Posts Tagged With: book

The Days of Anna Madrigal: Review

Armistead Maupin's The Days of Anna Madrigal reviewedThe curtain comes down on Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series with the final novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. It’s a gift to the loyal followers of nearly forty years of bohemian Barbary Lane.

Nine instalments after Mary Anne Singleton let her Brady Bunch hair down, it’s reassuring to dive into the warmth of Maupin’s Logical Family, even if we sense that this is not going to be a Thanksgiving Dinner with old friends. The hint is in the opening chapter, where Mrs. Madrigal tries to light an electronic candle with a lighter. ‘So this is the end of candlelight?’ she asks, immediately illuminating the magic of Maupin’s writing and his fascination with technology and the changing world around us. Here, the mysterious transgender matriarch is placed exactly where a sparky ninety-two year-old would be: adapting to the passage of time.

Almost from the start, a psychedelic reverie leads us on a journey to the past to meet Andy Ramsey and the truth about Anna Madrigal, revealed in a kaleidoscope of flashbacks.

Back to his mother’s brothel in Winnemucca, and back to the 1940s to discover exactly who this 17 year old boy really is. For me it’s the most important part of the novel. Andy Ramsey, neither gay man or cross-dresser, embarks on his first romance which ultimately describes the complications of being a woman trapped in a man’s body. Meanwhile, the trembling scenes of first love are truly electric, rendered with adrenaline and hormones against a backdrop of glittering detail: ‘Down the railroad tracks red and green lights were blinking like lost pieces of Christmas.’

It’s almost understood that there will be tragedy in a book like this, but it comes from surprising shadows. ‘I was a weasel of a man,’ said Mrs Madrigal, once upon a time, but a dark secret adds a new dimension to such a well-loved character, a new depth and a degree of explanation. The only resolution lies in the present facing up to the past.

The mission of the monarch is just one ribbon, woven into the current trajectory of familiar faces, as Shawna, Michael and Ben prepare for The Burning Man, the pagan pinnacle of the novel. As Brian and his new wife head off in the opposite direction, it’s guessing game to see how Maupin might bring his Logical Family together for one last chapter. Luckily, we get to join most of our favourite characters on the roller coaster as Maupin nods to a legacy that stretches back to 1976. The climax is a hedonistic circus of creativity and colour, the perfect destination for the spirit of the Tales series.

All roads lead to home, even if there are some unexpected twists and a particularly nasty bump for Michael Tolliver, playful pup turned grumpy gardner. Maupin still knows how to blow our socks off as he foreshadows the grand finale with ambiguous plotting. If there’s one thing you can’t accuse him of, and that’s being obvious. Think you can guess the ending? Not until the last line, and even that might be a mystery in itself.

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Anna Gram

The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead MaupinThe Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin is published in the UK today. This is the last episode in the famous Tales of the City series, and anyone who follows The Vibes will know I’m slightly obsessed with the compulsive chronicles of San Francisco.

A few years ago, at a Manchester book signing, I may have planted the seed of this novel by suggesting that Mr Maupin wrote more about his ingenious character, Mrs Madrigal. He visited this very blog and said I could have been an influence! Of course I’m not claiming any credit, I’m just very happy to be holding this wish-list book in my hand.

Full review to follow shortly, stay tuned!

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Postcards From Barbary Lane

Mona Ramsey - Postcards From Barbary Lane

Mona Ramsey’s cosmic chants are interrupted as an old friend phones to say he’s heading to Russian Hill. I love Chloe Webb’s expression here as she plays the spaced-out hippy designer…

This is the first in an occasional series of mementoes from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, with visuals from the TV series and quotes from his books. Everyone has fond memories of the show from way back, and these are imaginary messages from 28 Barbary Lane. The vintage look illustrates the history of Tales which stretches all the way back to the 70s.

The cool thing about these is you can actually send them as postcards (by email of course) to your favourite Tales fan. Stay tuned for more Postcards soon.

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Escape to Barbary Lane

‘Connie, I’ve found this darling place on Russian Hill on the third floor of the funkiest old building…and I can move in tomorrow,’ said Mary Anne Singleton when she realised she was moving up in the world.

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Mark at 28 Barbary Lane

I travelled 5000 miles to make a pilgrimage to a place that isn’t real. The mythical Barbary Lane is more of a state of mind than an actual place: the heart of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City novels. The famous wooden steps which lead up to it are real enough, and this is where people from all over the world go to have their picture taken. Standing on those steps I got a feeling of the fantastic history of San Francisco, following in the footsteps of Mary Anne Singleton, the starchy secretary who ran away from Cleveland to live a more colourful life.

Mark Macondray Steps Tales of the City The Vibes

The Victorian apartment house should be perched at the top of the Macondray Lane steps on Russian Hill, but all that greets the curious tourist, breathless from the steep incline of Taylor Street, is a dark fern-lined alley between buildings which bear little resemblance to the movie set (which was based on a place on Napier Lane.)

28 Barbary Lane at Night

In the movies, the house itself is magical. At night, the garden is lit by Chinese lanterns and fairy lights, ‘the whole fantasia’ as Michael fondly remembers in Michael Tolliver Lives. Marijuana plants nestle next to Azalea bushes as the sound of moaning foghorns drift up from the bay. Maupin had created an iconic place to rival Tara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, but here a new tenant would receive a joint taped to a welcome note on their front door, a gift from Mrs. Madrigal, ‘the mother of us all.’

Mona Ramsey from Tales of the City

Not everyone was happy at number 28. “The moon is in ca-ca,” said Mona, the free-wheeling hippy with displacement issues who leaves the warmth and safety of Barbary Lane to forge into the wide blue yonder in search of her roots. ’You can’t hide from the cosmos!’ she says when Mary Anne is shocked by her nudity. It’s Mona who inspired the tagline of my blog, ‘Dreams of a Free Spirit,’ the questing romantic with her Buddhist chants and cosmic consciousness. Of all Maupin’s characters, Mona is the one who really chimes with me. I’ll travel a long way to find a place like Barbary Lane.

mandalaBelow you can see a clip from the Tales of the City tv series, and Mary Anne’s wide-eyed arrival at the house. The series was funded by Channel Four in Britain because the US networks refused to portray gay people in a positive light. How things have changed…

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Jump to 1.30 to see the where it all began…

I had to ask two taxi drivers and a realtor how to find the steps, so here’s a map…

Armistead Maupin’s new novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal will be published in 2013. Keep an eye on The Vibes for updates.


Golden gate Bridge san Francisco                                                                    Halloween in the Castro
My adventures in San Francisco               Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City          Halloween in the Castro

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The Woman in Black – the mechanics of fear

The woman in black novel hardback
In the style of Susan Hill…

Illuminated Gothic letter It was with some apprehension that I purchased the book, pretty as it was, with an embossed jacket and the air of a handsome Victorian novel. My life at Vibes House meant some degree of detachment which veiled the world beyond my Internet Web Log, or ‘Blog’ as the youths of the day might call it. But still I heard the name, and the posters would jump out at me on my travels, only to recede again from my sight and thus my conscious mind. I find such intrusions largely annoying, since I prefer to make my own decisions about which spectrum of our popular culture to indulge. The fact that the book had become the most successful film in the British Cinema left me cold and being obtuse of nature I relented and soon found myself in the uppermost turret of Vibes House, reading the tome by moonlight, rather than gracing my local fleapit and watching the film.

To begin, I found the prose stilted and lumpen, striving as it did to ape the style of vintage novels by the likes of Jane Austen, or perhaps Charles Dickens. The lack of action at first held me back but the seeds of mystery are sown early on, and I found myself compelled to persevere. My concern lay with the protagonist whose failure to heed casual warning from his fellows lands him in a mire of pure horror. The hauntings themselves, for it is a ghost story, remain few and are detailed with such unadorned words that I accepted them as reality and was thus swept into a dark world of marshes and burial grounds from which I was grateful to escape.

It is a short tale which can be satisfactorily digested in one sitting, but I found a break necessary as the penultimate chapter reached its unrelenting climax. Twice my hair actually stood on end, a testament to the power of the author, who must have studied the mechanics of fear and fine-tuned her vehicle accordingly. So deeply did I believe in this fiction that I took pause to watch shadows in my drawing room, and listen to distant screams in the night, hoping they would cease and not magnify the torment in those pages.

Never have I been manipulated with such precision by a tale, accustomed as I am to the incontinent ramblings of Stephen King (procure an editor, tedious man!) who never wrote a novel better than his first, Carrie, which similarly is written with restraint and finesse and yet is greater than the sum of its labours. I must address Susan Hill the author of The Woman in Black, as a master of her art, and I should venture next to purchase the DVD with alacrity. I hate popcorn.

To be read accompanied by a glass of good brandy…

Categories: Random, Vibe Monitor | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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