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Category: Reviews

Birth Marks

Birth Marks Book Cover Birth Marks
Hannah Wolfe 1
Sarah Dunant
Simon and Schuster
1992

I've read all but one of Sarah Dunant's novels set in Renaissance Italy, but I knew she had started her published writings with crime.  Three of them feature P.I. Hannah Wolfe. Being written in 1992, it is unnerving to read a book where no one has a mobile phone, and so solving an investigation is so very different from today, a mere 25 years on.  It's in the style of Chandler with a struggling, lonesome private investigator, full of sardonic quips and cynical views of life, but also a single woman aware of her place in society and in the eyes of other people - both men and women. This gives the book a nice edge without it feeling as if it is dealing with "issues".  The plot is speedy but filled with sadness as well as mystery. It's interesting to see a well established author at the beginning of their career, especially as her recent books have such different settings, though they still concern women swimming against the expected tide.  If you want a short, thoughtful crime page-turner this fits the bill, though as it is out of print in UK, I read it as a gift from someone who loves second-hand bookshops.

The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man Book Cover The Chalk Man
C J Tudor
Penguin
2018
Hardback

I suspect this book will get a lot of fuss when the paperback comes out later this year, and I will not be surprised if a film comes along at some point later (which personally I would avoid if it does). Having said that, it deserves to have a runaway success.  Without question this is a way-cut-above-the-rest novel.  I was disappointed with the opening: yet another description of a dead girl, and not long after a stupendously grisly depiction of an accident. However what makes this book stand out, is its subversion of expectations that continue to remain credible, pushing on the narrative and delving into the characters' minds.  One narrator is split in two by telling the story as a child and as an adult.  It continually confounded me, but its revelations (maybe too strong a word) are subtle but vice-like gripping.  It is a real web of a book and if the author is the spider in the middle, I got caught and eaten alive at the end.  Brilliantly written.

- I must add here that I listened to the audio book read by the mesmeric Andrew Scott and by Asa Butterfield who also does a fine job.  (And if you do listen to it, you just have to accept the fact that despite the doubling younger/older but same character narrator of the book, in the audio version Butterfield is English and Scott is Irish - it matters not)

The York Realist

Despite having a keen interest in this play with its North Yorkshire setting (I grew up not far from York), I have never seen or read it.  My expectations were high as the reviews had been glowing, and I had taken part in one of the Donmar’s Open Workshops on it the morning of the day I had seen it

– and a big plug here for the Workshop which was excellent and a huge thank you to Lynette Linton for running it with such infectious enthusiasm –

but I have to say ultimately I was left slightly disappointed, without quite

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Fanny and Alexander

(Probably best to skip/skim read the second paragraph)

My favourite film, in the sense that it is the film closest to my heart and affects me on a personal level like no other, is Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.

Scandinavian 19th century drama has fascinated me since I studied Drama at university, and my love of it led me into the theatre and film world of Bergman. In my twenties I had a tendency

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Strictly Come Dancing

Let’s make it clear.

I do not watch Strictly every week.  I do not record it and watch it over Monday and Tuesday evenings. I do not spend Tuesday and Wednesday mornings reading Heidi Stephens’s “Strictly As It Happened blog in the Guardian.  I do not watch It Takes Two up to four times a week. I do not think about it as I am going to sleep or in my yoga class on a Monday evening.  I do not go to the toilet in the middle of the night and get back into bed thinking about it.

Right.  Just wanted to be clear.

So this week was hard.  Tears over Jonnie whom I have secretly wanted to win but knew he wouldn’t.  He has been a gentleman and a gentle man.  Laid back, reserved but at ease with  himself, and rather than showing an ambition to win as you would expect from an athlete, just wanting to learn and get a bit better each week.  And he got to Blackpool and what an exit.  His final thank you to the judges for treating him as an equal to all the other contestants was so moving.  I don’t use the word of people very much, but he is an inspirational man.  And when the gorgeous livewire Oti (who will partner me when I go on Strictly) said being with him had been life changing, who would doubt that.  Seeing his surgeon who amputated his leg, and his friend from school who had pushed him in his wheelchair (because as Jonnie said, he – his friend – needed someone to be his friend) dancing in front of them were great moments.  How they must have felt watching him dance is hard to imagine.  I am so going to miss watching him.

So who are we left with?

Professional dancer Alexandra Burke.  Not the brightest light in the house. She can stop the tears and telling us it was the hardest dance yet.  I’m hoping people will get bored with her as she’s only had one score out of the 30’s since the beginning.  And there’s no warmth between her and Gorka, the most beautiful man in the world.

Debbie McGee.  Well on age I think she is amazing but she is a trained ballerina.  But I love her with Giovanni (“Deb-eh”).  They seem genuinely to adore each other, but sadly no romance.  I struggled with the Spice Girl episode which frankly was a bit weird. Tess did say Geri had sent her a message but we never heard what the message was…pause for thought…

Joe McFadden. I thought he was a bit vacant but I have really grown to like him.  He is a bit like a big puppy and comes across as genuine.  I love it when they are all waiting to hear who is through to the following week and everyone looks like they are about to mount the scaffold except Joe who just can’t hold back a grin at the camera.

Gemma Atkinson.  She’s Northern so a superstar by default.   Prejudices aside she never has make-up in the VT’s which is sweet and I think she is the real dark horse.  She’s a grafter. I’d like her to win.  And she and Aljaz are hilarious together.

Davood Ghadami.  Now he really annoyed me at the beginning as I thought he was full of himself but as time has gone on I have realised he is just very serious – nay intense – and now he has not only lightened up but is proving himself a grand dancer.  I did have a problem with his James Bond shirt in Blackpool, though Tess and the judges obviously didn’t.

Mollie King. Not the greatest dancer but she’s had a really  hard time to fight on psychologically after two dance-offs.   I like the fact she’s so attractive and admits to finding it hard to be sexy in the Latin numbers. She and AJ are like Von Trapp siblings.

Susan Calman.  Oh Susan we all love you. Well most of us. You and Kevin are a match made in heaven. Part of me thinks it should have been you and not Jonnie.  What does Saturday hold for us to see???

Yes Aston’s gone but he’s setting up a dance school which is brilliant.

Shirley.

Yes we need to talk about Shirley.  I like her but her scoring is a bit odd.  Once you have Craig’s you can generally work out Darcey’s and Bruno’s.  But she does throw in quite a few from leftfield. There’s a lot of pressure on her and I don’t think she’s comfortable in the role yet.  She needs to do another series.

Some of my favourite bits that spring to mind:

“It’s hard for the man”

Eammon Holmes and son in every week till Ruth was out

Claudia’s and Tess’s dresses

Darcey’s earrings and Shirley’s glasses

Celebrities who get motion sickness spinning

“I’ve  got a friend for life.”

 

I’d probably enjoy Strictly if I ever watched it.

Follies

One million years ago I came down to London from my home town in Yorkshire and began to work in the theatres of London’s West End, working a followspot (the moving spotlight you see on actors).  My first job was at the Victoria Palace on High Society, Richard Eyre’s mixing of The Philadelphia Story (play/film) and High Society (film).

Later I got a job on the London production of Sondheim’s Follies at the Shaftsbury Theatre with Diana Rigg, Daniel Massey, David Healy and Julia Mckenzie.  The first time I saw it, when the music started (“Hey up there”) and the ghosts of the Weismann Girls appeared,

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The Boys In The Band

It’s been a bit of a whirlwind week – one exhibition, one gig and one play.  I have to say this play was not my choice, but it’s at a theatre I really like, and I’ll go and see Mark Gatiss in pretty much anything.  I thought I was in for an excellent production of a dated play.  What whipped the rug out from under my feet was

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The Empress and the Cake

The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift    

Last night I went to my first Peirene evening.  Peirene Press is an inspired small publishing house who have successfully captured a market with a specific identity:

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