Saturday, 30 December 2017

That's for tomorrow, I said all of 12 days ago, promising Part 2 of my highlights of 2017. Christmas is lingering here like a guest who won't leave - but normality will be resumed (I hope) tomorrow. Meanwhile, no more excuses for postponing Part 2 which was going to be everything that isn't books.(My Christmas reading wasn't well-chosen and though I started off thinking, 'How clever' about Edward St Aubyn's reworking of King Lear, by the end I'd got a bit bored. Still, what a fab stocking filler should you ever get invited to spend a Christmas with Rupert Murdoch.)

I didn't keep a list of plays I've seen, so I'm sure I've forgotten some - but far and away the best of 2017 was Ink which is still on for a few days. (I also enjoyed Labour of Love by the same playwright James Graham.) Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour was great fun and so was An Octoroon which is transferring to the National Theatre next summer. And I finally made it to the most beautiful theatre in London to see The White Devil. There were, of course, some absolute turkeys, most memorably Common which wins my Heavens, Did I Really Pay to See That? award, not just for 2017 but possibly for the decade. The I'm Not Asleep, I'm Just Resting My Eyes award is shared by Ben Whishaw for Against, Glengarry Glen Ross (too shouty, and I should have known better as I nodded off during the original 1983 production, too) and Venus in Fur when I woke with a jump and worried that I might have been actually snoring. Given the painfully uncomfortable seats in most London theatres, I think these slumber awards should be considered an achievement for all concerned.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

It's that time of year again - and as Cornflower has already shared her highlights of 2017, reminding me that I very much want to read E Nesbit's The Lark - here's my highlights, too, drawn from 74 books I've read this year - almost exactly the same as last year - though the proportion of non-fiction seems to have slipped from one-third to one-quarter. Anyway, that's the obsessive compulsive bit over and I promise you that my spice cupboard isn't arranged in alphabetical order, though I often wish it was.

For sheer fictional enjoyment, I'm recommending A Gentleman in Moscow which I still think would make a wonderful film. The Underground Railroad came close but didn't quite match it.

Bernard MacLaverty's Midwinter Break was profoundly moving but sad. It's the book I wanted to share but felt was rather too close to the bone for a gift to long-married friends, which of course is nearly everybody I know. Perhaps heart-wrenching is not right in your Christmas stocking.

Most interesting work of fiction was Cry, Mother Spain which taught me more about the Spanish Civil War than any hefty volume of history. It barely counts as fiction as it is based very closely on the life of the author's mother.

Despite my reservations about literary prizes, I see I've listed a Pulitzer winner and a Prix Goncourt. And I enjoyed the Booker winner Lincoln in the Bardo, too.  In fact, I'm amazed to see so much new fiction. Mrs Miniver's Rose Bowl Award for vintage fiction is being held over this year as there are no strong contenders, apart maybe from The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard which was an unexpected success at book group as I chose it, having read it more than 30 years ago, and then got nervous as I thought everyone else would probably hate it. I must have been so relieved when it sparked a good discussion last month that I never get around to writing about it.

My personal discovery of the year has been Edward St Aubyn and I have Dunbar at the top of my library pile.

Last but not least, non-fiction - and the book which took me out of my overly-easy-reading comfort zone (that'd be The Greedy Queen and Jane Austen at Home) was Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance - there's a review here - which by chance chimed in with my favourite film of the year, but that's for tomorrow.

Not quite the last, because there is one book that has kept me engrossed me for hours this year and how I wish I owned a copy;  it's available on-line but that does make for rather jerky reading. It's by my favourite 17th century cookery writer Robert May - whose recipes always work - and who has sadly been forgotten by all except obsessives enthusiasts like me. He's very good on pies and I do love a pie.

And whoops, I nearly forgot what was possibly the most gripping read of the year , This House of Grief by Helen Garner. I thought I'd posted about it but if I did, I can't find it. There's a review here and it's definitely 5* from me.

The Sunday morning film club - that's all two of us - has gone wild this week and we went to the early show on a Saturday evening instead. I wasn't sure what to expect from this French film - and although I've been forgiven, neither of us has forgotten my choice of the year's worst movie, possibly the weirdest and the worst we've ever seen ... yes, that'd be the one about the cannibalistic mussel-harvesters, maybe I've mentioned it before.  However, tonight we struck lucky and Soleil Battant was poignant and delightful, based on a real tragic secret in the family of the two sisters who co-directed. The beautiful six-year-old twins at the centre of the story were amazingly natural actors. It would spoil it if I said more, as we agreed we were glad to come this without preconceptions and there was a very interesting Q&A with the directors at the end. No chance of seeing it in cinemas - this was one night only, as far as I know - but you can see it online here.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

I have a different edition of Excellent Women but what an inspired choice of artwork for this Penguin copy; winter cherry is such a disappointing plant - the leaves shrivel and the berries drop off and only Barbara Pym's excellent spinsters could be bothered trying to nurture one.
I've read this before and I always struggle with Barbara Pym but it's for book group. (And I'm sure they'll all hate it!) I know they're written tongue-in-cheek but I always find her man-hungry spinsters so depressing. I mean, this is post-war, Mildred has an Oxford degree, she's only 30 ... surely she could find a proper job, some self-respect, resign from the vicarage fan-club ... when sex is invented in 1963, dear, it'll be too late to rip off your lock-knit knickers!
I have tried. I know people love Barbara Pym. But she's not for me.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Did we need another adaptation of Little Women? Oh, maybe not - but so far (I've only seen the first episode) I'm really enjoying this lavish BBC version by Heidi Thomas. Emily Watson is exactly right as Marmee. Ethan Hawke/Uma Thurman's daughter (that conveys absolutely nothing to me, but maybe you're better up on Hollywood pedigrees than I am!) ... anyway, she is exactly right, too, as Jo. Angela Lansbury turns up as Aunt March, with a good heart underneath the crustiness. And Michael Gambon is old Mr Laurence. All that was missing was a box of Quality Street and a sherry but I made inroads into the first stollen of the season - so successfully that I finished it off for breakfast. Oh dear, that wasn't meant to happen quite as soon as this!

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Not a very Christmassy Christmas Carol - well, hardly Christmassy at all - but quite good fun, especially the silly radio sound effects. I'd have enjoyed this Fitzrovia Radio Hour production more if it hadn't been in a chilly tent in Leicester Square, amid the tackiest, trashiest Christmas market you've ever seen ... why does London do Christmas markets so badly? Surely the West End could manage better than this? Unfortunately, it wasn't just the cold that crept into the players' tent but all the ambient noise - not Christmas carols, sadly, just the ubiquitous street performers with their ghettoblasters and a Muslim prayer chant. What a shame - in a cosy little theatre somewhere, with a glass of mulled wine, this would have been a jolly pre-Christmas outing.
I've booked for Glengarry Glen Ross later this week. Good reviews, but not Christmassy at all!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

May I say how much I admire the housewives of Britain in these appalling present conditions for their courage in trying to give their families another super Christmas ...

It was 1975. I must have imbibed too many Snowballs because I don't recall it being particularly trying that year ...

But I do love Fanny Cradock and if you see her getting intimate with a turkey, you can see where Nigella's coming from. I do feel sorry for her drab assistant Sarah who is a bit like Dame Edna Everage's bridesmaid Madge.

Anyone fancy that raw mincemeat omelette????

Sunday, 10 December 2017

So irritated by this silly, gushing biography of Daphne du Maurier, translated from the French which doesn't help. (It's kippers for breakfast, not smoked herring!)
It's not just the breathless, novelette-ish style but lazy inaccuracies that even a bit of Google-research would have corrected: you won't find Keats's house in Primrose Hill and I don't think that the Brontës thought of themselves as daughters of a Presbyterian parsonage.
Lots of hissing and harrumphing from me ...
And then I started watching The Crown and caught the Queen cutting into a scone with a knife ...
My dears, I nearly passed out. She'll be drinking out of the milk bottle next!

Monday, 4 December 2017

Anybody else watching The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, the perfect 1950s housewife turned stand-up comedienne? I'm loving her swing coats and Jacques Fath costumes, Cherries in the Snow lipstick (launched in 1952, still selling), her chic little hats and gloves, even her glamorous chiffon nighties ... and all that wonderful Douglas Sirk colour has lifted a very grey, drizzly weekend.