Book Review The Kindness of Strangers Kate Adie

I have long been fascinated by war reporting and war correspondent has always been one of my secret fantasy jobs so I was excited to see this for a bargain price. It is out of date now but I felt sure it would be worth reading.

Less of an autobiography and more a series of anecdotes Kate’s career is charted from early days on regional radio in the 60s to BBC TV’s chief war correspondent with a ring side seat at such events as Tianemen Square and the Bosnian War. The early days of journalism sound like tremendous fun with a range of interesting characters, bizarre stories and everyone seeming to be permanently drunk. Later the tone is more serious as the indignities of reporting on the world’s disasters are covered.

Kate comes across as what she us: a nice middle class English girl, a bit jolly hockey sticks, no-nonsense, one of the boys, not a deep thinker. Probably ideal material for the rough and tumble of war correspondence methinks.

The book was enjoyable but not brilliant. The writing is average and there is little insight into world events. The tone is at times cold. Kate has all the prejudices of her class. British army officers are spoken of in glowing terms, all pink cheeks and blonde curls whereas women come in for some vicious treatment; “peroxide Valkyries” being one memorable phrase. She seems to have a thing about working class women who dare to dye their hair blonde. The descriptions of Northern Irish Catholic women during the Troubles are cruel and snobbish. This almost put me off finishing the book. There is much to admire in Kate’s professional life but we learn little of her personal one. A series of casual boyfriends are mentioned but we do not learn their names or anything about them.

This is worth a look but ultimately disappointing.

Film Review Mr Turner Mike Leigh

I have long admired the work of Turner, particularly his seascapes which  seem to usher in the later modern art movement as he relaxes form. I love art though I have no skill in it personally. It is always fascinating to learn about the lives of great artists so I was very much looking forward to seeing this film.

Leigh deals with the later life of Turner which takes place in Victorian London. The film is visually sumptuous. There are gorgeous scenes of hackney cabs, London townhouses, fascinating food markets, crazy paint supply shops, ships in fierce storms and stuffy gallery showings.

At the centre of this world Timothy Spall is brilliant in his portrayal of the elderly Turner who grunts and snuffles like a farmyard pig, grumpily painting, eating and goosing his scrofulous housekeeper.
Later there is a love story between Turner and the homely Mrs Booth. Turner abandons his townhouse to set up home in secret with Mrs Booth in a cottage by the Thames. He is utterly dedicated to his painting.

Leigh is at his best in this film. The conversations of the “quality” are hilariously ridiculous. There is humour, pathos and ultimately hope.
Interestingly though, Leigh chooses to end not with Mrs Booth smiling in the sunshine but with the abandoned housekeeper, wandering around the empty London house, paralysed with grief at Turner’s death.

A triumph. Go see.

Book Review The Philosopher and the Wolf Mark Rowlands

I bought this in the English Bookshop in Amsterdam. I was struck by the cover which portrayed a very beautiful wolf.  I  studied Philosophy as my first degree but have let my interest lie fallow for many years. 

The book describes the relationship between a young Philosophy professor and his pet wolf over the span of ten years. It is a true story. Rowlands is dysfunctional, misanthropic and alcoholic. The wolf teaches him lessons about life, particularly through the animal’s death from cancer.

I enjoyed the book. It is an easy read and the philosophy is accessible. It sparked my interest in reading more of it again. I don’t necessarily agree with Rowland’s conclusions about life but the exposition was interesting. Cynical philosopher that he us even a mystical experience is not enough to convince him of the spiritual nature of life though he comes closer to it.
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Book Review Russell Brand Revolution

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I enjoyed this book.

Like many people I didn’t used to be very keen on Russell Brand. He came into my consciousness as someone who was a not very funny comedian and a sex addict. Someone told me a story about his behaviour at the Edinburgh Festival. Apparently women were lining up outside his room and he would come to the door in his pants and have sex with each one in turn. Ugh!

Anyway after his divorce and other difficulties he has discovered spirituality, transcendental meditation, and he is alcohol and drug free. His ideas seem to be a fusion of Hinduism and Buddhism. Gandhi is a hero. Politically, he leans heavily on Chomsky. All of this is good in my book.

Brand spends a lot of the book describing his own journey and then sets out his ideas for revolution. So what are these ideas? Thankfully, he is not into a violent, bloody revolution. He is more interested in raising the spiritual consciousness of people. I am all for this. He cites principles that come from addiction recovery programmes. Nothing wrong with this either. Brand is interested in empowering people at local level: growing your own food, workers’ co-operatives. Nothing wrong with that in my view.

Where I part company with him is the exhortation not to vote and not to pay taxes. As far as I can see this will lead people into trouble and allow the right wing parties to continue to stay in power.

The book is an easy read and often very funny. The style is chatty so it’s just like Russell talking to you. I do think he has made spiritual and political ideas accessible to everyone.

Interesting stuff. Let’s see what happens.

Vive la revolution!

Book Review Autobiography Morrissey

I enjoyed this book enormously. I accept that Morrissey is a bit of an acquired taste. He has been a part of my life since teen years when I saw him on Top of the Pops and thought he was like no one else ever. I loved his lyrics, the way he wasn’t afraid to say the unsayable, to elicit what it feels like to be awkward, different, to be rejected. 

The book is written in a stream of consciousness style, riffing on Ulysses, not quite managing it. It starts in the grimness of inner city Manchester. I lived there in my thirties so could recognise lots of the places though it has since been remodelled. It is unrelentingly dark. It seems that nobody ever said a kind word to Morrissey – ever.

Fame calls and there is a move to London with entertaining cameo appearances from various celebs. Morrissey can be delightfully bitchy. The pain of the break up of The Smiths and subsequent bitter court case are dealt with in depth. Moz feels permanently ill used and misunderstood.

A move to California gives some kind of happiness and he appears to find love at last and appreciation from American fans. 

The book is often black and brutally honest, leavened with Northern English wit often lost on those not born among the Satanic mills. Still, there is much missing. He says little of the creative process and his lovers are shadowy figures. I feel he gives much but also holds much back. 
I love you Morrissey. You are in me. As they say in California, I feel your pain.

Book Review of Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

I have long been fascinated by traditional Japanese culture and particularly the hidden world of the geisha so I was delighted to find this book in Fopp for the bargain price of £2. It is written as if it is an autobiography though this is an affectation as the author is an American male. It tells the story of a young Japanese girl in the 1930s sold as a child to a geisha house. She works first as a maid and then as an apprentice geisha. Her career progress is foiled by a jealous older geisha who treats her cruelly but she later resumes her career and becomes moderately successful. She falls secretly in love with a businessman, The Chairman, who knows nothing of her love. In fact she rarely sees him. Her virginity is taken at the tender age of fourteen. Interestingly, she is portrayed as knowing virtually nothing of sex. The War comes and disrupts the life of the geisha house….

This is beautifully written and it is an interesting story of a fading way of life, poignant and moving. Though Golden is a good writer I couldn’t help thinking in the hands of a great master this tale could have been a true classic. It is really a traditional romance about enduring love and yes, spoiler alert, there is a fairy tale happy ending.

I am no expert in Japanese culture but the book is definitely written with an American audience in mind. At times the protagonist reacts like a Mid-Western farm girl rather than a Japanese geisha. The description of Americans as universally kind and the depiction of New York as a fairy tale world at the end is jarring to a European eye. Would you really think so highly of a country that had bombed your homeland flat? At times the pace is slow and I did put it down several times. I would have liked more depth in the characters.

Overall, I enjoyed it and I did feel transported to another time and place and lost myself there for a while.