Two wonderful page-turners reviewed this month: Francesca Segal’s The Innocents for The Observer, which is the story of a newly-engaged couple where the man is having serious doubts about the relationship. I like his bold strategy: if in doubt about the person you are marrying, just bring the wedding forward and everything will be fine. This is an entertaining, elegant read, nicely pitched in the territory between literary and commercial. I’d happily recommend it to anyone as a light read. But for something a bit more quirky and inventive with similar themes? Nell Freudenberg’s The Newlyweds.
Lucy Ellmann’s Mimi, reviewed for the Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, is so unusual and so crazy (but good crazy) that it’s really in a territory all of its own. Mimi is an eccentric speech-writer who saves Harrison, an equally eccentric plastic surgeon, when he falls over in the street and sprains his ankle. We know they’re going to cross paths again and fall in love and sure enough they do. This feels like a Woody Allen film encapsulated in a novel. It’s madcap, funny, wild, romantic, experimental, demented and I loved everything about it.
In Bath and very excited to be taking over from James Runcie as Artistic Director of the Independent Bath Literature Festival. The launch party for his outgoing programme was last night in the Guildhall, with a rousing speech from Independent editor Chris Blackhurst and music from The Bookshop Band (once a rather wonderful elderly Bath lady had unexpectedly got hold of the microphone and told everyone to “please be quiet and listen to these lovely musicians”).
The Festival’s on over the next nine days and features JK Rowling, Hilary Mantel, Aminatta Forna, Sandi Toksvig, Kate Mosse, Elif Shafak and many other greats. No pressure for next year, then…
To the Donmar for BBC Radio 4’s Front Row to review Trelawny of the Wells, a 1898 play by Arthur Wing Pinero which has been subtly reworked by Patrick Marber. Unusual, fresh and entertaining play directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina). Ron Cook — Mr Crabb the accountant in Mr Selfridge — absolutely steals the show with his dual role as Mrs Mossop, the Peggy Mitchell-style housekeeper, and Sir William Gower, the snuff-addicted grumpy uncle. I enjoyed it very much indeed, as I said about 56 times during the programme.
Writing in today’s Independent about the crisis in teaching revealed in the NUT’s latest poll. “Seven out of 10 teachers say morale has declined since the General Election in May 2010. Presumably, the remaining three out of 10 were too busy locking themselves in the stationery cupboard, weeping, to answer the question.”
A teacher friend messaged me to say: “The NUT surveys always attract the most whingey end of the profession.” Which I’m sure is true. But still.
Yes, I think it must be agreed that 2012 was a good year for feminism. But will 2013 be even better? Love this report by AFP which references the influence of Rhiannon Coslett and Holly Baxter of Vagenda, Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, Lucy-Anne Holmes of No More Page Three, Everyday Sexism’s Laura Bates and, of course, the MASSIVE Stand-Up to Sexism gig.
Disclaimer: Yes, I am the one at this gig who talked about the 26, 241 nipples published in The Sun. The odd number is not because I am a woman and therefore bad at maths. It is because one time Melinda Messenger stood side on.
Here’s what we want more of in 2013:
— More initiatives by (especially young) women to inspire debate. What we have is great. It needs to multiply.
— More menz* involved generally.
— More debate about gender stereotypes. A lot of what still passes for “feminism” is just reverse “them versus us”. It’s not about gender-blindness. It should be.
— More men primary school teachers. 12% of primary school teachers are male, compared with 38% male secondary school teachers (also not great). This is not because I want to lech at menz during one of my only daylight interactions with other adults. No, it isn’t. That would be lazy gendered stereotype of a hormonal middle-aged woman. Though accurate.
— I may have missed a few ideas. Tweet more: #feminism2013
* menz = counterpart of wimminz
Let’s stop seeing red! From today’s Observer: Angry, me? How dare you? Writing about the cult of outrage and how it has become a language we’re all fluent in. Amusing to see conciliatory online comments for once: “Being in thrall to social media is like feeling compelled to listen to, comment on and get angry about the pronouncements of every single pub bore and nutter in the country.” “I will hold my hands up and admit that I sometimes come on here to make myself feel better about myself by beating someone else in debate.” “I find an evening out with Real Life Friends to be a wonderful antidote. Failing that reading a good book.” Read a BOOK? Real Life FRIENDS? What a preposterous suggestion. I am OUTRAGED.
Picture by Joel Dezafit, Galerie de Jef Safi.
More choice comments from the Guardian’s TV blog where Downton is no. 2 on the website’s Most Viewed (second only to Dr Who). The overall verdict is that last night’s outing was disappointing — but that’s only to be expected from a series that jumped the shark a long time ago. It’s amusing to me: Downton is hugely commercially popular and pulls in massive ratings. And yet you only hear people complaining about it. Out of 100+ comments there are only two people defending Uncle Julian. Although, to be fair, most of the carping is affectionate.
Typical stuff: “Glorious madcap populist schmaltzy dross.” “The second someone said about Matthew driving back from the hospital, we knew his goose was cooked.” “I think Fellowes is now putting in the anachronisms deliberately, to take the piss.” “Downton started out as a rather interesting kind of spin-off from Gosford Park, but now it’s definitely Dynasty in costume.”
Love this comment about Branson’s reference to having “been on a learning curve”: “Ah yes, the learning curve. One of the best Downton anachronisms ever, and saved by Julian Fellowes right till the end, in order (I don’t doubt) to lull his audience into a false sense of authenticity. Could someone please compile the greatest anachronisms and put them out as a separate DVD?” I may well consider doing this…
The Royal Baby has already made Muppets (and plebs) of us all. Writing in today’s Independent about what will surely be the biggest news story of 2013: The Royal Baby. I hesitate to add more column inches to the millions already dedicated to this subject. And the irony of saying “Stop talking about Kate and that baby” in a piece about Kate and that baby is definitely not lost. Which is why I have not used a picture of Kate Middleton to illustrate anything on here.
But I felt it needed saying. In early December we had no business knowing about a pregnancy of between five and eight weeks’ duration. Nor about her hospitalisation. Nor seeing the photos of her coming out of hospital. Nor of hearing about every cough, splutter and heave.
“The Palace must have decided that speculation would have been traumatic and widespread and, possibly, dangerous. Really? Worse than the feeding frenzy that resulted anyway? After everything that happened with Princess Diana, has no one learned anything?”