The Bell Jar

It’s 1953 and 19 year old Esther Greenwood has arrived in New York for a months work on a fashion magazine. One of 12 girls who have won a placement through a writing competition, it’s a month of all expenses paid and ‘piles and piles of free bonuses’, there are successful people to meet, finger bowls to learn how to use and plenty of advice about their complexions. They all live together in a women only hotel with cocktails and parties and Buddy Willard and Doreen lounging about in a peach silk dressing-gown.

‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’

Of course it’s all just a matter of filling in time before getting married, what a ‘dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s’, thinks Esther who yearns to write and travel.

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Random Sunday

Listening to the US presidential debates has reminded me that four years ago we were in Vermont in a staunchly Bernie Sanders supporting house.

The sheer abundance of autumnal leaves, pumpkins and rosy apples cast a glow of reds and oranges against the bluest sky that kept me in a state of permanent rapture!

It was a week of steep hikes and apple festivals, eating Ben & Jerry’s, actually watching a bear cross the road in front of us, and sitting on a swing seat on a wooden verandah sipping drinks and pretending I was Olivia Walton or Marilla Cuthbert.

We spent a lot of time discussing exterior house colours and trying to choose our favourites. This gorgeous purple house had paintwork picked out in green and sat next door to a house painted in bright sunshine yellow.


Our host had moved his Georgian house from the nearby town into the forest and painted it in classic colonial Barn Red and Prussian Blue, building up a small farm, with about thirty Dorset breed sheep.

We breakfasted on sausages and homemade sage cornbread that we ate still hot, straight from the pan. A jug of maple syrup was always on the table, made in the barn every winter when there was too much snow to move.

Larry was a wonderful host and a skilled craftsman and had made this rocking chair, with the seat woven to match the colours of the house. It sits happily by the fire in the kitchen and is just, I think, a perfect reading spot.

As soon as we got home I had to relive it through Diane Keaton in Baby Boom and I think I’m going to have to go and watch it again (and yes, slightly embarassingly I did go and see the actual house!)

A Film For September: The Headless Women

The film begins with a group of children playing on their bikes by a road. Later the same day elegant, middle aged Verónica (Maria Onetto), is seen driving along a deserted road when her phone rings, looking down at it she hits something in the road, bangs her head and suffers mild concussion. We follow her as she gets treatment and we see that she is having a relationship with someone other than her husband. So far, so simple.

But as the days go by with her family and extended family her emotional realities of everyday life start to become a bit hazy. Gradually all her activities from the previous day seem to disappear and under intense observation we watch as her grip on reality starts to unravel. Did she hit a dog or was it worse, was it a child? And this we don’t know, from the opening scene of the children playing it’s a possibility. And is her detachment from her world purely the result of the concussion or is it also guilt? Because of her affair, or is there more for her to feel guilty about? Verónica’s murky, disoriented mindset is portrayed as dreamlike and foggy as her paranoia makes her increasingly isolated.

Written and directed by Lucrecia Martel and co-produced by Pedro and Agustin Almodóvar, this is a very slow paced study of a life becoming detached from the world as she deals with the psychological aftermath of an accident.

Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian said it was ‘a masterly, disturbing and deeply mysterious film about someone who strenuously conceals from herself the knowledge of her own guilt.’ But Kevin Maher in The Sunday Times said: ‘The pacing is so leaden, and the direction so heavy-handed, that it’s fundamentally hard to care.’ And I’m somewhere in the middle.

There were a lot of details that I missed and it’s the sort of film that will definitely get better with each view, but for a first viewing I struggled to care enough about her to give it the attention it needs. But I haven’t given up on it – given the right time I would watch it again and try and find out what I was missing.

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater: Being an extract from the life of a scholar

I kept putting off reading this afraid it was going to be dry and dusty but not a bit of it. Thomas De Quincey is a great raconteur, dropping names wherever he can and making full use of his artistic license he makes us feel as if we’re at a very sociable gathering, listening to him holding forth on his favourite subject – himself!

First published in 1821 opium was incredibly cheap and could be bought anywhere. Jane Austen’s mother took it for travel sickness, Robert Southey for hay fever. On a Saturday afternoon small packages would be prepared in all manner of shops for the evening rush because it was cheaper than ale or spirits. Not surprisingly there was considerable debate about the harms versus the good of opium and laudanum addiction and these Confessions were seen as an encouragement to experiment, TDQ responded:

‘Teach opium-eating! -Did I teach wine-drinking? Did I reveal the mystery of sleeping? Did I inaugurate the infirmity of laughter’

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A Film For August: Do The Right Thing

Set on one street in Brooklyn on one boiling hot day, Mookie (Spike Lee) delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello) the owner of ‘Sal’s Pizzeria’, while Mister Señor Love Daddy (Samuel L Jackson) is the DJ watching the street and providing the soundtrack.

Smiley (Roger Geunveur Smith) wonders along the street trying to sell pictures of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X; a Korean couple have opened a convenience store; Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn) blares Fight the Power from his boombox and three men sit like a Greek chorus opposite Sal’s passing comment. As the camera follows them through the day we get to know them all and watch as the temperature rises and hate and bigotry smoulder. It’s hot, bold and provocative from the very beginning when Tina (Rosie Perez) dances to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, from then on its like a ticking bomb.

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The Salt Path

the salt path

Within a week in 2013 Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their home and livelihood and receive the news that Moth has a rare and terminal illness for which there’s no cure ‘Don’t tire yourself, or walk too far, and be careful on the stairs.’

Instead they pack their rucksacks and walk and wild camp The South West Coast Trail, England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath, 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset along the coast of Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

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Love Medicine

medicineThe Kashpaws and the Lazarres, the Nanapushes and the Pillagers and the Morrisseys. Love Medicine is a series of interrelated vignettes that follow generations of Ojibwe families, loosely chronologically, from 1934 to 1984 and their interconnected lives on a fictional reservation in North Dakota

It opens in 1981 when June Kashpaw dies, frozen to death in a snowstorm on her way home to the reservation, it’s her spirit that propels the narrative and is woven through every story as the river of memories flows, often meandering, running in and out of each other. Continue reading “Love Medicine”


nightwood2Written in 1936 I wanted to read this as a counterpoint to This Side of Paradise, one from the beginning of the Jazz age and one from the end. But it wasn’t quite that neat, the atmosphere of the jazz age is here but I think Nightwood is set in its own world and not trapped by any particular time. I found this a demanding and difficult read.

The plot is very slight.  Baron Felix Volkbein is married to Robin Vote they divorce and Robin falls in love with Nora Flood who eventually loses her to Jenny Petherbridge.  At the centre of these characters is the doctor, Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante O’Connor. In Paris, they’re all strangers and misfits, knotted together by Robin and her effect on them.

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