I'm now back in the land of the living. It was only 'flu, but it was a particularly potent version that involved long episodes of sleep, puntuated by some very strange dreams. I won't relate them here because other people's dreams are always so dull.
I'm not very good at being ill. I think it's probably because I was quite a sickly child and when, at one point, it looked as if I was going to die, I was sent away to a Victorian sanitorium for a year.
Here's the bedroom I used to share with the son of an East End gangster and a boy called Ian, who was described as 'a little backwards':
On the whole I got on well with my roommates, although I wasn't terribly happy about Ian's tendency to defecate on the floor.
I was at the sanitorium for a year and the combination of sea air, good food and a course of vaccinations did the trick. But although I've enjoyed years of good health and can quite happily walk for 20 miles without feeling tired, the merest hint of illness makes me panic. I'm terrified of going back back to the sanitorium.
However, there's also a lot to be said for being forced to lie in bed for six days, particularly if you have a laptop with wireless internet access. Unconstrained by the demands of others, I was able to surf the web for hours, going off on tangential journeys that led to some wonderful discoveries.
Here's the best of what I found:
1. John Krish
If you've heard of the British documentary filmaker John Krish, then I salute you. There's next to nothing about him on Wikipedia. Fortunately, after decades of neglect, a recent DVD release of four of Krish's short films earned him the 'Best Documentary' award at the 2010 Evening Standard Awards.
Here's an extract from John Krish's 1962 documentary 'Our School':
John Krish may not be a household name, but he was responsible for what is arguably the most stylish intro sequence in television history:
2. Daniel Davies - 'The Isle of Dogs'
This is an excellent first novel - one of the best I've read for a long time.
If you want to know what 'The Isle of Dogs' is about, the clue's in the title (and the cover). I wouldn't normally be drawn to a novel about 'dogging', but it was recommended on Amazon for people who liked Jonathan Coe's latest novel (which I didn't like), so I started to read the first chapter. From the first page, I knew that I was in good hands (no sniggering at the back).
The first thing that anyone should know about 'The Isle of Dogs' is that the dogging is purely incidental. Ultimately, this is a philosophical novel about the pursuit of happiness that manages to engage with the big issues without ever taking itself too seriously. I've no doubt that the sexual content has both repelled and attracted people for the wrong reasons, but I found it touching and comic rather than titillating or embarrassing.
Daniel Davies has been compared to Michel Houellebecq and whilst I can see the similarities, he lacks the latter's boorish racism and misogyny. I generally avoid literary criticism on this blog, as so many other people are much better at it, but if you want to know more about 'The Isle of Dogs', I can recommend this interview with the author.
3. Fritz Lang - 'M'
I know that I'm probably the last person to have heard of this film. Apparently it tops polls as one of the greatest German films of all time, but I knew nothing about it. Made in 1931, this was Lang's first 'talkie' and gives a fascinating glimpse into Germany during the Weimar Republic (only two years later, the artistic climate was very different - 'Dr Mabuse' was banned by Goebbels).
'M' is about a man who kills children and 80 years on, it still hasn't lost its power to shock (I can't imagine this film being made in Britain or America). Considering that this was one of the first movies with sound, it's remarkable how well the acting and direction compares with later films. But although it's an ensemble piece, the film is dominated by Peter Lorre as the villian and Gustaf Gründgens as the 'Safecracker', who is concerned that Lorre's activities are making it impossible for the criminal underworld to go about their daily business (Gründgens later became the subject of the 1981 film 'Mephisto').
The first part of the film drags, but the second half is gripping and the final scene, where Lorre is being tried by a kangaroo court of local men and women, in a disused warehouse, is incredibly powerful:
4. Jo Nesbø
When I wasn't suffering from the agues and ranting deliriously about Matron, I felt reasonably alert and needed something to pass the time. I had just finished 'Isle of Dogs' and wanted another novel that was intelligently written, but easy to read (Proust and 'flu don't go together). I'd read everything by Henning Mankell, so what else was there for people who don't normally read crime fiction?
At this point, Amazon came into its own. I checked to see what Henning Mankell readers also liked and saw several glowing reviews for Jo Nesbø. With just a few clicks, I was able to download a sample chapter onto my Kindle and decide for myself.
Five days later, I am a huge Nesbø fan and rate the two novels I've read much more highly than the last Kurt Wallander mystery. Unlike some detectives I could mention, Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole isn't divorced and doesn't have a grown-up daughter with whom he has a difficult relationship, but I'm relieved to say that he is a maverick who has a problem with authority and also drinks too much, so we're still on fairly familiar ground.
The first Harry Hole novel I read was 'Redbreast' and although there was an over-reliance on coincidence, I was impressed by Nesbø's ability to weave several disparate narrative threads together and create credible characters that don't always fall into the stock clichés of crime fiction. Yes, there is a grumpy, misanthropic forensics officer who is on the verge of retirment and there's also the long-suffering boss who gives the protagonist 24 hours/two days/one week to solve the crime before they're taken off the case. But overall this novel was a refreshing change from what I've seen and I enjoyed the Norwegian setting.
By the end of my six days in bed I started to feel better and imagined what life would be like if I could just carry on living like Oblomov, never having to get up again. But back at work the next day, I realised how good it was to feel useful and needed.