All I have done all summer is moan about how busy I’ve been and how I haven’t had time to complete my 20 Books of Summer Challenge and yet, I managed to find time to read a few more books that weren’t on my list, watch a good few movies and listen to lots of music! Here’s what has been on my cultural radar during August.
I checked out Spiderhead as it is based on a short story by George Sanders, which I loved, but it’s another one of those Netflix duds which sounds good on paper but loses any spark on screen.
Set sometime in the future, the film focuses on Jeff (Miles Teller)a convict who has been given the chance to serve his term in the relatively comfortable Spiderhead unit for experimental psychology, run by smooth Dr Steve Abnesti (Chris Hemsworth). Jeff is there on condition that he, like all the other specially chosen lab–rat prisoners, consents to have various drugs, which will heighten emotion, tested on his system.
The premise here is good, the performances are solid, and there is a great ’70s soft rock soundtrack, but there is little to hold interest and the source material is stretched too thin.
Sweat is a really thoughtful Polish film which explores the insidious nature of social media that avoids cliché in a successfully understated manner. The film follows online fitness motivator a Sylwia Zajac, a social media celebrity surrounded by loyal employees and fervent admirers whose every moment is shared online.
Despite her online popularity, Sylwia is desperately lonely, struggling to maintain a relationship with her disapproving mother and becoming increasingly unnerved by a stalker who sits in his car outside her apartment. As the façade of a perfect life starts to crumble, Sylwia’s career starts to implode.
Sweat could have been a straightforward slice of ‘bad influencer’ but it has more depth than that, presenting Sylwia as an inherently good person struggling to cope as more and more people want a piece of what they think is her. The film is centred by a fantastic performance from Magdalena Kolesnik who is in nearly every scene.
EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE
Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of the most bonkers films I have seen in a long time. For most of the first half, I really didn’t have a clue what was going on but I didn’t really care thanks to the stunning visuals, cracking humour and solid central turn from Michelle Yeoh.
It’s a film about time travel and the multiverse which features talking rocks, characters with hotdogs for fingers, a bagel of doom and a chef raccoon but for all it’s madness, there is a real emotional heft to this story of a middle-aged woman facing up to the lives that she could have had and trying to repair her relationship with her fractured family. I loved it.
How High We Go in the Dark by sequoia nagamatsu
I got strong David Mitchell vibes off this unusual and prescient debut about a plague that spreads across the world. Timing is everything, eh?
Structured as a series of interlinked stories, Nagamatsu imagines post-plague worlds where children are brought to theme parks to die, families store the voices of their lost loved ones in robotic pets and a pig being harvested for organs becomes sentient and starts talking. Some sections are much stronger than others and some of the connections between characters feels forced at times, but overall I really enjoyed this imaginative and strangely uplifting novel which marks the introduction of a new and exciting literary voice.
The Weekend by charlotte wood
After what feels like a tsunami of books about disaffected twenty-something women over the last couple of years, I found The Weekend really refreshing. Three women in their 70s gather to clear out the beach house of their deceased friend Sylvie. They are: Jude, a perfectionist who used to work as a restaurant manager but is now a “kept woman”; Wendy, a feminist writer, seminal in her field who is now arguing with her children and becoming increasingly forgetful; and finally Adele, a once luminous but now struggling actor whose partner has just kicked her out, leaving her with nothing to her name.
As they clear out their friend Sylvie’s house, old secrets will be uncovered and old jealousies revisited as the women are required to face a changing future together.
What I loved about this book was how Wood’s characters, despite their advancing age, were still in the messy and optimistic process of living – all still hoping to create, to move on to new challenges and to continue to be the women they have always been despite the aging process catching up with them. I thought it was a joyous read.
The Last White Man by mohsin hamid
This was my first experience of Mohsin Hamid’s work and if I’m honest, I wasn’t particularly impressed. The Last White Man tells the story of Anders, a white man, who awakens one morning to a new reality: his skin has “turned a deep and undeniable brown.” This transformation, of which Anders’ is the first, but not the only one, raises interesting questions. What if whiteness were suddenly gone? Would the social order of life come undone? Would anything change?
My problem with The Last White Man is that it raises lots of really interesting questions but doesn’t interrogate them in any depth. Anders is put in difficult situations, which then diffuse as quickly as they have arisen. There are interesting ideas about race, privilege and identity but I never felt invested in any of the characters or their plight.
Liz liked this one a lot more than I did and you can read her great review here.
Following on from their stunning collaboration as Big Red Machine from 2021, The National and Bon Iver have teamed up again for another beauty of a song which I can’t stop listening to.
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!