Welcome to my monthly round up of cultural delights that don’t belong in the old 746.
This month, given my focus on Reading Ireland Month, I only read two books outside of that challenge.
I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman, translated by Ros Schwartz
This is a very dark, yet strangely quiet book, whose style appears at times to be at odds with the subject matter. First published in 1995, this is the first of Belgian Jacqueline Harpman’s books to be translated expertly into English by Ros Schwartz.
Deep underground, thirty-nine women are kept in isolation in a cage. For what purpose, they don’t know. Few can remember their life before the cage and the narrator, a young girl and the fortieth prisoner, can remember nothing. One day, their captors flee, leaving their cage open and freedom a possibility. What will they do with it? How will they survive? And what awaits them in the world outside?
This post-apocalyptic novel follows the women as they attempt to make sense of what has happened to them and adapt to a strange world outside of captivity. It is a thoughtful book, that answers no questions about the world in which the women have found themselves, but instead focusing on female friendship and tenacity. Despite containing some powerfully shocking scenes, I Who Have Never Known Men is a quiet meditation on the indominability of the human spirit.
Supper Club by Lara Williams
I quite enjoyed Supper Club, another book about female friendship, but this time in the context of a subversive supper club where women go to eat and to be themselves away from societies judgemental gaze. The women here use food as a weapon, to assert themselves and to refuse to be ‘nice’ in a way that society expects. The book centres on the Club’s founders, Roberta and Stevie and their overpowering and sometimes overwhelming friendship and this is when it works best. Some digressions into the lives of other minor characters can at times feel unnessary but this is a vital and vivid debut and I’ll be interested to see what Williams does next.
Given the situation, we have been watching a lot more television and movies as a distraction method! In between our obsessive watching of Masterchef, there has been much to enjoy.
This Country – We finally finished all three series of the wonderful This Country, which is, in my opinion one of the best spoof documentaries made for television. Ostensibly exploring life for young people living in a small country village, This Country followed the hapless but downright lovable Kurtan and Kerry and their friend and mentor Francis, the local vicar. Laugh-out-loud hilarious, sharply topical and often incredibly emotional, I will miss this show so much. You can watch it all on BBC iPlayer right now.
Narcos – We have now started watching Narcos, the acclaimed Netflix drama about the Columbian drug cartels and the life of Pablo Escobar and once I got past the rather irritating voice-over I’ve started to really enjoy it.
You Were Never Really There – Lynne Ramsay’s latest offering is beautifully shot, broodily acted by Joaquin Phoenix and stunningly soundtracked by Johan Johannson. Phoenix plays a fixer, who specialises in returning missing girls, who gets embroiled in a deadly game when he is sent to retrieve a senators daughter. It’s very violent and very elusive, but features a subtle performance from Phoenix (better here than in Joker I thought) and a wonderful open-ended conclusion
Mandy – Nicholas Cage stars in this slice of B-movie madness. I still can’t decide if it’s brilliant or bad or bonkers. Or all three. A crazy revenge drama, it’s worth watching for Linus Roache alone, who gives a wonderfully over-the-top performance as a preacher turned Manson-style killer. And this in a movie where everything is over-the-top!
Okja – My need to see EVERYTHING made by Bong Joon-Ho continues with Okja which is a wonderful, heartwarming movie about a girl and her giant genetically-modified pig. Yes, you read that right! Okja could have been a bit more subtle in its message, but it’s a fantastic feel-good film with Bong Joon-Ho’s trademark flair and style.
Serial – I finally finished Serial, the podcast that birthed all podcasts and was, in the end, a little underwhelmed. I think the hype had overshadowed the story for me and I think I should have listened to it within a more condensced timeframe than I did to really keep the momentum going. Did he do it? I have no idea. Who could? But it was definitely a slippery case with more than one person involved lying.
Alexander Carson – I’ve moved from an open plan office in work to a makeshift office on my own at home – one benefit of which is my ability to play music! I need instrumental music when I’m trying to read or type and have been loving this contemporary classical album from Alexander Carson called Tombland. I’ve been playing it so much that my daughter is now requesting it when she reads!
I hope everyone stays safe and well throughout April x
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!