30 April, 2012

Fiction In Summary - Angela S. Choi - Hello Kitty Must Die

Choi's debut novel is a fast-moving, over-excitable funny and dark look at murder, expectation and self-fulfilment. Told through the eyes of Fiona, a Chinese-American lawyer, forever given away for marriage by her parents and forever unimpressed with the males around her. Taking her life into her own hands with the help of an old (sociopathic) friend, she murders and thrives.

The Hello Kitty of the title does reference the cuddly Japanese ubiquitous cat, a metaphor for the subjugation and passivity of women in Chinese culture. Whilst this metaphor is, in the novel, just a placeholder for Fi's own name, it works fairly well to further the idea of powerlessness which pervades the first part of the novel, but this sense of choosing ones own destiny never goes beyond parody of traditional Chinese culture.

What makes the novel interesting, before it turns into the thriller that is the final third of the book, is how it explores the binary of Chinese culture versus a more Americanised idea of the modern self. Beyond the promising first pages, the characters become farcical and parodic - however, this adds to the surreal representation of a very real problem, and fits into the tone and fun of the novel.

Whilst Fi and Sean behave in a way that is not normal, moral or kind, the novel's ability rests on its dark comedy and its spirit of excitement. Choi is obviously a promising talent - with more consistency and a better edit, her future works could be brilliant. I cannot wait for a novel in which it doesn't feel like she's shouting for attention on every page.

Fiction In Summary - Jonathan Coe - What A Carve Up!

'What A Carve Up!', Coe's 1994 masterpiece, is loosely indebted to the 1961 film of the same name. It's a great heaving, stretching novel which starts at WWII and continues through Thatcherism towards the Gulf War. It says something about the novel as an art form, whilst becoming the novel to break the boring stretch of failed political novels of the 80s. Whilst inherently a massively political novel, Coe focuses on one family, their biographer and the effects that this small minority can hold for the entire nation.

The book's structure is as postmodern as they come, and manages to add a lot more to the story of the Winshaw family than a straight-forward third-person narrative could. Following the biographer Michael through his personal, fatherless problems, we also are introduced to every member of one generation of the Winshaw family in a variety of timezones, before we head towards the book's dazzling denouement in the classic narrative form.

The book becomes sensational, illogical and satirical in its final pages, but that's Coe's point. The ending of the novel, and the closure for the Winshaw family says something interesting about Thatcherism, and the effects of such a small minority of people holding such a great power over healthcare, the media, arts, journalism, farming... Sound familiar? I can't see this book becoming irrelevant any time soon.

26 April, 2012

Waterloo Road Finale - Like Being Waterboarded Slowly and Painfully Over Seven Years

Waterloo Road's Seventh Series of Crap paraded to an awful conclusion this week, awful to the extent that I'm finally giving up on the show, after six years and seven series. The episode was absolute balls, the way the show is going is apalling and frankly I could vomit onto paper to write better dialogue.

As I've said in every review of this show, I used to love the show. It was clever, funny, heart-warming and dramatic. It had characters you cared about in plausible if outlandish situations, and it had Jill Halfpenny in. After Series Two, when at least 3 main cast members jumped ship, the series began to turn into more of a soap, had longer series runs and started going through headteachers like they were going out of fashion. We had Rachel Mason who was passable (I think her leaving may have been the moment it all turned to shit), Karen Fisher who was the most unlikeable person in the UK and then Mr Burn who never shows emotion apart from amorous seedy lust for inappropriate staff members. Eventually, the writers abandoned all semblance of portraying actual school life, gave up any ambitions for plausibility and started recycling plot from earlier series. Or even from just the episode before; it really didn't matter - anything would go on Waterloo Road.

I've said it before and said it again - this is a real shame. What was great, and a brilliant addition to the BBC schedules has quickly become farcical, nonsensical and a parody of its former self. With the BBC's 'move Waterloo Road production to Scotland' plan was announced, I had mixed feelings: hesitant as to whether it would be handled well, and optimistic about whether this would give the show a kick up the ass. Unfortunately, I needn't have bothered to think anything at all because as we all expected, the show's still absolutely dire.

 This week's 'finale' (finale in the sense that it's the last episode - not in the sense that it was good, dramatic, fulfilling, exciting or provided closure) was the culmination of a whole series' worth of shitty gang plots and the beginnings of Waterloo Road: Scotland branch. We also had Denby-Ashe playing the most ridiculous overly-warm ex-pupil I've seen in my life (stop kissing people) and the continued existence of George Sampson as an 'actor'. Oh and that one from the Marines added 'Home Ec' to her existing rota of teaching English, Drama and Art. *shoots self in face*.

The episode, in just 60 minutes I'll add, showed a school going from 'running fine and dandy' to 'the school's being forcibly closed and moved to another country'. Staff were told on the last day of term that 'oh we don't actually have jobs for you anymore' then they all decided to relocate their entire lives to Scotland. I don't work for the LEA, I don't work for the government and I'm not a secondary school teacher. However, it is clear that a school would have to be under warning for a while, and be steadily closed. Heck, this has even been pointed out many times in past series of the show when this was a danger. The very suggestion that over 1000 kids would be relocated to random other schools (as if these places would even be available) is ludicrous, as is the idea that you could even close a school in such a way.

Alongside this nonsensical mess of a 'plot', the episode focused on the gang strife engulfing the school (read: minorly inconveniencing the school when it's pupils act like morons and there is nothing else going on). This wasn't necessary. It didn't add anything to the plot since Josh only got a bruised arm out of the whole affair (on this note, could Tom Clarkson's life get any worse, seriously?) and the entire gang plot has been laughable. The gang invaded the school just to have a ruckus, then stayed around, removing their hoods and balaclavas in front of copious CCTV cameras and in full view of staff. Right...

What wasn't necessary about this entire plot is that the audience has watched seven series of this show, at this school, with these characters. To bring this era to a close with irrelevant sentimentality (Mr Burn couldn't make a proper speech if his 'career' depended on it, and the producers couldn't write one) and with a lack of focus on the building, the school and the original characters that make Waterloo Road, was ridiculous. They didn't even use Ronan Burley as a character despite him coming back for the episode.

Whoever writes Waterloo Road now is either a massive pothead or just a moron. They wrote into the script that the twins would be sent to different schools (this would literally not happen) and one of them said that any other school would be full of 'freaks and pyros'. HELLO! You go to WATERLOO ROAD where there's a fire every bloody series.

The whole 'move Waterloo Road to Scotland' must be the least useful idea I've ever seen on the BBC, and this is the company that still gives jobs to Nicholas Lyndhurst. Production is moving from Rochdale to Greenock - I'm pretty sure that this keeps down costs in absolutely no way. Rochdale is not exactly Tower Bridge is it. IF the move had improved the show's focus and IF the move had been handled logically and in the manner of something that was POSSIBLE I'd be less angry, but this didn't happen. I am convinced that the running costs must be exactly the same.

The teachers are (mostly) all moving to Scotland, as if that's just an easy decision. They're moving to an independent school with a benefactor who is just paying for random children of any social strata to be educated. Denby-Ashe also said 'I believe in Michael's passion for teaching' and thus is taking him to Scotland to head up to the school. It's unfortunate that, in dozens of episodes, he hasn't done anything to show to the audience that he's anything more than a mediocre teacher.

He also then, in the infinite wisdom possessed in that enormous rat-like forehead, suggested a free boarding house for some Waterloo Road pupils (there's no catch, literally anyone he randomly speaks to, even Tariq) to go and live in Scotland. Ignoring the massive upheaval of this, the fact that they'll still have to return to gang culture (presumably) in the holidays, and that kids living together will create more trouble than its worth - it's just impossible. 'Go home and speak to your parents' he said. And as only about 4 kids turned up for the bus, I'm presuming all the other parents told their children what an outrageous idea this was.

The episode skipped forward to this 'bus ride', not making clear to anyone whether this was the final move (Grantley's got a whole new wardrobe, but he's wearing all the clothes, and holding a tiny bag..) or just the 'sightseeing trip' to see whether they'll move. Scout wouldn't want to leave her tiny baby sister with their drunken mother, the one with the Afro almost left education at the beginning of this series, and Tariq has never showed any interest in school - but hey-ho I'm sure they're all more than keen to move to Scotland for their education. As the bus made it's way north, the gang decided to pitstop for a photo - 'it'll only take five minutes...' - and pulled over into a lay-by. By this point I was being sick with the implausibility and poor continuity of a prime-time BBC show but we'll continue.

As the group gathered for a shot, Grantley proposed to the dinnerlady (this wouldn't happen but anyway) and as she began to accept, Mr Burn yelled 'watch out' like some kind of Looney Tune, and an improbably slow van hit the burger van, swerved back into the road (at this point it was still about 50m from the gang) then decided to swerve back into innocent roadusers instead of staying on the road like cars should, and the screen went to black.

Seriously Waterloo Road? Fuck off. There was no need for this to happen. What's this going to achieve - a teary scene next season when someone's in a wheelchair? A quick goodbye to Budgen before getting on with the new school? The crash was pointless - the episode had fucking ended. This is the most outrageous ending to one 'era' of a television show I have ever seen. It's possibly the most ludicrous and pot-induced plot decision ever.

I'm actually a little bit sad Waterloo Road has come to this. The Waterloo Road of Lorna, of Chlo and Donte and of Denise Welch sleeping with the head. Of Kim and Andrew and Izzie Redpath. Waterloo Road wasn't important, it wasn't cultural and life-changing, but it was a damn sight better than much else on TV. For an evening's viewing, it was pretty damn good. And now it's gone past the point of return - and I for one am not happy. RIP Waterloo Road.

'No ifs, no buts, no BBC budget cuts!'

25 April, 2012

Glee - 3.17 - Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston Tribute)

Now ignoring the blatant fact that very few people, at the age of eighteen, are big fans of Whitney Houston, this was a great episode of Glee. As we wind down to Nationals and ramp up to Graduation, this was the first step in what is to be a very sad set of shows - who didn't feel a bit sick when we though Klaine might split?

'Dance With Somebody', the seventeenth episode of Glee Season Three, followed the New Directions through a trauma, Mr Schuh through a marital crisis and Kurt and Blaine through their first proper row. We had some ridiculous subplot between Quinn and Jesus, and the blonde kid from the sex/record shop (seriously, 'Between The Sheets'?) was one of the most ludicrous people we've ever seen - and last week, we had a cross-dressing show choir.

 'Wemma' had some good scenes this episode, but when is Will going to accept that he needs friends his own age? He's pushing the marriage up to May to ensure the Glee kids are there (why not postpone till Season 4, to provide a plot?) but Emma, unsurprisingly, doesn't want to get married next to a highway, outside and in a summer camp. However, the Glee kids do mean alot to him, and it's great to see this come to the forefront of the final episodes - if only he weren't so bloody weird about it all.

Whilst Whitney doesn't, in my opinion, need an entire episode in dedication to her, the songs were good and, for the most part, fitted the plot. 'How Will I Know?' was a spectacular opener, Kurt's solo (we haven't seen one in a while) was superb and the final song was goosebumps-good. The only letdown was Blaine singing 'It's Not Right But It's OK' when it certainly wasn't 'okay' by any means.

I won't even dignify the Joe/Quinn pairing because, aside from God, they have very little in common. I didn't really need to sit through 4 minutes of Sam saying 'do you want to get closer to God or Quinn' whilst winking, and the entire plot was tantamount to the 'cold baths/images of Beiste' saga of Season 2. And that was shit.

The Klaine argument was founded on some shaky subplot (would Kurt really think all the texting was OK?) but brought to light some of the serious issues between them. It also created a sass-off in the choir room which was outstanding - who doesn't love a sass-off? But just what will Blaine do next year? And how will Kurt and Blaine keep the spark alive? And, basically, what are all of New Directions actually going to do next year!? These are the important questions - screw #PMQs today!

There was an excellent 'couples guidance' scene, in which Colfer, Criss and Mays' comedic talent was brought to the forefront. Kurt's 'I am actively listening *winks*' had me in hysterics. As we all knew, they reunited, had a cheeky hug and are back together. Klaine are, I think, one of the best aspects of Glee, and Criss was on top form this episode 'ALL AWARDS TO DARREN CRISS ETC'. Not just in terms of what the pairing does for equality issues in television, but in terms of the show they are one of the most believable and relaxed (chill the fuck out, Rachel Berry) pairings in 'Glee'.

Santana and Rachel also decided to be friends this episode, and despite Rachel's ludicrous accusation that Santana 'made her life hell for three years', this was fairly cute. Kudos for the cute.

Now as the episode ended, I think we all shed a tear when every single member of New Directions turned up to an 'optional' meeting, and from the previews of the next episode (NYADA audition cock-up anyone?) the next few episodes are going to be very intense. But we've been promised that for a while and we're still no closer to knowing how Season 4 will pan out, or being much closer to any actual ending. Something that hit me the other day was whether there is any legitimate way we are going to keep Will Schuester AND the Glee kids in a show together? Producers, hurry up and tell us!

19 April, 2012

The Apprentice Corner - Episodes Four + 5 Lengthy Catchup

It's been a mental couple of weeks at 'being spiteful about The Apprentice' HQ, so only now have I managed to talk about the most recent two episodes. On the plus side, that means more comedy for YOU!

The last two weeks have been pretty standard Apprentice stuff - Katie looking bored, Ricky Martin starting serious pitches with 'Hi, my name's Ricky Martin' and more of the fake receptionist doing her fake job badly. The last two weeks have had mediocre tasks, the candidates (minus Ricky and Katie) still aren't doing much, and Nick Hewer actually ate his own words in episode five. Crazy. Let's get to it.

Episode four's task was to buy junk and sell it on from a 'vintage store' on Brick Lane. What was great about this episode was that it was classic 'Apprentice-mocking-one-area-of-London'. We've done most of the boroughs over the past series, and in this episode we were treated to the weird and wonderful - facial piercings and all - of Brick Lane. I can safely say it didn't make me want to visit Brick Lane.

Cheeky geezer Mark Ronson Thomas led one team, whilst Laura took the reigns of the other. She then proceeded to whinge to camera about the tribulations about being a beautiful young woman in business. Step aside, Samantha Brick.

Katie continued to look unimpressed at everything everyone did this episode (let's get her on Question Time, anyone?) and Ricky Martin's bitchy alter-ego reared her ugly head again - and, in the words of the famous Ricky Martin, she bangs. Mid-episode, Nick said this actual quote: 'this team has commited a number of mortal sins'. It is possible he needs the next series off, as evidently it's all getting a bit much for Hewer, and he's starting to think he IS God. But who could replace Hewer? It's time for HEWER'S HEIR!

Possible replacements:
Rupert Grint because he's had a tough time of it and hasn't been in Woman in Black and he could do that churlish Weasley grin constantly.
That Script guy off The Voice because it's always great to have someone in double denim wearing a rosary and standing up all the time. Also he then wouldn't be on The Voice which would make that show alot better *shifts everyone except Jessie J everyone to other BBC productions*
David Starkey because he just hates incompetence and I would love to see his head explode in horror at the basic math errors in this show. It would be like Jamie's Dream School all over again.
Karren Brady (and then we bring back Margaret to be Karren. You see?)
Any random old man with eyebrows. Self-explanatory.

Despite much protestation at the union jack designs, I thought they were pretty nice. Also, I liked the suitcase tables.

Some things we can learn from this episode:
All of the candidates can pull off dungarees
The antiques guy said 'they picked absolute rubbish' which we are all aware is a dig at Sugar's selection of candidates this year
Katie has finally been in a winning team (Hold the f*cking front page)
'Upcycled' is a word which must never be used again by the human race.

Jane rounded up this episode by effectively shooting herself in the face in the boardroom. After failing the task and being brought back into the boardroom, she said 'I have been successful in everything I have ever done'. Minus winning the task at hand. Also, she looks like a mute Catherine Tate character so I'm glad we've seen the back of her.

My first impressions of episode five: York Hall looks like the shittest place in London. And I've been to Hackney.

The following episode watched as the teams were forced (I like to imagine Karren and Nick standing by with a water cannon and threats of Room 101) to create a new exercise class for gyms up and down the nation. BeatBattle was shit. The other one about disco was just as shit but at least the models were scantily-clad.

Adam 'and the lads' visited an underground 80s dance troupe in some sort of cave (I say cave, I mean flamboyant brothel) to get 'ideas' for their 'class'. Whilst this was definitely one of the most predatory things to have been on BBC1, it was also pretty dull and chaotic - not only did their overall image seem to scream 'WE'RE SHIT', the dancing was out of time and there was too much hula-hooping for anyone's liking. I could have watched Ricky Martin say 'they call me 'the fitness'... you'll always witness the fitness with Ricky Martin' on repeat for 60 minutes and I would have had a better time.

Highlight of the episode was when one team's selling point was 'burn over THREE HUNDRED CALORIES!' I could burn three-hundred calories walking to my car. From my house. Which is where my car is parked. If I'm wearing short shorts in the public domain and dancing to Duran Duran, I'm going to need to be topping 500 kcals. Also, Katie's facial expressions just get better and better - someone make a bloody GIF of them.

This goes to the person (I was drinking as I watched this so forgive me if I have no clue who this was) who was hula-hooping and said 'if you want to throw in Saturday night fever, then you can' then proceeded to throw some shapes. Outstanding.

The boardroom twist was predictable, Sugar effectively went 'go to the shit cafe and THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU'VE DONE' and Ricky Martin got his manicured claws out in the boardroom. Dwayne went and let's be honest - he was shit. Laura stayed in because Suralan's hoping to bed her, BUT THAT'S ALRIGHT ISN'T IT LADS.

Who should win? Gabrielle, because in the 'downtime' scenes, she was reading an actual book and that's cool

Ciao, @Jakeshaker

17 April, 2012

What I'm Watching

Spoilers for the episodes at US-pace, OBVIOUSLY, because I'm not waiting till 2014 to see Laura Linney on my screen again.

Me and 'Waterloo Road' have quite a history - I've watched all 7 series of the show, and hated about 6 of them. What was an excellent dramatic portrayal of school-life for the teachers and their pupils has become a monotonous, poorly-written and frankly laughable shadow of its former self.

This week's episode had yet another rendition of 'Jez and Sian aren't right for each other and he can't behave rationally but works it out in the end' with a backing track of 'we've done the gang thing several times but we don't really know what else affects inner-city students'. For literally the third or fourth time, Jez took his child away from school mid-lesson, insisted that they would start a new life, without Sian, but then saw the error of his ways and made it up with Sian. Instructions for this seasons plot seemed to be 'take episode eleven, get a 2012 soundtrack attached, and air it'.

Other minimal subplots involved Chalky's ongoing infatuation with Janeece, which really, after twenty episodes of leering, has become pretty creepy. As is the dinnerlady's quest to bed Grantley Budgen, at most one week after his wife Fleur died in front of him. I know the characters in 'Waterloo Road' have always been a bit loopy (remember Lorna? REMEMBER LORNA?) but this takes social norms to a whole new limit.

The art subplot was ridiculous because it was quite obvious Roxanne was a drunkard, and 'director of LEA has a child who isn't as perfect as they think' is token WR. What really took the biscuit though is the Head of English taking the art exam (art A-Level doesn't work like that either, trust me) and saying 'it's difficult to tell if these are her work'. Yes it is, when you are an ENGLISH TEACHER.

Denby-Ashe was a pleasant addition to the show, pulling out lines like 'I sold my company for £75 million last week', and her ploy to steal Burnsy from Rochdale has legs - a convenient way for the BBC to shift production to Scotland. But if you were going to strive for excellence, why choose Burnsy, who has literally no charisma or authority or ability to improve a school he has led for like two series?

The second series of 'The Big C' came to a close on More4 over here in the UK, just as the third run began on Showtime in the US. As the (dare I say it?) perfect second series ended, my hopes for season 3 could not have been higher. After my love letter to the programme last month, it's probably clear that I think highly of it.

Season 3 returned, and, thank God, Paul was alive. It was touch-and-go for the first five minutes, but thankfully, Cathy's family is alive and well. The first episode showed us that Cathy's tumours are continuing to shrink, and some have even disappeared. Whilst this gives extra scope for the length of the series, it seems logical in the context of the story, and not a cheap ploy. What gave the story extra weight in the season opener, is the mix of seriousness and comedy. Paul's heart condition highlights the fragility of both of Adam's parents, to the extent that Cathy chooses Sean to be his legal guardian, should both parents die. This, mixed with the humour in Andrea's new name and Paul's shock treatment button, gave the show its usual mix of black comedy and deep emotion.

As I tuned into the second episode, I felt something was missing from the series - it's still as funny as ever, but there is something less of the heart that gives the series its unique taste. What they seem to be doing, I think, is in that Series 1 was 'Cathy secretly coping and going wild', 2 was 'virtuous Cathy and her family try to make sense of her shit', and 3 seems to have the intention of showing Cathy's mean, selfish side. Linney's interaction with her son in this episode was excellent in tone, and seems to be showing Adam's progression in maturity, whilst Cathy's retracts. What with her show in front of the whole school, the 'professional tie' joke in the school office, and her tattoo in the last scene, it seems we're being shown a Cathy that is struggling to cope, struggling to have the healthy outlook of last season.

I don't know where this will ultimately lead the show, but I'm sure it's headed there for a reason - I have great amounts of faith in Laura Linney and the other producers. To see another side of Cathy, the character who always has our sympathies, will be interesting - just who is the virtuous in a world where even the victim isn't acting justly?

Glee roared back onto our screens this week, following its 'winter hiatus' or whatever name they gave to yet another scheduling break which screwed up momentum and just bought the producers more time to buy bowties for Blaine.

'Big Brother' was a Blaine-centric episode (I love Blaine, just 'fyi') which obviously also focused on the aftermath of Quinn's accident, notably leaving out any mention of the previous episode's horrendous Dave Karofsky plot. But let's focus on Quinn for a while (I know the entire Glee production staff seem to be). I should be arguing that after such a horrific accident, a curable, scar-free Fabray is an impossibility, that the plot makes light of car accidents, that it will lead to an overwrought emotional satisfaction when Quinn walks again BUT I just can't be angry because I'm just happy Quinn's alive. Shoot me for this opinion I don't care - she is the best character in the show, and, despite the implausibility of 'this is the happiest day of my life' coupled with the 'I'm Still Standing' performance, let's just be glad IT'S ALL BACK TO NORMAL.

The Blaine/Bomer plot of the episode was a little ridiculous - whilst Bomer played pitch-perfect humour, it was over-the-top and led into some of the most uncomfortable 'characters-bursting-into-song' moments of any musical ever. 'Fighter' made me want to kill myself. The acting by Criss was superb, and Lea Michele pulled out some great moments in her limited amount of screentime. Arguably I'm biased as to the Criss thing cos, you know, he's my mancrush but in all fairness, him and his back did a spiffing job.

The songs in the episode fitted well, save the Gotye cover which was seemingly shoehorned in just because it's a big name chart-topper. 'I'm Still Standing' was a great blend of the Artie/Quinn voices that we haven't really heard before, and their duets came to a showstopping conclusion in 'Up Up Up' which was just lovely. Fighter was a little bit dodgy - do we really need some 2003 Aguilera in Glee? Do we? All this bother was worth it though - the 'Rio/Hungry Like A Wolf' mashup made me want to get up and literally dance it was that good, and the performance was mesmerising.

So Glee's now 7 episodes away from its 'graduation finale'. Quinn's back in Season 4, and the songs off of the Graduation album look amazing - I feel we've got some amazing episodes coming up, but we'll just have to wait through the Saturday Night Glee-ver fiasco and the cobbled-together Whitney tribute before we get to them. Upcoming highlights include 'Edge of Glory' and 'Forever Young' covers, NYADA auditions and actually seeing Emma in an episode. *Sighs and watches Purple Piano Project*. Until next time!


Twenty Twelve is one of the few GOOD things to come out of the Olympics - the only other good thing is 'The Tube', and that just seems to be a six-episode DON'T TAKE THE TUBE DURING THE OLYMPICS public service announcement). Let's hope for at least another series of this, and for more observational, situational comedy in this vein on the BBC, after the success of this show.

The story follows the Olympics organisational team, in the run up to the Games. They are departments like Legacy, Sustainability, Brand, Infrastructure, and quite brilliantly, noone understands what any of these words actually mean. The programme - from it's mocking 4-colour logo, to its brilliant camera pauses after a punchline - satirizes organisational bureaucracy, middle management and the language of management.

The standout star of the series is Jessica Hynes, who plays Siobhan Sharpe, head of Brand, and a character who is the physical embodiment of modern-day advertising jargon. She is perfection, and raises absolute hilarity in her inability to actually say anything. In the third episode of this series, she sat with three people from her agency, all just like her - amazing.
Even if the Olympics screws up your transport, takes over the TV schedules and makes you feel a bit annoyed all the time, don't worry - get this on boxset, and remember - something good came out of 2012.

What I've Been Reading

Etgar Keret - Suddenly, a Knock on the Door
This book of short stories, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Shlesinger, Sondra Silverston and Nathan Englander, is an absolute marvel. Keret is an Israeli writer, but the stories have a resonance of the most classic of stories, in addition to their deeply geogaphical grounding.

So, the stories themselves. They are very short - each about three pages - and, overall, very traditional in form. Keret plays with the ideas of beginning and ending - throwing us into each story at any given point. He questions the very nature of 'the story' and how it is constructed, giving each tale a different measure and style of roundness and closure. Keret uses language, and the traditional conventions of language to pull the rug out from under us, most specifically in 'Parallel Universes'. He'll fix us into one comfortable place, and with a sentence, phrase or word, will throw us in another direction - challenging traditional conventions of storytelling and narrative.

The best story is 'What Do We Have In Our Pockets', a profound and simplistic tale about dreams, one very much for our times. Others to look out for are 'Unzipping' and 'The Story, Victorious'. Keret's stories are fine modern fables, simple clear and understated, but with important messages on humanity and on modern Israel. There is something of the Carteresque transformation in his stories, and much is made of the quality and nostalgia of stories. Read this collection - it's fun, warm and imaginative.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Finally got round to actually reading Hardy's classic novel. I'm a big fan of the 2008 BBC serial, starring Gemma Arterton, and a big fan of Hardy's poetry - 'Tess' did not disappoint.

The book is melancholic, sparing and bleak in all the right places, and puts a heavy importance on the very painful nature of existence itself, and the weights and justifications, religious or otherwise, of fairness and hardship. Whilst this, in study guides and notes, is inextricably tied up in the motif of birds, and the fact that their free trajectory creates work and hardship for Tess (a servant), I found Hardy's prose to be the most indicative example of the theme. Hardy possesses a mastering of prose reserved for a rare few, and in his writing manages to take the roles of narrator and of individual characters in a distinct and beatific direction, which can manage to be separate but consistent. His musings are never bloated or unclear - what other writers manage in a page, Hardy manages in a sentence, and Tess is given such eloquent interior dialogues, it is impossible not to fall for her.

'Tess' is an austere and endearing tale of male patriarchy but in this woeful tale, there is a spirit and eloquence to Tess as a character that keeps the story from being a mere miserable 500-page drudge. The love story, though oddly structured and untraditional, is a masterpiece. Hardy has a perceptive and individual way of writing on nature, time and death - to find it in a more prolonged form than his poetry and to find closely-linked poetic observations in spades, go to 'Tess'. His paragraph on the day we die, the basis for 
Nicholls' 'One Day', is sublime.

Other Stuff That Was Less Fab:
Bret Easton Ellis - The Rules of Attraction
Whilst this is meant to be a tale of Ellis' generation, it seems to portray weak, selfish and self-protecting characters, despite comparisons with Gatsby. In the way that Fitzgerald exhibits his era with class, poeticism and sympathy, Ellis gives us a tawdry and filth-ridden view of a set of characters. This may be the point - the 'lost generation' as it were, portrayed here in its college years, has no beauty, standards or meaning. But is a novel not supposed to give meaning, connections or original thought to such a situation?
Ellis demonstrates a great ability to pause in time the moment that is college, with its expectations, sexual gratification and exploration of the self. However, it is by no means a fun, endearing or solely enjoyable read. I'll move onto American Psycho next - hopefully a more idea-based version of this.

Submarine by Joe Dunthorne - an exercise in comedy

'Nuance is something that happens at A-Level'. 'Submarine', a cult, indie, niche, non-mainstream classic gained alot more cult, indie, niche, non-mainstream fans when the film, written by that IT crowd bloke, was released in 2010. The book, published in 2008, was the debut of Joe Dunthorne, and I finally got round to reading it this week. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is the funniest book I have ever read, and has one of the most original voices in recent fiction. It is a masterpiece.

The book follows Oliver Tate, a bizarre and truly 'unique' fifteen year old, negotiating his way through his parent's marital problems, his own sexual awakening and the torment that is teenagerdom. Each chapter begins with a new, rarely-used word, as Oliver makes his way through life, making sense of the world through talking about it in new and unique ways.

What sets this book apart from others of this type is firstly its audience, which is not 'young adult', but quite literally anybody above the age of fifteen. Also, the consistency in tone and style is second to none - Dunthorne has one of the most natural comic prose styles of any writer I have read - and since the book is not, in itself, a vehicle for one-liners or just a 'comedy book' this is no mean feat. Dunthorne manages to include humour in a way that is natural to the text, surprising to the reader, and as intrinsic to Oliver's voice as the plot itself.

A sample of Oliver's lucid imagination:

'I've learnt more about human nature from watching ITV's weekday morning chat shows than she has in her whole life. I tell her: 'you are unwilling to address the vacuum in your interpersonal experiences,' but she does not listen'

And another:

'I'm surprised he can manage it but Fred makes the sound again - a caterwaul.
I think that at least Fred is dying with an obscure word.'

I could list the jokes that Dunthorne writes, but they make little sense outside the unique, whimsical and comic tone of the novel. The book says a lot about modern teenage life, more so than anything 'literary' or 'teenage', and manages to be laugh-out-loud funny on every page - let me tell you, the skill of writing comedy in fictional prose is a hard ask. The book perfectly captures the existence of a pretentious and ambitious youth in a small-town setting. How else can I recommend the novel? I don't know - there aren't enough superlatives going, and I don't know enough niche words.

What I'm Listening To

After a fairly lengthy hiatus, Jakeshaker is back. Before I start the reviews proper, thought I'd update you on stuff. First, up TUNES. 'This is my new jam' etc.

Spector - Chevy Thunder. This is, for me, so far, the best song of 2012 - a high-paced, indie-pop roaring summer anthem. The chorus has one of the most catchy refrains I've heard. I saw Spector live when they supported Florence + The Machine, but I didn't know any of their songs - it was more of a 'bop along whilst trying not to spill your beer' support act. However, they have a small number of singles all of which occupy that gap in the market for a Two Door Cinema Club/Vaccines/Patrick Wolf hybrid. They have a (still untitled) album out April 30th - already jumping the gun and saying this will be my album of the summer: watch this space.

Marina and the Diamonds - Electra Heart (album). The long-awaited Electra Heart project has finally come together, with the single 'Primadonna' whoring itself up the Radio 1 playlist, and currently stalling on the iTunes chart at #12. But what is more appealing is the album - it's looking like it will be amazing. You can listen to 30-second previews here and do check out her tumblr for all her cheeky artwork. The project is well-themed, distinct, clever, and visually appealing - now let's get Marina a top-ten hit. 'Lies' is an absolute gem, a sort of throwback to the pop-ballad of old - listen to the acoustic here.


Other music I am loving life to:
The Shins - Port of Morrow (album). This is the most sublime, wonderful guitar-pop album. Songs to look out for are '40 Mark Strasse' and 'It's Only Life'. The cover art's pretty banging too.
Laura Welsh - 45. Laura only seems to have two 'proper songs' out, but they are corkers. Ethereal, haunting and insistent, both '45' and 'Ghosts' show off a remarkable talent.
Jamie Hartman - Girlwise. I found this on Radio 2, where the BBC stashes all the proper good music away to. Chilled and emotive, this is an artist to watch out for.

08 April, 2012

Ben Master's Noughties and the problems for young novelists.

'Noughties' is as fresh and modern as a novel - with its lengthy lead time - is likely to be. Ben Masters' debut novel is current, interesting and a remarkably refreshing book - it's not perfect by any means, but it's a start, and a clever, perceptive and funny one at that.

I found this book in the Fiction shelves of a Foyles branch and it had something of the 'self-published' look about it. Upon closer inspection, it's published by the Penguin group, but there is something new and makeshift about the whole project. Despite young and debut novelists having a tough time of it, 'Noughties' ended up as part of a bidding war, but why? Masters is a fresh-faced graduate; he writes about what he knows - literature, university and drinking - and another draw is that, for me, he's a local lad. I've been reading many university and campus novels recently - Larkin's Jill, Amis' Lucky Jim, David Lodge - and I thought: why not add another to the pile?

The novel follows Eliot Lamb, a Wellingborough lad's forays into the world of Oxford, tearing himself away from the connections to his home life. The way Masters views the world - through a kaleidoscope of literature and performance - is clear from the first pages of 'Noughties'. It is clear that he is expressing, through the multiple use of loose references to great works of literature, that he is reflecting not just Eliot's occupation as English student, but also his own perception of the world. Masters makes many clever points about the modern night out as performance - performance to your friends, strangers, yourself, and a performance for social networking. The book comes across as a melancholic celebration of the modern 'night out', highlighting its brilliance and its flaws.

The novel's language use is very topical, and the sort of language bandied about in the pub/club/bar. It is surprising to see such a representation of today's words in a novel - normally only in television (and arguably film) is this apparent. Masters experiments somewhat with the position of the words on the page, adding a lyrical and experimental tone to the book. What Masters achieves (and not consistently - the book is not a comedy by any means) is a natural lightheartedness which at times had me laughing out loud. There is an understated tone to the humour, and an irony which is rife amongst 'youth'.

Now what really sets the book apart, and adds to Master's unique representation of university life and culture, is the book's structure. The three chapters - Pub, Bar, Club - reflect the structure of the night out itself, but also do more than that. The book's three-part structure mimics that of a degree, and in the same way that Eliot flashes back to important parts of his university experience, Masters comments on the way we try to immortalize, and send off, periods of our life in one night, but these tend to be anticlimactic culminations of separate events. It is impossible to escape the baggage we all have, and as such, any big night out will bring these cracks in a friendship group to the forefront. The book reminded me of a kind of prequel to One Day, in the way that Nicholls looks to the future and follows progress, Masters attempts to immortalize one snapshot, of one year, and show how the characters got there, without attempting to theorize about the group's future.

Masters is certainly a promising new talent, and whilst the book has some flaws - its quite lengthy at times and has some inconsistencies in tone - it is a refreshing and 'new' novelist to tackle such a topic. This is the kind of exciting new talent we and publishers should be pushing for. Reading this Guardian article, on how publishers work on talent, to get their great later work on their third or fourth novel, and it is a shame to think that this is a practice that is dying out. Well done Masters - you've proved why young authors deserve a chance.

07 April, 2012

The Apprentice Corner - Episode Three

The Apprentice trundled on this week into its third episode, full of assholes and dickheads the likes of which have not been seen since Junior Apprentice in November. There was some casual sexism, some great hypocrisy by Karren Brady, and Ricky Martin continued to exist.


'We need new promo shots'

Suralan began the episode by doing that 'shocking thing' he does every third episode where he mixes up boys and girls and they all act a bit squeamish like they've just gone to university after a ten-year stint at a single-sex boarding school. One team (Phoenix or the other one - really who cares about these nonsensical labels) did okay - they had some of the boys, some of the girls. HOWEVER, Katie was transferred, ALONE to the boy's team, which paved the way for some of the most obvious evidence of sexism in the workplace since all those opposition articles in the Mail.

As she put herself forward as project manager of the boy's team, Katie was greeted by general dissent amongst 'the lads', cries of 'we're behind you' from other jokers, and Adam even risked a black eye by patting her on the back rather condescendingly. Also, by the boardroom, there were general murmurs from the whole brigade about her *air quotes* 'leadership', and Alan making his usual sexist comments. Good to show the BBC bucking the trend!

Literally what is this trouser suit.
What I love about The Apprentice - its competition amongst Britain's 'brightest minds' - is that noone is able to do the simplest maths. Jane struggled this week with the most basic of problems, and, as always happens in episode two or three of the series, someone mismanaged their sums and fucked up product quantities. Please stand, Ricky Martin. Martin also believed that his clever idea 'lets take the leftover crap sauce, and repackage it' saved the day - hilare.

Some ridiculous things the teams did this week:

Made some kind of ketchup sauce that looked like concrete blood.

Named a product 'Belissimo' but spelt it wrong then flogged their shoddy wares to actual Italians. They also made packaging that is the equivalent of what I could make, with no hands, blind, on Publisher 2004, drunk, stoned and illiterate. They used Papyrus font. THE PAPYRUS FONT. If ever there was a time to repeat something, in capitals, in a sentence by itself, that was the time.

Jane said 'can I suggest we taste it'. It being the food product they are going to sell, and have tasted by companies and the public, and which will sink or swim depending on taste. Well, yes, probably a good shout Jane.


At this point in the episode, Michael 'LAD LAD GEEZER LAD' Copps was really beginning to grate on me.

Now I actually like Karren Brady - she's no Margaret but then who is? Karren's just an adequate and quite saucy replacement. BUT this week she said 'They failed on the spelling'. This coming from KaRRen Brady. KaRRen - a lady who has failed, in 43 years on Earth, to learn to spell her own name.

We get to Bridge End caff where Katie has failed for the tenth week to succeed in any way, and she says 'I dont understand how they managed to make twice as much money as us'. Here, she gives a prime example of what not to say in order to deal peacefully with the backlash of your team when you fail in The Apprentice. I, frankly, am surprised that Ricky and Azhar didn't team up and punch the 'self-confessed blonde assassin' in the face.

'Everyone's an idiot but me'
Ricky Martin's comments outside and within the boardroom are becoming increasingly catty - a few spat-out consonants away from him actually clicking his fingers and going 'uh-huhhhh' - and I'm just going to put this out there - I think he's a massive bitch. I cannot wait for this to become increasingly apparent to the teams and to the audience. A highlight was Ricky's 'I'd be embarrassed with those figures you sold' which is tantamount to saying 'I'd be embarrassed to be you right now'. Ricky, you sly.

Until next time, allons-y!

Who should win? Adam, for his ability to make Katie think he WASN'T patronising her constantly. A skill that can surely be utilised in a business environment.