12 November, 2012

Evan Mandery - Q

‘Q’ is at once a romance, and adventure, a sci-fi and a thriller. It’s great.

Mandery’s novel follows an unnamed hero who, at the advice of multiple future selves, changes his life path, and most importantly, changes his relationship with the ‘Q’, his girlfriend from the title. The book explores future, time itself, and the ability for time to change us. Mandery poses the question: ‘What would you do if you knew the consequences of every action?’

What’s best about ‘Q’ is that it does not take itself too seriously; Mandery mocks his own premise – ‘the universe is arbitrary’ – and the very idea of time-travel itself. At no point does Mandery’s book suggest its plot is anything new or unique. However, its playful tone sets it apart from its rivals, such as the more saccharine ‘ The Time Traveller’s Wife’ – it has a raw humour, a knowingness, and a practical, logistical view of romance. You could say it’s a romance, but for boys.

In addition to being a romance, the book is a sort of ‘growing’ story for the protagonist. ‘Q’ is a book about identity, finding and fulfilling one’s self. At one point, a future self tells our hero ‘you never achieve the recognition you hope for. You will never become a famous writer’. It is the harsh reality of life’s failures, sitting alongside the idealistic romance of fictional characters that gives this novel its tension. It’s a book about how our goals change as we get older, but our multiple selves are all a part of ourself, and a part of our journey through life.

The initial premise, the visitation of these older heroes who all look different, a bit cheesy and gimmicky, gives way to a meaningful and profound meditation on humanity and time.  As the book hurtles forwards (well, mostly forwards) towards its climax, there is a dichotomy between a story’s need for a happy ending, and a sharp reality of mundanity – ‘it is palatable to simply exist’. I won’t tell you who wins out, but the finale is as dazzling, brilliant and sharp a denouement as this novel deserves.

Whilst the cover on the paperback is not up to much, don’t let that put you off – ‘Q’ is a roaring, intelligent, meditative, profound and entertaining examination of life itself – its difficulties,  its storybook romances, and whether the two can ever be compatible. It is exactly the sort of book to read on the way to work – it is a joy.

01 August, 2012

REVIEW: Martin Amis - Lionel Asbo

2012 is the Jubilympic year. The Jubilee, the Olympics, shitloads of rain – general national fervor is basically the default setting for the whole country, and Martin Amis (Money, The Rachel Papers, London Fields) has stepped up to mark the occasion with his state-of-the-nation novel, ‘Lionel Asbo’.

Lionel Asbo is a short book; a four-part, seven-year tale of poverty, wealth, fame and family. In the title character’s home borough of Diston, everything that’s wrong with Cameron’s Big Society - everything that ‘broke Britain’ - is included in its pages. Benefit cheats, violent crime, teenage mums and disregard for the elderly. It’s an ambitious and playful claim to have your novel’s subtitle be ‘State of England’. And arguably, Amis fails to live up to his claim, for the simple fact that, like Cameron, he doesn’t know that much about the class he is attempting to ‘solve’.

Lionel Asbo, the book’s title protagonist, is a regular at court and in prison, and it is in prison that he wins £139 million on the lottery. Once his sentence has finished, he enters the world of money, whilst keeping a link – one room of stolen goods in his nephew Desmond’s flat – to his life before. Amis said during his interview at the Hay Festival this year ‘we can’t pretend that something hasn’t gone a bit wrong with English culture in the last fifty or sixty years’ and it is this that he attempts to explore with ‘Asbo’.

Amis also said in the interview that ‘England leads the world in decline’ (it would be fascinating to know what he made of the Olympic opening ceremony) and this would be an interesting topic – if ‘Asbo’ explored this properly in any way. Amis’ book is all very undefined – it’s meant to be a ‘modern fairytale’, but (surprisingly, coming from the creator of ‘Money’ and ‘The Information’) fails to elevate itself above the most conventional of ‘transformation’ novels. It has the trappings of a fairytale, and Amis’ prose has a few more commas than usual, but Amis never quite reaches a relaxed storyteller, childlike tone.  And Amis’ fairytale world never commits – is it our world? Is it completely made-up? Amis mentions wars like Iraq, but names a fictional Prime Minister as behind the invasion.

Whilst Lionel Asbo is purported to be, in Amis’ words, ‘a monster’, his nephew Desmond is supposed (Amis spoke of this at the Hay festival) to be a foil to him; unfortunately Asbo never reaches the height of true monster, as his entire existence is built on a stereotypical and shallow view of his class (more on that later). On the other side, Desmond really doesn’t have much to him – he’s not as clever as he is purported to be, and not really the ‘good person’ Amis has said he was going for. If Amis had focused specifically (even including the lottery-winning plotline) on England in decline, we could have had a great book. If Desmond, even if not perfect, had still going some way towards being a great father/worker/thinker, I could understand the binary between him and his uncle. But we are left with two characters just as mundane as each other, and just as unlikeable but for different reasons. I know you don’t have to like everyone in a book for it to be good – but I think the book is weakened because the two central characters fail to be interesting, or more than a cheap stereotype. Even portraying a cheap stereotype with a framing device or comment on this stereotype is interesting, but Amis does neither.

The US has a better cover.

What saves the book from being truly awful is Amis’ accomplished and experienced prose, which works almost effortlessly through his subject matter, adding some profundity to what is quite a banal plot and otherwise little-realised world. Word groups related to weight and weightlessness pervade the novel – ‘In Diston, all was weightless, and all hated weight’ – exploring the idea of transient wealth and celebrity, and the more concrete of things – cities, the body. Also implicit in the text is the idea of opposites and binaries – upper and lower classes, wealth and poverty, good and evil – but again, unlike Amis’ other work, these binaries are quite simplistic in execution: ‘[t]he anti-dad, the counterfather. Lionel spoke; Des listened, and did otherwise’.

What is most disappointing about ‘Lionel Asbo’ is that it is a Martin Amis book; it should be good – no, it should be great. It’s the class issue rearing its ugly head that gives the novel it’s main weakness – Amis doesn’t really get what he’s writing about. Without sounding like a Guardian Comment-Is-Free writer, there’s a sneering mirth about the attitude to these people’s lives. The dialogue used is also nothing remarkable. Amis could have peppered in some regional dialect, a Trainspotting-style ‘write phonetically’ type of speech, but Lionel Asbo speaks in a kind of Queen’s English with a very slight, almost unnoticeable colloquial difference. Similarly, the prose of the narrator reads like Starkey attempting to be ‘down with youth’. Amis refers to a ‘council-house facelift’ rather than the more common ‘Croydon facelift’ – and Amis’ vision of Diston seems to be just slightly at odds with what is actually on the page.

‘Asbo’ is very much a ‘let’s chuckle at mentions of things we’ve read about in the Mail’ kind of book. It’s not an enlightening, profound or helpful look at the class issues tearing Britain apart or causing last Summer’s riots. It does not instill in its readers a ‘heightened receptivity to life’ as Amis says his books should. Diston, Lionel’s borough, a ‘world of italics and exclamation marks’, fails to live up to its excitement, it’s literary or comic potential, and we’re left with a banal and surface-level novel which only serves to reflect on Amis’ age and geographical distance from UK society. Which is a real shame, because when Amis is great, he’s bloody great. But when he’s not, ‘Lionel Asbo’ happens. 

REVIEW: The Adult - Joe Stretch

‘A middle-class woman born before 1970 can make a mobile phone last many years’. It is comedic gems such as this that pepper Stretch’s third novel ‘The Adult’. Following on from the bizarre and surreal ‘Friction’ and ‘Wildlife’, ‘The Adult’ is a story about family, maturity, and growing up over the last two decades.

Our protagonist Jim Thorne is, the cover reads, a ‘child of the nineties, adult of the noughties, product of his times’. A Manchester boy, the book follows his first-person narration through the nineties, to the noughties and into adulthood. The time period is tracked by references to the current formation of Take That, Katie Price’s career highs and the pervasion of the mobile phone and internet into our lives, as Jim progresses from puberty to adulthood and into the world of the music industry and smoothie stands.

Jim Thorne is, as much as the story concerns his life, an observer into the lives of others. His family, the ‘Albrights’, are a ‘celebrity family’ of sorts, and Thorne’s references, as he writes about his life, and those of his sister Elaine and his Albright aunts, are vague, non-specific and sporadic. Stretch puts forward the case, elegantly and in a fresh way, that we live in quite a transient and fast-moving culture. Towards the end of the book, Stretch includes small snapshots of the opera ‘La Traviata’, intermingled with reality shows and page 3 models. Arguably, this is a suggestion that art has become undone, replaced by cheap stories and vulgar tabloid headlines, in a culture moving too fast to stand still and appreciate.

In the same way that celebrity gossip gives us a cheap thrill, Stretch explores, through Jim, the idea of instant and cheapened sexual gratification in the last two decades. Porn is a theme in the book throughout Jim’s teen years, as is Dilly – I won’t spoil it for you, but this inflatable dolphin says a LOT about sexual pleasure and adolescence today - and the pressures and absences of sex are most notably portrayed through Jim, whilst his sister Elaine seems to display quite the opposite – frequent gratification. The nineties and the noughties, for the West, have been a time of celebrity and cheap sexual pleasure – Thorne demonstrates their effects on us – the insidious destructiveness of the instantaneous, and short-lived, pleasure.

But ‘The Adult’ is not a critique of our culture, nor a misanthropic ‘State of the Nation’ novel – it bursts at the seams with pop culture references – from Snake II to Britney Spears – but also with technological advancement updates, cultural milestones like 9/11 and the 7/7 bombings. It celebrates and marvels in the times we’ve lived in. In including a tiny bit of everything, whether it be plot-embedded like the progression of the internet and blogging, or a throwaway reference, like the progressive nature of Katie Price’s biographies, Stretch allows himself a 360-view of the nineties and noughties, formulating a world around his central plot, and also allowing the reader to re-live some of the hilarity and tragedy of the last twenty years; everyone can find something to recognise and appreciate about their life.

But at turns, the book is surprisingly profound. As with Joe Dunthorne, the comedy and ironic tone of the book often takes a turn towards true clarity. In February 1996, Take That split up and a phone-line is announced, to give fans a chance to grieve. Jim rings for a joke, but soon finds himself ‘all of a sudden feeling silly, barely alive and woebegone.’ In the same way that many of the cultural references in the book are irrelevant, and a sideways view of the time, many hit home with a punch, and at once we are reminded that we can never really be living too far away from the culture in which we exist.

One of the highlights of Stretch’s book, something that’s failed to be portrayed with any sense of clarity in many novels, is the Big P. Puberty. We’ve all done it, it’s pretty awful, and Thorne does not shy away from showing the hilarity and shame of it; Jim’s friend Harry is superior to Jim for a time, possessing one pube before any of their peers. Stretch captures the embarrassment of youth - ‘I wanted to lie face down on my stomach until the 1990s ended’ – along with a profound sense of the importance of adolescence in forming an adult, and the effects of puberty on us – ‘Puberty was fucking shit… it happens at the shittest possible time’.

During some notably uncomfortable sex scenes, the pressures of youth are shown by Stretch to be just as important to the maturity of an adult as anything else.  What’s interesting about the approach to sex in ‘The Adult’, is that, despite the novel’s depiction of the metaphysical, the idol and technology, sexuality is shown to be a very physical and corporeal entity. The book, through Jim’s narration, is concerned with the idea of tracking and capturing a time period, but also checking the state of the corporeal, the human, through these strange, abstract and fast-moving times.

Stretch writes quite naturally with a self-knowing irony about the decades he includes. Like Jim, he was born in 1982, and ‘became an adult’ in a new millennium, and has seen the cultural changes in the book happen to himself. Some of Stretch’s cultural markers aren’t as developed as they could be – they’re often more comedic than deep social commentary, and a bit long-winded or try-hard, such as ‘the central paradoxes of feminism, masculinity and love could all be found in the on/off relationship between A.C. Slater and Jessie Spano in Saved By The Bell’ – but perhaps that is Stretch’s point – we don’t ever really think about the effects of our culture on ourselves.

But by the end of the novel, cultural references are almost overwhelmingly frequent, and Stretch suggests a proliferation of pop culture in contemporary lives that one cannot escape from. The profundity of the final pages of ‘The Adult’ is shocking, moving and blunt.

‘The Adult’ is, similarly to ‘Lionel Asbo’, is definitely a 2012 book. In the same vein as Master’s ‘Noughties’, it’s a book very much about the now, with the comic perceptiveness of Dunthorne and the time setting, themes and outlook of ‘One Day’.  If you’re going to read one novel this year about British pop culture, inflatable dolphins, smoothie stands and Take That’s reformation, this is probably the one to go for. In the middle of the book, when Jim’s friend Harry gets a mobile, Jim asks who he’ll call. His reply? ‘Home. And whoever else gets one, I suppose.’ Isn’t that the way?

31 July, 2012

Jasper Fforde - The Woman Who Died A Lot + Webchat

If you don’t know much about Jasper Fforde, let me bring you up to date. Born in London in 1961, Fforde spent his early working career as a focus puller on films such as ‘GoldenEye’ and ‘Entrapment’, and eventually, in 2001, after being rejected 76 times, got the first Thursday Next book, ‘The Eyre Affair’ published. And so it began.

Now the author of the Thursday Next series (we’re reviewing the seventh), the Nursery Crime stories, the Dragonslayer trilogy and the Shades of Grey book, Fforde has carved himself as the niche writer for intelligent, smart and witty fantasy with a satirical edge. As ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ is published, and we head into 2013, in which Wikipedia reliably states that THREE of his books are to be published, here’s a review of the eighth in the Thursday Next series, and some questions from the webchat we took part in last week.

‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ picks up a few months after ‘One of Our Thursdays is Missing’ left off – with Next recovering from an assassination attempt, she is forced into semi-retirement. But as we’ve learnt, Thursday Next doesn’t really do ‘retirement’. With an array of personal and professional and end-of-the-world issues surrounding her, Next is thrown back into action, in a thrilling and ticking-clock-style adventure.

What’s great about being seven books into a series is how we know what we’re getting, we know the backdrop and Fforde gets right to the action from the first page. This book, like the others, mixes the surreal with the concrete, the silly with the serious and the funny with the heartbreaking. ‘Everything comes to an end. A good bottle of wine, a summer’s day, a long-running sitcom, one’s life, and eventually our species’ runs the book’s first line. The book is a countdown, from Monday to a pre-determined set of events on Friday. The question is, will Next let events happen as she believes they should, or intervene?

The tight plot structure gives ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ a different feel to the other Next books, a more concentrated plot, but what we revel in, in a Fforde, is I think a luxurious wander through a well-realised and fun-loving world. The book fails to feel as carelessly comedic as its predecessors, and I believe it struggles through being entirely void of any visits to the Bookworld. The Bookworld is where we’ve had the marvellous scenes of the Wuthering Heights cast attending anger management classes, Hamlet having an identity crisis, and Harry Potter being unable to attend meetings due to ‘Copyright Infringement Laws’.

Following on from ‘One of our Thursdays is Missing’, a book set entirely in the Bookworld, this seventh tome was bound to feel like a letdown in terms of literary allusions, but this installment seems to have slightly missed the mark in what we expect from a Next book.

But Fforde’s worst is still pretty good. In what other book does a stand-off include the threat ‘Make a wrong move and you’ll have more holes in you than a lump of Emmenthal’? The book has a great and genuinely surprising ending, and with an exploration into ‘Dark Reading Matter’ on the cards, Fforde has set the scene for a great ninth book in the series.

So whilst not one of his best, Fforde still provides a Thursday Next novel that is funny, warm and smart and ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ is still an essential part of a great and different series. Get into Thursday Next from the start - you’ll regret it if you don’t.

Now, the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton and from Google+ Hangouts did a webchat with Fforde and allowed me to get involved! I asked Fforde two questions about his writing, and here’s what he said:

Every time you start a new book in each series, how do you make sure you stay in the rules you’ve already created in previous installments?

'It’s interesting because I’ve basically got sort of three or maybe four series going and all of them happen in subtly different worlds. At the moment I seem to be able to keep it in my head; if I were to a write a Last Dragonslayer book, then I know pretty much how that functions. Then if I’m writing perhaps something from a Thursday Next book in the afternoon then I can subtly switch over to how that world functions.
When I write a book I don’t actually do that, I don’t do one book in the morning another book in the afternoon that would be insane. I actually sort of place myself in that world; very much with this latest book, with ‘The Woman Who Died A Lot’ I just put myself in Swindon and I looked around and I flicked through the books and looked at what was actually happening and I said right well this is happening we’ve got all these different plot points – who’s in power? Who’s the political party? Is the stupidity surplus problem still on?
And in the same way, when I write the next book, which for me will be the last in the Dragonslayer series, I’ll just flick through the book, have a look at it, I’ll probably re-read at least The Song of the Quarkbeast so I know exactly what’s going on, and then, I’m in!
I don’t know how to explain it really but I can actually shift between… It’s like, if you’re having a conversation with your granny, you have a completely different conversation to one you have with your best friend, because all the rules and regulations and subtle uses of language are different. You wouldn’t even think that you are actually consciously changing between talking to your granny and to your best friend. So it’s the same sort of thing really – you go, right I’m in this book and this is how it works, and that’s basically how I do it.'

Of each series you’ve got on the go, how much of each one do you have planned out in full? Obviously, with Shades of Grey, you’ve said it would be a trilogy, do you think Thursday Next could just go and go or is it finite?

'I mean, I kind of pretended I have a plan, sometimes, when I’m really trying to impress people, I say oh yes I’ve got the whole series mapped out – I haven’t at all. I have vague ideas where it’s going to head, but I tend to write best, what I call, on the hoof, and I literally will start writing and see what happens.
With the Shades of Grey book, my Shades of Grey, not the other one, mine, which we’re calling 49 Fewer Shades of Grey, not 49 less, 49 fewer, I had a vague idea where it was going but I just really started writing and then it’s as fun for me hopefully as it is for people reading the books. If you’re reading a Jasper Fforde book and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out, neither did I. I just started it and tried to figure out where it was going to go as I was writing it. I write a bit by what I call ‘narrative dares’ – which is something I’ve done ever since I started writing back in 1988 when I was doing mostly short stories, and a narrative dare is me giving myself a dare to write my way out of. For instance, in ‘The Eyre Affair’, it was ‘Jane Eyre has been kidnapped and somebody has to get her back’ and you have to deal with that. Then you have to create a world in which this could actually happen and then someone to get her back – Thursday – and someone who did it – Acheron Hades – and everything starts popping into place, and then I pepper it with more and more detail here and there until I kind of like it and my publishers tear it out of my hands.
So I don’t really have too much of a plan, but because I know I don’t have a plan, I use my no-plan plan, which is a very sneaky little thing. So I leave little, what I call, off-ramps – on-ramps and off-ramps – which are little plots, plot ideas, that I introduce and then don’t follow through, then a book later or two books later, I’ll go ‘okay, now I’m going to use this one now’ and of course then it’s a familiar in the reader’s mind, and it doesn’t seem as though it’s come from left-field. So though I make it up as I go along, I actually have a plan where I can actually exploit the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing.
But you asked me also about Thursday Next, and that’s a series that can run and run, because there’s nothing I can think of that can’t fit somehow into Thursday’s world. If you imagine, there’s Thursday’s world, then when she’s in the Bookworld it’s a world within a world, and then when she goes into a book in the Bookworld, it’s a world within a world within a world, and each of them have subtly different rules and regulations. So if I want Thursday to do something bizarre and unusual that can’t fit into the Bookworld or her world, I’ll just put her into a book in which that can work.
And I’m writing books about books and books about storytelling and because there’s a huge array of stuff I could talk about, I don’t think – I think it’s a canvas without edges if you can imagine that – a flat plane - I could pick just one subject from a Thursday Next book, and exploit that almost into a full-length book, so yes I think Thursday will run and run, just not every single year.'

19 June, 2012

The Big C Season Three

We’ve had a crazy season of ‘The Big C’ this year – everything was different to normal, and for the first time, Cathy has actually been a bit unlikeable. The show doesn’t get much press attention anyway, but any critics were left less than pleased with the series, and fans haven’t responded too warmly to the show’s new direction either. So what’s the problem?

Season Three woke up from the bombshell of Paul’s heart attack last season, and Cathy’s tumours were shrinking – she had ‘an ellipsis’ at the end of her cancer sentence, not a fullstop. Obviously this would change the entire dynamic of the show, and I think it’s clear this was intentional. In a time when you actually aren’t limited, how do you behave?

In this season, Cathy was encouraged to ‘find her Joy’ – a subplot Susan Sarandon assisted wonderfully in bringing to life. What we saw all season was a Cathy chasing the idea of happiness – babies, tattoos – without the feeling or rewards one acquires from happiness. She effectively lost her son, was distanced from both Sean and Andrea, and a wedge was driven between herself and Paul by the very thing that was meant to bring them both happiness – Joy.

What I think The Big C did this season (in keeping with the ‘stages of grief’ pattern to the seasons) was show ‘bargaining’, the third stage of grief. Cathy believed that if she had a child, if she was happy, if everything seemed, on the surface to be good, then she would somehow be allowed to live – whether that be through the Church Adam-style or through a more secular higher power.

As the series progressed (and I think we can all agree, the season improved massively around episode seven), Joy (a representation of fake, commercial and mercurial ‘Joy’) was eliminated, and Cathy’s life – Sean and Paul - began to unravel, showing that Cathy, as she admits in the season finale, has been chasing the wrong things.

The failings of the season, for a wide section of the audience, I think, were the ways in which Cathy didn’t behave, didn’t act, to make herself happy, and acted badly to the detriment of others around her. In the first few episodes, I honestly found her dislikeable. In the first episode of the season, she fell underwater through ice – she was submerged and overwhelmed and trapped – and that’s how I feel the season was attempting – in a hit and miss manner – to show: a Cathy that was absorbed in creating the image and the idea of a great life for herself, as opposed to seeking true happiness.
The show had difficulties in portraying this intention, it seems. The audience were distanced from Paul this season, Andrea’s name change seemed to go nowhere until the final episode, and Sean’s plots were quite ridiculous (I quite liked them but others didn’t – and on another note, does anyone think Sean could be gay? Answers on a postcard). Many people were left feeling discontented. A common complaint is that the season three episodes have lost the ‘feel’ or the ‘tone’ of the show, and in their concentration on doing something special and over-arching this year, I think individual episodes did fail, and despite an unbelievably strong cast, there was not much of the show’s true colours at times. We saw it when Cathy got her own back over the fake baby, we saw it when she drove Adam’s car out of the bazaar, and we saw it with Cathy’s scuba-diving and swim in the season finale.  These moments have been rare, but to say the show is unrecognizable would be unfair – the show is still above-par for much other television, and the cast and crew have still shown moments of brilliance.

So anyway that’s the entire season but what did I think of the finale? I BLOODY LOVED IT. I thought it added a whole new dimension  and meaning to the entire season, was an incredible piece of television in its own right, and a great way to move the show in a special direction. SEE BELOW FOR MORE.

The episode was the second of two set in Puerto Rico, the first of which saw Adam tell Cathy he prefers Paul, the marriage fall apart, and the entire season come to a head. Interestingly, this episode was one of those ‘main character stranded alone and doing monologues’ episodes which, though can seem cheap and contrived, worked excellently in this scenario. The language barrier didn’t detract from Linney’s acting at all; she could act against a wooden log and still be excellent.

The episode essentially had everybody given a foil/companion to shed light on themselves and their situation at this exact moment in time – Angel for Cathy, Brandy for Paul, Andrea for Adam, Jesus for Andrea, and the girl-from-the-bedroom-and-dive-lesson for Sean. Highlights were Andrea’s acceptance of her self rather than just hiding behind her heritage, Adam’s realization of how true Christianity could help his situation with Cathy.

The highlights of this episode were Cathy’s boat scenes – not only were they beautifully written, but the entire backdrop of the boat and the ocean, were sublime. I watched Laura Linney in Behind the Actor’s Studio last week and she spoke about how some actors operate on another plane, another higher level of focus, and she graciously did not include herself in the list; I definitely would. Her scenes on the boat – every single one, from happiness, sadness, confusion, dancing - were all superb, and it is not an understatement to say that she is a truly uniquely exceptional actress. I cannot imagine ‘The Big C’ being half as good without her.

Monologues are not easy to write or pull off convincingly, but with the writing of the show’s creator Darlene Hunt and the acting of Linney, the scenes were elevated to a high level of brilliance. Cathy spoke about missing alone-time, and seeing herself outside of herself – as playing all these different roles, and I think part of Cathy’s journey is the importance of finding just one role – yourself.

For a while (this can be extended to the entire series really) Cathy has been too focused on making others happy, and sacrificing herself for them. She didn’t tell anyone about the cancer so as to not inconvenience them, helped Lee last season, has allowed Paul to gallivant off this season. It was great to see an episode that really put the character in perspective in such a unique and interesting way.

There was a sort of carnival/party soundtrack the whole episode, which jarred with the silence and pace of the scenes, but began to show that kind of life excitement which hopefully Cathy is starting to get back. Her choice at the end of the episode, although controversial, fitted into the plot. I’m sure she’ll return to suburbia ultimately, but that rejection of the paces and stresses and painful idiosyncrasies of modern life was important, and invigorating.  The production of the scene – editing, writing, acting, visuals – were outstanding. That, I feel, was a return to the true tone of ‘The Big C’. Cathy won’t just run off, I’m sure. She’ll come back ultimately, and probably tell her family before they worry that she isn’t actually dead.

In terms of a season finale, this worked excellently, and also worked brilliantly as a series finale if the unthinkable happens, and Showtime cancels the show.

If Season 4 returns, we have two options – we watch Cathy explore the world with or without Angel, finding her own happiness. Or, we skip out the travelling and the season starts back in Minneapolis, and we continue the stages of grief with ‘depression’ and ‘acceptance’ (maybe combine the two into one season – there might not be the viewing figures for a fifth). What we don’t want to happen is for Cathy to die on her travels, or stay with Angel – please let her return to her family and friends before she gets too ill to enjoy them. We also do not want a series built around ‘depression’ whilst she travels – either let her enjoy everything for a short time, or skip depression and let Cathy find her happiness whilst accepting the inevitable – that could work. Also, Cathy says ‘I think I’m going to die within the year’ – this brought the show back onto a focused path the audience feel it might have strayed from, and gives us a time-frame for the final season(s).

If this becomes the last we see of The Big C (honestly, we can’t let this happen everybody), the last scene had an important message involving a shorthand for the rest of Cathy’s life. She rejects the badness and anger in the world, she concentrates on herself, and on enjoying her life, becomes accepting of her fate, and flies. The boat could be a metaphor for Cathy’s angel taking her away, and so the final scene could be quite a clever way of finishing off the series – Cathy dies, but she comes to be happy about it, and enjoys her final months without the bad in the world.

(But we don’t want this – we want at least a Season 4 that the creators and writers can shape and build towards a proper ending for one of the most incredible and meaningful shows of recent years. Thanks in advance, Showtime).