THE LOST BATTLES: LEONARDO, MICHAELANGELO AND THE ARTISTIC DUEL THAT DEFINED THE RENAISSANCE by Johnathan Jones

lostbattlesJonathan Jones is one of Britain’s most acclaimed art historians, and is the art critic of The Guardian, so I am guessing he is well qualified to write a book about the rivalry between two of our greatest artists of all time.    We have  the master, Leonardo da Vinci, commissioned at age fifty-two by the Florentine Republic to paint a fresco depicting a famous military victory, the Battle of Anghiari,  on a wall of the Great Council Hall in the Palazzo Vecchio. And, with a commission from Machiavelli, Leonardo’s young rival, the thirty-year-old Michelangelo, working on the same wall, painting the Battle of Casina. .

But it isn’t just about that wall.  It is all about the history of the times, and about power and politics.  And you thought art just arose out of the ether, did ya?

The Renaissance is an important time in history because this culture gave birth to the modern individual. The Self striving for fulfillment is a Renaissance concept that still describes our lives.

Out of this time came the idea of ‘genius’ — of the artist as an enigmatic original — in which we still believe today.  Jones says that this resulted in titanic egos in collision.

A spectacle of sublime ambition and low cunning, of great minds and petty dislikes.  The newborn modern Self is about to take the stage.

Italy in the 1500’s was a fiercely competitive world, and also one obsessed with ‘honor’, and with the public image of a man and his family, which must not be sullied by insults or slights.  It was a culture which ritualized vendetta, which was practiced by aristocrats and artists alike.

This is a compelling and extremely readable book, one that gives the reader a look at these two artists as personalities in the context of their times.  It gave me a feel for what it might have been like realistically to live in that place in those times.

 

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ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM by Diana J. Febry

elephantElephant in the Room is something of a departure for author Febry, whose other three books are police procedural murder mysteries.  This one is a psychological thriller, and very well done, I may add.

Our protagonist, Penny,  is a divorced woman, embittered and somewhat in denial as to her role in the marital breakup.  She was something of a micromanager type, and thought her long term marriage was secure and stable, when in actuality, her husband had been having an affair with another woman for the last seven years of the marriage, without the courage  to leave his wife.  He only did so when the other woman called Penny to tell her of the affair.

Penny tries to cope but eventually has a breakdown, and we meet her at a retreat, where she is learning coping techniques.  There, she meets the catalyst for the events in the rest of the book, Robert, –wealthy, manipulative and outwardly extremely charismatic, but cruel underneath.  And dying.  He only has a few more months to live.

He has two sons by his first wife, who was killed in a suspicious car accident, and a step daughter, whose mother killed herself after being admitted to a mental institution.   The sons never liked either the daughter or the mother, and the adult step daughter has disappeared from the toxic family, adamantly refusing to have anything more to do with any of them.

Robert confides to Penny that he is trying to find his step daughter to make amends, to clear things up before he dies.  He convinces Penny to take on the job of looking for her, starting in the last place where he had information that she was living. And so begins a search that gradually becomes more and more sinister, ending in what then seems like the inevitable shooting death, the one we are sure we should have seen coming.

But what seems inevitable was not.  Penny had jumped into other people’s business, thinking she could provide all the answers rather than face her own failings.  She had failed to realize just how damaged they all were or to consider the possible causes and outcomes.

Kudos to Ms. Febry for a highly successful work in a new genre for her.

 

 

THE OPTIMIST’S DAUGHTER by Eudora Welty

optimistsdaughterThe Optimist’s Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972.   The optimist, Judge McKelva, is having a problem with one of his eyes.  He travels to New Orleans with his new wife, Fay, a self-centered shrew, much younger than himself.  His daughter, Laurel, comes to meet them there from her home in Chicago.

The two women do not get along, although Laurel does her best to keep things on an even keel for the sake of her father.  The operation seems to have gone well, but after a few weeks of recuperation in the hospital, the Judge is still not well.  Fay, being bored and feeling hard done by, goes to him and shakes him trying to get him to snap out of it.  He dies immediately after.

The two women have to deal with the funeral back in their hometown of Mount Salus, Mississippi, and the house is filled with friend and relative of Laurel to the disgust of the younger Fay.  But then, the mother, sister, brother and a number of young nieces and nephews appear from Fay’s hometown in Texas, much to the surprise of Laurel, as Fay had told her her family was all dead.

The Texas branch of the family, seeing the spacious house that Fay will inherit make noises about living there with her, so upon their departure, she leaves with them, to ensure that they do not move in with her.

That leaves Laurel two days to roam around the empty house, collecting and recollecting memories, not only of her dead mother and father, but of her husband who was killed in the war and the reader is privy to her remembrances.    She comes to the conclusion that Fay an she will never have a common ground on which to meet, and she leaves for Chicago with a peaceful heart.

Frankly, Laurel is a better person than I.  I would have poisoned that woman’s soup.

FICTION IN THE QUANTUM UNIVERSE by Susan Strehle

quantum fictionIn this interesting but academic  book, Susan Strehle argues that a new fiction has developed from the influence of modern physics. She calls this new fiction actualism, and within that framework she offers a critical analysis of major novels by Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, William Gaddis, John Barth, Margaret Atwood, and Donald Barthelme.

According to Strehle, the actualists diverge markedly from realistic practice, and  they do so in order to reflect more accurately what we now understand as real.    She says that in the new physical or quantum universe, reality is discontinuous, energetic, relative, statistical, subjectively seen, and uncertainly known — all terms taken from new physics, and that rather than choosing between art and actuality, contemporary novelists pursue both in fiction.

She says

Contemporary fiction departs from realism without losing interest in reality.  Reality is no longer realistic;  it has more energy and mystery, rendering the observer’s position more uncertain and more involved.

She calls the new fiction actualism based on a distinction Werner Heisenberg makes between the actual and the real.  “At the subatomic level,”  he says, “reality is not real, but it is active, dynamic, ‘actual’.”

I leave you with one last quote:

Changes in physical theories inspire changes in a culture’s general attitudes, and art both responds to and shapes these assumptions.  Actualistic fiction and contemporary physics join, I propose, in seeing the external world and the human relation to it as:  discontinuous, statistical, energetic, relative, subjective and uncertain.

In an opening section of the book, after the explicatory introduction,  she explains beautifully and clearly the basics of quantum physics.   This section paves the way for the rest of the book which is an in-depth examination of the six authors mentioned above from a perspective of her actualism.

It is quite a long book, and if you are interested in the machanics of fiction, and the upper level fiction critiques, you will enjoy this book.  Don’t try to ingest it all at once.  It needs to be approached in small intervals in order to get the most from it.

 

 

 

Actualist fiction is characterized by incompletions, indeterminacy, and “open” endings unsatisfying to the readerly wish for fulfilled promises and completed patterns. Gravity’s Rainbow, for example, ends not with a period but with a dash. Strehle argues that such innovations in narrative reflect on twentieth-century history, politics, science, and discourse.

BELLS ON HER TOES by Diana J. Febry

BellsAnother fine mystery in the police procedural genre from the capable hands of Diana J. Febry, this one revolving around the horse racing activities in an area of England.  It also involves some severely dysfunctional people and a couple of murders.  Phew!  What a place!

It starts with the burning barn of a man who trains and races horses for a living.  But it turns out that the burning barn may have been the work of arson, and goodness me, a body is found inside the wreckage.  We can be fairly certain he didn’t die from the effects of the fire as he had a bullet hole in his head.  Aha! First clue.  And nobody knew who he was.  He was not a local character.

As DCI Peter Hatherall and DI Fiona Williams begin their investigations, it would appear there could be a number of plausible suspects, and we are introduced to a cast of interesting folk who populate the area.

While the ending is not a total surprise,  who done done it didn’t hit me until almost the very end.  OK, OK, so I’m slow.  So sue me.

Ms. Febry is the author of  two other nifty mysteries:  The Skeletons of Birkbury,  and Debts and Druids,  and a thriller, Elephant the Room,  which I am in the process of reading now.   I, of course, will let you know all about it when I have finished it.

Talley ho, my dears.  Oh.  Wait.  That’s for fox hunting.  I don’t know what they say in horse racing, other than “Put me down for 2 bob on Whistling Zombie.”

Ta ta.

 

QUANTUM FICTION

quantum fictionEver heard of quantum fiction? Yeah, me neither. I really love how the genres of literature are constantly expanding to accommodate the widening sphere of our interests and investigations, and to reflect the direction of popular culture.

Wikipedia says: Quantum fiction is a literary genre that reflects modern experience of the material world and reality as influenced by quantum theory and new principles in quantum physics. Quantum fiction is characterized by the use of an element in quantum mechanics as a storytelling device.

In quantum fiction, everyday life hinges on some aspect of the quantum nature of reality. These are stories in which consciousness affects physics and determines reality.  It’s a genre of literature in which otherwise supernatural, paranormal or fantasy elements are made plausible by elements of quantum science in the story.

The term “quantum fiction” was first used by American novelist Vanna Bonta in her novel Flight: A Quantum Fiction Novel  written in 1996.  (Nice.  I am only 18 years behind the times.  I really have to start paying more attention.)   She says that:

science fiction depicts “the real” while quantum fiction describes “the realm of all possibilities.  In the quantum universe, space and time aren’t separate, predictable, and absolute; narratives can’t steer by the fixed poles that guided realistic fiction.

Germán Sierra says that

quantum fiction is stories where the material world (empirical science) and an unquantified animating force (spirit/the observer) meet;  it is any tale highlighting elements such as synchronistic adventures (entanglement theory), multi-dimensional reality, interactive metaverses, nonlinear time or consciousness as a participant in the creation of physical reality.

Here’s a list of books classified as quantum fiction on Goodreads,  and here is another list.  But these two lists are not definitive.  There are perhaps hundreds in existence.  When you … OK, me…. when I started becoming aware of this genre, I began to see them everywhere.

So, let’s see.  We have Steampunk, Dieselpunk,  Atompunk, and now ….. Quantumpunk.  hahahahah I crack myself up.

 

THE LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner

Light in augustLight in August is probably Faulkner’s most critically acclaimed work.  It is set in fictional Jefferson,  a small poor town in rural Mississipi.  This Southern Gothic work  tells the story of a number of characters who are not native to the town, and have arrived at different times for different purposes.

The characters are:

Lena Grove – a basically unlettered young girl, pregnant by an itinerant young man, Lucas Burch, who, upon learning of her condition, immediately takes off, telling Lena when he finds work, he will make a place for her and send for her.  He ends up in Jefferson, and changes his name to Brown.   Lena, about 8 months pregnant or more, sets off one day on foot with no food or money, to find him so they can get married and make their child legitimate.

Byron Bunch, mid thirties, a bachelor, who meets Lena when she is mistakenly told by some townspeople that he is Burch .

Joe Christmas, 30, raised in an orphanage until age 5, of mixed racial blood.

Joanna Burden, a descendant of Yankee abolitionists who lives alone in a dilapidated plantation house two miles outside of town

Gail Hightower, a disgraced former minister , living alone on one of the side streets of the town.  His dissatisfied wife was discovered to have been seeing men in Memphis, and who eventually committed suicide for which the good Reverend was seen by his congregation to deserve the blame.

The novel is set in the American South in the 1930s, during the time of Prohibition and Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation in the South.  It examines not only racial issues, but class issues as well.

It has two main threads, that of the peripatetic Lena in search of the father of her child so they can get married, and that of Joe Christmas, silent, a loner, who lives in a cabin on the property of Joanna Burden, and who works at the local saw mill.

We have Lena’s story in chronological order, but Christmas’s story comes to us in chunks of back story.

A secondary thread is that of Reverend Hightower, whose life trajectory places him in the middle of the convergence of Lena, Byron Bunch, and Brown, and ultimately in the life of Joe Christmas.

The grandparents of Joe Christmas show up in town, and through the ravings of the completely mad grandfather, we learn more about the history of Joe Christmas.

It all comes to a head when the house of Joanna Burden is found burning out of control, and the body of Mz. Burden is found dead inside, her throat slashed. Christmas is deemed to be the perpetrator of both incidents, and goes on the run.

It is a complicated story in the reading. It is only when the reader has finished the book and thinks about it does it become clear, hammering home a damning indictment of the times in that region of the country. Faulkner tells us that the title refers to a certain luminosity that comes for a short time in the middle of August, when a hint of fall is in the air.