Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smileypublished 2007
LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES
“No. Frankly, Stoney, I much prefer making movies for a couple of cheap bastards who want to cut corners in every scene, because it’s more fun. My guess is that Mike’s instinct will be to weight the whole project down with authenticity, so that, for example, every costume will be perfect from the underwear out. So the actresses will all wear some kind of corsets. But twenty-first-century actresses aren’t used to corsets, so they’ll be distracted by the discomfort of wearing corsets, and they’ll look awkward in corsets. So, as a result of that, Mike and I will get into a lengthy discussion of whether the actresses should be made to wear corsets, and the solution will be to try it out, which won’t in the end demonstrate anything conclusive. There’s thousands of dollars in costume financing wasted and at least a week of filming before we get to the issue of, say, dirt. Is the encampment going to look dirty and authentic, like the sets in The Return of Martin Guerre, or is it going to look clean, like the sets in A Man for All Seasons? Mike has lots of money, so he’s going to think that if we just get all of the details right, then a movie will eventuate, but in fact what will eventuate will be a kind of slow-moving parade of everything we’ve bought. I like staying here, in other words, but I would never live here.”
commentary: Yet more on this marvellous book, and some fascinating insights into film-making. Each of Smiley’s books is very different from every other, and she has a disconcerting tendency to say that she doesn’t really bother with research. But presumably she learned about film-making when her Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres was turned into a film in 1997.
I laid claim in a previous post that this was a great contemporary novel, but also a very entertaining one, and this kind of detail in it I find fascinating, along with some very funny stories. (And reading the earlier post is probably essential if you want to get a feel for what the book is about, with its unusual and specific form.)
I looked up some contemporary reviews of Ten Days, and was very surprised by one from Frank Cottrell Boyce, a very fine writer himself. He praised the book, said it was beguiling and impressive, but then compared it very unfavourably with a book called Karoo by Steve Tesich, another novel very taken up with film-making, published in 1997. As it happens, I read Karoo recently and found it very hard to take, and would never have put it in the same arena as Ten Days: I know many people enjoy Karoo as a cult favourite, but it seemed bizarre to me to raise it above the Smiley. I can’t help wondering again: is Karoo a boys’ book, a laddish favourite?'
Anyway. I do recommend this one – it has so many incidental delights:
Here’s why I need a wife, Stoney thought: with a wife you could say, “This is what I think,” and then, after a while, after something had happened, she would say, “It was just the way you said it was going to be.” And then all of your passing good ideas didn’t simply vanish into thin air.The singer Zoe, former wife of the director Max, is a wonderful character, along with her loathsome new boyfriend, the guru Paul. There is an excellent moment when Paul gives Zoe a lot of guff about her former lives as part of her ‘therapy’:
Zoe…was thrilled by this story, and the possibility that it revealed Paul as a charlatan made it all the more thrilling. She had been expecting to work through guilt and remorse, and here all she had to do was embroider upon this narrative of her past life.And the passing thought of Isabel would resonate with many of us, as she hears a rather gruesome story:
“Ugh,” said Isabel. It was true, she thought, that honoring the integrity of other people’s cultures was always harder than you thought it was going to be.There are a lot of surprisingly explicit sex scenes in the book, along with discussion of filming bedroom scenes.
There are also some nice clothes– including a gold silk velvet dress worn by Gene Tierney: I tried to find out if this dress existed, but no picture was forthcoming. There’s a lovely-sounding peach silk chemise, and a discussion by one character of how small clothes decisions can have an effect – this is a woman who has disastrously lost a set of keys:
Isabel sighed. “What I really hate is those strings of choices that led to the disaster. So, this morning, I looked in my suitcase and I saw the loose [jeans] and the tight ones, and Stoney was coming out of the bathroom and looking at me, and that made me feel very sassy, so I put on the tight ones, but if I’d put on the loose ones, the keys wouldn’t have squeezed out of my back pocket as I was standing up…”So the pictures: there’s Angelina Jolie being a very modern actress in a corset. And also Brigitte Bardot at the top of the post. Neither of them is particularly trying to look historical, and they have not tightened themselves as much as the lady in the third picture…