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Monday, 14 December 2015

Book Review: The Comedienne by V.G Lee

The Comedienne is a rather episodic book about Joanie Littler, a woman who struggles through a selection of unequal relationships before inventing a lover to allow her back into the world. From her days caring for her mother - who disapproves of her first lesbian relationship - to finally 'breaking up' with Freddy and opening the door to new possibilities, The Comedienne covers two decades in Joanie's life.

This is a genuinely funny novel in places and I laughed out loud a few times. The conversational first-person tone of the narrative is pretty engrossing and the characters really do spring from the pages. At the beginning, Lee depicts the intense irritation that living with a parent as an adult can induce. Her mother's interference in her relationship with Susan leads to one of my favourite moments of the book and it involves slippers.

All the imaginary girlfriend stuff was amusing to start with but, I have to say, by the end I was wondering why Joanie had carried it on so long, considering how little she got out of the whole thing. It allowed for on-going humorous and tricky situations but condemned her to the loneliness she was hoping to avoid by inventing a girlfriend and gaining access to couples' dinner parties. It left me a bit ambivalent.

The episodic nature meant that some scenes were included while others weren't. I was rather disappointed that we got a full depiction of Joanie attending one old woman's funeral but not her own mother's. I felt like I wanted the circularity of that in the novel as a reader. Similarly, I wasn't sure about the ending for opposite reasons. All that said, I enjoyed it for the amusing book it was and I'll know what not to do next time I invent an imaginary girlfriend.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Book Review: The Incredulity of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

Despite owning all the Father Brown stories, I'm taking my time reading them because I enjoy them so much. You can find my reviews of Innocence and Wisdom here and here but Incredulity is the third collection and feels as though it goes in a slightly different direction.

Location plays a big part in these stories with Father Brown encountering different cultures and, significantly, several of them are set in America. I like these explorations and it's amusing how Father Brown is never a fish out of water - he blends into the background of any community.

I enjoyed all the stories in this collection. However, some are more enjoyable than others, of course. 'The Resurrection of Father Brown' is the first story and begins with the cleric's death. It's a charming little story, made all the more enjoyable by his irritation at becoming a celebrity. 'The Arrow of Heaven' deals with the murder of a millionaire, a circumstance that 'is, for some reason, treated as a sort of calamity'. Chesterton, naturally, then proceeds to include three dead millionaires in his story. In 'The Oracle of the Dog' I was tickled by the resolution and the peculiar murder of Warren Wynd in 'The Miracle of Moon Crescent' had me completely perplexed for a time. While I enjoyed the sensory details and depictions in 'The Curse of the Golden Cross', that might've been the weakest story in terms of progression, for me anyway. 'The Dagger with Wings' is one of the more atmospheric pieces, although I was slightly disappointed with the ending, probably on grounds of personal preference.

The final two stories in the collection are my favourites. 'The Doom of the Darnaways' takes the old trope of a decaying British manor with a foreign heir and creates a memorable story revolving around a photograph. In that story, the last lines are typical of Father Brown and, perhaps, that's why I enjoyed it so much. Lastly, 'The Ghost of Gideon Wise' really kept me on my toes with an atmospheric look at the murders of another three millionaires. That Chesterton still has the ability to startle me after three volumes of Father Brown stories is delightful.

These are gentle mysteries that visit the hard edges of humanity. If that sounds like a contradiction then that's probably because you're unfamiliar with the central character. There are lengthy dialogue digressions which won't appeal to all but I like being made to think as well as follow a mystery to its conclusion. I'll ration myself again before I read the fourth collection, The Secret of Father Brown.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Quite a Week

To say last week was interesting would be a bit of an understatement. I'm used to the ups and downs that life (and my anxiety problems) tend to throw at me but I rarely have as many blips, bumps and jumps in one short period as I did last week.

My Monday began with computer problems and rapidly escalated with some frustrating family stuff. I escaped to my writing haunt and had a burst of inspiration about the direction of my WIP (I wrote about that here). By the time I got home I was all energised then there was some more family stuff that triggered this response:
On Tuesday I had the delight of a few hours to myself then it all fell apart again. Normality ensued as I dragged myself in the rain to get some shopping whilst having a mini panic attack. However, as I was walking home I received a text from a Yorkshire First colleague of mine about the meeting later that night and I was back in positive mode. That meeting was excellent and I came away as energised politically as I had been in the creative sense the day before:
For me, that's pretty successful. So, despite a concerted effort by some people in my life to bring me down, I prolonged my positive mood into Wednesday - then the fun really started when I went to co-working at my writing haunt. Hearing "that's not a customer, that's Lucy, she's part of the furniture" set things up nicely along with an epic breakfast. I was in the writing zone anyway but getting an email confirming that I'd won third prize in the latest Fabula Press competition set me singing in public. That story will be published at some point so I'll let you know when it's available but it's one I'm very proud of.

I dragged my father to a couple of stops on the Artwalk that night, which I thoroughly enjoyed (and picked up a couple of souvenirs below), then came home for a celebratory singalong. Treating myself after every bit of success is proving to be very pleasant and reminds me that I'm probably not completely rubbish.

On Thursday I was meant to be having a freelance meeting but that turned into a six-hour meeting interspersed with checking on a poorly six-year niece. Making her smile was more important than any work, though some of that got done as well. The night ending with me tipping a bucket of filthy water over my legs wasn't the best thing that could've happened however. My trainers still stink.

Then Friday... Well, I'd just sat down to lunch when I heard that my grandmother had fallen face-first out of her chair at her residential home and was bleeding quite badly. They called an ambulance and, while the details of what happened that day aren't something I should share on a public forum, suffice to say there'll be a complaint going in to the NHS about the treatment. Fortunately, she's going to be okay, even if she looks like someone ran her over and she's got a broken cheekbone. At 92, she should really know better than to chuck herself over the room like that. It certainly gave us all a scare and, as a consequence, I spent the weekend hibernating and watching tennis. Britain winning the Davis Cup was the appropriate end to a wacky week.

I'm drowning in work this week and my priorities are all over the place. A little stability and time to work without the bumps and jumps would be a good idea. Then again, I did rather enjoy last Wednesday immensely. I'd better write some more short stories, huh?