Monday, 17 January 2022

Insert obligatory sigh here

Found a new Twitter account to follow...

Friday, 14 January 2022

Blue Friday: Two Ribbons

I shouldn't like Let's Eat Grandma, should I? They're not aiming at parochial 50-somethings like me, are they? Christ, they were born this century, after all. Plus, I dont like their name (it's based on a grammar joke, the importance of a well-placed comma ... and I approve of that conceptually, obviously, but even so...)

I didn't listen to their first album, dismissing them from the off in my usual parochial, superior way. Their second won best album at the 2018 Q awards, but I still refused to show interest, like the ridiculous, arrogant old fool that I am.

And then this week I heard Two Ribbons, the title track from their third album ... and it's quietly brilliant. From what I can see, very different from those earlier releases that I sneeringly ignored, but hypnotic, haunting and just very ... now. Here it is.

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The party's (hopefully) over

I can't bring myself to write again about the mendacious pile of entitled self-interest that holds our highest office. We can only hope that his party will soon be over.

Here's an excellent live rendition of the title track from Talk Talk's first album, forty years old but still sounding fresh.

Monday, 10 January 2022

Monday long song: Cloudbusting

Not that I need an excuse to post some peak Kate Bush, but I've been thinking a lot lately about being a son of a father, and a father of a son.

Oh, and if you're wondering about the book the son (Kate) pulls from her father's pocket in this video, it's this.

Remember when music videos were miniature films, like this?

Friday, 7 January 2022

About Sidney Poitier

"Acting isn't a game of 'pretend'," he once said. "It's an exercise in being real."

Sidney Poitier as Virgil Tibbs, In The Heat Of The Night

RIP Sidney.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

Twenty-two in '22: Dolly

I've set myself modest reading targets in each of the last three years and failed every time (I managed 17 books in '19, 11 in '20 and 18 in '21), so I'm determined to read twenty two books in 2022. I'll review them all here.

Dolly by Susan Hill

1/22: Dolly by Susan Hill

The blurb: The remoter parts of the English Fens are forlorn, lost and damp even in the height of summer. At Iyot Lock, a large decaying house, two young cousins, Leonora and Edward are parked for the summer with their ageing spinster aunt and her cruel housekeeper. At first the unpleasantness and petty meannesses appear simply spiteful, calculated to destroy Edward's equanimity. But when spoilt Leonora is not given the birthday present of a specific dolly that she wants, affairs inexorably take a much darker turn with terrifying, life destroying, consequences for everyone.

The review: I like a good ghost story and, since Susan Hill is best known for the wildly successful Woman in Black, I felt sufficiently inspired to take a punt on a premise, cover and blurb that I wouldn't normally choose. Since I found the book in one of those "take a book, leave a book" community libraries that have sprung up everywhere in recent years (you know the sort of thing, often in a repurposed phone box or similar), I literally had nothing to lose. So what did I make of it?

Well, it's a ghost story without any actual ghosts, though there is a more than a smattering of the supernatural that can certainly be described as unsettling. There's also plenty of atmospheric tension in the setting and the supporting characters of Leonora and Edward's spinster aunt and Iyot Lock's trenchant housekeeper. A reminder then that maybe a book doesn't need a ghost for it to be a ghost story, it just needs something that haunts the protagonist.

It's also a pretty short read - more a long novella than a novel. And that's more of a problem than a ghost story without ghosts, as it turns out, because a greater length might have enabled more character development. With the except of narrator Edward, the other principals are somewhat underdeveloped, especially Leonora - I don't think it's giving too much away to say that she's a spoiled brat in childhood and not much better in her adult life. The reasons for her being quite so horrid are alluded to but certainly could have been explored more - doing so would add an extra layer for the reader when Leonora eventually reaps what she has sown. And besides, the blurb talks about "life destroying" events - seems a shame to deal with them so quickly.

This hints at another slight problem with Dolly, that none of the principal characters are especially likeable. I know that Edward is supposed to be the one your root for as you read, but he seems too slight, too straightlaced and sometimes just a bit wet. There's a rigid, austere quality to some of his narration that occasionally jarred too, a slightly arcane wordiness that felt contrived on Hill's part, and seemed at odds with the book's setting. More than that, though, it's hard to sympathise or empathise with him most of the time - a problem, when it's him telling the story.

Oh, and for me there's a fairly large plausibility problem near the very end that I can't detail without a spoiler - suffice to say I felt it was an "he'd never do that" moment that has been glossed over for the sake of the story's ending.

Seems like I've been quite critical so far. Let me also say that this is a well-paced novel(la) with a genuinely unsettling story to tell, with some ideas and imagery that linger in the mind after reading. It's just that it could have been so much more. More could have been made of the characters and their back-story, much more could have been made of the bleak, discomfiting Fenland setting. It's not a bad book by any means... it's just not a great one. If it's a dark tale set in the Fens you're after, this is fine but Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver shows how it should really be done.

The bottom line: Hill tells a decent, unsettling ghost story here, but it could have been so much more.

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★☆☆☆