Category: gender


ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman (Harper Collins, 2017)

eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-original-imaeufdjggmjv38wIt pays to increase your word power. I remember seeing this slogan many moons ago in a newspaper advertisement promoting a distance learning course aimed at those who frequently feel tongue-tied or inarticulate in social situations.

The promise was that a wider vocabulary would lead to greater self-confidence and would provide a vital step towards overcoming feelings of inadequacy.

The premise sounds persuasive enough but, as the fictional character of the 30-year-old Eleanor Oliphant shows, it takes more than precise elocution and fancy wordplay to win friends and influence people.

If anything, these factors make Eleanor more alone as she’s universally viewed as a freak of nature. She’s a woman who has learned to live with her scars both imaginary and actual. Her condition is summarised in the extended epigraph to the novel taken from Olivia Laing’s ‘The Lonely City’ which notes that “the lonelier a person gets, the less adept they become at navigating social currents”. Continue reading

Advertisements

DUNKIRK Try to contain your excitement but it’s almost Oscars night again!

This year, the Academy will doubtless be relieved if the ceremony passes without a hitch and that it makes the headlines for all the right reasons.

After spectacularly goofing up the best film award last year and being under the shadow of the Weinstein-related sex scandals, the spotlights in 2018 will be about as comforting as interrogation lamps.

Under this kind of intense public scrutiny, the stakes are high. Political correctness used to be routinely ridiculed but is now the order of the day and woe betide those who step or speak out of line. Continue reading

1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded by Jon Savage (Faber & Faber, 2015)

1966“It’s pretty obvious that contemporary music reflects contemporary life. And vice versa” wrote Tony Hall in Record Mirror in 1966. What is taken for granted now needed to be spelled out then.

Nevertheless, there are still precious few writers who able to contextualize music as expertly as Jon Savage.

When writing about Punk in 2004’s ‘England’s Dreaming’, Savage was able to draw directly from his own experiences but, as he was just 13 years old in the Summer of 1966, he is not able to rely solely on first-hand knowledge for this book. The 55 pages of source references illustrate the substantial research that lies behind this authoritative and illuminating study.

I was just 8 years old in that year so I remember even less than he does but I do recall the impact of some TV shows (e.g. Batman, The Monkees, Time Tunnel etc.) and music like The Beatles, the Motown acts and Dusty Springfield. But as far as historical events go, only England winning the soccer world cup sticks in the memory.

Most articles about the sixties paint a superficial and idealised portrait of swinging London, sexual liberation and the birth of the Woodstock generation. Savage goes deeper and reveals the darker aspects of this era and shows that it has definite parallels with the world we inhabit today.

Far from being a time of hedonism and freedom, this was a year lived under the shadow of the atom bomb and the cold war. In addition, the black civil rights movement, growing opposition to the Vietnam war, the demand for women’s liberation and the struggle for gay rights were just some of the causes that led to politicization of the youth both in America and in the UK. Add LSD to this heady cocktail and it’s easy to understand why this year was so musically explosive and accounts for how “1966 began in pop and ended with rock”. Continue reading

Explaining mansplaining

rebecca_solnitThe term ‘mansplaining’ was inspired, though not directly used, by Rebecca Solnit in her marvellous 2008 essay ‘Men Explain Things To Me’.

The word succinctly encapsulates men’s uncanny ability to display what Solnit calls “the confidence of the totally ignorant”.

With barbed wit, she notes how “explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge”.

As she knows to her cost, these kinds of power games are nothing new and represent a pattern of patronizing behavior that, at least until recently, women have learned to put up with.

The #TimesUp and #MeToo initiatives stemming from the outing of Harvey Weinstein’s serial abuses represent a potential sea change in gender attitudes. Now, not a day goes by without fresh accusations and the squalid details of the Larry Nassar case is a further illustration of the can of worms that has been opened. Continue reading

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (Picador, 2016).

lonelycity“When you have no-one, no-one can hurt you”. The bleak lyrics by Will Oldham from ‘You Will Miss Me When I Burn’ by Palace Brothers are hardly life affirming. Olivia Laing takes a more positive line from Dennis Wilson’s ‘Thoughts of You’ in which the Beach Boy sings how “Loneliness is a very special place”.

However, I doubt that many people equate loneliness with specialness. Most of the time it’s a condition that generates feelings of shame, self loathing and depression. The invisible cloak we wear is a burden rather than a protection.

The ‘adventures’ of Olivia Laing’s compassionate and insightful book nevertheless show how being alone can be, and has been,  the stimulus to greater self knowledge and the impetus towards personal creativity. Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: