Monday, 20 January 2003

Clara Schumann, blue bears & bush fires

Listening to:

Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem.

Just read:

Walter Moers, The 13½ lives of Captain Bluebear.

This is a fun book. It’s the story of a blue bear, who lives and adventures in a fantastic continent full of strange people and monsters. Accompanied by the author’s own illustrations, the inhabitants and their homes are conveyed very vividly. The book is really just a series of relatively disconnected (13½ of them) episodes featuring Bluebear in a different locale in each. A book such as this is an exercise in whimsy, and it stands or falls on the strength of the strange and wacky inventions that the author has dreamed up. I’d say that Moers definitely succeeds. Memorable moments include the journey through a giant’s head, a career as tall-tale-teller, being a student at Professor Nightingale’s exclusive university, a spell inside a perpetual tornado, and the final climactic show-down with the megalomaniac master of the massive SS Moloch. The illustrations are great.

Janice Galloway, Clara.

This book is a strange hybrid between novel and biography. I think it definitely has to count as fiction because of the way that Galloway puts herself into her subject’s head and purports to speak for her. Nonetheless, I was quickly convinced that the story was an accurate one, and that the details and history were all there. (Perhaps I came to it knowing just enough to be easily misled.) Anyway, the book’s subject is Clara Schumann, née Weick, and it covers her life from childhood up to the death of her husband, Robert Schumann. This is long enough for Clara to become an international star (as a concert pianist), to fall in love with Robert, to stress over career (she was capable of earning much more than he ever was), and to have to support him as he sickens with mental illness.

I greatly enjoyed the whole book. Clara Schumann’s was definitely an interesting life, particularly up to Galloway’s cut-off point, and Galloway tells it very well. Her central characters are all believable and engaging, particularly Clara herself, Robert Schumann, and Clara’s father. Johannes Brahms (author of a certain requiem) makes a brief appearance towards the end of the story, as do other musical stars of the period, the Mendelssohns, Chopin, Paganini, Liszt and Joachim.

Now reading:

Roy Jenkins, Gladstone, another 19th century biography.

I’m now living in Canberra. Canberra has just had a disastrous weekend, with 368 homes destroyed by fire, and four people killed. Our university flat is on the other side of town from the fires, so we weren’t in any danger ourselves. Instead we got to walk around the centre of town on Saturday. It was incredibly hot, with a hot wind blowing smoke across the sky from the west. This caused the Sun to cast an eerie orange-yellow light across everything. While waiting for a bus, we saw two fire-fighting helicopters fly across the sky. A state of emergency has been declared, and you can read official status information on the web.