Sunday, 26 February 2012

THE SISTERS BROTHERS

I just finished reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

I'm a little ashamed to say that I resisted finding out more about this book for a long time because its lack of an apostrophe in the title bothered me immensely. I felt a bit ridiculous when I discovered that it's about brothers named Charlie and Eli Sisters.

At the time of the gold rush, the infamous professional killers Charlie and Eli are sent from their home in Oregon to San Fransisco to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm, who has gravely offended their boss. Along the way, Eli tackles many difficult questions that he has about his life and comes to some unpleasant conclusions about them.

It's a fascinating book. Very strange, it's not quite like anything I've read before, but I couldn't stop reading it until close to the end (I'll get to that in a minute). Even after I'd dealt with my issues about the title, I resisted the book because it was a Western, and after stuff to do with wars, cowboys are my next least-favourite thing. Honestly, I just switch off when I start hearing about either of them, but I was convinced to read this book by the TV Book Club (a terrible programme that picks out some excellent books), and I'm glad I did.

It's an unflinching portrait of life back then - there's a particularly, shall we say, memorable scene involving a horse and a spoon that will haunt me - but it never feels gratuitous. And the relationship between Charlie and Eli is so realistic that at times it's quite troubling to read.

The ending disappointed me, though, and I can't quite figure out why that is. The story seems to be over a long time before the book is. I think the problem might be that the majority of the book is about the brothers on their journey to San Fransisco to find Warm. Finding and killing him would be the natural conclusion of the book, but this isn't what happens. I won't spoil it for you, but a whole bunch of other stuff happens, and even though I can see why the author's chosen to do this, I think it spoils the ending somewhat.

Despite this, I would still recommend this book, even to people who are put off by the mention of Westerns. In fact, I would recommend it to them especially, because sometimes it's nice to be proven wrong. Not often. In fact, very rarely, but this is one of those times that it was.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

THE HELP

Last night, I finally got to see The Help, and I was incredibly impressed.

Set in the 1960s, aspiring writer Skeeter (Emma Stone) decides she wants to write a book about the experiences of black maids who serve white families and raise their children, but aren't even allowed to use their toilets. At first, nobody will talk to her, but finally Aibileen (Viola Davis) decides to tell her story, and soon everyone wants to be involved.

The Help is a rare film - it's both genuinely moving and very funny. I expected the first, but not the second. It's also quite scary in places. Not in the way that a horror film is scary, but I found it astonishing and quite scary that people less than fifty years ago believed that black people had different diseases to white people and had to "do their business outside." I like to think most people can see beyond skin colour nowadays, and it was shocking to me that people really felt that strongly not that long ago.

I'm an Emma Stone fan, it has to be said. In fact, if I'm being honest, Stone's casting is one of the main reasons I was interested in seeing the film to begin with, but Octavia Spencer steals the show as non-nonsense main Minny, who goes from working for Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) to her enemy Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain). She deserves every award she's won for the film, and I hope she gets the Oscar, too, although I wouldn't be unhappy to see Chastain win it either.

There was only one problem with the film, and you'll probably think I'm crazy, but it really did bug me. At one point, Skeeter - a writer - is using a typewriter for the Junior League's newsletter, and the camera zooms in on what she's written. Which would be fine, except there's a misplaced apostrophe. She writes "the Holbrook's house," when in fact she means the "Holbrooks' house," the house belonging to Mr and Mrs Holbrook. I know I shouldn't let these things bother me, but it really did. If in doubt, she could have simply said "the Holbrook house" and been done with it.

I would highly recommend this film to anyone, it's a truly excellent film. A solid story which is both heartbreaking and hysterical, with brilliant performances all round. I will say that it's quite a long film, but I didn't realise this until the end when I looked at the time. I was so engaged that I didn't notice it went on for an impressive 2 hours and 25 minutes, and it's very rare for anything to hold my attention for that long. It deserves every award it's won and then some. Having seen both this film and The Artist, the two films that seem to be cleaning up at this year's Oscars, I really have to say that this film is the better of the two.

TEMPEST

Tempest, by Julie Cross, is a weird book. A really weird book.

In 2009, Jackson's girlfriend Holly is shot. Jackson travels back two years to try and save her, but ends up stuck in 2007. He's been time-travelling for a while, but finds out that he's never completed a full jump before, and doesn't know how to get back. While in 2007, he finds out that everything he thought he knew about his life is a lie, and chaos ensues.

I'm not sure what I think about this book, which is why it's taken me so long to post my review (I said on Twitter I'd do it days ago). It wasn't what I expected. Saying that, I'm not actually sure what I expected from this book.

Obviously I expected it would jump around in time, to expect anything else would have been ridiculous, but I found it really difficult to keep track of when things were happening within the storyline. This was partly because in the story, present day is 2009, and so whenever Jackson talks about the time in relation to the present, (ie, this was two years ago) I got a bit muddled.

The other issue I had with it is that not one of the main characters is likeable. Actually, I'll stretch that to say that not one of the minor characters is likeable either. Jackson is a typical fictional teenage boy, who never does anything unexpected. Holly is whiny and boring, which for me was actually a bigger problem than my not liking the protagonist. Jackson is going back in time and doing all these dangerous things (like hacking into restricted CIA files - you know, as you do) to try and save her life, but I couldn't understand why. There was nothing about Holly that made me think, yeah, okay, that's why he's risking his life for her.

And the ending is just...well, non-existent, really. I've been meaning to find out if this book is the first of several and there's a sequel on the horizon, because the ending was as unsatisfying as many books that are intended as the first in a trilogy. Of course, this is supposed to make you want to buy the next in the series, but in this book, I was just irritated. It's not left on a cliffhanger and it doesn't just stop. Jackson does something that basically seems to undercut everything that's happened up to that point. And it was infuriating.

Okay, this has been fairly negative, which wasn't my intention. The book isn't that bad, it just wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. It was a huge disappointment. That being said, I really appreciated the fact that Cross recognises, as few Americans do, that there is not just one British accent, which was a nice change.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Too Much of a Good Thing?

So, last night I was watching the latest episode of The Big C on More4. Now, I've watched this series since it began and was a big fan of the first series. It was as close to perfection as a comedy about having a terminal disease could be. It was actually funny, moving, and didn't ever feel like they were just recycling the same jokes every week the way a lot of comedy programmes do. The moment when Adam discovered the dozens of presents his mother had bought for him and wrapped up ready for him to open after she was gone...well, I was crying as much as Adam was.

But this second series has been...well, it's not as good. Last night's episode was an improvement over the previous few, but it's missing something. I've been giving it some thought, (quite a bit of thought, actually, since I've got a bunch of deadlines that I'm trying to avoid dealing with), and there are several big changes this time around:

- First, Marlene's gone.
- Second, the cute doctor's gone.
- Third, everybody knows that Cathy has cancer.
- Fourth, the husband is around. A lot.
- Fifth, Cynthia Nixon's character is around. A lot.

Okay, so Cynthia Nixon's character makes me crazy and I'm really not fond of the husband (played by Oliver Platt) but I can overlook these things because Cathy is played by the brilliant Laura Linney. I think the real issue is the fact that everybody knows now. In the first series, there were whole scenes where nobody mentioned cancer, and although it was always there under the surface, the viewers weren't being beaten over the head with it. Now that everyone knows, it's pretty much all they can talk about. And the storylines have changed. It's not about Cathy wanting to enjoy every moment, it's about Cathy sitting in a doctor's office worrying how she's going to pay her medical bills now that her husband's lost his job. And yeah, maybe that's more realistic, but it's not exactly funny.

The real kicker for me, though, is the fact that there should never have been a second series at all. In the final moments of series one, Cathy dies. Now, you and the people who write/make/sell the show can tell me it was an out-of-body experience or a dream created by her anasthetic, but you're wrong. She was dead. Actually, properly dead. This series is a prime example of something that was utterly brilliant, and then dragged out too long because it was good and popular and making money.

What do you think? Have you watched the series? If not, why not? Should they have left it after one series, or do you actually prefer the second series?

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Neverwhere


Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, is one of my favourite books, and was recently performed at the Progress Theatre in Reading. In the last fifteen years, I've probably driven past the theatre 400 times (actual maths gave me that number) and I'd never paid it any attention whatsoever. So, the combination of that and the fact that somebody was daring to adapt one of my favourite books...well, let's just say, I didn't have high expectations.

But I was wrong. It was brilliant. For those of you who aren't familiar with the book (buy it immediately) or the television series which actually came first, Neverwhere is about Richard Mayhew, a man from our world who helps a young woman from London Below, and suddenly finds himself falling through the cracks. As he finds out more about the mysterious and, at times, terrifying London Below, his life in London Above starts being erased. Suddenly, Richard has nothing and is forced to go deeper into London Below than most ever do, desperate to find a way home again.

It didn't occur to me how difficult it would be to put the novel onto the stage until I was reading the programme before it started. No offence to Mr Gaiman, but it's all over the place. London Above, London Below, Richard's flat, Richard's office, the street, Harrod's, the rooftops, HMS Belfast...the list goes on and on. Faced with such a project, I probably would have thought something along the lines of 'Sod it, we'll do something else instead,' but the company rose to the challenge and, by stripping the stage down to bare essentials, managed to convey so many settings so easily.

And then the acting. If I'm honest, I was expecting Am Dram and all the negative connotations that it suggests. Again, I was greatly surprised. Croup and Vandemar were particularly good, as well as the Marquis de Carabas, even if did annoy me how they were pronouncing his name (In my head it's pronounced Ker-ab-us, they said Carra-bass, like sea bass.) Unfortunately, I don't have my programme to hand so I can't name and praise the actors, but they were excellent. The whole company was, but they stood out particularly. Although I have to wonder whether Richard's Scottish accent was genuine, it was that good.

I'm sure I remember reading that another theatre company is putting on an adaptation of Neverwhere (Twitter is a strange beast) but I can't recommend it enough. It's just a shame I didn't see this until the closing night and could have convinced people to go and see it, because it was truly excellent, but if you get a chance to see this, you should definitely take it. And if not, buy the book. In fact, buy the book anyway. I promise you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Maybe it's just me

I've tried to refrain from using this blog as a soapbox for all my grievances (of which there are many) but today I feel it is utterly necessary for me to have a good moan. Mostly because I have work to do this afternoon, quite a bit of work, and it's important stuff, too, but I won't be able to concentrate on it until I've gotten this off my chest. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be anyone home and the person I usually call when I need to vent my frustrations is at work (I know, it's very selfish of her) so, dear blogosphere, you're going to have to put up with it instead.

I have, upon occasion, been told that I am too picky. Too difficult to please. In the last fortnight, I've bought a couple of DVDs, Melancholia and Winter's Bone. I haven't watched either of them yet, but will probably write up reviews of them when I do. Right before I send them back to the companies I bought them from, because I simply cannot bear to keep them on my shelf.

Notice anything wrong with this picture?


No? How about this one?


The writing on the spines is the wrong way around. I know, I must sound crazy, but this really bugs me. It leaps out at me every time I walk past the DVD shelf, and since I live in a crappy rented house where I only have one room to spend time in, I walk past the DVD shelf a lot. I mean, how hard is it to get the writing the right way around? All DVDs have their writing the same way, it's like an industry standard or something. Go to your DVD shelf now - what do you mean you don't have one? What sane person in this day and age doesn't have a DVD shelf? - and have a look. If they're not arranged in some kind of order, goodbye, I am no longer interested in you (alphabetically is preferable, but I will accept by genre as long as you don't try to tell me it makes things easier to find that alphabetical - what about the DVDs that are a mix of genre?), but just have a quick look. All the writing is...how to explain it? So that if you laid the DVD on a table with the front facing up, the writing on the spine would not be upside down.

So I'm sorry, Artificial Eye, strange DVD manufacturers that I'd never heard of until last week, but I will not be buying any more of your products. Even if you are the people releasing Fright Night in a couple of weeks time, which I'm super excited about. This is just not acceptable.

And while I'm at it - books in boxes. This was, I thought, quite a brilliant idea. It keeps the books together (so you can kid yourself it doesn't matter that Catching Fire comes after the Hunger Games) and also stops them from getting battered or dusty. Why don't all books come in boxes? I'll tell you why - because you can't get the damn things out of them. I actually snapped a nail off the last time I tried to get the Hunger Games out of it's box. It bled. So since I'm going to need it for a class at some point soon (and I'll probably be in a rush) I'm having to keep the books like this:

and it irritates me. I know, I know. I shouldn't care about these things, but I do. And maybe it's just me, maybe nobody else is quite this anal about the way their belongings sit on a shelf, but it really, really bothers me.

Well, thank you for listening to my bizarre ramblings. Normal blogging shall resume next week. Unless something else sets me off. Must not buy any more DVDs. Must not buy any more DVDs.



Saturday, 4 February 2012

Panic! At the Disco

Yup, I went to see Panic! At the Disco this week. It was bloody freezing, but brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Just wish they'd cut "That Green Gentleman" from the set list and played "Sarah Smiles" instead. And I could have lived without the cover of the Darkness' "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," as well.

And yeah, all the photos are of Brendon Urie. Mainly because...well, does anybody care about the rest of the band?























Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Unpublished Writer


When you tell people you're a writer, they tend to assume that you've been published. I never introduce myself as a writer, but in my head I am. And I often start sentences with phrases like "as a writer, I think..." (I'm actually not as pretentious as I'm probably coming across). And I kind of feel like a fraud.

I've been able to feed myself for years, but I wouldn't call myself a cook. Just because I can string a sentence together, doesn't make me a writer. I very rarely even write with a pen.

A few years ago, my friend Ashleigh introduced me as The Writer to his friends, which was so sweet and I thought it was great. I had an identity. I was The Writer.

But somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like I can't be a writer until I have something published, and I don't think self-publishing would be enough. I've written seventeen novels, but part of me know that they don't count until you can buy a book with my name on it.




Also, I finally caved and joined Twitter. My username (correct terminology?) is @leglet.