Hurrah! It’s back! Great excitement about the return of Downton Abbey. Click here for pre-match analysis (no spoilers). The new Guardian series blog will go up 30 seconds after the end of tonight’s episode. And at the same time every Sunday thereafter. The comments usually get heated on Monday morning. Just like Mrs Patmore’s soup.
Sometimes you just want to read a book you know will be GOOD. These ten books are the best of everything I have reviewed in the past 18 months. Click on the title for full review.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann (Independent, 5 Aug 2012) Dark psychological literary thriller set on Martha’s Vineyard. Mad Men on sea.
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberg (Red, 1 Aug 2012) Witty, modern novel about an internet marriage gone wrong. Brilliant.
Sugar in the Blood by Andrea Stuart (Telegraph, 24 July 2012) Very readable history of sugar and slavery mingled with the author’s family story.
Where D’You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (Red, 4 July 2012) Surreal, hilarious tale of “the greatest female architect in history” and her disastrous life.
The Land of Decoration by Grace McLeen (Independent, 11 March 2012) Acclaimed first novel about a girl growing up a Jehovah’s Witness. Clever, funny, intimate.
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville (Telegraph, 14 February 2012) Brilliant historical fiction from one of Australia’s best writers.
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Independent, 15 May 2011) Madame Bovary set against the backdrop of the Dublin property crash. One of my favourite novels of the past five years.
The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe (Telegraph, 13 May 2011) The original Sex and the City set in the 1950s. Don Draper’s read it.
Other People’s Money by Justin Cartwright (Observer, 20 March 2011) Delightful novel which finally explains, painlessly, the why and how of the financial crisis.
Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen (Observer, 9 Jan 2011) Fantastic memoir of a woman who finds herself moving back in with her parents when her husband meets a man on gay.com.
Strictly super fans — and as you can see I am one* — voting paddles AT THE READY. Seven! Although maybe that will be too high a number. Ahead of tomorrow’s show (6.30pm, BBC1) I am more worried than excited. According to Russell Grant (YES, HE IS MY FRIEND ON FACEBOOK**), this year’s Strictly will be “more technical than showbiz.”
Gah! This feels less like a crowd-pleaser and more like a justification for (a) the inclusion of Denise Van Outen who is a professional dancer who has appeared in Chicago on the West End (I paid to see this *coughs*) and Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh who is a professional dancer who has appeared in Shrek on the West End (I did not pay to see this, I had learnt my lesson) and (b) dumping Alesha Dixon as a judge in favour of uber-ballerina Darcey Bussell who, whilst lovely, seems a strange choice for a BBC 1 prime-time Saturday night show. No matter. VICTORIA PENDLETON TO WIN. Ah-maz-ing.
* This was the dress worn by NATALIE CASSIDY for her waltz with Vincent Simone in Series 7. I had the pick of hundreds of dresses and this was THE ONLY ONE THAT FITTED ME.
**He is not really my Friend on Facebook. I just Liked his page and now I get updates from him 3847 times a day.
Writing in the Independent about a study reported in the New Scientist linking Alzheimer’s and junk food. “Health warnings are having no impact on behaviour. “Look! Now you won’t just deteriorate physically, you’ll deteriorate mentally, too!” As a motivating statement, it’s not going to work.” My strategy? Ban BOGOFs (Buy One Get One Free). Because I cannot resist them.
Doughnut pic by Anna Maj Michelson. Pancake pic by Joshua.
The Book of the Month in Red’s October issue is Deborah Copaken Kogan’s The Red Book. With that title it was a bit of a shoo-in. It’s like Sex and the City crossed with Cold Feet. But at Harvard. The Red Book is an actual Harvard thing: an update of everyone in your university year, published every five years. This novel follows four university friends who have taken very different paths in life and usually ones they didn’t exactly intend to follow. The Red Book makes them face the lies they’re telling each other and the lies they’re telling themselves. It’s good.
A reader wrote in recently to ask about a book she had seen featured in Red which was like Sex and the City. It was weird because I knew we were about to feature The Red Book so her question felt clairvoyant. I realised after thinking about it for several days that she was actually thinking about The Group by Mary McCarthy, mentioned in Red on a regular basis by me and also by editor Sam Baker. See review here by Elizabeth Day in the Observer. It’s set in the 1930s and is a favourite novel for a lot of people.
Candace Bushnell once described SATC as “a modern-day version of The Group.” There are parallels too with Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, set in the 1950s, and Meg Wolitzer’s The Ten-Year Nap, set in the early 2000s.
Elsewhere in October issue, I’ve written a piece linked to Red’s latest survey into attitudes towards parenting: Emotional Infertility: What Nobody Tells You About Modern Motherhood. What a bumper bonanza.
Keira Knightley in great acting shocker! Not to be mean. I like her in Pirates of the Caribbean which I have seen 157 times due to the viewing habits of other inhabitants of my household. But I wondered when Knightley was going to find a role which allowed her to shine. Anna Karenina is it.
I reviewed Joe Wright’s latest (he also directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, also starring Knightley) on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Pic here. Mark Lawson agreed that it’s a great film but not flawless. Listen here from 10mins30. The much-vaunted “theatre” idea doesn’t quite hang together. For the first third of the film all the actors walk through a moving stage, with Anna sometimes watching from the wings. It’s a wonderful device: very bold and original. And obviously supposed to represent the pantomime that Anna’s life as a loyal wife and mother has become.
Then when the action moves from Moscow to St Petersburg suddenly we’re (mostly) in real life and your usual costume drama landscape territory. I wished they’d had the guts to do the whole thing in the theatre.
Favourite bits? Matthew Macfadyen’s comic turn as a bombastic, cabbage soup-hating Stiva (Anna’s brother). Olivia Williams as Vronsky’s glamorous, seductive mother who initially encourages Anna to have an affair (“I’d rather end up wishing I hadn’t than wishing I had”) but is then horrified when her own son becomes the target. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery (one of my favourite actresses) as Princess Myagkaya, the only one who supports Anna (“In my opinion Karenin is a fool and Anna is the best of us”). And Princess Betsy’s flatulent puppy.
Verdict? Shades of Amelie, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. A must-see. Just close your eyes for the bit where Karenin (Jude Law) gets out the velvet box where he keeps his creepy contraceptive sheath…
Pic above from 1914 Russian silent film version starring Maria Germanova as Anna Karenina.
Writing in today’s Independent on Sunday about Naomi Wolf’s book Vagina: A New Biography. Read here. Dubbed “the crocodile’s mouth” by the Munduruku tribe of the Amazon basin and “the gate to hell” by theologian Tertullian, now the source of life is now re-branding itself via genitalia cupcakes, anatomically-correct armchairs and, in the US, an invitation to “Knit Your Congressman a Vagina.” (In protest against healthcare cuts, keen craftswomen send crocheted depictions of female body parts to politicians.) Cupid Stunt would be proud.
Naomi Wolf pic by David Shankbone.
“Breast-feeding: is it best for every baby?” — from the Voice of Russia a London-based English language radio station which broadcasts internationally. Like the BBC World Service but Russian. So not really like the BBC World Service at all. And with HUGE bowls of Fox’s glacier mints in the foyer. Which are definitely not available at the BBC. Although they should be. Listen here.
I’m talking in a 30-minute panel discussion about breast-feeding versus formula. The other guests: Jill Dye from La Leche League (“I’m not saying formula is poison. But…”), midwife Sharon Trotter and, down the line from Los Angeles, Suzanne Barston, who runs the blog Fearless Formula Feeder (“standing up for formula feeders. Without being a boob about it”). Needed a lot of glacier mints to get through it.
This is the £225 Michael Kors jumpsuit from Selfridges, featured in the Guardian today (here). “The perfect working wardrobe compromises a statement bag, chic low heels, trend-conscious separates – and why not a jumpsuit too?” writes Sara Ilyas. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Why not indeed? Unfortunately most people find many reasons why not to wear a jumpsuit and my attempts — over three long years now — to herald its return have appeared somewhat doomed. UNTIL NOW.
This jumpsuit is already sold out at net-a-porter. And disappearing fast from Selfridges. They only have three sizes left: 6, 10 and 12. Which is, er, why I will definitely not be buying one.
But LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, THE JUMPSUIT IS BACK. For affordable jumpsuits, ASOS has 537 to choose from. Starting at £12. This is the true face of the revolution. JUMP ON BOARD! YEAH!
I don’t get any kickbacks for promoting jumpsuits by the way. I do it out of the goodness of my heart. And a love of jumpsuits. This is my moment. Don’t begrudge me it.
Writing in today’s Guardian (here) about the physical experiences described in Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, out next week. Following an operation to repair her lower vertebrae, Wolf likens her “sexual reawakening” to Dorothy finding herself in the technicolor Land of Oz. Bad news for anyone who doesn’t need back surgery. If birds fly over the rainbow, then why, oh why, can’t I? Away above the chimney tops, at the osteopath’s. That’s where you’ll find me.
Naomi Wolf pic by Thomas Good, Next Left Notes.