Posted by: Natalie | April 16, 2012

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin

I shall hopefully keep this brief after my previous diatribe about the book. My opinions, I am sad to say, altered little. I found the final 30 pages the most interesting in this particular journey, but getting there was hard going. Over the weekend I discussed this particular novel with girlies over a glass of wine or two (a much needed change to my social habits!!), some had read the book, others not. I found that fellow readers had similar feelings to me, that throughout you felt the almost uncontrollable urge to shake Eva Katchadourian. Hard. And if incapable of doing so to a fictional character, shake the book until she fell out of the pages for you to rage your angst against.

My guilty wants for destruction were not sated. The crucial moments were a quiet disappointment really and not merely because they were delivered with little feeling. The ending letters which construct the death scenes, are delivered in a slight monotone report at first, which is understandable given the writer’s need to distance herself from such harrowing events. But there are a good few pages where Shriver seems to have forgotten that her narrator wasn’t actually present to recount in such detail. The flow of the story at this point feels slightly abrupt because the voice changes – granted it changes into a more engaging one, but it is unsettling for a reader having devoted many an hour to one particularly, droney and self-pitying voice. However, just as abruptly excuses seem to come as to how the narrating Eva can possibly know such details. I understand that a media circus following such a crime will undoubtedly pull a lot of minor details to the fore, but it simply does not account effectively enough for the changes. It feels more like a convenient escape for someone backed into a corner. Ironic actually.

Yet I am not proposing anything better – I wouldn’t know where to begin. What Lionel Shriver has done is rather brave. She has attempted to de-construct malicious events and histories to try and organise a nation’s thoughts. No one really understands the reasons behind mass killings in the work place or at school, there always has to be a reason found in order to comprehend, regardless of how ludicrous it may be. Fundamentalism, anti-depressants, neo-Nazism, Satanic cults, God, bad parenting, boredom, all cited as potential tipping points on the scale of normal-to-pyschokiller. Shriver goes a long way to suggest that these reasons are just as ridiculous as medical labels we wish to slap on badly behaved children or the obese. Society is desperately trying to cover up what it even more desperately doesn’t want to admit; sometimes things just happen. Sometimes, a child is just plain naughty. Sometimes, you eat too much. Sometimes, children are born with maleficence in their hearts. Sometimes, there is no reason. And this is what we can’t cope with, this is what Eva Katchadourian couldn’t cope with and set to writing her letters in We Need To Talk About Kevin. Because without recapping and analysing, she may never have reached such acceptance.

But here I am slipping – she is a work of fiction. During my weekend discussions, I realised that I don’t feel able to recommend this book. Yes it must have some important merit to have won prizes etc etc etc. I just don’t buy it. I would see the film however. I am remarkably interested to know how they have pieced this together and what ‘voice’ they have given to Tilda Swinton as Kevin Katchadourian’s mother. I have the impression that it may glean more emotion from me as a visual piece, although I did have a fleeting moment of heartbreak towards the end of the book but it was so quickly washed over I felt cheated. I think that’s one of my problems with the book, the narrator and her world are so completely different to anything I know, that I find it very difficult to connect. Perhaps in film this connection can be forged? Who knows?

What the book has done for me however, is it makes me want to return to the Michael Moore documentary Bowling for ColumbineThe Columbine shootings, along with many others, are referenced throughout the book and were one of my first understandings of teen shootings. I remember watching the film and vesting my anger in Wallmart for selling ammunition, in the parents for clearly not steering their offspring in a healthy direction, in the media for almost glorifying such horrors with its whirlwind of attention. What I would like to do, now, is return to that film and watch with different eyes. Watch with a sense of trying to understand rather than chastising all other influence without a second thought. Nature and nurture will be an eternal battle which I know can never truly be answered but will ultimately lie at the heart of any atrocious crime, as depicted by Shriver.

Certainly though provoking and infuriating, but mainly for all the wrong reasons. Possibly one to leave in the library.

Posted by: Natalie | April 11, 2012

I Need to Talk About Kevin

I haven’t finished this book yet, but I am already disturbed. And not in the way I expected.

I knew before starting that this book is about a disturbed child who commits multiple high-school murders. So much is explained in the blurb and a discussion with a certain American friend of mine assured me of such. I will admit, my interest in the book was mostly born from a sick fascination behind the act itself – the type of car crash gore which causes further collisions between onlookers. I wanted to be shocked and appalled and delighted almost by scenes of horror. I rarely read anything with such modern violence. Whether it is because I am feeling a little lack lustre of late or some other intrinsic evil within me, desperate for a little quenching, but I was almost desperate to read something which shocks me to my core; something which makes me feel alive. For surely this is the whole point of despairing novels; situations so bleak that you cannot help but have some extreme reaction, to remind you how alive you can feel and how lucky with your lot.

But I am yet to feel this. I find Kevin odd, obviously, creepy and bizarre but so far, understandable. This doesn’t make me extraordinarily concerned about the plight of the modern teen or the difficulties of motherhood. No. It all feels rather mundane. At the moment. But I am more than irritated by the story’s narrator. Eva Katchadourian, mother of the ill fated mass murderer, retells her life in a series of letters to her estranged husband. This, I like. First person accounts are often my favourite for I like to imagine the other side, to read between the lines to see the real picture for are there not always more than two sides to a story? I find more and more often that opinions of real events vary wildly from person to person and I wonder why this is. Do people tell tales in ways to make me sway my allegiance? To convince me of their affection or indifference? Or just because they cannot help but lie? These realities for me seep into fiction – why does this narrator feel the need to tell me their side? What is it, exactly, that they wish to skew or conceal?

With the case of Eva K in, We Need To Talk About Kevin, I find that she is trying to be honest, but is pretentiously clutching at straws in some vain, self-pitying purge. I appreciate that the past is necessary, however, I am getting bored of her increasingly narcissistic, over-wordy prattle. Shriver, a little like myself at times, uses a ridiculous number of words to repeat Eva’s failings. Likewise, her segues into pointless side-plots and metaphor just reaffirm the fact that I JUST DON’T LIKE HER. By this, I suppose I really mean the character rather than the author, because the author’s use of language has me slightly intimidated, which is surely something to commend? Or is it? You see I am struggling to separate the two. Essentially, I find it a little hard going. I stumble over the language and, in admitting my own short-comings, have had to look up more than a few of the chosen words. Perhaps Shriver is cleverly instilling disgust in Eva K this way, so as to create sympathy and that afore mentioned ‘understanding’ for Kevin. Or perhaps Shriver is just too clever for her own good and showing off the extended vocabulary she is clearly so proud of. I’m not sure which annoys me most.

I have been getting so caught up in the words that the whole picture is getting lost. I want to know more of the truth, more of the heart of the matter rather than a weak mother’s misgivings. What I would prefer, I think, is a series of letters going back and forth perhaps between the parents, as I think the father’s voice may be a refreshing change – anyone else’s voice would be a welcome interlude. I wonder if this is why I’ve chosen to give a half way review/rant of the book.

But I shall persevere. I have invested enough to be interested in what happens and I do wish to know. Like the parents of many a murdered child, I need to know WHY. Not that I am likely to be satisfied in this, who ever is? I am hoping however that some form of redemption awaits this book, not for the characters, but for the sense of disgust and horror which I am waiting for. I want to be able to dismiss my current annoyance as hormonal or ignorance or chocolate-hungry, I want this book to deliver on my preconceived ideas. And herein lies the problem. Doesn’t it. Damn.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Posted by: Natalie | April 10, 2012

If Money Were No Object: Historic Wedding Venues

Being a girl who likes her history, specifically, British history, and also being a girl who can easily get swept along in a fairytale romance (no, seriously), where would be more perfect than a stately home or castle to tie the knot?! Of course, it would be amazing yet would  probably involve a lottery win (or two) along with re-mortgaging several family homes. But a girl can dream can’t she? Even if the following venues aren’t necessarily up for wedding hire! Poor Steve has a lot to contend with . . .

Hoghton Tower

Actually, probably one of the more affordable historic venues and one local to my family. I have to admit, I did have a sneaky enquire as to how much it would cost, but before you even begin to factor in ANYTHING, you would need quite a healthy budget. Having said that though, exclusive hire of this venue, I believe could be yours for around six grand – I’ve heard a lot worse!!

I love this place, it is so full of history. Originally belonging to the de Hoghton family from the Norman Conquest, it sits prettily upon a small hill. This allowed the family seat to reign high over a vast estate which stretched as far as the coast in one direction and the Pennines in the other. The building as it stands is predominantly Tudor and any person of note through history, stayed a night or two in its halls, Shakespeare, Dickens, Turner, Kings and Queens. My personal appreciation, however, comes from its role in the Civil War and the fact that its initial owner was directly related to Lady Godiva! It was also here on an undoubtedly drunken night, that King James I actually knighted a loin of beef!

Besides being historically awesome, the grounds and buildings are truly stunning. There is the an incredibly long drive way, lined with trees which look most spectacular in autumn. There are court yards and gardens and wooden wall panels and coats of arms and the pure scent of centuries long past. In October they also run ghost tours! I adore it, but even at such a historic snip, Hoghton Tower was always going to be out of my budget!

Lancaster Castle

Ok, so it may actually house a few hundred petty criminals and may also have been to venue of witch executions four hundred years ago; and perhaps also one of my literary protagonists is based on a man who tried to burn it down in the seventeenth century, but I Love Lancaster Castle for many reasons. This history speaks for itself (how cool is it to walk on the spot where witches once stood?!) and on a good weather day, there are fewer places I would like to be. Having lived in Lancaster for five years, I fell deeply in love with the view of the Lake District and the coast which the open grounds of the castle afford. For a couple of years also, I had to walk through the grounds of this glorious building to get home – particularly one year when my car had been destroyed and it provided a handy cut through! The tragedy of it all is, for the whole time I lived on its doorstep, I never once paid to visit the attraction. I have not seen, or in deed been locked in, the dungeons, witnessed ghost moans or bought fudge from the gift shop. One day I will. But as for a wedding venue, a castle would be just wonderful. Regardless of convicts, a Lancashire fairytale!

Blenheim Palace

Why the hell not?! It’ll be my day to be a princess so where better than to wed than a royal-sounding seat?! Birth place of one of Britain’s greats, Winston Churchill and absolutely beautiful. The grounds are so incredible and varied – and there’s a maze!! I think it is one of the most beautiful buildings England has to offer, with long sweeping drives and view of the green and pleasant land. I would even dare to suggest that it rivals Chatsworth for stately popularity. If I was to choose here, I think I would choose a December wedding while all the Victoriana Christmas decorations adorn the building and grounds: tall gas lamps, ornately dressed Norwegian firs, tramps selling roast chestnuts, children sweeping chimneys while carol singers hand out mince pies – you know the picture post card. I think it would be just splendid, particularly if there were snow on the ground.

Hampton Court Palace

But if its a palace a girl wants, its a palace the girl gets and none more so glamorous, in my mind, than the favoured residence of our first Royal cad – Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace. So grand and opulent, I feel Henry may have used it as a metaphorical extension of his errrr . . . wealth and popularity. You couldn’t help but feel like a Queen here. And if the day does get a little much, it too has a maze! (I like mazes. I keep trying to get Steve to take me to a maize maze. He won’t.)

Tintagel Castle

If its a little more rustic, the historic fairytale, than where more perfect that the ruins of Tintagel Castle. As the waves crash against the ragged cliffs, you can well imagine Arthur and Gwennivere knidling their first love before roaring fires. Now a little more open to the elements, a beautiful day could see a much more gentle affair – wreaths of flowers in hair, long billowing sleeves, Pagan hand-holding ceremonies, beauty and nature and love. Now, I’m not too into all the over floweryness of lovey-wovey things (Steve and I are in agreement about trying to remove words such as ‘special’ or ‘cherish’ or ‘treasure’ from our vows!), but I do think this is an absolutely stunning location, crammed to the non-existent rafters (so, the sky then?) with history, myth and intrigue. The roar of the sea only makes it more emotive – an ideal spot for the stormy relationships out there!

Posted by: Natalie | April 9, 2012

People Watching: The Fallout from Broken Relationships

Technically, I suppose this incident would be ‘people listening’, but that would suggest I walked the streets of the Birmingham suburbs with my eyes closed. Which in itself is a risky business with the vast array of other ‘business’ on the pavements. People watching, to some, is thought of as a little rude, an ungracious imposition on the poor fellows being viewed. So I do try to keep my people watching to a covert minimum, although today I could not help but let out a smothered giggle beneath a wry smile while walking past a couple of muscular Jamaican fellows.

Clearly one of them was nursing a recently shattered heart. Snippets of broken relationships are often some of the more intriguing titbits gleaned from listening in. These little windows into the lives and reactions of others are fascinating and readily spark the literary imagination. Throughout history and our modern voyeuristic magazine culture, the demise of someone’s happiness, dreams and lives, are so unbearably interesting, they have become a commodity in themselves. Grown adults clamour for recent news on the smashed shards of ‘celebrity’ (I use in the loosest of terms) relationships and the will-they-won’t-they fascination only possibly befitting the most fairytale romances. So popularised has this form of people watching become, we as a species, seem to think it is somehow our right to know the personal fallouts of another’s break-up, as if celebrity is somehow a new fiction in which to get lost.

Understandably then, the resulting feuds become unrealistic versions of reality themselves. A break up is depicted as loud and terrible; plates smashed, beds doused in Bombay Sapphire Gin,  photos and clothes destroyed in remarkably inventive ways. It is true, however, when the termination of something so long invested in occurs, a simple sense of madness may creep in. Our house having been used in the past for more than one traumatised escapee, I have been privy to some of the strange packing rituals the afflicted endure; kitchen heat mats, rolling pins, empty DVD boxes, a DS charger without the DS, clip top sandwich bags, proof that rational thought has left the room. It is in these cases that the ‘friend’ involved becomes of great interest. The condolences and reassurances that utter from their lips may be meant in the deepest sincerity, but to an onlooker may prove rather entertaining. I am quite aware that, had I ever been overheard myself, I would undoubtedly find myself mocked – how many normal people would offer up a stale baguette and six eggs for another to destroy in her garden?

But I feel I have strayed from my point and as a result, my stolen conversation has possibly lost some of its humour. What I am striving to show is, that through all the popularity of people watching, we often miss the reality. We often forget the human quality in a break up and the little moments which mean so much. We also forget that such things happen to everyone at one point or another, no matter creed, colour or culture. Today, my giggle showed that I was guilty of forgetting. Why should a 6′ 4″ (and then some!) dread-locked, muscle bound Jamaican man not openly sob his heart ache on the street? His companion, no less intimidating, was doing his damnedest to console him, a ripped arm around rather triangular shoulders as they perched on the edge of a garden wall. His voice was soft but proactive, ” . . . if she’s going to be like that, let her. You don’t need the drama.” A good piece of advice, I thought. But I wasn’t quite expecting what came next, “Tell you what, we’ll go to one of those places and get you your own cat.” Followed by a man hug.

Yes, it made me giggle, but it was a glorious piece of people watching which opened my eyes to a realistic, honest, fresh-air-breath of humanity. And this is why REAL people watching is actually SO DAMN IMPORTANT. Sod the magazines and the glorified stick insects which parade their emotional washing like the most recent handbag. A ludicrous fiction. The real wealth of fictional heartache comes from realistic pain. Likewise, genuine joy and humour lies within the true sense of it in everyday people. For me, I currently have the most wonderful, sun-drenched image of this giant of a man, hands like spades, carefully resting a tiny ginger kitten in his palm, its soft happy mew causing a single tear to fall from his eye. And however she broke his heart, I hope it will not taint his softness and gentle strength.

So, perhaps I was a touch wrong. Maybe people watching/listening is not only a right but totally necessary! But lets get it right people. Throw the magazines out and turn off the television. Take a short walk around your locale and listen a little harder. You may over-hear something real which makes the world a little bit brighter. A reality which sparks the most vivid fiction.

Just watch what you step in!

Posted by: Natalie | April 5, 2012

Geek Chic Heroes

Yesterday, I read a Guardian article by Julia Eccleshare: The next big thing . . . geeks! and I have to say, I was a little annoyed. Eccleshare seems to be beckoning in a ‘new’ reading era, the realm of the geek. However, I feel this is a little late, if not totally redundant. I can appreciate that the wealth of ‘goth’ literature may have pushed the underdogs to one side, shadowing them in longing vampiric looks and supernatural heroism, but geek chic is hardly revolutionary.

Brooding teens for many a year now have chosen to support characters with whom they relate – characters who have just as many misgivings and insecurities as the readers themselves. I think you would be hard pushed to find anyone in their 30-somethings who was not touched by Dahl’s bunch of maligned litter ‘runts’ in their reading childhood. And none carrying the chalice of ‘geek’ more proudly than Matlida (my personal geek hero). Surely a girl with such smarts and wit and wisdom as she, falls firmly into the modern class-system. The Geek, The Jock, The Society Girl, The Mean Girl, The In-betweenies have been populating modern culture, literature and film for decades now, and who always wins? Is it the über popular? Is it those who appear to have everything? Rarely. Geek wins out more often than not.

Eccleshare even goes so far as to post a photograph of Hermione Granger as if to prove her point. Well. When seven books and eight films have been produced quite some time ago now (in the publishing world) I somehow think she may have missed the crest of that particular wave. She also quotes Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid as a recent contemporary example hailing in the ‘new age’. Only the eight years behind there then. I just can’t comprehend how so much literature can be swept under the Twilight carpet by a professional. I think it is actually slightly irresponsible. What about all the hard work put in by authors such as Jacquelin Wilson? There is a wealth of current authors out there striving to redress the balance, to show girls (and boys!) that the intelligent, awkward, studious individuals with every-day looks, are just like everyone else – desperate to be special and capable of incredibly heroic feats.

I also accept that with the ever-growing popularity of TV programs such as The Big Bang Theoryreaching its 100th episode in the UK this month, that geekdom may have entered a new phase of popularity, but again, geek chic has been adorning our TV screens for a good stretch of time. The T4-teen-generations have been sporting their own variety of Geek-chic for AGES! Regular presenters of TV teen magazines sport slightly awkward looking garb as well as the next nuclear physicist – let’s be honest now, as a dress code, Geek-chic has been fashionable and cool for a while now. Find me a University student from the past fifteen years who doesn’t secretly wish to be Tim, Daisy or Mike from Spaced.Or indeed anyone who doesn’t just adore Simon Pegg in general.  How could anyone possibly have missed Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic Holmes, or the other Gatiss creations incarnated as Doctor Who? Although fun is made of some, film geeks are also among the most quotable in teen cinema – Napoleon Dynamite, Michael Cera (swoon), Garth in Wayne’s World, the three white ghost busters, Johnny 5 . . . the list goes on.Each an inspiration in their own fumbling way.

So how, really, is Geekery “The Next Big Thing”? Its been a HUGE thing for decades. It is what has inspired countless, countless authors to put pen to paper. Inspired innumerable film directors to create masterpieces. Allowed millions of teens to not feel quite so mind-numbingly alone.  Yes there is still ridicule, but underpinning even this is respect. All hail the geek heroes, and even though temporary shifts in taste and favour may come and go, you will always, resolutely be there, as popular and necessary as ever.

In protest of the Guardian columnist’s naivety, I plan to compile a list of literary geek heroes – please support this particular geek and add your own hero in the comments below.

For now though, I shall get off my high horse!

Posted by: Natalie | April 4, 2012

Book Review: White Teeth

Hmmmmm. Another puzzle of a book. A prize winner, critically acclaimed, stunningly written and intricate, interesting, but leaves me with little feeling. I am slightly unsettled by the fact that I am struggling to form any real opinion. The last book which gave me this slight notion of limbo was White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, books which are clearly important in their social narrative, books which have held me captivated, but for reasons I fail to comprehend or form into even vaguely interesting reviews. At the end of a novel I like to have a reaction, positive, negative, elated or distraught, but White Teeth by Zadie Smith just leaves me . . kinda . . . meh.

I suspect it has a little to do with requiring some kind of climax or sense of point, a reason to hope in the closing pages which this novel doesn’t seem to give me. What it does do which is interesting, is discuss our British culture, our mixed heritage and the melting pot of society through immigration and prejudice. It tells the tale of families twisted together by fate or unhappy coincidence, the matter is still up for debate among the many characters. By history and misplaced allegiances, the Jones’ and the Iqbals; through marriage, the Jones’ and the Bowdens; and the interfering catalyst, the Chalfens connecting all and one together. Smith carefully crafts the great generational clash, an older generation clinging desperately to ghosts of the past while the 80s youth struggle determinedly to cast them aside. However, mixed messages of cause, effect and purpose get lost within the struggles of class, culture and colour, leading each to a new evolution, a new design of what has already gone before. A more extreme version of what has gone before. These weavings of experience are mesmerizing, at times I felt like I was taking part in an extreme people-watching event. But so many concepts and ideas were thrown my way, that at times I felt either overwhelmed or, rather more, a lack of care.

The book opens with a middle-aged man, Archie, attempting his own suicide. Thankfully though, it comes to nothing as he is by far the most amiable character in these tales. A bumbling, placated, teddy bear of a man who is an admirable example of tolerance and friendship. He seems not to notice the oddity of having a Bangladeshi best friend and a much younger, Jamaican wife. It doesn’t phase him to have a ‘blacky-white’ daughter who is nothing but indifferent towards him. He is ease and tolerance personified but perhaps a little lacking in motivation and ambition. But the world to Archie is pretty simple, pleasant. But to all else, there is anger, deep brewing anger brought on by a wide range of cultural and historical differences. Brought about by endless wars within even more ancient history.

With the eighties came a new brand of teenager. One which not only expected their own opinions to be heard, but a generation which actively pursued their own ideals – whether their parents agreed or not. Rebellion and civil war was perhaps at its most rife in Britain during the decades leading up to the millennium. In my mind (but I am fairly uninformed), at no other point has being a teenager been so important. Suddenly, teenagers were not merely being taken seriously as consumers in their own right, but as people. Actual people who could make their own decisions about drugs, sex, rock and roll, politics and religion. And as Smith would write it, non more so in the oppressed-feeling teens of suburbia, branded and labelled by a culture which was not theirs, but of their parents. Shackles were cast aside, walls pulled down, boxes broken out of. True enlightenment. But with knowledge comes danger and there are non more dangerous than those with only half the facts.

Knowledge and faith are in equal blame for many ills in our world, and it is within these that the central themes of the story nestle. Science and religion are inseparable opposites in that they both dictate a level of zealous faith, blind faith either towards or against. People in this book seem to be constantly running; either towards a vengeful God or as far away from it as possible; towards the future, ignoring protests from others, or similarly into the dark ages where resentment first bloomed. The young in this book, the twins Millat and Magid, Irie and Joshua are swept into a stormy sea of all these impossible things: past-present-science-faith and somehow from their parents mess, must tread a stable path. Unsurprisingly each path requires an intrepid explorer and a keen sense of hidden traps. And what teenager ever managed that? Smith tracks their journeys with skill and wit, allowing you to follow each of them into their own layers of fundamentalism. She captures perfectly a disillusioned generation trying to make sense of the world, finding solace in lingering roots which they cling onto for dear life in the whirl pool of their existence. But there is also a sad acceptance of fate in places, that the lot they have been given can be altered, but not necessarily for a glowing, bright future. Just maybe a future in which they could feel some sense of control.

Writing this now, I realise just what a clever book it is, yet I still feel like nothing really happened. I am aware that it is not a society in which I grew, nor a string of influences which have bearing on my life. In some ways the society depicted in all its vivid reality is actually more foreign to me than the broken lands of Atwood’s post apocalyptic tales. But this is all it is, a wandering through deeply entrenched concepts and clashing concerns – that is not to say this work is limited, definitely far from it. The clarity with which Smith portrays her characters, the disenchanted Muslim communities, the disillusioned Jamaican immigrants, the smug-white-upper-middle-class-try-too-hard-to-be-liberal-liberals, is a little chilling. Is a smack of a wake up call really to the damage done to the fabric of our society. A fabric so old and torn that we no longer know or try to fix, just simply smile those pearly whites, lay back and think of the Queen. Smith shows that we are merely resting on a paper mache balloon, but one in which we have not used enough PVA glue and the cracks, my friends, began to show long ago.

So, maybe it is not so much that nothing of any vigor occurs, maybe I am just missing hope, for every good story should end with this. Or perhaps I have just missed the point entirely. It is definitely well worth a read for if nothing else, it is a good education – of our country and of how to hold an audience without them quite realising. So I still end on a hmmmmmm. Complex, interesting and engaging, but missing that certain je ne sais pas which endears me to it. Have a go, I’d be intrigued to know what you think.

Posted by: Natalie | April 4, 2012

Currently Reading: We Need to Talk About Kevin


I know, as ever, I am a little late starting this book as the film was released in 2011 – it was my intention to read it as a precursor to seeing the film, but clearly that never happened! It has instead been in the dark realms of lending land, forgotten and nibbled by kittens. This is not some odd metaphor. It was actually nibbled by kittens. But back in my hands, it was instantly the first book to choose upon completing White Teeth. I am prepared to be disturbed and troubled. I am prepared to enjoy something a little different to my more recent reads.

Posted by: Natalie | April 3, 2012

Immortal Fiction

Browsing Twitter in my sleep deprived state, I came across an article which made me think. Great Expectations: Books We Can’t Wait to Pass Down to Our Kidscompiles a list of books which women voted as being those they couldn’t wait for their children to read, someday. Now, one of the reasons (for me) I keep most of the books I have read is due to the slightly naive fantasy that, one day, I might have a house full of children who will have a wealth of literature at their fingertips. I also often hide such things as ticket stubs for certain journeys or important events within their pages, so that at some point my imaginary children may find them and ask questions about my long forgotten youth. Idealistic and soppy I know, but when books are pulled from the shelves by others, I want to remember where I was when I fell in love with the pages in their hands. I want to be able to share my thoughts and think on times which otherwise I may abandon to the universal black hole of memory. For each book inspires me, in some way or another, and I would love to pass on just what I learned from each experience.

The list generated on iVillage is an obvious one. I agree with most, if not all, but feel they are now a little cliche. They were the books recommended to me. Of course, To Kill a Mockingbirdis on the list, along with works by Dostoevsky, Truman Capote, Salinger, Alcott, Aldous Huxley etc. These are indeed great works. But I feel they are a given. Of course parents and literature teachers will undoubtedly force them their way as they blunder through adolescence, but what of contemporary fiction? What of the books we are choosing now? Which of our proud collection will we, as parents, recommend before all others? I am still pondering the thought. Obviously, such books as the Harry Potter series will fall into their hands without thinking, for Steve, his child will relish Pratchett and card sharp tales of the poker world. But what of me? Which books have inspired me so much I would think of them in an instant?

The first that comes to mind is The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. An utterly remarkable tale which moved me from one emotional precipice to another – but more than that. This book is an eternal lesson in great, no, astonishing writing. She is such a marvel. But fast on its heels would be her others; The Handmaids Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood. So rich and wonderful, these would be worlds that my children knew nothing of, nothing of the worry and fear and destruction. I would hope. But I would perhaps not hand these over immediately. I would let them wander through similarly dystopic teen books such as those I have read recently; The Hunger Games or Chaos Walking, before I lead them into the broken adult world.

Here I get a little lost in the wealth. The Life of Pi would certainly be in there, as I suspect would be A Curious Incident, and I would love to see their eyes open wide on their first reading of Stig Larson’s incredible trilogy. The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Silver Blade, The Witchfinder trilogy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all books I would eagerly watch as they devoured. But I am hard pressed to finalise a real list, for reading is so objective. Our tastes so wildly different, and while some people believe The Other Boleyn Girl a literary masterpiece, others (mentioning no names) would write it off as a bin filler. The same could be said of Dan Brown. In general. And is also depends highly on what type of mood you are in; do you feel like grafting through a Louis de Bernieres? Relishing in Mario Puzo? Lounging back with a Du Maurier? Dipping through history with Austen or Collins? But this I would hope to combat. I would like to think that by the time my fledglings were grown, I could fill my head and heart with such countless inspirations that I could recommend a book in a moment, no matter what their taste. Which may mean I also have to dip in Steve’s collections of Rankin and Billingham, Woodehouse and Forsyth. Ah. But I suppose it is for the greater good!

So, let me ask you. Those with children and without. Which books from your lives can you not wait to see others read? Which novels would you immortalise? And what should I read to ensure my non-existent babes have the breadth they deserve?! Not that I worry about such things!

Posted by: Natalie | April 3, 2012

Elusive Dreams

Wallpaper from

Sleep is a funny old thing. For me I’ve always needed lots. I am a sleep-problem-solver and with it sparks my creativity. I’ve always needed a good dose of the zzzzs, even as a child – my Mum has countless photos of me asleep in my food or curled up in extraordinary places. Even now, I am completely unpalatable to those around me if I have not squeezed in the required eight hours. Friends can see the warning signs of my need to sleep as my face seems to physically melt and one eye becomes unsettlingly small. I look almost Dali-esq at these moments and as equally surreal in my speech.

But more than this, I adore my slumber. I often think myself like some over fed woodland creature, coated in hibernating layers of fat and fur, nestled deep beneath over-sized quilts and duvets. Pillows and cushions surround me, tucking me into my den, safe and warm away from the dangers of the world. I am regularly known to sleep in my bath robe so that I can hide beneath its huge hood, just a nose tip peeking into the air beyond. Granted this has possibly grown from living in FREEZING houses for the vast majority of my life, if not all, but it still brings great comfort and, dare I say, joy. However, it could also come from the fact that despite being a generally sleepy individual, the lull of slumber so often eludes me.

Nights like this are the most frustrating. I am quite clearly exhausted yet every time my head hits one of the thousands of pillows beneath it, my brain is filled with the ridiculous. So many random, unimportant and bizarre thoughts cross through the aching mass between my ears. And most of them negative. I seem confronted with an ever-increasing mountain of things to do even though none can be solved at 2 in the morning. But things which don’t even need addressing until days, weeks, months and sometimes years in the future. Some of them will NEVER matter as they are too ridiculous to even comprehend in rational thought. Nevertheless, worries over which week the garden waste is collected or whether I might need a sleeping bag for a trip in a months time or trying to work out why I didn’t like a book or which practice/practise is the correct spelling for the dentist, still play over and over until all that remains is a whirring whirring mess. Some thoughts are much bleaker than others and a panic can set in, but no longer spiraling out of control. No, I think I am better at handling the blacker thoughts about my world and the state that it may or may not be in. It can be far from rational. But at least I don’t slip into hypochondria and wonder what breed of superbug or cancer will see me off before dawn!

A lot of people with insomnia can channel it into words and creativity – some of the worlds greatest authors and geniuses are prone to melancholy and a distinct lack of regular sleep patterns. I just become a vegetable. A sulking vegetable at that. I cannot focus on a task to make me drift, even reading seems a chore. I become so restless that even returning to the sofa and our DVD collection does not interest me in the slightest. I become a very different person. A difficult, twitching monster in waiting, hanging on until those first rays of morning light for the transformation into the snappy, snarky, moody, angry teenager which still hides within. Not everyone feels my wrath, but those closest certainly feel a whiplash of either my tongue or tail. In these moments I feel vaguely delirious. It is unpleasant. I do not like it and there is only one cure.

Poor old SuBo. Sorry to have killed you off.

I sometimes wonder if this increasing hobby of mine to stay awake unwillingly is a hangover from younger days. Through my childhood and teens I was a sleepwalker and, as my mother reliably informs, I seemed to speak in gibbering tongues through the night. I could often be found with my eyes wide open whilst sleeping and these days I can chat and murmur until the cows comes home – which is when exactly?! And I rarely have pleasant dreams which I can recall – the only lasting visions are the nightmares. Last night I was running away from a band of heavily armored Marines as they hunted down me and my friend Erika after she brutally murdered Susan Boyle with an axe to the face. It may sound quite entertaining but when you wake up sweating thinking that SuBo’s blood is actually running through your fingers, its less than pleasant. Most of the lingering memories find me trapped in fire or drowning or believing that Steve has been killed. I am quite sure the amateur psychologist in all of us could tell me a few things about these visions. Indeed, I once had a very old copy of a dream book (possibly nineteenth century) which seemed to spell doom with every indiscriminate thing I dreamt. It wasn’t long before I put it away.

So perhaps it could be a slight fear of what demons lurk in dreamland. Or perhaps more simply I am sulking after not speaking to the boy for three whole days. I am more or less used to spending nights alone now but usually I have talked to him, listened to him and laughed with him. It is only a short trip and up until now I have been occupied, but my boy is currently working in Singapore. But we have emailed back and forth and yet I still cannot find that place where I can drop off. I feel like I am eternally waiting for something; a bus, a train, a spark of inspiration, a lottery win or a break in. I don’t know what it is, but my body seems filled with anticipation of . . . something.  It just can’t decide what that inexplicable something is. Perhaps its sleep itself. The constant need has turned into a perpetual cycle of insomnia; I want to sleep so damn bad that I can’t actually sleep for the thought of wanting it etc etc etc. Is this possible? Do I sound crazy? Has rationality finally left through the window to leave me with several hours of pondering the more sinister quandaries of my existence? Left me to paddle through the quagmire of guilt and worry and fear alone? I sincerely hope not. That would not lend itself to a happy Tuesday!

No, I am quite sure this is nothing intrinsically wrong, just a natural part of my make up. Sure, these nights (and strings of them) are much worse when actual pressure is placed upon me, but on the whole I’m doing ok. I am incredibly fortunate; I have no real financial worries (beyond the thought of trying to pay for a wedding), employment concerns are no more than they were, my family and loved ones are generally in good health and happy, I have a home (yet on a split site – perhaps I should just simply look upon it as being lucky to have TWO homes!!), a roof, food and water and a shiny ring on my finger from a man who loves me. I am a very lucky girl. I have so much in my world to make it full and rich. So much to enjoy. Perhaps this is my body’s way of giving me a treat? Starving itself of something it loves so that my Easter can be filled with duvet days?! I can only hope. Otherwise I think the world may need a health warning.

Posted by: Natalie | March 30, 2012

Hollywood Glam

Seen as this week’s blog posts have been heavily linked to my impending nuptials, I thought it only right to finish the week with one more. One which you can help me with actually! The finer details of my Hen Party are in the hands of my bridesmaids however, there was one particular item on the itinerary I was determined to book. My ladies and I have hired a room at the Electric Cinema in Birmingham. Being the oldest working cinema in the UK with its wonderful, original thirties décor, I thought it was the ideal location to glam up in all our Hollywood finery, drink champagne cocktails and walk the red carpet. An elegant beginning to what will undoubtedly be one of the best nights of my life. And any excuse for a good dress and killer shoes is fine by me!!

The plan is to sip stylish cocktails before (during and after) a classic Hollywood chick flick. I did think a little bit of Audrey might be fitting but people have very different reactions to films like Breakfast and Tiffany’s. Personally, I love it – the sublimely bizarre mixed with the supremely stylish, topped off with a sprinkling of outrageous racism in the form of Mickey Rooney’s Japanese landlord bit. Holly Golightly is a vision, a mythological creature sent to break the hearts of many, but Truman Capote’s work does leave you with a slightly vacant feeling. It is, of sorts, a happy ending, but there is a distinct desperation to much of the film – is this how I want my hens to start their day out? I’m not sure. The outfit choice would be absolutely stunning but as a film choice, possibly something a little more jovial and spirited would be in order.

Which then makes me think of Marilyn. Who can say no to the truly wonderful Some Like it Hot ? To my mind, Monroe at her finest. The slapstick humour of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon make this a genuinely giggle-out-loud movie and the added silliness of gangsters, just makes it a wonderful romp. A great feel-good film to start off the night. But equally, a little bit of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes would set me up just nicely – but not everyone has the same feeling about musical numbers. Jane Russell is just divine – so much of me wishes I were just a little more like Dorothy Shaw; feisty, fun and regular eater of men for breakfast. So much more stunning than Marilyn in this film, mainly, I think, because the ditsy, gold-digger routine of Lorelei Lee may have done a lot for the negative blonde stereotype. But still very entertaining – and it ends with a wedding! What could be more fitting?!

I have a fondness for classic films, my DVD shelf also contains Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Robin and the Seven Hoodsand of course An Affair to Remember. Along with my large selection of musicals (ooooo, My Fair Lady or The King and I  might be up for a vote too!), I have quite a few favourites to choose from. But I am not sure if my personal tastes are enough of a recommendation for choosing a group film. If you were to be invited to such an event, what classy Hollywood classic would you choose? What glam movie would be best suited to put cocktail infused ladies in a giddy mood to drink more cocktails? I want something fun and frivolous – so any further suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Even if its just to bulk out my own collection!

Right, now I’m off to google/ebay suitable shiny outfits!

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