Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Tragedy of Macbeth (c.1599-1606)

Author: William Shakespeare  |  Page Count: 128

"Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." 

The Tragedy of Macbeth (aka simply as Macbeth) is one of the easiest of Shakespeare's Tragedies to get to grips with for a newcomer, and of the ones I've read is my personal favourite, but not for the same reason. It's because despite its short length it packs in a ton of good stuff, including the supernatural, prophecy, blood, murder, gender, guilt, conflict, reversals, paranoia, insanity and metaphor.

Though given less time than her husband, the real star is arguably Lady Macbeth, a woman for whom ambition is so all-consuming that she willingly steps into a world of terrible consequence while fully aware that what she does is deserving of retribution. For Lady Macbeth, failure is a greater sin than murder; 'bitch is crazy' in modern parlance. Her famous soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 5 highlights it.

The "fair is foul, and foul is fair" comment made by the witches is an instruction on how best to approach the events that follow, and exploring whether or not the prophecy was self-fulfilling is an easy way to get marks on a term paper, but if you wish to go deeper into the narrative you could compare how the lifeblood of man relates to the lifeblood of Scotland; the death of a leader with the death of moral values; and even what role Christendom plays in the resolution, if any?

There'll always be arguments among scholars about the intended meaning of the many subtexts that Shakespeare added, but one thing everyone who reads the work can agree upon is that visitors always call at the worst possible time.

4 brainsickly thoughts out of 5

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dream Fossil (2015)

Author: Satoshi Kon  |  Illustrator: Satoshi Kon  |  Page Count: 426

"Ten years from now, you'll look good holding manilla envelopes."

Fifteen short mangas by Satoshi Kon arranged mostly chronologically from the years 1984-89. Having them presented that way enables a reader to chart the evolution and clarity of vision that bordered the path to peculiarity he walked, a path that led the author into the role of revered anime director.*

Of the fifteen, only about one third of them are what I'd call memorable. Furthermore, with the exception of an opening story that could make a really interesting short film, the better stories don't come until halfway into the book.

Fans of Kon's films will recognise seeds of ideas that he'd develop further and more successfully later in his career. My favourite story, Joyful Bell (1989), reminds me very much of his Tokyo Godfathers (2003) anime, ironically my least favourite of his films and the only one I'm not sad isn't available on blu-ray.

Also notable are the stories Kidnappers (1987), Guests (1987), and Beyond the Sun (1988). The latter is the one where I most felt the music of Susumu Hirasawa as an influence. Coincidently, the book includes a short interview with the musician. Far from being filler, it offers an insightful glimpse into the simpatico the two men shared as it refers to their frequent, creative collaborations.

It’s published by Vertical, who also handled Kon’s Tropic of the Sea (2013) manga. You’d think they’d have had the good sense to make it the same size so that the two can be comfortably shelved next to each other. But no; Dream Fossil is bigger. They did the same with their Makoto Shinkai books. That pisses me off.

The increase in size wasn't accompanied by an increase in paper quality. Looking at Fossil and Tropic side by side I'm half-convinced that it's even lower grade than before. I'm extremely grateful and supportive of Vertical taking a chance on this type of thing, sincerely, but please don't skimp on the presentation. Strive to be the best you can be and I'll happily give you my money time and again.

2½ weathered serials out of 5

*You can find short reviews of Satoshi Kon's films on our sister site, In a Nutshell.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 (2014)

Author: J.B. Morrison  |  Page Count: 304

'He already had his free TV licence and bus pass.  Even though there was nothing on television and nowhere to take the bus to.'

J.B. Morrison is Jim Bob, who at one time was half of the phenomenally semi-successful music act Carter USM. I admit it was entirely due to my love for the band’s music that I checked out Frank Derrick. The clever word play in the title made me wonder prior to reading if we would see a return to the fiery satire of Jim Bob’s lyric writing style, or if it would more closely resemble the deeply poignant feelings of abandonment that 'Granny Farming in the UK' gave rise to. The text is neither; or rather it’s both but filtered through a more subtle and sensitive screen door. It's comedy with a thoughtful slant that's sweet but never artificial.

Frank of Fullwind-on-Sea is a cynical duffer with a healthy distrust of others. He's an active sort who frequents the charity shops and buys crap he doesn't need. He looks upon the curtain-twitchers in his neighbourhood with disdain, but often his vantage point is from behind his own twitching curtain. When an accident lessens Frank's independence some home-help is arranged. He resents the idea completely, fearing the worst: she'll treat him like a child; she'll steal his life savings! But Frank had been wrong about people before. Who's to say...?

Jim Bob's style is descriptive and wry. His sentences frequently take lengthy strides when a shorter, more direct approach could've conveyed the same information more succinctly. They're rambling, some might say, but I'm a rambler, too, so it wasn't a problem for me. I actually liked it; it showed that he was being honest with himself and his readers, not trying to mimic another's style. He wisely litters comedy throughout, instead of always holding back for a killer punchline.

The only thing I really disliked was the half a dozen movie spoilers. They were old movies and their inclusion was relevant to Frank's tragic situation, but that's no excuse. They were spoilers no matter how you spin it. Speaking of which, if the book was to be filmed it would most likely be an indie, suitable for the likes of HandMade Films, and in a perfect world it would star Michael Caine.

3½ mantelpiece giraffes out of 5

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

WitchCraft (1996)

Author: James Robinson  |  Illustrators: Peter Snejbjerg / Michael Zulli / Steve Yeowell  |  Page Count: 135

"The fires of madness burn at a gentle heat, stoked by grandiose delusion."

The Hecate, also known as Maid, Mother and Crone, are three aspects of the same ancient Greek deity. Likewise, the three parts of the book represent three different eras, each one more aged than the last, structurally mimicking a part of the content. The individual chapters tell their own story while also being a part of the same, larger story. Each has its own prologue wherein we’re privy to the Hecate’s thoughts and hopes for what eventually follows.

It begins with a brutal act of violence against a young priestess whom the Hecate show favour to. Her aspect and that of her tormentor are reincarnated over and over throughout the ages so that she can meet him again and again, until she’s able to sate the Hecate’s need for bloody revenge. The witches aren't going anywhere. Their longevity means they can play the waiting game for as long as it takes.

The different eras are suitably well-realised, with the language taking cues from the years in which the drama is set. Even though time advances as normal for the main story there are instances where the reader is pulled back to an earlier time within the smaller framework, showing us the reincarnated priestess’ upbringing and education. One such example is Faith Armitage aged seventeen, a product of her teachings, is contrasted with Faith Armitage, orphan aged seven, a malleable child with a mind waiting to be filled. There's not enough time to go deep into the nature vs nurture debate, but it's there to some degree.

Author James Robinson (sometimes credited as James Dale Robinson) shows us the lecherous nature of mankind that, if left unchecked, could become an all too familiar occurrence. In this case it's a fictional deity that steps up to the line, but even then it's only because they felt they were wronged or robbed of something valuable. Not putting a stop to something is not the same as sanctioning it, but sometimes just looking the other way can itself be perceived as an unjust act.

The book collects together the entire first miniseries, WitchCraft issues 1-3.

3½ rotations of the wheel of fate out of 5