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Friday 2 October 2020

It's Those Friday Favourites! Books, TV and Podcasts

 Is This Mutton's Gail Hanlon on a walk listening as always to a podcast. Check out her monthly Friday Favourites for recommendations

TGIF! A week later than normal, here's my monthly round-up of favourite viewing. listening and reading. Love to get your recommendations in the comments. 

What I've Been Reading 

I've been working my way through some of the Booker Prize long list.  I love books about dystopian worlds, although they can veer off course very quickly and become ridiculous.  The New Wilderness, the debut novel from Diane Cook, kept me gripped to the end.  It follows a group of volunteers who are wandering the wilderness after abandoning city life. They are constantly being moved on by the rangers. We learn quite soon that several of them have died, some in brutal and visceral ways. 

The story mainly focuses on the relationship between Bea and her daughter Agnes.  Bea joined the project to try to restore Agnes's poor health. You really get the sense of love and hate between a mother and daughter as Bea's behavior occasionally confounds Agnes who lacks, as an adolescent, the insight into why adults sometimes do what they do. 

I felt exasperated at the way the tribe of volunteers so rigidly followed the rules, but with Covid-19 in the background, exposing rule followers versus rule breakers, it could be a parable of our time. 

Cover image of Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Another Booker long lister I enjoyed was Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.The novel takes you deep into working class life in Glasgow in 1981, the Thatcher years. You can practically smell the perfume of the brassy women cackling over their card games. Shuggie's mother is an alcoholic and one by one, her children have given up on her.  All except Shuggie, whose future, to observers, may look hopeless. But he's determined to escape from poverty and restore his mother to dignity. The power and beauty of Stuart's writing knocks you sideways.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if this one won the Booker.

Aside from the Bookers, I'm currently reading Playing Nice, a thriller by JP Delaney. A knock on the door leads to the discovery that two premature baby boys were swapped and each one is living with the wrong family. It seems like the two families are pragmatic and sensible, and will resolve everything with talking and friendship. But it's clear that things are not what they seem.  I'm halfway through and have a bit of a sense of dread, particularly about Miles. whose "rightful" son is boisterous and physical, far different to the listless David who does not appear to have recovered well from being born premature. 

Two biographies that couldn't be more different

I usually have a biography on the go and currently have two:  This is Me by Mrs Hinch, which came out on Oct 1, and Here's the Story by Mary McAleese.

I am a great fan of Mrs Hinch - her Instagram feed is comforting, joyful and caring. Sophie Hinch is a lovely, ordinary girl who somehow struck a chord with millions when she started on Instagram just two years ago.  She now has over three million followers and has transformed the fortunes of UK companies Minky (cloths), Zoflora (disinfectant) and Shark (cleaning devices).

Since I became au fait with Mrs Hinch, I've developed my own Minky and Zoflora habit! 

The biography will keep her fans happy - it touches on areas like her very real anxiety issues, and the aftermath of dealing with obesity a few years ago.  But at the age of 30, Sophie hasn't got much of a life story yet and the prose, written how she speaks, lacks a bit of finesse. 

Mary McAleese, on the other hand, has had a rich life of campaigning and forging change. Born into a working class family in Belfast in the 50s and baptized a Catholic as a days old baby, she confounded teachers and family by fulfilling her ambition of becoming firstly a barrister and secondly President of Ireland.  She is currently banned from the Vatican because of her views (pro) on abortion and gay marriage while still being a Catholic.  Pope John Paul was happy to listen to her but it's a step too far for Pope Francis apparently.  Her memoir, Here's the Story, is rich in anecdotes and unassuming about her huge achievements, while being a good read and beautifully written. 

What I've Been Watching

Nordic Noir

Here's a turn-up.  The Muttons now seem to spend all their time watching Nordic noir, and even Mr Mutton, who used to be very sniffy about subtitles, is eagerly scanning the schedules for new jewels from Denmark or Finland.

The great thing about Netflix is that it has entire seasons of most of the breakthrough dramas that established the noir genre.  

Prime Minister Brigitte flanked by friend Bengt and spin doctor Kaspar (yes Euron from Game of Thrones)We have devoured The Bridge, marvelling at the BlackBerrys which featured in the first series. It's astonishing that something so prevalent one day could fall from grace and into ignominy the next.

We're now watching Borgen. How can a political drama set in Denmark be so gripping?  Netflix has a fourth season coming out in 2022 - a long wait! 

We are also watching Border Town, a Finnish crime drama.  A brilliant detective who seems to have problems communicating with others  (a familiar trope in the genre) moves to a small town near the Russian border.  He wants to have a quieter life and to spend more time with his family. But then the murders start.....

I'm still searching for The Killing which we missed the first time round. Let me know if you've seen it streaming somewhere.

Enola Homes (Netflix)

Enola Holmes is a big budget film on Netflix which has all the ingredients for success: an engaging heroine, the feisty teenage sister of famous detective Sherlock (Henry Cavill), beautiful scenery, gorgeous lighting. But it fell wide of the mark for me.  

Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) runs away from home to find her mother (Helena Bonham-Carter) who has seemingly deserted her and left her in the care of brothers Sherlock and Mycroft, whom she hardly knows.

On the train, escaping to London, she meets a young marquis who's in trouble, and they jump from the train. After that, well, zzzz. I got bored. Henry Cavill has two notable expressions, one of them being a sideways look of puzzlement which shows off his chiselled features and cleft chin to perfection. That's all we saw from him, although he probably picked up a huge pay cheque.  The storyline with the marquis was very weak, if only the film had focused entirely on Enola!  If you're a teenager or you loved Harry Potter, enjoy. Three out of 10.

All Creatures Great and Small rebooted

I wrote a couple of months ago about the wonderful 70s BBC drama All Creatures Great and Small, which you can find on YouTube. I was very excited to watch the remake on Channel 5 starring Sam West as Siegfried and the late Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs Pumphrey. I watched two episodes, but unfortunately I couldn't  face any more.  It wasn't terrible, it was still the same beautiful Yorkshire scenery and the stories from vet James Herriott.  But somehow the characters lacked the dynamics of the original cast. Everything was too clean.  Pristine tractors and farm yards.  And the farm hands scarcely had accents, whereas back in the 70s their accents were very broad.  You could predict the plot and what was coming next.  Not a success for me, but I'm happy if it brought some gentle escapism to a new audience.  Let me know what you think.

The cast of the 2020 remake of All Creatures Great and Small

What I've been Listening To

It totally escaped me that the wonderful My Wardrobe Malfunction with Susannah Constantine has resumed. Not only did I miss series 2 but series 3 is now underway. OMG. Plenty of binge listening here with the likes of Ruth Davidson, Sarah Parish, Skin, Dame Zandra Rhodes and Anton Du Beke revealing their sartorial disasters.

Regular readers will know I am a true crime addict, and I've just discovered Skinwalker, which I think used to be called True Crime Scotland. The narrator has a wonderful voice and delivers the story straight, with none of those irritating embellishments or asides to fellow presenters. Staying with true crime, Medical Murders is a new series from Parcast which started off with the UK's most prolific serial killer Harold "Fred" Shipman. I am less engrossed than I normally am with serial killers because these medical dudes don't/didn't do much to enlighten as to why they did it.  Shipman committed suicide in prison and didn't give much away in court. We never really knew what provoked him to kill more than a hundred people, mostly elderly. 

The fast growing genre of help for the angst-ridden menopausal woman continues to offer new gems. Sam Baker, a former editor of Red magazine, has a new series called The Shift: On Life After 40, where she talks to guests such as Jo Whiley on regaining your confidence;  author Jojo Moyes on visibility and imposter syndrome, and the wonderful Marian Keyes on menopause, Botox and learning to be shameless.  Sam Baker, below,  also has a book out:  The Shift: How I (Lost and) Found Myself After 40 – and You Can Too. 

Sam Baker author of The Shift and host of The Shift podcast

For More Mutton 

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