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Friday 14 February 2020

What I've Been Hearing, Watching and Reading

Is This Mutton's review of books, TV and podcasts for February 2020

Dear friends. My occasional round-up of great reading, TV and podcasts starts with the marvellous writer Marian Keyes. 

I pre-ordered her new book Grown Ups  although I've decided to save it for my summer holiday. She featured in two of my favourite podcasts this week, How to Fail, and Fortunately with Fi and Jane.

Marian is spot on when she says that men who write in the same genre are not dismissed as "chick lit" or light and fluffy. Of course, if it's by a man it has to be some higher art form. Utter nonsense of course.

It takes a lot to spook me. Normally,  I find ghost stories a bit of a yawn fest. But when I read Michelle Paver's Thin Air, I'm sure my heart rate went up. The story is set in 1937 in the dark isolation of a snowbound base-camp of a small scientific expedition.

Reading reviews after I finished it, I found that this was Paver's second "ghost story" and people complained it was not as scary as the first one, Dark Matter. I promptly read the first one and found that in some ways it was similar. The dramatic device was the same: someone with a grudge coming back to wreak havoc.  Both books are gripping.


I was so pleased to discover Heavyweight not least because it has a healthy back catalogue of episodes. Heavyweight is from one of my favourite pod providers, Gimlet.  The title eludes to "losing a heavy weight."  The presenter, humorist Jonathan Goldstein, helps people try to resolve a moment from their past that they wish they could change.

Two examples: one was from his own family, where his father and uncle, aged 80 and 85 respectively, had barely spoken to each other for year for reasons they could hardly remember. Jonathan managed to get them to agree to a meet up. It was fascinating and compelling. as the younger brother realised for the first time the heavy burden his older brother had carried. He had  believed all his life that the older brother was the favourite and felt resentful.

In the most recent episode, Marie-Claude, who wants to take up a career in real estate, finds she has to take exams that involve maths, and she has been traumatised by maths since childhood. I know how she feels. Does she succeed in putting her fear of algebra behind her?  A very uplifting story.

The podcast always starts with a phone call between Jonathan and one of his female friends. She doesn't want to be involved in his podcast and it's an entertaining intro.

TV Recommendations

The Stranger (Netflix) is watchable and intriguing, although ultimately a bit disappointing. With a stellar cast, including Dervla Kerwan, Stephen Rea and Anthony Head, it has many story threads, some of which turn out to be dead ends and a bit pointless. We enjoyed it until the last episode, which was not very believable.

The UK thriller The Stranger on Netflix

Olive Kitteridge, a two-parter from HBO, is back on Sky, Now TV and Brit Box.  I saw it when it first came out, having read Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer prize winning book.  Now, watching it again, having read the unexpected follow-up by Strout, I find myself disliking Olive.  The former maths teacher is a curmudgeon, always rolling her eyes and having a sharp opinion; but in the two parter, she rarely shows a glimmer of the kindness you see in the second book.  I cringed at how awful she was to her kind, loving husband. 

Olive is a complex character however, which makes her all the more real.  We see how she loved her son when he was a baby, yet when he's grown up they have a difficult relationship. She resents his first wife, and after overhearing her criticising the dress Olive made for the wedding, Olive steals an earring from her and runs a marker pen across one of the daughter-in-law's dresses.

I highly recommend it - beautiful scenery and filmography, and outstanding award-winning performances from Frances Dormand as Olive and Richard Jenkins as her beleagured husband.

What are your latest recommendations? Do share in the comments.

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