Sunday, January 22, 2012

James McClure on television

A skeptical commenter yesterday asked for a few more excerpts to justify my enthusiasm for James McClure.  I'll suggest an entire category: McClure's descriptions of South African landscapes. Here's one, from The Sunday Hangman:
"Apart from some thorn scrubs, there were no trees except those gathered  together for a definite purpose: to shade a tin-roofed homestead, or to provide a trading store with its windbreak. The sort of God's own country where every farmer began his day with a very deep sigh."
The same commenter mentioned that television came to South Africa only in 1976 and presumed that McClure's novels reflected this. I had noticed no such reflection, I replied. But when I picked up The Sunday Hangman to resume my reading, I came across a series of comic set pieces involving television no surprise in a novel published in 1977 and possibly written in the crucial television year:
"`Tomorrow night the TV's in Afrikaans,' she said, keeping hold of his hand, and they went automatically through to the kitchen for their coffee. `They've invited us again, so can you come over?' 
"`What's on?' 
"`An Australian baritone singing translations form real Italian opera. I'm going.' 
"That, thought Strydom, was exactly what the old Minister of Posts and Telegraphs had warned against when describing television as the Devil's instrument. Not once that week had they sat down together as man and wife and talked over his more interesting cases."
Elsewhere we get scenes of Strydom haggling over the price and features of a television set and amazing onlookers with the weird results of his fiddling with the color dials. But that one excerpt will suggest that McClure has an eye for social history and gentle comedy as well.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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16 Comments:

Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

"The sort of God's own country where every farmer began his day with a very deep sigh."


That I like!

January 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I told you McClure was good.

To each his or her own taste, of course, but I was surprised you didn't like the line about the veld "as parched as old tennis ball." To my mind, that does what a simile ought to do: It's accurate, and it's fresh and original without going over the top. I suspect you might disagree with the last part of my assessment.

January 22, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

We are not worthy, Peter.

I liked the tv one; Irish tv are celebrating 50 years of broadcasting, right now, and I remember my first experience of watching it, as a little nipper.
It was truly a wonder to behold, back then.

It must have been weird for adult South Africans to experience it for the first time, so much later

January 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It was also odd to read in McClure's book that color television was present from the beginning of South African television broadcasting. This being the apartheid era, it's no accident that a smarmy television salesman tells the character Strydom that "Monochrome sets are mostly for our non-white customers."

I'm telling you: Even readers who might not like the mystery or police-procedural aspects of McClure's novels might still relish the social comedy and satire.

January 22, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Yeah, there'd have to be a 'monochrome' gag
It wouldn't be only their Minister of Posts and Telegraphs who would disapprove of him describing it as black and white, I'd wager!

I must check is he available in our library system
I've a whole bunch of unread Harpur & Iles, Ed McBain, and Ross Macdonald books piled up under this adjacent table here

btw, film-wise I've just started to watch Japanese film-maker, Fukasaku's 'Yakuza Papers' series of films; I've just watched the first of them, which is a helluva lotta fun, even if you wouldn't want to try and keep up with all of the characters, and their brief lives.
Any similarly 'mad' writer of Japanese yakuza novels that you've come across
with sympathetic, nuanced, translation, of course

January 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Here's the result of a search for "Japan" on this blog: http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/search/label/Japan Nothing much in the way of yakuza stories, I'm afraid, though one will find the odd extravagant tattoo or mussing knuckle.

Yes, I would not wonder if South Africans found a term other than "black & white" to describe monochromatic television.

January 22, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The tennis ball jars. Not in the same emotional field. And it requires mental acrobatics to get from veld to playing tennis.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

Some interesting items in your Japan link, Peter; I immediately thought of Kurosawa's 'The Bad Sleep Well', also, when reading your description of Akimitsu Takagi’s The Informer.

Kurosawa's masterly 'High and Low' could be said to address business morality, also, and to a far greater extent than the Ed McBain source novel, 'King's Ransom', which is a nifty little thriller in its own right, but inferior to its 'adaptation', in my opinion.

Some of those novels in your list look interesting, especially Seicho Matsumoto's work, and 'The Prone Gunman', by Jean-Patrick Manchette.

I don't think any of your Japanese writers would be comparable to Fukasaku in his wonderful, almost cartoonish, pulp morality tale, though.
My search must continue!

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., I'll buy that. To me, though, the tennis ball image was one of those associations so sharp and unexpected that it made me consider the object more carefully than i would have. And, insofar as the veld is flat, perhaps it resembles a tennis court.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And my search man begin, TCK. Fukasaku sounds worth a look. I like both the Kurosawa movies you mention.

By the way, I invoke another series of Japanese movies at work occasionally. We have a pantry at work with a refrigerator, sink, microwave ovens, and so on, where we can store and prepare food. Whenever anyone catches me slicing a French bread with the pantry's huge bread knife and shrinks back in mock terror, I reply that I have been cast as the lead in a remake of "Zatoichi," and I invite the onlooker to rehearse with me.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

I've seen 4 or 5 Zatoichi films so far, and the best of them are very well-crafted films, as was the case with the best of the classic Hollywood films, such as 'The Thin Man'

You'd wonder about how many variations on the theme of a blind samurai swordsman who likes to gamble you can create, but you'd be surprised.
Also I suspect that due to the series popularity many of Japan's most prestigious, or promising young, directors sought an opportunity to 'display their wares' at the helm of a Zatoichi film

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I thought I recalled a more recent 座頭市 movie, and a quick search confirms that there was such a movie, in 2003.

You neglected to mention one of Zatoichi's attributes: his profession He was a blind Japanese swordsman-masseur.

Lest my workmates not recognize the name Zatoichi when I wave the bread kniife at them, I add that he is a blind swordsman.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

How could I have overlooked the 'masseur' bit?

I saw the 2003 version in a Dublin Film Festival; I was disappointed with it perhaps because I thought it was too much of a star 'ego trip'

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It has long been said that playing a handicapped character is a sure way to an Oscar. It's easy to imagine that such a role as Zatoichi could become an ego trip for an actor.

January 23, 2012  
Blogger The Celtic Kagemusha said...

The thing with those other roles is that they encourage sympathy in the viewer, and they're often taken on by glamorous actresses, or pretty boys, to 'prove' they can act.

But the 'Zatoichi' remake was just an excuse for shameless 'mugging'
(of the facial variety)

January 23, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Al Pacino. Dustin Hoffman. It never ends.

Maybe the Zatoichi remake was marred by the same sort of stylozed nonsense that has characterized so many Asian action movies exported to the west in recent years.

January 23, 2012  

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