Friday, December 28, 2012

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham 

Charles Strickland is a well to do London stockbroker. He is apparently a happily married family man. Those who know him describe him as a dull, plain man, a hardworking stalwart of Edwardian England.
Inexplicably then he vanishes leaving telling his wife that he has gone to live in Paris. His wife stunned asks the narrator to find Strickland and tell him to return home. Rather reluctantly the narrator obliges.

What emerges in Paris is not a married man having one last fling with a paramour in a fine hotel but rather a burgeoning artist who has left the stifling conventions of London behind in order to pursue his innate calling.

As the novel progresses we learn that Strickland has risked all in pursuit of his art. He lives in dire poverty in Paris taking help from all who offer it. He travels to Marseilles where after an altercation he works his passage to Tahiti.

All of which sounds very virtuous and noble. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a character Strickland is totally dislikeable. He is arrogant, vein and irresponsible. His actions bring death and disaster upon those who love him most.  He cares nothing for his wife and children and less for the concerns and worries of others.

Written by Somerset Maugham in 1919 and based loosely on the life of painter Paul Gauguin, "The Moon and Sixpence", can said to be both a meditation on genius and a damning critique of Edwardian society.   


Friday, December 14, 2012

Just Kids by Patti Smith 

Patti Smith has written a memoir recalling her friendship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Touching and incredibly vivid Just Kids tells of their initial meeting as penny less artists in New York in the 1960’s. It relates their love affairs, both together and apart, their struggles to establish themselves and ultimately the successes they both achieve.
Throughout Smith makes no attempt to disguise the affection she held for Robert Mapplethorpe who at times would serve as Smith’s friend, lover, teacher and inspiration. The story of their life and times together is extremely touching and highly personal and I’d imagine it was an extremely difficult story for Patti Smith to recount.
Many will be fascinated by the time Patti and Robert spent in the Chelsea Hotel where as young artists they first encountered the good and the great as they paraded in style through the corridors or buried themselves behind their doors. Here Smith throws a less than glamorous light on the lives of the various artists she encounters. But she also relates the many touching moments and acts of generosity she experienced.

Great names of the artistic and rock n roll world stride through this memoir. Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Andy Warhol and of course Bob Dylan are just a few of the great ones the reader will meet. Looking back the late 1960’s seem to be a time of high ideals with a dark destructive underbelly. You had the scene in New York and the reaction against war in Vietnam. Smith captures the atmosphere of the time and the reaction to both.
Ultimately though it is the tragedy of Robert Mapplethorpe’s death from an AIDS related disease that is the reason for the memoir’s existence.  Once the initial spark of friendship is ignited Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe vowed never to leave each other. Just Kids proves that up to Robert’s death and beyond, they never have. 



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