July favourites

Another month has flown by. I realised the other day that I’ve been telling people I’ve been living in my new city for about a month for so long that it’s suddenly turned into two.

I am not reading enough – but I think that’s standard during transitional phases of life.

(please say it’s not just me)

I just haven’t chunked out the time lately. I’ve been prioritising other things. But I’m going to get back to it. I’m about half way through The Book Thief right now, a tome of a novel I’ve been meaning to read for years but finally am now due to one of my housemates, who pretty much holds it up as the standard that all books should meet.

I’m liking it, so far. It’s one of those where the narrator (literally Death) tells you the worst before it happens, but it makes it no less painful when it arrives, despite all the warnings.

Anyway: some favourites

To watch: Jessica Jones, the final season

I will be bitter about the abrupt and unfair killing of these Marvel shows maybe forever (I hold an excellent grudge.) Netflix has a lot to answer for! After a season two that I had some mixed feelings about, season three was so STRONG. From crazy psychopaths to sisters on the edge and “I know you don’t want to die alone, but you’re going to”, this show packed a serious emotional punch as it hurtled toward a cathartic, if slightly hurried, finish.

Jessica Jones has always been a show that feels a lot like Veronica Mars, and with Benjamin Walker as Erik who reminded me SO MUCH of a hangdog Logan Echolls it was ridiculous – basically I had everything I wanted. And I felt somewhat justified in my feelings about Trish, which even in the best of times have never been especially warm.

Low key I am in love with this man.

While it’s great that JJ and Daredevil got to go out on such a high note, what I really want is a fourth season.

Grumble grumble grumble.

Also, potentially unpopular opinion, but I feel like as much as we all want cameos to happen they only ever feel awkward and unnecessary and afterwards you wonder if maybe it would be better if none of the superheroes of New York knew each other, even though that doesn’t quite make sense either because while it’s big, it’s not that big.

Also also, how do they choose who gets to fight which evil? I’ve always wondered about that.

To wear: jumpsuits

Okay, clearly we’re a little thin on the ground for favourites this month. But I just want everyone to know that I purchased a jumpsuit and now I honestly don’t know how I lived before it was in my wardrobe. Just saying.

To do: Museums!

As I have mentioned around 10,000 times, I recently moved to a new city. It’s a big tourist spot in the UK, and while that comes with many annoying things (tourists. Dear god tourists are annoying and why do they all walk so slowly and why do they not realise that people live here and sometimes just need to get from A to B without having to practically parkour over them so they don’t ruin their selfies?!), what it does mean is that we’re totally spoilt for choice when it comes to museums and I have to say I love it. I don’t really know anything about art, there are huge swathes of history I’m utterly clueless about and I don’t usually pay for the audio guides that explain it because ANOTHER £5? Are you kidding me? But going in and just allowing myself the time and space to respond to what I’m seeing, read the free information they have and try to resist the urge to Instagram it engages a totally different part of my brain. It’s difficult to feel stress inside a museum. It’s another world where all that’s required from you is your attention and whatever intellectual engagement you have to offer, and I have concluded that wandering around them is good for my soul. I highly recommend it.

To do: the gym

I became an exercise person a few years ago when, as I was coming out of a truly horrifying time in my personal life, a friend asked me whether I wanted to do a sponsored run with her for charity. For the first time in my life, I approached exercise not as some all-or-nothing event that I had to be amazing at right away or what’s the point, but as something I could build up little by little, and in the five-or-so years since it has become a really central part of how I try and keep myself mentally healthy. In the past few weeks as my life has changed in ways big and small it’s the one ritual I have managed to keep up pretty consistently, and it’s honestly keeping me sane.

How is your summer? I hope you didn’t melt in the heat. Me and the family of baby seagulls currently living directly outside my window (who are causing me equal levels of irritation and anxiety) struggled up here in the attic, but we just about made it through.

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The Girls

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault/coercion

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed. It’s the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewellery catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.

Was there a warning? A sign of what was coming? Or did Evie know already that there was no way back?

I know I need to find another space to take a photo, but I’m short on options in my new house

I can tell you the exact moment I fell in love with The Girls by Emma Cline.

It was about 100 foreboding pages in. I was waiting for a late-running train back to Devon for the weekend. I had resentfully purchased a £5 pasty from Bristol Temple Meads train station because my just under two-hour journey had suddenly become much longer – so long that there wasn’t even a projected arrival time – and I was hungry. The signs read only: delayed.

But me and my pasty-greasy fingers were utterly absorbed in this creepy, gut-wrenching, cult-joining, sexuality-exploring, absolutely gripping read.

I wouldn’t recommend reading The Girls if you want to feel comfortable.

“’You ever hear anything about Russell?’
The question didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t understand that she was trying to gauge how many of the rumours I’d heard: about orgies, about frenzied acid trips and teen runaways forced to service older men. Dogs scarified on moonlit beaches, goat heads rotting in the sand. If I’d had friends besides Connie, I might’ve heard chatter of Russell at parties, some hushed gossip in the kitchen. Might’ve known to be wary.
But I shook my head. I hadn’t heard anything.”

The Girls is about bored teen Evie Boyd. Apathetic about her friends, her upcoming transfer to boarding school, her parents’ recent divorce and well… just about everything. She mostly hangs out by herself, masturbating and thinking about all of the sex and excitement – though to her those things are one and the same – that are yet to come into her life.

Despite the madness of the scenario – charismatic cult leader, Manson family-style murder – everything that happens in The Girls feels grounded in reality. For however crazy her situation becomes – and it really does – Evie’s experiences and her thoughts about them never felt anything short of authentic.

Cline takes a razor sharp (read: painful) look at emerging sexuality and how it is so often experienced by teenage girls. A whole mess of influences like patriarchy, gender roles, coercion and the drive to always be pleasing play out in upsetting ways as Evie begins her sexual life. There is a sense that she is passive in her sexual experiences, manipulated by older men and complicit women in ways she isn’t yet able to understand. Won’t understand, in fact, until years later, when she is in her middle age and forced see the toxic patterns playing out again for another young girl. A tale as old as time – and a super fucking depressing one.

As so many cult reads (by that I mean literal cult), The Girls is a book preoccupied with power. Who has it – but more, really, about who doesn’t. It looks at the way masculinity can be wielded like a weapon – men who want to take advantage, men who think they know best, men who just want you to feel uncomfortable in the world, for no reason other than it makes them feel good. Men who really don’t care whether you want to have sex with them or not, so long as they get to have sex.

Watching Evie navigate that, from her teen girl summer to the snatches of her life as an adult we’re offered hurt to read, because it felt so familiar.

But this book isn’t all about men – it’s called The Girls, after all. Ultimately, though he is the sun around which everyone else orbits, cult reader Russell doesn’t really do it for Evie. He never did. What brought Evie into the fold was the unreachable Suzanne, who Evie wants in complex and ever-changing ways. From the beginning where she wants to be her – or at least the thing that she appears to be – Evie falls hard for a woman so deep in the cult that she is unable to love her back. Suzanne is too far gone, and watching Evie come to terms with that is a heart-breaking tale of unrequited love as cringe-inducingly familiar as everything else Cline writes in this novel.

“I was happy to twist the meanings, wilfully misread the symbols. Doing what Suzanne asked seemed like the best gift I could give her, a way to unlock her own reciprocal feelings. And she was trapped, in her way, just like I was, but I never saw that, shifting easily in the directions she prompted me for.”

Evie enters a bad world from one where the word’s previous definition came with an air of unreality. She says it herself at various points in the book: nothing bad ever really happens. That’s why she waltzes oddly thoughtlessly on in this never-ending investigating-the-noise-in-the-cellar book. We spend the entire time waiting for a monster, as yet invisible, to appear – and consume her.

It’s hard to get this one out of your head.

How To Stop Time

How many lifetimes does it take to learn how to live?

Tom Hazard has a dangerous secret. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old history teacher, but he’s been alive for centuries. From Elizabethan England to Jazz-Age Paris, from New York to the South Seas, Tom has seen it all. As long as he keeps changing his identity he can stay one step ahead of his past – and stay alive.

The only thing he must not do is fall in love…

When I picked up How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, I was totally ready – unlike poor old Tom Hazard – to fall in love. Haig is such a popular author, and I’ve always really valued his perspective about mental health.

Sadly though, How To Stop Time just didn’t do it for me.

I really didn’t like it. The pacing was off, the characters under-developed, the twist so obvious as to be guessed from almost the first chapter, and the plot never more than hinted at in passing.

But I’ll get back to that.

Because for the sake of balance, I feel I should get into the parts I liked.

Structurally, it was an interesting read. Tom Hazard, as the summary says, has a rare and unusual condition that means he ages very slowly. At the beginning of How To Stop Time, Tom is “well over 400 years old”, and world-weary in a way I suppose unique to people who have lived for more than four centuries.

Following some terrible event in his life – the exact nature of which we never find out, unless I blinked and missed it – Tom has decided to start life over as a history teacher in a London secondary school. The plot jumps in time between his history lessons and the memories his classes inspire – from his experiences with witch trials in the fifteenth century to the time he met Shakespeare. It’s kind of like Slumdog Millionaire if Dev Patel were a school teacher.

Tom’s fluctuating mental health over the centuries, too, felt very realistic to me. It’s pretty easy to feel a certain level of despondency about the world – that the level you’d feel that would be amplified by hundreds of years of seeing the same patterns repeat themselves made a lot of sense. When you’re doomed to outlive (almost) everyone you care about, isolating would seem like the most sensible option to protect yourself from the pain of that.

“This is the chief comfort of being four hundred and thirty nine years old. You understand quite completely that the main lesson of history is: humans don’t learn from history. The twenty-first century could still turn out to be a bad cover version of the twentieth, but what could we do?”

The rest of it, however, I just could not get behind. From the twist you could see coming from pretty much the first chapter, to the ending in which Haig attempts to squash an entire plot into a matter of pages – the result being that most things aren’t satisfactorily tied up, and things that are, are done so far too neatly – it was quite a disappointment to me all around. It was just weak, and I’m sad about that because the premise was so promising.

His approach to his subject matter of hope, existential dread and anxiety about the future also felt heavy handed, and awkward. How To Stop Time made universal worries peculiarly unengaging – by having Tom realise the meaning of life – essentially to live in the moment – through a very underdeveloped relationship with his Freda Pinto, a sexy French teacher with epilepsy (who teaches Tom life lessons by saying things like “who knows anything about the future? I don’t know if I’ll make it through the afternoon!” (I might be paraphrasing)).

So, How To Stop Time was kind of a dud for me, but I’m glad to have ticked Haig off the to-read list.

June favourites

So about a month ago I moved to a new city and started a new job.

Since then blogging has been, shall we say, patchy.

I had this idea when I moved that I was definitely not going to miss a week no matter what happened.

Really anyone could have told me this was not a realistic goal.

So, lads – I think you’re going to have to bear with me as we go through this period of adjustment. I’m busy with work, and with trying to bond with my housemates – mostly through the medium of Love Island. If you don’t live in the UK and therefore don’t know what that is…. It’s probably for the best.

If you live in the UK – please don’t judge me too harshly. I have had to do quite a lot of ‘networking’ in the past weeks and I tell you it is a great tool to have at your disposable during a conversational lull/when you’re trying to avoid talking about yourself because for some reason even when people ask you totally reasonable and acceptable questions about your life part of your mind says no I shall tell you nothing I am very attached to being an identityless woman of mystery/ I live my whole life in fear of judgement for a range of reasons we would both rather I don’t get into right now.

 In reality though I just come off as super boring because that’s what happens when you aren’t holding up your side of the conversation.

And then I get a stomach ache.

Basically me.

Anyway.

Doing nothing but meeting new people for a month is hard.

I don’t have a ton of favourites right now, but those I’ve loved, I’ve loved hard.

(also I have not read enough books lately to review. Though I did read How To Stop Time by Matt Haig, which I really did not like. I’m now reading The Girls, by Emma Cline, which I really love. Balance.)

Let’s begin:

To listen: Eve Ensler’s episode of WTF with Marc Maron

I’m a woman of habit – usually – and particularly during this last few weeks of relative madness (honestly I define ‘madness’ as having to leave the house, which I have to do pretty much every single day now. Who have I become?) nothing gives me comfort and calm like turning of WTF. This episode was a tough one – Eve Ensler suffered pretty much every kind of abuse possible at the hands of her father and she’s written a book about it from said father’s (now deceased) point of view. It’s a powerful conversation about abuse, healing and patriarchy. Eve cries. Marc cries. I cried. I say this with all of the trigger warnings, but please do consider listening. It’s a beautiful, painful and raw conversation – Marc does those well.

To listen: In League With Dragons

The Mountain Goats have taken their music in a new a fascinating direction with their last couple albums. Largely gone are the No Children like shouty, guitar strumming songs of old in favour of a much more produced sound. But the heart is the same. In songs that are supposedly about wizards and demons John Darnielle talks about pain and surviving it. It’s a reminder that hope is as valid a reaction as anger and despair – basically like every Mountain Goats album – and it’s, as always, just exactly what I need.

‘Done Bleeding’ is my favourite song right now, but I could be swayed by ‘Clemency for the Wizard King’ or ‘Going Invisible 2’.

That’s… probably it honestly.

See ya’ soon.