I can’t say enough good things about Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful new novel The Signature of All Things. I really did not think I wanted to read a novel about a 19th century botanist, and I resisted my proof copy for a couple of months because of that. But I was wrong. I really did want to read about a 19th century botanist, Alma Whittaker, and she’s one of the greatest heroines I’ve come across in a long time.
Thankfully this was a return to form (not that Downton Abbey has any reliable form), as most of the commenters seem to agree. In fact it almost felt like an apology for last week’s shenanigans. Which I won’t go into here for (a) fear of spoilerising and (b) fear of recurrence of my post-traumatic stress disorder.
Not the first piece written on the cronut/duffin craze (in today’s Observer) and it won’t be the last. The most irritating thing about this “Franken-pastry” story, which has particularly caught the American imagination, is that all it does is make you want to try the hybrid sugar vehicles in question to judge for yourself. Which makes it all into a big marketing exercise. I’ve held off the Starbucks duffin for now. But this won’t last.
Writing in the Big Issue about how I have been compared to (a) fat Renee Zellweger and (b) Home Secretary Theresa May. I know which I’d prefer. No offence, Theresa. You’re cute as a button and have great shoes. But you’re also 57. (Disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with being 57.)
Writing in today’s Independent on Sunday Magazine about the return of Bridget Jones.”Bridget Jones was born in 1995, aged 32. The first column – “9st. The irreversible slide into obesity” – appeared in The Independent on 28 February, the week that Barings Bank collapsed. John Major had been prime minister for half a decade and would be there for another two years to come. The expression “New Labour” was yet to be used on a Labour Party draft manifesto. Later that year Pierce Brosnan played Bond in GoldenEye and the Princess of Wales played herself in the Martin Bashir documentary watched by 22.78 million people. The novel of the year? Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.”
The pictures (above) were a hardship. We got through a whole pack of Marlboro Red (not very Bridget, I’m sure she smoked Silk Cut) trying to get the shot. And no-one on the shoot smoked so we were all nearly sick. Good times!
Here is some royal baby nonsense for people who are fans of royal baby nonsense: A Guide to Having a New Baby (Not Necessarily Royal) and 10 Royal Babies in Fiction. Both from the Observer. So tongue-in-cheek. Not forelock-tugging. Supposedly.
My mid-life crisis stand-up comedy memoir I Laughed, I Cried: How One Woman Took On Stand-Up and (Almost) Ruined Her Life is out one month today! Hurrah!
To mark the countdown, Orion has released 10 copies for a giveaway on GoodReads.com. Click here to put your name in the hat. But hurry! The giveaway is only open until 10 June. And if you win, you are supposed to post a review on Goodreads (however short and however negative – it’s OK, I am used to heckling).
Other news so far: Last week it went in at No. 1 on Hot New Releases in Comedy on Amazon. Pick of the Month for June in The Bookseller. Best Non-Fiction Read in Good Housekeeping: “A seize-the-day memoir to inspire anyone with a long-held dream.” In the pages of their June issue I sit proudly alongside ANN WIDDECOMBE. Just as I happily would at any social function. I await your call, Ann. Bring Anton with you.
Ah, don’t you just love the school gate? Writing in today’s Observer about “Queen Bee syndrome” and “mummy cliques” at drop-off and pick-up. I am not convinced Gill Hornby has nailed it in “most-hyped-novel-of-the-year” The Hive as (a) her critique seems a bit out-of-date (her kids are now in their late teens and early twenties and she is writing about primary school) and (b) what she writes about is so extreme it veers into caricature.
This stuff is more incisive when it feels authentic. In real life someone really did tell me that one of my children’s “cognitive skills” were “crap.” But I don’t think it was a person who actually knew what “cognitive skills” are, so it was not very wounding. (What are “cognitive skills” anyway and who cares?) Anyhow. This is a major Mumsnet topic (over 11,000 threads on school gate etiquette alone) so if The Hive can gain currency with that demographic, it will do well. I will continue to monitor the situation in-between perusals of the Boden catalogue. (Joke. Boden is the caricature mummy clique’s label of choice.)
Writing in today’s Observer about taboo-busting women like Angelina Jolie and Romola Garai. Angelina Jolie has been hailed as “inspirational” for her decision to go public about her preventive double mastectomy and Romola Garai won plaudits from the audience at the BAFTAs when she “bravely and hilariously” mentioned her stitches after childbirth. I think these things reveal far more about how inherently conservative most people are. Is it really so shocking that someone would have a double mastectomy if they had a 87% chance of breast cancer? And every second of the day tens of thousands of post-natal women have stitches where the sun doesn’t shine. Anyway. They made headlines so it was reason enough to revisit all the other crazy taboos that have been busted over the years, from Demi’s pregnant belly to Julia’s hairy armpits.
Looking into the new digital publishing world of Melanie Phillips for today’s Observer Profile. This week Melanie Phillips launched a very intriguing internet portal where she’s marketing herself and her world view to a global (read: American) audience. It’s the mugs, T-shirts and baseball caps that have brought her the most flak in the British press, but the far more interesting story is what this represents. I think we’ll see a lot more writers, commentators and opinion-formers using the internet to assert their influence abroad using the internet. And they will all be claiming — as Melanie Phillips is — that they and they alone are “Britain’s most influential political commentator.” Let the games begin!