"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
For more information about the books of Nicholas Murray
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Laugh? I Nearly Cried.

Geneva, where I have spent the past week (don't ask) is a peaceful sort of place, I thought, until I got a whiff of teargas earlier. The city is so neat and tidy and full of solid bourgeois moneyed Calvinist respectability that even the yobs and hoodies look positively unthreatening but today there seem to have been at least three manifestations: one was a string of tractors chugging through the city centre (farmers doing what they do so well, asking for more); people protesting against people protesting against mosque-building ("a third Crusade?" asked one poster on a neat set of boards provided by the municipality – we don't do flyposting in this town); and a march against the arms trade. I think it was the latter that brought out the heavy police in crash helmets and visors and tear-gas guns at tea time. I was waiting for a bus outside the central station when they started firing tear gas canisters at the demonstrators, without bothering to warn the public. Imagine British riot police (not exactly covered in glory) exploding tear-gas canisters on the concourse at Paddington without bothering to tell anyone. It's horrible stuff, stinging one's cheeks, making one's eyes red, naturally, and bringing on the swine-flu-style coughs. And my crime was waiting to catch a flipping bus to Ferney-Voltaire where the great man of the Enlightenment stands on at least two pedestals in the town. Moi, I'm flying back tomorrow!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Bartók: 'Not for the Faint-Hearted'

Bartók's "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" currently being staged by the English National Opera at The Coliseum and paired in a double bill with Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" – that score still breathtaking after all these years – is a powerful work, dramatically and musically, and everyone acquits themselves well has been the general opinion.

Based on Perrault's fairy tale about a woman fatally drawn into the orbit of an evil man, it's a grisly tale but the staging by Daniel Kramer concentrates on the sexual violence and his climax is particularly unpleasant and disturbing. The crowd loved it of course as they always do and the whistling and joyful stamping of feet that accompanied the closing image of a woman's genitals on the point of being attacked by Bluebeard's drawn sword, knew no bounds. One shouldn't read too much into this, perhaps, and it's worth remembering Patrick White's acid comment about theatrical audiences "suffering from the clap". Moreover, violence against women is so much an integral part of popular culture that one can't expect the desperately crowd-pleasing opera managements to buck lucrative trends. I was nevertheless glad to see that at least one critic had the courage to challenge this scene which The Guardian blandly called "not for the faint-hearted". In the Independent on Sunday Anna Picard pointed out that this "pornographic flourish" was what it was and said: "a line is crossed that no excellence of musicianship or stagecraft can mitigate". Even if you don't agree it is good to see a critic having the independence of mind to dissent.