Penguin Attacks

Posted in anything but apple, books, lawsuit, Nikola Tesla, samsung, satire by expatatlarge on September 3, 2012

Paperback novel pioneers Penguin™ books, currently owned by Pearson PLC, have filed a lawsuit against publication competitors Virago™ Press on charges of copyright infringement.


[Side Box]

Background: Where Did Penguin Waddle From?.

Penguin Books™ commenced publishing in 1938, using what they claim are “novel” techniques to augment the consumer’s reading experience. At that time these reading techniques were described by the former Bodley Head™ managing editor, charismatic publishing entrepreneur John Allen, as “revolutionary, unique and [ahem] novel.”

Allen had left Bodley Head™ shortly before setting up his first company, Albatross-Albatross!, following a dispute with their senior editors over his decision not to publish a controversial work by the legendary children’s author, London born Enid Blyton. Allen was particularly concerned that her new novel Noddy™ Does Toyland(© The Estate of Enid Blyton) might precipitate legal action against Bodley Head. Readers of the Blyton typescript at the publishing house said the book was “racist”, “sexist”, “homoerotic” and that Noddy™ was “an unacceptable role-model for young men” due his tendency to cry when very upset.

Allen had recommended against publication. As a result Blyton abandoned her plans to publish with Bodley Head™, whom she later described as “stuffy, politically correct twats who wouldn’t know a Gollie™ from a Stinkly™.” She took her stilted and formulaic writing to Sampson Low and made a fucking fortune for them and herself over the years. Allen was soon given his marching orders thanks to his absent business acumen in this case.

Allen conceived of the idea of getting someone else to think of the something that became the Paperback in 1937. The result was a lightweight, rectangular, compliant reading device that would fit into the pocket of a consumer during periods of various activities which were not compatible with reading.

Famously, the story of where his neurons fired so profitably is this: He was waiting for a train in Vladivostok when a beautiful but distraught women in a dark coat threw herself under the oncoming engine. He immediately thought of the tragic climax of the novel Anna Karenina (© Penguin Books), by Russian gambler and criminal Fyodor Dostoyevski. He took pictures (© The Estate of John Allen, available for purchase in 12x10glossy prints from Penguin Prints, a division of Penguin Books [only compatible with a Penguin Paperback]) of the apparent suicide victim’s bleeding remains with his Sampple iGalaxy™ as she lay dying, partially dismembered and horribly disfigured, on the tracks. He then “uploaded™” the images to FaceSpace’s™ Pinstagram™ Kodaroid™ clone, DropCloud™. He wondering how interesting it would be to compare the scenes in the novel with the gruesome incident unfolding (as it were) in front of him. He wondered how the book might be made available where he was, without his having to go a library or a decent hard-cover bookstore which could be several thousand miles away in this Siberian wilderness. On his return the mangled remains of the women would no doubt be gone, or covered with a blanket, or eaten by wolves.

He MessSkyd™ his design and development team at Albatross-Albatross! to inform them that he had “shared™” the Pinstagram™ “folder™” with them, and asked them to develop something pretty quick that would make him a millionaire overnight. They produced what became known as the Paperback novel. Allen’s publishing house was changed quickly to Penguin Books™ when the Albatross-Albatross! name was shot down in a private settlement with the family of English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, author of The Amazing Adventures of The Ancient Mariner (© the Estate of S.T. Coleridge) who had heard there was likely to be money involved.

Allen took all the kudos and street cred for the development of the Paperback and was universally acknowledged as a Genius™ in his press releases. Tragically, his design and development team disappeared mysteriously in a boating accident in Allen’s backyard swimming pool.

Immediately upon appropriating the credit for the Paperback, he commissioned Mr Constance Garnet to make a new translation of every school-age children’s nemesis (the novel Anna Karenina: see above). Allen’s lawyer (another name in the development of Allen’s career that is lost to history thanks to chlorinated water) pioneered the prototype of all writers’ contracts now in use universally. These have the special clauses which allow translators and authors like Garnett to be tied down and waterboarded. Publishers such as Allen can then be ceded sole ownership of the Exclusive Rights Management, the ERM™ of the work, in this case a translation, and all profits after publication. Garnett would get a pittance, if anything at all, should he live or remain sane. He drowned penniless in mysterious circumstances in Allen’s backyard swimming pool after translating several thousand more unreadable novels under contractual obligations to Pengiun Books™.

[End Sidebox]


The Penguin™ suit alleges that Virago™, by moving from the Women’s Press™ niche in which they still profess to be their metier, into more general publishing in the Paperback form, had infringed its patents when they imitated what Penguin claim are the essence and implementation of their designs.

The logos of the two publishing giants currently in dispute.

Virago™ have copied the “trade form” of Penguin™, the essential look and feel of the Penguin™ reading experience, they claim. In particular, Penguin™ point to Virago’s™ decision to produce a book with a soft paper cover of the size of the side pocket of a jacket, such as a gentleman in the 1930’s might be wearing at a train station in, say, Vladisvostok.

Comparison of the form factor of an example of the Virago™ product (left) and that of a Penguin™ Paperback (right). Note that the Virago™ book is written by philosopher and essayist W.G Sebald, a man. The Penguin™ book has been penned by female historian Ruth Harris.

Penguin™ say that their “distinctive” rectangular shape has been implemented into the Virago product, as have the sharp, 90o corners of the Paperback. Penguin™ insist that now Virago™ are publishing Paperbacks written by men it could make it difficult for readers to differentiate between the two publishers. Penguin’s™ income could be harmed as a result of diminshed sales if readers inadvertantly choose the Virago product.

Penguin™ had previously overlooked design infringements by Virago™ on the grounds of sympathy with the suffragette movement, notably by Allen’s wife, [the ridiculously named] Lettice Lucy Orr. [I mean, salad. For pity’s sake – Lettice Orr what? Cabbage?]

Penguin™ point to particular features of the Virago™ product that directly infringe on the patents held by Penguin™. They cite the fingertip control over the method of manipulation or turning™ of individual pages, or even groups of pages, as readers follow the writer’s words, sentences and paragraphs sequentially from one side of a page to its verso, specifically turning™ it to the left to follow text. They point out the continuance of the writing to the next leaf, the one on the right side of the open book.

Finally, they decry Virago™’s “blatant theft” of the Penguin™’s ability to use a © Bookmark.

Turning™ pages and the use of a Bookmark™ [provided to E@L by the kind people at The Excelsior hotel in Hong Kong]

This latter innovation allows the reader, often using a third-party device – which may have been provided by a book-seller or a progressive and expensive hotel chain – to define the point at which she or he has reached before closing the book in order to get on with life. The reader can continue his or her reading pursuits at a later time using the Bookmark™ to determine the correct page. After using the Bookmark™ in this manner, they might then either exit the toilet area with the Paperback in their jacket pocket or leave the volume on the wash-basin edge for further perusal in the future, a typical time being when the contents of his or her bowel move into an exposition of digestion with conflict of bacteria and the peristaltic moving action in the intestines leading inexorably to an expulsory climax, then a falling action and eventual denouement, with either a satisfactory or an unsatisfactroy ending, a.k.a. closure, and often leaving the possibility of a sequel.


In his The Pocket Billionaire, the unauthorised biography of the late Allen, ghost writer Woody Allen [no relation] reported the allegedly innovative and style-making founder of Penguin™ as saying he will go “V2™” on rival publishers. “They won’t know what screaming had come across the sky and hit them.” Allen laughed hysterically, according to Allen.

He single out the ladies of Virago™ for special treatment because of what he considered their “traitorous behaviour” in publishing non-female authors. “I’ll beat Virago™ like a red-haired step-daughter,” he is quoted as screaming in a board meeting. “This is our technology and male authors are OUR meteor, metier, whatthefuckever, and we will screw those bitches over and over until they agree to desist in the publication of products which are very similar to our own in my fucking opinion!”


Interestingly, Virago™ have launched a counter-suit against Penguin™ for publishing works by female authors, a defence that is sure to raise the hackles of Penguin™’s lawyers.

Virago™ maintain that if such a lawsuit as Penguin™’s were to succeed it could severley restrict competition and staunch further innovation in the Paperback development, outcomes that could damage the industry in unforesable ways.

They also claim that the page-turning technology was in existance long before Allen and Penguin™ had reintroduced it, and have at least two pieces of evidence to support that claim.

Fistly, they cite the Rapid Celluloid Transmission or RCT™ (a.k.a. Fillum) in which art-house director Sir Stamford Raffles showed a character turning™ pages of what appeared to be a small reading device in his groundbreaking 1914 science-fiction epic, 1931, A Moon Odyssey (©, Lee Kwan Yew). Interestingly, this RTC™ classic was not seen in the Feelies™ until several years after its initially proclaimed release date of 1912.

This delay was precipitated by a lawsuit filed by that Frenchie artiste, Georges Méliès who claimed that the concept in his earlier RCT™ of Le Voyage dans la Lune (© IMDB™) had being illegaly appropriated, in effect mashed, by Raffles. Raffles in turned argued that his work was an “‘omaaaarge,” (spoken in an outrageous French accent) but no legal ruling was ever made on this form of imitation as the matter was settled out of court when Georges Méliès mysteriously drowned in a boating accident in Raffles’ backyard pool in Vladivostok the following year.

Virago™ also point to a long forgotten presentation of a similar case in the International Court Of Taking Forever To Come To A Fucking Conclusion in Den Hague. They found in the TeslaNet™ Encylowiki™ records of a publishing dispute dating from the early 17th century. At that time Robert Barker, The King’s Printer and member of The Church Of England™, publishers of the King James Bible (not the Vulgate which is copyright to one hermit, a certain St Jerome), sued the independant Musselman publishers Al-Jazeera™ for copyright infringement with their production of a printed version of the the Tartar holy book, The Q’uran. That case was dismissed by the ICOTFTCTAFC on what Barker called “a technicality”, as the Ottoman Empire™’s printed publication was designed to be read from right to left, the oposite of Barker’s left to right technology.

The judge of the case, Pope™ Richard Dawkins, said this type of dispute was harmful to young children and animals. He instructed the participants and their followers to accept the blatant (to him at least) fact, or theory™, that there is no* such thing as god [he used a small ‘g’], or at least any deity that could be shown scientifically to be manifest in this world.

Therefore, he had said, these or any other gods of whatever denomination might as well not exist anyway, if they/he/she/it was unable or unwilling do anything useful such as alleviate suffering and disease. All this “sectarian publishing and violence shit…” would “…just go away – poof – if people woke up to reason and smelled this bloody strong Turkish coffee. Stop writing this amazingly impossible bullshit in the first place, then you won’t have to publish it, and I won’t have to get involved in sorting out the mess,” he said in his summation, the records show.


In his turn, a spokeman for Penguin™ said Virago’s claim was “both ludicrous and dubious” because entries in EnycloWiki™ can be edited by the members public for a small fee. He explained that a search of the records of transactions of PayPal™ could arranged. PayPal™ is the Telsanet™’s only online bank after the financial giant sued “every fucker” they could find, even the company which pioneered online payment, Adult Video Network™. The spokesman said the this might demonstrate the complicity of Virago in a potential fraud with intenttion to deceive.

Paypal™ however have pointed out that their records are “secure and confidential” and that it would take “a considerable amount of cash and lots of blow jobs” for them to hand over their customers’ private records.


But a newcomer to the publishing world could win out here, no matter what the result of the contoversial Penguin™/Virago™ suit. Online book supplier Amazon™ are on the verge of launching a product that circumvents all the issues raised by both Penguin™ and Virago™. The Kindle™ is an electronic book reader which uses a remote image of words in the author’s mind. These can be transmitted wirelessly (TeleGnosis, pat pending) through the ether to the retina, where the encoded concept of the story is captured. This can then be directly received in the appropriate cortex of the brain and the plot and characters extracted and the plot followed and enjoyed (presumably), even when the consumer is engaged in other activities, such a lubricious sex. Amazon™’s scientists warn that certain spastics and stroked out old folks with particular forms of brain jellification might not be able to use their device properly. Otherwise Amazon™ expect excellent reception™ of their product by the early up-takers, in particular trendy Starbucks™ light soy-latte drinking wankers and hipsters™.

Amazon™ dismiss/ignore the claims by recently justified inventor of both the TelsaNet™ itself and its method of transmission, the Radio™.

Nikola Tesla pointed out most vehemently that he had described the essential principles of such a technique, identical to this TeleGnosis (pat pending) “years fucking ago” in his compendium of experiments I Am Not A Nutter, But… (© Penguin Books) and that Amazon™ had stolen them to create the Kindle™.

Nikola Tesla, as himself, in the recent biopic What Does This Button Do?”
“Amazon™,” he said in an interview for Cosmopolitan™, “are like that cock-sucker Marconi. Thieving my credit bastards. A bunch of arrogant shupaks who can popusis mi kurac krasni! Those fucking Limey Book Depository™ bastards used to be cheaper and world-wide ship for free, until pricks at Amazon™ bought DHL™ and jebem ce zivo i mrtvo overnight. Don’t even start on me the shit-eater Thomas I-Invented-This Edison. Biggest fucking fake since John Allen.”


Your intrepid reporter and signatory to the Creative Commons Licence™,



“Samsung and Apple have been at war through the courts since April 2011, when Apple filed a suit in the US alleging that a number of Samsung smartphones and tablets used some of its patented technologies – such as the “rubber band” effect when scrolling a long list of items – and mimicked its “trade dress”, the general cosmetic appearance of its iPhone and iPad, in a way that could confuse potential customers.”

You have no idea how many times I typed Viagra instead of Virago in writing this self-indulgent drivel. I chose Virago’s The Rings Of Saturn for no reason beyond the fact that it is the only paperback from a relatively major publisher that I have with me.

* would you believe in this? I had left the word ‘no’ out of this sentence for the last two days.


Posted in books, hard slog, writers by expatatlarge on April 2, 2012

My occasional flatmate C, a lady-friend from HK, [settle down troops, nothing going on] keeps a cartoon journal. Everyday she draws hilarious little doodles in a notepad given to her by her daughter for Christmas. Nothing much, just fifteen minutes of cute cartoons inpired by her day. A funny pic of C with an appropriate emoticon face, a talk bubble with an explanation or an exclamation, and the day has been analysed, sorted.

Nothing necessarily big. Just something, every day.


She has not missed a day since the beginning of the year.

Wish I had that dedication.


And as my attempts to play that $180million app Draw Something have shown, I can’t draw cartoons either.



No examples of either, sorry.


In other news, my favorite opening few lines of a novel have changed. No longer are these classic vying for top spot: “It was a starkers night in the dorm;” “riverrun, past Eve and Adams from swerve of shore to bend of bay brings us by a commodius vicus of circumnavigation back to Howth Castle and environs” (or something like that); “Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time;” “One morning Grigor Samsor woke from a night of restless dreams to find he been transformed into a giant cockroach;” etc…

All are usurped by Robert Walser’s opening two sentences of his 1925 novel, The Robber.

“Edith loves him. More on this later.”

How awesomely fuck-you-literary-conventions-creative-writing-101 is that?

According to the blurb, Walser wrote this in almost indecipherable microscript. A first draft presumably; but Walser never bothered to transcribe it into a fair copy because he did not plan on publishing it. It was not “deciphered” and published in German until 1972 and finally translated to English in 2000 (review linked above).


He was confined in a mental institution for the last 30 years or so of his life, at first of his own volition, as they say (which he says a lot), but latterly by Doctor’s orders – although perhaps undeservedly. He went for a walk, and wrote something, every day. One day, on his walk, he fell dead in the snow. He didn’t write much that day I guess.

You might recall that I had this beautiful Walser quote on my old blog: “We don’t need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.”


(I have blogged about him once before (back when I was funny) when I was in Zurich on the way to a ski holiday.)

The Anthropology Of Cliché

Posted in books, chess, cliché by expatatlarge on March 25, 2012

OK, I know I suck at chess. I can never get above a 1400 rating on Gameknot, and they have the friendliest rating system ever. (1200 is absolute beginner.)

But what I excel at is buying books, and buying chess books has been not been exempt from the weird behavioural quirk that, I find out today, might be termed my illusio. (“It’s the investment people make in the activities that give meaning to their lives, their committment to them.” Something beyond receiving blowjobs I guess.) I think my interest and skills in chess may have more of the dellusio to them than any illusio, ho ho, however.

Part of my 4,000 point plan in reducing my dependency upon the physical, hard-cover, soft-cover, awkward to hold, printed word (I just can’t fire up the passion for my Kindle, it’s so fucking impersonal. Handy. But fucking impersonal.) is to… Stop. Buying. Books. Point 354 is to buy fewer books.

It’s like when you’re on a diet (I am on a diet) and you see a cookie. You know that that cookie is jammed packed with 1200 calories of evil deliciousness, right? So if you eat it, wham bam, straight through your overly-efficient starvation-keyed metabolism and it’s on your waistline (if you still have any part of your body that can be reasonably identified as a waist.) There should be a calorie trading scheme. Or a some spooky mystic weird universe in which not eating that cookie that you have in front of you, not just results in zero calories added but also is calorie-traded in such a way that you lose the fat version of 1200 calories just by not eating it.

So you eat it one time; you don’t eat it the next time. Balances out, right?

With books the same. You see a book you absolutely must have (the complete poems of Sappho, for example) even though there is zero chance of you ever opening it again after those few seconds of browsing in the Paragon Kinokuniya, and thinking how cool, but you don’t buy it… and some space appears on your ridiculously orverflowing shelves. That makes room for the purchase that you do make – Counterplay, An Anthropologist At The Chessboard, by Robert Desjarlais (and I am presuming that Desjarlais is the anthropologist in question) – OK becasue now there is space. Oops the fucking Sappho anthology got in there as well. Lesbians, can’t stop ’em. As in people form Lesbos. According to some of these verses, it was men that got her going! (Ah, no was thinking of the Lesbia lady of Catullus’s poems – you know, “the words of women should be writ on running water” guy, and yes I have an anthology of his as well. Know fuck all about poetry. Right up there with chess. Plenty of books though.)

Anthropology. Chess. Cool.


I’ve been working on a particularly difficult presentation for most of today – I have no idea how the machine works, and I have to explain it to 37 others for most of Monday – when I wasn’t buying and not buying books and definitely not eating cookies. Saturday. In Bangkok. Working. Sigh. Again.

At 11pm I drop down to the 24hr restaurant at the front of my hotel, say hello to the old experienced hooker who sits there all day with a large glass of red wine in front of her, poised like Shelob (only Shelob didn’t drink wine or fuck people for money), grab a table overlooking the seventh level of Sukhomvit (which Hell can only aspire to) and order a low-carb steak salad and a happy hour, high-carb, beer. Which means two beers. I tear the plastic wrapping from the book, spend three minutes trying to get the statically charged film from my arm hairs (it’s like a sticky booger you’ve rolled up into a ball, just won’t flick off your fingertips, just keeps swapping from one to the other) and settle down to enjoy some significant anthropological insights concerning 16 pieces on a 64 square board.

The book seems OK, sure, and after only a few pages I have picked up a few nice quotations and that line about illusio, which I like. We’ve had Tibetan Buddhist death rites, Philippine head-hunters (from Makati or Anglese City?), Nepalese shamans, GZA from Wu-Tang Clan penning lyrics for his song Queen’s Gambit, Marcel Duchamp who “needs a good game of chess like a baby needs a bottle”, Simone Weil saying “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer”, Joe the IT engineer who thinks “you’ve got to be a masochist to want to play competitive chess, T.S Eliot (speaking of poetry), and more… by page 26. Phew.

One slightly sour note hit my (failing) ears back on p9, and that was the phrase: “nexus of people.” I felt sure that the idiom was mostly right (I think of nexus as a hub or axis of relationships) it just seemed like an overly twee expression for a guy who had to inform us earlier that illusio is a Latin word. Well, d’uh, so is nexus. Ah, it is probably just me. He also says “cyborgian”, so what the hell. Nexus, schme… whatever.


However – get that gird on your loins people – on p23, this… this… DISASTER of E@L exploding proportions:

“But you don’t want to avoid it like the plague, either.”


[My emphasis, btw.] Can you believe that this anthropologist was given a book contract? This is 2012, yeah? (I have trouble with dates.) People are smarter now, right? Apart from the logic in the sentence sounding somewhat strange – sort of a double negative* – the fact that he has just used the biggest, worsest, mostest blatantest, fucking cliché EVER is completely stunning (which is why, several sentences ago, I was stunned.)

This is the cliché they warned you about at school, that your mother told you not to accept sweets from. From Strunk and White (I am guessing) to Fowler and Gowers, from Funk and Wagnell’s to Beavis and Butthead, the warning is shouted from the tops of various tall places that would act to promote transmission of the voice, this is the cliché to avoid like the, wait for it, plaque on my dentist’s wall.

From “nexus” (see, I am a brainy writer) to “avoid it like the plague” (I am the dumbest fuck writer ever and my editor should be sacked.) That is right up there with Dan Brown’s classic: “he was beginning to think it was going to be a long night.” (Two clichés for the price of several hundred.)

That drunken farang screaming abuse at the sex-workers of the world in a passing tuk-tuk nearly received a free copy of “Counterplay.” Not completely free, as I did have to pay for it.

Sigh. Should I stop reading now? Should I quit the book, quaff my beer(s) and get back to my overdue Powerpoint nexus? Sigh.

Well there have been some gems in there. Maybe I’ll give the guy another chance, he is only an anthropologist after all. (Recall that in ‘Waiting For Godot” the most offensive term Ponzo (was it?) could come up with was ‘architect!’)


Bang. Page 27. “…But step inside the place on any weekend and you’ll happen upon [groan] a cramped but vital domain of chess praxis.

Is praxis a Latin word, I wonder. (Yes.) (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Praxis.)

Nexus, followed closely by Praxis. Praxis I shouldn’t complain about, it is a word from the soft sciences, but it’s all these X words he spouts. They’re so unexpected. Inexplicably so.

But I complain, inexorably, I complain. Complaining is my illusio, my praxio, my nexio.

And I buy books. Sometimes I read them. And I fail at chess. Fail badly. Fail more badderly next time. But I hope like hell that as a writer (stop laughing) intractable blogger I am able to step around or subvert many of the major clichés. When I do spot myself using them at face value (I mean, at the value of a face) that is.


And it’s late, and I do be grumpy and the book is OK, I guess, I’m just in a mood because despite telling my colleagues three weeks ago we needed to get stuck into these PPTs… I hadn’t done a nexus thing. I’d been, you know, avoiding it.


* well yeah, it’s meant to be a double negative in context. You don’t want to skip playing Blitz Chess forever, but, seriously, do you want to chase it like the plague?

The Shadow And The Shadow

Posted in acrobatic twin lesbian orgy, books, magic, movies by expatatlarge on March 18, 2012

It is almost 1 pm. The sun is shining as bright as is astronomically possible. It is a cloudless day. The pale blue water of the swimming pool looks refreshing, cool, inviting, as clear as chlorine and the reflected sky can turn it. Every now and then I leave the shade of the umbrella over the table where I write this. (The text uploads to the Evernote servers automatically, my unmatched prose duplicated into the – impossible 10-years ago, surely – computing cloud, already transported to whatever computers are running at home or at work. Magic really.) I stand at the pool’s edge and prepare to disturb the near perfect stillness. The pumps are bubbling small ripples, their tiny coruscations are mirrored through refractions of sunlight to dance on the bottom.

I throw no shadow. Turning my head up so my that vision is vertical, I confirm that the sun is directly overhead. It is the equinox tomorrow. We are ready for the second half of the year, identical but reversed. Six months with the sun casting shadows to the south, six months casting them north.

I dive in with a large splash and my breath stops for a second. It is cool alright. It is refreshing. I surface and gasp a lung full of air. Calmly I swim to the edge and rest my arms on the tiles, lay my head on my elbows and let my body float. It is a fast pool, the water level breaches the edge and trickles past the first row into the slotted drainage tiles that circle the pool, like another perimeter. After my dive they have some heavy work to do.

I am not up to doing laps today. I just want to cool down. I want to get some sun.

I am prepared to allow my body to be bombarded with radiation, happy to have my melanin suck in a barrage of UV. I want a better suntan, not cancer, so there is another layer of absorptive agent, some low-wattage water-resistant sunscreen that takes away most of the UV-B and UV-C, and it shines off my skin, at least those parts I could reach.

As well as punching the keys here, I have been re-reading The Prestige and am still confounded by Christopher Preist’s amazing legerdemain. Can Borden (grand-pere – Christian Bale in the movie – and/or grand-fils) bi-locate or does he have an identical twin? Which is The Prestige? Artifice or sorcery?

The movie was on cable the other night and was better than I remember it. Good in fact. (Christopher Nolan, what do you expect?) But it answers the question clearly, which i found disappointing. The novel, as I remember, leaves it tantalizingly ambiguous. Both answers seem correct. This is Priest, his specialty is split and duplicated realities. (And The Affirmation is also about twins.) But I read the novel a while before the film was made and want to brush up on The Pledge, The Pact and The Prestige. (I think is that what they are called. Memory 0, Making It Up 1.) I want to see if I was right about the movie being wrong. If you’ve been reading here, you know these things are my peeve at the moment.


As an aside, both my testicles are being crushed by a combination of the twisted polyester trunks that contain them and the hard cushion-less seat. I think I shall get back into the pool when I finish writing these words and sort them out…


Sunday. And I am out of my bedroom before noon. Unheard of.

I didn’t wake to the church bells at 10am, nor to the couple in the flat above going at it – regular as the bells – for their weekly bout of horizontal folk-dancing. But I am awake nevertheless near eleven. There is a sound outside my door. The flat-mate and his girlfriend. I doff the CPAP, turn down the humidifier and off the air-con. (n.b.: Singlish is creeping into my vocab. Lah.) With these domestic ambient-sound generators quiet, I can hear outside my room more clearly. Not that I am eavesdropping, I getting up for my shower and I can hear, that’s all.

The girlfriend says something in her high voice, the slightly echoing accent of a Chinese mainlander who has learned her English at a village school and refined it with American boyfriends in Shanghai and now Singapore. Unmistakable. (We’ve spoken about it around the dinner table before: she is quite aware of its uniqueness and finds our discussions amusing.) I hear the click of her heels as she puts on her shoes, then a clunk as the door closes and I hear my flatmate’s footsteps – he has come back in alone. The door to his room closes.

When I come out from my shower to make breakfast, his door is still closed. I crush up some Weet-bix for fibre, lay on a hefty sprinkle of blueberries for their antioxidants, scoop two spoons of unsweetened yoghurt against the looming immanent diabetes and to feed the bowel parasites, and finally a generous trickle of honey because, as mentioned, the yoghurt is unsweetened. I top the bowl with low-fat milk and mush it all together. I see that it is a lovely day. I decide that, in a minute, I will lie by the pool.


In the water it is majestically pleasant as I rest half-in half-out and contemplate life. Employment. Leisure. Vast wealth and political influence. I have about three of these. I am alive, have a well-paying job and am lost in relaxing reverie in a beautiful swimming pool on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in the tropics. On the equator, on the split between north and side, two halves of a global orange. I am not don’t-care-what-I-spend wealthy but 5%, you know what I mean. I am smiling, almost laughing at how good I have it. Health? Not so much, admittedly. Enough of that. Denial.

Urine. Back-up. Urgent. I needed to pee. I am too old to let it go here like a child, so I climb out, take a brief de-chlorinating pool-side shower – the pole which holds the shower rose has no shadow either – dry my legs and trunks to minimize dripping (and the possibility of slipping) on the ‘marble’ floor of the flat and head to the lobby door.

A fat man with thin legs walks towards me. My heart drops a beat, but metaphorically only. The two of us pause. It is my reflection in the glass walls of the condominium’s gym. I always surprise myself with this body. I hardly ever recognize it as my own. This unreal reality is not me, for inside is my perception of me and looking out my eyes, these eyes that I can touch (as does the reflection, mimicking me, parodying me) is a strong lad, nineteen, fit from several years of surfing who boasts a large-breasted girl-friend and locks of long springy blonde hair. The ethereal creature in fornt of me now is a lonely, sad old man, albeit with job, alive, good money and otherwise relaxed.

I am in the process of making a new myself in this gym. I have lost nearly 10kgs. I’ll never bring that young man back to existence, I know. I am merely trying to reassemble myself as a person who might live longer than the guy on my side of the reflection, as a person who might outlast the current dangerously unfit version of me.

There are a pair of lady’s shoes on the stand at the door when I re-enter the apartment. I am struck by this. Where they there when I left to go, ahem, swimming 45 minutes before? I seem to recollect they were, they might have been, but who can trust my memory? They certainly look like the flatmate’s girlfriend’s shoes. Slight heel, thin straps and sparkly girlish adornments to support her lithe acrobat’s body. She must have left them there. Gone off in flip-flops? Unlikely. She only ever came in one pair of shoes, I am sure. I had never seen her in anything but heels like these. One pair at a time. Either she had brought another pair, a twin set, or someone else had left earlier. Who was it? Someone with her voice? Impossible.

I reason that she might have come back while I was at the pool, (submerged or resting, swimming, absorbed my writing or lost in my reading) but the path by the pool was her only access. I hadn’t seen her. I’d seen others: the fortunate and rare maids with a day off, heading to Lucky Plaza or to Golden Mile; hookers doing the walk of shame; mum and dad leading the triplets off to their ballet lesson, the identical girls cute as buttons in tutus and white tights – they all wave; but not her.

No, she could not have come back this way. Then, I reason again, less convincingly this time, that she might still be there and it was someone else who had left. But it was her voice at the door earlier, I could swear it on a dozen copies of The Origin Of The Species.

I go into the en-suite of my room, and take a brief, dribbling, unsatisfying piss. My trunks are already wet, so what. Prostate, sigh.

When I come out of my room the flatmate and his girlfriend, whom you will understand I am surprised to see, are at the kitchen door. They smile and say good morning. The flatmate’s smile is exceptionally broad. The girlfriend’s is more tentative. Is she embarrassed about something?

I say good morning, hesitating for almost a moment too long, and come back out to the pool all confused.

And I have a slight shadow now.

How could she still have been in the room (as the evidence now says she was) and yet outside it as well, leaving the apartment? Was this a trick? Maybe she could bi-locate like Borden in the novel? Ha! Did she have a twin, a sister also trained in the family circus troupe in China since a toddler? Able to fold herself to fit into an impossibly small tube, able to bend backwards way over to touch her feet on the floor in front of her smiling face with her arse resting on the back of her head?

I think of the flatmate’s exaggerated smile, a cat and cream smile, and I curse him. That must be it! The perfect threesome!

I dive firmly into the pool making an enormous splash, and underwater I scream into a stream of bubbles all of my envy and frustration.

(OK it was raining the day I took the photo, this is not today. Though of course it rained today as well.)


[Hey flatmate. You know the girlfriend I made up for this story is not the girlfriend lying on the couch with you now, right? Or her twin. Not either of them. Don’t hit me!]

Listen – New Yorker Fiction Podcasts

Posted in books, literature, New Yorker, podcasts, short stories by expatatlarge on March 2, 2012

E@L subscribes to this podcast. One of two, the other being polymath, or at least poly-listener, poly-interviewer, poly-pre-reader, Melvyn Bragg’s amazing In Our Time from the BBC. But back to the New Yorker.

E@L was working out on the gym (IKYN) in Bangkok last week and was listening to what he thinks now is a very good short story, Thomas Beller’s “A Different Kind of Imperfection,” and was also intent on following the discussions between the reader, Said(umlaut over ‘i’) Sayrafiezadeh, and fiction editor Deborah Treisman at the beginning and end of the reading. This is a great way to learn about how short stories work E@L has found. He hasn’t done anything with any of this knowledge, but he has found it.

You can still listen to or download the podcast on the New Yorker website. A Different Kind of Imperfection. It’s 42 minutes, 30 being the story itself… Please do so.

If you don’t listen to you it or reread it, if you have the collection (E@L doesn’t, he has to keep jumping around the podcast to confirm things), the following small essay won’t make one iota of sense. Move along, nothing to read here.


E@L was not so impressed with the story initially, it was vague and inconclusive (traits E@L generally admires in entertainment ) because the relationship of Alex with his mother seemed to be unexplored (intentionally, E@L now realizes), however the discussion was moderately excellent. And Said(umlaut over ‘i’)’s narration is a bit anNOYing.

Turns out Said(umlaut over ‘i’) is a friend of Beller, and the story reminded him of his own childhood, etc… Yada yada. He spoke about how Beller’s writing fascinates him and they both note how he reminds them of Salinger (and did they mention Kafka? No I am thinking of another podcast) and that the solipsistic protagonist, Alexander home from college for the Xmas holidays, may be Holden Caulfield a few years older.

They don’t miss much. Good point: The Oedipal undertones are now as bright as the morning sun in Singapore and just as easy to spot, in retrospect – E@L didn’t pick them up at first.

Alexander is always commenting on his mother’s outstanding beauty. He describes her eyes as liquid, as a hazel which sometimes turns to green, her delicate high cheekbones, all with a barely suppressed sensuality. She looks like a goddess. Yep, Oedipus, front and center. (One of the Seven Basic Plots – well, not actually, Booker only gives it half of Chapter 30. Coleridge however calls OdRex one of the three perfect plots . Not sure about the other two.)

But E@L was now making other observations to augment those of Said(umlaut over ‘i’) and Deborah.

Masterly, Beller distracts you from the implications of this Oedipal lust, and instead makes you think the story is about; firstly the break-up of Alexander and his girlfriend, Sloane. This is what is making him depressed (imperfectly his friend tells him), lethargic, what keeps him at home with his mother, what prevents him from going skiing with his friend and chasing girls up and down those slopes.

Secondly the search for the secret, in a sense, identity of his dead father (a drawn out case of cancer, died when Alex was 10 [drawn out over 8 yrs, give me a break!*]). A fading photo shows his handsome but monkey-faced (huh?), absent father. Mother is beautiful, father is merely good looking. Alexander becomes obsessed with the objects in the house that might have been his father’s. The Wolfschmidt whiskey, the cigarettes; he drinks them, smokes them – patently, Herr Dr Freud, he wants to replace, to become his father. Note that the father was a psychiatrist and has the, ahem, complete works of Freud on his shelves – Alex opens a page of one of the book, reads the word “incest” and shuts the book quickly. (Can’t you hear Bernard Herrmann’s score reach a screeching crescendo here?)

And, hey, what’s that over there? There are hundreds and hundreds of other books scattered all round the apartment, piles of books on the floor, “spilling over everywhere.” Alexander sees them again with fresh eyes, it is like he has not noticed them before. (He mentioned them earlier, casually.) He blithely assumes that these are his father’s books and becomes fascinated and obsessed. He is looking through the books and he finds that some passages are underlined and with annotations that Alexander assumes to be his father’s as, hmm, the handwriting resembles his own . Then he finds some words underlined (but not annotated) that strike him powerfully. He wonders why his father would be reading To The Lighthouse (Wolff, Wolfschmidt!) and marking passages like this:.

“She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness.”

This phrase keeps reappearing. He is baffled, “disturbed and moved”, by his father underlining these words. It is not the words themselves he finds powerful, he can’t even see them, but the surprising fact that his father underlined them. What was going on in his father’s life that this phrase would mean something important. He feels that his father (the psychiatrist, remember) had discovered something, a secret that Alex isn’t a party to. There is some mystery, there is a truth between the lines, a key. The answer is behind a wall he can’t get past, beneath an impenetrable surface.

Yep, the story seems to be about Alex and his failure to comprehend his father.

And yet…

Crucially, the ambivalent Alex always pushes away from his mother’s affection in what he calls “the unwilling retreat.” It was like she loved him too much, he says. When he was young he felt that his parent’s attention demanded more from him than he could supply. He can’t talk to his beautiful mother, can’t answer her questions. He isn’t worthy.

At the very end of the story, Alexander, out for a walk, sees his mother walking back from shopping with her head down lost in thought (or crazy). When she sees him and fails to recognize him at first (her “look used to warm him”), she is for some reason shocked (OMG it’s my husband reborn! we presume), but then she smiles when she does, and he rushes to her with a great, cathartic hug. He hugs her tightly, holds her tightly to him, because that expression on her face, that smile, makes him think she has an answer to something, as if “a secret, which only she knew, would slip away.”


E@L gets it. Mum gets it. Alexander doesn’t get it. Said(umlaut over ‘i’) Sayrafiezadeh and Deborah Treisman don’t get it. And in failing to grasp the meaning of this secret, the final, unspoken, irony of the story, the only satisfying conclusion in my opinion, they failed in their responsibility to explain to us how this is not merely a good story but, how E@L sees it now, a VERY good story.

The main unsaid thing in E@L’s opinion… the crucial thing… the unmentioned point of the fucken’ story

Their discussion didn’t mention it. It was unnoticed. I was stunned. These smart people had missed the point. They got so far but failed to take the next step and so failed to find the brilliance of the story.


The secret? The key? Here’s what I think.

Those were Alexander’s mother’s books.

Those were her notes and her underlining.

She was the one who thought that Virginia Wolff had nailed it. The books, the wisdom they contain had brought her solace, they were the therapy she needed to keep going. Fortunately for Alexander, she didn’t drink the Wolfschmidt, but went running with the Wolff…

It was her who had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness. When her husband was alive, when she was in love. She never remarried.

Yep, mother had been depressed since her beloved husband died. Look at the state of the house. She had not had the apartment walls painted since her husband’s death; chairs have broken wicker seats; the books are strewn untidily. She hardly ever had guests. She, like Sloane, is a professional at depression. Is this parallel what attracted Alex to Sloane in the first place?

That smile. She knows that Alex loves her, even thought he never says it explicitly, even though he has, shy, embarrassed, feeling inadequate, avoided answering her motherly questions all these years. She knows that he is disgusted with himself for his incestuous feelings.

His mother holds the secret, not his father. It is not his father he should have been looking for after all, it is his mother. And she was right there in front him. Part of him has been blocking this knowledge. Id, ego, superego. He has been afraid to find her, to reveal his love for her, because he doesn’t deserve it. Pure Freud. If he looks like his father, then he too has a monkey face.

And so, at the end, when she is old and fading, no longer the beauty she once was, it is safe for him to give her love now and safe to accept her love for him, for she does love him and he does deserve her love. It is safe to give her that immensely affecting bear hug. A hug that should have been given years ago… Tears from E@L.


Please listen to the podcast, and tell me if you think this Oedipal stuff with the Chekhovian, O.Henry’ish twist is really there, or if E@L is imagining it, psychoanalysing himself Alexander into it. After which we can discuss the story and disagree (i.e. you can be wrong) or agree: let me know.

As most readers will realize, E@L is expecting only Savmarshmama to help him on this. Everyone else: Surprise me.


Of course I could send an email to Beller himself to see if confirm that he agrees with me.


Why am I feeling obsessed by this? Because I am meeting Mercermachine tomorrow for a coffee and to look at the draft his latest story and to bring something of my own to show to him. And I am therefore running away from this responsibility and am distracting myself with this frivolous post.

Class dismissed.


* this sort of scientifically impossible stuff turns me off story and films. MMmm, wonder if that 8 years cancer is a metaphor of 8 years with Alex? If so, it’s OK.

[Not saying this is a great review and/or discussion, but E@L enjoyed writing it and wishes he had been able to get so impassioned and have such briliant insights (!) when he was at university.]

[The fact that E@L’s father died when he was young and that his mother never remarried is not to be considered relevant here.]

Sleeping Bewdy

Posted in books, Japanese Literature, movies, stuff I should shutup about, waffle by expatatlarge on February 18, 2012

[Do’h! See comments.]

Seduced, mesmerised, captivated, as were we all indubitably, by the gentle pace and the soft visual caresses of that recent Orstrayen fillum, Sleeping Beauty (NOT the Disney pic), E@L allows himself to drift away and lose himself in the obscure world of sex, beauty and death that lies way above our tedious day-to-day existence, into that floating world of timeless daydreaming and soft-core porn.

Sleeping Beauty from Pollen Digital on Vimeo.

Anyone seen it? No? Figured as much. Philistines.

Art? Well it would have made to the select cellar of a hundred million or so unwatched arty-farty fillums, down there with Melancholia and Tree Of Life, but it was not shot in black and white.

So not quite art, perhaps. Not at all in B&W.

But then again, it is a… pale film. There is a lot of paleness to it. Not quite a whiter shade, but it is, you know, pale. Which is not to say it is an insipid or wishy-washy movie. F’kn weird, yes.

You see (no pun intended), Emily Browning – from Sucker Punch and Lemony Snicket – is in a state of near or complete undressedness for large sections for some parts of it, and she has the palest, purest, almost translucent skin. She must have come to HK or Thailand to get some of those skin bleaching treatments which are advertised ubiquitously there/here. Many of the rooms in the flick are white, light grey, cream… such as the cold, clinical white (cliché alert!) of the research-lab where she goes to swallow a gastric tube, yuck, to have her stomach acidity read (by guy looking at a syringe it seems – where the fuck is the proper analyser?). And, um, there are other bits that are white-ish as well. Need to re-watch. Again, wasn’t looking specifically for the colour scheme, was looking for breast and butts and lithe female forms.

Yep, a lot of paleness and a lot of flesh. Surely if that don’t approach a goddam work of art, I don’t know what does. Really, I do not know.

Recently I tried to convince Bruce that it was soft-porn (aka Art), so I re-watched it with him, and no, there’s not nearly so much nudity as I thought. He told me there was bugger all nakedness in fact, and that it was a fucking weird flick and he was going to hit me several times quite hard for making him watch it when he could have gone out for a rub and tug…

Grant you that.

Plot: girl gets put into a deep sleep so that impotent old men can look at her naked in bed.

Not much to go on, you say.

Grant you that, too.

However you have to admit Browning does a terrific job of staying “asleep” (spoiler: she is just acting really, at least I hope she is) in this, like, gross-out scene where veteran Oz actor Chris Haywood does some fancy eye- and nostril-licking. Shudder. And then the big guy has a heart-attack (I think) and drops her off the bed and onto the floor… Ouch! Hope the carpet was soft. If only there was an Academy Award for not reacting!

But, getting serious again, it is the gentle pacing of the editing and/or direction (not as slow as the slow bits in Drive – Antonioni remakes Fast and Furious, guffaw) that is reminiscent of something that I can’t quite place. Of course there is movement amongst all this stillness, call it action, but it is so quiet and understated that it can become a dream, a sleep-walking state… Not just Emily asleep, but the way all the people in the White House move so languorously: they are never in a hurry; and how they talk softly, in what you might call measured tones if you were fond of clichés. That stirring of the tea, with a whisk, Japanese style.1

It reminds me I think, of the way the more typical modern Japanese literature works. I have read something, somewhere, maybe from Soseki, Tanazaki or H. Murakami that has these qualities. Seriously, I *did* think this movie might have some Japanese origin… The old silence speaks volumes thing, the relaxation that creates tension (maybe it doesn’t that 100% successfully here, it is not a completely satisfying film), the speed at which you stay still, the perfect emotional control in a crisis.


Now, sigh, I don’t have the movie on my hard-disk because that would constitute piracy (I didn’t back it up onto this HDD here with me in BKK) to check the credits so I can only look up IMDB or the website.

But I wanted to know what they say is the true source of this storyline, other than Grimm’s Fairy Tales? There seems to be nothing there on the internet – the script is attributed to Julia Leigh, the director. There’s no mention of it being adapted from any other source…


SSSOOOooooooo… I was in Kinokinuya in Paragon shopping centre in BKK today (oh fuck, yesterday) in search of a remaindered copy (because I was not aware of a full price copy in Singapore, and he had mentioned it the other day on his blog, and here I am in Bangkok…) of Tim from Cultural Snow‘s book on the so-called Noughties – so-called because they ARE so called – and of course, having found one eventually: they hid that lost copy pretty damn well, right there under my nose, I continued on browsing.

Beleive it or not, Kinokinuya have a damn fine selection Japanese literature in English, 40% or so of which are written not by Haruki Murakami (this guy has Nobel Prize written all over him, surely, at least if sales are anything to go by. ). One author who is not H. Murakumi is Yasunari Kawabata. A damn great writer whom my friend who did Japanese literature in Tokyo has never heard of, even though, speaking of which, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1968.

Many great little books by Kawabata, some terrific longer ones too (allegedly, I’ve only finished the short ones), and I disappointed not to be able to locate (in Geelong, well d’uh) a copy of Kawabata’s semi-fictional novel, The Master Of Go. This I intended to present to No1 son during the Saturnalia period of gift-giving, to match with the Go set I did manage to find. (Hint: this is significant.2)

Anyways, here in BKK, I did find a book of Kawabata’s short stories, House Of The Sleeping Beauties. It is a Kawabata I haven’t read, wasn’t even aware of. The Izu Dancer (the book that made him famous and loved), The Master of Go, Beauty and Sadness, and Snow Country I have read, some a few times, and this is a small book too, so I purchased it of course. (That, Tim’s 0s, and a history of Bosnia [don’t ask], but where the fuck am I going to find space to put them?)


The book was wrapped in plastic still, so E@L had no idea if there was any correspondence between these stories and the movie with a similar title. He had only a vague feeling of suspicion, of quiet anticipation, until he unwrapped it. It was one of those editions you only see from Japan: a paperback, with a dust-jacket! He turned it over to admire it. Mainly shiny black, with a gold Klimt image on the left side of the front – The Hydra. Admirable. He looked at the colour of the inner, true, cover. It was bright red, surprising, a hidden dangerous colour, concealed like the harsh sudden contrast of a woman’s innermost secret parts, revealed. Kodansha Intl. The title story was originally published, in Japanese, in 1961. This English edition dated from 2004.

He was sitting on a broad chair of Chinese design in a the private room of a gentleman’s parlour in the distinguished suburb of Nana, when he read the first sentence. His paramour de jour, a fragrant blossom of a thing whose name, Khun Ying, rang like a tiny bell to his ears, was bent over, filling the large bath and splashing soapy water onto the rubber mattress on the floor, rendering its friction minimal, surfactants releasing the mineral-hidden slipperiness of water. Her left hand was plashing in the bath, stirring up pillows of luxurious foam.

He almost laughed, almost out loud!

He was not to do anything in bad taste, the woman of the inn warned old Eguchi. He was not to put his finger into the mouth of the sleeping girl, or try anything of that sort.

“Oh ho! Oh Ho!, It is the same story, it is!” he laughed, out loud.

She turned her heart-shaped face towards him. She was naked of course, facing away from him at first. He paused his reading to admire her more attentively as she eased the shining parts of her soft female machine into a semi-profile. He could see the smooth hillock’s outline where her thigh merged with her hip; he could follow the reptilian arc of her spine from its lower dimples to a small inverted triangle of fine hair at the nape of her slender neck where she had tied up the black tresses to keep them from getting too wet and pinned them secure with a white butterfly clip; he could, and did, admire the outline at the soft fall of her small, perfect breast.


“It is the movie,” he said. “It is exactly the same!” 3

“Why you say, moowee, wha moowee?”

The light was glistening on her wet skin where water beaded and fell in haphazard rivulets down the dark contours of her body, like condensation on a chilled beer glass. She stood up, placed her hand on her hip and looked at him, challengingly. Still, she stayed still. He felt quite heady under the power of her undaunted gaze. Against this female energy, this independence and will, he tried to assimilate the timeless beauty of her perfect form with the prejudices against her ancient profession. She was beautiful, perfect, classic, and she defied him to say otherwise. She defied him to judge, to say it made a difference, as if anything he could say or think would ever make a difference.

But still he was entranced by the gentleness of her body as she stood there, immobile. The delicate curve of her elbow, her arm smooth and dark as polished ebony (she was from down south), her hip jutting out to hold it, her knee slightly bent in just such a way; these features gave her entire stance the coquettish form of a famous statue, one he once knew but could not quite place…

He had seen her before, in her pure form: somewhere, she was a work of art.


So I read a bit more of this story. I doesn’t take long to see what is happening here, another couple of paragraphs.

Plot: a girl gets put into a deep sleep so that impotent old men can look at her naked in bed!

This is it – absolutely 100% it. The plot for Sleeping Beauty comes from this Japanese story by Yasanuri Kawabata…



1. I seem to recall (ther’s a lot vagueness in this post) that there is a fairly detailed description of the tea-ceremony in The Master Of Go  (this will make sense eventually, continue reading the post.), or maybe it is in another of Kawabata’s books. Green tea powder is whisked to a froth in the Japanese tea-ceremony, as Rachael Blake does with the sleeping draught she mixes for Emily Browning.


2. Browning’s character is a poor university student who is doing this sleep thing as an easy way for her to make good money. One of the lectures she walks out on in order to get to another of her on-call sleeping jobs is a lecture on a particular game of Go! “Why would the Master, after spending all this time thinking, make such a bad move?” or words to that effect. I seem to recollect this sort of conundrum being close to a section of that other Kawabata book, The Master of Go where an old master loses to a dashing young challenger (we’ve all been there).


Ancient Japanese Go-Go girls…

3. Almost. In the movie, Emily Browning as the candidate for the Sleeping Beauty job, is told that she will not, under any circumstances, be “penetrated”.


There are other points of correspondence too. The first old man holding, lifting and letting drop Browning’s arm – the description of a similar incident in the story is quite mesmerizing and it almost perfectly realized, word for word as it were, in the movie. And then there is… not sure, but there must be more. I’d better read more of the story before I can say.


Anyway, it’s a given.

Again, BING!


Obviously all this was no mystery to Julia Leigh: she put that Go lecture in there for a reason. I am just wondering if she duly and correctly attributed the story to Kawabata in the credits. I’ll have to wait 4hrs until this new torrent downloads, I mean until I get back to Singapore to view my legit DVD.

So there you have it: E@L the literary detective solves the mystery yet again. (There was a mystery?) The movie Sleeping Beauty is, cunningly and in an attempt to divert suspicion, based on a Japanese story called House of The Sleeping Beauties. Who woulda thunk?


(I know none of you give a fuck about any of this, but it’s made my pathetic, wasted-life of a day, such as it was.)

(Also, this post was originally meant to constitute “a full critical analysis” of The Noughties, to be placed “http://culturalsnow.blogspot.com/2012/02/and-your-point-is.html“>here (i.e.: Tim’s blog) first thing in the morning. With footnotes.” Oops. Got distracted, again.)

Kamala Beach – The Sense Of A Holiday

Posted in books, sunsets, surfing, Thailand by expatatlarge on November 10, 2011

As E@L flatmate, P, said on FB – “This Phuket trip is looking like victory already.”


Not really because E@L has had two fights with taxi and tuk-tuk drivers already and done bugger all writing.


He has been reading though. We have to admit that we enjoy the reading experience of the Kindle. For some reason or other E@L can keep reading without falling asleep and can read much faster, certainly more rapidly than he has been in the past few years (falling asleep doesn’t assist the pace, either)…


It only took one day to finish the Booker winner, Julian Barnes’ ‘A Sense Of An Ending’. I presumed foolishly – the only way to presume things these days – that the ending in a novel so titled would therefore make sense. MMmm. ‘Atonement’ this ain’t.

More about The Sense of an Ending

I can’t say that the emotions driving the underlying story really made sense [*** slight spoiler alert***] and for the life of me I can’t see how he (the author/protagonist) could be held responsible for the not quite as bad as that climax. So why her anger and why his guilt and angst? And seriously, how the fuck could he ever “get it”, if it didn’t really involve him (or only marginally) in the first place, he had not heard from or seen any of them (those still alive) for forty years? Is he supposed to be a psychic? OK, he turned to have been a prick, vindictive and nasty (well, she had just dumped him for his best friend), but he didn’t really cause what happened to happen. Or was the fact that it didn’t make sense, the true sense we are to make of this ending?

Admittedly the observations on growing up, making you so wonderfully comfortable inside the mind of a smart – but maybe not smart enough – late teenager, and growing old in the mind of a slightly snarky old man were astoundingly good. Barnes is very practiced at this confessional stuff, these meandering reminiscences, and he hits the nail on the head about the vagaries of memory and the resultant unreliability of history, and what this means for his author’s story here. “If we were in a novel, this wouldn’t happen…” someone, the author Anthony or the author Julian, keeps meta-fictionally observing.

Having been reading Tolstoy opinions on Shakespeare on the Kindle as well, (c’mon, it was $0.99 and I was just skimming) I see that the Great Novelist thinks that the Great Playwright is crap, and that his plays make zero sense and miss the point all the time (the source materials were always better, he says) and what he makes the characters do is simply not how people behave – therefore Shakespeare’s famed intuition into human nature is a pile of crock and everyone is wrong except Tolstoy. And I have to admit he makes many good points.

So Barnes is claiming with this meta-fiction stuff, that what the people in his novel do is not what people in novels would do… So as Beckett said, “No symbols where none intended”, it makes you wonder, if this is not meant to be a novel, why do we keep harping back to The Mother tipping out a “broken” fried egg… Symbol? Intended? I think so.

Oh never-mind, I am probably way off the loop here. I probably have missed the point due my infernal obtuseness, or I have overlooked some crucial adjectival phrase that would have gelled it together for me.

Please, don’t listen to me, it is a GREAT read for the wonderfully funny and piercingly accurate evocations of those smart kids in school thinking themselves smarter than their teachers, the mating game back in those days (60’s, about 10 years before E@L fucked it all up, as it were, for himself) and how not to handle re-unions with ex-girlfriends later in life.


The reason it only took me a day (talk about the compression of time – as Barnes does in this book) is that there are only 150 pages or so in the physical novel. Speaking of senses and endings, it is weird to end a novel and not be able turn the book face-down. Looking at the rear of a Kindle is not the same thing. Closure?


But one cool thing with this book on the Kindle is that it came with the best of Barne’s observations on life already highlighted so I didn’t have to think for myself.


Molly Bloom? YES!

Posted in books, coffee, hipsters working in bookstores, literature, wankers by expatatlarge on October 28, 2011

Two guys, P & T, go into a bookstore, browsing.

– I always like to read the last sentence of a book before I buy it. I find that it tells me most about the book, says P.

– Yeah, me too. Most people grab a book and look at the first sentence, or a bit of the first few pages, agrees T.

– Mistake. First few sentences writer dude’s trying hard to grab the publisher’s attention, you know, like publish this book and give money, sorta thing. It’s not actually what the reader would like he’s thinking of, but what he thinks the publisher will think the reader will like. You know how many subsequent classics have been knocked back by wanker publishers? Lots, it’s fucking criminal. The first sentence can be annoying, but the book still amazingly good. Or the sentence good but the book crap, like the stuff you read.

– Ha ha. But yeah, never thought of *why* I do it, but you’re spot on there. The last sentence or two are about tidying up the plot, the characters. Dude’s only trying hard to impress the reader, make the reader satisfied. Well not always of course, but you know what I mean.

They nod. Such perfect agreement between people is rare.

T, a genre fiction addict, recommends to P a couple of science-fantasy-speculative-horror-magic/realism cult books which he thought everyone should read, but P hasn’t.


“He never saw Molly again.” *

” ‘Don’t ask me why, old sport,’ said Stoney, ‘but somebody up there likes you.’ ”

“I know nothing, and I persisted in the faith that the time of cruel miracles was not past.”

“He walked away and he kept on walking.”


And a few others of varying merit.

P, a pretentious autodidact who uses words like “autodidact” in general conversation, recommends some slipstream books which don’t quite fit the genres, as well as some modernist and post-modernist classics which everyone should read but, naturellement T hasn’t.


“And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out.”

“For a long time there is really nothing to be seen; but after Golgotha’s been burning for an hour or two, it becomes possible to see that underneath the shallow water, spreading down the valley floor, right around the isolated boulder where Randy’s perched, is a bright thick river of gold.”

“And all that is left to me is the sound of snow underfoot.”

“It was summoning all the barges on the river, every last one, and the whole city and sky and the countryside and ourselves, to carry us all away, the Seine too—and that would be the end of us.”

“Now everybody—”


And he picked up one more of the recommended books and held it open in his hands… And he started to read the last sentence.

P paid for his handful of books, had them demagnetized, placed in a biodegradable bag. He waited by the entrance.

Still waiting, he browsed some more new releases that tempted him. The Pale King. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet… He moved his biodegradable bag from one hand to the other, scratched at his groin as a pubic hair seemed to caught over the end of his cock. This irritated him. It was too long since he had last shaved his balls.

He wanted to call out to T to hurry the fuck up, but in a bookstore such as this one in Carlton, it is like a library but with allegedly cool people who have eyebrow studs and ponytails (males) and pierced lips and blue hair (females) behind the counter, and not little old ladies who always recommend Agatha Christie. It is not cool to yell here.

P gives up. Fuck, I’ll go have a long macchiato, he thinks. I’ll met T in the coffee shop he loves, the one next door..

His second long macchiato is down, some biscotti down. Despite his shaking hands, he is in a dream world, reading one of the books he has just bought. It is completely weird; moralistic, simplistic, and funny, and he was hooked by the expression “chrono-synclastic infundibula.” T is still not back. P sighs, pays the black-clad, blue-haired waitress with the stud though her lip and heads back to the bookstore and find T, last seen reading over 30 minutes ago.

T is standing where he left him, still immersed in the book, turning a page.

– Come on mate, I thought you were only going to read the last sentence!

– I am.

– What the fuck book are you reading?

– You recommended it, man.

He turns to book over to show P the cover.

P groans.



[Sorry about that folks – it was just meant to be a three line joke but as usual, I got carried a way. The real Tom, from whom this completely imaginary conversation originated when he joked about the title of this post being on a t-shirt somewhere (or something like that), has neither (all) the characteristics of the hyopthetical T nor (all) those of the hypothetical P, but he is a well-read bastard. Both characters, says E@L, c’est moi.

And there is purely the smug satisfaction of being a wanker dilettante like E@L for those who can tell me which books are quoted above: they are last lines, of course. OK, a candy bar or a Guinness, your choice, if you can get more than five. I’m presuming most people I know will get the book T is reading… If not, I’m getting some new friends.]

* The author added this sentence as an afterthought in order to prevent him from writing a sequel, as in — hey, she’s dead. It didn’t work. (Thanks Paul.)

Ye Olde Post – KTS – EOSS

Posted in books, stupidity by expatatlarge on September 14, 2011

Might have posted the following text (at the end of this waffle) before, but I am in the process of transferring some OneNote files into Evernote so that I can have them at home (on the Xoom, on the Galaxy, on the MacAir), and some are quite interesting and new to me. It’s called EOSS.

Early Onset Stupidity Syndrome, had it since I was a kid. The ability to remember trivial shit, unless it is required for a quiz night, and work/medical related stuff, but forget a person’s name 1.5secs after being introduced. To forget what I had written, what I had thought, what my opinions are.

Saw a tall guy on the street yesterday with severe varicose veins. Instantly I thought – Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome. Wonder if he has some port-wine body-marks somewhere.

Why do I know this, but not the capital of Uganda? That was one of the question the brains-trust should have answered correctly last night. One of the guys has a PhD. In fluid dynamics, so not much help with African capitals in that speciality, although he was correct in putting down Algeria as the African nation that comes first in the alphabet.

The ‘al’ in alphabet, and the ‘al’ in Algeria are both of Arabian origin, right? No, only the later, Right? FIIK.

BTW, in KTS, the veins become varicose in because there are fewer valves in the superficial femoral veins than is usual, often only one. (I know this from a lecture a friend, the first sonographer in Australia with a PhD I believe. His thesis concerned venous incompetence of the leg – varicose veins.) Once this valve gives way, and it does eventually, even as a kid, because it is holding up a much larger volume of blood than it would if the column were shared amongst several valves, and then the distal veins distend.

Here is the bit of text I found…


I procrastinate. Like the purist marshmallow that I apparently am, I dither. I look for excuses and for distractions. Like Amazon.com

A package arrived today from Ye* Olde** Blightey. Thought I’d lash myself about the head with some of the British experimentalists of the 60’s. Christine Brooke-Rose, B.S. Johnson, Ann Quin. Stuff you probably won’t see on the rotating racks at Suvarnabhumi Airport.

Why? Because. Books make a virtual me.

They are cushions. To rest my head upon, to muffle the gun-shot, to torture myself with, a la the Spanish Inquisition***


* the Y is “thorn”, a printer’s mark for the “th” sound.

** the “e” is silent. Hence the entire expression is pronounced the same as if it were written The Old Blightey. [Know this from some book by Anthony Burgess, probably one of the Enderby novels.]

*** Cardinals were not involved so much in the Spanish Inquisition. In fact other than the (usually Dominican ) Inquisitor himself, everyone else involved was a member of the laity. [Biggles was not a common name in Spain, at the time, either.]

Words On Paper

Posted in books, writers by expatatlarge on September 8, 2011

You’re living for nothing now,
I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.

Famous Blue Raincoat: Leonard Cohen


E@L has had several great out loud laughs in the last few days. Not least was induced by this photo he found on Joanne’s I Have Seen The Whole Of The Internet blog-like funny thing aggregator. You know, the type of blog that gets hits. He can’t put the photo up here or he’d just keep giggling and not finish the post…


And the other bunch of guffaws, many of them embarrassingly public, were from reading Steve Hely’s winner of the award for the least subtle book title of the year,

How I Became a Famous Novelist
How I Became A Famous Novelist.

Hely is a writer for 30 Rock (love it), Family Man (not seen it) and The Office (US Version, not seen much of it, but it’s funny), and you can certainly see the type of idiosyncrasies of many of the characters in these shows in the characters in this book. That is a GOOD thing, because, well, E@L laughs out loud at the idiosyncratic characters in 30 Rock. So he is the target demographic here.

Plus, natch, he had been planning on being a famous novelist himself one day. Soon. -ish.

The book rams a hot satirical skewer up the arse of the publishing industry (possibly, well, for all E@L knows about it, Hely could be completely making it up) and not to mention the banality-loving mouth-open-when-they-read public (E@L has sinus issues) that keeps the industry tearing down trees and polluting the rivers and oceans with run-off from the pulp mills for fun, profit and entertainment. Dumb readers. Out there. In general. Not you. Not me.

It’s a hoot. If you do nothing else, grab a copy in the airport bookstore (they still have them?) and turn to the charts on pages 42 and 44, at the end of Chapter 2. Hely has written a facetious NYT best-seller list; it is an hilarious send-up. Guffaw 1.

In Chapter 3 he lists his guy’s – Pete Tarshaw – 16 Rules Of Writing a Bestseller. E@L is not going to run through them all here as that would be, like, a spoiler. More like copyright infringement. OK, except for these two.

Rule 9: At dull points include descriptions of delicious meals. Guffaw 2.

Rule 16: Include plant names. Guffaw 3.


True story. At one point in time, E@L was preparing to consider getting ready to start making notes for his N-word [not *that* n-word] yet again, and thought, fuck, in all these books you read the people must be, like, fucking botanists! He thought, fuck I’ve gotta flesh out (as it were) the strip-joint and b-j stories with something else, like, um, nature walks. There’s nature in Hong Kong, right? There are mountains, hey, must be nature somewhere nearby.

He remembers getting bugged by all these red-bodied dragonflies buzzing over his pool, or swarming halfway along Bowen Rd path and wanted to, you know, make it seem like he knew about dragonflies the way Nabokov knows butterflies, for the N-word. So he went looking up names of the many types of dragonfly in Hong Kong.

He kids you not.

Phew, enough of that shit now. “He saw a lot of dragonflies. They were near trees and some flowers. On the mountain. ”


Pete’s goal is to get famous quickly so he can turn up at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding the next year and show them all that he is not a loser. E@L is not going to tell you how well that plan turns out. Comedy, right? So he spends several months banging on his typewriter, and hey presto – famous. Or infamous, whatever, no such thing as bad publicity…

Two points of order, Australians (the groom-to-be in an Aussie) do no called rugby “rugger”. They call it rugby. Neither, when cheering do they shout “hurrah!” (wtf? – is this Goodbye Mr Fuck And Chips?), but “hooray!” (or “Oi Oi Oi”).

Other than those minor points, the book is an epic of hilarious literary slapstick. OK it gets a bit hokey at the very end, (Rule 6: Evoke confusing sadness at the end), but then, you know, endings… and beginnings.

Pete Tarshaw was not a blocked writer though. He already has a way with words, he churns out brilliant faux applications for foreigners who desire the prestige of America’s ivied universities. So sit and write? Can.


The movie Limitless, another case in point.

Eddy is a self-proclaimed writer who has been not writing a book for 9 years. Not one word. Sit and write? Cannot.

Now, a few chemicals and he pops a great book out in four letters-falling-from-the-ceiling days.

E@L wishes. It takes him four days to finish a paragraph, a sentence, sometimes just a word.


The best modern book on this theme, well the best E@L has read and can remember, is John Colapinto’s (4.5 stars on Amazon)

More about About the Author
About The Author.

In this one, Cal is supposed to be a writer, but expends all his energy on stories he tells of his sexual shenanigans over dinner parties, and in the end, never puts words on paper. His quiet cycle-riding flatmate Stewart has been taking it all in… When Stewart dies in a crash, Cal finds a manuscript in his flatmate’s room, a brilliantly written novel that contains all the tales that Cal has been telling, the ones that he was supposed to writing in his novel.

E@L read this one in Hong Kong. E@L told his buddies how much he liked the novel, but their response was unexpected, though it should have been expected. They wanted E@L to keep telling them those stories of his outrageous action-adventures in the underbelly of the expat elite (in the what?!), and they would write it down as a novel and sell it as their own.

E@L of course did not believe them, just as Cal did not even know that Stewart was capable of writing, but it did stimulate him to start a blog. He thought it best to get some of the stories down, as a copyright sort of thing.

But he would save the best of these stories, the one’s he thought were the funniest and that meant most self-deprecating in most cases, for the N-word.


And you know, E@L is getting old. Sure he looks great and jovial, sprightly, adventurous (he wore no underpants when he walked up to the shop last night – he forgot to put them on) and still young at heart. [Heart? let’s not talk about cardiac disease in the family, OK?]

Realistically, unless some medication comes his way, the N-word will not eventuate. If only for the fact that he has too many good buddies now and too much of a social life.

Well is he is feeling old. And he is feeling that every second word he types is misspelled, that all the ‘i’ before ‘e’ stuff that he used to be so pedantic about is gone, and that ellipses in his all sentences. Sorry, that *there are* ellipses in all his sentences. He feels that his hands are too slow for his brain, or his brain too slow for the keyboard, or that the letters on the keyboard are jumping around in order to confuse him.

So he is sitting and writing them down now, all the inappropriate stories he has only ever told over dinners in mixed company, all the best ones.

The Taiwanese sumo wrestler story, the Cheshire Cat story, the getting rolled by a hooker with metal staples in her tits story, the first-time rim story, the two Mongolian girl’s story, the nearly got a b-j in a bar that doesn’t find that stuff amusing story, some Bangkok stories (the “oh, don’t tell me you’re a man” story, for example), some Singapore stories. He used to say that in his first two years in Hong kong he had already tallied up more *interesting* stories than he had in his previous forty years. Well, he’s been in Asia for more than 13 years now…

He is writing them down before he forgets them, before he has to dig out a thesaurus to look for a word that means ‘thesaurus’ and before he has to Google everything, everyfuckingthing.

People tell him he is not so funny any more. Maybe he has lost his sense of humour. The rest of his senses can’t be far behind.


p.s. E@L’s friend Mike McClung, aka Mercer Machine, has been head down and arse up recently too – writing that means, working hard ai it. He has a heap of fantasy stories coming out all over the place. Check his blog for details.

( Hang on! Doesn’t a heap have to be all in one place, sort of, you know, by definition?)


My favorite version of Raincoat, Tori Amos from the Tower of Song tribute album. Apologies for the corny video.