Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Devil's Feather

A fitting title for what turns out to be a book about sexual slavery (the devil's feather is said to be a woman who leads men on, a sex tease) and images that are sometimes best left to the adult groups on yahoo. But Minette Walters has never in the past shied away from topics that shock and shake and hurt to think about (The Breaker about a toddler exposed to sex, Disordered Minds about the post-911 racism and pre-teen rape, Fox Evil about fox hunting - to name just a few). What I admire, is not only the author's courage in bringing these subjects into the open, but also the effortless way in which she presents them as palatable.

A page-turner, as usual. Minette Walters is one of my favourite contemporary mystery writers. But sometimes I can't help wishing she'd turn her pen to cozies....

Monday, January 23, 2006

Monsters in law

By the time "The Little House" by Philippa Gregory arrived from the library, I could no longer remember why I'd ordered it. The blurb said "psychological thriller", and I smiled in anticipation of a book that - for a change - didn't have babies in it. By the time I realised that "The Little House" did indeed feature babies and bored housewives, it was too late: I was hooked.

I wouldn't exactly describe it as a thriller, though. It's a contemporary novel, unlike the author's usual work (and it only mentions the slaves of Bristol in passing). Call it women's fiction, if you like. There is nothing wrong with the label. Fiction that would appeal to women, most often written by a woman. "We need to talk about Kevin" is women's fiction. "Sexing the cherry" is women's fiction. And so is "The handmaid's tale". But I digress.

Most reviews would describe "The Little House" as a book "for every woman who feels like she's married her inlaws" and a "warning for those about to marry a mummy's boy". I didn't see it as that... perhaps because my own inlaws aren't an interfering bunch. What I saw was a mother in law trying to do her best for her son and grandson. I saw a mother in law who could look after a baby and still run an immaculate household, two households, to be precise, and never resort to ready-made dinners for the baby or the grown-ups. I mean, come on, how many women can manage that? *she says glancing guiltily at the grubby kitchen floor*

I confess the book grabbed my emotions and wrung them dry. I confess I couldn't bear the prospect of the heroine being forced to give up her baby (yeah, ok, being forced by her mother in law, to be precise). And I confess to breaking the cardinal rule and reading the ending when I was only halfway through the book, when I could stand the suspense no longer. And I blame all of it solely on the motherhood hormones racing through my body. I'm sure a non-mother would put down this book wondering what the fuss was all about.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

She may not leave

She writes well, this Fay Weldon. The words go straight to the heart. But the style of "She may not leave" is taxing: I would read a few pages and feel tired (this from somebody who read Rich Man Poor Man at one sitting). Because this is my only Weldon so far, I can't tell whether the style is a bug or a feature. Still, on I went, hoping for a twist at the end... and when it came, I felt the knife. And before you all raise your eyebrows (SPOILER SPOILER), it's not about the fact that the au pair gets the husband. It's about the heroine's reaction. This book, about career women and au pairs, is probably not meant for emotionally vulnerable mothers.

Sleeping Arrangements

So whenever I tired of Weldon, I reached for my well-loved copy of Madeleine Wickham's "Sleeping arrangements". Now here is an author I can read cover to cover time and time again. Coincidentally, this book has a one-liner that ties in neatly with the theme of "She may not leave": loosely quoted, it says that the relationship between the nanny and her employer is that of hatred: the nanny envies the employer's money, the employer envies the nanny's sex life.

The Undomestic Goddess

But I digress. For those of you who don't know, Madeleine Wickham also writes as Sophie Kinsella (of the Shopaholic fame, and, more recently, "Can you keep a secret" and "The Undomestic Goddess"), and proves the theory that one should write down to your reader in order to become a best-selling novelist.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The King of Kongs

Everybody is talking about the King Kong movie lately... well, they are if you happen to be in New Zealand, at any rate. Normally, I don't like crowded topics, but I couldn't resist this one. After all, I know people who know people who helped make the model of the boat! (We found his name in the credits list, well done, Josh!)

Having cried for days after the 70s version of King Kong, I went into the Peter Jackson movie vowing not to get emotionally involved. It may have been that resolve, or it may have been the Gold Class cinema with fully reclining seats, foot rests and meal service, but once the action moved from the plot to the special effects, I became increasingly more distracted by my seat's complex console.

Don't get me wrong: King Kong is a great movie. Probably the best of 2005 (if you discount the art films). But when we got to the dinosaur scene, I couldn't help wondering whether there was a special deal on Jurassic Park's discarded footage thrown in with the original King Kong tapes.

Or perhaps bits of the movie were meant as a spoof. The battles with the dinosaurs were oddly reminiscent of the 70s Japanese Godzilla movies, we certainly got the reference to the sunset scene in the Titanic, and one scenery shot looked a bit like the opening of Indochine... but I'm probably just being difficult.

My heart leapt with pride, however, when I saw the inside of Auckland's Civic Theatre used as the theatre in which King Kong was displayed. And incidentally, his body language in that single scene of submission - that one snippet alone - should win Andy an Oscar.

I wonder what Jackson is planning to do from here. My secret hope is: the Discworld series. If anybody can pull it off, it's got to be him.