In which September comes to you mostly from the sofa...
After the drama of August, September has been spent in rest and recuperation - and to be honest, I think I'm still catching up on sleep now I actually can sleep through the night. I spent two weeks in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, pottering around bits of coastline, eating scones and reading books, and then two weeks back in London, leaving my sofa for carefully planned expeditions to try and increase my stamina.
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed I'd planned to read Hilary Mantel's second Cromwll book, Bring up the Bodies while on Scilly, and I was glad my brain was up to it. I liked thisthis just as much as Wolf Hall - though it felt much shorter and quicker - and particularly enjoyed the dissolution of the monasteries stuff. Twenty years on from my A-level study of Tudor history I have significantly greater understanding of people, religion and politics, so it was fun to revisit.
I've also read:
- The second and third of NK Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy: The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky. Like the first one, I enjoyed them a lot, but didn't find them completely absorbing. If you read fantasy, though, you should definitely read them.
- The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective by Susannah Stapleton. This was a birthday gift, and I'd probably never have come across it let alone read it if I'd not been given it, and it was quite delightful - a really nicely done detective story about finding out who on earth Maud West, London's early twentieth century Lady Detective really was. If you're into detective stories, this is one for you.
- A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (also a birthday gift!), which is really great. I massively enjoyed her first (The Children of Jocasta) which re-told the Oedipus and Antigone myths, and this telling of the Trojan War stories is wonderful. I don't really like to compare books to each other that much, but Pat Barker's Silence of the Girls got nominated for all these prizes last year because she's Pat Barker, and it really wasn't that brilliant - and this is so much better if you want a re-telling of this story from a female perspective.
- The Promise: love and loss in modern China by Xinran, which I picked up on spec in Daunt Books in early August because it sounded fascinating and it was. It's a non-fiction story about the evolution of love and romance, courting and marriage in China since the 1930s, and it's completely absorbing.
- The Hundred Days by Patrick O’Brian. I'm a fan of the Aubrey-Maturin series, but somehow I'd not read the final two (and a half) books in the series, despite owning them all since about 2006. This is the penultimate finished novel, and its as enjoyable as the rest, but it sadly kills off two of my favourites. War and carriage-driving are dangerous things.
- Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. Since I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage and since the new TV series arrives soon, I thought I'd start re-reading His Dark Matierals, and was delighted to find I still massively enjoyed this one. We'll wait and see if my views of The Amber Spyglass have changed at all...
And finally, October was obviously The Testaments month. The Handmaid's Tale was a pretty formative book for me, it was one of my A-level set texts and I still love it (and indeed pretty much all of Margaret Atwood's novels) so I pre-ordered this as soon as it was anounced. Fortunately, it lives up to the hype. I don't think it's quite The Handmaid's Tale great - the claustrophobia of the single first person narrative in the original is, I think, more effective in putting you in Gilead than the narratives in The Testaments, plus if you've seen the TV show at all (I've only watched the first two seasons, and I would recommend stopping at the end of the first) the names of a couple of characters in this book are the same as a couple in the show, which means you will probably have a sense of where the book is going earlier than you might otherwise. I get why Atwood didn't screw the show, but I still think the dissapation of tension that it causes is a shame. Still, the fact that it works at all - expanding the world and understanding of Gilead without falling completely flat - is miraculous, and it's a great take on the rise and fall of a system and society.
(2) Things I have watched and enjoyed
Going to the cinema has been a part of my 'leaving the house to build stamina' project. I've seen:
- Bait, on the recommendation of @wittertainment, and I truly loved it. It's the most independent art film, "about" (describing it as being simply"about" feels like selling it short) the relationship between a Cornish fisherman (and his brother) and the up-country people who have bought their old family home and net loft on the quay as a second home and airbnb. It's beautiful, and, as someone who grew up in Cornwall but isn't Cornish-Cornish, utterly recognisable and terribly sad. For me it perfectly illustrated the chasm between those playing by the rules of the system and benefiting from them, and those the system is screwing.
- Hustlers - in a completely different emotional space from Bait and yet ALSO about the corruption of the system, I had a ball watching Hustlers, which is very funny, very entertaining, and very smart - and it's nice to be reminded that Jennifer Lopez can be really good on film.
- The Farewell. I double-billed this with Hustlers - and I recommend seeing The Farewell second, and letting it linger, if you do decide to do this! It's a beautiful film about culture and family, and the responsibilities we have to each other, and it's much funnier and more life-giving than you'd probably expect a film that has a cancer diagnosis at it's heart to be, without being twee.
On TV, I finally finished watching the final series of Poldark. Spoiler - off-book BBC Poldark is not great, stop before they start trying to make up overly melodramatic nonsense for themselves. I also finished my rewatch of the whole of Game of Thrones: turns out the first four seasons genuinely were good, Dany's fire-breathing ending was fully signposted from start to finish, and Jon Snow is REALLY dim.
(3) A recommendation of some kind
- Get yourself a sofa that's long enough for you to sleep on comfortably - just in case.
- The Isles of Scilly are the one of the best places on earth for a truly restful holiday.
(4) In the pile for October
This month sees the publication of new John Le Carré and new Philip Pullman, so they will both be in the pile for me. I enjoyed Pullmans La Belle Sauvage a lot more than I expected when I read it in June, so I happily put the second of The Book of Dust trilogy on pre-order. It is Booker shortlist season, and I've picked up An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma (I enjoyed his first novel a lot) and Ducks, Newberryport, because a friend recommended to it me.
October is also London Film Festival month, and I managed to snag tickets for three films: Bad Education, a new dark comedy drama starring Allison Janney and Hugh Jackman; Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi's new film; and Knives Out, Rian Johnson's new film. I'm particularly looking forward to the last, because I've been a fan of Johnson's since Brick.
Finally, I'm going to attempt to leave the house for live shows - I'm going to a matinee of Manon at the Royal Ballet and to see Hannah Gadsby's new show at the Southbank Centre.
(5) A photo from the month gone by