Saturday 20 July 2019

French Film Festival

I live in a small town in rural Australia. We don't get a lot of foreign films here. The local film society screens one film a month at the local cinema. I can't always go though.

Of course all of Australia can watch foreign language films on the joy that is SBS. They've just started their SBS World Movies as free to air, which is fantastic. Well I'm sure it would be if I could access the channel. I haven't quite managed that yet.

Each year though there is the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival. And one weekend in winter we get 4 of those French films screened over two days as part of the travelling film festival.

I made it to two of them this year. I hadn't heard of either of them before this event.

Family Photo

The Trouble With You

I enjoyed Family Photo much more than The Trouble With You. Family Photo is an engaging family drama, covering 4 generations, a dementing nana, separated parents, three adult siblings with the daily problems of adult life, and at time tricky interactions with their own children. It was touching and funny, and set in Paris. 

The Trouble With You was a rather bizarre French farce. It was apparently the standout hit of Cannes 2018. Set in Marseilles, it tells a strange story of Yvonne, recently bereaved, and bringing up her young son. She is a policewoman, and her police captain husband died a hero. But all is not what it seems. There were definitely laugh out loud moments and situations, and I really liked our two leading ladies, Adèle Haenel and Audrey Tatou, but the action scenes were too violent for me, and there was a lot of cringing and squinting. 

I missed out on two films. 

Clare Darling
I'd really like to catch up on  both of those, but Clare Darling appealed more. 

Finding those trailers on Youtube I just discovered that there's already a movie of Heal the Living. Another book in my TBR that is already a movie.

The struggle is real. It's never ending...

Friday 19 July 2019


I was so looking forward to reading this book. I'd bought the book, and I'd bought into the hype back when it was newly released. We all know what happens next don't we? Yes, of course I ultimately found this a disappointing read.

Lullaby was never going to be an easy read. The cover gives us a major clue with the first two sentences of the text.

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. 
But it gets off to a sizzling start.
The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn't suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She'd fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers. 
And that's certainly a first paragraph to make you sit up and pay attention. Even if you don't recognise how terribly she is being managed in the back of that ambulance. Like my recent read Scrublands (see my review) this is another whydunit. The crime is once again graphically portrayed in the first few pages. There is no mistaking what has happened, only why. But I never got to why.

After that arresting, short first chapter we go back to fill in the story of how these two young children came to be dead.  It starts with Myriam and Paul, their parents selecting a nanny.

'No illegal immigrants, agreed? For a cleaning lady or a decorator, it doesn't bother me. Those people have to work, after all. But to look after the little ones, it's too dangerous. I don't want someone who'd be afraid to call the police or go to the hospital if there was a problem. Apart from that ... not too old, no veils and no smokers. The important thing is that she's energetic and available. That she works so we can work.'
Soon Louise is hired with glowing references. Yes the murderous nanny is called Louise which makes Lullaby the second book in a row for me with a main character, the baddie, called Louise. See my recent post on State of the Union. Louise has smooth features, an open smile, and lips that do not tremble. "She appears imperturbable. She looks like a woman able to understand and forgive everything."

Soon Louise has become invaluable to the household.

'My nanny is a miracle-worker.' That is what Myriam says when she describes Louise's sudden entrance into their lives. She must have magical powers to have transformed this stifling, cramped apartment into a calm, light-filled place. Louise has pushed back the walls. She has made the cupboards deeper, the drawers wider. She has let the sun in. 
Of course no honeymoon can last, and it is the same with this one. Cracks appear, and the relationship between the family and the nanny deteriorates. 

I found Lullaby ultimately disappointing as a psychological crime novel. I didn't understand Louise, or her motivations, how she came to do what she did. Yes, Louise has a sad backstory and a sad current reality, and she comes under new pressures, but still, horrificly killing the kids is where that takes her? I did enjoy the Parisian slice of life aspect of it. The glimpse into the life of a nanny in Paris. 

Around the children- who all look alike, often wearing the same clothes bought in the same shops, with their names written on the labels by their mothers to avoid any confusion - buzzes this swarm of women. There are young black women in veils, who have to be even gentler, cleaner and more punctual than the others. There are the ones who change wigs every week. 
Louise keeps to herself even here, and they wonder about her like we do.  
About Louise, the nannies know very little..... The white nanny intrigues them .... They wonder who she is this fragile, perfect woman...
Lullaby won the Prix Goncourt in 2016. The Prix Goncourt is the most prestigious and well known of the French literary prizes. I have to wonder about that. I doesn't seem literary enough to be a literary prize winner in English.  Lullaby was inspired by a real life American crime

The New Yorker did a big profile piece on Leïla Slimani in 2018. I read two American articles about her, both made the point that she was "laying claim" to an American story, or "cashing in" on it. Yes, I realise that second one is from the New York Post but it's an interesting view that they take on it. 

Lullaby was my first read for Paris in July 2019.

Saturday 6 July 2019

State of the Union

I love walking into your bookshop and picking up a book you've never heard of. Even better is when you take it home and read it very soon, and really quickly. 

So it was with Nick Hornby's latest, State of the Union. Especially when I saw that yellow cover. It's clearly about a marriage not going so well. A topic I've been quite familiar with in recent times. And then I read the back cover. Tom and Louise meet up in the pub across the road from their marriage counsellor just before they go to their weekly session. And have a drink. Sometimes more than one. An idea which is GENIUS. I wish I'd thought of that. My marriage would probably have ended up in the same place, but at least we'd have had a drink before the sessions. Might have taken the edge off some of the agony. 

State of the Union documents ten of these weekly meetings. We only see Tom and Louise at the pub, we don't see them in their sessions or at home or anywhere else. Tom and Louise talk A LOT for people going to marriage counselling. The book is essentially all dialogue. Some of it was uncanny, like a distant echo, words that I felt that I might have said, or have heard. There were even more parallels, Louise is a geriatrician, and her husband Tom a music critic. Not direct parallels, but close enough. 

As you'd expect from Nick Hornby there are insights into life and marriage, it's clever and witty, but true to life with moments of tragedy and quite a bit of humour.
"He doesn't have to watch it. He just has to not go on about how much he hates it."
"I had to watch it."
"Once. And only because you kept slagging it off without having seen it."
"So he's got to watch it once."
"And I'm sure if he does he'll respect my enjoyment and not make puking noises all the way through."
And no book can come out of the UK these days without mentioning Brexit. Anyone who has been married, or in a long term relationship, happily or not, will get something from State of the Union.
" ... We're married. It's different. We have created a whole life together despite everything. A language. A family. Some kind of understanding..."
I hadn't heard of the book or the tv adaptation (complete series already on ABC iView for those of us in Australia) before I found the book a few days ago. The series is pretty much the book word for word. Odd that the series is already out just as the book is released. Maybe the series came first? Nick Hornby does a bit of work with screenplays these days. Anyway, of course I've also now watched the series. It's delightful. Starring Rosamund Pike and Chris O'Dowd. 

State of the Union trailer

I read quite a lot of Nick Hornby's early work back in the day but for some reason lost the habit of reading him somewhere along the track. I know I have at least some of his books still in the house, I think I'll revisit some of them, and seek out the others.

Thursday 4 July 2019

Paris in July 2019

Can it really be time for Paris in July again? Seems so. It's certainly snuck up on me this year.

Paris in July is a month long celebration of all things Parisian (or French really) hosted by Tamara at Thyme for Tea. Her sign up post is here.

I had a momentary panic when I realised it was time for Paris in July. I hadn't made any plans for it. What would I read/watch/blog? I'm sure I can find something.

As with every July I will spend 3 weeks staying up late into the night watching the Tour de France. I'm sure there's lots of other French things I could watch on SBS. They even have a new free-to-air World Movies channel with lots of French content (but it seems I'm having trouble accessing it, I need to fix it).

I can go to any of my bookshelves/bookstacks and find some Parisian inspiration, so I quickly bundled some together for this month ....

There is more, a lot more

But the number one thing that I should try and finish reading is Les Mis! To my great shame I never finished it last year with the marvellous Les Mis Readalong. I got 900 pages or so into it. Then I haven't touched it since Dec 31 2018. Quite a while ago now. I need to crack on and finish it. I'm hoping that Paris in July will be the perfect push in the right direction. Even James Corden is pushing me in the right direction...

Wednesday 3 July 2019


Aussie Noir is another trend having a moment just now. Scrublands came out last year to much fan fare, and it caught my attention. I'd fondled it in bookshops and read the prologue. It seemed a bit much, a bit far fetched, so I put it back down.

Recently I saw Chris Hammer speak at Newcastle Writers Festival 2019 and my interest was piqued again. Chris read that prologue and this time I was intrigued. Soon after I found the Scrublands audiobook downloaded on my phone.

That prologue recounts the Sunday morning when  a small town priest takes aim at his congregation and kills five men. From the start we know what has happen, but we can't imagine why.

The day is still. The heat, having eased during the night, is building again; the sky is cloudless and unforgiving, the sun punishing. Across the road, down by what's left of the river, the cicadas are generating a wall of noise, but there's silence surrounding the church. Parishioners begin to arrive for the eleven o'clock service, parking across the road in the shade of the trees. Once three or four cars have arrived, their occupants emerge into the brightness of the morning and cross the road, gathering outside St James to make small talk: stock prices, the scarcity of farm water, the punitive weather. The young priest, Byron Swift, is there, still dressed casually, chatting amiably with his elderly congregation. Nothing seems more amiss; everything appears normal. 
So many Australian books mention cicadas at the start! They must be great scene setters. Scrublands then is a powerful whydunnit, not a whodunnit. A year after the massacre a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald travels to Riversend, a small fictional Riverina town made famous by their murderous priest. Martin Scarsden is there to write about the town one year on.

Martin is 40, single, damaged from his time as a foreign correspondent, and is at a low point of his career. He comes to this very small town, remarkably a town with no wifi and no phone reception, and a lot of secrets. Scrublands is a big, chunky book, 481 pages, and there's a lot of plot. Perhaps too much really. But the writing was so compelling that even when it all got a bit much, when it became even more implausible, I was still compulsively listening. I just couldn't stop. I would sneak in another chapter whenever I found a few spare minutes. Chris Hammer would use conversations and Martin mulling over the events to recap, and refresh the story for the reader/listener. This was a great technique and worked really well, especially for such a plot dense story. I greatly appreciated these breaks in the story moving forward, to give me enough time to process what had been going on and keep up as it all got even more intricate.

Chris Hammer was a journalist for over 30 years. Naturally, he wrote about his transition from journalist to author, a difference I'd not really thought about before. But there are clear and important differences between the two. His experience as a journalist really showed in Scrublands, the dynamics between the different types of media, each striving to make the story their own. And I just loved that he used actual names of real Australian newspapers and TV stations. Yes, it's a work of fiction, but it made it feel much more real, that he was writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, whilst his rival wrote for The Age. Instead of disguising things with fake media names. 

I've listened to Jane Harper's first two crime novels this year, and enjoyed the blokey, masculine voice of Steve Shanahan telling me those tales. Here, Dorje Swallow is even more laconic, his voice as parched as Riversend. He did a great job reading  although I think it pretty much never works when blokey men do women's voices. I always find that grating. 

I listened to a lot of Scrublands on a road trip to the coast in May and the mood and story has really stayed with me. I'll certainly be lining up early for Chris Hammer's next novel. Oooh, it's a sequel called Silver and is coming in October.