Monday, 29 October 2007

Guillermo Martínez, The Oxford Murders (Abacus, 2005)

This novel is Martínez's first to be translated into English and is the winner of the Planeta Prize in Spain. Last year they filmed some of it here in Oxford and I thought I'd give it a read and see what the fuss was about. Only now I get around to it, having picked up a cheap copy at the Oxfam booksale on Saturday morning. The story revolves around an Argentinian post-doctoral student who arrives in Oxford to work with a famous maths don. He lodges with a little old lady who gets murdered and whose murder appears to be one in a series that follows a mathematical logic. Can they identify the series and predict the next murder or will the killer be too clever for them?

The maths is quite interesting, the plots has been competently sketched, apart from a clunky ending, but the characterization and writing is terrible. And I mean, really terrible. It might be a question of something being lost in translation, but the characters all lack any depth or interest. I know that often these kinds of books will rely on plot and conceit to carry them, so we're supposed to think that the maths makes up for the lack of characters. Oxford is supposed to be a wonderful setting, but unfortunately it's all a little heavy-handed, with lots of silly mistakes like porters emptying bins in dons' rooms in Merton. It felt far too like what Dan Brown did for Rome with Angels and Demons. And if the maths were done in a more clever way, he might have pulled it off. But unfortunately it is all pretty straightforward, and the maths doesn't come out of it in any mysterious way, as it should have. It seems liked a missed opportunity, and I'm afraid to say that I recommend that The Oxford Murders be your missed opportunity.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Garage, 2007; dir. Lenny Abrahamson, written by Mark O'Halloran

Last Thursday I got a chance to see Lenny Abrahamson and Mark O'Halloran's new film Garage. [Thank you Margaret!] Based on what I have already said about Adam and Paul and Prosperity, I suppose it is going to be pretty obvious that I am an admirer of the work this collaboration has been producing. With Garage I think we move into something rather more serious, not just in terms of subject-matter, but also in terms of art. There is a beautiful pace to the film, a rigorous slowness of the surrounding landscape that is part of the characters and their lives.

The story is simple. Josie works in a garage, looking after the few passing customers and waiting for business to pick up. He is treated like the village idiot, though often it is clear he is perfectly self-conscious. When his boss suggests that he work longer hours, he sends the son of his new girlfriend to work with Josie. The two strike up a friendship and Josie and the young man sit talking about nothing in particular, drinking cans and looking out at the closing evening. The rest of the film is tragic and heartbreaking, moving inexorably to a terrible end; I can't reveal more of the story without spoiling it.

There is a great great delicacy to the performances, and Pat Short is simply astonishing. His Josie is wonderfully played, physically vivid, and emotionally charged. It will be impossible to consider him 'just' a comic actor from now on. The filming is wonderful, mixing lush green countryside with harsh fluorescent internal lights. The desolation of the small town almost becomes a part of you at the end of the film. And its silence overcomes you. It is too desperate for expression, for tears.

It would be condescending to those involved to praise this film as a great new Irish film. This is a great and beautiful film. It was an enriching experience to see it.


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