Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

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Corner Gas (TV sitcom), by Brent Butt, Virginia Thompson, Mark Farrell & David Storey

Brent Butt, writer and creator of “Corner Gas”.

Brent Butt, writer and creator of Corner Gas.

At the time that I relocated to Canada from South Africa, I thought that the situation down South was pretty depressing. The tension in the country was even showing in the work of local comedians who seemed to have turned bitter and defensive. Comedy was either viciously political or superficial and slapstick. Making fun of public figures could get you sued. My impression was that South Africans had lost the ability to laugh at themselves. It was not a good time to be politically incorrect.

Then I arrived in Canada and saw my first episode of the Canadian sitcom Corner Gas. First I thought; ’¿Qué…?!’ Then, ‘Oh, this is funny!’ It was philosophical, but also witty – in a dry, sneaky sort of way. There are poignant, reflective moments and some hard truths underlying the banter in some episodes, which gave them more depth than one would expect from a sitcom. (Continue reading…)

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The Piano, by Jane Campion and Kate Pullinger

On the subject of erotic fiction, some of the most gripping sex scenes I’ve ever read are from The Piano – A Novel, by Jane Campion and Kate Pullinger. Set during the mid-19th century on the West coast of New Zealand, it revolves around “Ada McGrath”, who arrives in New Zealand harbouring a passion for playing her piano, but does not speak, and her efforts to get back her piano from one of the locals, “George Baines”. It’s one of my all-time favourite novels because I understand the motivation of the characters; I have a great love of pianos, especially other people’s pianos. I gravitate towards them like some people do to other people’s cats. (Continue reading the review, or continue reading about the business of erotic romances.)

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Secretary, by Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Mary Gaitskill (short story) 

secretaryOn the subject of erotic fiction, an unsettling and memorable example is Secretary, the 2002 film, in which the reserved secretary gets involved with her boss who is into S&M. It has the same set-up as Fifty Shades of Grey, but more is achieved while less is said. The film is based on a short story from the book Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill (who is, or was, really into S&M). Gaitskill thinks the movie script version of her story is “too nice”. I would not say the movie is nice. I’d call it restrained, or down-beat. By the time these two characters eventually do the deed, the reader, and viewer, is positively pent up with expectation. Like the decoration of the office in which the characters find themselves, their interaction is spare and controlled, so that the emotion that surfaces eventually shines like a bright spot of blood on a white napkin, remarkable by its contrast. (Continue reading…)