Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Salon: They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy

Two classic books arrived yesterday from Serpent's Tail: The Piano Teacher and They Shoot Horses Don't They?

I picked up They Shoot Horses Don't They? this morning and just finished it. The book was first published in 1935 during the depression, and so it makes particularly interesting reading now. People are poor, and Gloria and the narrator of the book see their salvation in films (i.e. celebrity) just as many people do today. Their version of the X Factor is the dance marathon. For the dancers time comes in two hour slots, the last ten minutes of which are spent resting. They have to learn to sleep while dancing, and eat while having their legs massaged.

The reader learns at the beginning that the narrator has ended up being found guilty of murdering Gloria, and this fact, and the desire to find out how and why this happened, drives the reader forward. From the beginning, then, their dance has a desperation and tragedy. It is a tango for the exhausted, an dirge-like endurance test in which the dance-organisers are always thinking up a new twist to torment hapless participants. There is a 'Derby' and a run; and then a cynical wedding. Their entire world becomes the dance-hall on the pier, and the most powerful part for me was the narrator's accumulating sense of imprisonment. He begins to yearn for the sun and appreciates the small glimpses of the outside with an increasing yearning. It reminded me of the claustrophobic sense I get from reading good SF novels; the need to be in an alien world in order to be able to adequately comment about the real world we share.

It's a mesmerising tale; one that becomes more mesmerising as I read and I can quite see why Sidney Pollack felt moved enough to convert it into a film.

I have already seen the Piano Teacher as a film and remember it as moody and startling; just flicking through the pages I think the book looks at least as good as the film so looking forward to reading this one too.

Apart from that I have been continuing to read Cousin Bette on my Kindle - and very much entertained by the way Balzac imposes his views on the world as narrator. He comes from an age in which it is perfectly okay to generalise about race in both disparaging and enthusiastic terms, which I find amusing. He also has a lot to say about the art world and the idea that some (second-rate) artistes seem to consider it to be far more important to have the trappings and lifestyle rather than the true artiste who is driven quietly to create, and considers the socialising and the celebrity to be an irritating distraction. I suspect Balzac would not be on twitter or facebook, and would probably view blogging as something to be avoided at all costs.

Meanwhile, on my ipod, I have been listening to the audiobook Trespass by Rose Tremaine narrated by Juliet Stephenson. This is a splendid production from both the writer and the narrator and I am enjoying every word. Silkworms have more than a walk-on role so this makes me especially happy.


Anonymous Laurel-Rain Snow said...

Oh, I've been wanting to read Trespass...I'm not a fan of audio books. I am a "visual" person, so it is difficult for me. However, I think I might be able to listen to short books in the car on long trips.

I've seen the film of They Shoot Horses...", so this might be a book I'd like to read.

Thanks for sharing. Here's my Salon post, in case you'd like to visit:

You can click on my name....

Sun Oct 17, 04:40:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I'm finding Trespass, superb, Laurel-Rain! I highly recommend.

Sun Oct 17, 05:03:00 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

Coincidently, I was recently thinking about the film version of They Shoot Horses,which I saw many years ago when it was first released.
I might see if I can find the book.

Re Rose Tremain's Trespass - a very interesting novel someone gave me for my birthday, though I had every intention of buying it anyway. I'm a big fan of Rose Tremain and her novel Restoration is one of my all time favourite books.

Mon Oct 18, 11:18:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Anne: I have found that every book I have listened to on audiobooks I have loved (except for one). In fact, I have loved them so much that I wonder if it was in fact it was the book that was so great or it was something to do with the way the book was being administered. I'm wondering if it was because the book was being slowly dripped into my head, the whole business requiring little effort on my part, that I was more impressed than if I'd read in the usual manner. It makes me think of certain drugs; how they are more effective if they are sniffed or injected into the blood rather than swallowed like laudanum.

The only book which I haven't loved - Nostromo by Joseph Conrad - I suspect was simply because the narrator wasn't clear to me. This was like looking at a work of art behind a cloudy glass. I could discern small flashes of brilliance, but then there were long passages where I couldn't quite make out what was being said. A great shame. I think I have going to have to read the book.

Tue Oct 19, 08:04:00 am  

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