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Friday 30 July 2021

Friday Favourites, July: Books, Podcasts


Image by Bernd Everding from Pixabay

Greetings all and welcome to the July edition of book, TV and podcast reviews. Hardly any TV again, but not for want of trying. There's just nothing new that's floating my particular boat. But I know most of you like the book reviews best, so let's launch into them.


My book of the month:  The Black Dress by Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach, 70, is best known for her novels Tulip Fever and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  This, to me, is her tour de force. It really blew me away.  Don't be deceived by the blurb which talks about how a lonely woman puts on a glamorous black dress to seduce widowers at funerals. This is really a side plot.  

The novel deals very powerfully with the joys and sadnesses of older women. At the centre of the book is Pru, whose husband has left her to live like a hermit in Dorset.  She goes to the wrong funeral and realises how easy it is to pass yourself off as a grieving former friend.  

The few funerals she attends are marvellous sub plots, and laugh out loud funny, but the real drama is around Pru's friendship with her  colourful girl friend Azra.  It takes us into the Covid lockdown, which is a first, because most writers seem to be avoiding it.  The book is written from Pru's perspective, and we find out that she's not always a reliable narrator, which gives the story some fascinating twists and turns. 

Early Morning Riser, Katherine Heiny 

I haven't finished this one yet but I'm loving it. It's an offbeat gem by US writer Katherine Heiny: so funny, so touching, so true. It's about Jane, who lives in Boyne, Michigan, where everyone seems to know each other.  She has an on / off relationship with the local charmer, Duncan, who is very honest about all the women he's slept with (and indeed, every time we meet a new supermarket assistant or other female, Jane is nervous that they will have had carnal knowledge of her boyfriend).  Jane is about to marry someone else when a tragic accident changes all their lives.  Highly recommended.

I Couldn't Love You More: Esther Freud

It took me a while to get into this but once I was in, I couldn't stop reading. It's one of those novels that takes you back in time - not too far, but to a time when it was shameful for unmarried women to get pregnant. The book tells the interwoven stories of three women. 

Rosaleen is an Irish teenager who has moved to London in the 60s. She falls for older bohemian artist Felix.  She gets pregnant and is forced to flee to a convent in Ireland to have her child, which is taken away. Kate lives in Nineties London and is stumbling through an unhappy marriage with an alcoholic.  Meanwhile Aoife sits at her husband's bedside as he lies dying, hoping she will be able to find out before it's too late, what happened to Rosaleen.

The Interestings: Meg Wolitzer

This was a recommendation from a fellow blogger.  It's an American coming-of-age novel about the friendship between six young people who meet at an arty summer camp in 1974.  A girl who considers herself decidedly uncool gets drawn into the circle and renamed "Jules" by the group, who she describes as the "Interestings."

There was a huge dichotomy between my life in the 70s and the life of these US teenagers:  we didn't have any summer camps for starters. So it was hard to relate to these youngsters and the subsequent challenges and successes they went through as adults.  

The most interesting aspect of the book is how it tackles people's prejudices and jealousies.  I felt annoyed with Jules for being so ashamed of her mother and their simple home, and not wanting to bring back the glamorous Ash, who has married the nerdy geek of the group, Ethan.  Then Jules becomes very jealous of the success of Ash and Ethan.  I can understand where the jealousy comes from, but I felt sympathy for her hard working but depressed husband because her jealousy seemed like an attack on him for not being more successful. 

Ultimately I wouldn't say I enjoyed it but I found it engrossing.

The Editor's Wife: Clare Chambers

Clare Chambers is a discovery I hold close to my chest, having discovered her via the sublime "Small Pleasures."  She has a fantastic observational eye for the eccentricities and idiocies of middle-class England. 

Aspiring writer Christopher Flinders, a university drop out, is determined to write a book in between his shifts as a fish delivery man and builder's mate.  Taken under the wing of London editor Owen Goddard, he becomes obsessed with Owen's wife Diana.  On the brink of success, Christopher makes a desperate misjudgement which results in disaster for all involved. 

Shattered, he withdraws from London and buries himself in rural Yorkshire, embracing a career and a private life marked by mediocrity. Twenty years on a young academic researching into Owen Goddard seeks him out, and Christopher is forced to relive his past, setting him on a path to a devastating and life-changing discovery.

Podcasts I Listened To in July 

My choice for the Is This Mutton Hall of Fame, July:

Killer Psyche, Wondery

Former FBI agent Candace DeLong shares her decades of experience to explain why murderers and criminals committed their crimes. It's a fascinating glimpse into the minds of criminals such as "Dr Death," a hospital doctor;  "The Unabomber," and "the Lipstick Killer."

Who Killed Emma?  BBC Scotland

Full marks to this documentary podcast for an outstanding start:  journalist Sam Poling confronting a man and accusing him of murdering Emma Caldwell (below)  in 2005, a crime which is still unsolved.

Manatomy, Stitcher

Well this is a brave one.  Manatomy is a new podcast where well-known men talk honestly about their bodies.  I listened to the episode with Tim Minchin because I found him hilarious on the Fortunately podcast.  It's a funny and slightly poignant listen as Tim explains why he's never considered himself very attractive (too pink and ginger).

Welcome to Your Fantasy, Gimlet 

Remember how big the male strippers The Chippendales were, in the 80s? This documentary series interviews over 50 people to uncover a dark story of greed, corruption and murder.

You can find my list of recommended podcasts  here

TV - What a Let Down! 

The only thing I watched from start to finish is Nomadland, the film which won another Oscar for Frances McDormand.  I'd been waiting eagerly for it to arrive on Netflix.  It was a compelling watch, chronicling the lives of people in their 50s  and older in America who are homeless, living in vans and RUVs, and travelling to find seasonal jobs like the Amazon warehouse at Christmas.  It was an eye opener and rather sad.

I must have started to watch about a dozen programmes but none of them appealed.  I love sub titled European crime thrillers but failed to be gripped by several that Walter was presenting, among them Pakt and Nordic Murders  (which is actually German).  The Pact (BBC) was a terrible old pot boiler which I couldn't watch after episode 1. 

The hubster has got into Suits (appalling) and the latest fantasy drama from Terry Pratchett, The Watch, about a group of misfit cops who try to save their corrupt city from catastrophe.  I had to bail when I saw the trolls.  I don't do trolls.

In fact the only thing that got me excited in July was the return of Laurel & Hardy to TV, thanks to Talking Pictures.  You can find them on YouTube but now Talking Pictures is regularly showing their longer films, and some of the 25 min shorties. Guaranteed to make me guffaw with laughter.

I haven't really enjoyed anything on TV since Mare of Easttown, The Legacy (Prime) and Clarkson's Farm, so I may even have to resort to the new series of The Grand Tour (Prime) later today.

That's my July round-up;  hopefully you found something to float your boat!  Do let me know what you're enjoying - particularly on TV.

Sharing this post with:  #LinkupAtTheEdge at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Rena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, #TheWeekendLinkUp at Claire Justine

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