The Dull American

Joseph Kanon, The Good German (2001)

I’m not sure why I bought this, although this edition ties into a Steven Soderbergh which I recorded off the telly and still didn’t watch. It has been kicking around for five or six years, and went to America and Ireland and back, with no more than eighty pages read.

So it’s the dying days of the Second World War and the journalist Jake Geismer returns to Berlin in search of a final story and an old girlfriend, Lena, whose husband is a rocket scientist and engineer who both the Americans and Russians want on their side. When a young American is found shot dead in the river in the Russian zone, Geismer begins to investigate who is behind this. And then a female press photographer is shot dead, with Geismer suspecting he is the intended target.

The Guardian compares it to Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a novella about a tenth of the length dealing with some of the murkier business of the war, and a classic film full of memorable moments. This book is, alas, unmemorable, whose titular German I had to double check the identity of. Whilst Geismer is in every scene, it is written in the third person and the shocking revelations seem rather flat. We know the ambiguity of Werner von Braun, and have since before Tom Lehrer satirised it. Here, however, I just wanted them to get on with it. I think this will go back to a charity shop.

World Munching

Edvard Munch. There are Worlds Within Us

Bergen has one of the world’s largest Edvard Munch collections in the world, largely collected by Rasmus Meyer from the artist himself, and donated to the city. A whole room in KODE 3 is normally devoted to his version of The Frieze of Life, Munch’s overarching but flexible depiction of the cycle of life and death. Two more rooms bring together earlier and later work, with a spill out room that sometimes contains prints. But for now, those rooms are filled with photographs — more to come — as the collection moves to an exhibition in KODE 2 alongside selections from the National Museum of Art and Design, the Munch Museum and the Gundersen Collection.

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Snared

Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Veláquez (2017)

11DCFAA8-9739-41CB-8C40-CB74C289B9F0I was browsing the freebie table at Worldcon when I found this and picked it up. I confess that I haven’t much knowledge of Diego Veláquez, a seventeenth century Spanish painter, beyond Las Meninas as inspiration for Picasso and Pope Innocent X as inspiration for Bacon. It seemed to be a book about a single painting — and then I noticed the author was Laura Cumming, art critic for The Observer and author of On Chapel Sands, a biography of her mother’s hidden past.
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Dicks of the Light

Terrance Dicks (10 May 1935–29 August 2019)

First times are both easy and impossible to remember.

There must have been a book based on The Clangers. I read the “Bleep and Booster” cartoons in the annual Blue Peter book, with no sense of what it was. And children’s books, for the under sevens, often shade between fantasy and sf.

But for all my disdain for Wookiebooks (which is probably spelled wrong), I’d place my bets that the first sf novel I read was Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth, followed by Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks. And I’d like to think that it was in October 1977, when I moved up to Nottingham Road Junior School, because I was probably allowed in a different section of the library by then. I suspect I’d watched “The Face of Evil” as my first television encounter — although I have a ghost memory of Three and Jo Grant looking out over a balcony in “Planet of the Daleks”. But I took these two hardbacks home and devoured them. Continue reading →