Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Kvinnorna och Staden 1 - Kerstin Ekman

In the 1960s, Per Anders Fogelström published a series of books entitled 'City of My Dreams' telling the story of Stockholm, from a worker's perspective. They are dearly loved classics in Swedish literature and a great example of history brought 'down' from royalties and wars to a more humane perspective.

Ekman's series 'The Women and the Town' was published a decade later and completes Fogelströms stories by adding a female perspective to the new social history aspect. 
Ekman certainly paved the way for brilliant Sandberg's books, adding focus on cooking, home management, family relations and a frequent wish for another, freer life.

Add to that Ekman's considerable literary skills, and you will see that although a bit old, these first two books are a must-read.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford (London)

I am in dire need of an adjective expressing the notion contained in my own word 'Disney-esque'. I would have used it for Shakespeare's Birthplace the other day, and now again for this studio-turned-amusement park. That's twice in a week!

If you like Disney, then this 'Disney-esque' aspect should not be a problem; I personally have issues with the artificial side to it, but then I also realize that in film-making, artifice more or less comes with the territory, so...
This exhibit of film artifice is amazingly well-made and a feast for the eyes. 
It's also Disney-esque-ly well-organized, which is fortunate since it's very, very crowded. 

(And another thing : Obviously, people can do what they want; live and let die, all that; I'm all for. But What In The Name of Heaven do people actually do with all the gazillions of photos they seem to be taking at places like this?? Everyone is snapping away like there is no tomorrow!?)

I personally spent a large part of our three-and-a-half hours at the Studio Tour mentally urging people to just "go home and read the books, instead!" 
And if that seems somewhat contradictory to my previous rants on free will, then so be it.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Dark Places - Gillian Flynn

Playing with narrative voices is always a good idea, especially in literature, especially in crime literature. Flynn is particularly good at it, as she demonstrated in 'Gone Girl'.

This rather classic thriller delves into a cold case - nearly a whole family assassinated in their home, the story obviously told by the sole survivor in present time, and of her family members in flashbacks.

It was an OK pageturner, not much more. Definitely not up to the 'Gone Girl' standard.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Glastonbury Abbey

If truth be told, more has vanished than remained of this site, where monks allegedly found King Arthur and Queen Guinevere's graves in the 12th century. (No evidence suggests either Arthur nor Guinevere have ever really existed of course.) 
The abbey had been founded way before that (7th century!) and persisted until Henry VIII saw no other way but to divorce first the Pope and then Catherine of Aragon, in the early 16th century.

Despite the sorry state of the abbey, enough is left to allow you to glimpse the past splendour. The spiritual presence of the Round Table and the swarms of hippies around the abbey and the rest of the town rather added quaintness to the general impression of otherworldliness. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Shakespeare's Birthplace at Stratford Upon Avon

Throngs of tourists are annoying enough to be elbow-to-elbow with, but then how could I as an English teacher and lover of Will be anything but appreciative of the fact that people want to be part of the fanbase? So I grit my teeth in silence.

The birthplace (and New Place, where he retired as an elderly self-made Jay-Z) had a Disney-sort of quality to it. 
The preparative museum was extremely lightweight (check out the Globe instead!) but the rose garden was exquisite, and contained actors performing famous monologues on demand. 

Best of all was the stroll (pilgrimage, if you must) down the Avon to the Holy Trinity Church, where we visited the Bardic grave. Though far from being a faithful Christian I am nevertheless a rather frequent visitor and admirer of elderly churches, especially when there is a Shakespeare inside.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Cardiff Castle

As far as castles go, this one was well-preserved and unusually versatile!

It contains WWI wartime shelters, a Norman keep, remains of a Roman wall, a handsome clock tower, a lavishly well-furnished residence in Victorian Gothic style plus a museum of Wales at war including a dress-up section where war-enthusiasts of all ages can dress up in authentic-looking uniforms. (I'd publish photos, but my kids would kill me.)

Beautiful and interesting.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Absolutely Fabulous - M. Fletcher 2016

Because the TV show was only broadcast dubbed to French in the 1990s, and I have always boycotted dubbing, I never managed to catch more than the odd episode.
I therefore can't compare the film and the series, which is probably just as well.

Especially as this film kind of made me regret having missed out on the series.
Not that it was in any way hilarious, but it did contain : Aging ladies disrespecting just about every rule in the book, a Jean-Paul Gaultier cameo, a 'Some Like It Hot'-pastiche, a few funny jokes and a plot! Could have been so much worse. 


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stonehenge, Amesbury

I believe it was Bill Bryson who said that the mere visit of Stonehenge takes approximately eleven minutes. In that he is probably right.
Cleverly, the English Heritage has spiced it up a bit with a small preparatory museum, a couple of life-sized, paleolithic huts, a shuttle to take you to and from the rocks, the mandatory cafeteria and one of the most fanciful gift shops I have ever encountered.

The stones themselves were majestic and imposing, though I'd be hard pressed to say whether that is due to the formation itself or to everything you have heard and read about them. Not that I'm sure it really matters.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Tva Nötcreme och en Moviebox - Hammar & Wikingsson

When this was published in 2003, authors Hammar and Wikingsson were two buddies and budding media stars in Sweden. Today, they are two of the greatest and coolest Swedish hipsters, having just finished shooting their first feature film after a decade of hugely successful TV shows and documentaries.

This is an essay book, dealing with their teenage years in 1980s smalltown Sweden. It was interesting to me probably in the same way Des Barres's 'I'm With The Band' is entertaining to whoever grew up with Led Zep and the Stones. Recognition and identification are key.

Fortunately, Hammar & Wikingsson excel in their own idiomatic style, which is by far more articulate and witty than Des Barres's. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Martian - R. Scott 2015

Whenever my lawfully wedded husband starts grumbling about what he considers to be unrealistic details in James Bond-films (the last time, I believe it was the Russians piloting the wrong plane model...) I nod and go "Oui chéri, you're right, that is THE most preposterously unbelievable thing about 'Moonraker'"...

As for 'The Martian', my severe lack in space engineering skills should probably prevent me from being too categorical, but not much about this story of an astronaut forgotten on Mars - not to mention the retrieval of said astronaut! - felt in any way real to me.
Not that realism is always necessary in a film (or there would be no James Bond films) (I wouldn't miss them) but believability is! Coleridge's "willing suspension of disbelief" only goes so far, I'm afraid, where I'm concerned.

The actors here are top-notch, and the scenery spectacular. Still I wish Ridley Scott would stick to TV.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

I'm With The Band - Pamela Desbarres

This would, then, be the Groupie Mémoir of all Groupie Mémoirs (not that I know of all that many...). Des Barres's claim to fame is that she slept with a considerable number of the greatest rock stars of the free-lovin' 1960s. 

I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand it's kind of refreshing to read about a woman genuinely embracing her own sexuality. On the other hand, it's also a bit depressing to realize how consistently she views both herself and aforementioned sexuality in relation to the men she has sex with. 
I suppose like the rest of us, Des Barres is a child of her time, though. She grew up in the 1950s, and 4.000 years of patriarchy (probably more) are not so easily dismissed.

As a rock'n'roll mémoir, this was just as interesting as quite a few of the others I have read. Des Barres, for all the drugs she certainly took, seems to have kept a clearer mind and  brighter memories than, say, Ace Frehley or the Mötley Crue, whose brains apparently shrivelled up from all the alcohol, and who don't remember much of anything any longer.

In short, this was mostly entertaining yet probably a lot more so for someone who is more into the 1960s than me.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


The concept is kind of fun; confronting celebrities with the interviewer's preconceived notions about him/her is slightly more original than a classic interview situation. And funnier. (Arguably, it might actually be more fun for the interviewee than for the listener but at least someone is having a laugh..!)

It is also somewhat more shallow, since no time is given to really delve into anything. 
Plus, interviewer Persson asks a lot less follow-up questions than I would have.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

How Did We Get So Dark? - Royal Blood

I have no idea How You Got So Dark, but I kind of like it!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

ApeTizer - Shaka Ponk

I enjoyed both their previous concert and album so much, my usual low-expectations principle was sadly unapplicable to this five-song EP.

Very fortunately (as I have already got tickets for Bercy next March..!) I still enjoyed this! Perhaps not as much as 'The White-Pixel Ape' but enough for the time being. 
Album coming up in November.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Neva Left - Snoop

What Snoop is : Accessible on most music-streaming platforms. A very OK rap artist.

What Snoop is not : Jay Z. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

HHhH - Laurent Binet

I used to be fairly interested in World War II. Then I went and married my husband : Overkill of WWII interest. That's why it took me so long to get around to reading this biography about Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Gestapo, architect of the Holocaust etc. 
(Also the man of the brilliant book-title : Himmler's Hirn (brain) heisst (is called) Heydrich. The publisher felt 'Heydrich' was too basic a title, according to Binet.)

Binet's passion for the war and the assassination attempt on Heydrich in particular makes my husband's look like a lazy pastime. That is a strength and a snag, actually, since I personally thought that a good hundred pages of detail could and should have been edited out of this book. (But then I wonder whether editors actually edit anything at all any longer? I feel books just like films are getting longer and longer, yet none the better for it.) 

The take on narration, however, elevates 'HHhH' from a meticulous history book to an original literary work, no less! Binet converses with himself and his readers, prattles on about his musings on other writers, on the narrative course to follow, on how much fiction is profitable to a history novel, on the difference between a novel and a book, on his research, his travels, his girlfriends past and present... Impossible to say how genuine he is, but it certainly feels both imaginative and accurate at the same time.

A bit long, but excellent!  

Friday, July 21, 2017

Fake Sugar - Beth Ditto

Quite possibly I may be more into Beth Ditto for her voice and personality than for her music.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy listening to her, though! Not overly innovative, but very listenable pop/rock/whatever!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Dear White People s1

A film developed into a TV series is not a particularly promising concept, and one that I would certainly never have watched had it not been writer & director Justin Simian himself who was in charge of the show. And even so, it took me some time to get around to it. 
I am, as I may tend to repeat a tad too often, extremely suspicious to all sorts of adaptations.

But what do you know?! Turns out that rule, too, has exceptions! Or at least this one!
Somehow, Simian's brilliant film has become a brilliant series. It's still clever, political, risqué, thought-provoking and occasionally rather provocative. And as if that wasn't enough, it also daringly plays with narrative voices, perspective and timeline, which is a stunning performance, really, in modest 30-minute episodes.

It's still about racial tension on an Ivy league campus. And homosexuality, outsidership, love, ambition and a lot of other things.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari

So this time I read it in small portions and an active pen in my hand. Also a good way! (Last time's unmitigated praise here

What stuck with me the most on this reread was the concept of cognitive dissonance : "Every man-made order is packed with internal contradictions. Cultures are constantly trying to reconcile these contradictions, and this process fuels change."
For instance, we see equality and individual freedom as fundamental values. "Yet the two values contradict each other. Equality can be ensured only by curtailing the freedoms of those who are better off. Guaranteeing that every individual will be free to do as he wishes inevitably short-changes equality."

You might argue this is more of a philosophy-lesson than the history Harari promises in the title, and I would say it is both and all the better for it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Okja - Joon-Ho Bong 2017

I suppose I simply should have done some more research before hitting 'play'.
Past the first twenty minutes, it was embarrassingly obvious that this was in fact a kid's movie : Predictable, farcical at times, overly simplistic, edifying and animated by very basic emotions. Plus a young kid and her cute pet. Basically, this is 'E.T.'

Attentive readers already know how I feel about Spielberg.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

To The Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

A fervent admirer of Woolf (rediscovered  'Orlando' to great satisfaction) I nevertheless found this opus more strenuous than enjoyable, just like last time I read it. 

The experimentation in narrative technique and point of view definitely did loads for postmodern literature but it makes for some tiresome reading. 
Focalization skips from one character to another in what felt like a nonsensical way and as there is no plot to speak of, I never got really acquainted with the characters and so was wholly unable to muster any interest in them.

Sadly, I gave up halfway through! I like her short stories, some of which are a lot more abstract, but for some reason I just can't get into this. Might have to try it a third time, at some point in the future... 
(I don't know why I refuse to accept that I just don't like it. I SHOULD like it!)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ten Things I Hate About You - G. Junger 1999

Shakespeare it ain't, but not far from either. Julia Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Heath Ledger, all youthful and innocent and cuter than they ever were thereafter in a 1990s fashion, re-enacting 'The Taming of the Shrew'. 

My thirteen-year-old liked it, which may not say much but she is, after all, the number one target audience for this.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

The timelessness of art is gripping not only when I contemplate 600-year-old Notre Dame de Paris, but also when realize this Faulkner masterpiece is almost a full 90 years old. 

Re-reading it, I'm thinking it's almost as if Faulkner had been determined to experiment how much it is humanely possible to play on narration while still remaining coherent and maintaining his literary standard. 
Reading takes focus and concentration, therefore, but is so intensely pleasurable I tore through the novel in two days.

It is set, of course, in Faulkner's usual, fictional Yoknapatawpha county, and revolves around the Compsons, the fall of the Compson family paralleling the decay of the Old South. The narration is divided into four parts, the first three told by different members of the family and the fourth by an omniscient narrator. Daughter Caddie does none of the narrating yet is at the core of the plot, most of which, incidentally, is already in the past when the novel begins.

For anyone with even a slight interest in literature, the Norton Critical Edition is always The Shit To Get, as it completes the novel with a series of very enlightening critical texts -  by prominent critics; here Robert Penn Warren, Jean Paul Sartre and André Bleikasten, for instance, though my favourite is Olga Vickery's A Study In Perspective -  plus, in this case, Faulkner's own Appendix, explicating the plot to the point it's almost indispensable.

I just remembered precisely why Faulkner my Favourite Author of All Time.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Going Clear - A. Gibney 2015

Though I had heard good reviews of this documentary, I had also viewed enough other documentaries on Netflix - of that very American, overly-dramatic, Nat Geo Wild-kind - to be a bit skeptical as well. Unwarranted skepticism, as this turned out insightful, knowledgeable and finely tuned.

It dealt in detail with :
- Founder L Ron Hubbard, his insanity and his batty theories. (Watch 'The Master'!)
- Successor David Miscavige, his paranoia and violent methods.
- Big bucks.
- Travolta and Tom Cruise.

For obvious reasons, it's tough to have any sort of opinion on the veracity of their findings, but the whole documentary draws essentially on interventions of ex-scientologists from Miscavige's inner circle. It also fits with things I have read about the sect (France classifies it as such) from other high-ranking scientologists.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Plan B - Jonathan Tropper

Present in this first novel by 'This Is Where I Leave You'-writer Tropper :
A tad Jackie Collins (sexy, beautiful women, big love, a celebrity with a cocaine habit) 
+ A lot of 'Friends' (1990s yuppies, a tight group of friends, incessant punchlines) 
+ Heavy 'The Big Chill' inspiration (relational melodrama in a wooden cabin in the forest, an absent friend, midlife crisis).

Original? Not so much.
Shallow? Yes.
Entertaining? That, too.

Also : A demonstration of how tough single-voice narration can be to pull off...