Welcome to my monthly round-up of non-746 reads, movies and music that have caught my attention in April.
True Story is a really unique and interesting book that it is probably best to know little about before starting to read it. The fact that it was issued with four very different covers should alert you to the fact that it straddles timelines and genres to explore the nature of story telling and the stories we tell ourselves.
The reader needs to work to piece it all together, but that’s to its benefit.
In 1999, a couple of teen boys drive a passed-out drunk girl, Alice, home from a party. Afterwards, they brag to friends about assaulting her; later, they’ll claim that story was made up. Alice herself can’t remember that night, so she can never be sure which version of the story is true and consequently, neither can the reader.
Perry is an exciting new literary voice who isn’t afraid to make her reader work and she throws in a bravura and unforgettable ending.
I bought In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado way back in early lockdown last year and have no idea why I haven’t read it sooner. Carmen Maria Machado’s account of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her ‘petite, blond, Harvard graduate’ lover is a horrifying but enthralling exploration of domestic abuse within a lesbian relationship.
This is a memoir about two young, ambitious writers whose passionate relationship sours when one begins to subject the other to emotional and, at times, physical cruelty. However it plays structurally with the idea of what a memoir is, telling the story through short chapters all titled ‘Dream House as…’ and uses wit, inventiveness and a series of narrative tropes — including classic horror themes — to create an entirely unique piece of work. The judges of the Rathbones Folio Prize, which it has just won, called it “a compelling memoir, a striking piece of storytelling, and a work of art” and I couldn’t agree more.
White City is the second novel from Dublin writer Kevin Power and it is an absolute blast of a book. Set in the upper echelons of Dublin society, it follows Ben – whose banker father is about to stand trial for fraud – as he tries to find a place for himself in the shadow of his infamous father.
With no money worries and a general lack of ambition, Ben is studying for a PHD which is going nowhere. When his father is arrested and his financial support system is turned off, he has to find a way of making money. As he falls deeper into a spiral of drug use, he gets involved in a dodgy property deal in Serbia, which seems to good to be true.
White City is a real page-turner, reminiscent of early Amis, very sharp and funny, but with heart. Power is an astute writer of character and the book is also a sly look at the bust and boom of capitalism, not just in Dublin but across the Western world. Highly recommended.
We’ve been watching a LOT of movies this month, so I’ll keep my reactions brief!
This is a very sweet film with gorgeous cinematography, a stunning soundtrack and one very cute kid in cowboy boots. I’m wondering though if it was overly hyped as I expected more. Still, it is nice to see this story told on the big screen and the film is full of quiet delights.
I consider myself a relatively smart person with more than a passing knowledge of the background to the making of Citizen Kane and yet I was totally lost in this lush, beautiful looking but entirely confusing tale of Herman J. Mankiewicz, as he races to finish writing the Welles’ classic. 1930s Hollywood is beautifully recreated but I spent so much time looking stuff up on the internet in order to follow the plot that eventually we gave up. Oldman is great, but Amanda Seyfried is better.
Promising Young Woman
I don’t hold the popular opinion on Promising Young Woman which I really enjoyed up until the end, which I really hated. Carey Mulligan deserves that Oscar nom and the film looks and sounds great but that ending killed me. I can’t mention anything because of spoilers, but asking your protagonist to trust everyone who has ever let her down in the film to date in order to pull off your ending felt like a cop out to me. It’s interesting that I also didn’t like Emerald Fennell’s showrunner season of Killing Eve but she has definitely got an eye for visual style.
Sound of Metal
Again, I go against the consensus here. Riz Ahmed is fantastic in this, and in another year, might have won that Oscar, but I found this fine, if a little dull. The sound editing is pretty stunning though.
We watched this after I finished reading the book and it was interesting to see Norton’s treatment of the tale of Lionel Essrog, detective with Tourette’s. The film is set in the 1950s instead of the 1990s and that works, but you can tell that this was a twenty-year labour of love for Norton who slightly spoils the story with slow pacing and an unnecessary running time of over two and a half hours.
Also proving the adage that less is more, Aaron Sorkin’s biopic of Molly Bloom who ran celebrity filled poker games in the 90s, is another two and a half hour slog that could have been improved by lopping off at least 40 minutes of running time. Jessica Chastain does the heavy lifting here, but Kevin Costner is also great as her pushy father, however it is just too long and Sorkin’s fabled snappy dialogue comes off as a bit laboured.
I really did not expect to like this as much as I did. It is a ridiculous, brain in the back pocket revenge shoot-em-up but it is a taut, action packed yarn featuring great performances from Willem Defoe and the late Michael Nyqvist. Even Keanu is OK, but that could be because he doesn’t have a lot of lines…
This month I have been revisiting Tom Waits a lot. He’s one of my favourite artists and it was lovely to dive into his back catalogue again.
I was delighted though to hear the first release in a long time from the very wonderful José González. Treat yourself, it’s a wee beauty.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!