I wish for this intrusion, I’ve hoped for it ever since I began

The story of the lost childThe Story of the Lost Child
Book 4, The Neapolitan Novels: Maturity, Old Age
by Elena Ferrante
translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein

Next week Tim and I are heading to Campania for our holiday, specifically to Pompeii and Ischia – the island that features prominently in the second volume of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, The Story of a New Name – so this seemed like a good time to read the final part of the series.

This book details the final few decades of the friendship of Elena and Lila, from their early 30s to the moment that opens the series: when 60-something-year-old Elena hears that her oldest friend has gone missing. The backdrop to their friendship is the changing society and politics of Naples, and in particular their own neighbourhood, a rough place filled with corruption.
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TV review: Doctors

Doctors

No, I’m not reviewing the soap opera set in Birmingham that’s been running since 2000. This Doctors is another K-drama, which might be my new favourite thing. This time it’s a 2016 series starring an actress everyone recommended I look out for: Park Shin Hye.

This is pretty much Grey’s Anatomy transplanted from Seattle to Seoul, but with what I am starting to recognise as K-drama characteristics. The thing that possibly attracts me the most is that they all appear to be a single season. They’re long seasons – in this case 20 episodes that are an hour apiece – but they are complete stories where everything gets wrapped up, unlike the usual pattern in TV where storylines get changed, delayed or sped up each time a show gets renewed.

The reason I picked Doctors for my second K-drama was that my main problem with Boys Over Flowers (aside from its addictive quality meaning I stayed up far too late watching it) was the lameness of the main female character, so I looked up lists of K-dramas with kick-ass female leads. This show quite literally opens with its female lead kicking ass, which seemed promising.

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A bubbling call that might have come from underwater

I know I have been light on the reviews this past month or two. That pesky heatwave kept me in a mild lupus flare and that means difficulty concentrating, which in turns means that whatever I am reading suffers. Books that have slow-moving plots are harder to follow, and even when I do still thoroughly enjoy a book, I find it hard to formulate my response. But in my up moments I cobbled together a brief book review.

After Me Comes the Flood
by Sarah Perry

I had been looking forward to this novel, and reading a story set during a heatwave while experiencing an actual heatwave seemed like an excellent idea to me. Unfortunately, this is a fairly slow, quiet book, so my lupus flare meant I struggled a bit with it.

It’s also an odd book. John Cole, tired of London mid-heatwave, decides to go and visit his brother in the countryside. But en route his car breaks down and, looking for a phone to call for help, he knocks on the door of a house in the woods. A case of mistaken identity leads him to stay there, wearing another man’s clothes and getting to know the house’s motley crew of occupants.

“He came down from the raised shingle track onto a broad stretch of cracked mud on which white salt stains glittered. Above him the sky was bright and the small hard sun pricked at his scalp. From away to his left, deep in a channel he couldn’t see, a curlew began to sing with a bubbling call that might have come from underwater…The sun raged at him – he felt it burning through the thin weave of his shirt and sending the blood to his head, where it beat implacably behind his eyes.”

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TV review: Boys Over Flowers

Boys Over Flowers

Yes, after almost a month of no book reviews because, well, brain mush, I bring you an extra-long review – of a TV show. Because why not?

This review is of the Korean version of Boys Over Flowers from 2009. It’s based on a long-running Japanese manga called Hana Yori Dango and there have also been Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese TV series, but this is the one that popped up on Netflix earlier this year and caught my eye, and it’s the one I watched obsessively for the last few weeks – all 25 hours of it.

I should open with the fact that this is a ridiculous, OTT, not-to-be-taken-seriously show. It has a hyper-real quality and is more about glamour than any of the issues it covers. But I was hooked and thoroughly entertained. I think part of the reason I enjoyed it is that it is easy on the brain. And the subtitles meant that I couldn’t multi-task, which is just as well when you have mush for brain.

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Our complicated feelings about the privileged status of white women

Dead GirlsDead Girls
by Alice Bolin

When I read the description of this essay collection, I got pretty excited. The blurb describes it as an analysis of America’s cultural obsession with dead girls, which promised to be very fertile ground. Really my main criticism of this book is that it doesn’t just stick to this topic.

Alice Bolin starts out strong, with a piece on “dead girl” TV shows, from Twin Peaks to Pretty Little Liars and many others in between (it was inspired by her watching True Detective). I have watched a lot of these dramas and I agree with Bolin that the mere fact of their popularity, not to mention some of the specific tropes they all repeat, is a worrying facet of our culture. In these shows the victim is rarely given much of a character, and the leads are usually men who project their own ideas onto the dead girl. It’s an excellent essay.

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There was a thesaurus of vagueness about remembering

Martin JohnMartin John
by Anakana Schofield

This is a strange novel about a strange man. Schofield uses a fractured structure to inhabit a fractured mind. It’s a disturbing read, as it should be considering the topics it covers. It’s also occasionally funny, in a very very dark way.

Martin John is an Irishman living in London. He’s obsessive compulsive, fixated on certain people and he knows his coping mechanisms can only help him for so long. The degree to which this is a disturbing tale is at first obscured by the odd experimental narrative. It is written in the plural first person. It jumps in time. It questions itself and lists rules. It rarely uses full sentences. It is a lot like a Greek chorus in a play.

“He does not believe that people who go off bridges can be saved. He believes it’s reasonable to want to go over the side of a bridge. He does not believe people fundamentally change. He has struggled with this himself. Has he tried? We do not know. There are some things we aren’t going to know about Martin John.”

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I think that’s a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything

do androids dream of electric sheepDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K Dick

I had been meaning to read this book for years. I love the film Blade Runner and I have loved the other books by Dick that I’ve read. What finally made me pick this up wasn’t last year’s Blade Runner 2049 but a combination of the new Electric Dreams TV series based on Dick’s short stories, and an interview with Janelle Monáe on BBC 6Music (yes, the obsession continues).

If, like me, you know the film but not the book, then this is both familiar territory and bursting with new things not in the film. It opens with Rick Deckard and his wife Iran discussing their mood organs – devices on which they can dial up a specific emotion, from rage to a businesslike attitude to “awareness of the manifold possibilities open to me in the future” – and their electric sheep. Deckard is obsessed with owning a real-live animal and hates that their animal is a fake.

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We are the ones who have to support our walls

Shatila Stories
a collaborative novel from Peirene Press

Authors: Omar Khaled Ahmad, Nibal Alalo, Safa Khaled Algharbawi, Omar Abdellatif Alndaf, Rayan Mohamad Sukkar, Safiya Badran, Fatima Omar Ghazawi, Samih Mahmoud, Hiba Mareb

Editors: Meike Ziervogel, Suhir Helal

Translator from Arabic: Nashwa Gowanlock

This novel is the outcome of a series of writing workshops that Peirene Press and the NGO Basmeh & Zeitooneh held at the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon, which is home to up to 40,000 refugees, largely Palestinian and Syrian. Nine refugee writers wrote their own fictional stories set in Shatila, which the editors helped them to hone and weave together into a single narrative. The outcome is a piece of fiction that gives a true flavour of life in Shatila.

The story, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a series of vignettes. The same characters start and end the story, and others do recur, but some sections are more loosely connected – a name mentioned in one chapter becomes central in another chapter, but then we don’t meet them again.

Where this book’s strength lies is the Shatila setting. Throughout, Shatila is ever-present and brought to life in all its terrifying – and life-threatening – ramshackle chaos. Whether the chapter is about romance, or debt, or bullying, or careers and education, the facts of living in a refugee camp – in this refugee camp – are never forgotten. The photographs at the start and end of the book by Paul Roman also help to place the physical reality of Shatila, though only the writers can establish its emotional truth.

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Local poets

I’ve been following local Bristol poetry group The Spoke since I reconnected with my former school friend and current Spoke member Lizzie Parker a few years ago. I’ve always read poetry but it’s never been a major part of my reading diet, so it’s been a learning curve for me to experience more of this most flexible of media. At the start of May, Lizzie and fellow Spoke member Claire Williamson published new collections with Seren, an independent publisher based in Wales. I went to their book launch at Waterstones in Bristol and was pleased to see such a big crowd for poetry. It’s reassuring.

Now I have read both their books I’d like to share my thoughts.

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It made the girls themselves gleam

The Radium GirlsThe Radium Girls
by Kate Moore

I first heard about this book via work. It’s part of a current trend – one that I fully support – of identifying stories from history that are important but little known and giving them a boost. In this case, it’s the story of thousands of women who worked in the (mostly) early 20th century painting dials onto watch faces with radium-based paint, so that they glowed in the dark.

It sounds like a terrible idea and it was. But even though shortly after Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898 they and their colleagues realised it could cause harm to humans, it became famous for its ability to destroy or reduce cancerous tumours, and was therefore widely considered to be health-giving. So when Dr Sabin von Sochocky, founder of the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), which mined and processed radium in New Jersey, figured out that it could be used to create a glow-in-the-dark paint, this seemed like a brilliant new commercial avenue for the company.

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