Monday, February 9, 2009

This and That on a February Night

February's been a little annoying; work's been busy and my reading schedule has included a few things that aren't quite right for this blog. Still, I'll give a quick rundown of what I've been up to...

Just finished Eric Ambler's A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS, which was a lot of fun. Latimer, a British academic who writes cozy mysteries on the side, is vacationing in Istanbul and befriends the police chief, who's a fan. Latimer jumps at a chance to visit the morgue and sees the body of Dimitrios, a career criminal with links to drug smuggling, prostitution, espionage, political assassinations, and things higher up. Latimer becomes obsessed with Dimitrios' story and thinks he could work it into a novel, so begins rambling all over Central and Eastern Europe (of the late 30s) tracking Dimitrios' movements. And he ends up attracting the attention of some less-than-savory types...

There's something very reminiscent of Orson Welles here, and it hit me; that in many ways, DIMITRIOS is like a blueprint for CITIZEN KANE. We keep learning about Dimitrios through criminal documents and flashbacks of people who knew him. The novel's final chapters really don't come as much of a surprise, given that it's been ripped off a million times, but it's still good.

It's dated and hasn't always aged the best, but A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS is a worthy read, if you're eager for some real intrigue. There was a film version, THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS, starring Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet, but alas, it's not currently available.

I joined some friends over the weekend to see CORALINE, the film version of the popular Neil Gaiman children's book. It's a fun movie, to be sure, and the 3-D effects were well done and I'd say are one of the main reasons to see it. There's some fun freakiness and good voice performances from Dakota Fanning and Teri Hatcher. My main problem with it (and I've found some friends who feel the same) is that the characters are hard to be involved with. Coraline isn't all that likable, and the rest of the film's characters are so briefly dealt with and seem so one-note that it's hard to care about them. Teri Hatcher does a grand job as the demented Other Mom, a case of maternal instincts gone completely batshit crazy. It's flawed, but worth seeing.

And just today I finished listening to an audio version of Henry James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, which I've never been able to actually read. I'm OK with Henry James in short story form, but at full novel (or novella) length, I think he's impossible. But the audio version (a free download from Librivox, and worth getting because the reader, Nikolle Doolin, is amazing) makes it easier to deal with. Something that's rarely found in the media versions of the story (of which I'm most familiar with the film THE INNOCENTS; I once saw a version with Lynn Redgrave and a bastardized TV movie called THE HAUNTING OF HELEN WALKER with Valerie Bertinelli as the governess...but for all that, it wasn't all that bad...and of course the famous DARK SHADOWS ripoff...) is that the governess, who's often portrayed as a mature woman, is in the story a girl barely out of her teens, the naive daughter of a country parson.

TURN OF THE SCREW is playground for theorizing. Are the ghosts all in the governess' head? Or are they real? But one thing that I heard recently was a very intriguing remark about how the boy's seductive behavior toward the governess (really, he acts like a little roue) is indicative of a victim of sexual abuse. Of course, the big question is, by whom? The usual suspect is Peter Quint, but how can one be sure that it wasn't the children's distant uncle? Or perhaps their real father? Or someone else entirely? Is Peter Quint's ghost there to possess the boy? Or to protect from an inexperienced, neurotic governess? Or as a guide to the other world? It's really hard to say, and upon reading/hearing the story, it's really obvious to me that the governess was heading for a nervous breakdown, so it's hard to take anything she says at face value.

Anyway, it's a worthwhile listen (I'd listen, chapter by chapter, as I walked home from work, or worked around the apartment), so go and download it for yourself. And come up with your own theories.

And that's about it right now. I've got books to read, but one's to review for Amazon, two are to review for Scarlet, and one's for my book club. Maybe I can fit in something in between. I'll have time next weekend; I'm currently unattached and dateless (sigh) so next Saturday night I'll have a date with my couch. (Actually, it's looking like the weather will be nasty that night anyway...) Maybe next year...

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