In which I wrap up December
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed.I didn’t actively dislike anything I read in December, so, huzzah! London Book Club’s book was Carol by Patricia Highsmith, which I found very atmospheric, but quite chilly. I’ve only read one Highsmith before (The Talented Mr Riply) and I remember that being my response then too, so I think that that must be her style. It works well for me for short books, which this was - any longer and I wouldn’t want to work through it, but at around 250 pages, reflecting on what might be likeable in characters whose flaws are on full show on the page works quite well.
I also read Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last, probably a minor Atwood, as it didn’t quite catch as well as things like Oryx and Crake or Alias Grace, but as well written as ever and I continue to love the fact that she’s only getting more speculative and remaining ambitious, and not settling in to become some grand dame of literary fiction. It’s also a very intriguing proposition as to what the future might be like if you can’t imagine it happening, then I’m not sure you’re paying enough attention. If they ever film it (and I think it would make a very strong mini-series) then they need to cast Gwendoline Christie as Jocelyn.
Over Christmas I read Ishiguro’s Blind Giant, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in High Castle. I continue to enjoy Ishiguro’s quiet obsession with human memory and our ability to not-know about the things we really don’t want to know about. I wanted to read the Dick before getting around to watching the new TV series, and I have to say, I’m now looking forward to the TV series less - based on what I’ve seen from the trailer it’s a very different beast, and I don’t know that I want it all jazzed up or race to save the world-ed. I like that it leaves the reader hanging a little bit, wondering about how to fall through that boundary between the universes. I also read two ‘first in the trilogy’ books, Jeff van der Meer’s Annihiliation (Southern Reach Trilogy) and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking). Annihilation creeped me the heck out, so I do not recommend reading it before bedtime, and I want to read the rest, but I don’t want to buy them, so to the library I go. I’m coming to the Chaos Walking trilogy a decade after the rest of the planet, which fine, I know, ok, but it really is very good. I like that Ness doesn’t feel obligated to explain the whole world to you but lets it build up around the story, and Viola is a gosh darn joy.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyedCarol, which was completely beautiful and very atmospheric. It managed to bring out the story from the novel despite making some subtle changes, and also made the whole thing much warmer. In reading the novel I struggled to understand what Carol and Therese really saw in each other, in the film, that was easy to understand.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Oh yes. I never had Star Wars as a kid, so I’m not invested and I went to see this as soon as I did largely so that I could actually have conversations with most of the people I know in the run up to Christmas. And then I really really enjoyed it (only now I have to share my Oscar Isaac fascination with half the planet - NOT FAIR, JJ). It was rollicking good fun, even for someone who has been a sceptic (though I don’t know how much one or two of the plot points would have worked if you hadn’t seen the originals and been invested in them.
I also made it to the British Museum’s exhibition Egypt: Faith after the Pharaohs which is really very good indeed (I bought the book, which I never ever do) and a fascinating exploration about how different religions co-existed in a place where they now struggle to do so. It made me wonder about how our modern primary understanding of truth as fact, which insists that those who disagree with us are wrong, makes that kind of co-existence so much harder.
(3) Things which I wrote I wrote a couple of posts, one about Shusaku Endo’s Silence which I read last month and am still musing on, and one on Ta-Nehisi Coates on hope, because he was writing about hope in art and in historical writing. I also took up a challenge to write 75 words or more on the subject of ‘A time you’ve felt overwhelmed’, and a couple of overviews of my favourite books and films of 2015.
(4) A photo from the month gone by We spent Christmas on Skye, which I heartily recommend if you like Christmases of walks and books. My major Christmas wishes were some good light for photography at Neist Point and the Quiraing, and I got them both, on Christmas Day and on the 27th, so I was happy.
(5) In the pile for January My book club book is The Sea by Iris Murdoch, so I’m picking that up from the library on Monday. I’m planning on finishing the Chaos Walking trilogy, and then reading some of the sci-fi that’s piled up on my shelf, especially in the Banks and Gibson sections. I’m going to see The Nutcracker and the Two Pigeons/Rhapsody bill at the Royal Ballet, and Hapgood in Hampstead, because I love Tom Stoppard. I want to see Room, The Big Short and Spotlight at the cinema. I’ve not decided about The Revenant and The Hateful Eight yet.