Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The sibs

Empire of the Sun - J.G. Ballard

With the recent focus on Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl who was kidnapped and held prisoner for eight years, I have been thinking of the best book I know on the Stockholm syndrome: J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. In my opinion, it is also the best novel in English about the Second World War and is tied with Penelope Fitzgerald's brilliant The Bookshop for the title of greatest book to lose the Booker Prize. Based on J.G. Ballard's own internment in a Japanese camp at age eleven, the novel is the story of James (Jim) Graham, the son of a British businessman living in Shanghai, who is seperated from his parents in the rush to escape the city after Pearl Harbor. Jim survives under Japanese occupation, in the city and Lunghua Camp & Airfield as well as on a death march back to Shanghai, and he turns desperation, the adaptability of youth, a love of aviation and a life-long eccentricity into identification with his captors.

Of course, Jim identifies with everybody; critics have frequently noted that the author's non-central characters in every one of his works seem to be dream-like reflections of the protagonist, always a Ballard stand-in. Before and after Empire of the Sun, Ballard was a science fiction writer who made "the alien planet is Earth" his motto, and in many ways I would be unsurprised to learn the novelist hatched out of an egg from a distant world. Jim/Ballard is one of the great oddball characters in modern literature: isolation and psychological trauma made flesh, he is a very dislikable boy who you somehow end up loving and admiring. He has two mentor foils, the clever thief Basie and Dr. Ransome, who is my favourite character of the book. The latter, like Jim, works both feverishly and emotionlessly to survive; he tutors Jim while slaving to save people long past saving, to bring hope to a community after he has lost his own. The portrait of the Japanese, with both their casual brutality and their fierce dignity, is fascinating. (For more reading on the subject of the kamikaze pilots, check out the last chapter of Ivan Morris's tragically out-of-print The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan.)

A word on the very underrated Spielberg film adaption: an excellent, beautiful and moving tribute, it demonstrates extremely well the problems of making a movie from a great book. Penned by Tom Stoppard, starring John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson and an absolutely astonishing thirteen-year-old Christian Bale, it was so mesmerizing that it somehow offended fans of the book by competing with their visual memory of the story. (The most memorable scenes of the movie are dialogue-free). I love the early shots of Bale as Jim, living a joyfully destructive few weeks in his abandonned home compound. Two of the marvelous later moments of both the book and the movie, however, seem just a little off in the latter, forced almost: when Jim sees the atomic bomb go off far to the east of Shanghai and when he tries to resurrect the dead Japanese boy in the paddies near the airfield. The problem is, how are you going to compete with this?:

"It faded within a few seconds, but its pale sheen covered everything within the stadium, the looted furniture in the stands, the cars behind the goal posts, the prisoners on the grass. They were sitting on the floor of a furnace heated by a second sun. Jim stared at his white hands and knees, and at the pinched face of the Japanese soldier, who seemed disconcerted by the light. Both of them were waiting for the rumble of sound that followed the bomb-flashes, but an unbroken silence lay over the stadium and the surrounding land, as if the sun had blinked, losing heart for a few seconds. Jim smiled at the Japanese, wishing that he could tell him that the light was a premonition of his death, the sight of his small soul joining the larger soul of the dying world."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Caron Eau de Reglisse

While not a Caron classic in the rich, complex and dark manner, I think this is a very nicely done, modern scent that succeeds mightily at being the light-hearted little number at which the house appeared to be aiming. It is fun and fresh - fresh not like so many of the "clean" white musk or soapy scents out there, but rather in a brightly sheer way. The opening is first and foremost fizzy, with an effervescence that I find mimics the refreshing sparkle of carbonation more successfully than its competitors (L'Artisan Ananas Fizz or Yves St. Laruent's Yvresse/Champagne). Victoria of the Bois de Jasmin blog has compared the scent to Pernod, which is quite accurate. The ginger and nutmeg are prominent and the licorice rooty; as the pop fades, the scent wears with the spice and nut notes of brown bark for some minutes. The drydown, a skin-hugging blend of vanilla, musk and well-behaved patchouli, appears rather early on the scene for me. Overall, Eau de Reglisse lacks the sillage and lasting power I prefer; I'm not the sort who needs a full bottle of many light summer fragrances, and if I was looking for a sweat-fighter with licorice or anise, I might have been tempted by the chilly pine forest of L'Artisan's new Fou D'Absinthe. (Luckily, I was not. Is there a saint to pray to for overburdened credit cards?) Still, this is a cute one with some fabulous opening moments. Eau de Reglisse was released as a Limited Edition fragrance to be discontinued this month, and I have not yet heard if its apparent popularity will save it from the chopping block. It is available, as usual, nowhere near me (Caron boutiques, Saks); find it online at the fabulous German site First in Fragrance.

Monday, August 28, 2006

By Author

J.G. Ballard
Empire of the Sun

Evan S. Connell
Mr. and Mrs. Bridge

By House


Eau de Reglisse

Christian Dior
Bois D'Argent and Eau Noire

Creative Universe

Estée Lauder
Azurée Body Oil Spray


Frédéric Malle
Une Fleur de Cassie
Une Rose

Gucci Pour Homme

Jean Patou
Que-sais je?

Fleur de Narcisse

Parfums de Nicolaï
Nicolaï Pour Homme

Serge Lutens
Borneo 1834
Douce Amere

Les Eaux Boisées

Tom Ford
Black Orchid

Vivienne Westwood

Yves St. Laurent
Rive Gauche Pour Homme

Saturday, August 26, 2006