A Film For May: The Woman Who Ran

Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, this 2020 film from South Korea follows Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) as she visits two old friends and then meets another by accident in a local arts centre. She’s been married for five years and now that her husband has gone away on a business trip she finds herself alone for the first time. It’s an incredibly simple premise that is played out in three separate sections.

In the first one Gam-hee meets an old friend who is now divorced and enjoying her single life, in the second her friend is a more urbane, dance producer who has a crush on an architect living in the flat above but is being pestered by a man she had a one night stand with. The third person she meets while out to watch a film and is now married to a man that Gam-hee once dated. In each situation the conversation is so natural we could be in the room with them, as their chat wanders from clothes to men to moral questions it’s full of the hesitations and evasions of normal speech.

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10 Books of Summer

Many thanks to Cathy at 746 Books for organising this summer challenge again. It runs from Wednesday June 1st to Thursday 1st of September and the challenge is to read, whatever and however many we choose.

With the option to read 20, 15 or 10 books I’ve opted for the smallest number and am using it as the excuse to read some of the books that I see reviewed but never find the time for, so all in all I’m hardly challenging myself at all, but that still doesn’t mean I’ll succeed!

  1. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
  2. Summerwater by Sarah Moss
  3. The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson
  4. The South by Colm Tóibín
  5. The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude
  6. Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
  7. The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
  8. Mr Fox by Barbara Comyns
  9. Much Dithering by Dorothy Lambert
  10. Father by Elizabeth von Arnim

I’m looking forward to all of these, although any of them could change as the whim of summer takes over and much dithering becomes more than the title of a book!

Every Eye

I seem to be dashing around Europe at the moment in my reading and this time it’s Harriet and Stephen Latterly who travel to Ibiza by train and boat for their honeymoon.This is Hatty’s story and she begins by telling us that her Aunt Cynthia has died. Married to her Uncle Otway, Cynthia has been a difficult but important relation in Hatty’s life which doesn’t seem to include any one else other than a largely absent, bullying mother who is a master of acerbic lines and black humour.

Every Eye is only 119 pages in my Persephone edition and rather than chapters the story is told in alternate sections, either written in the present tense about the honeymoon or in the past tense when Hatty reminiscences about Cynthia, about her first love Jasper Lomax, (an old friend of Cynthia and Otway’s) and about her first meeting Stephen in France. There’s a lot of jumping around, but I thought the structure worked really well, there’s a naturalness that made it feel very personal.

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Two Short Stories

Two very short and vague reviews because I wanted to take part in Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, hosted by HeavenAli and it ends tomorrow. Not After Midnight and The Way of the Cross are both set during holidays taken at Easter time and are included in the Don’t Look Now collection of short stories and both were unsurprisingly excellent.

In Not After Midnight, Mr Timothy Grey takes a painting holiday in Crete. He’s pompous and stuffy and very funny while cringingly embarrassing – he’s a teacher at a boys prep school but puts ‘professor’ on his passport. Chalet 62 takes his fancy at the resort and he stomps about until he gets it – but why are they so against letting that particular chalet and who was the last person to stay there? While at the bar ordering a lemonade he notices an American couple, the loud obnoxious man is very drunk and beside him his deaf wife sits silently. They are staying at No.38 just across the bay and go out all day everyday An hotel, a small group of people, and a body, what is going on?

‘Then silence. No more rattling of the shutters. No more breathing.’

There’s a tension that runs just under the surface and a point where the story becomes genuinely thrilling. He’s still the same self important twit but now I was caught up in his adventure and rooting for him!

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A Time Of Gifts

In 1933, 18 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor decides to leave London and England and set out on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, living as a tramp or pilgrim.

Written in 1977, A Time of Gifts tells the first part of his journey from the Hook of Holland to the middle Danube. Starting with his original diaries and notebooks he expounds on the history of Europe, through its artists and music, architecture, languages and dialects and the movement of its tribes and sects.

Able and willing to talk to anybody and sleep wherever he could, it’s his encounters with other people that I enjoyed the most. There are lots of barn floors covered in hay and a blanket for the night, sent on his way with a cheery wave and a thick slice of black bread and butter and drunken evenings in bars and on boats with the locals. Or my favourite, Konrad, who he meets in the Salvation Army hostel in Vienna, when he notices him reading Titus Andronicus and for a while they become as tight as (almost) thieves! But he also has a letter of introduction to a Baron in Munich who then goes on to write letters to his friends across Europe, so that every so often Paddy has a bath and a dressed up night on the town. And we get the wonderful contrast caught in lines like:

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A Film For April: It Happened One Night

What a gorgeously fabulous film this is. Directed by Frank Capra in 1934 It Happened One Night set the tone for screwball comedies to come and was the first film to win all five of the big academy awards. Best director, actor, actress, picture and adapted screenplay.

Spoilt heiress Ellen (Ellie) Andrews (Claudette Colbert) has eloped with King Westley, a fortune hunting rogue. Her father who sees King for what he is wants the marriage annulled and Ellie escapes his control on a Greyhound bus to New York where she plans to meet her new husband. But on the bus is an out of work newspaper reporter, Peter Warne (Clark Gable) who recognises Ellie and gives her a choice. Either she can give him an exclusive story and he’ll help her get to King or he’ll tell her father where she is. Obviously Ellie agrees to his demand and fun and adventures ensue.

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Notre-Dame de Paris

Wow! What an absolutely fantastic book this is, even though I was expecting it to be called The Hunchback of Notre-Dame and to be about Quasimodo, the hunchback. It is, but he’s only one part of a hugely rich story.

Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre-Dame and Quasimodo’s guardian, Jehan his adored younger brother, Phoebus de Chateaupers and Pierre Gringoire are all characters linked by Esmeralda, the beautiful 16 year old ‘gypsy’. Around them Paris breathes with life, it’s exciting, dangerous and squalid. Diplomats and judiciary have their stories told inside courts that have their windows flung open to the colour and lives of the streets below.

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Whose Body?

There’s an unfamiliar body wearing nothing but a splendid pair of gold pince-nez in Mr. Thipps’ bath in Battersea. Inspector Sugg arrives from Scotland Yard and arrests Mr. Thipps and the maid on the spot. But when a rich and respected financier disappears from his house in Park Lane it’s clear that this is no ordinary case. Is it the body of Sir Reuben Levy? If it is what’s his connection with Mr Alfred Thipps and if it isn’t whose body is it and where is Sir Reuben?

Luckily Thipps is an architect working on the church roof at Denver, and the Dowager Duchess of Denver on hearing his news phones her son Lord Peter Wimsey directly. Lord Peter drops everything and hot foots it to Battersea where, with his valet Mervyn Bunter (a keen photographer) he gets to work on the case. When they meet with Inspector Parker who’s investigating the disappearance of Sir Reuben Levy the three put their heads together to solve the puzzle.

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A Moment of War

This is the third part of Laurie Lee’s autobiography that started with Cider With Rosie, looking back at his childhood in the Slad Valley. At the end of the first volume in 1934, he leaves his home on a bright Sunday morning in early June. He’s 19, ‘still soft at the edges, but with a confident belief in good fortune’ and jumps straight in to the second volume, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, (which I read but I’m afraid never got around to reviewing). With a tent, a change of clothes and his violin he ends up in Spain in 1935 and wonders through the country, a hapless young troubadour until he returns to England on board a Naval destroyer in 1936, just as the civil war is spreading.

At home, ‘deep in the grip of a characteristic mid-thirties withdrawal, snoozing under old newspapers and knotted handkerchiefs’ , he begins to feel shameful at having left Spain so readily and decides to return as soon as possible. He begins his journey on foot and steps straight in to volume three.

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A Film For March: I Am Cuba

Made in 1964 this collaboration between the Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov, the writer Enrique Pineda Barnet and the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, I Am Cuba is set during the last days of Batista’s government and the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Told through four allegorical vignettes, this is clearly propaganda for Castro but with Raquel Revuetta as the voice of Cuba there is a dreamlike almost hallucinogenic feel to the film as the camera swoops and dives from buildings to sugar fields that makes it as absorbing as it is beautiful.

Opening with tranquil images of fertile land and palm trees we move to the city for the first story about Maria (Luz Maria Collazo), a young women making ends meet by working as a prostitute in one of the many bars. The American businessman who buys her company asks to see where she lives and after the glamour of the casino he finds himself lost and disoriented among the slums of Havana as he tries to make his way back to his hotel.

from Life Magazine 1954
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