Thursday, March 30, 2017

mr. halibut goes to blogland

As either a belated Christmas present or an early joint birthday present (their birthdays are only a week apart) our girls recently acquired the full box set of Mr. Men books. We already had a couple, but this is the full 47-book collection. This is obviously great for the girls, but also for me as it allows me to relive some aspects of my childhood, as a specific aspect of a general regression towards childhood, and subsequently an inexorable descent into drooling senility and, ultimately, death.

I can't remember exactly which Mr. Men books we used to own, but it was probably half-a-dozen or so, definitely including Mr. Tickle, Mr. Happy and Mr. Bump, and almost certainly also Mr. Silly, Mr. Fussy and Mr. Strong and quite possibly one or two others. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my recollection of the full book list on the back of the books was that Mr. Strong was the last one, and that I always viewed that list as the definitive one and the addition of the subsequent thirteen titles (Mr. Grumpy through to Mr. Slow) as late-comers and not quite "real" Mr. Men books in some ill-defined way (I refer you to the first of the Douglas Adams quotes here as an explanation).

Looking at the books' publication dates reveals that this limits me to quite a small window, since the books were published in (broadly speaking) three tranches of thirteen, the first (Mr. Tickle to Mr. Daydream) spread out over 1971 and 1972, the second (Mr. Forgetful to Mr. Strong) in spring 1976 and the third in spring 1978. So I suppose that dates my main Mr. Men-reading activities to before 1978, when I would have been eight, which I suppose sounds about right, although as both Emma and I have discovered before, childhood memories, even what seem like crystal-clear ones, can turn out to be suspect.

Just to complete the picture, the thirty-nine books accounted for above are the ones written and published during Roger Hargreaves' lifetime (he died in 1988). Those are just credited to "by Roger Hargreaves" in the regular way in our editions. There were then four (Mr. Brave to Mr. Cheerful) published in 1990 which are credited to "original concept by Roger Hargreaves", which isn't very clear but which I assume means they were cobbled together from some works-in-progress left after Hargreaves' death, with a bit of tarting up applied by other people (most likely his son Adam). The remaining four (Mr. Cool to Mr. Nobody) are credited to "written and illustrated by Adam Hargreaves". The reason the spines-first view of the books above looks a bit wonky is that the spine design - with each book carrying a seemingly random blob of black which resolves into some text when they're presented together - was obviously cooked up for a box set featuring the original 39 books, and it was deemed too much work to rejig everything for the small number of subsequent books, so these were left blank and the whole thing ends up looking oddly shunted to the left.

That smacks of a bit of laziness, though to be fair more on the part of the publisher than the author(s). There is just a whiff of a bit of authorial laziness in some of the titles, though: Mr. Happy and Mr. Cheerful are essentially the same person, as are Mr. Grumpy and Mr. Grumble, and the whole raft of vaguely wacky characters that includes Mr. Topsy-Turvy, Mr. Silly, Mr. Funny, Mr. Muddle, Mr. Nonsense and Mr. Wrong are all essentially the same. The yin/yang pairs of Mr. Noisy and Mr. Quiet , Mr. Small and Mr. Tall and Mr. Dizzy and Mr. Clever also tell much the same stories from two different angles. But I suppose there's only so many books you can get out of a narrow-ish range of kiddy-friendly emotions. The gnarlier stuff like Mr. Punchy, Mr. Drunk and Mr. Rapey would have been off-limits to Hargreaves' target audience, though of course that stuff is ripe for parody, of which there have been many, of varying degrees of will-this-do laziness.

A couple of further complaints related to specific stories now: firstly Mr. Clever. Now I've been bought a couple of bits of Mr. Clever-related merchandise (more on this in a minute) by people over the years, for reasons that I'm far too Mr. Modest to speculate about. But if you read the story, Mr. Clever turns out to be a bit of a twit, and all his fancy book-learnin' is no match for the simple homespun wisdom of a lowly worm, or some such shit.

The slightly sinister Mr. Neat and Mr. Tidy in the Mr. Messy book always remind me vaguely of the bizarre Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd characters from the generally bizarre Bond film Diamonds Are Forever.

Finally, Mr. Lazy. Now most of the Mr. Men are a sort of generic elliptical blob shape, with a few exceptions where their shape is dictated by their name in some way: Mr. Greedy, Mr, Sneeze, Mr. MessyMr. Tall, Mr. Skinny and probably one or two others. Mr. Lazy, however, is pretty explicitly a big pink arse (thereby making this parody superfluous). Take a look - I've erased the distracting features in the third picture to make the resemblance more obvious, although that does now make it look as if he's having a big splattery shit, or possibly a rectal prolapse.

I wouldn't want to quibble too much, though, as these are obviously children's classics, and the big bold magic-marker illustrations are very pleasing in a similar way to Dick Bruna's Miffy books. That simple design makes them perfect for slapping on a variety of merchandise, and sure enough a trawl round the house yields a few things - a pair of his'n'hers mugs, a similar pair of coasters and my beloved (and slightly threadbare these days) Mr. Greedy T-shirt.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

headline of the day

Here's another example (from the Daily Mail) of a phenomenon you might call "subject slippage" or something similar - a bit like this one (and indeed this one) in that as written it appears to imply people doing things after their own deaths, in this case some sort of zombie sexual assault rampage, perhaps as a sort of beyond-the-grave revenge for her own ordeal (which, to be clear, happened while she was alive).

A few commas go a long way in this sort of sentence, just to demarcate where sub-clauses start and finish and give the poor old reader some chance of following what's going on. The first paragraph of the story basically just rehashes the headline, but does contain some mercifully sense-supplying commas:

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

the last book I read

The Savage Wedding by Yann Queffélec.

Nicole is the daughter of the village baker somewhere in provincial France. She's nearly fourteen, looks eighteen, and has been conducting a tentative romance with Will, an American GI at the local army base.

That's all very lovely and innocent. Trouble is, the base is being closed down and Will is being shipped back to the USA, so he hatches a plan to rapidly (i.e. in a single night) accelerate his courtship of Nicole up to and beyond the point of physical penetration, forcibly if necessary. Needless to say it turns out force very much is necessary, and lots of it, especially when Will invites his mates Aldo and Sam to join in.

So the GIs swan off back home leaving Nicole brutalised, traumatised and, it transpires, pregnant. Despite her best efforts to induce a miscarriage with various quack herbal concoctions and a rusty spoon handle the baby (a boy, Ludovic) turns up robustly healthy, at which point Nicole and her parents banish him to the attic for several years, so as not to have to gaze upon the cause of the family's shame.

Scarcely surprisingly as a result of these non-standard parenting techniques Ludo turns out to be A Bit Odd, though clearly not mentally deficient in the way that his family insist that he is, largely for their own self-justifying convenience. Eventually Nicole embarks on a marriage of convenience with an older man, Micho, and Ludo moves into a bigger house with Nicole, Micho and Micho's older son Tatav.

So things seem to be looking up. Needless to say a spanner soon gets lobbed into the works: not only is Nicole extremely unreceptive to Micho in the bedroom, not surprisingly, she's also cold and dismissive of Ludo, since looking at him requires her to relive her ordeal every day. Eventually she persuades Micho (with the persuasive suggestion that with Ludo gone things might get a bit spicier in the boudoir department) to ship Ludo off to the children's home/mental asylum run by Micho's cousin Mademoiselle Rakoff.

There then follows a somewhat One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest interlude wherein Ludo is obliged to conform to the stultifying institutional regime, punished for minor non-compliances and generally encouraged to act like a mindless sedated vegetable, with visits from his family being the only ray of sunshine on the horizon. These visits are disappointingly intermittent, though, and always involve Micho (and occasionally Tatav), never Nicole. After a visit where Micho alludes darkly to some marital discord between him and Nicole, even these visits dry up and Ludo is forced to conclude that he's been abandoned.

There being no handy giant marble washstands to hurl through a window (and with his institution operating a slightly laxer security regime anyway) Ludo simply hops the fence one night and sets off to seek his fortune. He winds up in the coastal village of Le Forge, and, wandering off to the beach, discovers the beached wreck of a ship, the Sanaga, which he makes his home. It's not exactly luxurious, but after forced co-existence with Tatav and forced communal living at the institution the solitude is just what Ludo needs, and with occasional jaunts into the village for supplies and occasional interactions with the assorted types who frequent the beach he's reasonably happy, in his own way.

Further spanners are thrown, though, inevitably: it turns out that the wreck is only a shortish walk down the beach from Ludo's old family home, which sets him thinking about his mother again. He also learns that the hulk of the Sanaga is due to be cut up for scrap, and that questions have been asked in the village connecting an escaped lunatic from a local institution with the mysterious young man who's been living on the wreck.

Then, unexpectedly, Nicole turns up at the wreck. Has she come to finally declare her maternal love for her son, the only thing he's ever really wanted out of life? Answer: no, she's been sent by the authorities to lure Ludo out to a place where they can grab him, tranquilise his ass and drag him back to the asylum. But Ludo doesn't know that: all he knows is that providence has sent him an opportunity to resolve his feelings for his mother and he's going to seize it with both hands if it's the last thing he does. Or, indeed, that either of them do.

You'll see that this is not exactly a barrel of laughs, despite my occasional levity above. Given the subject matter it'd be easy for it to tip over the edge into lurid melodrama, but Queffélec's spare, ruthless prose style prevents any of that from happening. The central message is, basically, they fuck you up, your Mum and Dad. Obviously you feel sympathy for Ludo, whose life was irredeemably fucked up before he was old enough to know anything about it, but you also feel for Nicole - despite her being the principal agent of Ludo's upfuckery she was fucked up in her turn by her experiences at the hands of Will and his mates, and subsequently by the wholly unsympathetic treatment she got from her parents. Despite the grimness of the theme and the evident impossibility pretty early on of it ending well for anyone I enjoyed it very much. Queffélec is a better writer than, for instance, Michel Houellebecq, for all of Houellebecq's higher profile and notoriety.

The Savage Wedding won the Prix Goncourt in 1985 - this is one of the grands fromages as far as French literary prizes go, but I think this is the only winner that I've ever read. It was also filmed as The Cruel Embrace in 1987.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

celebrabbity druggylikey of the day

Another author who died recently - though not as a result of the Curse of Electric Halibut as none of his books have featured in this list - was Dutch author Dick Bruna, mainly famous for being the creator of children's cartoon rabbit Miffy. We had a couple of Miffy books when I was a child, and we have a couple for the girls now as they're still in print and the blocky, primary-colour line drawings and general air of benign cuddliness are very appealing.

A couple of Dick Bruna-related lookeylikeys, then, as a sort of half-arsed tribute. Firstly, Bruna himself and German author (and previous featuree and mentionee here) WG Sebald. Both slightly scatty-looking, grey receding hairline, moustache, glasses. Bruna (on the left) is slightly older in the picture here and while Sebald's moustache is Teutonically straight and minimalist, Bruna's has just a touch of the Salvador Dalí about it with its upcurled ends. As a means of telling the two apart, then, the straight 'tache/curly 'tache thing echoes the method of distinguishing bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson from each other in the Tintin books (for info, Thomson without the "P" had the curly 'tache). More on this in a minute.

Secondly, here's the trite and no doubt highly unoriginal observation that multi-gazillion-dollar Japanese merchandising enormo-phenomenon Hello Kitty is pretty clearly a shameless rip-off of Bruna's Miffy. Judging by his reference to it in this 2008 Telegraph interview, Bruna was of the same opinion himself.

Lastly, an atypical swerve into inanimate object territory. Those who follow me on Twitter will know that we recently took delivery of our third child, Huw, after a 91-day hospital stay following his unexpected arrival 13 weeks prematurely. He's come home with a slightly daunting (though thankfully only temporary) drug regime for us to follow, including various vitamin and mineral supplements. One of them comes in the form of some largish effervescent tablets in a natty plastic tube, which instantly put me in mind of the tube (ostensibly containing aspirin) containing the secret fuel additive Formula Fourteen from the Tintin adventure Land Of Black Gold. The picture here depicts the tube about to be discovered and picked up by Thompson and Thomson, who mistake them (understandably) for actual aspirin and consume them, with hilarious consequences.

I'm pretty sure Land Of Black Gold was the first Tintin book I ever read, back when I was about ten, which would make it one of the first "adult"-themed books (not in that way) I ever read. I mean, they're a bit silly, and they have some knockabout slapstick stuff (mainly involving the Thompsons or Captain Haddock) but they have recognisably adult themes - in this case something slightly impenetrable to do with tainting Middle East oil supplies to corner the market in non-exploding oil products, a bit like what Goldfinger was planning to do with the gold in Fort Knox.

The Thompsons' strange pill-induced medical condition was obviously meant to be a bit of a running theme/joke, and they suffered a relapse in the next book in the series, Destination Moon, but I don't recall it happening again thereafter, so I guess Hergé must have got bored with it.

Monday, March 06, 2017

mosley dead? no, completely dead

If there's one thing that unites the octogenarian and nonagenarian novelists of the world, it's grasping Electric Halibut beseechingly by the trouser leg as he goes implacably about his business and asking WHEN, oh Lord, WHEN WILL THE KILLING STOP? Because, make no mistake, Electric Halibut's business is killing. He can't be bargained with, or reasoned with, and he absolutely will not stop, ever, until all novelists featured in this blog are dead.

The latest victim of the curse is Nicholas Mosley, whose novel Children Of Darkness And Light appeared here in September 2011. That was one of the later works of a career that spanned 60-odd years; nonetheless Mosley was still most famous for who his father was (and, to a lesser extent, who his half-brother is). At 93 he's the second-oldest entry in the list below after Doris Lessing.

Author Date of first book Date of death Age Curse length
Michael Dibdin 31st January 2007 30th March 2007 60 0y 59d
Beryl Bainbridge 14th May 2008 2nd July 2010 77 2y 50d
Russell Hoban 23rd August 2010 13th December 2011 86 1y 113d
Richard Matheson 7th September 2011 23rd June 2013 87 1y 291d
Elmore Leonard April 16th 2009 20th August 2013 87 4y 128d
Iain Banks 6th November 2006 9th June 2013 59 6y 218d
Doris Lessing 8th May 2007 17th November 2013 94 6y 196d
Gabriel García Márquez 10th July 2007 17th April 2014 87 6y 284d
Ruth Rendell 23rd December 2009 2nd May 2015 85 5y 132d
James Salter 4th February 2014 19th June 2015 90 1y 136d
Henning Mankell 6th May 2013 5th October 2015 67 2y 152d
Umberto Eco 30th June 2012 19th February 2016 84 3y 234d
Anita Brookner 15th July 2011 10th March 2016 87 4y 240d
William Trevor 29th May 2010 20th November 2016 88 6y 177d
John Berger 10th November 2009 2nd January 2017 90 7y 55d
Nicholas Mosley 24th September 2011 28th February 2017 93 5y 159d

Mosley's Guardian obituary provides another entry in the curious genre of obituaries written by someone who pre-deceased (by four years or so in this case) the obituary's subject.