The Village in the Jungle

village in the jungleIn October 1904 at the age of 24 Leonard Woolf set sail for Ceylon as a cadet with the Ceylon Civil Service.  He had with him a wire-haired fox terrier and 90 large, beautifully printed volumes of Voltaire.

He came back to England seven years later with Ceylon in his heart and bones and a growing disillusionment, misgiving and distrust of the British Colonial System.

‘The jungle and the people who lived in the Sinhalese jungle villages fascinated, almost obsessed, me in Ceylon.  They continued to obsess me in London, in Putney or Bloomsbury, and in Cambridge.” (Growing: An Autobiography 1880-1911. ) Continue reading “The Village in the Jungle”

Withnail & I

withnail and IThis has such a cult following, it’s always included in lists of best British films, and best comedies, it spawned a drinking game (matching Withnail drink for drink) and it’s quoted endlessly. My copy of the dvd came stuck to a Sunday newspaper as part of a ’50 films you must see’ promotion, so after years of looking at the cover I thought it was time to watch.

Written and directed by Bruce Robinson in 1987, it’s the loosely autobiographical tale of two unemployed actors sharing a squalid London flat in 1969, drowning their sorrows in booze, cigarettes and lighter fluid!. Richard E. Grant plays the flamboyant, alcoholic Withnail and Paul McGann is the contemplative I.  Fed up with their lives in London they decide to ask Withnail’s eccentric Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths) if they can borrow his cottage in deepest Cumbria for a holiday, and so set off for the week. Joined later (and as a surprise) by the melodramatic aesthete that is Uncle Monty. Continue reading “Withnail & I”

At Swim Two Boys


“Heads that bobbed like floating gulls and gulls that floating bobbed like heads. Two heads. At swim, two boys.”

Jim Mack and Doyler Doyle are the two boys, who in 1915 make a pact that in a years time, they’ll swim out across Dublin bay to Muglins Rock and raise the flag, claiming the rock for Ireland and themselves.

Above on my perch I sit and watch. Alone one man.”

Anthony MacMurrough is the man, recently arrived in Ireland at the invitation of his Aunt Eva after serving two years hard labour in an English prison for gross indecency. Part of an old Irish family he gets caught up in his aunts battle for Irish Independence and becomes a part of the boys’ lives.

This is a real epic. The poor, the dispossessed, the middle-class, the Anglo-Irish aristocracy are all seen against a country in political upheaval.  The dream of liberation for Ireland from the English is mirrored in the boys’  search for personal freedom as their love for each other grows. It’s a story about swimming, Irish history and romance and I found myself completely immersed in the lives of the small cast of characters and the life of Dublin, as they head towards the Easter Rising of 1916. Continue reading “At Swim Two Boys”

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

umbrellas of cherbourgWhat comes first in this 1964 film from the French New Wave director Jacques Demy, the colours or the music?

Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve)is a seventeen year old who works in her widowed mothers umbrella shop and is passionately in love with twenty year old car mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Filmed on location in Cherbourg, their romance is marred by gritty reality – an unplanned pregnancy, parental pressure and a two year draft to the Algerian War. But this urban reality is set against the most glorious kaleidoscopic colour palette.  Every scene is saturated in supercolour. Continue reading “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

Late Spring

late spring 1This beautiful film by Yasujiro Ozu was made in 1949 and stars Chishu Ryu as Professor Shukichi Somiya and Setsuko Hara as his daughter Noriko. It’s essentially a domestic story about a child’s relationship with their widowed parent.

The season in the title refers to Noriko’s age. If she doesn’t get married now, Noriko’s aunt tells her father, she will be alone for the rest of her life. The scenes are set so gently and quietly; time and space used to establish the routine and serenity of the household, neither father or daughter wants their lives to change. Continue reading “Late Spring”

July Round Up

I read two books for my TBR challenge in July that, although completely different, seem to both be about identity. Ishmael’s Oranges by Claire Hajaj is set in England and Palestine and Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years, set in the US.

Ishmael's OrangesIshmael’s Oranges is the reason I signed up for the TBR challenge.  I bought it because I loved the title and the cover, but for some reason it’s just sat on a pile unread for years. I’m glad to say it was worth the wait.

The book opens in 1948 when Salim Al-Ishmaeli is 7 years old and growing up in Jaffa, Palestine.   Judit Gold is born in 1948 in Sunderland, England into a Jewish family.  The story is split into time frames and follows their lives and Arab and Jewish heritage until 1988. Continue reading “July Round Up”

June Round-Up

I was so busy over June with one thing and another that this poor blog was completely neglected, and I now find myself with a list to review and anxiety building.  So I’m going to cheat and put everything into one post although that does mean that none of the titles will get the attention they deserve.  But first (because it has a literary theme) the highlight of June was a weekend in Dublin on the 16th for the Bloomsday festival!  This was my first time in Dublin and it really was wonderful. Lots of people in costume, readings on doorsteps (No.7 Eccles Street!) and brilliant performances – especially from The Abbey Theatre,  but best of all was just Dublin. It literally bought Ulysses to life – the rhythm of the streets, the chatter and music coming from everywhere felt so familiar!

But enough about fun, what did I read? Continue reading “June Round-Up”

Double Indemnity

double indemnityWhen a signature means you’re a dead pigeon and murder smells of honeysuckle you know you’re watching classic film noir!

Released in 1944, Double Indemnity is based on the book of the same name by James M Cain, it’s directed by Billy Wilder and the screenplay is by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder.

Set in 1938, the story is told in a series of flashbacks by Walter Neff, (Fred MacMurray)as he speaks into a dictaphone. An insurance salesman, Neff pays a routine call on Mr. Dietrichson to let him know his policy is due for renewal. But instead of meeting Mr. Dietrichson he meets his wife Phyllis.  Barbara Stanwyck plays the quintessential femme fatale, desirable but dangerous she uses her feminine wiles to manipulate everybody, but mostly Walter Neff. Continue reading “Double Indemnity”

A Voice Through A Cloud

a voice through a cloud“I heard a voice through a great cloud of agony and sickness” so begins this unputdownable memoir of Denton Welch.  Born in 1915, he’s at art school in London when in 1935 he decides to cycle to his uncle’s vicarage in Surrey.  On the way he is hit by a car severely damaging his spine and kidneys. Written in 1948 this memoir recalls the accident and his convalescence.

When his world is reduced to his bed, visiting hours and hospital staff his observations of the daily routine are funny, tragic and acutely observed.  The brusque and efficient nurses are always ready with a “don’t be silly now” or “we don’t want to make a fuss” comment.  His bitterness towards them is told with searing honesty: “I longed to be able to get up, hit Scott, smash the chair to pieces and walk out forever; but I was helpless and in his hands – he could play with me as he liked. The thought was so bitter that it seemed to degrade me in my own eyes. My face stiffened into a dead mask.” Continue reading “A Voice Through A Cloud”

The Way We Live Now

The Way We Live NowMarie Melmotte wants to marry the beautiful Sir Felix Carbury but Mr. Melmotte wants his daughter to marry Lord Nidderdale. Ruby Ruggles wants to marry Sir Felix Carbury too but she is betrothed to John Crumb. Roger Carbury wants to marry his cousin Hetta but she wants to marry his friend Paul Montague but Paul Montague is already engaged to Mrs Winifred Hurtle. But where is Mr. Hurtle? Is he dead or is he alive and living in San Francisco?

But amongst all the romantic shenanigans, this big, fun satirical novel has a dark heart. Written in 1873, Anthony Trollope had arrived back in London after 18 months in Australia and was appalled at the greed and dishonesty that financial scandals had exposed. He says in his autobiography:
“If dishonesty can live in gorgeous palaces with pictures on all its walls. and gems all in its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel.”  Continue reading “The Way We Live Now”