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.

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!

Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig

Last time I was in New York I was struck by the huge difference in the city from my first visit in 1990. Back then it had an edge: crime and violence, buildings that were rundown or abandoned, rats and garbage on the streets, and hundreds of homeless people. But it was also a creative city with a palpable sense of energy and a thriving arts and music scene on the Lower East Side. Today it feels like a Disney version of New York, sanitised and gleaming, and filled with hedge fund managers and wannabe Carrie Bradshaws. The soul has been sucked out of it and all the artists are gone.

Glory Daze looks at this change in the city through the lens of the Club Kids, in particular Michael Alig. Alig is familiar to some people as being the subject of a documentary, feature film and book, all called Party Monster. He was the king of downtown clubbing, a promoter who turned everything he touched to gold and who seemed invincible until he was accused of murder.

Alig was involved in an altercation with his drug dealer Angel Melendez, and he and a friend, Robert ‘Freeze’ Riggs, smashed Angel’s skull with a hammer, injected him with Drano and left him sitting in the bathroom of their apartment for ten days, while they continued partying. Eventually the body started to smell so they cut it in two and disposed of it by throwing it in the Hudson River. Alig spent seventeen years in jail for the crime and was released in May 2014.

The documentary looks at Alig’s journey from misfit outcast in small town America to King of the Club Kids, a phenomenon he largely created and managed. The Club Kids were the successor to Andy Warhol’s superstars, famous for their outrageous outfits, hedonistic lifestyle and prodigious drug consumption. They were featured on talk shows and magazines and some of them became well-known, like RuPaul, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Lepore, and Kabuki.

Many of these people are interviewed and Alig himself is interviewed extensively. He comes across as a superficially charming man, not genius-like as some people think, but someone who found himself in the right place at the right time to best utilise his talent. Glory Daze is an interesting film, a snapshot of a time that will probably never be repeated. As one of the interviewees said, ‘there is no chaos in Manhattan anymore’. It’s true and New York is all the poorer for it.

 

Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, and Amy Adams

Last weekend I made two visits to The Lighthouse to see two just-released films, both of which starred Amy Adams: Arrival and Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals is definitely one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (it helps that it stars two of my favourite actors, Michael Shannon and Jake Gyllenhaal). It’s the second film written, produced and directed by designer Tom Ford. Adams plays Susan, an art gallery owner living an aspirational life in LA: chic wardrobe, stunning house, successful career, handsome husband. She is contacted by her ex-husband who sends her a book he has written and dedicated to her, called Nocturnal Animals. The novel is set in Texas and is a revenge thriller, brutally violent and unsettling, and the viewer sees it enacted as a film within a film. The book throws Susan’s life into disarray and she begins to reflect on her past relationship and on her current life with her husband.

Nocturnal Animals is a huge shift in tone from A Single Man, much more visceral and plot driven, yet perfect in its observation of details which is a hallmark of Ford’s aesthetic. The entire cast are wonderful and the cinematography by Irishman Seamus McGarvey is breathtaking, whether he’s capturing the dust and searing heat of West Texas or the polished perfection of upmarket LA. I honestly can’t recommend Nocturnal Animals enough.

 

 

Next up was Arrival, a sci-fi thriller starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and directed by Denis Villeneuve. The title refers to the appearance of twelve spacecraft at different locations around the world. Louise Banks (Adams) is a linguist and Ian Donnelly (Renner) is a theoretical physicist who have been drafted into a team lead by US Army Colonel Weber (Forrest Whitaker) to visit the alien site in Montana and make first contact. Louise and Ian end up in conflict with military forces in America and around the globe; the scientists advocate trust and diplomacy, whereas the army guys want to bomb the aliens to smithereens, just to be on the safe side. The analogy is a little heavy-handed but not so much that it ruins the film.

A friend of mine described The Martian as a ‘love letter to science’ and I feel like Arrival is similar. It’s a love letter to the power of language, the effectiveness of communication versus action.

 

 

Afterwards I checked out Amy Adams’ filmography and realised that I’ve seen almost all of her movies. She has such multi-faceted range, from a naive princess in the hilarious Enchanted to a genius conwoman in American Hustle, a young and innocent nun in Doubt to a feisty no-bullshit barmaid in The Fighter. Her characters are so fully realised that it’s hard to imagine any other actress in the role. Adams has been nominated for an Academy Award five times, 2017 must surely be her year to win.

The Glass Shore – Sinéad Gleeson

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Sinead Gleeson. Photo by Paul McVeigh

A few weeks ago I attended the launch of The Glass Shore: Short Stories by Women Writers from the North of Ireland, a new anthology edited by Sinéad Gleeson. This anthology is a follow-up to Sinéad’s last collection, The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of short stories from women writers in the Republic of Ireland, published last year. It featured well known names such as Maeve Brennan and Elizabeth Bowen and more recently published writers including Anne Enright, Eimear McBride and Lisa McInerney.

I’ve been dipping into The Glass Shore, reading a few stories a week and becoming familiar with writers I had never heard of. Sinéad has unearthed some gems from contemporary writers and resurrected some older ones, one of my favourites being the first story in the book, ‘The Mystery of Ora’ by Rosa Mulholland, a classic gothic tale with supernatural overtones. I also loved the Lucy Caldwell story, ‘Mayday’, a sparely written and affecting story about unwanted pregnancy that seems particularly relevant in the light of the Repeal the 8th campaign.

Sinéad is an incredibly accomplished woman: a broadcaster and journalist, a writer and editor. The Glass Shore is another feather in her cap and if you’re looking for present inspiration for the book lover in your life this is definitely a great purchase.

Mourir Auprès De Toi – Spike Jonze

Although Mourir Auprès De Toi (To Die By Your Side) was made in 2012 I only discovered it in a recent article on Open Culture. It’s a stop motion film directed by Spike Jonze in collaboration with Olympia Le-Tan (she of the much coveted and beautiful handbags), a fairytale about characters in books that come alive when the lights go out.

The setting is Shakespeare & Company, the iconic Parisian bookshop, and the characters are Mina Harker and the skeletal Macbeth. They fall madly in lust from afar but tragically Macbeth loses his head and then falls into the sea only to be chased by Moby Dick. Mina heroically saves Macbeth, the film ends and the credits show the couple hilariously in flagrante.

It’s a perfect marriage of Le-Tan’s craft, Jonze’ imagination, and Shakespeare & Co.’s inspiration, and just on the right side of literary macabre to be suitable for All Hallow’s Eve.