A Meal in Winter – Hubert Mingarelli (Sam Taylor translator)

meal winterThe Blurb:

One morning, in the dead of winter, three German soldiers are dispatched into the frozen Polish countryside. They have been charged by their commanders to track down and bring back for execution ‘one of them’ – a Jew.

This is a quick, utterly gripping read and an almost perfect example of how saying very little can sometimes say everything.

Three German soldiers, soul-weary from participating in Nazi shooting gangs, get themselves elected one morning to go into the winter-locked woods instead. This for them is as close to a day off as they will get and they are determined to enjoy it as much as they can. However, in return they must hunt out Jews for imprisonment. It may be a day off from hollow-eyed execution, and so long as they find at least one (they rarely refer to their prey expressly) they can prove themselves worthy of another day away. But the one Jew they do find will have them questioning every action they have ever made and wondering if they would have been better off staying at camp.

As a reader, right from the beginning you are questioning what you would do in this position. Which route would you chose? The anonymity of one unthinkable job you can shoulder with other men? Or the more palpable task of having to look your (fewer) victims in the eyes, but with the knowledge your hands, for now, stay clean of blood.

This is the basic premise of Mingarelli’s small but succinct story – humans desperately struggling to find meaning in their own hideous actions – any sense of appeasement is clung to as the men try to weigh up different evils to see which one may lay lighter on their hearts. That they are having to make this decision at all will have your jaw tight with the same anxiety and helplessness.

Most of the story (I keep wanting to write play as I think it would work brilliantly on stage) takes place in a small abandoned building, where the men take refuge from the weather with the one Jewish captive they have managed to find. Hungry and cold, they set about trying to find things to burn in order to eat the small amount of food they have with them. What follows is one of the most striking examinations of humanity I have ever read. As almost everything in the place gets smashed into splinters, the minds of the men too become fractured, split and tortured.

A stranger – a Polish anti-Semite and his dog – joins them, adding to the almost silent tension of the room. More questions are asked, should he be thrown out? What level of hate do we have for him and how much compassion can we show in relation? Is the enemy of our enemy our friend no matter how distasteful we find him? And should we therefore tolerate his behaviour towards the Jew as our own intentions for him are so horrific? Do we all need to agree on a course of action or are we so far removed from consensus and accountability now that we can act independently without retribution?

The Jewish captive is held in a side room and is rarely physically in a scene, but his presence pervades everything. As a meal cooks painfully slowly over the fire our narrator is tormented by him and especially by the embroidered snowflake on the Jewish man’s hat. This one snowflake is a symbol of the humanity, dignity and love that the Nazis so desperately tried to erase from so many people.  But no matter how much the narrator tries to ignore it, faced with the fierce hatred of the Polish man and his own weakening resolve, he knows that this simply stitched snowflake may just save the man’s life – if, that is, someone dares add the question of his future to the growing list for debate.

Taylor’s simple translation holds you in the narrator’s mind throughout – these men aren’t poets and can only view their extraordinary situation in very basic terms. There are few whimsically drawn phrases here, you don’t need to be an academic to wander around this man’s conscience; You can instead very easily, and perhaps rather frighteningly, relate to this regular person trying his best to navigate a blistering array of emotions over a very short period of time. Mingarelli and Taylor do this masterfully and anyone who has read The Reader by Bernhard Schlink will find their own emotions manipulated in a similar way.

A striking story, simply told, that will have you struggling with your picture of history and, had the cards been dealt differently, questioning what role you would have played in this scene.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9781846275364
  • Portobello Books, 2014
  • Recommended read, gifted a copy

Playing to The Gallery – Grayson Perry

playing to“Helping contemporary art in its struggle to be understood.”

Like with my previous review of Us I feel I should prologue this review with some major bias.

I love Grayson Perry. I too was raised in Chelmsford and it took an awfully long time for someone of relevent youth to emerge from its grey shopping centres, someone for me to point at and go “HIM! HE IS ALSO FROM CHELMSFORD….Chelmsford….its in Essex…well it’s actually the county town….No, lots of people think its Colchester, but its actually Chelmsford…well yes, but Chelmsford has a cathedral… actually its a city now! Crikey, a city………The V Festival? No? Well anyway, HE, that magnificent person is also from Chelmsford so it must be doing something right.”

Only other people who come from bland, grey-buildinged towns where nothing ever happens apart from one more wine bar opening can understand how almighty it feels to have someone SO set apart from the place to call upon as a fellow alumni. I’m not embarrassed by my hometown, it was where I grew up, where I met people I love and will hold on to forever, and it was a bolthole during some miserable times in London that saw me running for trains I could barely afford just to get home. My spirit may sometimes groan about the place, but I have felt monumental relief pulling into Chelmsford station.

playing to 2

But if I stay there too long, like any long-left-behind hometown, I’m reminded of its blight, its blandness, its apparent lack of a cultural identity (well one that can’t be scrapped from the high street on a Monday morning anyway). It feels small and small-minded, so close to London, but so far removed from the energy and the mix. White face upon white face bob along the strangely beige bricked high street. The people live for shopping, the theatre is kept away out of sight (and possibly harms way) and the museum is so far removed from the centre of town you become a wornout relic of yourself just trying to walk there before lunch.

That someone as spectacularly vivid as Perry could somehow have lived there, amongst the multi-storeys and the Argos fills me delight and, finally, a little pride. That he got out of the place through pottery and transvestism of all things will continue to astonish me. (Though I do find much much mirth in the fact that Chelmsford museum houses one of his pots alongside some “plain white examples of crockery from Tesco” – Chelmsford – the sublime and the ridiculous).

So, platitudes over and on to the book.

playing to 1

If you listened to Perry’s brilliant Reith Lectures last year (if not, you can listen here), then this is the perfect accompaniment. In fact it was great to sit down and revisit his very fresh and involving take on art and his theories about how tweaking the way you look at things can suddenly open up a whole world of accessibility. In fact, you could easily read it in a day and I suggest you do just that – get yourself to your local gallery (if you are lucky enough to have one), take this in your pocket and intersperse your visit with chapters and passages. I guarantee, if you are a novice art Looker-Ater than this book will make your visit (and all subsequent ones, because you will fall in love with art after this, or at the very least fancy it a lot and want to be around it whenever you can) a whole lot less daunting – hey! It may even make you feel ok about laughing at stuff or perhaps not “getting” or liking everything you see.

I don’t think it would be possible for Perry to write a book about art that wasn’t full of colour and humour (his illustrations are a hoot) that also managed to hold onto a level of gravitas and intelligence. Ok, it may not be for the seasoned gallery visitor but for budding and buzzing fans like me it was a perfect little holding of the hand.

And hopefully it will finally lead to some recognition from his (AND MY!!!) hometown, I suggest a full-colour, 11-foot statue in the high street outside McDonald’s, where all the cool kids used to sit, snog and drink before they took the seats away, dressed as opulently as you would expect from Chelmsford’s very first transvestite potter and cutting through the grey like a prism.

Us – David Nicholls

photo(1)The Blurb:

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home. He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together. So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again. The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed. What could possibly go wrong?

Its difficult to write about Us without mentioning One Day. I challenged myself to write this blog post without bringing it up, but here we are. Not even the first sentence over and it happened. So instead of trying to dance around it I’ll get it over with:

I loved One Day. I loved everything about it – the story, the characters (even when they were are their shittiest) the settings, the tone, Nicholls’ effortless writing. All those gut punches. I mostly loved that it was a complete surprise. I hadn’t read any Nicholls before, I don’t really know why, he seems to write about stuff that interests me, but I always overlooked him. In fact, before I picked Us up, One Day remained the only Nicholls I’d partaken in (I’m not counting watching Starter For Ten), I was still healing from Emma and Dexter and didn’t want other stories to crowd them out.

But when a proof of Us (resplendently designed I must say) made its way into our house I made time for it as soon as I could. It was nudgingly implied Us could almost be a reacquaintance with Emma and Dexter, in different skin with different fates, but it was so much more than that and you should leave those initial star-crossed friends in Edinburgh where you found them and enjoy Us as something else.

For me, the Petersen’s were a whole new kettle of fish. A couple with over 20 years behind them, Connie and Douglas seem to have made it a long way with considerable odds stacked against them. When they meet at a dinner hosted by Douglas’ sister Connie is an arty, popular party girl on the cusp of, perhaps, giving both things up. Douglas is a rather stuffy, ordered Scientist, currently obsessed with his fruit fly study and who may as well have come from another planet. They seem to find something in the other that promised a balance and over time set up home together.

But when Connie’s paint brushes seem to have been put aside for good and when tragedy comes to shroud them both, it is Douglas’ simple, structured way of living that seems to takeover. Possibly jaded by years of Douglas “sucking the joy out of everything” and a renewed energy for creativity that she sees blossoming in her son, Connie decides it is time to part ways.

We find them planning a European holiday, a trip Connie views as a final, happy farewell to the family unit and a way to introduce her son to the world’s greatest artists. Douglas hopes the trip will help bond and build bridges, one last roll of the dice. Of course, only one can get the outcome they want, and with their son along for the ride, the possibility for collateral damage is threatened from the minute they leave London.

Their relationship unfolds through flashbacks that intersperse the trip, and it is here, in the minutiae of love, friendship, heartache and missed communication that Nicholls’ excels. He draws you in so keenly, over dining tables and across beds that you wish wholeheartedly that you were able to somehow pick up your phone and fire off urgent texts:

He didn’t mean it that way!

Why would you say that to her?! Any idiot can see that was entirely WRONG!

I challenge you not to feel helpless as these two, ultimately decent, people flail and fail in front of you.

But perhaps the most painful relationship is that between Douglas and his 17 year old son Albie. Albie is Connie’s son through and through – a Starbucks hipster taking moody shots of the backs of people’s heads, your archetypal teen, trying to find himself in the forms of others. Douglas, whose own teenage experiences were narrow and apparently, happily so, (“The most illicit act of my teenage years was to sometimes watch ITV“) struggles to understand his son and as a result bumbles spectacularly through their relationship. Some of their interactions are so skin-tighteningly awkward you can feel yourself turning inside out.

You will feel for both men in this situation, constantly knocking into one another, missing the implications of their actions and words. But it is Albie who I felt for the most. Yeah he’s a bit of a pretentious wind-bag, but then he’s allowed to be, he’s the child. He has time to be a brat, to still be embarrassed and let down by his parents. His father’s constant, if well-meant, putdowns are causing more damage than either of them seem to realise and as a reader you watch and wait, wincing against the give that is unrelentingly impending.

I loved this book, perhaps a notch less than One Day, but I’d probably still be in a coma if it had possibly been better. This novel takes you through so many emotions and you become almost instantly invested in the future of these three people. It is superbly touching and often very funny and as an art lover I couldn’t get enough of the descriptions of some of the grand masters that had me desperate to partake on a similar (but less emotionally harrowing) trip.

Just get it, its great.

Book info:us

  • ISBN: 9780340896990
  • Published by Hodder & Stoughton, out now
  • Borrowed proof copy

Wild Ink – Richard Smyth

WILD INK Amended 12.05The Blurb:

Albert Chaliapin is dead – or at least, he feels like he ought to be. He lives in a world occupied only by the ghosts of his former life (and his nurse, who can’t even get his name right). Then, one day, his past – in the form of a drunk cartoonist, a suicidal hack and a corrupt City banker – pays a visit, and Chaliapin is resurrected, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t, much. Someone’s sending him some very strange cartoons. Someone’s setting off bombs all over London. Someone’s been up to no good with some very important people. This is no job for a man wearing pyjamas. Will Chaliapin make it out alive? And is being alive, when it comes down to it, really all it’s cracked up to be?

POW! How good a blurb is that? Its almost irresistible! London, mystery, black comedy, a hint of the literary – I was pals with this book the minute it fell through my letter box. Estelle Morris’ cover design is also awesome. So, well done to the folks at Dead Ink Books for all that!

But mostly well done to Smyth, who has managed to write a readable but pretty literary book. In fact, Dead Ink describe themselves as “publishers of [anti] literature”, and if I have understood that statement, then this book sums it up pretty neatly.

Its wordy, it needs your attention – there’s no “one eye on Bake Off” with this, but don’t let that put you off – its a romp of a read and once you are in cahoots with Smyth’s style you are easily swept along.

Wild Ink is drenched in cigar smoke, creaking leather chairs and whiskey glasses crashing in dark corners of waxy smelling pubs. It’s all the things I dream about when I dream about being a post-war bohemian creative sort.

Smyth’s brilliantly wrought cast of characters will bring to mind figures from the annals of literary history and Smyth clearly knows his written word. Even with an English Lit degree behind me I have to say I struggled to keep up with some of the references (to the point where I almost didn’t know what was and wasn’t conjured up by Smyth) but that didn’t stop my enjoyment (though, perhaps has me needing to brush up on my theory a bit).

This is a delicious, bounding book and perfect for the long nights that are now starting to edge in on us. You will be baffled and bemused from the start and will feel physically pulled around literary London with Smyth’s bunch of, possibly past it, boozy academics. Hilarious in places and a definite head scratcher from page one. I liked it and you probably will too.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780957698512
  • Published by Dead Ink Books, out now
  • Sent a copy by author, thank you very much!

In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile – Dan Davies

48720_In_Plain_Sight_JKT.indd

When the news began to break about the black side to Jimmy Savile’s life, like most people, I was utterly disgusted. But I grew up regarding him as a fairly creepy, perverse character, and so I can’t wholeheartedly say I was shocked by the revelations. Sick to my stomach, but not shocked.

I just kept looking at those gurning images of him leering out from the corner’s of news reports thinking: “well LOOK at him, he’s HORRIBLE!” Its almost ludicrous how bogeyman-like his face was. How was he not being investigated on a daily basis for just LOOKING like a dirty bastard?! But when you think about how many people were able to turn a blind eye to actually witnessing those ring encrusted fingers creeping up skirts, its overly hopeful to wish that someone would have locked him up based on his gargolic appearance alone.

My recoil response is the only reaction I have to Savile; I can remember Jim’ll Fix It being on sometimes as I ate my dinner, but don’t recall being particularly engaged or entertained. Maybe I was lucky, my TV viewing began at the tail end of his presenting career, so I was spared the onslaught of his appearances during the 70s. But I have always struggled to see anything appealing about him, and certainly couldn’t understand how he could possibly be seen as “desirable”. Even looking back at clips of him in his heyday: that weird snap on hair, the teeth, the clear and very apparent unfriendly air, the obvious strangeness of him – I have always been baffled by his fame and wasn’t at all rocked to find out he was a completely base human being.

Like me, Davies grew up creeped out by the guy, but to almost obsessive levels. Davies spent many years, preceding the meetings with Savile that make up this book, telling anyone who would listen about his misgivings regarding the TV star. Having happened upon a copy of Savile’s autobiography in his teens (a text that “put flesh on the skeleton of a dormant bogeyman“) and been a bemused and unimpressed audience member during a filming of Fix It as a child, Davies had Savile “fixed in my mind” and he was determined to one day “bring him down“.

In Plain Sight goes as far as possible to doing this as can been done when the quarry is already dead and rotting in the ground. Savile comes off as a thoroughly bleak and bizarre human being, almost more so than I could have imagined. He is like every bad guy, every twisted character your mind could conjure, with a layer of added horror.

This is an incredibly researched book and the relationship that develops between Davies and Savile over many years is fascinating. It fluctuates from hate to flickering warmth and back again, and you can almost feel Davies straining against his emotions towards the man, both positive and negative. A small insight perhaps into how Savile was able to manipulate just about anyone into liking him, even those who have made it their life’s work to unearth the dark side of his character.

If you are reluctant to pick this book up fearing graphic descriptions of his crimes, don’t be put off; Davies tackles the awful incidents with utter respect and humanity. There is nothing gratuitous here and victims are able to discuss what happened to them on their own terms. This book gives a voice to those who have been silenced for so long and ultimately goes someway to satisfy Davies’ desire to bring Savile down.

Unfortunately, for everyone involved, the demolishing of Savile’s kingdom came far too late. Davies’ book will stand as a record of his crimes and a supporting platform for his victims, but ultimately Savile evaded the net to the end. The image of that smiling, smirking  face, dead and tucked up in bed, fingers crossed in a final gesture of “getting away with it”, must haunt all his victims, and is certainly an image I cannot shake.

And there are many, many incidents in this book that will leave you dumbfounded and incredibly angry. Personally, I will never be able to forget the story of how Savile asked for “six dolly birds and a tent” in return for an appearance at a Gala. That he got what he requested, after council meetings and press articles had discussed the matter and agreed to it, is unbelievable and deeply sickening. That a town was able to prostitute its young female population, in return for a celebrity endorsement, has to be one of the most shameful examples of his ego and bizarre, almost bewitching, power over people.

This book is upsetting and affecting, but it is astoundingly well written and if you have any inkling to read it I highly recommend it. This behavior must never  be tolerated again and we must begin to try and understand how it could possibly have happened in the first place. This book goes some way to closing off one era in hope of another, its just a crying shame Savile isn’t here to read it and have that smirk wiped of his face once and for all.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9781782067436
  • Published by Quercus Books (out now)
  • Sent review copy via Netgalley

Blog Snooze

Art by Moga

Art by Moga*

Hello followers and casual browsers.

I have had a couple of rather full weeks and as such my blog has been having a snooze. Some distractions have been lovely, others have come from shock and sadness. But I miss this place and as its Monday, that weekly chance to start again, I am dusting off the reviews and general book chatter.

Hopefully today I will get reviews done for What Milo Saw and Eat My Heart Out that I will post later this week.

* This lovely animation is by Moga, please visit her tumblr for more!

Mother Island – Bethan Roberts

mother island The Blurb:

“Maggie Wichelo, a lonely young woman, arrives at the comfortable Oxford house in which she works as a nanny. Everything appears normal. Her glamorous employer, Nula, also happens to be her cousin. Samuel, the two year old boy she looks after, is pleased to see Maggie. Dedicated, efficient, and fiercely protective of Samuel, Maggie considers herself an excellent nanny, and Nula and her over-confident husband Greg have had few complaints about her work. But this is the morning on which Maggie will abduct Samuel, loading him into a hired car, and driving him to a remote boathouse on the island where she spent her teenage years: Anglesey, known to the locals as Môn, Mam Cymru, or the Mother of Wales.
For Maggie, everything goes back to the island…”

Roberts uses the present and flashbacks to quietly unravel the relationship between Maggie and Nula. I was gripped from the first page, puzzled by their dynamic and intrigued by their shared history.

There were so many times in this book that I thought I had grasped the reasons behind the characters’ behaviour, only for Roberts to pull the rug out from under me.

The pacing and characterisations are brilliantly observed and I completely devoured this book! This is a tense and accomplished novel about motherhood, lost innocence, feelings of abandonment and loneliness. You will find yourself feeling a spectrum of emotions, and I challenge anyone to point out the bad guy.

Roberts writing is so tight you can almost feel yourself walking across it, definitely a title to get your teeth into and to have your emotions rocked by.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780701185855
  • Published by Chatto & Windus, July 2014
  • Sent proof copy through Netgalley, thank you very much!

 

 

Judge a Cover Thursday! – Penguin’s new Charlie and The Chocolate Factory design

As Twitter melted a bit yesterday over a cover reveal, I have decided to bring Judge a Cover forward a day!
charlie barred

On Wednesday, Penguin Books released an image for a new book in thier Modern Classics range. Grey strips censored the title and author and Penguin invited  followers to guess what the book could be.

The image showed a shockingly made-up pre-adolescent girl, a mane of gold hair backcombed into a rage. Almost offensively candy shades of orange and pink popped out at you. This hyperbolic image of girliness seemed to be chomping at the bit, teeth gritted against a too glossy mouth.  A featureless, but similarly bedecked, mother figure seemed to turn her face away from the girl with detached uninterest.

Penguin sat back and watched as, what I can only assume, were the answers they expected rolled in (well, from those like me that totally missed the “golden ticket” bit); Valley of The Dolls and Lolita being people’s best bets.

charlie full image

When it was revealed that the cover was for Roald Dahl’s classic, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, I applauded their chutzpah! Here we have a primped and clearly spoilt child, body straining at her Betty Draper-esque mother’s hip, eyes almost shooting out her head towards whatever new acquisition she has her sights on. Her eyes, though tranced, seem to betray the practiced focus of a child used to getting her own way, here are the flickers of self-centredness that will be her undoing.

I thought the cover was brilliant, perfectly pitched for the adult readership of Penguin Modern Classics. It sets the dark, unsettling tone of Dahl’s work that Penguin clearly hope will appeal to adults, a kind of “time to read this another way” incentive.

I told Twitter I thought it was “magnificent”.

It was only then that Lizzi from These Little Words informed me that I was the only one on her timeline who liked it!

I was surprised, my feed had been all for it, if a little taken aback to begin with. So I looked through some more comments and saw that, yes indeed, some people hated it! Some decried it for not depicting the hero of the piece (“Where’s Charlie? Where’s the chocolate?!“), while others seemed to find the Lolita-like qualities a bit inappropriate and a whole lot creepy (I’m not sure if this means they would like the design had it been created for Nabokov’s classic instead).

I can see where these people are coming from, it gives me the cold creeps too to see young girls made up to the nines, but vacousness and its gifting to children by adults, clearly gave Dahl the creeps too. You are meant to find it creepy.

I’ll admit it has been a LONG time since this was read to me at school, but I am assuming we are meant to see this girl as a representation of Veruca Salt, the fur coat wearing monster product of her parents’ grotesque wealth and believed entitlement. This image shows her writ large, as gargoylic and horrible as she is meant to be.

I can see how the image has put people’s teeth on edge, but I find it a fascinating decision, and as someone on Twitter suggested, it would be great to see a serious of adult Dahl covers, all with similar images of parents partly banished to the sidelines, leaving just the horrible (or divine) cartoon rendering of their offspring. This, for me, would be a fantastic start to such a series – a bone chilling picture of what could happen to children of adult readers should they give in too many times…

Moranthology – Caitlin Moran

photoThe last time I finished a Moran book I hardly slept.

I was so shaken up by not having really liked it, I felt like I’d had a massive falling out with a friend.

I wrote my review, sat back and wondered where we should go from here.

After a few days of cooling off, I felt it was time to make the first move and try to get our relationship back on track. So, I picked up the copy of Moranthology that had been sat on my shelf since it came out in paperback, and proceeded to the water closet. I figured it would probably be a title that would benefit from being dipped in and out of, and there isn’t a more perfect room in the house for books like this.

Unfortunately, it turns out I am rather regular and frequent (sorry) so was meeting up with Moran more often than I had anticipated. In hindsight, we should have taken more baby-sized steps to coming back together, perhaps one step a week. Meeting up with her one, often twice (sorry) a day, turned out to be too much.

As someone who doesn’t read The Times for moral reasons, I have to admit that I based most of my opinion on Moran from the occasional article I’d picked up here and there, her Twitter feed and (the still wonderful) How to Be a Woman. Now, having read this collection of columns, I can conclude that she only very occasionally writes about anything important (feminism included) and that I should applaud her for having made a career from writing about nothing very much at all.

I’m actually being  pretty serious here, men have gotten away with making a lot of money from writing about not much at all for ages, so its good that Moran exists – if only to prove that women are funny actually and can make money from it, thank you very much.

And she is, she is funny and from this day on I shall view her as a humourist before anything else.

I can’t see any evidence of “strident” or “militant” feminism in much of her writing though, she doesn’t appear to shed any light on any issues that don’t revolve around herself or western media. There is no world view, no powerful manifesto to act upon. Just lists of stuff she likes and lists of stuff she doesn’t like.  So, if you are hoping for something along the lines of How to Be a Woman, you’ll be disappointed.

And thats what clouded this for me, I was expecting rants, spot-on opinion, the world getting taken to task. But it was just a bit *points at funny thing*.  And most of those funny things are plucked out of Moran’s immediate orbit.

Moran is basically the friend that nods along as you tell her about this week’s piss-taking moments of horror, only to butt in at the sniff of a pause, to exclaim: “Weeeeelll, when that happened to Meeeeeeee…” and carry on talking about herself for the next 3 hours, as if the uniqueness of her life-experience is somehow key to your own. And these are the main reasons why I will now think of her as “humourist” and not “political feminist”. She talks about herself A LOT, and other things a little, and it can be as draining as those real life moments with spotlight hogging friends.

And she comes out with some odd stuff too (bit weird that you spent your Amy Winehouse obituary apparently confirming she had an eating disorder), and some stuff that is just dull (really, you kept that bit about meetings in? Really? Sorry, most of us DO unfortunately have to attend meetings regularly and we’ve made those gags a million times before). And when she’s not being dull or weird she’s incessantly referring to The Beatles as if liking them is somehow interesting and vital.

Other stuff just missed the target with me – I think the made-up interludes with her husband, where she pesters him with questions about herself as he tries to sleep (“what would you miss about me if I died young?”) are meant to be cute, but she just comes off as an utter pain in the arse.

Also, the bit where she’s talking about her trademark hair and how she somehow now has ownership of that style, what’s that all about? She reminded me of the time I was outraged that one of my friend’s had got The Great Escape for Christmas: “Oh, so you’re a Blur fan too now are you?” I scoffed. When I was TWELVE. According to Moran, if you have a grey-streak in your hair you are copying her and should stop:

“But Caitlin, those women suffer from poliosis”

“No, they are copying me.”

No, honestly they do, they have poliosis like Ed Miliband

“Nup, I totally remember them buying my book, didn’t have hair like that then”

“Maybe but, and I’m  just saying here, perhaps they are copying Caryn Franklin…”

“Nup, me. Franklin’s copying me too”

“But…”

“Nup.

I know I shouldn’t take it all so seriously, but she seems to gets paid an awful lot of money to write about liking The Beatles and last night’s telly. I WANT MORE MANIFESTO! MORANFESTO!

All in all I found this a pretty draining read (based on one or two articles a day). I just wanted to get her out of my house as quickly as possible by the end, but she tends to linger, and though I haven’t lost sleep this time, I do feel a bit like she’s going to shove her head through my window at any moment to tell me a hilarious, quirky tale about her last shop at Waitrose.

She is funny, and she does have a wonderful turn of phrase, but as when all relationships end, you have to weigh up whether you really knew the person in the first place. Personally, I got carried away by her – I was seduced by the image, the one-liners, the fight for female justice. But it feels like a smoke screen, and while I wait for the dust to settle on our relationship, I will reach out for the arms of other writers with a feminist bent.

Its over.

well, until the next time…

 

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

bridget tara mcpherson

The wonderful cover by Tara McPherson

I was inspired to pick this up during fellow book blogger Emma Louise’s recent #sunathon. I wanted something fun and lightweight, and after a couple of false starts, I decided to try Bridget Jones’s Diary.

As you may have read in my #Bookadayuk week four round-up post,I had spent the years between its release and now piling sloppy scorn on this book. I based my opinion purely on the film ( I know! I know!), Renee Zellweger’s beyond twee English accent, and the fact I felt a lot of women saw themselves as “Bridget Joneses”, wearing their sadness on their sleeves as a  self-mocking badge of honour, adding “self-scorn” to the pile of issues already damaging their self esteem. Not knowing Bridget yet, I wanted to shake them and scream:

“YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS CARICATURE! STOP POSTING PICTURES OF YOURSELF ON FACEBOOK EATING ICE CREAM IN YOUR PYJAMAS, CRYING! TAGGING IT “BRIDGET” DOESN’T MAKE IT CUTE! COME TO MY HOUSE AND LETS MAKE A COLLAGE ABOUT HOW EXCELLENT YOU ARE INSTEAD!”

It felt to me, that as long as they had their poster-girl for self-pity, they had the trendy excuse they needed to ignore their excellence.

But that was before I knew just how excellent Bridget is, and though some women may have taken the imagery from the film a little too far in the pursuit of endless “what’s up hun?”s on Facebook, I must now agree that she is totally heroine-worship worthy.

bridget 2 I had decided that maybe I could read this book without scowling when, another heroine-worship worthy woman, Hadley Freeman, listed it in her book Be Awesome as a must-read. It goes to show how utterly clueless I was when Freeman’s inclusion of Bridget made me laugh aloud: “err…what Hadley?! I was not expecting THAT nonsense to turn up at the end of your otherwise excellent and humourous book about modern feminism“.

Once I had scoffed myself dry, I went and had a cup of tea, and remembering the vow I made after reading The List,I decided to get over myself and pick up a copy as soon as one fell at me from a charity shop shelf.

I figured that Hadley knows what she’s talking about, all the other books in that list are just fine, she wouldn’t send me out to spend my hard-earned pennies on a book that wasn’t totally awesome.

It didn’t take long to find a copy, it seems to be perpetually passed on by, what I now know are excellent women re-distributing the wisdom. And once I’d started there was no putting it down!

Every page is hilarious, Bridget is completely vivid, alive and loveable. I mourned the fact she wasn’t real, that I was having to read about her over a latte in Cafe Nero alone, without her actual, physical presence. For me, she wasn’t the needy, sad-faced, puppy-woman that mourned at me from film posters, she was determined, dogged and hilarious!

Ok, so perhaps she didn’t recognise these things in herself and spent many calories, alcohol units and 1471 minutes trying to find solutions to her problems, but isn’t that just what I was talking about above? That the main issue women have is that they don’t see how great they are? That they spend too much time counting things and over-analysing things? Don’t we all just need to get over all the “fuckwittage” and get on with being awesome every day?

I applauded her each time she left a panting Daniel Cleaver, his respect for abandoned as quickly as his trousers. And I nodded along, recognising her struggle, as she tried to balance her overwhelming feelings with what she knew was right. I loved that though she may have stuffed her face under covers at home, outside her head was always up, no matter what humiliation or letdown she was currently enduring. bridget 3

All of this was lost on me before I’d read this. I thought she was a whinger, pining for a life she didn’t have, jealous of those around her that seemed to have what she wanted – those “smug-marrieds”. I thought I would hate her, that I would think she was pathetic and needy. What I didn’t know was her ability to cut these people down, that it was actually their eyes that were judging HER, that it was BRIDGET that was having to come up with the wise-cracks and the withering put-downs in order to survive another dinner party where her life was scrutinised and picked over along with the main course.

As Freeman says herself, the plot of this book is so very much secondary to Bridget, Fielding has written such a vivid, brilliant and very, very funny character, she could pretty much get up to anything and I wouldn’t blink – I just want to hear her tell me about it.

What I thought was a sad woman clad perpetually in Haagen-Daz splashed night wear and big pants, was actually a woman with a thick skin, unapologetic about her actions and undeniably her own person. She is a fantastic role model and I am glad that I have found her, and anyone that says anything else, probably hasn’t met her.

Book info:

  • ISBN: 9780330512176
  • My copy was published by Picador in 1998
  • Bought copy from charity shop

The illustrations I have used in this post are by the amazing Tara McPherson for Penguin. Once I have my hands on a copy with this cover I shall do my wise-woman duty and give my current copy away.