Writing in today’s Independent about the new Ofqual recommendations for A-Levels. The bottom line is, they’re going to tweak them a tiny bit. Because actually they’re not that bad. But that does not make a headline, does it? It would be so much more interesting if newspapers reported that A-Levels aren’t actually as bad as everyone is always making out. How do I know? Because I took one. Yes, I’m still banging on about the English Literature A-Level I took in 2010. And who wouldn’t? It was bloody difficult and the coursework took ages. I’m hardly going to say the standard was appalling…
I swear this to you upon my jumpsuited life. The second you start looking for jumpsuits, THEY’RE EVERYWHERE. Jennifer Lopez’s choice of outfit for the finale of American Idol? Jumpsuit. Sweden’s winning entry for the Eurovision? Jumpsuit. Leanne, the winner of BBC1’s The Voice? When she sang This is a Man’s World? Jumpsuit. I mean, this is the dress’s, the dress’s, the dress’s world. But it wouldn’t mean nothing, nothing — no, not one little thing! — without the occasional jumpsuit. Or a playsuit. We will ignore the fact that I am temporarily retired from wearing jumpsuits myself at the moment because my derriere is too large. It wasn’t always this way. Working on it, OK? Working on it.
Elvis jumpsuits pic by Thomas R Machnitzki.
Spouse has accused me of being “demented” about the Orange prize. Couldn’t sleep after it was announced. Not because I didn’t like the book that won, The Song of Achilles by new, uber-talented author, 33 year-old Madeline Miller. No, I did like it. In fact I gave a glowing review of it in the Independent on Sunday which was quoted all over the post-prize coverage as proof of what a great book it is. But as much as I had enjoyed the book I had mixed feelings about it winning the prize.
The problem with this year’s Orange list is a problem any prize would envy: it was a very strong shortlist. Plus, two of the biggest contenders – the strongest contenders in my view – had previously won the Orange (Ann Patchett for Bel Canto) and the Booker (Anne Enright for The Gathering). Personally, I would have given the prize to Anne Enright for The Forgotten Waltz, pictured. (Spouse points out: “Yes, but no-one is asking you, are they?” Fair point.) This is a heart-stoppingly brilliant novel about fidelity, lust and self-delusion, a modern re-write of Madame Bovary for the tracker mortgage generation. It’s a book that rewrites the rules of fiction and reminds you how special reading is.
I can understand why the judges voted for The Song of Achilles. And in any case they made it known that the decision was not unanimous. Madeline Miller is a great writer and it’s a great book. There were other, more experienced writers on the list who have had their time in the sun. Why not reward a new talent? Which is great for Orange anyway, as prize committees like to look as if they’ve discovered a new voice.
But… But.. This is why I couldn’t sleep. It just wasn’t the best book on the list. And, worse, I don’t think it’s the best book Madeline Miller will write. Nor it is even her Bel Canto. Achilles is a miracle of a first novel, a stunningly original debut which is cleverly marketed towards people who know nothing about Greek mythology and think that by reading it they will feel much more clever. (And I know what I’m talking about because this is exactly how I felt when I read it.) But it’s not a Great Book. And Orange should only reward Great Books. Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz is that book. I’ll shut up now because my husband has had enough.
Writing in the Independent today about the case of the 19-year-old from Merthyr Tydfil who had to be cut out of her house and taken for medical treatment because she had become too large to stand up.
The most tragic thing about her case is the fact that she was put on a hardcore weight loss program in the US, similar to the one in the teen fat camp drama Huge (pictured). She lost fifteen stone, but as soon as she came back home, there was no ongoing support for her, so she put it all back on again. In the context of that, the tabloid hatefest against her has been particularly painful to watch.
I do fear, though, that the only reason I care about this is that I may simply identify with her a little too strongly. There but for the grace…