December has been a strange month – both long and short at the same time – although it’s been lovely to have some time off to just relax – even if we can’t go anywhere!
So, here’s my final monthly cultural round up of this most awful of years.
My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley
I was lucky to be approved for this on Netgalley – I had adored First Love and was very keen to read her follow up. My Phantoms is a seemingly simple tale of the fractuous relationship between a mother and daughter but it finds astonishing depth, surprising humour and emotional heft in what could have been a dull story in lesser hands. I predict that this will be huge next year.
Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler
I had seen a lot of buzz for Fake Accounts on Twitter as a book to read in 2021, so again requested on Netgalley. I wasn’t so enamoured with this novel which is undoubtedly very funny and very sharp in its satirisation of modern day life through social media. Effectively a story about a young woman who discovers that her boyfriend is a secret online conspiracy theorist, the narrative peters out and the satire wears thin. There are very enjoyable moments in Fake Accounts but overall it wasn’t for me.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
I’ve been told all year that this was fantastic and did I listen? Well, I did eventually, and everyone was right, The Liar’s Dictionary is a brilliant novel. I’m a sucker for books about language and books with a dual timeline so it’s no surprise that I found this story of mountweazels, pelicans and love to be utterly charming.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
My favourite bookseller, David from No Alibis, gave me a proof of this back in the summer, assuring me that I would love it. I did. In fact, I think it may have been my favourite book of the year. I am one of the few people who has yet to read Station Eleven, so I was quite unprepared for the skill in structure, characterisation and emotion that pervades The Glass Hotel. Ostensibly the story of the fall-out from a ponzi scheme, this stunning novel is about the paths we take in life and what we gain and lose from the choices that we make. I adored it.
A highlight of my viewing year, Shoplifters came as a complete surprise to me as I knew very little about it. On the surface it is the story of a family who make ends meet through petty shoplifting, but director Hirokazu Kore-eda completely wrongfoots his audience and allows his film to become something emotional and meaningful exploring the importance of family and the good things that can come from bad decisions. Heart-breaking but incredibly uplifting.
We put this on saying ‘sure if it’s bad we’ll turn it off after 20 minutes’ but ended up being so thoroughly and suprisingly entertained. Game Night is not subtle or believable, but it is a lot of fun and features some great comic actors at the top of their game… (see what I did there?)
Ready or Not
This was recommended to be by Rachel after I’d mentioned on Twitter how much I’d enjoyed Game Night. Ready Or Not is a ridiculous movie about a bride who ends up being hunted by her husband’s crazy family on her wedding night. They belive that she has to be killed in a ritual sacrifice or they will all die. Featuring a star turn from Samara Weaving, this is over-the-top, crude and very funny and turned out to be the best fun I’ve had with a movie all year.
His House is one of those horror’s that elevates the entire genre. A man and his wife come to the UK from war-torn Sudan, losing their daughter on the perilous crossing. They are given a house by the authorities, but things soon start to go wrong as they are haunted, literally, by their grief. His House is intelligent, looks stunning and manages to pull off a twist that you won’t see coming.
And finally, we watched Charlie Brooker’s Death to 2020. But the less said about that, the better…
It’s hard to avoid the Christmas music in our house during December, although I did enjoy Calexico’s alternative festive album Seasonal Shift.
I collated by Top Ten albums of the year for No More Workhorse which you can read here. It took a while and I still wish I could change it, but that’s the thing with these lists, isn’t it?
Throughout the year, I keep a playlist of new to me songs that Ihave loved throughout the year. My list for 2020 is a long one but you can check it out on Spotify here.
It’s been the strangest of years for all of us, and I wish you all a very Happy New Year. May 2021 see a return to some kind of normality. I’ll leave you with this beauty of a song from The Unthanks.
May good fortune be with you, from all sorrows refrain
Till that happy time when we all meet again
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!