This month's write-up comes to you courtesy of Bruce:
This month our peripatetic culture salon pulled into the Bawarchi curry house – which, coincidentally, resembles a beauty salon. Everyone EVENTUALLY attended, except much-missed Milly.
I arrived EARLY – partly because I’m such a good boy - and partly because I’m a bad last-minute boy who needed to finish the book (The Road, Cormac McCarthy). A Kingfisher beer the size of a scuba tank and a vein-lining stack of poppadoms were my crutches. Reading it on the Ginger Line I’d welled up at the harrowing passage of the boy saying goodbye to his dying dad. I needed every cc of that booze.
Ian rocked up bang on time, but because everyone else was LATE we were able to have a brief but treasured man-to-man catch up. Mary and Juliet rolled in VERY LATE reeking of artisanal whisky. Dave was LIVID that they’d made him starve. Silly boy should know by now to never arrive at a Kensal Review hungry or you end up arseholed and delirious (I speak from experience).
As usual, we had a massive gossip before we got down to business. Mary and Dave have enrolled on art courses since I last saw them. Blimey! Great stuff. We’ve all been through a lot in our four years together: births, deaths, loves, losses, and now we’re getting personal rebirths – fuelled by Ac’s brainchild, our mighty Kensal Review. Dave said he had been inspired to become a proper artist (rather than a piss one) by a recent KR outing to hear Grayson Perry. We can only hope that Dave will start wearing a dress and pink platform clogs.
By now the waiters were delivering a steady stream of Kingfishers to our table, in a human chain stretching back to the kitchen. Before it got messy, we needed to get on and talk review turkey.
I couldn’t believe my cloth-like ears when, from the other end of the table, came ululations that The Road – the 2007 Pulitzer Fiction winner - was a steaming pile of cack.
Michelle and Lara were especially vociferous – bordering on angry: “Nothing happened”; “oh the tedious repetition of the food search every time they got to a building”; “so bleak that it was unbearable to read”. They couldn’t be arsed to finish it, and having had a previous nasty encounter, Juliet wouldn’t even pick it up. While recognising its artfulness, it made Hannah feel blue.
Thankfully, at the other end of the spectrum, Ac loved its powerful minimalist writing that perfectly evoked the suffering and darkness. Mary loved it - it made her cry. Milly emailed in to say she found it “…mesmerising… about unfailing, undying love.”
Initially I found The Road so slow going I nearly pulled over and abandoned my vehicle, but by about 50 pages I was gripped by the jeopardy and began to see the beauty of the language. Now I get it - of course it’s slow, that’s the whole point. It trudges along monotonously just like the boy and man.
Some of us also enjoyed that fact that McCarthy was shining a light on big themes: what it is to be human; what makes people “good” or “bad”; what are the most basic things we need from one another; is this nightmare scenario inevitable for mankind…
Ian found it compelling but had issues with it. He had read around the subject of post-apocalyptic stories and recounted how they’re often used as a lens through which to show the current state of humanity. He had issues with the over-simplification of the “good guys” and “bad guys”, postulating that McCormack was feeding the post-9/11 hysteria.
A few questions were left unanswered: Why the lack of apostrophes (and inverted commas) in speech? Why the confusing lines when – near the end - the boy and man looked across a river? Why the use of the first person in just one paragraph in the whole book? Perhaps McCarthy was stirring in an extra sense of confusion and absence.
After the smattering of boos for The Road, all cheered for the Late Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. It was the largest ever collection of work done by JMW Turner (born 1775- died 1851) after he was 60 years old. At the time he painted them critics were negative, claiming he’d lost it. But in recent times many have realised these works are great, and he was in fact having a late bloom as an impressionist ahead of his time, 20 or 30 years before the Impressionist movement itself.
Ac and Hannah particularly loved his sketches done in the Alps. Hannah and I loved the phenomenon of “Varnishing Days” - a few days immediately before an exhibition when the artists could put the finishing touches to their paintings, in situ. Legend had it that Turner often took the opportunity to make substantial changes. But you can believe it, hearing in the exhibition about his prodigious work ethic.
There was talk of how poor Turner’s eyesight was, especially near the end of his life, and how this may have led him to paint his last paintings so brightly, so yellow/white and so impressionistic. Mary pointed out how this gave them a heavenly glow, drawing a parallel with his ‘going towards the light’. It brought tears to her eyes.
We noted that he had a sense of justice, his paintings chronicling some of the big stories. He hints at the corruption of power via characters in the foreground of Parliament on fire. The implications of the industrial revolution are symbolised by the hare running for its life before the steam train and the dangerous third class carriages with no roof that had recently claimed lives. He shows his outrage in the painting of a ship in a storm, packed with convicts about to die en route to Australia, denied help by their callous captain.
It seemed that there was something for every KR member in the Late Turner collection. A range of tastes satisfied, from dreamy beauty to gritty drama; from tiny sketches and watercolours to vast canvasses; and from literal to impressionistic.
And thus another magnificently merry Kensal Review meeting drew to a close. Well the cultural bit anyway. It was back to the general yakking.
Before we leave it though, I’ve thought of a connection between McCormack’s book and Turner’s last paintings… SUPERPOWERS. Human ones. Like love, never giving up, and being creative to the end.
Talking of not giving up… like Turner, Kensal Reviewers do love a drinky – but unlike him, we can’t pass off our sherry shakes as “mercury poisoning from the paint”. So it was no surprise that by the end of the evening our rowdiness prompted a man at the next table to stand up and pronounce: “Your drinking club has a book problem.” Unfortunately a rather tired and emotional Michelle didn’t get the joke, stood up, growled “Urghh how dare yous… we booked thish tablesh pruperrly…” and fell into a perfectly manicured plastic plant.