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July 29, 2010

Book Notes - Cathy Malkasian ("Temperance")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

I have been creating a list of my favorite graphic novels of all time, and as the list grows smaller, one title remains near the top of the pile. Cathy Malkasian's debut, Percy Gloom, skillfully told (and illustrated) its story, and wholly transported the reader into an alternative world.

Malkasian is back with another stellar graphic novel, Temperance, a dark and literate dystopian fable centered on themes of violence and control.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Excellent work for both fans and serious literary readers ready to try sequential art."

In her own words, here is Cathy Malkasian's Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel, Temperance:

During the making of Temperance I didn't listen to a lot of music; it would have been too distracting. Now that the book is done I can look through it and hear some musical illustrations. Here are some selections, chosen intuitively, with an occasional happy coincidence between lyrics and the story.

1. "O Vierge Sainte, rejouis-toi" sung by The Glory of Byzantium

There is a purity of sound here, featuring female voices in an orthodox vespers melody. It's got an ancient, "mythic" feel to it, which fits the context for the opening scenes in the forest (pp 5-17).

2. "Harry Patch (In Memory of)" by Radiohead.

This works well as we survey the world created for the character Lester, to keep him from remembering the trauma he suffered (pp 37-58 ). This is a song about the last surviving UK veteran of World War I. He died (age 110) not long after the song was recorded. The lyrics--his own recollections-- are chilling and tragic. The string arrangement sparkles and churns with emotion. You can listen to this again and again and it just gets deeper.

This and Britten's "War Requiem" (A stirring setting of Wilfred Owen's war poems) should be required listening for anyone who has a casual attitude toward war.

3. "Prelude in D-flat major, Opus 11" by Scriabin, played by Christopher O'Riley

This is a subtle, complex and quiet piece. It goes well with the character of Lester, the recovering soldier (pp 66-74). Listening to these Scriabin pieces is like having a conversation with a very deep and somewhat unpredictable friend. Afterward you feel a little unsettled but very enriched.

4. The Allegretto from String Quartet No. 8 in C minor by Shostakovich best describes the Counter Family ( pp 75-85)

This piece is spun out of insistence, grating repetition, and a purposeful lack of development. It's a sort of methodical mosquito buzzing in your ear. Just right for these characters.

5. I can't think of a better song to describe the plight of the character Minerva than "Heart Like a Wheel" by Kate and Anna McGarrigle. This song and performance are full of longing and resignation. It's really so beautiful, and the imagery in the lyrics goes well with the story, especially as we watch Minerva try to construct a family out of chaos (p. 100-115).

6. "Henry Plainview" from "There Will be Blood" by Jonny Greenwood

This is a fine way to embellish the feelings of the title character when it first encounters a fearsome force (pp 157-161). I really admire Jonny Greenwood's approach to music. Here you find shades of Messiaen, Shostakovich, Bartok, even Ligeti, but it's still Greenwood. He's honoring the folks who came before, but maintains his own solid and beautiful sensibility. This is a great soundtrack that did not get the recognition it deserves. Each of these tracks is a stirring miniature that excites the imagination and emotions.

7. "Sleep" by Eric Whitacre. Sung by Polyphony, led by Stephen Layton

Keeping with Lester's gentle nature, this a good counterpoint to the violent recollections in his dream (p. 186). Whitacre's harmonies are stirring and comforting, but there is still tension in every note of the performance, in a wide dynamic range.

8. "Theme from Valley of the Dolls" by Andre and Dory Previn, sung by K.D. Lang

I love this song, and it seems pretty apt given the character's crumbling life. Minerva finds herself in exile, but can't quite figure out how to get out of her own prison (page 210).

9. Two terrific ambient pieces illustrate the library sequence (page 225):

"Passage" by Allison Sniffin from Meredith Monk's album "Impermanence" and "Requiem for Dying Mothers" by Stars of the Lid

Both of these pieces have timeless and time-altering qualities. They have a lot of sustained sounds, repetition and silence, suggesting eternal, or at least eternally recurring forces.

10. "Fake Plastic Trees" by Radiohead, interpreted by Christopher O'Riley

This seems to describe the deeper transformation which is made plain by the end of the story. I like the name of it, too, especially since there are no fake trees depicted in the book!

Cathy Malkasian and Temperance links:

the author's website
video preview for the book
excerpt from the book (PDF link)

Comicsgirl review
Now Read This! review

Fantagraphics interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Percy Gloom interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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