I've enjoyed an existential one-two punch this past week, finishing Michael Cunningham's brilliantly written By Nightfall and seeing the new film adaptation (the 29th!) of Jane Eyre.
By Nightfall is my kind of novel—a moody, introspective character study of a guy my age who's questioning his work, his relationship and even his sexuality. A second-tier art dealer in Manhattan, he begins to feel he's falling for his wife's troubled, drug-distracted, much younger brother, a guy whose whole life is one misstep after another and whose family nickname is "Mizzy," short for mistake.
Cunningham's grasp on the art scene is evident; his thoughtful ruminations on art that's really great versus art that could bring a really great commission transported me out of a series of connecting flights and made my first stab at using my Kindle not only pain-less but joy-ful. One of the protag's clients is a woman who does what I do—photographs people on the street unbeknownst to them. But she also creates action figures and other merch from their images; a great idea. As in great art and as in great commission-bait.
I found every detail enthralling, whether it was a perverse sexual memory or a tortured phone call between a distant father and daughter. It just made me regret not focusing on fiction for the past 15 years myself.
Jane Eyre was another treat, albeit no joyride. I got to see it at in a small theater in TriBeCa after a cocktail party, the perfect atmosphere in which to absorb the film, which we both found mesmerizing from the start. I was of course familiar with the story; it reminded me that when I'd read it in high school in Mrs. Borek's British Tradition class, I'd for some reason blurted out that Jane was "spoiled" or "willful" or some other ridiculous word and never heard the end of it. Perhaps I should have read the novel more carefully! But we wound up having to write a short story in the same style, and I did a full novella that I should re-read sometime...it was filled with over-the-top passion, ghosts, castles and family treachery.
The new film stars Mia Wasikowska as the titular pin cushion, a girl born with backbone to spare but a bad-luck magnet embedded in her that finds her orphaned, uncared for by her ward (Sally Hawkins as the perfectly dreadful Mrs. Reed), shipped off to a school that could double as an S&M dungeon and eventually delivered into a governess position that will teach her a thing or two about suffering. Michael Fassbender plays a rugged, sexier-than-he's-supposed-to-be Rochester, the mysterious nobleman for whom Jane works, tutoring his illegitimate French child, Adele (a charming Romy Settbon Moore). Before things can end well for Jane, she also runs away into the at first caring and eventually a bit too caring arms of St. John Rivers (Jamie Bell, all growed up from his Billy Elliot days).
The chemistry between Wasikowska and Fassbender is intense and the atmosphere perfectly claustrophobic; Jane's desire to be more than what society seems willing to allow is beautifully underscored by Wasikowska's note-perfect performance. And for shits and giggles, the movie scored Judi Dench to play Mrs. Fairfax. She doesn't have oodles to do, but she probably couldn't pass up taking an iconic role in a quality rendering of this iconic story.
Jane Eyre opens tomorrow and is also highly recommended.