Life round-up April – May 2014

Books

April was all about mysteries. I started by re-reading The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894). The stories are still enjoyable, but they no longer have the hold they had in my teens, when just one would set me off on a Sherlock Holmes reading frenzy. After that, I moved onto The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) by Agatha Christie. This is the first story featuring Hercule Poirot (because I like to do things in order).  Then I read the much more contemporary Blue Monday (2011) by Nicci French, which is the first in the Frieda Klein series and was recommended to me by @Gherkinette on twitter. It’s smart, easy to read, not overly violent and I really like the psychotherapist detective. To give myself a break from the mysteries, I also read American Primitive (1983) by Mary Oliver and it was lovely.

In May I finished the wicked, subversive Lolly Willowes (1926), by Sylvia Townsend-Warner, and Hilary Mantel’s life-affirming Fludd (1989). Although these are very different books, they both offer stories about transformation and the importance of owning your life. In non-fiction, I read Andrew Martin’s Ghoul Britannia: Notes from a Haunted Isle (2009) because I’m interested in our cultural fascination with ghosts. It’s an amusing take on the development of the ghost story, but it felt a bit underdeveloped and the text was full of editing mistakes.

My overall favourite book was Jeff Vandermeer’s ecological science fiction novel Annihilation (2014). I was riveted by this story about an unnamed biologist exploring the mysterious ‘Area X’. It reminded me of something else and, when I looked it up on Goodreads, I saw other people comparing it to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and realised that was it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

Music

I feel like it’s all been about pop the last couple of months – lots of Lissie, Ingrid Michelson and Lana Del Ray. According to Last fm. I’ve also been listening to Shakespear’s Sister, Kate Bush, Janelle Monae, Stevie Nicks, Tanya Donelly, Uh Huh Her and Garbage.

Film

We gave up on Elysium (when will I learn to listen to @infamy_infamy?). I think there just might have been a better film trying to get out of this one, but it was lost in all the special effects and shit blowing up. The Andromeda Strain (1971) turned out to be much more serious than I expected.  We liked West World (1973), but it’s really Yul Brynner’s terrifying performance as the malfunctioning robot that makes it good. Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) was a hugely enjoyable hot mess of a film, part Gothic Tennessee Williams rip-off, and part film noir.  Bette Davis and Agnes Morehead chewed the scenery with tremendous energy but, for me, the revelation was Olivia de Havilland, playing against type as a sexy vamp.

Television

Simon Armitage’s documentary about the Pendle Witch Child was eerie and disturbing.  ‘A Very British Renaissance’ started off well, but seemed to run out of steam as it went along. I loved James Shapiro’s documentary, ‘The Mysterious Mr Webster’. We know almost nothing about John Webster, but the programme made up for this by using a lot of gorgeous footage from the recent production of The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse.

In fictional television, I’ve become hooked on Once Upon a Time.  This is an unexpected development because I’ve never been a fan of fairy stories, but I love all the female characters on this show and it revels in playing around with narrative conventions and audience expectations.

Food

I bought a giant bag of red lentils, so we’ve been eating a lot of lentil dishes recently.  Andy made a great lentil soup flavoured with cumin and cardamom.  I’ve also been enjoying rye bread and a lot of this Rose tea.

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