“I find it preferable if at least one person wants to be in the relationship”, Dave reflected. Everyone wants to be loved. Perhaps this was prompted by Anna Karenina, which continues to exert its influence over the review. Whether we’re too lazy or busy, most of us failed to complete the book last month, but we all just about managed to get to the finishing line for KR at Hannah’s lovely Tuffnell Park flat. There were differing views about the denouement of Tolstoy’s novel. We agreed that it became torpid after the demise of the eponymous beauty, but couldn’t quite agree whether it worked. Was it a sprawling & prescient triumph, depicting a society on the verge of social & political upheaval, or did it get lost in the endless political & religious machinations of the restless Levin? Anna disappeared from the novel as she disappeared under the train, she was not spoken of again. Some felt this left unresolved questions & tensions, whereas others felt it reflected the hypocrisy & cruelty of the society that seemed to have contaminated Anna & Vronsky’s love. Was it their intensity, as opposed to their indifference, that tore them apart… or were they sliding into apathy & callousness?
At this point the evening we were sliding into shouting, which is to be approved of. So to ‘Playboy of the Western World’, a.k.a. ‘Pardon I Didn’t Quite Catch That?’. It is a question relevant to a review group whether one should finish what one starts even if one is not enjoying it. Bruce had voted with his feet & left at the interval, unable to decipher the thick dialects of the production & the idioms of the writing. Many stayed who subsequently wished they had left. Ian said he endured it until the last 10 minutes, when the proverbial penny dropped & the whole piece suddenly made sense. There was more of that Tolstoy-esque society backbiting, albeit in this case directed towards the feckless & less than tragic Christy Mahon. The ending was frenetic, & the reconciliation of father/son with Christy’s transformation from effete fop to strapping young man resonated for some of us, at least. A recurring theme in our reviews, we also noted how strong & dominant the women characters were, especially for a play first performed in 1907.
Laziness & business inevitably crop up again with the discussion on ‘How To Be Idle’. Fair to say we didn’t like this book for many reasons: its lack of humour (despite its feeble attempts); the temporal structure of the chapters; the repeated references to a small number of ‘idle’ texts; its sophistry of argument; & its thinly argued manifesto. It’s fair to say it had its knockers (a prurient gag that Hodgkinson may approve of, since we felt a lack of the female in the writing & references). But it would be unfair to say it was not appreciated. The idlers’ iconic vision of a flaneur taking his tortoise for a walk in the Parisian arcades was new to some. Some of the referenced works were appreciated & made people want to explore those original sources. Without wishing to appear patronizing, some felt that the right person would take a lot from the book (& indeed, some knew people who described it as ‘life changing’). Perhaps ultimately we felt it was an opportunity missed. It raises big & important questions for the times we find ourselves in, but it did so rather cack-handedly for our tastes.
At that point we started talking about relationships again, which draws me back to the excerpt from Woody Allen’s ‘Play It Again Sam’ hanging on Hannah’s wall:
Allen: What are you doing Saturday night?’
Museum Girl: ‘Committing suicide?’
Allen: ‘What about Friday night?’