Three by Ellis

Ellis Sharp, over at the Sharp Side has in recent weeks written some excellent posts. Here are three of them:

First up, short post on the politics of remembering:

And contrast the Bali memorial (which will apparently be a large stone globe) with the memorial to the
victims of the 1987 Kings Cross fire. It’s a perfunctory, obscure, barely-noticeable plaque which says
nothing at all about the tragedy and does not list the names of those who died, even though many of them were residents of the capital. But then the Kings Cross fire resulted from the under-funding and undervaluing of public transport, with rubbish allowed to accumulate under ancient wooden escalators, and an easygoing attitude to smoking in confined public spaces which was a tribute to the lobbying power of the tobacco industry and its political pimps (QV Margaret Thatcher and Ken Clarke).

Then there was this post on Aldeburgh, a small seatown resort in Suffolk, which reminds me quite a lot of similar towns on the Dutch coast in Zeeland, towns like Veere or Middelburg. Towns that look nice, elegant and cultured at first, but are largely ruled by provincialism, where the idea of having a work of art in your house is reduced to a reproduction of a 17th century map of the province hanging in your hallway, next to the clothes rack.

You’d expect an independent bookshop to be a bit, well, arty and liberal. Not in Aldeburgh. The shop seemed to be run by ghastly braying Tory women. My deep distaste for the shop hit new depths as I discovered it didn’t have any Crabbe in stock. No edition of his poetry; no biography; nothing. I was looking forward to buying a Crabbe edition, which would then inspire me to read my second hand biography. But they didn’t even have Crabbe in the slimline £2 Everyman Poetry series, let alone a more substantial edition. Yet Crabbe’s closest associations as a poet are with Aldeburgh. I hate bookshops which don’t carry the work of local writers and the absence of Crabbe plus the cretinous petition made me stomp furiously out again, determined not to buy anything.

Most recently, he reprinted an excellent review of Ian McEwan’s Saturday by John Banville:

Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. The numerous set pieces — brain operations, squash game, the encounters with Baxter, etc. –are hinged together with the subtlety of a child’s Erector Set. The characters too, for all the nuzzling and cuddling and punching and manhandling in which they are made to indulge, drift in their separate spheres, together but never touching, like the dim stars of a lost galaxy. The politics of the book is banal, of the sort that is to be heard at any middle-class Saturday-night dinner party, before the talk moves on to property prices and recipes for fish stew. There are good things here, for instance the scene when Perowne visits his senile mother in an old-folks’ home, in which the writing is genuinely affecting in its simplicity and empathetic force. Overall, however, Saturday has the feel of a neoliberal polemic gone badly wrong; if Tony Blair — who makes a fleeting personal appearance in the book, oozing insincerity –were to appoint a committee to produce a “novel for our time,” the result would surely be something like this.

Every time I read extracts from Saturday, my gorge rises. I haven’t got a high opinion of McEwan to start with and these excerpts confirm my opinion. Yet I still know I will need to read this book sooner or later if only to be able to pan it with a clear consciousness.