Free at last

28 07 2012

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is the story of the Berglunds, their son Joey, their daughter Jessica and their friend Richard Katz. It is about how we use and abuse our freedom; about the beginning and ending of love; teenage lust; the unexpectedness of adult life; why we compete with our friends; how we betray those closest to us; and why things almost never work out as they ‘should’. It is a story about the human heart, and what it leads us to do to ourselves and each other.

It sounds like a pitch for a great American novel and this is clearly the aim. Unfortunately, things don’t quite work out that way.  Nicholas Lezard’s review in the Guardian notes:

But what this novel really wants to be is War and Peace (there are numerous references). It would, however, settle for being Middlemarch, especially in the way that its characters tend, with some wiggle room, not to escape the labels they have been given. Cranky eco-nut, cool alt-rock guy, vile corrupt polluting Cheney crony, Republican whizz-kid with shiny loafers, and so on. And indeed, as in all novels queuing up for Great American Novel status, you do get the sensation of reading a 600-page shopping list. Fight between principles and realpolitik? Check. Cross-generational strife? Check. Fighting over wills? Check. Redneck vs city slicker? Check. Infidelity? Check. Goodness, there’s even a spot of anal sex. Is the very genre conservative? Franzen is a Democrat, duh, but there are more than a couple of unironic suggestions that what Patty needs is a job; and also, not to put too fine a point on it, a good seeing-to; when she does get one it really perks her up.

He likes it though, despite all of these failings. To me though it just felt empty and at times rather dull. It is very well written but ultimately pretty disappointing. I was glad to be free of it after 570 pages.

Up with the Partridge

21 07 2012

!, Partridge: We need to talk about Alan by Alan Partridge

Journalist, presenter, broadcaster, husband, father, vigorous all-rounder – Alan Partridge – a man with a fascinating past and an amazing future. Gregarious and popular, yet Alan’s never happier than when relaxing in his own five-bedroom, south-built house with three acres of land and access to a private stream. But who is this mysterious enigma?

Alan Gordon Partridge is the best – and best-loved – radio presenter in the region. Born into a changing world of rationing, Teddy Boys, apes in space and the launch of ITV, Alan’s broadcasting career began as chief DJ of Radio Smile at St. Luke’s Hospital in Norwich. After replacing Peter Flint as the presenter of Scout About, he entered the top 8 of BBC sports presenters.

But Alan’s big break came with his primetime BBC chat show Knowing Me, Knowing You. Sadly, the show battled against poor scheduling, having been put up against News at Ten, then in its heyday. Due to declining ratings, a single catastrophic hitch (the killing of a guest on air) and the dumbing down of network TV, Alan’s show was cancelled. Not to be dissuaded, he embraced this opportunity to wind up his production company, leave London and fulfil a lifelong ambition to return to his roots in local radio.

Now single, Alan is an intensely private man but he opens up, for the second time, in this candid, entertaining, often deeply emotional – and of course compelling – memoir, written entirely in his own words. (Alan quickly dispelled the idea of using a ghost writer. With a grade B English Language O-Level, he knew he was up to the task.)

He speaks touchingly about his tragic Toblerone addiction, and the painful moment when unsold copies of his first autobiography, Bouncing Back, were pulped like ‘word porridge’. He reveals all about his relationship with his ex-Ukrainian girlfriend, Sonja, with whom he had sex at least twice a day, and the truth about the thick people who make key decisions at the BBC.

A literary tour de force, I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan charts the incredible journey of one of our greatest broadcasters.

I can’t believe I actually spent time reading a fictional autobiography. It was rather entertaining though in an utterly lightweight throwaway kind of way. And it did feel a little like renewing an old friendship where all the stories told are well known. Still, you could do worse.

Bella Bella: Approximation of a Playlist §61

14 07 2012

Remembering Gregory’s Girl

Chocolate Salty Balls (P.S. I Love You) – Chef
Girls On Film – Duran Duran
Careless Love – Madeleine Peyroux
Earth Angel – The Penguins
Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland
Clocks – Coldplay
The headmaster ritual – The Smiths
Crazy Chick – Charlotte Church
Mambo Italiano – Rosemary Clooney
Date stamp – ABC
I Quit – Hepburn
The Teacher – Big Country
Susan’s House – Eels
(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang – Heaven 17
Little Drummer Boy – Bob Dylan
Shake You Down – Gregory Abbott
Teenage Kicks – The Undertones
Don’t Talk To Me About Love – Altered Images
Teenage Dirtbag – Weetus

Cold comfort hotel

7 07 2012

1222 by Anne Holt

1222 metres above sea level, train 601 from Oslo to Bergen careens off iced rails as the worst snowstorm in Norwegian history gathers force around it. Marooned in the high mountains with night falling and the temperature plummeting, its 269 passengers are forced to abandon their snowbound train and decamp to a centuries-old mountain hotel. They ought to be safe from the storm here, but as dawn breaks one of them will be found dead, murdered. With the storm showing no sign of abating, retired police inspector Hanne Wilhelmsen is asked to investigate. But Hanne has no wish to get involved. She has learned the hard way that truth comes at a price and sometimes that price just isn’t worth paying. Her pursuit of truth and justice has cost her the love of her life, her career in the Oslo Police Department and her mobility: she is paralysed from the waist down by a bullet lodged in her spine. Trapped in a wheelchair, trapped by the killer within, trapped by the deadly storm outside, Hanne’s growing unease is shared by everyone in the hotel. Should she investigate, or should she just wait for help to arrive? And all the time rumours swirl about a secret cargo carried by train 601. Why was the last carriage sealed? Why is the top floor of the hotel locked down? Who or what is being concealed? And, of course, what if the killer strikes again?

Another excellent Scandinavian crime export, this time from Norway’s former Minister of Justice who delivers a terrific claustrophobic and suspenseful tale very much in the spirit of Agatha Christie.

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