Friday, June 15, 2007

The pros and cons of Google

Also in today's blog
Shock on page 12 of A Passage to India
Comment problems

While in hospital in April, I was given a pot plant which last week put out five bright scarlet flowers; unexpected behaviour considering all the flowers so far have been pale pink and completely different in appearance from the new flowers.

On Sunday morning I typed what I thought was the plant's name into Google's search slot. At the bottom of the first page of links was a message – "Did you mean [plant's name spelt differently]?"

Clicking on the message brought up pictures of my pot plant. I was greatly impressed by Google's helpfulness.

However, returning to my home page, I found Google had installed its search facility in the left hand sidebar in place of the History/View/Search facility and I couldn't find a way to uninstall it. An agitated search of Google's help pages followed. No help there. Eventually I discovered that the cure for the problem was simple. All I had to do was hit the History button and the left hand side-bar was back to normal.

But I don't think Google should have done an installation without asking permission. That said they are a wonderful resource.

Shock on p 12 of A Passage to India


Re-reading, after a long interval, E M Forster's most famous novel, which I didn't enjoy the first time, I came upon this on p 12 of the Penguin paperback edition..

"The hookah had been packed too tight, as was usual in his friend's house, and bubbled sulkily. He coaxed it. Yielding at last, the tobacco jetted up into his lungs and nostrils, driving out the smoke of burning cow dung that had filled them as he rode through the bazaar. It was delicious. He lay in a trance, sensuous but healthy, through which the talk of the two others did not seem particularly sad – they were discussing as to whether or no it is possible to be friends with an Englishman. Mahmoud Ali argued that it was not, Hamidullah disageed, but with so many reservations that there was no friction between them."

It was "as to whether or not it is possible" which shocked me. Four unnecessary words. Surely a good writer, re-reading that paragraph would have deleted "as to" and "or not"?

At his page at Wikipedia, I read that Forster "spent a second spell in India in the early 1920s as the private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas. The Hill of Devi is his non-fictional account of this trip. After returning from India he completed his last novel, A Passage to India (1924), which became his most famous and widely-translated work."

Unless it picks up in the second half, I'm still baffled by why it has been reprinted so many times when a far better book, Peking Picnic, has not.

Comment problems

.
Richard Havers managed to get his interesting comment on yesterday's blog online, but Jenny Haddon, who has just finished a strenuous two-year term as Chairman of the Romantic Novelists' Association, was unable to post her comment on Ann Bridge successfully, and although a copy of Adrian Weston's comment was in my Yahoo Inbox early yesterday, so far it has not appeared under Comments on the blog.

So I'm posting it here –

"Sadly, what I suspect it will take to resuscitate Ann Bridge is a glossy Fiennes studded film adaptation of Peking Picnic (which I have to say would make a fabulous film) - so whoever it is that her rights reside with. Get busy - put it in front of the Hollywood (and UK) scouts!

I'd say K. Scott Thomas as the central character... or in this ageist world is she too old?"

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia I've learnt that Kristin Scott Thomas is 47. Have seen a couple of her films, Four Weddings and The Horse Whisperer, but can't remember her clearly. Which is not to say she wouldn't be well cast.

There's an interesting piece about the book by a present-day foreign resident in China here.

Extract: "Thanks to the author’s detailed descriptions, Peking Picnic actually proved a worthy guidebook, illuminating the former life of the ancient courtyards and lending us insight on how they’ve changed over the past 70 years. As we strolled through thousand-year-old gardens we discovered a well-trodden path toward enlightenment … though thankfully, unlike the characters in the book, we returned from our wanderings unmolested by warlords."

PS the last link brings up a 403 Forbidden message. But if you hit the link in the message, the article will come up. I have emailed the site's webmaster.

10 Comments:

At 16 June, 2007, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

Now an interesting thought on the Forster/Bridge compare & contrast thang: when Forster wrote A Passage to India he was at the height of his fame/influence - one of the eminent writers of his generation. When Bridge wrote Peking Picnic she was a total unknown. Now I'm inclined to agree with you and firmly pin my colours to the Peking Picnic mast. An even more interesting comparison would be Peking Picnic to one of Forster's early novels such as Where Angels Fear to Tread - because it matches their respective career-stages. On this comparison Forster falls flat on his face. His early novels are quite slight, trite and (no disrespect to romantic novelists!) pure romance genre pieces. What I wonder is whether the reason for Bridge's contemporary obscurity is that her novels did tail off. None of her later books compare with her early works for thematic strength and dramatic impact - her last books are unambiguous pieces of commercial fiction that have dated badly whereas her early novels are superb and sophisticated works of literature. Forster on the other hand did for a while follow an upward path: while his final published novel (I don't count the posthumous and turgid Maurice) A Passage to India is unwieldy and deeply flawed it does represent an important stepping stone in the journey towards people like Said and his ground-breaking work on Orientalism. I think that the only one of Forster's novel that I really rate today as a major book is Howard's End - even if I do have a tendency to accidentally confuse it with Howard's Way. Howard's End has the poise and purpose that gets lost in A Passage to India - even if there is the conentious question of Leonard Bast's umbrella, which is a clumsy plot tool. Hmmm - time to get back to reading detective novels, methinks.

 
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