In which I wrap up October

(1) Things which I have read.
1. Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson. Her first. Cold and crystal, but never tipping over the edge into bleak. It feels slighter than the trio that have followed, but definitely marks out a voice.
2. The End We Start From – Megan Hunter. I both enjoyed and didn’t enjoy this. It was easy to read and both language and form were poetic, but it didn’t feel like there was a lot to it beyond that. It’s not proved memorable.
3. We were Eight Years in Power – Ta-Nahisi Coates. The very opposite of unmemorable. The essays in this collection weren’t new to me – it turns out I have actually been reading Coates for that long, but it was nice to revisit the earlier ones in particular and to read his reflections of the eight years of Obama’s presidency and his own writing career. A collection worth keeping.
4. The Woman Next Door – Yewande Omotoso. London Book Club’s book last month, this was a surprising treat. I picked it up when it was on the Bailey’s longlist, and I think it was better than at least one of the shortlisted books last year. It’s the story of two old ladies living in Constantia in Cape Town: one white, one black. It’s very sharply observed, without being cruel, and quite funny at times. Would definitely recommend.
5. Acceptance – Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve been reading the Southern Reach trilogy off and on over the last 18 months, and it ended with a bit of a whimper of weird. The first, Annihilation, was super-tight and super-creepy.This was definitely not the former and lapsed from the second as it either tried or didn’t try (I’m really not clear which) to resolve things.
6. My Absolute Darling – Gabriel Tallent. What should you do on a Sunday afternoon? You should read the latest critical darling, a novel about incest and abuse on the Northern California coast. That I read it in an afternoon tells you what you need to know about it’s readability. That I described it as ‘Twilight for Grownups’ on twitter tells you what you need to know I think about its quality. I’m glad I got it out of the library. Some of the descriptions – particularly of the landscape – are beautiful (I would like to spend time in Mendocino, but with less horrible people), but in terms of the story, it’s a bit like Holden Caulfield grew up and wrote a novel he thought was transgressive and unphoney. And like Holden Caulfield, I want to slap it with a wet fish and tell it to grow up.

(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
1. Goodbye Christopher Robin. I knew that the Winnie the Pooh books had a dark back story, but now I am personally traumatised and feeling guilty for loving the story so much. Domnhall Gleeson is particularly great as AA Milne, and I personally found the depiction of his friendship with EH Shepherd a highlight – especially the moment with the balloons.
2. Blade Runner 2049. I was deeply sceptical of this when it was announced, and only marginally less so after falling in love with Denis Villenueve’s Arrival last year. I really really enjoyed 2049 though: it’s bigger and messier than Blade Runner but still rich and oh-so-beautiful. And one of the films in which Ryan Gosling truly works.
3. Death of Stalin. Walks a beautiful tightrope between outrageously funny and outraged that grown men could be so nonsensically self-involved and casual with so many people’s lives. There were moments when my cinema audience didn’t know if it was ok to laugh. And oh, it was so good to see Simon Russell Beale be truly great on a cinema screen.
4. The Party. As I left the cinema, I heard a guy say, ‘I don’t get it.’ Poor pumpkin. I quite like a film that is shorter than my commute to and from the cinema (cineworld thinks only people living in the Docklands like certain kinds of film – no, busters, we all just schlep their to not miss them!) I also quite like a film that is sharp, funny, equally cruel and yet sympathetic to everyone – even the asshat banker. It knows exactly what it wanted to do and did it.
5. Thor Ragnarock. “I tried to start a revolution but I didn’t print enough pamphlets.” From everyone’s new favourite Rock monster, to Valkyrie, to Loki and Thor doing their best Crowley and Aziriphale on the streets of New York, newest Thor is a technicolour delight. I missed Jane and Darcy, because I love them, but without really missing them at all. Also, there’s a spot of Sam Neill and that is never a bad.
6. Follies. To the National Theatre to see the much-raved about Follies production and I am here to rave about it. I’d never seen it before, so I didn’t know it, and the story does pack a punch done well – and oh do Imelda Staunton and Philip Quast in particular do it well. Too Many Mornings fair broke my heart.
7. Dreamers Ever Leave You. The Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada took over a warehouse in the docklands and put on a performance that lasted all of 45 minutes, but was utterly different and compelling. It had three ‘stages’ (floor mats) and the smallish audience could just wander around the space while the performance happened. It was fascinating. Some people just sat and watched a stage, some moved slowly between them, some (me) – fuelled by FOMO – moved around fairly a lot. You could take photos and short films, and a lot of people did, but never in a way that was intrusive or that seemed to be taking away from them watching the dancers. And the dancers, oh my. You try standing a foot away from Frankie Hayward or Ryoichi Hirano while they dance. It’s incredible to be that close and see what they do and how intense it is. I could have stayed for all three of that evenings shows and each each stage once through. But I think the point was in the having to leave and being left as you and the dancers moved between them.

(3) Things which I wrote
Just this, on memory, truth and identity in Blade Runner

(4) A photo from the month gone by
A few, actually, from Dreamers Ever Leave You.

(5) In the pile for November
I’m packing for a trip – work and holiday- so I’m still working out what to take on dead tree to go with the kindle. I am planning to read The Brothers Karamazov, finally, and potentially re-read In the Light of What we Know. An Artist of the Floating World is our book club pick: getting our Ishiguro on after his Nobel win. The new Nick Harkaway novel, Gnomon, comes out early in the month, and I’m a huge fan so I’ll be reading that too. Beyond that… who knows.

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