Skintown – Ciarán McMenamin

It’s no surprise that Ciarán McMenamin and Irvine Welsh have hit the book promotion circuit together in recent days. They seem like a natural fit as McMenamin’s debut, Skintown, is strongly reminiscent of Welsh’s debut Trainspotting. The focus of both books is disaffected young men who turn to drugs and violence to break up the monotony of their days in poverty stricken towns, and both understandably carry a strong anti-English sentiment.

McMenamin may be familiar to some of you as an actor with significant TV roles on his resumé. My first encounter with his work was a few weeks ago at Mountains to Sea Book Festival where he was joined by two other debut novelists, Rory Gleeson and Karl Geary, for a chat about their respective works. When each of the novelists read I was instantly interested in buying McMenamin’s book. His acting talent and considerable performance experience paid off and his reading was dynamic and very funny. (Which by the way is not as common as you might think. Having been to many similar events, writers who can successfully read their work aloud are a tiny minority.)

Skintown takes place in Enniskillen, McMenamin’s home town, in the early 1990s. Rave culture provides a much-needed escape from boredom and the threat of daily sectarian violence. Vinny works in a chip shop with his mate Jonty and dreams of escaping to Belfast for a better life, but instead of taking constructive steps towards it he meanders through his days in a haze of joints and pints. One evening while doing a good Samaritan gesture for a girl he knows, he ends up in a car crash with two Protestants, Kyle and Grant, who only moments earlier were preparing to kick his head in due to Vinny getting ‘the old ashes rubbed on my forehead six Wednesdays before Easter Sunday’. (A very convoluted way of saying he’s a Catholic, and this would be one of my few complaints about the book; the occasional tendency to overwrite and use many words where one simple one would be better.)

Kyle and Grant propose a business deal whereby Vinny and Jonty go to a nightclub called Ned’s (based on the infamous Kelly’s in Portrush) to sell a huge haul of ecstasy tablets on behalf of the other two, and collect a fee for doing so. With the prospect of cash Vinny’s Belfast dreams swim into reality and so he and Jonty readily agree. The novel’s best set piece occurs when Vinny gets high on ecstasy for the first time in the club. Having had some experience of this myself (cough) I can vouch for the authenticity of the whole thing and it’s not just accurate, it’s very funny and filled with razor-sharp detail.

Skintown occupies the same territory as Trainspotting and also Rob Doyle’s Here Are the Young Men and it is certainly an enjoyable read and an accomplished debut. Where it fell apart for me was the ending which I won’t reveal here but which was foreshadowed throughout the book. It didn’t ring true and felt a little forced, as if McMenamin was pushing for a definitive ending which the book didn’t really need. That being said, I’m really looking forward to reading whatever he produces next.

March Random Round Up

March was Women’s History Month, a concept I find kind of reductive because women are a part of and make history twelve months a year but moving on from that…here’s a list of groundbreaking female authors you should bookmark for your next book shop visit.

Zadie Smith’s beautiful story about Billie Holiday in the New Yorker is seriously worth reading.

This month I watched Season 2 of Love on Netflix and had mixed feelings about it. Gillian Jacobs’ performance is one of the highlights. One of the not-so-great things about the series is this.

Royal Blood are releasing their second album later this year and they’re teasing us with this studio clip. Bring. It. On.

The upcoming documentary Kiki looks amazing, a new take drag ball culture which first reached mainstream popularity in Paris Is Burning.

Speaking of drag, Netflix has struck a deal whereby new episodes of Rupaul’s Drag Race are streamable the day after they’re broadcast in the US. Season 9 is two episodes in and Valentina’s my early favourite.

February Random Round Up

Can you believe that in a few days it’ll be March already? I’m still hoovering Christmas tree needles off my floor! A good friend of our family’s used to say that after a certain age you only get six months out of the year; I’m beginning to understand what he was getting at.

Anna Nicole Smith died ten years ago this month and there’s a great article on Buzzfeed looking at her life and legend: ‘The woman rose up, made powerful by beauty, and then found herself falling, her beauty fading, her power eroding, her ugliness as she tried to cope with this loss providing spectators with the reassuring feeling that such power is never really worth having, if losing it looks like this.’

Also on Buzzfeed, some handy diagrams for home decorating, including everything from the best indoor plants to optimal placing for rugs.

Speaking of decorating, I use Pinterest for interiors and home decor. My ‘library’ board grows by the day! Do you have tips for anyone amazing I should be following?

I’m really looking forward to the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, starring Elizabeth Moss and Samira Wiley. It debuts in America on April 26th so hopefully it’ll be picked up here soon after.

I’m also very excited about Ryan Murphy’s newest series Feud starring Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Hollywood legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis who famously hated each other. It premiers in the US on Sunday 5th March.

The trailer for Sofia Coppola’s newest film The Beguiled was released this month and it looks creepy and claustrophobic and brilliant. It has an amazing female cast and also stars Colin Farrell who just seems to get better with age. It hits our screens in June.

And lastly my dad’s show NewBliss is on in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall on Tuesday. If you haven’t picked up a ticket yet, get on it!

Have a great weekend!

The Book of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

Peter Leigh was a homeless alcoholic, drug addict and thief until one night when he broke his ankles trying to escape from the police, ended up in hospital and met the love of his life, Beatrice, who was his nurse. Fast forward a few years and Peter is clean, married to Bea and together they run a Christian ministry. Peter is chosen by a corporation called USIC to be the minister for a colony on a planet called Oasis and after his training he leaves Bea in England, and travels to Florida to board the spaceship that will take him to Oasis.

Once there Peter is surprised to find that the usual difficulties faced by missionaries are absent; the Oasans are quiet and unthreatening, they already speak English and are eager to be instructed in the way of God. He spends periods of time living with them in their small village, alternating with time in the USIC base camp, a sterile brightly lit compound filled with hundreds of USIC employees all of whom seem to be good-natured, untroubled and reasonably boring. While there he can communicate with Bea through The Shoot (intergalactic email) and over time her messages become more and more terrifying.

She tells of tsunamis, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, the collapse of the banking system, sweeping blackouts, supermarkets running out of food: in short, your basic end-of-days scenario (although one that seems to be inching ever closer in reality which gives it a certain timely resonance). The reader begins to wonder if perhaps the Oasan colony has a different purpose for humans and what exactly that purpose might be.

This is territory that has been covered before in film and literature but in Faber’s hands it becomes compulsively readable. Like all good books it forces you to make that ‘just one more chapter’ promise with yourself which you inevitably break and before you know it it’s 4am. Although his writing is simple, at times even plain, he creates a world that the reader completely inhabits, so you end up occasionally coming to and finding that you are still in your own bedroom and not on a planet millions of miles away watching a minister and his alien parishioners build a church.

Faber has said this will be his last novel and in the three years since it was published he has kept to his word. His wife Eva was dying while he wrote it and I think his sadness permeates the story. At times it seems like an unbridgeable gulf is opening up between Peter and Bea, and their relationship is being torn apart by outside circumstance. Peter cannot explain what life on an alien planet is like, and Bea is dealing with Earth becoming an alien planet from what they knew before, systems breaking down and total chaos ensuing. It’s hard not to read it as a metaphor for Faber’s own relationship.

January Random Round Up

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Oh Louise, you’re so so right!

January is almost over, thanks be to Jaysus, and because it’s been a dry one for me, I’ve been staying in and devouring books, films, articles, and everything else to keep my busy little brain occupied. Lots of book reviews to come in the following weeks, in addition to some film reviews (like everyone else with a beating heart I loved La La Land, but Jackie not so much).

My favourite actor has been nominated for an Academy Award for his work in Nocturnal Animals. If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it.

I have also watched Episodes which is on Netflix. Starring Matt LeBlanc (‘how you doin’?) as an arrogant, lecherous and materialistic version of himself, Episodes tells the story of two English TV writers who go to LA to bring their hit show to American screens. It’s a winning performance from LeBlanc and I particularly love Kathleen Rose Perkins as the people pleasing Network executive.

We don’t get to see the Lincoln car commercials starring Matthew McConaughey on Irish television but this hilarious article will make you want to watch them and work out if the author’s theory is right.

Heywood Hill is a gorgeous and well renowned bookshop in London’s Mayfair. Vanity Fair explored how such a small bookshop is surviving in the digital age.

An interesting article by Emily Gould on Buzzfeed on the expectation that women should be nice in order to succeed in publishing: ‘In order to be successfully un-nice, an author would have to be so confident in her talent and skill that she was willing to risk alienating influential peers, editors, and agents — not to mention actual readers.’

Shit Rough Drafts reimagines the first drafts of famous books. They branched out with this post featuring a correspondence on nymphomaniac garden gnomes. Just read it and thank me later.

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I very much relate to this Sarah Andersen comic

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

Is it possible to ever truly know a person? Is it possible to remain happy in a long-term relationship while being completely honest? These questions are at the heart of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies, a novel about Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite and their relationship over the course of twenty-four years. The book is divided into two halves showing the two sides of the marriage: Fates, which is Lotto’s, and Furies, which is Mathilde’s.

Lotto (short for Lancelot) is an aspiring actor fresh off stage in his college production of Hamlet when he meets Mathilde at a party. His first words to her are ‘Marry me!’, to which she replies ‘Sure’ and two weeks later they elope. He is from a rich family, her background is shadowy and vague. His mother disapproves of the whirlwind marriage and so she cuts Lotto off, leaving him and Mathilde to struggle financially. Despite this and Lotto’s ongoing failure as an actor, they remain passionately in love, the golden couple everyone in their circle looks up to.

Eventually Lotto discovers a talent for writing and their fortunes change. Mathilde becomes a professional artist’s wife, keeping the world at bay and tending to his every need while he writes hit plays. Of course they have their flaws – Lotto can be needy, narcissistic, a man who can skate along the surface of things without questioning deeply; Mathilde can be cold, impatient, angry – but overall it seems that they are made for each other, that rare occurrence of a truly happy couple. But in the second half of the book, Mathilde’s story presents a different version of their marriage, one filled with secrets, deceptions and vengeance.

Fates and Furies has been compared to Gone Girl, another novel about differing perspectives on a marriage, but where Gone Girl was a plot-driven thriller, Fates and Furies is a far more literary novel with the focus firmly on Groff’s wonderful writing. There is no such thing as a perfect book and there were a couple of plot twists in the second half that stretched my credulity a little, but Groff’s lyricism and unique talent for description swept me past any obstacles.

The book was published in 2015 and garnered much praise, being shortlisted for the National Book Award and proclaimed by Amazon as their book of the year. Although it’s only January, I suspect that this book will definitely be one of my most recommended books of 2017.

Christmas Entertainment

After the nightmare that was 2016 I sincerely hope that Multiverse readers are looking forward to a relaxing and joyful festive season. In case you’re looking for something to while away your time over your holidays, here are some suggestions. I look forward to seeing you again in 2017. Squillions of love to you all.

The above video is a cute interpretation of a classic and one that is a tradition amongst me and my best friend’s family. It always makes me think of her.

A recent and hilarious Vanity Fair article on Trump Grill(e): ‘And like all exclusive bastions of haute cuisine, there is a sandwich board in front advertising two great prix fixe deals.’

I’ve become a huge fan of Taffy Brodesser-Akner‘s writing and this article on sugar dating (published last year in GQ) is just brilliant: ‘A thing you should know is that there are very few people to root for in this story.’

A great Harper’s article on the 80s literary Brat Pack: Jay McInerney, Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt, et al. ‘One member would go on to win a Pulitzer; one would become better known for controversy than fiction; another would exemplify the excessive highs and very public lows of the decade; and another would slowly fade from view.’

I’ve read so many books this year and as always I try to read a mix of recent and classic fiction. Some were terrible, some were superlative and a lot of them aren’t even worth talking about. Here are a few of the books I’ve really liked but not gotten around to reviewing in depth, (if you click on the links they’ll bring you to reviews of the work in question): Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig, Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sarah Baume, Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane, The Eden Express by Mark Vonnegut, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks, The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch.

I’ve been a bit obsessed with this Thundercat song for months, even though it was released in 2015. The Prince influences and the 70s disco vibe combined with the funk bass-line all coalesce into an infectious groove.

Anyone browsing Netflix should put White Girl (Kids for Millenials), Black Mirror (dystopian tech nightmare), The Crown (sumptuous period drama), Love (Freaks and Geeks all grown up), and Daft Punk Unchained (documentary about the electro legends) on their list.

Go Fug Yourself is one of the websites I have visited daily for many years now. This year I particularly loved their AbFabtrospective and their SWINTON retrospective (Tilda being one of my sartorial heroines).

Lose yourself browsing the archives of Hooked on Houses, a website devoted to gorgeous homes, from celebrity abodes to houses featured in movies and random real-estate inspiration.

And now it’s time for my sister’s family’s favourite Christmas song, Nobel prize winner Bob Dylan singing a Pogues-esque polka version of a 60s classic. It’s barking and brilliant! Enjoy!