In which I wrap up May...
(1) Things which I have read and enjoyed
I started the month in the middle of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, and I am so so so glad I re-read it. I read it far too fast and expected it to be too much the same as his first novel the first time round, and on re-reading I found it so much richer and more enjoyable than I did the first time around. I knew I'd probably underestimated it, but I hadn't realised by how miuch. Totally recommend both this, and the practice of re-reading.
Then I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which is super tight and evocative and creepy (and I'm looking forward to seeing the film); An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, which was a really fluid, engaging read about a complex situation; and The Heavens by Sandra Newman, which was smart and fun and engaging, and really well worked out, and no, it wasn't a match for The Country of Ice Cream Star (her previous book), but not a lot packs that sort of punch.
In non-fiction, I read Who Owns England by Guy Shrubsole, which made me ragingly mad about land ownership in England - but even more mad about the lack of transparency about land ownership in England and the off-the-chart insane ethics about how this all intersects with our political and economic systems. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it all, for me, was how much more difficult the whole situation makes it to make consolidated progress to rewards reducing environmental damage. I also picked up The Bells of Old Tokyo: Travels in Japanese Time by Anna Sherman: I happened to see a tip about it just before heading into the London Review Bookshop, and they happened to have it and I picked it up and thought it looked like my kind of jam. DEFINITELY my kind of jam: it's about living in a different country, about culture, history and time, and in the middle there are a couple of chapters about the fire-bombing of Tokyo in World War Two that are massively powerful despite being quite distressing.
(2) Things which I have watched and enjoyed
An unexpected comedy sandwich...
- I totally wouldn't have expected to enjoy Long Shot, but the trailer was actually amusing and then Kermode and Mayo gave it a highly positive review, and so off I went, and really really enjoyed it. I do not usually get on with Seth Rogen much, but he was fairly well pared back in this and also not hugely the 'winner' in terms of the argument of the film. But mostly, Charlize Theron is really really funny and good, and I massively enjoyed HER.
- The other piece of bread in the sandwich was Booksmart, Olivia Wilde's directorial debut and it is not an over-exaggeration to say that I love the whole of this — concept AND execution — with the fire of 1000 blazing suns. I loved Amy, I loved Molly, I loved their friendship and found its whole arc totally believable, I howled with laughter, and I had a little weep. I don't have their scriptwriter, so I cannot be as gloriously, lovingly, effusive in my compliments as I would like.
- In between the two, I saw High Life, my first Claire Denis film — and I shall be watching more. It was strange, it was eerie, I'm not 100% sure what it was all about, but I am 100% sure that it has stuck with me and I'm really glad that I saw it.
I also went to quite a lot of live stuff this month, after a bit of a break.
- I saw Vikingur Olafsson and Peter Gregson play Bach and variations on Bach at the Royal Albert Hall, and Olafsson in particular was quite remarkable and took my breath away a little.
- At the ballet I saw The Four Quartets at the Barbican, 9 by Cas Public at the Royal Opera House's Linbury, The Royal Ballet's latest Triple Bill (Within the Golden Hour, Medusa, and Flight Pattern) and their Romeo & Juliet twice, so that I could see both Frankie Hayward and Beatrix Stix-Brunell dance Juliet. FYI, they were both totally wonderful and yet quite different, and the ballet itself completely holds up to being seen twice in two weeks.
- At the theatre, I am one of the few people in London not totally wowed by Emilia - admittedly I was unwell and tired, but I left at the interval because I found it just a little too on-the-nose in its themes. In contrast, Rosmersholm (which also has a lot to say about women in society) completely blew me away, leaving me on the edge of dissolving into floods of tears. It's a wonderful production, and if you can snag a ticket (or if they do film it and do a cinema showing) then do go and see it. Everyone in it is incredible, but I think it is particularly incredible that Giles Terera manages to retain your empathy as Kroll, in what could be a nasty part.
- And finally, I saw Hamilton again, with a mostly new cast. New Burr and Washington were very very solid, but it was the alternate King George who totally stole my heart.
(3) A recommendation of some kind
Two recommendations this month. One, if you're in London, is that you should go to the Chelsea Physic Garden, which I did on a day off this month. I was thinking about going to the Chelsea Flower Show, only I left that bit of thinking way too late and also could not have affording the tickets. So, instead, I went a little further down the road and went to this lovely little old garden, full of plants that are good to use, and unwound from a busy week.
If you're not in London, then my tip is that you should listen to This Classical Life, hosted by Jess Gillam on BBC Radio Three, or all good podcatchers. It's a delightful half hour show of young musicians sharing music that they love with each other and explaining some of the reasons behind their tastes. They're all engaging and articulate and fully commicate their love for a huge variety of music (the last show I listened to featured Stravinsky, Pärt, Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, and Rachmaninov). It's FAB.
(4) In the pile for June I'm in the middle of re-reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and after that, I'm not sure. I've picked up Olivia Lang's Crudo and Robert Macfarlane's Underland recently, so probably them. But the TBR pile remains high. At the cinema I'm looking forward to seeing Dark Phoenix, because no matter how daft X-Men films have got, I still want to see them!
(5) A photo from the month gone by
One of the Munch's from the British Museum's wonderful Edvard Munch exhibition.