The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen

Who was it that said the proper study of mankind is man? Alexander Pope, you say? Ah yes, the one who also said “true wit is nature to advantage dress’d, what oft was thought but ne’er so well express’d”. And it’s likely that Mr Pope would be rather taken by this new collection of verse from Ethan Coen. Yes, THAT Ethan Coen whose name you recognise from Fargo, No Country for Old Men and True Grit.

The Day the World Ends is Coen’s third collection of poems. It’s the kind of book that I like to carry around with me, to have in an overnight bag when I am away from home. You can dip in and out and find in it verses to entertain, to amuse, and perhaps here and there to make you think.  There’s something honest and raw about a collection that ranges from downright silly albeit entertaining and funny limericks to more serious musings on the creative process, aging, and the meaning of life.

Yes, it’s sometimes naughty, sometimes crude – but The Day the World Ends is funny and honest, witty and engaging. It draws you in and it draws you back. There is an ordinary humanity about much of this collection that is touching, an ordinariness that is expressed with originality. Coen takes what Pope might describe as “what oft was thought” and articulates it in observations  that “were ne’er so well express’d”. He observes and describes feelings that will be familiar to many readers  as in “Night, then Day” where his theme is that sleepless watching of the rising dawn and musing on the meaning  of ‘the show’: ‘There is one though — I know this much’.

Then there is the simplicity of his response  “On Seeing Venice for the First Time” – ‘Boy, you think, Boy this is Venice’; his pleasure in language in “To The English Language”; his seeming homage to other writers as in the wonderfully earthy, Joycean “Paean” which celebrates the big-assed woman or “Farewell” which in theme and rhythm is reminiscent of Emily Dickinson.

There are musings on the creative process as in “A New Poem” and “The One that Got Away” – and while there are some poems, like ‘Getting Old’ that perhaps might have been better if they had got away — even the most off-the-cuff verses have enough originality and humour to keep the reader onside. An amusing aside “To the Printer” remarks on the waste of white space in the book. “Sheep” is just plain old-fashioned good fun — a daft idea given words and space and shared for the entertainment of the reader.

The theme of aging touched on in “Getting Old”  is picked up in several other pieces including “On Turning Fifty”, a piece of observational humour that will have many readers in the 50+ category laughing out loud and wanting to share this collection with their peers.

Running to 120 pages, this is a relatively short book but there are lots of poems in the collection and all in all there is an energy and creativity about The Day the World Ends that makes it an entertaining read. Even if you’re not a poetry lover, I’d be surprised if you don’t find something in this collection that appeals.

An advance review copy was provided by the publisher. I have not received any other remuneration for this review.

The Day the World Ends by Ethan Coen is published by Random House Broadway Paperbacks

ISBN: 978-0-307-95630-9 (0-307-95630-X)
Pub Date: April 3, 2012
Price: $16.00

Snowdrops by A D Miller

This week, I’ve been reading Snowdrops by AD Miller. Snowdrops is among the books shortlisted for the Man Booker prize for fiction. The list almost always provokes controversy and I can’t help being drawn in by the discussion with the result that I buy many more novels than might otherwise have caught my eye.

Miller was formerly the Moscow correspondent of The Economist. He has lived in Russia, a place I haven’t even visited, so I am far from qualified to comment on this book. But I was drawn to it by the prospect of intrigue and excitement having heard some discussion of it on radio. When I started to read,  I couldn’t initially get past disliking the narrator, Nicholas Platt, a somewhat sleazy British lawyer working in Moscow who naively becomes involved with the amoral Masha and her somewhat suspicious sister, Katya. The two women are stereotypes reminiscent of the Bond movies who successfully lure Platt into their dark scheme.

I’m still somewhat surprised that Snowdrops made it on to the Booker shortlist especially as to my mind much better novels were omitted this year.

That said, somewhere around chapter 13, Snowdrops switches into an exciting read as the plot thickens, the pace quickens, and for the next couple of chapters it becomes a page turner. From chapter 14 on, it’s a better book even though the Bond movie feel persists throughout. There is plenty of action but the characters lack depth and, with the possible exception of the elderly Tatiana Vladimirovna, are neither sympathetic nor likeable.