Monday, August 29, 2016

The Secret Chord

The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks

I have read a few of Brooks’ novels over the years and reviewed People of the Book in 2010.

Her newest offering, The Secret Chord, charts the life of King David, written from the perspective of Nathan the prophet.   As with her previous writings, she has done a lot of research and she acknowledges her main reference works in the afterword.   I started it expecting to read a usual historical fiction, but with some references to the biblical account thrown in.   However, it really is a retelling of the events of 1 Samuel through of the beginning of 1 Kings, some with almost word for word accuracy.

This is where I became a bit uncomfortable.  I struggle with the retelling of biblical accounts by Christian authors (eg Francine Rivers, see comments on this post).  I am wary of authors reading more into the accounts than we have evidence for.

Brooks is Jewish, so these are her scriptures as well.   Yet there was a modern interpretation to the story, most notably expressed in her depiction of the love between David and Jonathan as erotic.   A modern reader of those passages could easily make that conclusion, but most traditional scholarship never suggests it was anything other than a strong devout friendship between two men.   It’s a reminder that we read with our own cultural glasses on.

That was my biggest problem with the book.   I don’t mind an absolute fiction author doing whatever they want with their story, but if you are rewriting a true story, the interpretation requires care and brings responsibility.   In the end, I thought it was dangerous and potentially deceptive, which is the exact problem I have with any attempt at a biblical retelling.

However, the flip side was that I read the novel with my bible open next to it and compared the accounts as they happened in her book.  Doing this, some passages came alive through her retelling of them, and some of her interpretations were very helpful.  The charting of the years of David as a young boy through to old age to is well done and helps you picture the biblical events more clearly.  She has clearly done a lot of work to put this book together.  I should mention there are some unpleasant sex scenes as most of them are rape (eg. Absalom and Tamar).  She also makes the initial seduction of Bathsheba a rape, which considering the circumstances, it could have been. 

Somewhat confusingly for those who are used to the names as we have them in our bibles, she has used the transliteration from the Hebrew, so Shaul, Shmuel, Shlomo, Avigail, Yoav for Saul, Samuel, Solomon, Abigail, Joab (and so on).  It took a bit of getting used to.  I had to write them down to keep track and I thought I knew the story pretty well!   At least she explains it at the beginning with a list.

Would I recommend it?  Yes and no.  No, if you are going to use it as an authority on the life of David.   Read the bible for that, with some good commentaries if needed.  Yes, if you want to enjoy a book about a time of Israelite history which you might like to understand a little more, but read it with your bible open alongside it.    You’ll find that part of the bible more interesting too along the way!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Point Break

We recently watched Point Break, the new one.  The first Point Break movie (1991) was an action, robber/cop drama where Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is a new FBI recruit who breaks into an extreme surfing group led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Bodhi and his gang funded their extravagant surfing lifestyle by robbing banks.   It was a hit at the time appealing especially to teens (of which I was one!) and became a classic that my generation can quote from.  Of course it was also violent, glamorised crime, and made you want the bad guys to win and pleased when Utah compromised his job and ethics.

The new one (2015) is even worse.   In the remake the same characters are there – Johnny Utah and Bodhi, but instead of the simple story of robbing banks to complete some sort of mystical experience (and fuel your own lifestyle), now there is hashed message of environmental nihilism.   They are trying to complete the Ozaki 8 – a group of extreme challenges (rockclimbing, surfing, skydiving, etc).  These scenes are incredible – the surfing is impressive, the snowboarding is nailbiting, the rock climbing amazing, and the wingsuit flying sequence is possibly the most dangerous stunt in any movie.  Reading how they did it on Wikipedia is impressive.

Yet, their belief is that they must pay back the earth for this experience with offerings, and so are happy to rob banks and companies releasing money and diamonds to give to poor villages.  They have no problems killing people or causing mayhem to ‘free’ the earth.  So exploding gold from a mine and causing an avalanche that kills mine workers is no problem.  If they die along their path, so be it, they’ll see each other later.  What rubbish. 

The cast is unremarkable – I found it hard to remember who was who.  There is no fun in any of it, unlike the occasional light-heartedness of the first one.   And the storyline is so unbelievable we actually laughed out loud at some of the dialogue.

In hindsight, we should have checked the reviews more carefully - Rotten Tomatoes did give it only 9%!

Monday, August 22, 2016

My Sister Lives... & A Patch of Blue

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher

I have an increasingly long list of books that people have recommended.  Every now and then I find one at the library and pick it up for the bargain price of 50c.   I had thought it was a book for adults, and so was surprised when I noticed my son reading another book by the same author.   Turns out I was wrong – Pitcher writes books for children and youth.

Narrated by Jamie, a 10-year old in the UK, his family was completely turned upside down five years ago.   Slowly revealing the events, Pitcher has drawn a realistic picture of a family whose life has been marred by tragedy - a terrorist attack in which Jamie’s sister died.   Dad is unable to move on and is stuck in a pattern of drinking and hating all Muslims for he holds them all responsible; Mum has chosen to move on and away from them all; so Jamie is forced to move to the countryside with his Dad and other sister (age 15).  There is a desperation to this story, the simplicity with which it is told through the eyes of a 10-year-old is somehow more devastating than through the eyes of an adult.   What Jamie struggles with is that he has no real memory of his sister.   In a house that is clouded with grief and that revolves around Rose (who ashes are on the mantelpiece), he is unable to participate in it.    

Jamie has spent his childhood being bullied, and his new school turns out to be no different.  Except that here he finds a friend, Sunya, a girl who wears a headscarf and who is as much an outsider as he is.   A friendship develops, yet all the while he knows his dad would hate it.   None of my children have yet read this one, Mr 13 is not currently interested and I think Miss 11 could wait a bit longer.

For me this book had echoes of A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, which I read for high school English.  A poor white 18 year old-girl, Selina, is the child of a prostitute, abused by her family, surrounded by prejudice, and was blinded at age five by an acid attack. She threads beads to earn money. On the very odd occasion she gets out of the house, she meets a friendly, polite man Gordon, and they strike up a close friendship. Gordon comes to realise the despair and degradation of Selina’s life. Selina finds herself with a friend for the first time. Gordon wants to help Selina, and she needs him to rescue her from her mother’s plans to include her in prostitution. Yet something is not quite right, which is slowly revealed, and as the setting could be the 1950s/60s in America, we see that racial tension might have something to do with it.

In re-reading it recently, I am reminded (with some relief), that children and teens do not fully understand what they read. I don’t remember any of the depths of despair that this story had. Even if I theoretically realised the awful life that Selina had, I did not comprehend it.   As my children get older I am reminded of more books and movies I read and enjoyed at their age, but never really grasped.   That's usually a good thing!  Understanding comes with age and experience.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Some more family movies

We quite enjoy a family movie night with Husband’s homemade pizza. Some we have enjoyed in recent months:

Apollo 13

A blast from the past with this Tom Hanks classic. It’s a long one at well over two hours, with a solid story accounting the real problems aboard the Apollo 13 lunar expedition in 1970. Our kids (aged 8.5-13) were engrossed and could mostly follow what was going on, what the issues were and how serious it was. It was never too scary, and while there is a little bit of minor swearing, there is nothing else about this that is concerning for a family night. A great movie with real challenges and emotion, and the added bonus of it being true.   I enjoyed seeing it again too!

Finding Nemo
Again, a return to the classic in preparation for seeing Finding Dory. [That was seen with extended family, so no review from me yet, although the summary I gleaned was: the girls (aged 11 & 8) loved it, adults thought it wasn't as good as the original]. Everyone has probably seen this wonderful story of a little fish getting taken by a diver and put in a tank in Sydney, and his dad coming all the way from the Barrier Reef in search of him.   It always had scary bits in it (especially the shark scenes) and other scenes with real suspense, but the lovely characters and friendships forged are delightful, and there is humour to appeal to all ages. It’s a great story about family, eventually letting go, and reminding kids that parents are always ‘for you’.

Herbie Fully Loaded

This cute adventure starring Lindsay Lohan has Herbie the VW bug with a mind of his own and a way to show it. Assigned to the scrapheap, Herbie is rescued by Maggie (Lohan) as a present from her dad.  To Maggie’s astonishment, Herbie proves to be very adept as racing, controlling the car himself. Coming from a long-line of race-car drivers, she secretly enters him to race in a major event.  My girls (ages 8 & 11) thought this was great fun, they loved watching the car take control of things (no voice, just movement and action with personified headlights as eyes, noises, etc)

Enjoying that one so much meant it was time to revisit Cars.


Cars is another of the Disney Pixar classics. Produced at a time when animation had really hit its stride, it’s fun to watch a world entirely inhabited by personified cars and trucks (indeed all transport). Lightning McQueen is the new race car in the Piston Cup; a brash, insensitive, rookie who thinks he can win without support. A three way draw in the final finds him racing to California against the others to woo sponsors before the final showdown race.  He gets lost on the way and ends up in the small town of Radiator Springs, along Route 66, a town that has died with the building of the interstate. Meeting the motley crew of cars who long for their town to find its way again, McQueen is forced to re-examine both his priorities and his decisions to do things alone. This is a fun movie with great messages about friendship and competition, as well as a frank acknowledgement that while change will always happen, some people get left behind. I love the scenes with stadiums packed with cheering cars on the sidelines and racing cars on the track, and the soundtrack is good too, with the bonus of a track from one of my favourite musicians of all time, James Taylor.

The Muppets

This was a treat waiting to be unwrapped. The kids were hesitant, I promised them we would only watch half an hour and then judge it.  Of course 30 minutes in, no-one was asking for it to stop! If you watched The Muppets yourself as a child, all the favourite characters are here filling the same roles.  I laughed out loud regularly, both to previous Muppet things and new cultural references. As usual, mixing real actors with Muppets provide lots of visual gags and general humour.  In summary, the Muppet studios are to be knocked down so that oil can be drilled underneath. They have to raise $10m in a telethon to save the studios, but have times moved on?  Do people really care about the Muppets anymore? Do people still enjoy their clean-cut style of humour? With lots of all singing and dancing numbers (the highlight being Life is a Happy Song) with both muppets and actors (including Jason Segel and Amy Adams), this is great fun. Afterwards we had a look at some old Muppet clips online and had a great time laughing at those as well.


This lovely Disney animation is getting older now (2008) but keeps its charm with the lovely story of Bolt, the superdog. That is, he thinks he is a superdog.  Bolt has spent his life on the set of a television series as the companion to his human Penny. On screen, this duo regularly save the world and since Bolt has never known any other life, he believes all his superpowers are real, something the producers have fostered to make his ‘acting’ more believable. As such, his protective love for Penny is absolute, and one day when he believes she is kidnapped, he will stop at nothing to save her. Ending up on the other side of the country, he meets a sassy cat, Mittens, who he believes holds the answer to finding Penny.The majority of the movie is the story of the two of them slowly forging a friendship, as they travel back across America and are joined by Rhino (a hamster and Bolt’s biggest fan). It’s a lovely story about friendship and the loyalty of animals, with great humour and a catchy soundtrack along the way. The final scene is a little scary for little ones when Penny is in very clear danger, but as to be expected, Bolt come to the rescue. This is a fun choice for a movie night, and it will probably endear children of most ages (including ours aged 7-11)