Limonov – Poet, soldier, dissident – A book for Russophiles from @AllanLaneBooks

‘…the advantage of censorship is that you can be an unpublished author without anyone suspecting you lack talent’.

Limonov is a biography that reads like a novel. Emmanuel Carrère’s first-person, biographical bestseller has been translated from the French by John Lambert and tells the remarkable adventures of Russian dissident Eduard Limonov. It is not an easily summarised tale. The book tells how Limonov has at times been – amongst other things – a valet in New York and a writer in Paris. He was a soldier in the Balkans, where he interviewed Karadzic.  He’s also a poet and leader of the banned Russian political party National Bolshevik.

‘Why do you want to write a book about me?’ Limonov asked the author. Carrère – who at one point refers to Limonov as his ‘hero’ – answered that he had led a fascinating life. ‘A romantic, dangerous life, a life that dared to engage directly with history’. Limonov’s comment on this appraisal? ‘Yeah, a shitty life.’ Carrère might well be giving Limonov too much credit and admiration, but it’s this life that he spends 340 pages retelling.

Originally planning to become a butcher, Limonov grew up in the Soviet Union where bad eye sight kept him out of the army. A fight in school is portrayed as the moment when he decided he wanted to become the sort of person that other people don’t attack, because they are worried that you might kill them.

Limonov steals, fights, seduces men and women. He wants revolution, to hijack planes, ‘or bomb something.’He is frightened not by death, but by the idea of dying unknown. He wants people to read of his death and ‘think that guy must have really lived’. So he devotes his life to really living, and we hear about his successes and failures in New York, Russia, Paris and the Balkans.

Carrère brings himself into the story with varying degrees of relevancy. There’s his peace corp trip to get out of military service, a trip to Cannes to interview Werner Herzog, time spent in Romania. We hear of his university professor mother providing the link between him and Limonov, having been sent a copy of his book The Russian Poet prefers Big Blacks’, which is Carrère’s introduction to his subject. In passing Carrère also mentions another family member. His cousin Paul Klebnikov was an investigative journalist writing about economic crime in Russia. He was murdered in Moscow in 2004. This is only given a paragraph but should have been a much larger focus of Carrère’s Russian investigations.

Subjects that are given more room are eclectic, including the history of French polemical newspaper L’Idiot, Moldova and anecdotes about protection rackets in Russian clubs. There is also back-room detail about world events like the ’91 coups in Russia and the Serbian war. Anecdotes describe Russian life including the growth of Soviet bureaucracy and the need for two men to do every job. That’s one to do it, and one to make sure he does it. But then you need one to make sure he does his job. And another to make sure he does his job….ad if not infinitum then something close. They also tell of the demoralising work of Gulag prisoners – who have to empty prison yard puddles with a glass.

Virtuous qualities do not obviously shine through in Limonov’s life and the book contains lengthy descriptions of various kinds of undistinguished behaviour. The first person style gives an immediacy to the story – but also an informal lack of authority. Interesting for the glimpses of modern Russian, Croatian and other history, but it’s a book that will only really appeal to the ardent Russophile.

More details and to buy Limonov

Mood Indigo – the director’s cut Blu-Ray – Wacky but tiresome froth

British cartoonist W Heath Robinson was an inventor of the oddest contraptions. He would have loved Mood Indigo which is full of the sort of mad machinery that he enjoyed creating. In particular he would have liked the Pianocktail, a modified piano that produces different drinks according to the tunes played on its keyboard. Although if the music played is too hot you end up with an omelette.

The entire film – based on Froth on the Daydream by Boris Vian – makes about as much sense as a pianocktail. It creates a world where lung diseases are treated with bouquets of flowers and books can be read by ingesting pills. A human faced mouse shares Colin’s house and interacts with the visitors. Someone appears to live in the fridge. If you hadn’t guessed, it’s a Michel Gondry film.

At its centre Mood Indigo is a love story between Colin and Chloe, played by the French big guns Romain Duris and Audrey Tautou. Chloe falls ill and Colin tries to find a cure. But this tragic tale is dressed up in surreal wackiness.  Colin’s shoes have a life of their own, setting off before he is ready. The doorbell keeps turning  into an insect and leaving its duties behind. Eels appear from the taps, tables are cleared by pushing everything onto the floor and if there’s food on a plate it’s almost certainly animated.

If you can’t take all this magic then the director’s cut is a long 2 hours 14 minutes. Paris is as beautiful as ever, but the constant whimsical trickery becomes wearing. In the best part of the script Colin’s best friend Chick (Gad Elmaleh) has an amusing obsession with French philosopher Jean-Sol Partre, who speaks various forms of nonsense, sometimes from the bowl of a large pipe. Chick wastes a fortune on books and also a full size mannequin of his hero.

Later the colour drains out of the film. Unfortunately this effect reflects what happens to the viewer’s interest. By the end I had little idea what was going on, and not much interest either. Duris and Tautou are an attractive couple, but Mood Indigo hides their relationship behind tiresome special effects, whilst the plot confuses without being interesting.

Verdict: Bother not.


Mood Indigo – Two Disc Collector’s Edition [Blu-ray]

Five Stars – the delicious madcappery of Variety Soup by @FatSlightly is face-achingly funny

Get these gents a TV show

Variety Soup opens with a hilarious Buster Keaton inspired sequence. Black and white film that segues into live action shows Goronwy Thom’s journey from towel-losing swimmer at Brighton to a formally dressed Master of Ceremonies at the Leicester Square theatre. It is such an amusing beginning I fear that productions that start with the performers merely walking on stage will from now on feel staid and unimaginative.

The rest of the show continues the high-laugh quotient with the seven members of Slightly Fat all contributing to the onstage buffoonery. Richard Garaghty and Jon Hicks in particular are able to induce laughter with just an expression but each of the gang is an experienced performer – Herbie Treehead laments throughout that he is forty-six and the others are of a similar age. Given the troupe’s name and the amount of male flesh that is on display over the course of the evening it seems fair to comment on their chosen name. Slightly Fat is a misnomer. At least two of the performers are flattered by the description. At least two suffer an unwarranted calumny.

Credit Robbie Jacks Slightly Fat Features RJ5921

The climax of Find a Lady (photo credit Robbie Jacks)

Gareth Jones gives a masterclass in trust as he allows himself to be wrapped in cling film – in order to become a human butterfly pupa, eventually to be hanging by his feet from the ceiling. If ever a Kid’s, don’t try this at home! warning was necessary it would be during the matinée performances of this sketch. At the 8.40pm show the audience’s laughs turned to silence as the cling film was wrapped more and more tightly around Jones’ head. Never play with plastic bags has been drummed into us ever since we first played with a plastic bag and after a while I was looking around for St John’s Ambulance and feeling uncomfortable that something was about to go horribly wrong. When I was almost certain I was about to witness an onstage death a colleague broke an air hole through the film and the human butterfly could breathe again. He sounded very relieved.

First seen at Edinburgh and other fringe festivals, the production does feel as though it has been lengthened from the usual fringe running length. Some of the sketches are overlong, others could be cut. Performance art is an apt description for the creation of Jon Hick’s Baselitz-style portrait, but though it is clever it needs speeding up as it loses some momentum and has the audience shifting in their seats. A scene with an elephant balancer and Mousetrap-style catapult also felt too long. I would mix up the order, move the optimistic Happy Song to the end of the show and have everyone leave on a rousing, participatory high.

There will be many sketches from the show described at length to friends over Christmas dinner, from the tiny rootin’, tootin’ cowboy to the levitating elephant, tiger training and delightfully obvious Cutting a Man in Half. Circus skills combine with singing dogs, songs, cross-auditorium diablo tricks and much more. One long sketch relies on an audience member dragged onto stage, which can sometimes be disagreeable, but last night Darren got a well-deserved round of applause and his name was chanted in admiration. Particularly amusing is Find the Lady, an absurd, enlarged version of the ancient cups and balls trick. As seen above it utilises orange buckets, wigs and distinctly unfeminine human heads.
Revelling in mistakes, lo-fi production values and physical comedy, Variety Soup is hard to beat for good-natured family-friendly laughs. If you do leave the theatre humming one of Herbie Treehead’s tunes, you can buy the album here. I hope mine arrives before Christmas.


More details and tickets

On until 29th December.



London theatre, art and new music podcast – new episode

The latest 10 minute episode of the London culture review podcast is now available to download. Click here to add the podcast to your iTunes account or here to get the feed for other readers.

This week –

Reviews of London theatre and art and new music from Sidefields


00:00 The Night is Ours by Sidefields

02:35 Back Door by Off-off-off Broadway at the Tristan Bates theatre

06:30 Anthony Lister at Lazarides


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