A Year In Books
Readers and books meet in four ways; authorial reputation, publishers’ puffery, personal recommendation or, nicest of all, sheer serendipity. Ferdinand Mount and The New Few is category one. Mount’s is a racy polemic by a One-Nation Tory; his skewering of the ineffectiveness of the 1997 government’s adopted casual Presidentialism rings stingingly true. Nicci French’s Tuesday’s Gone is the second book in a change of course for the husband-and-wife team. Their book touches on the ultimate unknowability of other people and gazes deeply into wells of suffering. They employ the thriller format deftly. For that reason no Umbrella-adoring literary editor goes near.
After reading Narcomania: A Journey Through Britain’s Drug World I will never view a city hair-dressing salon in the same way. Authors Max Daly and Steve Sampson show that millions, just millions, of our fellow citizens are participants in one role or another. Serendipity took me on a chilly early morning to the heated Hay bookshop tent where I encountered Alexandra Harris. Her new introductory book on Virginia Woolf led me on to Modernism on Sea (2009 co-editor) and Romantic Moderns (2010 sole author). Taken together, they are a song of love to art, modernism and a very particular Britishness.
A Year on Television
A Saturday night series about politics in Denmark? I decide that Borgen will get ten minutes, and I stay for ten hours. It stands out because it’s got writers behind it. It’s got form and structure, a big theme, power. It dramatises pragmatism degrading principle, public engagement riding roughshod over private relationship. Most of all it has real women, not the goodie-goodies exemplified in The Hour. Bel Rowley is luminous but too young. The production team appears petrified of depicting a woman of authority. Great art direction- scenes that might have been lit by Vermeer do not make up for a plot picked up at a jumble sale. Bent coppers and shifty Eyeties – come on, BBC, do some drama.
Dodgy foreigners too in Homeland; never such a descent from a gripping first series to a half-baked, make-it-up-as-you-go-along string of daftnesses. The writers are too lazy to even decide if the protagonists are Sunni or Shia. Who cares? They’re all dusky foreigners- they’ve got it coming to them. Rotten tomato Wales isn’t Working went out 9th September, a year after its making suggesting a degree of embarrassment. Too true – set an amateur to work and amateurism is what you will get.
A Year at the Cinema
Screenwriting looks, from the evidence of 2012, to be in bouncy and inventive health. Headhunters is cool, original, its art direction fresh to the eye, and it contains a classic escape scene. Its ending is wholly satisfying, its cleverness all revealed by a second viewing.
Sight and Sound’s film of the year is “the Master”. It’s a great, elliptical, significant rock of a film, but with all the verve of a Mount Rushmore. Contagion has an ending of a nice neatness. The Hunger Games knocks its antecedents, Rollerball and The Running Man, into touch with its turn-it-on-its head climax.
Chronicle re-invigorates the “found-footage” genre after its previous peak of The Last Exorcism. In The Dictator Sacha Baron-Cohen pours an unending stream of misogyny on his rescuer. That she is played by Anna Faris of Scary Movie is a good joke; we know she can give as good as she gets.
Great actors from Britain regularly do villains. Rhys Ifans is the best thing in the Spiderman reboot. Tom Hiddleston as god-gone-to-the-bad Loki in Avengers Assemble is more riveting than goodie brother Thor. Battleship is breathless and gung ho; its conclusion is lifted straight from the Ealing classic The Titfield Thunderbolt.