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Friday, October 26, 2012

Kiss Me Kate

One of my earliest movie memories is the revival showing of "The African Queen", starting Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, at the old Embassy Theatre on Main Street, Dobbs Ferry, NY. I was probably only eight or nine at the time, but the colorful images of the jungle and the little steam-powered boat putt-putting down the Ulanga River have forever stayed with me. As well as the images of Katherine Hepburn as a defiant, determined Rose Sayer. Bogie, as Charlie Allnut, won the 1951 Oscar for Best Actor. But, unfortunately, although she was nominated for Best Actress, Hepburn lost to Vivian Leigh for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in "A Streetcar Named Desire". Well, at least Hepburn, as always, was a valiant contender.

For the longest time, Katie H. was my most favorite actress. I think I've seen most of her films at least twice, if not three times—counting in, of course, "The Philadelphia Story", "Rooster Cogburn", "The Lion in Winter", "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner", and "On Golden Pond" ("You old poop!"). She won Best Actress for her roles in the last three—a strikingly talented actress, as well as a strikingly individualistic woman. And while I really enjoy from time to time watching any movie she's in, "The African Queen" is, by far, my favorite.

We had a Katie Hepburn revival on the courts last week, when my tennis buddy mentioned she was reading a biography; one she enjoyed because of the subject, not because of the writer. I subsequently lent her my paperback copy of Me: Stories of My Life1, Hepburn's autobiography; a 1989 VHS of "The African Queen"; and a copy of The Making of the African Queen2 , also by Hepburn—all of which she and her husband enjoyed immensely. I held back my International Collector's Library (Berryville Graphics, Berryville, VA) of the original novel,
The African Queen3, by C.S. Forester, to read again before I watched the movie for, what?, the tenth time? I was curious to see how the movie, directed by John Houston, differed from the original story. By Hollywood standards, I must admit, not by much. The only spoiler I will give you is that the ending was completely re-done—a significant twist to the story that, while it made the movie more interesting for the average movie-goer, skewed the original intent of the author for the more literary-minded reader.

C.S. Forester was a prolific writer of the first half of the Twentieth Century. He is most famous for his Captain Horatio Hornblower series, rivaled only in rip-roaring sea-faring adventure by Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander series. In The African Queen, I found Forester to be a more languid, philosophical writer, more concerned with the psychological interrelationship between the hard-drinking Charlie Allnut, and the stern, prurient Rose Sayer as they maneuver the steam launch, The African Queen, down treacherous waters to Lake Wittelsbach in South Central German Africa at the beginning of World War I. Their mission—rather, Rose's mission—spurred them together on to conquer rolling rapids, leeches, enemy fire, malaria, and their own personality conflicts and differences. And while it is a relatively short novel--only 181 pages—it is definitely a long, lavish read, with more descriptive passages than action or dialogue. The latter is used only to punctuate the poignant plight of the two protagonists. The movie—screenplay by Peter Viertel, with input from Hepburn—captured most of this poignancy; but it was more, in many ways, an adventurous, somewhat romantic romp through the African jungle, than a classic, literary psychological adventure.

This was my third read of The African Queen. Once for my high school English Literature class; again in 1990, when the movie was released on tape; and, of course, just this past week. If I remember correctly, I was bored the first go-around; mildly impressed during the second; and deeply touched this third time. More especially now since I gave the book a more thoughtfully thorough read. I've noticed that as I get older, some novels, like fine wine, do get better with (my?) age. The African Queen is no exception. I watched the movie twice while reading the book, which brought Forester's dreamy and often languorous descriptions to life on the page almost as vividly as they were depicted on the screen.

This was, without a doubt, a truly enjoyable multi-media experience that should not be missed.

Especially if you are, like me, a diehard fan of Katherine Hepburn.

1 © 1991 by Katherine Hepburn. Ppbk. The Random House Publishing Group, New York, NY.
2 © 1987 by Katherine Hepburn. 131-pgs; ppbk (illustrated). A Borzoi Book published by Alfred B. Knopf, Inc., New York, NY.
3 © 1935 by Cecil Scott Forester. (Renewed in 1963). © 1940 by Random House, Inc. 181 pgs; hrdbk. International Collectors Library. Printed by Berryville Graphics, Inc., Berryville, VA. This is a different version than I’ve linked to in the body of this entry.
12:02 pm edt          Comments

Monday, October 22, 2012

Second Time Around

One of my reading pet peeves—and I have several—is reading a sequel before reading its predecessor. For a few well-written novels, this doesn't matter all that much. But for most others, it ruins the fictional flow and jars the mind. Most authors vaguely allude to what happened before, so that when I do take the time to go back and read the first, it's ruined because I already know what's going to happen in the second. This is defintely a book bummer. I admit, though, that it is mostly my fault for not doing the research to discover the first book in the first place.

In the case of
The Lost Prince1 by Selden Edwards, I was flummoxed because the author wrongly assumed that The Little Book: A Novel, his first in the series (I fear that a third novel in the sequence is in progress), had been previously read. Wrong! I was asked to review The Lost Prince by AuthorExposure.com, whose editors were kind enough to send me an advanced copy prior to its publication on August 16th. Well, the day I received the paperback, I immediately delved into it. Halfway through the first chapter, I had the sense that something was missing. A bit of research revealed that that something was the foreknowledge of the main protagonist’s adventures in Vienna prior to the continuation of her story; plot lines and characters which would have cleared up the confusing read for the first few chapters. It took me a while to readjust, understand what was going on, and settle into the novel. And so, after two weeks worth of wading in Edward's world, here is the review2 I finally wrote:

While The Lost Prince by Seldon Edwards is an interesting novel with an intriguing plot, it is, in many respects, implausible. Eleanor “Weezie” Burden, a scion of Boston society at the turn of the last century, uses a small journal—the focal point of Edwards’ first novel, The Little Book, of which this is the sequel—to secretly amass a large fortune, foster large corporations, influence the outcome of historical events, and rescue her son’s future teacher from the ravages of war. She accomplishes all these with her aide, Will Honeycutt, and through intimate relationships with Carl Jung, William James, Sigmund Freud, and Gustav and Alma Mahler. The concept that a woman, even one as “connected”, brilliantly talented, and steadfast as Eleanor, would be close to and influence these prominent personages and also be the prime mover of world events during an era of patriarchal dominance is, to me, a bit far-fetched.

 Our clearly defined heroine is a larger-than-life over-the-top pip of a stiff, strong-willed protagonist, with a large, smugly self-assured ego, and calculating self-will. In total control of her own life, she controls others, through clipped and often forced dialogue, to fulfill her “role and ambitions” and help her search for Arnauld Esterhazy—the lost prince. She is almost out of touch with and out of place in the life and times depicted in this 434-page odyssey that rambles through the tremulous era of World War I.

But, don’t get me wrong. I really did enjoy reading this book. Edwards is a fluid, straight-forward writer who instantly captivates the reader with juicy descriptions, historical facts, and fictionalized real-life figures who form the background of Eleanor’s many adventures throughout her life…and times. For this is not only an historical novel of some literary merit, but is also a somewhat scholarly venture into the genre of time-travel. Since I did not read the first novel of this saga, I did not expect this surprising sub-plot twist, which added more explanatory intrigue along with a few technical glitches and questions which went annoyingly unanswered. For example, prior to marriage, Eleanor, in Vienna during the 1890s, falls in love with a young man from 1988, who gives her the prophetic journal. The incestuous inference that he is a future relative was jarring. But, then again, given Eleanor’s proclivities… Then there is the questionable significance of Eleanor’s true relationship with the prince—a romantic aspect that could have been more meaningful had he been more demonstrative and she less manipulative.

All in all, however, The Lost Prince was a fairly engrossing, albeit slow, plodding read that took me nearly two weeks of steady pacing to absorb the imaginative plotline, character analyzes, and historical references. I often had to stop to research Mahler’s music, relearn the principles of Jungian psychological, and recall some of William James’ work—all of which I found necessary for the mature reader to thoroughly understand and benefit from all the subtle nuances of this comparatively creative and ingeniously written novel.

Unfortunately, though, once I read and reviewed The Lost Prince, I really had no desire nor inclination to go back and read The Little Book: A Novel. It would have been to me just too much redundancy. And, as most of you know, I am not one for going around the same plot lines a second time.

1 Resources for this review were made possible by AuthorsExposure.com. Incidentally, this book review site, dedicated to emerging authors, is on hiatus for a month or so. I’ll post an alert on this Blog to let you know when reviews are being posted again.

2 © 2012 by Selden Edwards. 434-pgs; ppbk, ARC edition. Penguin Group, New York, NY.

1:39 pm edt          Comments

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June J. McInerney, the host of this Literary Blog, is an author, poet, and librettist. Her currently 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:
Miss Elmira's Secret Treasure: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Early 1900s
Colonial Theatre: A Novel of Phoenixville during the Roarin' 20s 
Phoenix Hose, Hook & Ladder: A Novel of Phoenixville during World War I
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
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


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 sixth novel.

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

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