But this isn’t a blog about sightseeing. I’m supposed to be getting culturally educated...
Noticing that a play was starting shortly I snapped up a ticket (at half price) for Shear Madness. Five minutes before the start and there is still nobody inside, then suddenly it is full of teenagers – which should have been a warning sign. Shear Madness is described as a 'Whodunit' and the longest running play of some sort or other in American history. This naturally made me think of that other long-running whodunit, The Mousetrap, which I'll admit was an unfair yardstick. It is labelled a comedy and the flashy stage and pop soundtrack pretty forcefully confirmed that this was no Agatha Christie. Still, it does say it’s a whodunit, and the one area in which my earlier cultural education is not deficient is in whodunits. Every single Agatha Christie sits on my shelf at home – even the pretty average experiments in thriller writing and the murders without Poirot or Marple – alongside a fair complement from Doyle, Chesterton,
Saul Bellow’s Herzog
When you’re feeling down and missing home, what better pick-me-up than a good novel? Herzog may be a great novel, but it wasn’t the tonic for that particular ailment. Much too close to home to be enjoyable. The plot concerns a about middle aged academic who starts to lose the plot when his wife leaves him and takes their young daughter. Bellow actually intended this as a comedy (see the Preface to Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind), but I had to put it aside halfway through for something more escapist.
4th May - Graham Greene's The Quiet American
The Quiet American was that something. Whether it was a coincidence or a subconscious desire to revisit my state of mind from earlier travels, but I realised partway through that I had originally started reading Graham Greene during a backpacking trip in 2001 – Our Man in Havana, The Third Man, and The End of the Affair – this one wasn’t quite up there but it had that same unmistakable atmosphere of international intrigue and cynicism, like a grown up, sophisticated and tired version of Bond. Was Greene a prophet or was America’s involvement in Vietnam so prominent even in the early 50s when this was written? It’s also a lesson not to take a narrator for a reflection of the author. The character of Fowler is an atheist, whereas Greene was a Catholic. It reminded me of Thailand too – and Jim Thompson, the American former CIA agent who disappeared in mysterious circumstances some years after Greene’s novel, but who was active during the same period.