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.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Ibland Mår Jag Inte Så Bra - Thérese Lindgren

A year or so ago, Lindgren, one of Sweden's major influencers, signed this autobiographical book about her mental disorder. After a burnout, she was diagnosed with General Anxiety Syndrome, which she writes about here in a candid, engaging, personal yet fairly distanced and well-informed way.

This was an easy read - not exactly an erudite or scientific approach - and yet important insofar as it's addressing an audience who probably desperately needs information on the subject. (Mental health problems affect one in ten young people, according to, and yet an impressive 70% of these kids have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.) 

Friday, March 2, 2018

British Museum, London

From Egypt, Napoleon Buonaparte famously brought back the obelisk currently situated at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. He was ousted by the British who were equally interested in conquering Egypt. (Obviously, there were also a certain number of Egyptians in the country at the time, but then none of the Europeans ever considered them as viable competitors for any of the national treasures, so...)

Although Napoleon certainly didn't settle for just the obelisk - he also did his share in looting for the Louvre - as you can see for yourself at the British Museum, the English were largely superior at recognizing historical valuables and definitely carried away the most beautiful pieces. (I have visited Cairo so I maintain that superlative.) 
These are now on display in London, along with the Rosetta stone (and some other stuff), and I can dearly recommend a visit. 
Brought along two kids in variable size (13 and 20) and we all enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London

True enough, embarking on a day outdoors on a particularly icy February day takes a special kind of twit. 
Notwithstanding the numbing temperatures, the rose bushes were pruned down to barren branches, the pagoda was covered by grey tarp, the water lilies were hibernating, one of the hothouses was closed and obviously nothing was blossoming - except an impressive mass of orchids in the orchid exhibition.

It was nonetheless handsome; the sun was shining, we did a bit of celebrity spotting and the gift shop was well-stocked. We had a great day of it, and yet I do feel that the entrance fee could have done with a little cutback due to the place being in this half-shutdown winter state. (But then, the underground was in pretty much the same state that weekend, and we paid full price there as well...)

Katherine Howard - Josephine Wilkinson

Anyone who takes any interest whatsoever in English history most likely knows the rhyming reminder 'divorced - beheaded - died - divorced - beheaded - survived' designed to keep track of the spouses of Henry VIII. A very useful rhyme, thanks to which I knew how the life of Queen no 5 panned out even before digging into Wilkinson's biography. 
However, that was all I knew of Katherine Howard.

Now, I also realise that just like a great number of other women throughout history, she practically embodies the #metoo-movement. 

Every event that came to define her life was initiated by a man :

- First, she was groped by her teacher in what would today be termed sexual assault.
- Then, a servant in her aunt's household - her social superior - chose her as his steady bedfellow. She was thirteen at the time. 
- When the King saw her at court, he fell in love and married her.
- Obviously, her past caught up with her fairly quickly (thanks to courtier and future martyr John Lascelles) and so Henry had her head cut off after less than two years of married bliss.

Ironically, I believe that another man - the son Henry kept switching wives to have - could eventually have saved her, but as he was never born, we will never know.

I learnt a lot from this - although as I knew nothing at the outset, that doesn't say much - and will bear with me one interesting thought of Wilkinson's : Henry VIII wanted to marry for love. That was a luxury not granted to kings and explains at least a part of his marital history. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Making A Murderer

I realize I'm the last one on this particular ball - it has been over a year since my daughter ecstatically tried to make me watch this series - but I'll offer my views anyway : 

I may be a little less ebullient about my offspring, but I did find it both interesting and well-made. If a wee bit too long (could very profitably have been shortened by at least three hours, actually). 

Not as brilliant as 'Serial' in the same genre, but very OK.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Oscar Levertins Vänner - Martina Montelius

Seeing how much I enjoyed Montelius's previous novel 'Främlingsleguanen' my expectations were, contrary to all common sense, unreasonably high.

Fortunately, Montelius delivers! Boldly, she creates something of a caricatured version of herself as the main character going on a cruise aimed at "intoxication, erotica and cultural improvement" before foundering (the lady; not the ship). 

Very much like in 'Främlingsleguanen' the style is Nabokov-ishly elaborate and playful in a manner which clashes intensely with the tragedy of the plot. Both are tough to pull off, but as I said, Montelius delivers. 

This short little book made me laugh at times and had my bowels turn at other times.
And though it may not seem like it, both of these, are in point of fact, good things!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Uncovered - Robin Schulz

Runner-friendly dance music. Nothing that will be ever be considered a classic in the future but nothing that will be particularly embarrassing to have listened to either.
If you get my drift.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Jack, l'Eventreur de Whitechapel at Théâtre de Trévise, Paris 9th arrdt

Expensive productions at fancy venues are not by definition first-rate, any more than moderate plays at simpler playhouses are automatically average in quality. Hidden gems do exist.

Most of the time, though, limited means lead to limited quality, as was pretty much the case in this musical about Jack the Ripper. Historically, it felt rather accurate - at least to the novice I am - and the overall quality was generally OK, so what it resulted in was an efficient history-lesson for the gore-loving teenager I had with me.  

The Years - Virginia Woolf

Although far from the text-wringing of her more experimental works (her short stories or 'To The Lighthouse') this is still Virginia Woolf and in accordance requires a certain focus.

In classic epic family drama style, the narrative revisits members of the same family throughout a period ranging from 1880 to "present day' (the book was published in 1937).
In classic Woolf style, it doesn't follow fluid narrative with clearly defined focalizer characters, but rather pounces on various family members at seemingly haphazard moments of their lives, keeping the reader on his/her toes, continually guessing through whose eyes we are now seeing, feeling and thinking.

Brilliant, of course! Albeit a tad exhausting.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

DMX Ryders - DMX

So this may not be the most sophisticated album to have been released last year - the video reminds me slightly of Ghost in so far that watching is, as my teenagers say, a cringeworthy experience - and it does not reach the heights of 2003 classic 'X Gon Give It To You'

However, should you share my soft spot for gangsta rap then this is for you. 
A belated Christmas present.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Grace and Frankie, s 4

So I know I said I wasn't going to move on to season 4. But evidently I am weak. 
And what got me in this case was my soft spot for groundbreaking TV (elderly leading ladies talking of and having sex, Bechdel-test passed with colours so flying they are actually a rainbow + spot-on Marta Kauffman-esque dialogue). 
And it did look up after season three, albeit not to season one-heights. Still; fun TV!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Brief History - Stephen Hawking

I truly wish I were the sort of cultivated person able to take an interest in subjects as far removed from my own as cosmology and black holes. Sadly, I'm not.

However, as long as Hawking speaks of himself and his personal life I took a definite interest in this mémoir, which was globally a fascinating and easy read. 

As regarding his studies, the one things I appreciated and/or actually understood (which I believe to be very much the same thing in this case) was the Grandfather Paradox (if you travel in time and kill your grandfather so you won't be born, then what?) and Hawkings's reason to why time travel most likely is and will remain impossible (because otherwise we'd already be flooded by tourists from the future).

Good one, and admirably concise!

Monday, February 12, 2018

TED Talks Radio Hour

The meaning of the TED acronym - Technology, Entertainment, Design - encompasses pretty much everything between heaven and earth, and sure enough, the TED talks can be about anything between heaven and earth, including abstractions.

I haven't watched any of the videos, as I confess I lack time and patience for videos. I reckon I'm probably too old (I'm not into Youtubers) or too young (When I retire, then..!) so I can't compare the TED videos to these edited radio-versions. 

The podcasts are well-designed and  all, but have a distinctly American ring to them. Reasonings, habits and opinions are in no way all universal. For instance, a school headmaster assuring her students every day that she loves them and always will may be a winning concept in Chicago (I believe it was) yet I am extremely doubtful as to whether anyone would appreciate it in France. 

Other subjects feel so obvious I almost feel taken for a fool.
Not convinced, therefore.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Mothering Sunday - Graham Swifth

Seasoned blogreaders will know I am not normally prone to poetic effusions, and yet here goes :
Reading this book was very similar to uncovering a hidden gem in a particularly unexpected place! The low-expectations principle no doubt helped; I had never heard of Swift before.

This concise narrative of a life-defining day in the life of a young maid in the English post-war countryside - not wholly unlike 'Atonement' in atmosphere - was : enchanting, meta-literary, subtle, piquant and (sigh) simply wonderful. 

Plus, a modest 150 pages long. I love an artist capable of killing his/her darlings.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Man of The Woods - Justin Timberlake

Despite our - slight! - age difference, JT and I patently have similar tastes in music. 
Though I don't share his new love of country, I have spent years shaking my hips to James Ingram, Philip Bailey and Marvin Gaye. So, quite obviously, has Timberlake.

That he should want to reproduce these underrated artists is perfectly fine by me!
I do, however, regret that he doesn't seem to possess quite enough talent to pull off the addition of a new element - country or whatever else - which is essential if you want to do anything else but pay homage.

As it it, the Weeknd does this way better.