The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

I write this review as I take a break from reading what can only be described as a ‘shitload’ of books in a very short of time (currently averaging one every four hours on a weekend) so the irony of what I’m about to write is not lost on me.

 

Sometimes, very rare times, I just don’t feel like reading – when that happens, it takes me a moment to recognise it and I start trying to read several books, giving each one up for petty reasons.

 

The print is too small.

I don’t like the way the paper feels in my hand.

That’s a stupid way to spell that name.

 

Often, when this happens, that’s it. The book is ruined for me, and I rarely go back to it. Hey, there are plenty of other books in the world to try out.

 

I want to use this post to remind myself – and to urge everyone else – that books deserve a second chance, if it’s my own bad mood that stopped me from reading them.

 

I recently asked someone for a reading recommendation and they told me to give The Perfect Girlfriend a try. It was sitting on my table, in my not-quite-discarded pile. It was the victim of a night in early January when I just couldn’t concentrate.

 

Looking at it now, I can’t work out what it was that put me off – likely the fact that it was a proof copy and the print wasn’t quite parallel to the bottom of the page. I gave it another go. And I’m glad I did.

 

We meet Juliette, an air hostess who has recently split up with her partner. She’s determined to get him back, so much so that she’s got a job for the airline he’s a pilot for, and is secretly letting herself into his flat while he’s away to leave him presents.

 

At first – I totally identified with her. I mean, who hasn’t had an errant thought about doing something completely stalker-y when finding themselves infatuated with someone else? Hollywood has conditioned us that romance happens all the time.

 

If we turn up at their workplace during the day with a single red rose, music will swell, and they’ll carry us off into the sunset. If we send them a present, their favourite bottle of wine, they’ll see we really do care about them and again, those strings will start up…

 

The trouble with Juliette is… she does it. And at first, I thought, yeah, fair enough, let’s see how it goes – Clue: not well – but then things progress to the point where even I – yes EVEN I – started to think “Juliette, really?”

 

Still, despite her increasingly desperate attempts to get Nate back into her life, it’s not hard to sympathise with her, even when things become more and more criminal.

 

That big pile of books I alluded to in my opening? A number of them have good guys as protagonists and they’re so… unlikeable.

 

Juliette, on the other hand is well-written, but definitely not the good guy. Still, I can’t help but root for her a little bit. Hopefully that’s a result of the excellent writing – rather than a particular peculiarity to do with my own psychology.

 

What’s the moral of this blog post?

 

Sometimes we should give things a second chance, because it might be our fault they didn’t work out… contrarily the moral of The Perfect Girlfriend is quite the opposite – sometimes things don’t work out because the other person is just mentally and emotionally not able.

 

The Perfect Girlfriend is available now in Hardback from Wildfire

 

 

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The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse

I’ve mentioned before a couple of books that first turned me back onto reading as an adult. One of them was The Time Traveler’s Wife, among the others was Labyrinth by Kate Mosse.

 

Since Labyrinth was released some thirteen years ago, Mosse has written several other books, including two follow-ups to her debut – Sepulchre and Citadel. While I liked Labyrinth – and still have a copy of it on my bookshelf – I didn’t ever go back and read anything else from her.  Something else always came up.

 

So when The Burning Chambers fell onto my desk a short while ago, I decided to give it a go.

 

Reader, I struggled. At least to begin with. It’s five hundred pages that explores the early days of the French civil war – the French Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Hugenots.

 

We see it through the eyes of a handful of characters – led by nineteen year old Minou who receives a strange letter one day, leading to a chain of events that finds her fleeing from Carcassone to Toulouse before onto Puivert

 

I persevered though, and I’m glad I did. The more we get to know Minou and her family the more human the story becomes, the more engaging.

 

The struggle I had at the beginning was that much of the story relied on the politics of religion – the trouble with that, though is that as someone who doesn’t give much of a toss about religion, I found it hard to care what either side got up to. They were all behaving like a bunch of prats.

 

I felt like we didn’t spend enough time getting to know the characters – and it wasn’t until Minou’s younger sister was put into peril that I really started to care what was happening.

 

At that point, when it became more about the human element, I raced through the last half of the book.

 

Would I recommend this book? It’s difficult to say, and it comes down to what I always say, if you like this sort of book, you’ll like this book. It’s well written, it delves into the events of that time with – I assume – some accuracy. And if it’s not accurate, it as least believable.

 

The test comes with would I read the second book in the trilogy? For me, that depends on how quickly it comes. If it’s released next year, then the characters will probably still be fresh enough in my mind to pay them a revisit. Now I’m engaged with them, the next book should be easier to get into.

 

If I have to wait a couple of years…? I’m not sure I’d have the patience.

 

The Burning Chambers is published in Hardback on 3rd May 2018 by Mantle

The York Realist by Peter Gill

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After posting last week’s review of The Eyre Affair, WordPress kindly pinged me a notification that I had just published my 200th blog post.

 

I’ve had a quick peek back and that breaks down as:

 

89 Books Reviews

82 Random Ramblings

24 Chapters of Memories of a Murder

2 Short Stories

1 Poem

And 1 Review of a stage show (Dawn French’s one-woman show, for those interested)

 

All of which presents me the perfect opportunity to go little off-piste and talk about something a bit different (AKA I’m reading a big book and struggling with it so there is no book review this week, but I’m distracting you with something new and shiny):

 

A review of a play!

 

 

My twitter chum @adejohnleader very kindly (go on, give him a follow) gave me tickets to see The York Realist at the Donmar Warehouse.

 

First off – let’s start with the Donmar. One of the reasons I lept at Ade’s offer was because I’d always wanted to go to the Donmar, and never previously had a chance.

 

The seats are arranged in a horseshoe shape around the stage. We we were sitting on one side of the ‘circle’ (more of a U) and that meant we saw he whole production from the side of the stage, looking down on it.

 

It was a unique experience, one that actually helped immerse you into what was going on. It made me feel less like an audience member and more of a voyeur. Bizarrely, it helped make the whole thing seem more real.

 

There were moments when George – the main character – would look over at our side of the stage while talking to someone in the other direction. His words were saying one thing, but his facial expressions another.

 

I was very aware that my friend who I’d spotted on the other side of the theatre couldn’t see what I could see, and may well have been interpreting things differently. I wondered what things he was seeing that were shaping the play for him. Were we both watching he same play, but having very different interpretations, simply because of our physical perspective?

 

Highly likely, we know that art of any kind is made in the emotional perspective of the viewer, but I’d never really considered physical perspective in other shows I’d been to.

 

Onto the play itself.

 

The York Realist is set in 1960’s Yorkshire and all takes place in the front room of George’s house. He’s a farm labourer, living with his mother, being set up with one of the local girls Doreen – but there is a secret, one bubbling under, one that everyone seems to know, but never mentions.

 

That secret is John and a love affair they share.

 

I’ll be honest John is the other reason I jumped at the chance to see this play. Or at least Jonathan Bailey was. I’ve had a bit of a crush on him for years, ever since I first saw him in dodgy Neil Morrissey BBC1 Sitcom Me and Mrs Jones. Said crush was only heightened after 2016’s glorious Crashing (Can we have another series, please?).

 

But, while he was good, the whole cast were, particularly ‘Barbara’ actress Lucy Black it was Ben Batt as George that captivated my attention the whole way through. He had a presence right from the moment he stepped onto the stage.

 

He was the enigmatic George, drawing us all in and making us understand his character with just looks and eye rolls. The writing – the play was written by Peter Gill – obviously helped, natural as it was, but he inhabited the role so much that the character still lingers clearly in my mind several days later.

 

The play explores the difference in cultures between the two men, John, the out and proud gay man, seemingly less confident in making a move, while, in one of the play’s funniest scenes, George grabs a pot of Vaseline from the kitchen and drags his partner upstairs.

 

Events conspire against them but the emotional crux of the play comes when George must make a decision. Stay in Yorkshire or move to London with John. Similarly, John is confronted with the possibility of just staying in Yorkshire with the man he loves, but in a community where they won’t be accepted.

 

The pull of home, our friends and family, what’s comfortable vs the new and exciting, vs a love that could go wrong seems to be the main conflict. Reader, myself and a random woman I was sitting next to were in tears.

 

But, as well as emotional, it was funny. Funny in a way that TV can’t be. Looks from one character to another, a subtle eye roll which on the screen wouldn’t translate that well, were suddenly hilarious in person.

 

The theatre reminds me of real life. It is funny, and it is emotional, and sometimes even the through the most mundane of activities – such as George eating his dinner – some of the most interesting parts of life happens.  It’s a trick that television hasn’t been able to achieve for some time. Maybe it used to, particularly in the early days of the soap operas, but our attention spans are too short now.

 

We have to have drama. Or comedy. We very rarely seem to get both, and when we do the drama has to be bigger and better, the comedy has to be more raucous or surreal. On TV a gag about a pot of Vaseline would come across as crude and offensive, on the stage it’s a moment of real life.

 

For me, 2018 is going to be the year of plays. I’m aiming to see one every month. I saw Lady Windermere’s Fan in January, plus a revisit of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in early Feb. I’m chalking The York Realist up as my March visit come early. It’s not the first play I’ve ever seen in the West End, but I have a feeling it will be the one that truly started my love for non-musical productions.

 

The York Realist is on at the Donmar until the 24th March with a special benefit performance on the 21st before transferring to the Sheffield Crucible until 7th April

 

(PS – I’ve nicked the image from the Donmar’s website – couldn’t find anyone to credit, but would gladly amend this blog were someone to let me know!)