Tapton School, Sheffield, 2007
‘You loved me – then what right had you to leave me?
Ah, delicious by-the-numbers contemporary romance with just a few reminders of real life to not make it saccharine sweet. My kind of romance.
Boy meets girl, they fall in love, it’s the end of high school – fade out. Man meets woman, claims he absolutely can not remember her, even though she recognises him straight away. What’s going on? What happened during the fade out? And why is her mother less-than-supportive about pretty much everything she does?
Don’t You Forget About Me hits all the spots in chronological order, has the fun friends/side kicks (pleasantly fleshed out, that doesn’t always happen), and a few laugh-out-loud laughs.
Main Georgina sells it, though. Her frustrations, fears and self-doubt never get navelgazy or woe-is-me, but are (too) recognisable. She’s for the single women in their thirties, with the shitty job and the feeling of being without direction but unable to find the compass either.
I read McFarlane’s Who’s That Girl? before, and think I can conclude that for fun, romantic, quick-to-read time this author is a good fit.
Don’t You Forget About Me, Mhairi McFarlane, HarperCollins 2019
Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.
I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).
Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.
So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.
Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019
It was the first day of my humiliation.
I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.
There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.
There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.
And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.
It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.
But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.
Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016
The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.
Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.
Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.
It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018
From “this looks entertaining” to “wait – people are talking Oscar nominations?” in under a week. The promotion team of this film must be pleased, but how true were both of these sentiments?
Disclaimer: I could watch this for free, and don’t know if I would have paid a ticket for it otherwise. Story and trailer showed me something that was Netflix-friendly, not necessary in need of the big screen experience. I was right about that one.
Hustlers is inspired by a true story about how strippers stripped (ha ha) Wall Street men of their money and then some. Not very legal, but quite satisfying. Of course, something like that can’t last, not for the people involved.
For a very long time, Hustlers keeps it light. Look at all the things they buy, look at the stunts they pull with the fools that think strippers are just entertainment instead of human beings. It’s in the last twenty minutes when different cinematographic and tonal decisions are made, almost like they have to show arguments for the ‘inspired by a true story’ part. Instead of leaving pumped, you might feel a bit deflated.
And those Oscar-nominations? Well, if Matthew, Jared, Emma and all those others have one… get Jennifer Lopez on that stage.
Hustlers, STX Films 2019
Mahindan was flat on his back when the screaming began, one arm right-angled over his eyes.
This isn’t a particularly uplifting story. Reading is escapism, isn’t it? Unless you never have any media-intake that won’t be the case with this novel. The subject is a three-step ladder of contemporary news: racism in politics, war zones and (boat) refugees.
These three angles are showcased through the points of view of different people: a refugee, the people helping them, and those that need to make sure that no refugee brings danger into the country (Canada, in this case). It’s easy to view the latter as the villains of this piece: they start out with a negative angle and won’t be swayed. But in today’s society it would be naive to act like that negative angle hasn’t landed on fertile land, and what does that say about us?
The same can be said from the ‘good’ immigrants that lament these refugees for not doing immigration “the right way”. We all need thoughts to comfort us, so who’s to blame for acting upon them?
Of course, nothing happening in this novel will make you think: yes, let’s deny every refugee asylum, yay! but it very much shows the booby-trapped labyrinth immigration and asylum (laws) have become. With an all too human face to it, on all sides.
The Boat People, Sharon Bala, McClelland & Stewart 2018
For months he was just a number to her: she counted his dirties, he dropped them in the bucket, she recorded the number on the clipboard, and he moved down the line.
Some stories aren’t pleasant to read, but so compelling that you don’t want to give up on them ether. Mona isn’t easy to love or follow, even though it could have been with such a mercy- and pity-inducing history.
Mona is a twenty-something with a bad youth and/or possibly some mental illnesses. There are clear symptoms, but there’s also the consideration of how much comes from her background. She cleans houses for a living, even though her aunt and her sort-of-boyfriend tell her that she should change things, start living. Develop.
But that’s not easy, especially when you’re not exactly willing to do so. Mona’s got a lot of thoughts, maybe too many, and the author doesn’t let the reader off easy. This is an annoying, disgusting, frightening protagonist that might make you feel more empathetic to those neurotically atypical, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing annoying either.
Pretend I’m Dead doesn’t give answers, it just shows. I didn’t find the ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ a blurb claims, but I did want to stick around. Maybe in some way, Mona will notice.
Pretend I’m Dead, Jean Beagin, Oneworld 2018
13 x 30 minutes
For someone who doesn’t have children, nor wants them, The Letdown has plenty recognisable situations that make you think that mothers aren’t a completely different species (yes, I know!).
In this Australian show the viewer follows around different (new) mums from different backgrounds and in different surroundings. But even though they are introduced through a mum-related event, the show doesn’t turn them solely into ‘mothers’. Children have upended the lives of these women (and their partners), and that’s where the relatable part comes in.
Even when these women are in different times in their lives, they all struggle (more or less) with romance, health, personal time, family etc. It’s small things, frustrating things, and sometimes so secondhand embarrassing that it’s hard not to look away. Please, just admit that you were wrong, right or uncomfortable, aren’t you too old for such behaviour come on.
I guess not, and that’s also what elicits chuckles besides rolling eyes. Good thing you can’t blame children or partners on bad decisions, no matter how old you are. There’s plenty of us that do so, and it’s nice to see that.
The Letdown, Netflix 2017
The space probe Voyager 1 left the planet in 1977.
Wow. Maybe as much impact on me, albeit in a slightly different category, as Het achtste leven (voor Brilka). I’m still a bit fuzzy around the edges after having finished it. And as often with those on the edges of opinion (very good, very bad), I’m struggling a little bit with how to put into words what I like so much about this.
Because with the premise, it just as easily could have gone on to be terribly navel-gazing and Philosophical without foundation (ie fake deep babble). A young English woman deciding on going to travel ‘to the wild’ by herself, through Iceland, Greenland, Canada and Alaska. During, she’s often (very) conscious about her privilege, place in the world, safety and future, but not without keeping her eyes turned outwards. And what a beautiful, mesmerising outwards it is.
So, what does happen in this book that left me reeling slightly? It’s the insights, but also the recognisable feelings about living without a buoy, and/or direction. It’s the worries about environment and society and how you seemingly can’t have any impact on it, yet never turns into something completely depressing. And with the conclusion, it all slides into perspective.
Maybe that’s the biggest thing: it offers such a broad perspective that keeps narrowing down, without offering you the light at the end of the tunnel. It just gives you the knowledge about all that’s around you.
The Word for Woman is Wilderness, Abi Andrews, Profile Books 2018
How much better would this movie have been with a female main character, and are there are well-known singers that have covered The Beatles?
Of course, it’s considerate that they didn’t make the entire cast of this film about one guy bringing The Beatles music to the masses white. The Beatles were white, after all. All this playing out in England, with a large immigrant population – why not have the protagonist be of Indian descent? Is it sad that we have to applaud this happening? Yeah.
Anyway, the plot. After a strange occurrence is Jack the only one that recognises The Beatles and their impact on music and pop culture. Having struggled as an artist before, he decides on bringing their music into the world again, working hard to remember all those lyrics. And getting incredibly famous on the way because wow – what music!
Along the way there are some Life Lessons and sometimes you wonder why Jack makes the decisions he does, but in a world where every other movie is a sequel or a reboot, it’s a slight fresh breath of air in the theatre. Or on any streaming service it will soon hit, no doubt.
Yesterday, Working Title 2019