Now 37, Toru Watanabe arrives in Germany on business and as the plane touches down an orchestral version of the Beatles’ ‘Norwegian Wood’ plays from the speakers. As always he’s reminded of his beautiful, fragile friend Naoko and their time together in Tokyo 18 years earlier, when in the late 60’s he was a student, Norwegian Wood was her favourite song and they were both coming to terms with the death of their best friend, Kizuki.
This is an intimate book, a tight cast of characters surround Toru, as he negotiates the confusion of moving on with his life and the deep sorrow that he feels. Naoko is beautiful but emotionally fragile and spends much of the novel in a mountainside psychiatric hospital, where she becomes close friends with her room mate Reiko a talented musician. Nagasawa is a student friend who, despite having a long term girlfriend, has a habit of trailing bars for one night stands, a habit that starts to include Toru and then there’s Midori, Naoko’s complete opposite. She’s a free spirit, impetuous and alive to adventure and could be his future.
As a teenage punk in Singapore, Sandi Tan dreamed of cinema. In 1992, aged 20 she and two friends, Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique take a film production course and make a film about a teenage assassin with the help of their lecturer Georges Cardona as director. At the end of filming Cardona held on to the film reels while the three travelled abroad for university. But Strangely the whole film goes missing only to turn up, 70 cans of 16mm film in 2011, 7 years after his death.
Shirkers is a documentary about making and losing the film, made by Sandi Tan in 2018. She uses interviews with people involved in the film making and people who knew Cardona as well as original footage. What makes this so interesting though is her creativity. She lives in an oddball universe with a boundless imagination that’s playful, stylised and kitschy. The three friends have found a way of reclaiming their story and turned it into a Sundance Festival winner. I was reminded of the recent SparksBrothers film, which I loved.
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is Pedro Almodóvar’s crazy take on Jean Cocteau’s 1930 play The Human Voice. Pepe (Carmen Maura) is distraught when she discovers that her lover Iván (Fernando Guillén) has left her. It’s a gaudy, chaotic world of rapid fire dialogue, telephones and cab chases as Pepe tries frantically to track him down. Iván’s son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) turns up with his ghastly girlfriend Marisa to snoop about the apartment which they’d like to rent and Pepe’s friend Candela arrives on the run from the police because she’s got herself mixed up with a terrorist cell. But in amongst the fast paced action Pepe has made a jug of gazpacho, she’s laced it with sleeping pills and left it innocently in the fridge. This was madcap fun, Spanish style.
In 2005 the German director Werner Herzog made this extraordinary documentary, chronicling the life and death of Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell spent thirteen summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska and believed that he had a special understanding with the bears. Grizzly Man uses sequences from video footage shot by Treadwell in the last five years of his life together with interviews with friends and family to explore his belief.
The footage is beautiful, the foxes and bears playing around him are stunning and the way his friends talk about his relationship with the bears is almost reverential. But park officials saw his familiarity with the bears as, at best misguided and at worst dangerous for both him and the bears. In his fair-minded narration Werner Herzog sees him as sentimental about the bears and nature and I thought explored this controversial man in an incredibly diplomatic and gentle way.
I’ve saved my favourite ’til last, I’ve had some great reads on my 10 books of Summer list but this is my dearest because it’s about freedom, love and gardens.
Jennifer Dodge has been looking after her widowed father, an eminent author for 12 years, working as his secretary as well as general housekeeper He dislikes her because she doesn’t look like one of his ‘consumptively thin’ heroines and he hates being shut up with a spinster daughter – despite the fact that he is the reason. Selfish to his core he has never thought of anyone else’s thoughts, needs or desires and Jen spends her days cautious and on guard. Until he announces he’s going to be married and Jennifer realises what this means for her – freedom.
As soon as she can, with the help of her small legacy from her mother, she sets out on an August day to look at two cottages for rent that she’s found in The Churchgoer. Setting out from London and Gower Street to the hot dry countryside of Sussex, she feels alive. After years spent in a house where fresh air was kept out and all her movements were watched, her body and spirit relax and dissolve into happiness. She’s open to adventure and determined to prove that she can live well and comfortably on her £100 a year.