Sunday, October 05, 2008

A pulse in the eternal mind

I didn't plan on going from the quintessentially English murder mystery to the quintessentially English garden show, but it turns out it worked. I also didn't know that Greenfingers was loosely based on a true story about prisoners-turned-gardeners, and that it also crossed genres into the field of prison reform stories.

Clive Owen leads a motley crew of fellow prisoners who enter England's most famous gardening contest; the always-wonderful Helen Mirren plays a world-famous gardener and horticulturalist whose daughter falls for Clive. (Who wouldn't fall for Clive, though?) It's your typical underdog tale, told with a good cast, in a short and enjoyable manner. As a prison-reform story it sort of fails (the audience has to take for granted that workforce training is good for society), but its heart is in the right place.

Then, still on the English theme, I read Jerome K. Jerome's sequel to the hilarious Three Men in a Boat. Three Men on the Bummel, however, lacked the same level of humor and hysterical insights of the first book. The premise is the same: the three friends go on a two-week trip together (this time a bicycling journey through the Black Forest), and most of the book is actually anecdotal ramblings about funny social situations or sometimes less-than-tolerant cultural observations. This time, the fellows are a decade older, and are angling to escape their wives and children. So they go biking across Germany. (It's worth noting that the book was written less than thirty years after the unification of Germany, so Jerome's observations about regional differences, though told from the humorous and bumbling tourist's point of view, are actually rather interesting. My great-great-grandfather roamed all over the regions Jerome mentions, avoiding Bismarck's wars, before ditching Europe and settling in Michigan. But I digress.) The chapters in this sequel, however, are longer; and the collection of humorous diversions seems forced and less fluid.

Also, this history nerd couldn't help but cringe while reading Jerome's long descriptions of both the beauty of Dresden and the Jewish sections of Prague. It's only heartbreaking a hundred and ten years later.

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