Saturday, April 21, 2018

L'Ordre du Jour - Eric Vuillard

When friendly coworkers want to lend me books I never know how to turn them down.
Especially history-teachers are hard to say no to, because somehow they always so awesomely knowledgeable.
Especially had to rebuff is this particular history-teacher with whom I have already discovered similar tastes in literature (although discrepancies have also been observed).
So I read this.

- Thorough historical expertise genuinely impresses me. Hence my inherent esteem for history-teachers.
- Elegant if self-important prose.
- Mercifully short! 150 pages long and the tiniest little sliver of a book I have seen in a long time.
- A World War II-overdose brought on by my husband's boundless passion for this conflict makes me nauseous at the mere thought of Nazi Germany. Not Vuillard's fault, though.
- For all its elegance, the prose is self-important to the point of being insufferably conceited. 

In short : Not for me, thank you.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Bring Up the Bodies - Hilary Mantel

I read the first part of this trilogy a while ago and liked it well enough. 
When I ran into part two in a charity shop last summer, it was clearly Meant To Be, so I bought it.

- Tudor history! Well-rearched stuff on the downfall of Anne Boleyn (wife nr 2) and the ascension of Jane Seymour (nr 3), while Thomas Cromwell is holding on for dear life to his position as the King's Secretary.
- Elegant writing. Though perhaps no Nobel Prize contestant, Mantel is not just a historian who writes; she is actually a writer.

- I am at a loss to determine what precisely is the matter with this book. 
Suffice to say there IS something missing. A sense of humour? (Of a more outspoken kind than Cromwell's tongue in cheek observations, I mean.) Affection for the characters? 
I really couldn't tell for sure. It's just a bit plain boring, at times?

In short : Not as much fun as it should have been.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Dear Melancholy - The Weeknd

My Dear Ms Gomez,

Finding new music to run to at my age - or is it our day and age that should be blamed? - is anything but uncomplicated.

In this matter, your ex-boyfriend The Weeknd is normally a safe card, which is why I was pleased to hear he had released a new album.

However, if these songs are anything to go by, you seem to have smashed his poor little heart into smithereens. 
Now, why would you do that?

Admittedly, I lack inside information (please feel free to email me) but he seems like a nice enough guy. I'm naturally reluctant to compare him to any other ex-boyfriend of yours, but it is very hard not to.

Specifically, I don't find it fair on the rest of us to have him waste perfectly good talent on this sort of soppy mess.

In the future, I'd be very grateful if you would please consider your respective audiences before making any rash decisions. 

Thank you in advance,



Sunday, April 15, 2018

Monstre de Peinture - Christophe Domino

Here is a piece of friendly advice for those of you who, like me, wish to improve your general culture without too much of an effort at boring books : Toilet-learning.
Just like you have a bedside-book, you keep a toiletside book and you take it in, a nibble at the time. Works splendidly! This one I just finished.

- Bacon's art! I have no idea why I seem to enjoy so much of the kind of art that gives my children nightmares? Perhaps I'm compensating for my smooth and docile exterior? 
In any case, Bacon's tortured bodies definitely strike a chord in me. It is an advantage, therefore, that this little book should contain so many of his artworks and so beautifully reproduced (the many triptychs feature as fold-outs, for instance).

- Whenever possible I try to blame clumsy writing on the translation. That is a lot harder when, as in this case, I read it in the original language. I can't bear this very French type of word-spewing pseudo-academica. You'd think the author was paid by the word.
- Absurdly, seeing the great amount of words used, the texts don't really say much, either about Bacon nor his work. The interviews and articles featured on the final pages were actually a lot more informative.

In short : Read something else on Bacon instead.

Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962

Friday, April 13, 2018

Jack Whitehall At Large

Having already - despite his bratty appearance - appreciated Whitehall in 'Travels With My Father' and 'Fresh Meat', I confess I had good hopes of a couple of laughs here. 

- Whitehall came through, fortunately, and delivered a fair amount of fun in his ramblings on drinking, his American manager, Frozen, Robert Pattinson, flying and dickpics, among others. 

- He is no Louis CK. But then hopefully that also means he does not masturbate in front of people (which might compensate for Whitehall's lesser genius). 

In short : It was OK.

Here is what I would like on Netflix, though : A comedy special with Romesh Ranganathan.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Plantu at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris 13th arrdt

Being a regular reader of Le Monde + a teacher + a political left-winger (the two last items are fairly indistinguishable, I'll grant you that) an exhibition of Plantu's caustic cartoons was bound to catch my eye.

- It's Plantu! It's political, it's clever, it's disrespectful without being discourteous.
- The BNF venue is situated right next to where I live. There is no denying the comfort to be found in geographical proximity!
- Free admission.

- It was the tiniest of all the tiny exhibitions I have ever visited. Dense and interesting! But tiny!

In short : Don't cross countries for this one. But if you live nearby, definitely come!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Oss Är Allt - Hurula

Possibly, in the Hurula case, the clear-sighted objectivity you normally find on this blog might be a bit lopsided : He IS after all a homie of mine. (We share geographical origins.) Still!

- Classic garage rock with a touch of poetry always has its peculiar charm, doesn't it?

CONS :  
- So renewal is not Hurula's game, apparently. That is a pity, because it is mine. But I suppose we can't all be Prince, now, can we?

In short : Bring it on!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Welcome to Rapture - Logic

- A tad melodramatic - just what I tend to enjoy in music! - and mixed up with gangsta-rap feel! An excellent combination.

- Too few BPM to use for running-music (I realize it's a bit shallow as a criteria but...).

In short : Pretty brilliant.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Att Vara Kvinna - Maria Lang

Faithful to the Norwegian tradition of påskekrim (reading a detective novel during Easter) (yes Scandinavian traditions can be quite quirky!) I settled in next to my cat and dug into my Easter chocolates with this old vintage gem on my lap.

- 1960s fictive police investigations are particularly charming, and even more so in the hands of Maria Lang, forerunner to Sweden's modern and by comparison rather bleak crimewriters.  
- Women are delicate and graceful, men are dashing and clever and everyone is dapper and polite. Oh the good old times!
- Despite multiple re-reads I still couldn't remember who the killer was. 
That may say more about me than about the book, but there it is.
- Classic, standard, archetype, conventional whodunit.

NO :
- What's not to like, honestly??

In short : A treat!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Always Ascending - Franz Ferdinand

So, Scottish indie pop-rock! Pleasant, clever, idiosyncratic. 
A tad slow in bpm to make truly perfect running-music but otherwise really quite listenable.

In short : OK!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Poor Women in Shakespeare - Fiona McNeill

For all its faults, this remains the best souvenir I brought back from last summer's pilgrimage to Stratford-upon-Avon!

The fact that poor women are relatively absent from Shakespeare's plays has not kept McNeill from writing a very interesting - although ineptly-named - book. 
In so far as they are at all present in Shakespeare, with the exception of 'Measure by Measure', it is mostly as facilitators of the plot : They were mobile, and so were put to use to link geographical places to one another.

Other 17th century plays, however, look more closely at these "spinsters" so McNeill draws on these to bolster her findings. As I knew very few of these plays, however, I tended to read this more as a history (or herstory) book than as literary analysis.

As such, I learnt for instance that :

- Poor women lacked a stable identity (i.e. profession and/or marital status) and their "shifting" was heavily connoted with illicit sexual activity
Add to this the prevailing contemporary idea of poverty - idleness, to be cured by manual labor and physical punishment - and you will see why this group of people was so worrying to the London establishment.

- Fun fact : It was apparently quite common for a woman to need the help of an expert in deciding whether she was pregnant. Far more frequently than now, women were surprised by childbirth, as they lacked understanding of their own bodies. 
(Which makes sense when you know that the female anatomy was believed to be identical with the male, except projected inwards.) 
Rather than lifting her shirt, a jury of matrons squeezed milk out of breasts and considered changed appetites as evidence for pregnancy.

- From the very beginning, 1619, "plantation" meant female inmates from Bridewell House of correction were shipped over to Jamestown in the New World to help planting new Virginia citizens. 
I had no idea this had gone on elsewhere than in Australia, but it seems the idea was also extended to Ireland.

In short : I learnt a lot!

Friday, March 30, 2018

The End of the F***ing World

So this would be the dark, British version of 'Atypical' : Focus is still on ill-functioning teenagers.
Here, though, the therapists and protective siblings have been replaced with deficient parents, sadism, social realism, sex, violence and loneliness.

The cosy family surroundings of 'Atypical' has become two misfits' blood-spattered roadtrip.

That may not sound like a whole lot of fun, and of course it wasn't. 
Yet as it managed to avoid miserabilism and remained relatable, I still found it very enjoyable. And : 20-minute episodes! And : Bechel-test passed!

In short : Surprisingly good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Atypical s1

A series revolving around a wholesome, suburban, American nuclear family does not, at first, sound exactly revolutionary. 

However, if you throw in an autistic teenager, a midlife crisis and some teenage angst amongst the cupcakes and support groups, then it takes on new interest. 
I suppose playful and earnest writing helps, as well. And : 30-minute episodes! The perfect format. 

I have very limited experience in autism, plus there are so many scales on the spectrum,  so I can't tell whether this is realistic or not.

In short : Quite a laugh.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Störst Av Allt (Quicksand) - Malin Persson Giolito

The author is a former lawyer, daughter to Sweden's most famous criminologist (admittedly, they are not that many) and also a crime writer. It may be not exactly fortuitous, therefore, that this should be a courtroom drama.

Fortunately, there is more to this plot than to her dad's murder mysteries : A teenage girl is found in her classroom as the only survivor after a school shooting (Sweden's first, I reckon) in one of Stockholm's snazzier neighborhoods. 
Starting there, the girl is the sole focalizer and main narrator; it's through her memories and experiences that we piece together the narrative. 
Added to the plot are also a consistent dose of teenage angst and social class issues. 

Elegant prose, however, this is certainly not. It's more of what I like to call 'journalist writing', i.e. more social pathos than literary skills, or even literary ambition.

For the record, Netflix has bought the rights and is adapting this into a TV series as we speak.

In short : A compelling page-turner.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Shaka Ponk at Bercy, Paris

Compared to last time at much smaller venue the Zénith, this was a wholly different affair.
Not better nor worse, but different.

Instead of the head-on, seemingly spontaneous 2014 show, last night was set at 20.000-seat Bercy with visual ambitions to match the size of the audience. 
The band is still as tight as ever, the two forefigures extremely charismatic and intense. 
Plus, this time, the show was visually impressive with a light show and background imagery which in effect pretty much took over at times (for instance during an extended solo-battle including Kurt Cobain, Prince and Lemmy).

Upside : Superbly striking and very adapted to the venue (though clearly disserved by the icky sound at Bercy...). Plus, indeed, something very dissimilar from last time.

Downside : The spontaneity obviously suffered from the well-directed, larger-than-life approach, despite Frah's charming taste for public interaction.

Also, a full 2 1/2 hour long concert is becoming a rarity today, now that Prince is dead and gone...

If you still aren't familiar with Shaka Ponk's powerful electro-rock, it's high time!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Crown s2

The historical detail, aestheticism and psychological finesse from season one are still as accurate.
Moreover, the international situation is increasingly knotty (Suez, the Kennedys) and the Mountbatten family tensions persist, like in most families only in public (uncle Edward of Windsor, sister Margaret again and Prince Charles's schooling).

Globally rather uncompromising, very beautiful and also entertaining.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Gå Inte Ensam Ut I Natten - Kjell Westö

As a native speaker of Swedish, I always find the Finnish version of our common language rather charming. Differing only slightly from the way Swedes speak, it does nevertheless have its little peculiarities, not the least of which is their pronunciation, which makes them all sound sweeter than the Moomin.

The style, therefore, of Finnish Westö's novels, is blissful for two reasons : The Finnish idiosyncracies and Westö's elegant prose. I have previously read and appreciated his 2013 novel 'Hägring 38'. As compared to that, this decade-old book felt less mature, less restrained, as evidenced for instance by its length. Over 500 pages means the author has found it tough to kill his darlings.

Storywise, Westö ambitiously takes on the lives of a series of people, linked over a period of time; friends, lovers, musicians and family. 
Their heavy drinking feels distinctly typical of the country, though I realize I have now mentioned Finland regarding pretty much every aspect of this novel... It IS closely linked to the Helsinki setting, and its depiction of Finland from the 1960s onwards was also, to me, its top feature.

Då Var Allt Levande och Lustigt - Kerstin Ekman

And so the 18th century comes back and bites me in the butt again. After recently plowing through Marie Antoinette, Swedish rococo and British Georges, I cannot but recognize that this is very much not my cup of tea.

Admittedly, this was expertly penned by - in my not so humble opinion - Sweden's greatest now living writer. 
As it turns out, though, not even she lays golden eggs every time.
Here, she gives in to what I assume is a personal passion for botany (which I sadly do not share. At all.) and channels her biography of one of the Swedish Enlightenment biologists - or parson naturalists, as they were called - through their common penchant for plants.

Ekman's style is always a pleasure, yet I'm afraid not pleasurable enough to compensate for what I felt was a dreary subject matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Bleak House - Charles Dickens

Though I am all for dramatic readings I still felt Mil Nicholson on slightly overdid this one. 
However much fun dialects can be, a flourishing plot such like this probably benefits from a more subdued performance.

As for the book itself : It's Dickens's usual prolific, meandering style, abounding with characters, descriptions and subplots, evolving around social injustice and poor children, starring the typical lovebirds and the Jane Eyre-ish morally impeccable heroine of modest origins. What sets 'Bleak House' apart from other Dickenses is the legal environment; the Chancery and the Jarndyce and Jarndyce court case drawing on for as long as the novel lasts and entailing a distinct feeling of impending doom.

If you like Dickens, you are very likely to enjoy this. If you don't usually take to Victorian romanticism, then perhaps don't bother. (Incidentally, as I belong to the second group, one might wonder what possessed me to download and actually listen to all 67 chapters. I'm not sure. Somehow, I've got the idea I should know more classics.)

In a word : Long. Way too long.

Friday, March 16, 2018


I confess to being wholly inept at grasping anything at all regarding the rules and score-keeping of this game show, which however does in no way prevent me from enjoying it to the fullest. Possibly because it is more of a contest in with than in learning (although that certainly does not exclude the contestants being sometimes impressively erudite) (and witty!).

My one regret is the male predominance; the men to women rate is at best 3 to 1, not counting host Stephen Fry. 

Apart from that, this is hilarious. I wish all mansplainers were as funny as Alan Davies or Bill Bailey.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The History of England IV, Revolution - Peter Ackroyd

As faithful readers are well aware of, the 18th century is not my favourite period in history.
Moreover, I find Ackroyd's writing a bit forbidding and humourless; there's none or little of 'herstory' or 'new social history' here.

In point of fact, I only got started on this series in the first place, because the Tudor book was about, well, the Tudors. And true enough, the following volume was rather dull. 
To make it short, before I started, this book felt like a bit of a chore. It was therefore a pleasant surprise to find it fairly readable!

To my advantage was the fact that I was embarrassingly ignorant of the Georgian era, and so there was a tinge of novelty to what I learnt :

- After Dutch William of Orange and timid Queen Anne came a series of Hanoverian Georges I to IV, no III onward actually speaking English (though he also presented the inconvenience of having to be restrained in a straitjacket for long periods of time).

- The onset of the consumer society as a consequence of heightened living standards and the start of the industrial revolution.

- London's teeming theatrical life was checked by the government who did not much appreciate political satire. This in turn led to the birth of a new literary genre, i. e. the novel. Reading fiction became all the rage (and of course was considered just as perilous and unhealthy as video games can be today).

- Also the formation of the Methodist religion and other sects, the commencement of music as a social concept, and of course over a hundred years' of virtually uninterrupted war with France.

Monday, March 12, 2018

She's The Man - A. Fickman 2006

Crossdressing is a recurrent Shakespeare theme, yet to the best of my knowledge, none of his heroines ever dressed as a man to join a football team. 
However, as much as he was a misogynist, he was also quick to adapt a storyline to fit his purposes, so this version might have sat well with him.

From my favourite Shakespeare play ('Twelfth Night') this film has kept the crossdressing, the proper names, the twins, the messaging back and forth, the famous Malvolio quote and the crisscrossing couples of unrequited love.

Unfortunately, it also contains lousy acting, silly dialogue and some pathetically ridiculous costumes.

Much as I do love a Shakespeare play, I have to recommend 'Bend It Like Beckham' instead of this.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Rien Ne S'Oppose A La Nuit - Delphine de Vigan

Enjoying only a very reduced number of siblings myself, I can't really claim to know what it's like to grow up in a family of nine, like Vigan's mother did. I do however have a mother, albeit suffering no obvious mental affliction, so I can identify with the hardship of writing about her as an independent person. 

Not that that sort of imagination is really necessary, as Vigan takes regular breaks from her narrative to address the reader with reports on how her writing is progressing and how it is affecting her. Metaliterature just the way I like it!

Apart from that, this family saga set in postwar Paris was captivating, stomach-churning, well-pondered and eminently elegant in style. As masterly as it was enthralling!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Macbeth at Théâtre de l'Odéon, Paris 6th arrdt

In preparation for this outing, I subjected my teenage offspring to the Fassbender film version a couple of weeks ago. That was a bold move, and she didn't like it at all.

Once at the theatre, though, she saw the wisdom of her mother, because following Shakespeare on stage without previous knowledge of the play is not always that mince a feat, especially when you are by far the youngest in the audience.

Like me and her father, she preferred this play to the film. Contrary to Kurzel's movie, this was colourful and engaging, albeit a tad long (though the original play had been shortened to 2h20). The actors were remarkable and the staging simple yet impressive.

Great play, great performance! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Early Man - N. Park 2018

Had I but known the topic of this film would be football (my pre-research stopped at the name of Aardman Studios) chances are I would not have bothered.

That would have been a shame because even with my zero knowledge of football, causing me to miss out on the multiple football-jokes, this remained that rare but pleasurable kind of film that is entertaining in a silly, artless, winsome way without being plain stupid. 

Not a great Aardman film in the line of 'Chicken Run' or 'Wallace and Gromit' but still; pretty much what you need at this time of year.