Writing in today’s Independent about the Turner Prize. Now the Prize may spontaneously combust, safe in the knowledge that it has reached the limits of its powers. Because this year it features a work of art which depicts turds having sex with other turds. Favourite quote from The Sun: “Judges hail drawings of turds as ‘compelling life project.'”
‘This is not art’ chalk pic by Loran Davis.
This month’s book page in Red features Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind, a very readable, dual narrative which flits between WWI France and present-day London. There’s also The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes which her fans will adore. (Read into that coded message what you will… Parts of it did make me laugh a lot.) The House of Memories by Monica McInerney falls into the Anita Shreve category of reliably good reading. (And more on her another time as I’ve interviewed her for the Guardian but it hasn’t come out yet.)*
My two favourites this month are The Midwife’s Daughter by Patricia Ferguson, an excellent historical novel set in Cornwall in the 1910s, and The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay, a very cleverly-put-together, witty story set in late 19th century Manhattan about a 12-year-old girl who finds herself in a brothel specialising in dubious “treatments” for infected gentlemen… Shades of Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet.
*Update: now it has and here it is.
What a humdinger that was. Episode Three reviewed here. Poor, poor Edith. All that’s left for her now is to become a driving instructor. Poor, poor Matthew. He really doesn’t want Ginger Lavinia’s money at all, does he? And poor, poor Sybil. She has been pregnant for about three years.
Covering for Suzanne Moore again this week in the Mail on Sunday, with a column on JK Rowling’s freakin’ swearfest in The Casual Vacancy. Lots of the reviews have centred on the themes being too gritty. I didn’t mind that as much as the preachy message – and the expletives in every paragraph. Plus: why Downton’s the real winner at the Emmy’s, the scandal of midwifery numbers in London and banning Borat’s mankini.
So is the most anticipated novel of the year any good? Well, it’s hugely enjoyable. I laughed. I cried. But by the end I felt a bit manipulated. In the end it’s a politically-motivated sledgehammer of a novel with a liberal message which verges on the self-righteous. But until it gets to that bit there’s a lot of fun. Listen to my review for the BBC World Service’s The Strand’s 40 million listeners here. Read the verdict in Red here (also reprinted below). And a rant about all the effing and blinding in the novel in the Mail on Sunday here.
It turns out that JK Rowling is not the greatest writer ever to have lived. But she is possibly one of the greatest storytellers. Which is how she can just about get away with this rather odd – and very British (too British?) – tale seemingly hinged on a parish council election but actually dealing with much deeper and more serious themes.
When the liberal, much-loved Barry Fairbrother collapses with a fatal aneurysm, half the population of the rural village of Pagford appears to be queuing up to take his seat — “The Casual Vacancy” — on the local council. The key contenders? Barry’s rival the porky deli owner Howard, who is lining up his son Miles to take the position. And local nasty-piece-of-work Simon Price also has his eye on the seat.
There are parallels with Harry Potter here when it transpires that although this is an adult novel (with occasionally alarmingly adult themes – and language – it’s already peppered with four-letter words by page 15), it’s really the children who are in charge. Or at least they think they are. Because whilst the grown-ups squabble over who’s going to win the election, a mystery team of teenage hackers is busy tampering with the Pangford Council website and denting all their chances.
The plot seems to hang on the slapstick business of a local election but really this is a socio-political morality tale about hypocrisy, snobbery, class and drug addiction. The locals are all forced to show their true colours when the local centre which hands out methadone is threatened with closure.
It’s a far-reaching and ambitious novel with a cast of characters as rich as any Harry Potter outing but with a gritty realism worthy of Ian Rankin crossed with the ambiguous tone of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. It’s not exactly subtle with its finger-wagging liberal politics, though. And, whilst the first two thirds are playful and often wonderfully comic, the ending packs an uncomfortably vicious, moral, sideways punch.
As you’d expect, it’s hugely readable and draws you irresistibly in. And it’s a must-read because everyone will be talking about it. But don’t expect this book to change your life in quite the way it has changed the author’s.
Heavens. Anna’s bought a garter? What debauchery is this? Episode Two reviewed here. Slightly disturbed by the “too much information” trailer for next week’s episode which appeared (unintentionally?) to reveal (a) Mrs Hughes’ sorry fate and (b) the entire fate of Downton Abbey, soon to be transplanted to Downton Place. If the family is turfed out of the Abbey by Episode Three, what’s left for the rest of the series?
Meanwhile I’ll be on Sky News tomorrow (Monday 24) at 9.30am and on BBC World at 12.30pm. discussing Downton at the Emmy’s. Perhaps I’ll wear a garter.
Click here for today’s Mail on Sunday column, where I’m standing in for Suzanne Moore this week. There’s the woman who unmoored a Dartmouth passenger ferry, shouting, “I’m Jack Sparrow!” — before hitting a £70,000 catamaran. Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz as Obama’s fund-raising marshmallow twins. The Litvinenko case six years on. And why I’m much more sorry than Nick Clegg could ever be. Sorry I ever voted for the Lib Dems.
Old women are not hideous! No matter what this rather fascinating 16th century portrait of a “woman” (really?) may be trying to prove. (I love it, though.) Writing in the Independent about Mary Beard, Fiona Bruce and the BBC’s many excuses about why there are no silver-haired women reading the news. Or very many older women doing anything much at all. Shame on you!
Portrait of A Grotesque Old Woman or The Ugly Duchess by Quentin Matsys (1513). Black and white pic by Ann from Detroit.
Downton’s back! And so is the series blog! Click here for review of Series Three, Episode One. Verdict: promising. Not quite as trashy as Series Two. But not as polished as Series One either. And I am still trying to work out whether they actually, technically, properly got married.