Monday, January 05, 2015

Bill James in the absence of Harpur and Iles

More Bill James (though not Harpur and Iles), more Irish history (Ronan Fanning on the U.K. Parliament's mishandling of the Unionist revolution. That's right, Unionist revolution), and a crime novel about hockey that, despite its subject, appears to have real teeth.

The James is his 2009 novel Full of Money, in which drug gangs from rival territories clash, an investigative journalist's murder is reviewed, a television presenter gets close to the wrong woman, and Detective Chief Superintendent Esther Davidson worries about her bassoonist husband. Some highlights so far:
"The mad indirection and gibber of most of this demoralized Esther."

"Being arty they thought they could speak their piece at full volume if they wanted to. And such people, liquored up, would want to, convinced that loudness helped prove they were not timorously, narrowly or miserably bourgeois. "

"She was as good as soccer, better than TV cookery."

"Of course, nobody among this crew present tonight would ask him what he thought of the programme. In their eyes, he was still and only the bottles bloke."

"He steepled his hands before his chest for a moment to emphasize the undoubted church qualities of churches, evident inside a church."

"Betty Grable insured her legs, and Esther often told him to do the same for his lips because her left lacked the absolute accuracy to avoid them always. Her right, better. Her right usually chinned."

"`They talk too loud, draw attention, possibly antagonize. They’re middle-class, professional/ artistic/ media, I think. I try to avoid.' Gerald imitated a quibbling donnish voice : `" Oh, yes, William Boyd can describe room interiors well enough in his novels, but let me recount what happened to me one day in Tasmania.”' `That’s fucking Ince. Do I want to line myself up on the screen with such people?’ Yes. But Esther didn’t say so."
Hmm. Maybe I'll save Ireland and hockey for tomorrow.

 © Peter Rozovsky 2014

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Blogger Philip Amos said...

Splendid, Peter, and thanks -- I've requested the book from the library. I'm particularly curious, given the bassoonist, if it involves the world of classical music. Numerous crime fiction writers have at least alluded to that arena -- with disastrously results. For heaven's sake: Write what you know about! A few exceptions, though: amazing Cyril Hare, Donna Leon, and Robert Barnard. I'll be interested to see if James fits into all this anywhere. And I'm really looking forward to Ireland -- and even hockey.

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Philip, the husband is a freelance bassoonist, and the novel (as well as the Harpur and Iles novel Disclosures) includes passing references to classical music. My favorite is probably this:

"One of the most useful things about Esther was, although she could have done without all classical music, she didn’t detest any particular work or composer more than the rest – certainly not the embittered way Gerald detested JS Bach and Copland."

James never makes the mistake of writing about a world he does not know.

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Well, now I need more! The quotation reminds me that Colin Wilson, author of The Outsiders and other shallow twaddle, said he couldn't stand Bach. Of all composers, JSB is perhaps the oddest to dislike. It would make sense to say you dislike Baroque music, in toto, but not that you dislike Bach. But what has got me wondering is why Gerald detests Bach and Copland in an "embittered way". They must have caused him personal grief in some way. I want to know how!

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read just two books in which Gerald features, and the reader does not learn the origin of his deep-seated antipathy to Bach and Copland. Until now I have been content to enjoy its delicious incongruity.

Perhaps a lack of prominence for the bassoon or its forerunners in Bach's music may be a part of the explanation, if James has bothered to develop one. This may be of interest.

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Hmmm. If that's Gerald's problem, many composers must have embittered Gerald, for the bassoon is rarely "prominent" in orchestral works, though there are quite a few concertos for bassoon, a number written by Johann Christian Bach, for starters. But 'bn' appears in a lot of Johann Sebastian's scores. I think the discussion in that very interesting link you provided - thank you - is that the participants are discussing performances of Bach on modern instruments (and only the cantatas). What Gerald needed to do was join the historically informed early-music movement, for when JSB wrote 'bn', he had in mind either the dulcian or the Italian fagotto, both forerunners of the modern bassoon that was developed in the 19thc. Mind you, when Bach put 'bn' in his later scores, he may also have been referring to the highly developed form of the dulcian created by Herreterre, a Baroque bassoon and spreading in use in JSB's time. Very complicated business, but that's what Gerald needed to do -- go through the excruciatingly difficult process of learning to play these 'original instruments'. If he did and was good, he'd have had a job for life.

Bach and Copland is an odd pairing, of course, and Gerald ought to love the latter, for the bassoon is pretty prominent in his major works: e.g., Rodeo, El Salon Mexico, Appalachian Spring, all stuff I heartily dislike.

January 07, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Gerald's wife, the police officer Esther Davidson, appears in at least one additional Bill James novel I have not read, which means Gerald may appear as well. I half-want to seek the book out now, just to see if James ever explains his creation's musical tastes.

My guess is that James was just having a bit of fun by having Gerald loathe two such well-loved composers. That the pairing is odd might well have appealed to James. He never has Gerald explain, in my reading to date, why he loathes those two. He does have Gerald conduct a youth orchestra in a piece by Hindemith, though.

Gerald decidedly does not have a job for life. He is worried, as a matter of fact, that time may have put him out of the running for jobs with the top orchestras.

January 07, 2015  

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