Beams Falling

I have a piece today on the Guardian Books Blog about the ‘Flitcraft parable’ in Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. I’ve been puzzling over this extraordinary digression for a while now–before Christmas I wrote a longer article on the subject which will appear in The Reader later this year–but what strikes me most of all re-reading the novel after maybe ten years is just how good Hammett is, in his dialogue, his plotting, and the sheer force of the writing.

Orwell on Jura

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More from me earlier today on The Guardian Books blog. I’ve been reading and thinking about George Orwell in anticipation of our stay on Jura next summer and this piece is a reflection on his life there:

At this time of year, running away from the crowds, the brightly-coloured plastic decorations and the grisly return of Slade is an attractive idea. There can be few places in the Western world where even the most bookish of homes isn’t invaded by an army of illuminated Santas, shiny toys and their tinny medley of gaudy musical electronica. Sixty years ago mindless noise and Christmas did not go together as they do now, but even then the seasonal city hubbub did not suit everyone. For George Orwell the apocalyptic avalanche of stuff that represents Christmas in 2007 would only have confirmed his view that without God, or a spiritual alternative, civilisation would come to a grim, totalitarian end.

More here.

Costume Drama and the Western

I have a post over on The Guardian book blog contrasting the flexibility of the Western as a channel for national stories with British nineteenth-century novels and the costume dramas adapted from them:

When it comes to national narratives Americans have it easier than the British. Pick a few good-looking actors, let them grow stubble, add fake tan, a glisten of sweat, stick them on horseback in period clothing and you have a western. … more

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