Homage to Revolution

Homage to Revolution

An unstable Europe, led by an unelected totalitarianism regime, is divided, facing an uncertain future with opposing fundamental ideologies, without a clear roadmap for moving forward. A fitting post-Brexit statement, proving the essence of history repeats itself, but one that sums up the 1930s world that George Orwell found himself.

Animal Farm is the best political allegory ever written. Nineteen Eighty-Four, his final novel, is almost prophetic. So what were the real life experiences that motivated him? Homage to Catalonia offers some insight into this, serving as a tool for him to recount his time in the Spanish Civil War.

If one is tempted to read this book for an exploration into intense battlefield activities, then it will not sate that appetite. There are rare occasions Orwell describes running the enemy line and taking ground, but as he explains early on, from his first-hand experience, war is mainly boring.

That’s not to say the young Orwell was eager to avoid conflict; his apparent bloodlust to kill a fascist may shock some. But that particular title for the enemy has taken on different ramifications over the years. Say “Nazi” and “Fascist” today, and two different responses will be evoked. To the Orwell of 1938, the evil was equal, the ideology just as dangerous.

It is this fear that means the option to not intervene was unthinkable. He joins the POUM and goes to the frontline with them. His original intention to write as a journalist passing immediately. What becomes apparent from the start is how ill-equipped the revolutionists are. After days of drill, he notes there is no weapons class because they lack any firearms to train with.

None of the disarray deters Orwell. Indeed, in the early chapters the rag-tag outfits parade the streets as a symbol for hope and change. Those that would oppose chose to wear working class garments to go undetected.

The accounts reflect, how after 115 days on the frontline, the class divisions have returned to the streets and the revolution isn’t as strong. During his leave from the front, he is involved in a stand-off, with opposing forces occupying neighbouring buildings, all with gentlemen’s agreements in place. Agreements he sees as fickle as the unity between parties.

Upon returning to action, a gunshot wound to his throat sees him leave conflict for good. He decides to depart Spain but the POUM are declared illegal and a suppression against their members means he has to evade detection. This further underlines the falsehoods and lies such wars bring about. He worries that those still fighting are being turned into scapegoats despite having honourable intentions.

Homage to Catalonia isn’t a perfect body of work, the language can become repetitive, proving, no matter the talent, there is a vast difference between journalism and storytelling. And his accounts here do not fill in the complete picture, he warns as much, but it’s an important snippet.

What is clear is the admiration he has for the Spanish people. Their generosity is highlighted on multiple occasions and he describes them as too noble (and albeit, too ill efficient) to serve a successful totalitarian regime.

His wider opinions aren’t explored in great depth. The arrival in Spain speaks volumes enough, and description included for democracy as the centralised swindling machine, shows he wasn’t fighting against communism, as he later would with words, but fighting with people to bring about change.

In time an extensive American propaganda machine would colour our perception of what communism was to the point it holds no value. In this raw, 1938 release, we see Orwell’s disillusionment with all methods to control the masses through misdirection.

That’s not to say he didn’t criticise the communist control of press but even papers back home in London failed to deliver true accounts, and on many occasion out-right lied about events in the Civil War. His views during this time have been labelled as Trotskyism but it’s fair to say Orwell had a democratic socialist heart that stood to fight totalitarianism.

Those efforts must have felt wasted in the immediate aftermath of his journey but sometimes making a stand is enough to ensure evil never wins. Franco may have retained power, but the damage inflicted from the resistance saved Spain in the long run.

By the time World War II arrived, Spain was crippled. Despite being in Germany’s pocket for over $215m of aid during the Spanish Civil War, they couldn’t align with a natural allied force. Even though Franco was receptive, he eventually submitted demands to Hitler he knew would be refused, sparing Spain further decline.

Without the anarchist’s intervention in the 1930s, Spain would easily have become an extension of Nazi Germany, possibly sending the whole world into a fascist state.

The fight for principles bared fruit in the passage of time.

Orwell couldn’t have foreseen how future decades would be shaped following his contribution to the Spanish Civil War but he strongly believed in standing against the opposing ideology. His future works would perfectly surmise complex political systems and falsities in simple terms. Homage to Catalonia lays bare the human cost of these deceptions and the lengths men will go to when protecting ideas.

Orwell demonstrates why revolution in the face of certain paradigm shifts is not only brave – it’s necessary.

Should have Stayed Away

Should have Stayed Away

Certain associations will always spring to mind when discussing any country. For Germany the most popular hits will be efficiency, success with their national football team, sausages, and two World Wars. The latter ultimately brings up thoughts of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. What doesn’t easily spring to mind is their aptitude for humour. That didn’t stop author Timur Vermes attempting to bring the two together in the 2012 novel Look Who’s Back.

It’s a brave concept, making one of the most diabolical men in history the protagonist of a satirical comedy. Vermes makes it more challenging for himself by setting the story in the modern day. So from the start he is left with difficult subject matter placed in a series of minefields, none more so than the genre itself.

All literature is subjective, comedy more divisive than most. Taking this into account some leeway can be afforded to Vermes. However, accepting it might not be a laugh a minute doesn’t disguise a failed attempt at humour or intelligent derision.

The idea of disarming the monster is nothing new in art or popular culture. In its cheapest form we all laughed at Saddam Hussein in Hot Shots! Part Deux. Vermes isn’t going for the slapstick, he wants a subtle disassembling of Hitler and his beliefs. Instead he creates a character ignorant to the reality of his situation or the true perception of those around him.

We go from Führer to Alan Partridge within seconds, and not in a good way.

Hitler starts the story waking in modern day 2014. His mind has no knowledge of world events following his death in 1945. Still dressed in full Nazi uniform he wanders the streets trying to make sense of his situation. He comes across a newspaper stand and befriends the owner. This chance meeting gives him and abode and serves as a catalyst for his acceptance of the year and time he finds himself.

Despite slowly becoming aware of the new world situation, he continues to reflect and assume that many of the current ways of life are because of Nazi influence. This is an easy way to highlight the ignorance of extreme views and paint Hitler as single-minded. But after an initial period of settling in, it becomes a distraction. Are we supposed to believe a man that must have had intelligence in order to initiate his evil intentions is suddenly so naïve?

As the story unfolds he is seen as a comedic method actor. His rants are seen as a clever way to belittle views that should never been aired seriously. This makes members of extreme movements assume he is a sympathiser and they send him warnings.

When anyone in the world of Vermes’ novel grows a brain and questions what he really stands for, they are removed. Like a national newspaper that ends up being sued by Hitler’s representatives and ends up singing his praises. Again, a nod to manipulation, but how those closest to Hitler fail to see his behaviour goes beyond the talent of an immersed method actor is questionable.

Some conversations take place that rely on the observer’s understanding that Hitler and those he is in dialogue with are coming from two different places. Some of these can be humorous, sadly they wear thin. A clever play on words only works so many times before the characters are reduced to mindless mush.

There is also an effort to show how Hitler won people over with a certain degree of charisma. Even that message fails when you consider in this version he goes from YouTube to TV star. Unless Vermes is trying to say the modern media is as evil as the Nazi war machine.

The actual translation of the German title is, He is Back. Thankfully for mankind, Hitler is dead and will remain so. Unless poorly implemented comedy is your thing, keep him that way and avoid this attempt at resurrection by ridicule.

Sins of the Father

Sins of the Father

Stephen King has inspired many a writer to pick up a pen (or keyboard) and emulate his style. So it’s only fair his son, Joe Hill, is afforded a concession for attempting this. What is also understandable is Hill’s desire to tell an old fashioned horror tale, the type that are no longer attempted. But can the son recapture the former glory of a style often deemed dated?

The quick and simple answer is: yes, he certainly can. A glance at the plot summary makes Heart-Shaped Box sound like it shouldn’t work. And it really shouldn’t. Nowadays most authors or filmmakers opt for some psychological element to build the probability or tension. The idea of a ghost haunting a protagonist should sound too simple.

This should be a nailed on fact when the appearance of the ghost is because said protagonist, aging rock star, Judas Coyne, buys a “haunted” suit from an auction website. And there is little build-up to the spirit making himself known to Judas. This quick reveal means the reader just has to accept it. There’s never a hint Judas could be going crazy. The ghost exists. Accept it, and accept his interaction with the living world is prevalent pretty fast.

Such is the pace of purchase to dilemma, after a third of the book you begin to wonder just how Hill will manage to fill the remaining pages. The ghost, who is revealed as Craddock McDermott, the deceased father of Jude’s former live-in lover who killed herself, appears relentless and unstoppable.

It’s only Coyne’s two German Shepherds (cutely named Angus and Bon in honour of the AC/DC legends) that give him some rest bite from the ghostly attacks.

During this quick start the main characters are coloured in fast. Coyne is the rocker with an unhealthy obsession with the occult and things that are distasteful (his ex-wife left him after coming across a snuff video he owns). But he doesn’t necessarily believe in the dark matters he delves into, it just accompanies a persona he portrays.

His women are young and last no longer than a year. He names them from the state they originated and that’s about as far as he goes into their actual lives.

It’s with current girlfriend, Georgia, who he mounts an escape with which forms into a plan for freedom. It’s in this phase the past and current events intertwine and the true nature of McDermott is revealed while Judas is made to face real, personal demons.

We also learn more about Georgia, the young goth who refuses to be just another conquest Coyne will discard, showing loyalty equal to Angus and Bon’s. She appears unafraid and beyond her years. It enables an alternative take on a love story to develop as they suffer through the incidents that follow.

This female connection also links Coyne’s emotions to the dead daughter that Craddock seeks vengeance for. She was always Florida, the girl that asked too many questions and suffered from bouts of severe depression. His journey to rediscover her is what moves the tale along.

The novel is too gripping to slip into the parody it had the potential to be and Hill doesn’t take too many liberties with the paranormal to get himself out of tight spots. Even when it’s obvious where the story is heading, it’s still a real page turner – surely the sign of a good story.

The comparisons with his father will be an annoyance to Hill (hence his choice of surname) but rather than ignore them and make an elephant in the room, it’s best to address them head-on. Heart-Shaped Box proves he deserves to be judged by his own high standards.

If King was still writing classic horror it may have taken this feel, but one suspects the baton has been passed from one generation to the next, and Hill’s interpretation has shown the old master a few tricks.

And it works so well because he remembered his father’s rule to make the genre work…