A Month in the Country

 

a month in the country
Now an old man, Tom Birkin, looks back at the idyllic summer of 1920 when he was hired to uncover a medieval mural on a wall in the village church of Oxgodby in Yorkshire, England.  Arriving in the pouring rain, ‘nerves shot to pieces, wife gone, dead broke’ he admires the ancient church that’s to be his home but when the rain clears and the blackbirds begin to sing he relishes the tranquility of the countryside around him ‘letting summer soak into me – the smell of summer and summer sounds.’ and determines to live simply and be happy.

From the top of his ladder in the bell-tower he can see Charles Moon an archaeologist, living in a bell tent in the meadow, digging for a medieval grave. The two become friends and Tom is soon accepted by the locals including the Ellerbeck family and their Chapel community, the troubled vicar in whose church he’s working and his beautiful wife Alice. It’s a time of rabbit-and-potato pie for dinner and seed cake, greengage pie and ‘scalding tea in a can’ at 4 o’clock. The slow sultriness of a hot summer day pervades every page, emotions are heightened and time seems to stand still:

‘The butterfly flew into the air once more. For a moment it seemed that it might settle on the rose in her hat, but it veered off and away into the meadow. The sound of bees foraging from flower to flower seemed to deepen the stillness.’ Continue reading “A Month in the Country”

A Film for March: Paris, Texas

Paris, TexasWinner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, this is a simple story about family ties, love and redemption directed by Wim Wenders and written by Sam Shepard.

Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) mysteriously wanders out of the desert and is found unconscious by a German Doctor who calls the only number in his pocket.  Having been missing for four years, his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) is amazed when he comes to collect him and drives him from Texas to his home in Los Angeles, which he shares with his French wife Anne (Aurore Clément). On the road we find out that Travis’  eight year old son Hunter has been living with them after Jane, his mother (Nastassja Kinski) also disappeared. What has happened to Travis and where is Jane? Continue reading “A Film for March: Paris, Texas”

A Film for February: The Arbor

ArborBleak, bleak, bleak but compelling. Directed by Clio Barnard in 2010 this is a film about the dramatist and author Andrea Dunbar (1961-1990), who wrote plays The Arbor and Rita, Sue and Bob Too. Dunbar came from Bradford’s tough Buttershaw housing estate and a street know as the Arbor. Her life ended in a brain haemorrhage bought on by alcoholism when she was 29, a scene straight from one of her own plays. The second half focuses on Dunbar’s eldest child Lorraine (Manjinder Virk) and her tragic story of parental neglect, racism, domestic violence and finding her refuge in drugs. Continue reading “A Film for February: The Arbor”

Crime and Punishment

 

fullsizeoutput_bdSo to book three in my introduction to Russian literature, and what a difference! Where War and Peace and Doctor Zhivago were huge in scale, the vast landscape and different peoples, this was confined to the backstreets of Petersburg, the canals, alleyways and squares. It felt dark and squalid and cramped, but filled with huge characters, coincidences, chance meetings and overheard secrets.

The crime came quickly and was brutal and horrifying in its description. Raskolnikov plots and contemplates the murder almost from the first page. Arrogant and miserable, he condescendingly calculates that an ugly old business women is of no value, that he is above the law and this justifies his actions. So why was I rooting for him in his dramatic escape from the murder scene, and kept rooting for him as the police inspector started to close in? Continue reading “Crime and Punishment”

They Knew Mr Knight

THEYKNEWMRKNIGHTHRwsAt the end of January Jesse at Dwell in Possibility had a mini Persephone readathon and that was the perfect excuse for me to pick up the Dorothy Whipple at the end of my bed, lie on the sofa and have a cosy read.

The first hint that this might not be so cosy came with the title which felt a bit odd and had a slightly sinister ring to it. Who are ‘They’?, why is it in the past tense and is Mr. Knight a knight in shining armour or is he something shady? The second hint was inside the front cover when we’re given the helpful information to multiply all the amounts talked about by 50 so for £2000 read £100,000. Here was the middle class domestic world of Dorothy Whipple but with avarice at its centre and it was clear from the beginning that all was not going to go well. Continue reading “They Knew Mr Knight”

A Film For January: Diabolique

diabolique
In a boys’ boarding school in provincial France a bullying and domineering headmaster, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) is loathed by the boys’, the teaching staff, and his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot). The science and maths teacher is Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) who until recently has been having an affair with Michel.  The fragile wife and willful mistress form an alliance and hatch an elaborate plan to murder Michel and get rid of his body. But then things start to appear and disappear and nothing is as it seems – are they going mad?

Continue reading “A Film For January: Diabolique”

Just Watching A Film

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In 2018 I asked my daughter for a list of films that she thought everyone should see, it was a lovely eclectic list that covered different genres, nationalities and decades. I learnt a lot about cinema and watched some films I would never have chosen myself. This year she’s given me a list of 12 films, each chosen for its specific month:

January:  Diabolique (France, 1955)
A psychological horror/thriller directed by Henri-Georges Clouzet

February:  The Arbor (UK, 2010)
A documentary with fictional elements that tells the story of playwright Andrea Dunbar and her life growing up on a Bradford housing estate. Directed by Clio Barnard.

March:  Paris, Texas (USA, 1984)
Directed by Wim Wenders, ‘A tale of loss, redemption and the ties that bind a family together.’

April:  Our Little Sister (Japan, 2015)
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian calls this ‘A touching but unsentimental take on sisterly love.’

May:  Cleo From 5 to 7 (France, 1962)
What to do when you have 2 hours to spare in Paris. Directed by Agnès Varda.

June:  Elephant  (USA, 2003)
A drama that chronicles the events surrounding a school shooting directed by Gus Van Sant.

July:  Persepolis (Iran, 2007)
Written and directed by Marjane Satrapi, this animated film is based on her autobiographical graphic novel.

August:  Do The Right Thing (USA 1989)
A comedy drama produced, written and directed by Spike Lee, following one scorchingly hot day in Brooklyn.

September:  The Headless Woman (Argentina, 2008)
Psychological thriller directed and written by Lucrecia Martel.

October:  Poetry (South Korea, 2010)
Written and directed by Lee Chang-dong, a women in her 60’s develops an interest in poetry while struggling with Alzheimers and her grandson.

November:  The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeosie (France/Spain 1972)
A surrealist fantasy drama directed by Luis Buñuel.

December:  The Big City (India, 1963)
Directed by Satyajit Ray, life changes for a middle-class women from a conservative family in Calcutta when she starts working as a saleswomen.

At first glance the one I’m most looking forward to is Our Little Sister, because the Japanese film I watched in the previous list Late Spring, was so beautiful. But who knows, a real surprise of 2018’s list was MFritz-Lang’s 1931 film about the hunt for a serial child killer. . .

 

 

The Golden Notebook

The golden notebook‘Free Women’ is a short novel about Anna Wulf, a thirty something single mother living in London and her friend Molly, an actress and fellow single mother. Anna is the author of a bestselling novel but now has writers’ block, and instead writes in her 4 differently coloured notebooks which separate different aspects of her life.

The stages of the notebooks, which start during the second world war and continue to the early sixties, appear in 4 blocks and break up the freestanding interior novel ‘Free Women’ into five sections. Anna’s desire to compartmentalise her life to avoid chaos is realised in the fragmentation of the novel and I think works well to symbolise the turbulent feelings of change that must have been around at this time. The Golden Notebook appears at the end and aims to bring the different strands of her life together. Continue reading “The Golden Notebook”

The Aftermath

the aftermathIt’s 1946 and ‘You are Going to Germany’ is the official information booklet that Rachael Morgan and her son Edmund are reading on their crossing to Hamburg with other British service wives and children. There are strict instructions to be ‘cold, correct and dignified’ and not to fraternise with the German people. So when Rachael and  Edmond are reunited with Colonel Lewis Morgan they are shocked to find that he has arranged for them to share a grand house with its owner, a German widower and his teenage daughter. Continue reading “The Aftermath”

The Lady and the Little Fox Fur

foxfur

Paris in 1965 and an elderly lady lives in an attic under the metro counting out coffee beans. She rides the crowded metro carriages to feel the warmth of other bodies and watches hot pancake batter drip from the hands of street sellers. But then, one hot day, when she’s rootling around in a bin for an orange she finds instead a smelly old fox fur and everything changes, ‘a winter fur in summer.’

‘She was breathing the oxygen meant for people who had spent their day working.’

It’s a book about loneliness and trying to find a connection to the rhythms of everyday life and how, in finding something to love (and she finds the humour in it too!) that turns to an acceptance of her situation with her fox fur, her few possessions and her imagination. Not lonely anymore but just alone.  violette leduc

She gives a running commentary as she walks around Paris in her battered hat and shiny green coat, her childhood and past experiences folded into her existence. It’s funny and knowing: ‘After six, the wind in Paris grows stronger and disarranges all our principles.’ but it isn’t sweet or sentimental. In the introduction Deborah Levy says it’s a way of staring at life and making from it a kind of tough poetry.’