ned has his own hang-ups to be sure (as a child he accidentally killed Chuck's father when he brought his mom back to life), and he broods from time to time, but he's not whiny or nasty about it. Pace manages to give Ned an accessible vulnerability that makes him an unlikely but thoroughly likeable hero. Meanwhile, Anna Friel is the sunny and kind-hearted Chuck, the girl Ned loves. Friel is the kind of pretty brunette who's not necessarily a head-turner, but because of her expressive eyes and warm smile, it's easy to see why Ned decided to keep Chuck alive. Emerson Cod is played with lovable sardonic gruffness by Boston Public's Chi McBride, and he gets the best lines that make me laugh out loud. Emerson's a shrewd, hard-nosed businessman who's exploiting Ned's special gift to profit from the mysteries he solves, but he's also a big teddy bear who likes to knit in his spare time, and his exasperation with Ned and Chuck's romance veils the growing fondness he feels for them (although he persists in calling Chuck "Dead Girl").

And then there's waitress Olive Snook, played by the fabulous Kristin Chenoweth (whose first claim to fame was assuming the role of Glinda as part of the original Broadway cast of Wicked). This petite powerhouse brings Olive to life in huge proportions. She's a spunky, sexy firecracker, and though she's madly in love with Ned who has eyes only for Chuck, her unrequited feelings don't turn into spite. Rounding up the cast are Ellen Greene (for those old enough to remember, Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors) and veteran actress Swoosie Kurtz as Chuck's eccentric hermit aunts, who have no clue their niece is alive and well. In one episode, Chenoweth and Greene perform a duet (I won't elaborate on the circumstances to avoid any spoilers), and to me, that song number underscored the unique charm of this show: it was no over-the-top, bizarre David E. Kelley production, just a delightful ditty that showcased the 2 actresses' vocal prowess and highlighted the 2 characters' personalities.

Pushing Daisies reminds me of the Tim Burton movie Big Fish. It's surreal, fanciful and effervescent, and within the wonder is a warmth that is both comforting and captivating. The whole premise is very Tim Burton, really, mixing the morbid with light-hearted humor and tender romance. The writing is snappy but not sassy, the plot lines quirky but not kooky, the themes poignant without being pretentious, and the mood sincere yet not schmaltzy. Make no mistake, despite the proliferation of corpses, this is a feel-good show. Fans of angstier fare like House or Brother & Sisters, or grittier series like Prison Break or Heroes, will either find Pushing Daisies a pleasant change, or a cloying slice of honey-crusted fruit pie. I, for one, find it simply charming.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

This blog drought ends NOW

I haven't blogged in well over a week, and I'm just not feeling the blogging juices flowing. This dry spell is a bit alarming. It's certainly not for lack of good material, what with the riots in Tibet, the protests against the Beijing Olympics, the Supreme Court's outrageous verdict granting that big fat chicken Neri the right to invoke executive privilege, the Ombudsman's equally outrageous dismissal of the motion to investigate GMA's involvement in the ZTE scandal, Manny Pacquiao's controversial one-point win over Marquez, Hillary Clinton's tall tale about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia... I've even received requests that I write about the whole "Gucci Gang" brouhaha making waves in the blogosphere (and finding out that abominable snob-woman Malu Fernandez wrote this sorely tempted me to compose a rejoinder). But somehow none of those topics are appealing to the blogger in me. I don't know if it's because I'm still recovering from the exhaustion of our Holy Week trip to Kuala Lumpur, or if I'm being afflicted with writer's block, or if I'm suffering from blog fatigue. Whatever the reason, I desperately want to snap out of it soon, so I'm making the conscious effort to write SOMEthing here, no matter how lame. So I'm going to give a brief rundown of my family's trip to KL.

The first time I went to Malaysia was 2 Holy Weeks ago, with Angge, her sister Me-an, and Angge's best friend and our high school batchmate Anna. I came home from that trip bearing the impression that KL was a nice city for shopping, and a scary city for tourists. The former was thanks to all the big malls around, and the fantastic local brands that sell great merchandise at low prices, like Padini, Seed, Soda and my personal favorite, Eclipse, from where I bought the hunter green dress I love wearing to weddings and fancy parties. The latter was thanks to all the dodgy characters walking the streets of KL, the scummy taxi drivers who refuse to use the meter, and the looks these people would give us whenever we walked past or tried to haggle for a lower fare. Based on my first trip, Malaysia didn't live up to the "Truly Asia" ads they kept showing on CNN. So when my mom told us her high school batch's annual Holy Week trip was going to be to KL, I wasn't all that psyched. Not only did that mean revisiting a city I didn't like very much, it also meant inevitably mixing some business with pleasure, since now we have a brand that comes from Malaysia (i.e. Elianto). The only things that got me to muster up enough enthusiasm about the trip were 1) Auntie Nene was coming with us; 2) Abi was coming with us (so she could meet with the Elianto people); 3) Bens was finally going to be able to join us on a trip abroad (after missing our last 2 family vacations); and 4) I could go shoe-shopping. =D

So after my 2nd trip to Malaysia, I still am of the opinion that it's a nice city for shopping, as evidenced by my haul of 5 pairs of fabulous Vincci shoes (average price: only P700 per pair), 2 dresses (1 brown Zara, 1 aqua Eclipse), 2 Esprit tops, 1 stunning white Zara jacket, and 1 beautiful Coach bag. I also still think that it's a scary city for tourists, especially the ones stupid enough to walk around a predominantly Muslim city in a short dress. I at least had the foresight to pack a one-piece swimsuit for our day trip to Sunway Lagoon, but I still got stared at (the kind of disconcerting head-to-toe sweep), so I kept my board shorts on. We also got bad service almost everywhere we went-- shops, restaurants, tourist spots-- including the seemingly menopausal stewardess on our return flight on Malaysian Airlines, who barked at us ("Coffee! Tea! Cola!") like a drill sergeant. Oh, and KL taxi drivers are still slimy bastards... almost as slimy as the local tour director who accompanied our group during our stay.

Funny enough, it was work that brought me into contact with Malaysians whom I did like. Abi and I spent an afternoon at the Elianto office, and the guy who conducted the product briefing was so pleasant that I valiantly struggled (and succeeded) to pay attention and not succumb to drowsiness. The GM, whom I met before when he came to Manila, is also an agreeable fellow, and the owners of the mother company of Elianto are really, really nice, especially the wife, who even hugged me affectionately before we parted ways. And then there was Vanessa, our gorgeous model, who was in town and went out of her way to drop by to see us, with Rovilson in tow (he was in town for the F1 races, or so he claimed). We introduced Van to the GM, and she was gracious and charming and obviously wowed the GM. She made us proud to have picked her to represent our brand, and I think the Malaysian principal approved of her instantly. Rov was delightful too, just as witty and funny as he was on TARA 2, and surprisingly polite and well-mannered, no trace of angas whatsoever. I found it easy to banter with him, and I could tell he's smitten with Van (heck, how can anyone blame him?). And they do make an awfully cute couple.

My encounter with Van and Rov aside, there were also other high points in our trip, such as thrill ride-hopping in Genting Theme Park, going down the zip line at Sunway Lagoon, and nightly girl bonding sessions in Auntie Nene and Hanks' hotel room. And of course there was ceaseless camwhoring everywhere we went (see over 200 of our photos here). All in all our KL trip was memorable, for both good and bad reasons, and though it may not be the best vacation destination in the world, Malaysia has enough going for it to keep me coming back for more.... shoes, mostly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

High on Harry

Many people first fell in love with Harry Connick, Jr. upon listening to the soundtrack of the classic late 80s rom-com When Harry Met Sally. But the first time I heard his voice was on a laser disc (kids, that's the gargantuan predecessor of the DVD), in a Disney music video, singing a delightful cover of "Bare Necessities" from The Jungle Book. Even at a young age, I was struck by the appeal of his distinct crooner style, and it was because of Harry that I began to cultivate an appreciation for jazz and the master vocalists who came before him: legends like Armstrong, Holiday, Fitzgerald, Darin, Sinatra, Martin, et al. I think it's not too much of an exaggeration when I say that Harry introduced an entire generation to the magic of jazz. Long before acts like Michael Buble and Corinne Bailey Rae were even heard of, Harry Connick,, Jr. was making standards, swing, big band and New Orleans jazz cool again.

I admit it helps tremendously that Harry's hella hot, with that disarming aw-shucks grin and heaps of Southern charm (that presumably helped him win a Victoria's Secret model wife). He's also ridiculously multi-talented; not only is he a wonderful vocalist, he's a superb pianist, a remarkable composer, and a pretty good actor to boot. Most recently he starred in P.S. I Love You, but I've also seen him in older movies like Memphis Belle, Little Man Tate, Copycat, and Independence Day (he was Will Smith's sidekick), as well as playing the role of Grace's husband Leo on the now defunct sitcom Will and Grace.

When my sister (who's a far bigger jazz buff than I am) and I found out Harry and his band were coming to Manila to perform at the PICC, we were thrilled to bits. While the rest of the city was flocking to go watch Neyo or Maroon 5 or Incubus, we were probably among only a handful of twentysomethings flipping over Harry Connick, Jr.
The evening of the concert, we got all dolled up and arrived at the PICC super early. Our front row seats in the left section of the Plenary Hall turned out to be too far off to the side of the stage, so that our view was of Harry's back as he played the piano. Luckily though, there were 2 vacant seats in the front row of the center section, and we transferred there for the latter half of the concert. The show was kinda short, about an hour and a half only, but it was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Harry's band was awesome, particularly slide trombonist Lucien Barbarin.

video

But of course the star of the show was Harry himself, and he kept things going, whether he was playing the piano (his fingers are jaw-droppingly nimble), singing (absolutely pitch perfect, sounding even better than he does on his CDs), or dancing (the man can shake his booty!).

video

video

And Harry's rapport with the audience was just terrific. He razzed the people at the back for not clapping in time with the music ("You're wonderful people, but you sure don't have a sense of rhythm!"), he heckled a guy in the second row returning from the washrooms in the middle of a song ("How are you, sir? Everything come out all right?"), he flattered the crowd ("Your country has the most number of beautiful women per capita I've ever seen!"), and he mock dissed Filipino food, from claiming to not understand the variety of ingredients in halo-halo ("Why is there corn in this thing?? Corn is not dessert!") to actually eating a balut onstage and declaring it "gross!"

video

Afterwards, he and some members of his band pelted some balut out into the audience, while the rest of the band played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". Hilarious.


Hanks and I had hoped to get a photo op with Harry, so we hung around the PICC lobby after the concert, but while his band filed out that way, he took the VIP exit along with his daughters, who had come to Manila with him.
We felt a teeny bit deflated, but that letdown notwithstanding, it was a fantastic, memorable evening for the 2 of us, and we're definitely Harry Connick, Jr. fans for life.


Check out our pix from the concert here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Jun

Our driver Jun has been with our family for about 6 years. When he started working for us, we had another driver, Greg, who had already been with us for a couple of years, and who was pretty smart and maabilidad. Jun always suffered in comparison, and my dad frequently lost his temper with him for failing to understand his instructions, for driving too fast, for not driving fast enough, for choosing routes with heavy traffic, or for not keeping the cars well-maintained.

When Greg left us (pirated by an unscrupulous family friend), Jun was thrust into the role of "old" driver, and by this time, he had improved tremendously, even by my dad's standards. Perhaps Greg's efficiency had rubbed off on him, or perhaps the more often we sent him on errands, the more he learned. Or perhaps it was because he had grown accustomed to our ways, and more familiar with our usual demands. Whatever it was, over the years Jun has become indispensable. Aside from the usual hatid-sundo, he drives our office staff when they go out on store visits, and when they bring deliveries with them he's the one who brings them through the mall or department store receiving areas. When there are busted lights to be changed or minor repairs to be made in our boutiques, he takes care of those. When there are show window displays that need to be hung from the ceiling, he's the one who gets up on the ladder to attach the stuff. In one instance, I remember him helping us put up the Christmas decor in our Arrow store in SM Batangas. We were laying out strands of beads in alternate colors, and he actually told me, "Ma'am, mas maganda ata pag ganito..." and switched a couple of strands around. Aba, artistic din pala. I just stood back and let him do his thing. And then there was another time when he drove a guest of ours to the airport in Clark, and on his way back, without my mom having told him to do so, he stopped by SM Clark to check on our stores... AND he texted my mom to report that our boutiques were understaffed!

When Hanks and I applied for our drivers' permits, it was Jun who took us to the San Juan LTO and took us through the procedure. When my family went up to Baguio a few years back, and we didn't know where to have lunch, it was Jun who recommended Cafe by the Ruins. Every Christmas, Jun is the one who puts up our tree and strings up the Christmas lights outside our house, and he was the one who hung our very first parol. He's also the one who scales the coconut trees in our garden to chop down the overripe fruit, and he's also the one who goes up to the roof to check for leaks or pest problems. Jun knows where to park while my mom is shopping and where to meet her when she's done, when to missed call Hanks before arriving at her office to pick her up,
how to repair our appliances, where to buy glass cleaner at wholesale price, where to pay Meralco and Globe bills and real estate taxes and village car stickers, where to drop off letters for SM or Robinsons or Landmark or Rustan's, how to pick up samples and counter-receipts from Gaisano, and even how to assist customers during a 3-day sale if he happens to be in one of our stores.

Last Saturday he helped me put up Espada and Elianto banners inside Teatrino for the AMP recital we sponsored. I wanted to place one Elianto banner on a very visible spot on one wall, but there were no nearby railings from where we could suspend it. There was, however, a very narrow ledge jutting out from the wall, and I don't know how he did it, but Jun managed to tie the ends of the plastic straw to the corners of that ledge. Before we left the venue, Abi and I surveyed Jun's handiwork in admiration, and wondered if there's anything Jun can't do.

My family has come to regard Jun with a level of confidence that very few of our employees have earned. When we speak of him, it is usually with amusement and affection, especially when we point out how he has seemed to pick up my dad's short temper with incompetent drivers and traffic aides. We appreciate how he doesn't pinch pennies with us, like when he doesn't always remind us when we forget to pay him back for parking or toll fees (sometimes he even refuses to take my money), or when he buys his own barongs from our warehouse when he could get them for free if he asked us. He's also a man of his word, like how he managed to pay back my parents for the motorcycle they helped him buy, and he never complains, even when we ask him to report for work on holidays. More than anyone, Jun's the most important and valued person on
our household staff, and if anyone tries to pirate him there will be 5 extremely upset Lims to reckon with.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's NOT funny



Well ok, maybe it is funny, but when you consider that this pitiful pinhead is going to be representing our country in an international pageant, then you might choke on your laughter and cry instead. I don't know whether I want to shoot her or myself, to put one of us out of misery. Actually, nix that, I want to shoot the frickin' judges for naming this bimbo Bb. Pilipinas World. Yes, even you, Chris Tiu.

At least Ms. Teen South Carolina got a more difficult question. AND SHE DIDN'T WIN.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sure would be nice to be Multiple Man for a day

I'm sure that at some point in everyone's lives, they have wished that they could be in 2 places at once. Right now, I am wishing I could be in 3 places at the same time on April 27: at the Matchbox Twenty concert at Araneta Coliseum, in Moscow vacationing with my family, and at my brother's college graduation.

Matchbox Twenty is my favorite band and I've been praying for them to come to Manila for ages now. So it sucks big time that 2 more important things are coinciding with it. For a while back, before we knew of the date of Bens' graduation, I actually considered not joining the Scandinavia-Russia trip for Matchbox, because my logic was, I might only get this one chance to see them in concert, and it's not like Scandinavia and Russia are going to disappear. But then I remembered that it's Pa's 60th birthday in May, and this tour, which he had suggested we join, is probably his idea of a grand celebration. So buh-bye Rob Thomas. Sob.

After I'd accepted the fact that I wouldn't be seeing Matchbox Twenty perform live, and after I'd stressed myself out gathering all the necessary documents, passport-size photos and forms to apply for our SchenGen and Russian visas, we then found out that my brother's graduation from the UP College of Business Administration is taking place on an inexplicably late date right smack in the middle of our tour of Russia. Who holds graduation rites in frickin' April?!? Government schools, sheesh.

Under normal circumstances it wouldn't even seem like a tough choice to make. In 2003 when I was studying in Beijing, I did, after all, insist on not enrolling for another semester so I could come home for Bens' high school graduation. I put a lot of value in family milestone events, and I haven't missed any major ones so far. However, Bens has assured us that it's ok with him to ditch his UP graduation, because I'm guessing he'd rather go to Europe. My parents are hedging over it; as my dad pointed out, a graduation is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. I'm also having a hard time coming to terms with it because I sure as heck wouldn't have willingly missed my own graduation for anything.

For now it looks like the trip is going to prevail, unless our visas get disapproved (*knock on wood*) or something even more important comes up (as if the confluence of 3 events isn't enough). I have no problem as long as my brother's dead certain he's all right with skipping his grad. We'll just take a picture of him holding a fake diploma in front of the Kremlin, haha. But while I'm resigned to not watching the Matchbox Twenty concert, anyone who does go see it and makes the foolhardy decision to rub it in my face is going to sustain serious physical injury. I'm not kidding.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Top 10 titles

I started my blog The View from Saturday on Blogger in April of 2005 (my Multiply journal being only a mirror blog), and since then I have posted 440 blog entries, including this one. That also means I have come up with 440 blog entry titles, ranging from the obvious ("Tribute to a tenor") to the uncreative ("Cousins are cool") to the corny ("TARA, let's... not"), to self-gratifyingly clever references that no one seems to get anyway ("How do you like them Afflecks?").

As fellow blogger Sean pointed out in a recent blog post, the process of coming up with a title varies from writer to writer.
I tend to take my titles seriously; I may have uncreative and corny ones, but I'd like to think there are no outrightly bad ones. There are times when I get stumped for a good title and it takes quite a while to come up with one ("2 guys, a girl and a Boston law firm"), and there are rare instances when I go back and change the title with a better one ("Steven Spielberg is a spoilsport (literally)" was originally "Shame on you, Mr. Spielberg"). But I find that my best ones are the bolts-from-the-blue, words or phrases that just pop into my head, sometimes as soon as I think of a topic to write about, sometimes when I finish composing a blog entry, and sometimes in the middle of writing or revising the piece. Here are my personal favorites:

If anyone has their own personal favorite from my 440 titles (assuming anyone pays attention to the titles), feel free to post a comment here and let me know which one you like. :)

Monday, March 03, 2008

Bookworm's progress report #1, 2008

It's been quite a while since my last progress report, and while admittedly I've been making slow work of my growing-longer-by-the-bookstore-visit reading list (thanks to Ugly Betty, Boston Legal and Heroes), I have managed to read several books since November of last year, to wit:
  • Sense and Sensibility - No one can write genteel romance novels like Jane Austen. She makes even the most chaste storyline seem hot-- underneath all that refinement and propriety simmers a contained yet perceptible passion, in both her straight-laced characters and her courtly language. While Pride and Prejudice remains my favorite Austen book, Sense and Sensibility comes a close second. Sisters Elinor and Marianne are a wonderful study in contrasts in how they deal with love and heartbreak, and their leading men Edward, Willoughby and Col. Brandon are portrayed not as perfect Prince Charmings, but flawed (and thereby more "real") individuals who complement the Dashwood sisters' personalities. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sense and Sensibility, and I'll definitely be putting more Austen titles on my shelf.
  • Adverbs - I'm hard-pressed to find the words to describe this novel. "Surreal" comes to mind. So do "bizarre", "disorienting", and "crazy". "Witty", "complex", and "deep" also apply. But it's called Adverbs, not Adjectives, and the title refers to the many different ways people love, or the many different ways love manifests itself between or among people. And Daniel Handler describes these many different ways creatively, profoundly, subtly, humorously, eloquently, strangely. I found Adverbs an interesting read, but not a compelling one, and certainly not as entertaining as Handler's earlier work. I still prefer him as Lemony Snicket.
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - My brother hails this as "the best book ever!", but I beg to differ. Certainly it's a very well-written, very engaging novel, and an outstanding debut novel at that, but it just didn't blow me away. Susanna Clarke's fantasy story is set in 19th century England about 2 rival magicians (no, it's not The Prestige) trying to revive the popularity of "practical" (as opposed to "theoretical") magic. Peopled with memorable protagonists and antagonists (some culled from historical figures), the book was easy to read despite its length, but it still took me a considerably long time to finish, as I found myself bogged down by the slow turn of events. What I did appreciate most was the author's style and use of language (patterned after the manner of Jane Austen) and her wry, sometimes cheeky sense of humor (the inclusion of Lord Byron as a colorful supporting character was priceless). The fictional footnotes were also a hoot, although several consecutive pages of immaterial citations could get tedious at times. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a good enough read, but I've seen far better stuff from Neil Gaiman.
  • Amsterdam - This masterfully crafted story of 2 selfish, self-absorbed men-- a newspaper editor and a famous composer-- starts at the funeral of their former lover and ends with a sick, if tad unrealistic, twist that reveals how ambition, pride and revenge can poison the purity of friendship. In this relatively short novel, McEwan exposes the ugly underbellies of politics and media, and the cold depravity humans are capable of, in a manner which belies his novel's dark theme. The author's words are simple but beautifully arranged, particularly his music metaphors describing Clive the composer's point of view, so much so that his language becomes almost lyrical at times. I enjoyed this Man Booker Prize winner far more than I did Atonement, and I now have a better appreciation of Ian McEwan's literary fame. I look forward to reading more of his work.
  • Saturday - Saturday started out too slow for me, and only picked up speed when protagonist Henry Perowne, a successful neurosurgeon with a picture-perfect family, has a spirited discussion with his daughter about the impending US invasion of Iraq. Perowne was only engaging with regard to his relationships: the pride in his musician son, the tenderness towards his poet daughter, the love for his lawyer wife, the detachment from his famous father-in-law. So when an external threat in the person of a thug named Baxter endangers his family, Perowne came off as a sympathetic hero. But prior to that, when he first encounters Baxter in a car accident, Perowne was barely interesting. And since the whole story takes place in the span of one Saturday in Perowne's life, I had difficulty getting past the many bits of self-indulgent introspection about everything from terrorism to war to surgery to poetry to his senile mother to the seafood he's buying to make dinner. What is consistent throughout this novel is the author's impeccable command of language. Ian McEwan is truly an excellent writer, with a gift for descriptive narration, especially when it comes to describing music. Perowne's son's jazz comes alive in several wonderfully woven, astonishingly vivid paragraphs that more than make up for the dragging parts of the book. Having now read 3 McEwan novels, I'm a certified fan for life.
Right now I'm reading The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (yes, THAT Hugh Laurie), and I aim to finish it before Holy Week rolls around, so that I can bring a thinner volume with me on our trip to Kuala Lumpur... perhaps Cynthia Ozick's The Puttermesser Papers, or Philip Roth's The Plot Against America.

Until my next progress report.