Ten Great Monsters of Literature

In 1816 a cohort of England’s finest writers, who also happened to be great buddies, spent a summer holidaying in the countryside near Geneva in Switzerland. Little did they know that the leisurely cross-pollination of their immense creativity would bring forth some of the darkest and most extreme concepts of humanity the world had seen, spawning works that would go on to change the literary landscape forever.

FrankensteinThe gang included Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori, Claire Clairmont, and of course, Percy’s wife Mary. Rumour had it these friends would gather by the fire at night and compete with each other to invent the most psychologically chilling horror stories. Naturally it was Mary who outdid them all, and thus Frankenstein’s monster was born. Or rather, stitched together.

So in honour of the 200th anniversary of the conception of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel, we cast an eye over other literary terrors, both past and present, that have significantly impacted the way we enjoy our frights. Due to the abundance of such characters in ancient myth, this list will focus only on modern works and creatures of the author’s pure invention.

 

Grendel
Beowulf (C8th-11th), Anonymous
Humans have always been fascinated by unnatural terrors, so it’s no surprise that the first recorded piece of English literature is a good old monster tale. A completely original creature that could only have taken form in Viking society, Grendel wreaks havoc on halls of mead-drinking Scandinavians, ripping arms from sockets and such. When he is confronted by our hero Beowulf and driven away, he retreats to his mother, of course, as any good monster should, who turns out to be even more grotesque and blood-thirsty than he. Is there a message here?

 

The Giant Squid
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), Jules Verne
Fast forward a few hundred years to the advent of the novel, and it’s no accident that the majority of truly original monsters were conceived in the 19th century, when writers were enamoured of the curiosities of the natural world and the enormous scientific advancements taking shape around them. New possibilities for exploration and discovery fed the invention of such fantastic animals as the giant squid who lurks in the depths of the ocean ready to drag submarines of men down to their watery graves.

 

the jabberwockThe Jabberwocky
Through the Looking Glass (1871), Lewis Carol
A master of exploring both the delightful and unsettling sides of imagination, Carol most delicately balances this dichotomy in Through the Looking Glass, the strange yet beautiful sequel to Alice in Wonderland. The Jabberwocky is the stuff of nightmares, terrible in its juxtaposition to Alice’s innocence but made far more terrifying through the use of evocative language and invented words that depict a creature we can never fully imagine.

 

Mr Hyde
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde (1886), Robert Louis Stephenson
Along with technological and scientific advancements, the 19th century was also remarkable for opening up the world of psychology and psychoanalysis as a new way of understanding human nature. Many works written during this era examine the monster within; the duality of virtue and vice that exists in each of us. This analogy is given material form in the alternating identities of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and the slow, terrible blurring of their moral and physical boundaries.

 

The Morlocks
The Time Machine (1895), HG Wells
Wells takes the concept of morality a step further by examining the evolution and decay of society in this genre-bending novel, where future humans have devolved into two stunted castes, the Eloi, who live above ground, and the Morlocks who dwell beneath the earth and feed on their surface-dwelling brethren. The Morlocks have since been explored in other works as a highly advanced race of beings, demonstrating the cleverly ambiguous light in which Wells paints these future versions of humanity.

 

Count Dracula
Dracula (1897), Bram Stoker
Advancing toward the turn of the century the supernatural begins to seep into monster literature alongside the prevailing interest in science, technology and morality. In Stoker’s insurmountable Dracula, scientists and doctors are still the most highly respected characters, but they are confronted by a horror that defies rational explanation, even as they attempt rational means to overcome it. And the ship of dead people that crashes into England’s shores is pretty damn creepy.

 

chutlhuCthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu (1928), HP Lovecraft
Cosmic weird really takes the stage when Lovecraft comes on the scene in the early 20th century. Cthulhu is a monster-god, a Great Old One in Lovecraft’s pantheon of the Cthulhu Mythos. One of the first writers to take his monsters beyond the bounds of a single story and into a far-reaching universe of interconnected tales, his approach to writing horror would influence writers for decades to come, not only in the pure strangeness of his inventions but also in the scope of his imagination.

 

The Balrog
The Lord of the Rings (1937-1949), JRR Tolkien
Scope becomes the thing in the 20th century, and JRR Tolkien is one of the pioneers of epic fantasy, creating entire anthropologies, down to detailed cultures, languages and histories within his invented world. Beyond the orcs and the uruk-hai it’s in the big bads such as Sauron and the Nazgul where he succeeds so magnificently in depicting evil. The balrogs, though, take the cake as Middle Earth’s creature-feature for being virtually unstoppable, shrouded in fire and shadows, and living for thousands of years in the bowels of mountains.

 

Pennywise
It (1986), Stephen King
Moving past scientific experimentation, psychoanalytical dilemmas, and supernatural forces of evil, Stephen King can be credited with bringing monster writing into its modern form where everyday, relatable characters are pit against some kind of inexplicable physical and mental force. Iconic and enduringly terrifying, the balloon-toting cannibal clown (with the face of Tim Curry) is one of the most masterful creations of horror literature ever.

 

The White Walkers
A Song of Ice and Fire (1996-present), George RR Martin
Rising above the current proliferation of vampires, zombies and werewolves, George RR Martin has managed to create a new breed of monster that is mysterious and terrifying while also strikingly contemporary. In his epic series winter seems to form the backdrop of the greatest threats against humanity, and he populates the icy vastness beyond The Wall with an army of skeletal, humanoid giants whose voices sound like cracking ice and whose victims turn into undead wights. We are yet to understand the details of their existence and their true motivation, but for now they make you think twice about a casual walk in the woods.

 

Elise Janes

 

Advertisements

We waste our lights in vain, like lamps by day.

Mercutio: I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind

Romeo & Juliet, Act 1, Scene 4

Verona

I will never forget the first time I saw Romeo & Juliet. I was young and despite knowing the outcome of the tragic love story I was utterly unprepared for the blunt realness of the characters, the utter truth of their emotions and intentions, and the stark, gut-wrenching sadness of the climactic scene which left me breathless, shaken to my core, unearthing emotions that I had never known in my short life but were curiously understandable and resoundingly authentic.

Since then I have performed, directed, taught, and studied the play in many different forms and each time, without fail, the work reveals further shades of beauty, paradox, irony and consequence. And each time I am left astonished by the power and truth of this most ubiquitous of tales.

One of the great geniuses of Shakespeare is his acute awareness of narrative timing: when to reveal certain information and to whom, making the audience an unwitting and unwilling party to circumstances the characters are unaware of until it is too late, positioning the viewers in that torturous realm of bearing too much knowledge while possessing too little power, and with nothing to do but watch helplessly as events hurtle toward their inevitable conclusions. And with this very deliberate tactic Shakespeare masterfully underpins the ever-present power of fate that the characters observe in the throes of their helplessness throughout the play.

Fate and premonition feature large in Shakespeare’s work, and the audience is constantly challenged to consider the play of cause and effect in each character’s arc, the agony of thwarted plans and mislaid intentions. Shakespeare uses this powerful form of character-sympathy to great effect, causing us to align ourselves not only with Romeo and Juliet, but with the entire cast, the good and the bad. We find ourselves in admiration of Tybalt, entranced by his unflinching honor and prowess, qualities even the cynical Mercutio is forced to respect in his appraisement of Tybalt’s character. We are ever grateful for the presence of the able but peace-loving Benvolio, loyal and caring to a fault, but a man’s man when the occasion calls. The Nurse and Friar Lawrence play stable, wise adults amidst the tumultuous broil of youthful passion, but are real enough to make mistakes and to accept their own powerlessness in the face of the all-consuming hatred between the two households.

But above all it is Mercutio who steals the play. From the moment he first appears we feel the tangible pull of his tragic fate as strong as that of Romeo’s. Yet in a way his story surpasses even his friend’s in the depths of its heart-wrenching sadness because he is the only one who is ultimately faultless and can see the entire charade for what it is: “nothing but vain fantasy, which is as thin of substance as the air and more inconstant than the wind.”

Mercutio is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of Shakespeare’s ‘fool’ characters whose mocking humor betrays his insight into the reality of circumstances; the futile struggle against the pride and inconstancy of man. His death is among the most telling and tragic moments of the stage, because with him dies the truest of all loyal, wise and innocent spirits.

For even up until his death Mercutio truly wants to believe in the invincibility of his friendships, he wants to believe in the love that Romeo proclaims, he wants to believe in the innocence of their youthful rebellions, he wants to believe in the honor and nobility of Tybalt’s pride, and yet he knows that it is all doomed. This, as much as his defence of Romeo’s honor, is what drives him in anger to challenge Tybalt, knowing as he does that underneath their boyish tussling death waits concrete and inevitable.

John McEnery’s portrayal of the character in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film interpretation is one of the truest renditions yet. From the madness of the Queen Mab speech through to his untimely death, the sheer mortality of the character quivers beneath McEnery’s every mocking phrase and slapstick outburst. Never once does he misinterpret or let slip the intensity of Mercutio’s loyalty to Romeo, even in the throes of death. McEnery’s Mercutio knows the imminence of his fate, and yet when he meets it, he wrestles still with the senselessness of the loss of his young life at the hands of an ancient, baseless feud. This is what makes his famous curse so much the fullness of despair and fatality: “A plague on both your houses!”

Mercutio

Taking us far beyond a simple, tragic love story, in Romeo & Juliet Shakespeare captures completely the beauty and violence of young male friendship, rivalry and loyalty, and through each new interpretation it is those scenes, full of hot-blooded mateship and mischief, that are most savoured, that enthral our emotion and attention: the lewd and tempestuous fight scene at the opening of Act 1; the bizarre yet insurmountably potent Queen Mab speech; the verbal jousting between Romeo and Mercutio in Act 2; and finally the catalytic opening of Act 3 which brings about the death of Mercutio and Tybalt and the banishment of Romeo, and which, some would argue, is the truest climax of the story, packing as much emotional significance as even the lover’s tomb scene.

Romeo & Juliet is more than a tale of ill-fated love and the impotence of pure intentions amidst an ancient vendetta of hate; it is the embodiment of the nobility and beauty of friendship and loyalty, never so strong as in the emotional upheaval of blind youth.

It is a celebration of the colour, life and passion of human relationships, a message that Mercutio sings loud throughout the play and which will never ring dull on the ears of a contemporary audience, not in the past, not now and certainly not into the future.

 

Elise Janes

 

The Oscars Live

Chris Rock hosts a night of notable whiteness. At least there are some controversial topics explored in the films on the table, and some tension in long-nominated artists we’re all hoping will finally go home with a golden boy tonight.

oscars-2016-nominations-snubs-discussion

My pre-ceremony thoughts:

  • Mark Ruffalo is brilliant. Spotlight is brilliant. They need to win.
  • Leonardo DiCaprio saw me through my youth with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Romeo & Juliet, and Titanic. He is LONG OVERDUE for this award. For goodness sake someone give it to him.
  • So many Australian nominations, mainly because of the highly acclaimed Mad Max: Fury Road. Let’s see if it can be the next Ben Hur/Titanic. Hooray for us!!

12:30pm: Opening monologue

Rock dubs this year’s Oscars “the white People’s Choice Awards” and takes a stab at last year’s white guy host, Neil Patrick Harris.
Commenting on why black people bother with the industry at all, he jokes “I don’t need to lose another job to Kevin Hart”.
Finally he comments on why you can’t ask woman what they’re wearing and in the meantime creates a wonderful mental image of George Clooney in a lime-green tux with a swan coming out of his ass.

12:40pm: First two Best Picture nominations announced
Spotlight
Bridge of Spies

12:45pm: Best Original Screenplay

Have you ever wondered why they kick off with the writing awards? Original Screenplay is one of the top categories and there are some big options on the table tonight. As already mentioned, I am favouring Spotlight wherever possible. It’s a brilliant movie.
WINNER: Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy for Spotlight
Hooray!!!!

12:50pm: Best Adapted Screenplay presented by Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe

Only Russell Crowe could read the screenplay excerpts with such authority.
WINNER: Charles Randolph and Adam McKay for The Big Short
I wonder, what’s with biopics? Why do we love them?

1:00pm: Satirical clip on the lack of coloured people in tonight’s nominated movies featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Tracey Morgan, among others, taking invented roles in Joy and The Danish Girl.
It does make you wonder why they thought a white woman inventing a mop would make for essential biopic viewing.
This prompts Rock to create a Minority Outreach Program.

1:02pm: Music performance from Sam Smith, introduced by Sarah Silverman

Silverman making digs at the chauvinism of James Bond and fails to not be annoying as always.
Performance from Sam Smith, “The Writing’s on the Wall” from the movie Spectre.
Apparently he was incredibly nervous about the performance, probably because it’s just him on the stage without backup dancers and boobs to distract people from his actual talent. Good thing he has more than enough talent to carry him.
Which makes me wonder why he gets an embrassingly small amount of applause. Because he’s English?

1:07pm: Two more Best Picture nominations presented by Kerry Washington & Henry Cavill
The Big Short
The Martian 

1:10pm: Best Supporting Actress

I’m wondering why Rachel McAdams? Her emotional range was the width of a pencil. Which was appropriate, but surely not Oscar-worthy.
WINNER: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
She looks loverly. Like a sparkly dessert version of Belle from Beauty & the Beast.

1:20pm: Best Costume Design presented by Cate Blanchett

I love Cate. Love her. Statuesque, noble, dignified, beautiful, articulate, intelligent, talented. And Australian.
WINNER: Jenny Beaven for Mad Max: Fury Road
Beaven also designed for A Room with a View. How very—not like Mad Max. Clearly a talented woman.
Squeezes in a comment about global warming.

1:20pm: Best Production Design presented by Tina Fey & Steve Carrell

WINNER: Colin Gibson & Lisa Thompson for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:26pm: Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling presented by Jared Leto

WINNER: Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega & Damian Martin for Mad Max: Fury Road
More Australians! Hooray!

1:30pm: Two more Best Picture nominations presented by Benicio del Toro and Jennifer Garner
The Revenant
Mad Max: Fury Road
Gosh I hope Leo wins this year. I hope I hope I hope.

1:36pm: Best Achievement in Cinematography presented by Rachel McAdams

WINNER: Emmanuel Lubezki for The Revenant 

1:40pm: Best Achievement in Film Editing presented by Praying Chopra and Liev Schreiber

In the nominations we are reminded that Star Wars happened this year. Where did that one go?
Btw, I think Liev Schreiber is great 🙂
WINNER: Margaret Sixel for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:42pm: Rock takes the satirical Black History Month a step further with Angela Basset confusing Will Smith with Jack Black.

1:50pm: Best Achievement in Sound Editing presented by Captain America and a black guy (haha)

WINNER: Mark Mangini and David White for Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

WINNER: Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudoff & Ben Osmo for Mad Max: Fury Road

1:55pm: Best Achievement in Visual Effects presented by Andy Serkis

WINNER: Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington & Sara Bennett for Ex Machina

2:00pm: Olivia Munn & Jason Segel comment on the Science and Technology Academy Awards, which they hosted last week.

 2:02pm: Rock unleashes his ‘daughters’ to sell Girl Scout cookies to the audience and makes a jab at Leo’s $30million paycheck for The Revenant.

2:05pm: Best Animated Short Film presented by the Minions

WINNER: “Bear Story”
Beautiful heartfelt thank you speech from the Chilean winners.
Is it just me or is Chile an exercise in diversity from the USA? Is that not something to be celebrated?

2:11pm: Best Animated Feature presented by Woody and Buzz Lightyear

WINNER: Inside Out from Pixar

2:15pm: Music performance from The Weeknd introduced by Kevin Hart

The Weeknd performs “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey with the help of some acrobatics, burlesque costumes and a string section.

2:20pm: Rock surveys the people of Compton outside a movie theatre to uncover their opinions on Best Picture this year with amusing results. Btw this is the same gag he pulled for his 2005 hosting stint.

2:30pm: Best Supporting Actor presented by Patricia Arquette

Mark! Mark! Mark!
Oh. Wrong Mark.
WINNER: Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies

2:40pm: Best Documentary Short Subject presented by Louis CK

Louis is a funny guy. Love his work.
Touching on the plight of documentary film-making he jokes “this Oscar is going home in a Honda Civic.”
WINNER: “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”
Amazing acceptance speech from winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy on the power of documentary making to change governmental policies.

2:42pm: Best Documentary Feature presented by Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel

WINNER: Amy

2:50pm: Rock reveals that his girls made $65 243 from selling Girl Scout cookies to the audience.

2:52pm: Honorary Awards and general pleasantries from Whoopi Goldberg and Cheryl Boone Isaacs.

2:56pm: In Memoriam introduced by Louis Gosset Junior and serenaded by Dave Grohl performing “Blackbird”

David Bowie, Leonard Nimoy, Alan Rickman, James Horner, Wes Craven and Christopher Lee among the farewells this year.

3:04pm: Best Live Action Short Film presented by cute kids in tuxedoes

WINNER: “Stutterer”

Best Foreign Language Film presented by Sofia Vergara and Byung-hun Lee

WINNER: Song of Saul by Laszlo Nemes, Hungary
Yay Hungary!

3:11pm: Vice-President Joe Biden gets a standing ovation and responds with “I’m the least qualified person here.” It’s a relief to know there are still good leaders in the world.

Music performance from Lady Gaga “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground

Wow. Goosebumps.

3:22pm: Best Original Score 

One of my favourite categories. Apart from Directing, Composing is the category that requires the most training, technical ability and complexity of talent. These guys are heroes of art.
WINNER: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
I can’t believe this is his first win! After eight nominations and an honorary Oscar a few years back. Such an incredible composer. Love his work

Best Original Song presented by Common and John Legend

Some great nominations this year!
WINNER: Jimmy Napes & Sam Smith for “The Writing’s on the Wall” in Spectre
Sam Smith dedicates his win to the LGBT community and Chris Rock follows up with “no jokes here, you ain’t gonna get me in trouble.”

3:30pm: Two more nominations for Best Picture presented by Olivia Wilde and Sacha Baron Cohen
Room
Brooklyn

3:36pm: Best Director presented by J. J. Abrams

Personally I am hoping it’s Tom McCarty for Spotlight but I really think it’ll be between Iñárritu and Miller.

NOMINEES:
Adam McKay, The Big Short 
Lenny Abrahamson, Room
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Alejandro G. Iñárritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Mad: Fury Road

WINNER: Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Well deserved! Again, is this not diversity of some kind?

3:45pm: Best Actress in a Leading Role presented by Eddie Redmayne

Of course I vote for Cate Blanchett, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it went to one of the younger options.

NOMINEES:
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 WINNER: Brie Larson

Wowsers! She was up against some real talent. Well done.

3:52pm: Best Actor in a Leading Role presented by Julianne Moore

Come on, Leo. It’s time.

NOMINEES:
Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

WINNER: Leonardo DiCaprio

Yay! YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY!!!!!!

4:00pm: Best Picture presented by Morgan Freeman

Here we go, the big deal. I’m hoping for Spotlight but we’ll see, there are some real good movies on this list…

NOMINEES:
The Big Short
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian
The Revenant
Room
Spotlight

WINNER: Spotlight

Yes! Such a good movie. Go see it if you haven’t already. Brilliant screenplay, fantastic ensemble cast, excellent directing.

Closing thoughts from Chris Rock: “Black lives matter.”

 

 

 

2016: A Literary Calendar

New releases from four Booker-prize winners; posthumous works from Christopher Hitchens and Terry Pratchet; a tribute from William Shatner; and several commemorative reimaginings for Shakespeare’s 400th death-day. It’s shaping up to be a veritable feast of a year.


January

And Yet: Essays
Christopher Hitchens
Essays
A posthumous collection of observations that proves Hitchens is nothing if not entertaining. Whether or not you agreed with his worldview he possessed an articulate charm that still shines through in his writing.

1129-BKS-Popova-master675

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe
Lisa Randall
Science
Ranked by Brainpickings’s Maria Popova as the best non-fiction work, and if that’s not high enough praise I don’t what is. After all, who doesn’t like a bit of dark matter? Read her full review for the New York Times here.

The Noise of Time
Julian Barnes
Fiction
Whether you like Barnes or not he’s won a Booker prize so it’s worth keeping an eye on his stuff. This one appeals to me particularly because it’s about Dmitri Shostakovich, one of the greatest string composers of the 20th century, and is set amongst the chaos of Stalinist Russia.


February

Leonard: A Life
William Shatner
Biography
Of course we want to read a book by the endearing Shatner. Especially a tribute to his late friend and co-star Leonard Nimoy, immortalized as Spock in Star Trek, in the 50th anniversary year of the original series premiere.

Shylock Is My Name
Howard Jacobson
Fiction
The first in a legion of Shakespeare nods in this the 400th anniversary year of the great bard’s death. True to form Jacobsen focuses on the Jewish character from The Merchant of Venice in an exploration of fatherhood and morality. And as another Booker winner, his stuff is usually worth a sniff.

The High Mountains of Portugal
Yann Martel
Fiction
Yet another new release from a Booker winner (this seems to be the year), this is the novel I would choose above the others so far due to the sheer originality of Martel’s voice. In the vein of Life of Pi, Martel again tackles the quest narrative in a story about treasure, murder and of course, animal companionship.

This Census-Taker
China Miéville
Novella
Miéville has been around for a while but his appeal is now taking off beyond the ranks of genre fanatics. A startlingly inventive speculative writer, here he deals with the relationship between a young boy and a stranger who might save him from himself.


March

Anatomy of a Soldier
Harry Parker
Fiction
Debut novel from a former solider about a British captain recovering from a horrific bomb injury. What sets this novel apart is that it’s narrated from the point-of-view of 45 inanimate objects. 

At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails
Sarah Bakewell
Philosophy/Biography
An exploration of existentialism from 1930s France through to the liberal movements of the mid-century, by examining the lives and relationships of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Raymond Aron, among others.

Hot Milk
Deborah Levy
Fiction
A Booker-shortlisted author, Levy’s new novel is about a mother and daughter finding refuge in a Spanish village, and explores all the trauma and triumph of female relationships and identity.


April

Fragments
Elena Ferrante
Writings
One of the hottest authors around and still her true identity remains a mystery. Having recently concluded the highly acclaimed Neapolitan quartet, this year she releases a collection of observations through short pieces, interviews and letters.

The Bricks That Built the Houses
Kate Tempest
Fiction
Winner of the Ted Hughes prize for poetry and nominated as a rapper for the Mercury music prize, Tempest’s new work is a novel about three youths escaping south-east London together, running from various forms of oppression in the hopes of liberating themselves from self-loathing, loneliness and unconsummated desire.

Francis-Begbie-1024x659

The Blade Artist
Irvine Welsh
Fiction
Another grungy British novel, and who wouldn’t want to read the latest Welsh? Particularly when he returns to one of Trainspotting’s most divisive characters, Francis Begbie.


May

A Life Discarded
Alexander Masters
Biography
A ‘found’ biography, compiled from 148 volumes of diary discovered amongst discarded building materials in Cambridge.

Selection Day
Aravind Adiga
Fiction
May is a busy month for releases but do not miss Adiga’s latest novel. Yet another prior Booker-winner, his new work focuses on a young boy in present-day Mumbai.

The Gustav Sonata
Rose Tremain
Fiction
I would recommend Rose Tremain’s gorgeously rendered novels anyway, but when ‘Gustav’ and ‘Sonata’ are mentioned in the title it’s a no-brainer. Two boys hold onto friendship over thirty years of life spanning World War II.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer
Kate Summerscale
True Crime
In the vein of her previous bestseller The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Summerscale turns again to murder in Victorian England, this time writing about the trial of a 13-year-old boy.

Zero K
Don DeLillo
Fiction
Another big name release for 2016, DeLillo addresses mortality and the privilege of extreme wealth when a man tries to save his wife from terminal illness.


June

Hands: What We Do With Them – and Why
Darian Leader
Psychology
The latest in the line-up of fascinating psychoanalytical works, Leader examines what’s really going on when we fiddle with our fingers.

The Games: A Global History of the Olympics
David Goldblatt
Historical
Just in time for the 31st Olympiad in Rio, Goldblatt delivers on the success of his football history to give us the highlights of the world Olympics.

the long earth

The Long Cosmos
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter
Fiction
Of course this is a must-read no matter who you are. The grand finale of The Long Earth series concludes a life’s work from Pratchett, who died shortly after its completion last year.

Vinegar Girl
Anne Tyler
Fiction
Another Shakespearean tribute from the Booker crowd (A Spool of Blue Thread was shortlisted last year), Tyler delivers a quirky interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew.


July

The Girls
Emma Cline
Fiction
Already sold to Scott Rudin for film adaptation, this is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year. A young girl in the 1969 summer becomes involved with a commune similar to the Manson Family.

The Muse
Jessie Burton
Fiction
Set in Spain and London in the 30s and 60s, the author of The Miniaturist spins a tail about a painting, a Caribbean immigrant and a bohemian artist.

You Hide That You Hate Me and I Hide That I Know
Philip Gourevitch
Historical/War
Gourevitch returns to the subject of Rwanda after his startling and brutal coverage of the 1994 genocide.


August

A Horse Walks into a Bar
David Grossman
Fiction
A perplexing and enthralling novel about a comedian whose life disintegrates on stage during an act in a small Israeli town.

Beast
Paul Kingsnorth
Fiction
A Booker long-lister this time, Kingsnorth returns with a quest novel set in the Midlands moor. His debut The Wake established him as an author of remarkable linguistic inventiveness with his use of a shadow version of Old English.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life
Ed Yong
Science
Yong discusses the incredible influence of microbes on the lives of all earthly animals, released off the back of a successful Atlantic column, science blog and viral TED talk.

The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu
Charlie English
Historical
The story of librarians smuggling manuscripts out of Timbuktu when it was on the brink of Islamic occupation, combined with an exploration of the city itself as it was first discovered by the western world in the Victorian era.


September

bolshoi

Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet
Simon Morrison
Arts/Historical
What’s not to love about this exploration of art under pressure? Russia, ballet, tsars, Putin, Bolshoi, beautiful people, famous composers, and life in the spotlight.

Here I Am
Jonathan Safran Foer
Fiction
We’ve waited eleven years for the next Safran Foer novel, and if you haven’t read his previous two make sure you start from the beginning with Everything Is Illuminated. His new work also examines Jewish identity, this time set against the war in Israel.

The Lesser Bohemians
Eimear McBride
Fiction
A new novel from the author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing which won the Baileys Prize in 2014. Set in the 90s in north London, a young woman moves from Ireland to study acting and begins an affair with an older actor.

Who Rules the World?
Noam Chomsky
Sociology
The controversial intellectual claims the greatest threat to future peace is the USA.


October

Blood Riders
Gary Oldman & Douglas Urbanski
Fiction
Any work of fiction by esteemed Brit actor Gary Oldman sounds enticing enough, let alone this, the first in a proposed series of Wild West vampire novels. Watch him in 1992’s Dracula to get yourself in the mood.

Bookworm
Lucy Mangan
Literature/Historical
Mangan collates her vast experience to provide an insight into the beauty of childhood reading and the classic books that have profoundly influenced generations of young people.

Total Intoxication
Norman Ohler
Historical
An examination of the use of drugs in the Nazi party as a tool of war and experimentation.


November

The Power
Naomi Alderman
Fiction
A satirical reimagining of a society in which girls are the stronger sex, from the author of The Liar’s Gospel.

heat_of_darkness_by_vonmurder-d5iqtca-e1429274327859

The Worlds of Joseph Conrad
Maya Jasanoff
Literature/Historical
Jasanoff uses Conrad’s life and works to examine perspectives on world culture and geography at the beginning of the 1900s.

Venice: An Interior
Javier Marías
Design
Marías, esteemed Spanish author of A Heart So White and The Infatuations, turns his eye to the beauty of Venetian design.

 

Elise Janes

Facebook Pages: Top Ten

The Top Ten Facebook Pages You Can Like to Stay in the Know

facebook

A well-put-together Facebook News Feed can be just as informative as a newspaper, or watching TV in the morning. Following a varietyof Facebook pages eliminates the need to actively seek out information on a daily basis. Having a tailored News Feed means all the right information is delivered straight to your device. In a world where everyone is constantly on the move, social media is a great platform one can use to stay informed, from any place, at any time.

Here are ten Facebook pages recommended for your feed.

Al Jazeera English

Al Jazeera broadcasts news from the Middle East. Al Jazeera’s Facebook page is a useful source for anyone who is interested in not only their local news, but also global news. Al Jazeera often covers major news stories that the Australian media neglects to report on.

Higgins Storm Chasing

HSCThe Higgins Storm Chasing Facebook page is run by a bunch of people who are really passionate about weather. The team at Higgins Storm Chasing posts forecasts and warnings. Unlike the Bureau of Meteorology, Higgins Storm Chasing posts a large amount of photos sent in by fans of the page, making it an engaging source.

 

Daily Mail

The Daily Mail posts news updates, regularly. They also post articles about a variety of topics. It’s unfortunate that the Daily Mail’s headlines are often misleading, and sometimes contain major spelling errors. It’s a good source of information, but not 100% reliable.

Bright Sidebright side

Bright Side aims to make the world a little brighter. Bright Side creates and shares positive, inspiring content that will make you feel better about the world we live in.

Courier Mail

If you live in Brisbane, it’s likely you’ve grown up reading the Courier Mail, or at least know someone who used to read the paper every Saturday. The Courier Mail reports on the latest local news.

Music Feeds

The Music Feeds Facebook page posts Australian and International music news, reviews and interviews. A wide range of genres are covered.

TODAY

Many people watch the TODAY Show for Australia’s national treasure, Karl Stefanovic. Now that he’s making less appearances on the show, it’s likely you’re reluctant to watch as much as you used to. Now, all you need for your TODAY Show fix is the TODAY Show Facebook page. They post great highlights. The light-hearted feel of the show translates well onto TODAY’s social media.

Queensland Police Service

Someone at Queensland Police Service has a really awesome sense of humour. QPS regularly post updates about local news and traffic; often, there is a sneaky pun or pop culture reference thrown in for your enjoyment.

Pedestrian.tv

ped-tv-logo

 

Pedestrian.tv posts a mix of entertaining articles about news and pop culture. Pedestrian.tv really speaks its mind. It’s quite tongue-in-cheek at times. A very entertaining source.

 

Lucky PeachObsession-Cover-Lucky-Peach-Magazine

Lucky Peach is a quarterly journal of food and writing, with each issue exploring themes through essays, art, photography and recipes. If you can’t afford the magazine subscription, Lucky Peach’s social media is a great, free source of information. Their
Facebook feed has an interesting mix of articles, catering to foodies all over the world. Lucky Peach’s email newsletter is quite impressive too.

 

In the comments section below, let us know your favourite Facebook page.

Carmel Purcell

Top Ten Significant Books of 2015

Now’s about the time you need to stock up on summer reading materials for the long January beach days and afternoons under a tree. In a year of busy literariness, with Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Tom McCarthy and Salman Rushdie all releasing new books, you’d be forgiven for not keeping on top of the truly noteworthy developments that have slid past us in the year that was. Here are ten works significant to 2015 in one way or another that are sure to entertain, or at least keep you in good stead for dinner party conversations.

 

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
Having won an impressive amount of awards, not least of all the Man Booker Prize, if you haven’t heard about this book it’s time to come out from under your rock. A fictional musing on the fallout of the 1976 Bob Marley assassination attempt, the novels spans decades and continents to form a dramatic and exuberant picture of Jamaica’s coming-of-age.

 

Garth-Risk-Hallberg-BOOKCity on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
A two-million-dollar bidding war is nothing to sneeze at, neither is a 900+ page debut novel. A multi-perspective, intricately woven story of New York City leading up to the famous 1977 summer blackout, examining the city’s richest and poorest and everything in between.

 

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Find me one person in the Western hemisphere who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented Atticus Finch as one of the all-time greatest characters in literature. For a long time this was to be the only book Harper Lee, now 89, was to ever publish. So in terms of making history the release of her second, and probably final, novel this year is kind of a big deal.

 

HawkH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
In order to make sense of the devastating grief of losing her father, Macdonald embarks on a journey to train her own goshawk, the wildest and most brutal of raptors. Part memoir, part nature manual, part literary history, this enchanting book has generated a surprising amount of popular and critical acclaim.

 

inherent viceInherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
A 60s noir escapade story from one of the most influential contemporary novelists (but if you haven’t yet read Pynchon, start with dystopian The Crying of Lot 49). Inherent Vice is several years old now but this year became the first Pynchon novel to be adapted for the screen. Don’t see the movie, but do read the book.

 

jon ronsonSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
A man who’s made a career out of researching the bizarrities of modern social cultures, Ronson is the British answer to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest release Ronson examines the strange obsession we seem to have with mass shamings, and the role social media has played in the expansion of this global pastime.

 

south-of-darknessSouth of Darkness, John Marsden
Marsden is a national treasure displaying an impressive range of narrative tone throughout his long career, from the psychological dramas of his earlier works to the addictive war action of his highly acclaimed Tomorrow series. After a writing hiatus he has returned with this colonial high-seas narrative of a young convict boy destined for Botany Bay.

 

buried giantThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so this was one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2015. In post-Arthurian England a couple set off across the misted landscape to find their son of whom they have almost no memory. A novel of slow-reveal like his other works The Buried Giant was met with the same bemused reception. Reviewers seem unsure as to whether it is exceedingly ordinary or another triumph of symbolic and revelatory genius.

 

martianThe Martian, Andy Weir
A few years old this novel makes the 2015 list because it was also adapted for the screen this year, and unlike Inherent Vice it is a movie worth seeing. Not the most literary of options, it has nevertheless been met with positive reviews all round, named a ‘Robinson Crusoe for the modern age’. Entertaining and readable, it’s a perfect summer novel.

 

waiting_for_the_past_print_0Waiting for the Past, Les Murray
Named as one of Australia’s Living Treasures Les Murray has an OA to his name and is widely considered one of the best living English-language poets worldwide. His new collection has already won a slew of awards and you’d be crazy to miss it.

 

Elise Janes

 

Peace on Earth

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

from “Christmas Bells”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

Top Ten Vintage Christmas Films to Save You From Netflix Specials

Not all Christmas movies are created equal. Finding a good festive film requires an increasingly long trek through the morass of animated holiday specials, random variety shows, Hallmark made-for-TV goo and just plain bad efforts from studios who should know better.

So if you’ve exhausted all the usual go-to’s, look no further. Here are ten classics that are guaranteed to warm the cockles of your Christmas heart.

10. The Holly & the Ivy (1952)

An English clergyman realises the error of his ways as he reconnects with his estranged famliy at Christmas. Based on a play by Wynyard Browne the film bravely examines the complexities of family and the ambiguities of emotional neglect with unexpectedly heart-warming results.

9. Three Godfathers (1948)

3 godfathers

Nothing says Christmas like a John Wayne western, right? A hard-hitting, surprisingly emotional reimagining of the story of the three wise men as wild west bandits fleeing the law who stumble across a mother and her newborn son in the desert.

8. We’re No Angels (1955)

A comedic counterpart to the gunslinging godfathers, here three convicts on the run share Christmas dinner with a family and upon learning of their financial troubles decide to forego their devious plans and perform a few good deeds. Humphrey Bogart plays a loveable con as only he can.

7. Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

mon oncle

Not as vintage as the other offerings on this list, but a classic in it’s own right. Set in Quebec, this movie is often cited as the best Canadian film ever made. Benoit accompanies his uncle to retrieve the body of young boy at Christmastime. A beautiful meditation on life and death, family, age and the innocence of youth.

6. Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

Judy Garland in her sparkling prime in a big screen musical about the lives and loves of four sisters around the time of the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. Not a Christmas movie per se, but it gave us the perennial classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and for that we will be forever grateful.

5. A Christmas Carol [Scrooge] (1951)

Arguably the best rendition of the ubiquitous Dickens story, it is a sheer joy to watch veteran actor Alastair Sim in the titular role as he transforms utterly from a miserly old man into a redeemed champion of the virtue of generosity and the value of human life.

4. Holiday Inn (1942) & White Christmas (1954)

holiday inn

Bing Crosby dazzles in both movies, singing and dancing his way through colourful holiday shenanigans and general musical greatness. There’s snow, romance, timeless Irving Berlin tunes, and all the festive kitsch you could desire. Holiday Inn comes out slightly ahead simply because it also features the incomparable Fred Astaire.

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

The classic tale of a Macy’s Santa Claus who may or may not be the real deal. An ingenious portrayal of the power of childlike faith to overcome adult narrow-mindedness, cynicism and doubt. There are several remakes, but try this one first.

2. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Charmingly set in Budapest, this movie is an embodiment of everything that was once grand about romantic comedies. Two shop assistants who can’t stand each other gradually realise they have fallen in love as anonymous pen pals. A gorgeously tangled plot handled with surprising range, it manages to never get too sweet or too sour.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)

its-a-wonderful-life

James Stewart takes the helm in the top two movies on this list, and really, who else can be the hero of Christmas vintage if not for the man who brought us George Bailey, the troubled businessman facing personal crisis on Christmas Eve. A surprisingly dark concept for a Christmas movie, George is rescued from suicidal contemplations when the angel Clarence takes him on a journey through his past to show him how different the world would be if he had never existed. The final scene, that look on Bailey’s face as he realises the true value of his life to those around him, is one of the most life-affirming moments in cinema.

 

Elise Janes

 

TV Shows in 2015 (or, Not Quite a Top Ten List)

We live in an age of lists. The 10 best authors, 10 best films, 10 best songs about love and loss and war and hope. Almost by definition, a list presupposes a kind of expertise, that the maker of the list is in a position to weed out the dross and provide a subjective but nonetheless informed short-cut to quality. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but, for me, thinking about a ‘10 best of for 2015’ is complicated by the birth of my son. I don’t have a pool of anything that isn’t newborn related from which to draw and measure my 10 best of. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, and I didn’t expect to eat as much fiction or music or cinema, or whatever it was I did before I became a father, in 2015, but 10 isn’t a big number. It’s less than one of something a month. But all I could afford were glimpses of things, their place in a list, and sometimes, in the background, the TV. So, without further ado and in no particular order, a glimpse of my top 10 TV shows for 2015.

UNREAL  

UnReal exposes the sick, twisted heart of shows like The Bachelor.

UnReal is a dark and satirical look at the making of a reality dating show, Everlasting, loosely based on The Bachelor. It’s produced and co-written by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, and based on her film Sequin Raze. Shapiro is a writer, filmmaker, artist and musician, and spent nine seasons working on The Bachelor in the US which provided her with the meat for UnReal. UnReal begins at the beginning, with Everlasting’s executive producer, Quinn, conducting the opening sequence from the master control suite. The season’s first contestant arrives in a horse-drawn carriage, and alights carrying a violin, which she proceeds to play. The bachelor gives the show’s host a kind of WTF nod as the contestant introduces herself as Shamiqua. Cut! Quinn yells. They can’t have a black contestant opening the show, she’s not ‘wifey’ enough. When Quinn’s accused of being racist she replies it’s not her, it’s America. Meanwhile, Rachel, one of the producers under Quinn’s wing, is en route to the Everlasting villa with some of the other contestants. She’s wearing a T-shirt that reads THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE, and lies on the floor of the limo amidst a forest of clean white legs and heels in a tightly framed shot that gives her a kind of claustrophobic, interred look, like she’s in a coffin. Which in many respects she is. They all are. The bachelor, the contestants, the crew. For this is a nasty world full of savagery and conflict where the only governing constant is the drug of the show, to which everybody’s bound but from which no-one can completely escape. And the Network looms large, fucking and corrupting and violating everything it touches to ramp the tension and secure its slot in its time. There is nothing else. And although UnReal isn’t as overtly vicious as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, it’s on the same spectrum. SBS has acquired the rights to season two and will probably air in 2016.

HAPPYISH

aHAPPYish

Happysish is about happiness, and unhappiness, and the overpopulated terrain that lies between. It was originally called Pigs In Shit, with Philip Seymour Hoffman slated for the lead until his death in 2014. The role eventually went to Steve Coogan, and the program survived one 10-episode season before the axe. It rated poorly, received mixed reviews from critics, with many calling it smug and self-satisfied rubbish, and was perhaps one of the finest comedies to come out of the US since Community. Coogan plays Thom Payne, an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive advertising executive struggling with the 21st century. He lives in Woodstock, New York, with his partner, an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive artist, and their young son. The ad agency where Thom works is being taken over by a couple of German wunderkinds who represent the most abject and perishable aspects of creativity, and are vaguely reminiscent of the Bond villains Mr Wint and Mr Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever; smiling, genial, and lethal. But not all the action takes place at the office or revolves around work. Thom’s real passion is literature, and writing, and thinking – the writers and thinkers mentioned in each episode are given acting credits, like STARRING SIGMUND FRUED, CHARLES BUKOWSKI, AND SEVEN BILLION  ARSEHOLES. Or the final episode which starred CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, PHILLIP LARKIN, AND JOSEF STALIN. Which go a long way to painting the melodies of the show. May it rest in peace. Five stars.

MR ROBOT

aMr RobotMr Robot begins with the protagonist, Elliot, a young man dressed in a black hoodie with a handsome, intense face, sitting in Ron’s Coffee Shop watching the door. The owner, Ron, comes in and takes a table. Elliot joins him, and by way of introduction tells Ron that Ron isn’t his real name, he changed it from Rohit Mehta on buying Ron’s Coffee Shop six years ago. Rohit (Ron) looks alarmed. Who are you? he says. Elliot continues, saying he likes Ron’s Coffee Shop because the Wi-Fi’s fast. So impressed was he by the speed, he explains, he hacked the network, and discovered Rohit runs a website called Plato’s Boys, and that onion protocoling isn’t as anonymous as Rohit might like to think. Rohit demands to know what Elliot wants. Money? Elliot doesn’t give a shit about money. Elliot says that although he doesn’t jerk off to little boys, he understands where Rohit’s coming from. He knows what it’s like to be different. He’s been different his whole life, and as he gets up to leave, sirens can be heard in the distance. They’re coming for Ron, with Elliot’s anonymous tip timed to prevent Ron from contacting his systems administrator and wiping all the incriminating data. Elliot leaves. Because this is what he does. He hacks into people’s lives finding injustices to fix, inadequacies to help, and lies to out. His awkward and misplaced heroics finally lead him to an anarchist group called fSociety, and so begins their journey to bring down corporate America. Apart from Christian Slater, who plays the enigmatic figurehead of this ragtag collection of misfits, the cast, along with its maker, Sam Esmail, are unknowns. Which is massive, given it was picked up and distributed in the US by NBC. Mr Robot’s billed as a cyber-punk thriller, and owes as much to David Lynch as it does to Fight Club, Taxi Driver, and Stanley Kubrick, and proved a canny broadcasting move as it now has a cult following moving into its second season.

THE LEFTOVERS

aThe Leftovers 1The premise is simple: one day, 140 million people disappear from the planet without trace, cause, or any obvious connection. This is the bedrock upon which the series is based: what if something truly inexplicable happened in our lifetime, something without precedent, like the big bang, and without inherent logic or reason? What then? How do we live with such an event, and the overwhelming unknowing of what happened, and whether what happened might one day happen again? How do we tame this wild ignorance into something we can manage and discuss over dinner? The Leftovers is one of the most important television programs on air. It asks, when faced with something so beyond our abilities to rationalise or understand, why do we turn to belief? Why do we need to believe it must be this, or that? And once determined, why the need to bunker down in camps of believers and non-believers? This is the religious imperative. And The Leftovers wonders what it is that religion fills, but like UnReal and Mr Robot, The Leftovers is a drama, not a polemic, and it doesn’t assume to know the answers. It’s about the people, the leftovers, the ones who stayed behind, and what’s possible in a world where tomorrow may in all likelihood never come.

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

aThe Man in the High Castle

Another show that carries a dangerous premise is The Man in the High Castle. Taken from a novel by Phillip K Dick , it’s a revisionist take on World War II, with the Axis powers winning and dividing the US into three parts: The Pacific States of America governed by Imperial Japan, the Greater Nazi Reich which runs the length of the east coast and west as far as Texas, and a neutral band between the two called the Rocky Mountain States. There’s a resistance, and the pilot wastes no time setting up the violent tensions of occupation. Then a spanner. One of the protagonists finds some newsreel footage of Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri in 1945. Like The Leftovers, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic rapture event than this. If the footage is to be believed, then everything is a lie, and somewhere, in some not too distant space-time continuum, there’s an alternative reality where the Allies won the war. It’s a bit like Winston’s paperweight in 1984. Where once ye abandoned all hope, now there is a window. Needless to say, when the occupying forces discover this footage exists, the chase is on. Which is as far as I got, so no spoiler for this little nugget.

GOTHAM

aGothamGotham is a noir prequel to the Batman story that revolves around the day-to-days of the Gotham City Police Department, in particular Detective James Gordon. Unlike the Leftovers, or The Man in the High Castle, Gotham doesn’t break any ground. But to its credit, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. The production is lavishly operatic, with all the tropes, stereotypes and social idioms of the comic book given a bang crash pow course in moral complexity, and the acting highwires between the histrionic and the ridiculous without ever losing its grip. Which is no small feat. However, what struck me about Gotham was the music. In the first episode, a singer auditions for a nightclub spot with Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain. Next episode the New York Dolls pop up. Iggy Pop, The Stooges. Then in episode 04 another singer auditions for the same nightclub with a pared back version of Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshess. Now, Souixie and the Banshees don’t get out much these days, and given what had preceded it, I checked out the credits for SOUND. Turns out to be Graeme Revell, frontman for the 1980’s punk industrial electronic group SPK. Revell’s been composing for TV and film for over two decades, with all sorts of titles to his name, from Dead Calm in 1989, to The Crow, Bride of Chucky, The Matrix and its sequels, Pitch Black and its sequels, Lara Croft, Sin City, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again, and the list goes on. I was reminded of Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance who wrote the score for Balibo, won a Golden Globe with her score for Whale Rider, and is perhaps best known for her work with Ridley Scott on Black Hawk Down, The Insider, and Gladiator. Or the French electronica duo Air who scored Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides. Or Clint Mansell, formerly with Pop Will Eat Itself, who scored The Fountain with Kronos Quartet. Or Trent Reznor’s score for The Social Network. Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood. These are more than bands or musicians providing a song to top or tail a movie or soundtrack a car chase, but an industry shift away from traditional composers like Morricone and Williams to the Billboard alternative music charts.

I’m not sure what it all means, if anything, these swings in cinema and TV, with the recent crop of movie stars appearing in shows like Hannibal, True Detective, House of Cards, Fargo, the trend some say began with The Sopranos and The Wire towards a more literary narrative arc, programs that can’t be dipped into like tracks on an album but have to be watched from the beginning to the end, episode by episode. Maybe we’ve become more demanding, as an audience. Who knows? What’s good to know – even though I didn’t make it to 10 – is that quality television is starting to become more fashionable than it has for some time. Which makes parenthood just that little bit easier. Or not. Who knows?

 

Sean Macgillicuddy

 

Serial, True Detective & Me

Three days ago I discovered the podcast Undisclosed. Hosted by three lawyers Rabia Chaudry, Colin Miller & Susan Simpson, this series is a deeper dive into the 1999 Baltimore murder case of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of Adnan Syed for her murder and a more in-depth look at the legal issues in play originally served up to us in 2014 as Serial, a 12-part series brought to us by Sarah Koenig and the team @ This American Life.

UNDISCLOSEDI wanted more. I wanted Serial Series 2 but had no idea when it might land in my podkicker episodes feed. I was staring into the great white unknown, man, and was left feeling uneasy. I’d caught the bug. My ear holes were hungry for serialised drama. I’d recently devoured The Message and swallowed what there is of Limetown whole.

The Undisclosed team are catching-me-up. I’m neck deep in the nitty-gritty. In two days I’ve gorged on ten eps, with fifteen to twenty more stored in the pantry. I get too easily torn between believing we’ll never know who and why Hae Min was killed to thinking that each new discovery the pod-hosts bring us will be the crucial game changer.

And then, last night. It was 11.35pm. I was just about to turn off the bedroom light and invite sleep into my life when I refreshed my podkicker one last time. As the app refreshed, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, fluffed my pillows. Then…

BOOM!

I shit my pants.

There it was: ‘Serial. Episode 01 – DUSTWUN’.

SERIALI stared in awe. I was reminded what Christmas morning was like as an eight year old – overwhelming excitement at receiving something I really wanted and would really appreciate. There would be newness in my life. A new door was about to be opened to me. A mystery would be presented and dissected. Questions raised, answers sought and yet still doubt and uncertainty would linger. ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sarah and team for finally coming back into my life,’ I almost whispered. I downloaded right away.

And as the ep poured its 40.62 megabytes of data into my feed’s open mouth, I got a twinge in my chest. A moment of pause. Hesitation. ‘Shit,’ I thought, in response to my reaction. ‘Is this doubt creeping in, already?’

Yes. Yes it was. Doubt bleeding out worry. Worry the colour of apprehension. Not red. Not blue. Yellowy-white. Aw, man. It will be great, won’t it?

I was in this state for a few minutes after, in between turning off the light and drifting into sleep. So today, I need to address it.

Like the first series of True Detective, I’d put Serial #1 in a snow globe. As close as anything could, these series came as close to fully realising what they had set out to do. And coming from a place of utter authenticity with a focus, not on garnering mega-success and creating a franchise, but delivering the full truth and experience of the story they were telling.

TRUE DETECTIVEThe second series of True Detective has been out for months now. All 8 episodes are parked in my IQ DVR. They remain recorded as yet unviewed. I’ve stayed away from any reviews of the series but not the chatter which seeps into podcast conversations and other general sources of pop-culture tete-a-tetes. I want so much for this show to build on what Nic Pizzolatto, Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey delivered to us in the first iteration. My expectations are (were?) sky high. The first series was so bang on. Characters with balls. Storylines that cut sharp. The mise-en-scene of Louisana. Its expanses. Its poverty. Its parochialism and strong faith.

It all clicked. It was intelligent, didn’t pander and spent much of its time elbow deep in the shit of humanity. And now, after overhearing much negative and dismissive talk of the second iteration, I’m nervous and afraid. I don’t want this ideal that I hold tightly in my head to be affected. ‘Why?’ I ask the universe, without having watched a solitary second of the new series. ‘Why did it have to be True Detective? Why couldn’t they just call it something else?’

And on and on and on this self-pitying crap went.

I self-medicated by watching The Sopranos. When that ended I was introduced to Coach Eric Taylor and the Friday Night Lights crew. That worked, for a while. It worked until specifically 11.35pm last night. And now I know it’s something I’m going to have to confront.

I have to let Serial #2 become its own thing. Let it be what it will be. As Marc Maron says in his 2011 book, Attempting Normal, the situation is in my head. Sometimes that’s just how it will be.

So Serial mark-2, will it fill the void, quench the thirst, feed the beast? No, because it’s not meant to. That shit is on me. I can’t put my failings and shortcomings on someone else’s thing.

But I can tune in and give it my time. I can crack open the snow globe, allow newness into my life. Be open to wonder and surprise.

Serial: Episode 01 – DUSTWUN is loaded into my playlist and I’m about to jack-in. To all embarking on the same journey, good luck and enjoy!