Simon Willis


    Found in Translation: Simon Willis enjoys a Colombian novel of corrupted innocence, published in English more than 30 years after it was written

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, October 10th 2014

    The judging panel for the Nobel prize in literature is, if it's anything, a very well-funded book club. Sometimes it chooses writers you've heard of, or even read. Sometimes it chooses writers whose names you have to Google. Yesterday, after I'd found out that Patrick Modiano was French and not Italian (as I'd guessed from his name), I saw that a few of his books had been translated into English. So taking up the recommendation I headed to the library, scanned along the Ms, and found a short book called "Night Rounds". It was my first Patrick Modiano and it won't be my last.

    "Night Rounds" was written in 1969, and published in English two years later. At little more than 100 pages, it's brief and intense. The setting is Paris during the second world war. Phosphorus bombs fall from the sky, razed houses line the streets in a jumble of broken beams and shredded Toile de Jouy. And dashing through the streets, driving a white Bentley loaned to him by his criminal superiors, is the narrator—20 years old, a petty thief, extortionist, whore and "model son". It's a story of double-crossing and betrayal. More than that it's a story of moral panic, of a behavioural vacuum in a ruined city that sucks in wrong 'uns and strays. In essence it's a thrilling combination of detective novel and existential drama.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, September 23rd 2014Ted Hughes didn't just write a lot of poems about animals—about pikes and jaguars and thought-foxes. He thought of poems as animals.

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    Short Read: for his pick of the exhibitions, Simon Willis chooses a retrospective of an artist who has tackled German history head on

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, September 20th 2014

    When they were girls, one wanted to be Rudolf Nureyev and the other a knight errant. As grown-ups, they've imagined their way into the minds of Henry IV and Thomas Cromwell. In this video, shot earlier this month at an event hosted by Intelligent Life, Harriet Walter and Hilary Mantel talk with the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker about the blurred edges between being a man and a woman. 

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    Photo Essay: after four decades of military dictatorship, Myanmar is taking faltering steps towards democracy. Simon Willis spoke to the photographer Matthias Messmer about capturing a country with a complicated present and a murky future

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, September 19th 2014

    The novelist Hilary Mantel and the actress Harriet Walter may have different jobs, but they have a similar challenge: how to inhabit historical characters, and in particular male characters. For Mantel that character is Thomas Cromwell, the subject of her two Booker-winning novels "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies". As well as Elizabeth I, Walter has played Brutus and is currently rehearsing Henry IV. On September 11th, they met on stage in London at an event hosted by Intelligent Life and the Royal Society of Literature and chaired by the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker. In this video, they talk about how they get inside a character's mind and body on the page and on the stage.

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     ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 20th 2014Of the talks I've been to at this year's Edinburgh International Books Festival, those dedicated to non-fiction have tended to be fuller than those about fiction.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 19th 2014"Beyond Zero: 1914-1918", a collaboration between the composer Aleksandra Vrebalov and the film-maker Bill Morrison, had its European premiere last night at the Edinburgh International Festival. It consists of music for strings, performed at the Festival Theatre by the Kronos Quartet, and fragments of original footage from the first world war, played on a screen behind them. The footage, much of which has never been seen before, was shot on 35mm nitrate film, and since it was made 100 years ago that film has become cracked and blistered and blurred by time. Morrison made digital scans of that original damaged film, and has edited together a sequence which takes us from the recruitment drives and troop training to battles on land and in the air, as well as the aftermath of injury. Vrebalov has written a score both mournful and martial, always intense, which integrates original recorded speeches and sounds. The result is a beautifully woven piece of reclamation and remembrance.

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    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, August 19th 2014"Minetti", by the Austrian novelist and dramatist Thomas Bernhard—staged at Edinburgh's Lyceum Theatre—is a play on a play. The eponymous Minetti is an old actor who hasn't worked for 30 years. He walks into a hotel lobby in Ostend. It's New Year's Eve and there's a snowstorm blowing outside. He's there for a meeting, he says, with the artistic director of a small-town theatre where he's due to play King Lear. But the director isn't there, and while he waits he talks, endlessly, to anyone hanging around—the concierge, a girl waiting for her boyfriend, a mysterious woman getting drunk on her own—about art, provincialism and how he lost his job as a theatre director in Lübeck and spent the rest of his life in a tiny town called Dinkelsbühle, where he grew vegetables, bottled sauerkraut and rehearsed Lear every day in front of the mirror. The parallels between Lear and Minetti are obvious: both have lost their power, their influence, and their minds, and if Minetti doesn't knock about the lobby naked as Lear does on the heath, at least his underpants are showing.

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