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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Try to Remember

I just spent the better part of the day deconstructing Christmas 2011. It involved not only taking down all the decorations and ornamentations, but packing—and often repacking—every Holiday item that I own into the large cardboard boxes stuffed into a back bedroom's walk-in closet that I have designated as the "decorations room". It is where I store not only Christmas , but Halloween, Easter, and Birthday accoutrements. As I unpacked and re-stuffed boxes, I found many items I had forgotten I had, long buried deep into the recesses of the storage space. Not only that, but I had to make many, many trips up and down the two flights of stairs of my three-story townhome, flitting in and out of rooms, rearranging and reorganizing my "crib" as I put away the winter holidays, vacuumed up a bagful of pine needles, and prepared for a year-long siege of writing this blog, composing yet another children's book, and attempting my first novel.

During some of my trips up and down the stairs and about my house and its varied rooms, I found myself stopping short in twinges of forgetfulness, wondering why I was walking in—or out of—one space or another in the first place. Total forgetfulness often set in. I was having brief brain lapses or, as some of us "older" folk fondly call them, "senior moments". I've been told, though, that not remembering, really, has nothing to do with aging. All of us, at any age, forget things from time to time. It's a matter of what synapses are firing at what time... But most of us, with a little concentration and maybe a helpful mnemonic or two, finally remember. Oh, yeah, I remember, looking at the fake candle, I came up here to the third floor library to take the lights out of the back window. Um, I recall, staring at the “junk drawer”, I'm in the kitchen to find some scotch tape to seal up a box of glass tree bulbs. Whoops, I scurried down the stairs nearly blind without them, because I, er, um, forgot where I put my glasses. Are they on the desk in the basement office or on the windowsill in front of which I have my laptop set up? Now, what was the name of that actor in that movie I saw last week? Don't tell me. I'll remember her later.

Now, folks, don't tell me you don't remember having similar memory lapses, because, dear reader, I know that you do.

Oh, no.  Darn it! I just had a thought to jot down, but got distracted by Sebastian, the cat, mewling for his dinner. And, having just spent a few minutes feeding him, cannot quite remember with it was I just about to say.

Okay, now close your eyes and imagine, if you will, that your whole life, each day of it, is a "senior moment". Imagine waking up each and every morning not being able to remember who you are, where you are, and whom you are with, let alone trying to recall what happened yesterday. Or the day before. Or even the week before. Imagine not remembering past whole years, even decades of your life. Each day, you start afresh, anew, not knowing anything about your past life, how you got those wrinkled lines on your face, or, even, who the person is that you've just woken up next to. What does it feel like? Okay, you can open your eyes now, but try to remember the feeling.

Pretty devastating, huh?

Well, this is the premise of Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel (please click the link in the left panel) by S. J. Watson a relatively young English writer, who has made his entrance onto the literary scene with this, his, hopefully, first novel. I expect more of his works to appear on the scene in the near future. The author, whom I first assumed was a woman based upon the astute insights into the thoughts and feelings of the novel's female protagonist, is first and foremost a scientist—a  physicist by trade who worked in various hospitals of the British National Health Service specializing in the diagnostic and treatment of hearing-impaired children. In the evenings and weekends he wrote fiction
In 2009 he was accepted into the Faber Academy “Writing an Novel” course, of which Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel  (©2011 S. J. Watson, HarperCollins Publishers, New  York, NY),  is the end result. Debuting in mid-2011, it has already been published in 37 countries and is slated to be adapted into a feature-length movie by Ridley Scott. Rowan Joffe is slated to write and direct. Here's the Wikipedia link to learn more: S. J. Watson.

Watson brilliantly writes about Christine Wheeler, who finds herself walking up each morning in a strange room next to whom she later learns is her husband into a world and life of which she knows nor remembers nothing about. Through the every day mnemonic exercise of writing and subsequently reading a journal that she keeps in secret from "Ben", her husband, she learns what has preceded that day and what has transpired between her and Ben, and between her and her therapist, a Dr. Edmund "Ed" Nash, a young psychologist who encourages her to "try to remember", although her case has been deemed incurable by other doctors and physicians.
 


During the course of the novel, Christine learns what happened to her to cause her profound and total amnesia and who, finally, her friends—and true love—really are.

This book was recommended to me by a dear, fellow dog-loving friend, who has often plowed my brain in the past for "good reading" recommendations. Robbie emailed me over the Christmas Holidays to tell me about this "really thrilling read". Turn about is fair play. And so, off to the library I went in search of Watson's book. I picked it up last Friday and once I started reading it on Monday evening, could not put it down. Robbie was right. It is, indeed a thrilling read. Not only that, it is, in itself, a thriller, although not in the sense of a good "thriller" by Lisa Scottoline or Agatha Christie, or even Stephen King, but a thriller, in the psychological sense, none the less.

Watson writes in the first person, with Christine telling her story mostly through the pages of her daily journal. I was enthralled by her characterization, convinced that "S. J." has to be a woman, but was amazed to discover that this novel of intrigue and poignant observations of normal as well as abnormal life was written by a man; a man who, obviously, much to his credit, is totally in touch with his "feminine" side. The action is both contemplative and fast-paced while, at the same time, riddled with subtle clues as to whom "Ben" really is and what really happened to cause Christine's total memory loss. "Who did this to me?" is her persistent theme and she, through Watson, opens all the stops to find out.

While I did find the ending a bit too trite and bit more contrived that I expected as I raced through the 258 pages well into the late and then wee hours of Monday night and Tuesday morning, I did find this first foray into the world of novels a stunningly contrasting, compelling read that melded the genres of mystery, intrigue, romance, and psychological terror, tinged with a bit of a historical, albeit modern times, bent.  

It is, indeed, a novel whose story I will not soon forget.

 
3:51 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 9, 2012

YO HO HO!

Every rambunctious child, boy or tomboy (such as I was), yearns for adventure, especially during the long, languid summer months when, after the first few weeks, all the comics have been read, boredom with board games sets in, and it's just too darned hot to play baseball in the deserted lot down the street. For most of us kids back when I was, well, a kid, as it is now, it just wasn't feasible to pack a backpack and go exploring beyond the woods behind the golf course or actually stow away on a tramp steamer bound for the high seas or to even search for buried treasure. Far as I knew, there just wasn't any to be found. Or was there?

To slake my thirst of out-of-the ordinary escapades, daring deeds, and adventurous undertakings, I steeped my imagination in the classics such as Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, The Swiss Family Robinsonby Johann Wyss, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain—all of which were readily available, thanks to my Dad, on that now renowned top shelf of our secretary in the foyer of my childhood home. When I had exhausted the stack, I turned to all of the Nancy Drew Mystery series that were available (many more titles have been added since then)—some I owned, some I  borrowed from friends or the local library—and then devoured my brother's collection of The Hardy Boys. Today, to satiate their own craving for adventure, children have an infinitely wider variety of adventure books to read including, as I wrote about in an earlier posting, The Starcatchers Seriesby Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Not to mention the multiplicity of interactive electronic adventure games...

For whatever reasons, however, Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson (November 13, 1850 to December 3, 1894), never made it to our secretary collection. And while I was aware of it and the basic plotline, having seen a matinee reprise showing of the 1950 Walt Disney movie starring Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, and Basil Syndey, and. subsequently played "Pirates" for weeks afterwards with my childhood cronies in our adjoining backyards—swinging off the "yardarm" (porch railing) to fend off the attack of imaginary cutthroats who were after our "treasure" (a discarded wooden cigar box filled with chocolate doubloons)—I did not read the original tale until well into adulthood. Well, actually, more than “well into adulthood”. 
 

Yesterday, I read it for the very first time.    

It has become a Christmas tradition for myself and two married friends of mine—Cathy and her partner, Bill—to attend one of the latter performances of the musical panto that is yearly staged by Peoples Light and Theatre Companyin Malvern. PA. A musical panto, for those of you who don't already know, has its origins in ancient Greek theatre and has evolved primarily in British theatre to become a satirical play, normally staged during the Christmas and the Feast of the Epiphany timeframe that is based upon a favorite/popular children's story. The production incorporates specific performance conventions, including parodies; a leading juvenile role typically played by a young woman; the young hero(ine)'s mother, normally played by a male actor in drag (did I say "normally"?); lots of comedic effects; slapstick; groan-some jokes and puns; brash and bold interaction with members of the audience; and lots and lots of music, some of which may be original, much of which are popular tunes with lyrics rewritten to suit the plotline. Here's a link to Wikipedia with all the details: Panto(mime). 

This year's offering by Peoples Light was Treasure Island—we attended this past Saturday's matinee, one of the last three performances, when we know the cast is well-seasoned into their roles and give it their all. The production was a reprise of the original 2004 offering, with the book by Kathryn Petersen, who writes most of the theatre's pantos, inspired by Stevenson's novel; music and lyrics by Michael Ogborn; and starring Mark Lazar as Mother Hawkins; Rachel Brennan as "her" son, Jim; Peter Pryor (who also directed) as Captain Smilenot (Smollet); Susan McKey as Evelyn Treelawnee (Trelawney); and Tom Teti as her father, Squire Treelawnee; along with a whole host of other talented actors that filled out the roles of Long John Siler, his parrot, and the various pirates. Needless to say, this delightfully entertaining show was a hoot—enjoyed by the audience of children of all ages. If you haven't already attended a panto and have not yet become an ardent fan, I hardily recommend you take your family to see next year's offering. Regardless of which story Petersen will choose to paraphrase, it's sure to be a rollickingly enjoyable hit.

Anyway, as is wont in a panto, Petersen deviated greatly from the original book's plotline—using it and a few select themes, phases, and characterizations only as her guidelines—taking off on her own whimsical and creatively imaginative fantasies of pirates and skullduggery. Captain Flint's map leads the characters not into fierce battle over buried treasure of gold, jewels, and gems, but into hilarious antics searching for the panto's true treasure "uncovered" by Mama Kura's (played to the hilt by Joilet Harris) magical elixir: "love and understanding". The last few lyrics of the play's finale tells the audience "if you want a closer look/read the book". And so, as I said, yesterday, inspired by the panto, I did.

I have an Easton Press (©1994 Norwalk, CT) "special" Collector's Edition from their "The 100 Greatest Books Ever Written" series ("bound in genuine leather" with my favorite embellishment of gilt-edged pages). Who decides what the greatest 100 books ever written are, is a mystery to me, considering that Easton’s list has not changed in the past twenty-five years and considering there have been a great many new, wonderful literary offerings since 1994 and now…But, I digress.
 


This edition is replete with illustrations by Edward A. Wilson (1186-1970) and carries a publisher's preface as well as the original text of Stevenson's "How This Book Came to Be". As adventurous as the book itself is, with "authentic", often incomprehensible sea-shanty slang and lingo; powerful descriptions of ships and sailing over high seas; fierce and bloody battles; smarmy and deceitfully selfish characters, including an obsequious Long John Silver, who is the Hispaniola's  sea cook, I found Stevenson's text more interesting.

For one, I had no idea that the author of not onlyTreasure Island,
but of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), Kidnapped (1886), The Black Arrow: The Tale of Two Roses (1888), and The Master of Ballantrae (1889), among his other forays into literature, was ill most of his life with what was originally diagnosed as tuberculosis but is now perceived to have been a virulent form of chronic bronchitis.  He died of it at a relatively early age of forty-four. During the latter part of his life, Stevenson was married to a woman more than ten years his senior. Her son, his stepson, he writes, was the inspiration for Treasure Island, written over the course of just a few summer months, to entertain him while the family was living with Stevenson's parents. His father joined in the writing adventure, providing the list of contents of Billy Bone's sea chest and other salient details. 

He chronicles his writing of the book, originally named The Sea Cook and first published as serial episodes in Young Folks magazine before its first appearance as a novel in 1883. It propelled Stevensen from relative obscurity as a "hack" writer to fame (and, finally, fortune) as an author of noteworthy literature. And, to his credit, like Charles Dickens and Washington Irving, he is still widely read to this day. For details of his life, I suggest this Wikipedia article: Robert Louis Stevenson.  

Having all this knowledge about the author—it's always good to know about the writer you are reading before your read his/her work—I then delved into the novel itself and was soon lost in my edition's 272 pages, replete with a detailed treasure map (last page) to follow, and, as I said, graphic descriptions that framed the linear, almost too simplistic plotline narrated in the first person by young Jim Hawkins. And while the sepia-toned illustrations were basically, um, well, illustrative of the story, I couldn't help myself visualizing the actors of the Treasure Island panto playing out all the parts on my mind's stage. Yesterday's afternoon read combined the best of two of my most favorite genres: literature and theatrical arts.

The two-plus hours I spent in an upper, back row seat at Peoples Light on Saturday, plus the four-and-then-some ones I spent on Sunday afternoon between the covers of Stevenson's first full-length novel were two wondrous adventures unto themselves. They were, as it were, delightful treasures indeed.  
 
12:20 pm est          Comments


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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currenty published works include a novel, a book of spiritual inspirations, two volumes of poetry, stories for children (of all ages) and a variety of children's musicals. Her titles include:


Columbia Hotel: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
the Schuylkill Monster: A Novel of Phoenixville in 1978
The Prisoner's Portrait: A Novel of Phoenxville during World War II
Forty-Thirty 
Rainbow in the Sky
Meditations for New Members

Adventures of Oreigh Ogglefont
The Basset Chronicles.
Cats of Nine Tales
Spinach Water: A Collection of Poems
Exodus Ending: A Collection of More Spiritual Poems

We Three Kings

Beauty and the Beast

Bethlehem

Noah's Rainbow

Peter, Wolf, and Red Riding Hood

 

 

Originally from the New York metropolitan area, June currently lives near Valley Forge Park in Pennsylvania with her constant and loving companions, FrankieBernard and Sebastian Cat. She is currently working on her fifth novel.

June's novels can be purchased at amazon.com, through Barnes and Noble,
at the Historical Society of the Phoenixville Area,
and 
the Gateway Pharmacy in Phoenixvile, PA
.

For more information about her musicals, which are also available on amazon.com,