The World According to Renee

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Review: Jack of Diamonds

I’ve just finished reading the very last of Bryce Courtenay’s published works. Since I’ve been a fan for a long time now, I’m a bit emotional as I write this.

Jack of Diamonds follows Jack Spayd from a young boy in Canada to adulthood (where he ends up, I’ll leave as a surprise).

There are two main criticisms I have about the novel: 1) it’s not set in or anywhere near Australia and 2) there’s very little plot.

Bryce Courtenay was born and raised in South Africa, which he writes about in several novels, but the majority of his work is set in Australia. Despite it being his adopted country, he knows everything that makes us uniquely Aussie, and I really missed it in this novel. It’s not just the North American ‘voice’ Courtenay has used (being Canadian, Jack calls his mother “mom”, which seems very out-of-place for a Bryce Courtenay novel), but there’s just one Australian character and he’s just peripheral. With all Jack’s adventures, why couldn’t have at least passed through Australia? Set up a gig in Sydney for a while before moving on?

The second criticism is there’s no juicy plot. Jack’s adventures, whilst being very interesting, are really just a string of occurrences within a lifetime. Jack is immensely likable, so whatever scrape he finds himself in is instantly forgivable with no real drama, as the reader already knows he lives to tell the tale.¬†

Having said that, I loved the novel. It’s very easy to read; some of Courtenay’s other works take a couple of tries to get into them but this one was easy from the get go. Courtenay paints a vivid picture of Depression-era Canada and post-war America and the struggle to bring jazz from a black man’s world into a white person’s world. I found some parts dragged on a bit, particularly when getting into the nitty gritty of the Mafia. I felt the story was lost behind this unnecessary complexity. It’s almost as if the author started out with a basic framework of where and what was to happen, then fleshed it out to almost 700 pages because that’s what the audience expects. Certainly this is how the epilogue reads… Which brings me to my last point.

During the writing of Jack of Diamonds, Bryce himself was diagnosed and treated for stomach cancer. As a result of poor health, the novel took almost two years to write, something which clearly played on his mind especially towards the end, which feels rushed (indeed, Bryce died just a few weeks after the novel’s publication). He adds an epilogue stating that his own “use-by date” is nearing and he won’t have time to write the sequel, but here’s what happens. No doubt those extra few pages could have been fleshed out to another 700 page novel had Bryce conquered his illness, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.

What we have is masterful swansong. Especially as the novel was his last, I’d dearly love to see Australia in there, a final goodbye to the country he called home for over fifty years. Nevertheless, Jack is an endearing character, impossible not to love and sympathise for. There are echoes of Courtney’s previous works such as The Potato Factory and The Power of One but Jack of Diamonds really stands alone.

Thankyou Bryce, for sharing your stories with us. What am I going to do without an annual Bryce Courtenay novel to read over Christmas?

8 out of 10 bookmarks.


January 30, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Life of Pi

“Which story do you prefer?”

Let me start by saying, I haven’t read the book. Not for lack of trying; I started it several times and couldn’t get past the first few chapters so I gave up. By the looks of the film, I should have given that up too.

Most people are familiar with the basic plot: a boy is lost at sea with only a Bengal tiger for company. In the novel, the first part is exceedingly boring. In the film, the first part is the most interesting while the voyage is exceedingly boring.

Don’t get me wrong- the film is beautifully shot, well acted and perfectly scored. However it is also over-CGI’d and utterly ridiculous; at one point I wondered if the film had been spliced with¬†Avatar. I understand the CGI, you can’t have an actor on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with real wild animals. The premise makes a lot more sense when you get to the end (no spoilers) but when you’re sitting there watching it, you feel ripped off that someone thought this would be plausible. Even the resolution is unsatisfactory, but the premise does make sense after it is revealed.

I really can’t say much about this film. I was bored to tears and felt utterly dissatisfied at the end; I looked at the time and considered walking out with an hour to go, then rolled my eyes furiously at the resolution. This is not the fault of Ang Lee, who has made a visually magnificent movie. And kudos also to the screenwriter, who did what I couldn’t and trudged through the novel to produce a script. It’s all metaphors and analogies and if there was a point to it all, I missed it completely.

6 out of 10 popcorns.

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Review: Hitchcock

You know you’re going to like the film when it opens with Ed Gein killing his brother.

Hitchcock follows the making of the classic film, Psycho. Helen Mirren, who plays Alma Hitchcock, knows how to work the screen, but she also knows when to take a backseat. In this film, she is absolutely playing second fiddle to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who prances around, filled with a sense of his own self-importance (essential when you’re portraying the great director). Scarlett Johannson was a little off as Janet Leigh; for a start, the wig wasn’t sitting right with me and she just fell flat against such an experienced cast.

There’s no real plot, so this is the perfect film when your brain needs a break. Hitch finds a novel he wants to film, the studio refuses to finance it (Psycho was self-financed), the Production Code dictates certain changes and the first print of the finished masterpiece is not well received. Add Alma’s side project, Hitchcock’s suspicions that his wife is doing more than writing with her new partner, Ed Gein hallucinations and you have yourself 99 minutes of a great film. There are numerous homages to Hitchcock’s works including several shots of venetian blinds (can you name a Hitch film which doesn’t use venetian blinds?) so any fan will delight in these. I would have liked to see more of Psycho‘s backstory but I suspect that’s a film all on its own.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch some Hitchcockian classics.

7/10 popcorns

January 17, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment