Monday, September 16

Top of the Lake: a review

Last night, cold, autumnal, bowl of homemade apple crumble in hand, I finally finished watching Jane Campion's Top of the Lake. The warm oaty crumble didn't quite match the sombre mood of the acclaimed BBC2 series, but whatever.

I was slow on the uptake with Top of the Lake. It was only after episode 4 had aired that the cogs of my dusty brain began to wheeze into action and I'd headed over to BBC iplayer. Then a week away in Cornwall kind of got in the way of things and before I knew it, I'd had to resort to my Lovefilm high priority list to wrap things up.

It was worth the wait.

Top of the Lake is dark, bleak, full of storylines unraisable at the dinner table: rape, a pregnant twelve year old, a house full of brutal men and dogs, drugs, incest, murder, cancer. Yep, it's pretty much a full bag of hefty topics. Yet unlike The Village (a period drama recently on BBC - I have never seen anything so depressing) it kept me gripped and I loved it.

This was partly due to the New Zealand scenery and the cinematography. Mirrored lakes, golden fields, crisp air. The colours were beautiful. The set design was beautiful.

It was also partly due to the characters. Robin, played by Elisabeth Moss, is awesome; kick-ass, gorgeous, clever and vulnerable all at once. GJ (Holly Hunter), who appears to be some bullshitty weirdo, is actually so, so great. Her reminder throughout the whole series is that the only person who can fix the problems in your life is you - that's important. And Tui (Jacqueline Joe) is utterly captivating.

Then there are the men. I fell in love with Johnno, with his campfires, his beard and his guitar. Some of the other males are less appealing; all beer, drugs, vicious dogs and brawls. In fact there was an unfavourable ratio of 'nice female characters' to 'nice male characters' (apparently feminism has some way to go in New Zealand). I guess this could warrant an argument that Top of the Lake is 'over-feminist', that all the male characters are violent dicks, that feminist attitudes are crowbarred onto script and plot. I would disagree with that argument.

This is simply a story told from the female point of view, for once. Because the majority of film and tv is still male-orientated. There are far more male characters than female. Female characters are often one-dimensional, stereotyped and dumbed down. There are no main female characters, or if there are it's a rarity that has to be commented on in every single review, oh and she'll probably have some major weakness (think Carrie in Homeland). In Top of the Lake Jane Campion has done things differently.

Don't let the 'feminism' and the gritty storylines put you off. Top of the Lake is a thing of aesthetic and enthralling beauty, and it has substance, too.

Thursday, September 5

"what're you reading for?"

I am unable to visit anybody else's house without looking through their bookshelves.

My parents own a lot of books. I grew up with walls of books extending far above my ears. I had early access to novels like Vanity Fair ("what a fat, boring looking book"), Catch-22 ("catch 22 what? Catch 22 rabbits?") and, to my fourteen year old delight, Lolita.

I've always had my own bookshelf, too. When my bookshelf was young, it liked only the most rainbowest or sparkly books I could give it. Then as the years went on, it became a fan of The Magic Faraway Tree, Jacqueline Wilson and Harry Potter, adventurers, pirates. It started to idolise Roald Dahl. It developed a taste for fat paperbacks and scorned thin shiny picture books.

I think my bookshelf has grown up a bit now, although it's a stubborn old thing and there are more than a few childhood treasures it won't relinquish.

I mean, I have tried with it, but secretly... I don't want to relinquish them either.

Well anyway. You might be a bit like me and like to snoop at the kinds of books other people own. So here are my bookshelves in their entirety. Ordered by colour rather than author, because my aesthetic taste borders on the OCD.

Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark), The Go-Between (LP Hartley), Little Boy Lost (Margharita Lansi), The Fortnight in September (RC Sherriff), The BFG (Roald Dahl), Matilda (Roald Dahl), The Solitaire Mystery (Jostein Gaarder), Indifferent Heroes (Mary Hocking), Welcome Strangers (Mary Hocking), Breakfast At Tiffany's (Truman Capote), Maggie Cassidy (Jack Kerouac), Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh), An Education (Lynn Barber), Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Jeanette Winterson), David Copperfield (Charles Dickens), The Family From One End Street (Eve Garnett), The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger), The Match Maker (Stella Gibbons), Westwood (Stella Gibbons), I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith), Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates), The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton), Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Susanna Clarke), Curiosity Kate! (Florence Bone) 

“Each time you happen to me all over again.”
The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton 

“The place had filled him with a sense of wisdom hovering just out of reach, of unspeakable grace prepared and waiting just around the corner, but he’d walked himself weak down its endless blue streets and all the people who knew how to live had kept their tantalizing secret to themselves.”
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates 

Dahl's Matilda was my soulmate when I was about eight. and I loved Brideshead so much that when I studied the novel in A-level English Literature I got 100% in the exam. (What a nerd.) I like JD Salinger but I think Catcher in the Rye is kinda overrated. And this blog's namesake sits at the end of the shelf.

The Snow Goose (Paul Gallico), Number Twelve Joy Street, A Treasury of Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle), Shakespeare, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), Christmas Books (Charles Dickens), Heidi (Johanna Spyri), John Keats, The Meaning of Liff (Douglas Adams & John Lloyd), Look About You Nature Book No.6, Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen), Aesop's Fables, TS Eliot, ee cummings, Penguin's Poems for Life, The Faber Book of 20th Century Women's Poetry, Le Petit Prince (Antoine de Saint Exupery)

“I will take the sun in my mouth
and leap into the ripe air
with closed eyes
to dash against darkness”
I Will Wade Out, ee cummings

I love the look and smell of old, old books. The best places to find them are in charity shops in non-expensive areas, and the bookshelves and attics of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. If my books don't come from charity shops, jumble sales and library sales then they're probably Christmas presents from well-read aunts.  

Brambly Hedge (Jill Barklem), Peepo! (Janet & Allan Ahlberg), Each Peach Pear Plum (Janet & Allan Ahlberg), When We Were Very Young (AA Milne), The House at Pooh Corner (AA Milne), Percy the Park Keeper (Nick Butterworth), Granpa (John Burningham), The Selfish Giant (Oscar Wilde)
Perfumes by Chanel and Jo Malone

"No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes."
Wind on the Hill, AA Milne

These books are the books I loved when I was very, very small. Looking at Peepo! and Each Peach Pear Plum now gives me such a strong sense of nostalgia. Even for the kind of 1940s British household life Peepo! depicts.
Granpa is a special book too - my own Granpa passed away at a similar time. John Burningham is a wonderful illustrator. Empty green chairs and windy hilltops will always, always make me feel sad.

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro), The Outsiders (SE Hinton), The Quiet American (Graham Greene), Eustace and Hilda (LP Hartley), To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The L-Shaped Room (Lynne Reid Banks), The Backward Shadow (Lynne Reid Banks), Brighton Rock (Graham Greene), Lady Chatterley's Lover (DH Lawrence), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Anita Loos), Cider With Rosie (Laurie Lee), I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith), The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath), Glimpses of the Moon (Edith Wharton), Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne), When We Were Very Young (AA Milne), Charlotte's Web (EB White), The Witches (Roald Dahl), The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis), Harriet the Spy (Louise Fitzugh), The Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank), A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett), A Winter Book (Tove Jansson), The Summer Book (Tove Jansson), Marianne Dreams (Catherine Storr), Emotionally Weird (Kate Atkinson), Look Back With Love (Dodie Smith), Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), The Old Man and The Sea (Ernest Hemingway), Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen), The Short Novels of John Steinbeck

“It's funny about love', Sophia said. 'The more you love someone, the less he likes you back.'
'That's very true,' Grandmother observed. 'And so what do you do?'
'You go on loving,' said Sophia threateningly. 'You love harder and harder.”
The Summer Book, Tove Jansson

There's a great part in I Capture the Castle when it is a very hot midsummer's day and alone, Cassandra sunbathes nude on the roof of the castle, and spends the day gathering flowers. I have reread this book probably every year since my first reading of it aged 11, and that burgeoning sense of self that you feel when you're around seventeen really struck a chord with me. I find something new in this book every time I read it. I think I secretly belong to the Mortmain family.

Mansfield Park (Jane Austen), Lark Rise (Flora Thompson), The Lost Estate (Alain Fournier), Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte), Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert), His Dark Materials trilogy (Philip Pullman), Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier), Angela's Ashes (Frank McCourt), The Secret History (Donna Tartt), The Good Earth (Pearl S Buck), Hard Times (Charles Dickens), Danny the Champion of the World (Roald Dahl), Beyond the Deepwoods (Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell), On The Road (Jack Kerouac), For Esme With Love and Squalor (JD Salinger), The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald), The Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton), The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis), Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen), The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

"I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop. This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I fell hard for American literature when I was seventeen, I haven't ever recovered. The Grapes of Wrath was my companion one summer holidays and it was like I'd spent the whole time travelling from Oklahoma to California with the Joads, not lying on my bed at home reading. There are quotes from Kerouac that've been pulled straight from my own heart.

Main Street (Sinclair Lewis), Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks), The Color Purple (Alice Walker), Sophie's World (Jostein Gaarder), The Country Girls (Edna O'Brien), Girl With Green Eyes (Edna O'Brien), Girls In Their Married Bliss (Edna O'Brien), Nightingale Woods (Stella Gibbons), Love In A Cold Climate (Nancy Mitford), The Pursuit of Love (Nancy Mitford), Emil and the Detectives (Erich Kastner), George's Marvellous Medicine (Roald Dahl), James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl), Fantastic Mr Fox (Roald Dahl), The Twits (Roald Dahl), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder), Little House on the Prairie (Laura Ingalls Wilder), On The Banks of Plum Creek (Laura Ingalls Wilder), Famous Five (Enid Blyton), That Old Ace in the Hole (Annie Proulx), Goodnight Mr Tom (Michelle Magorian), The Little Friend (Donna Tartt), Harry Potter (JK Rowling)

“We all leave one another. We die, we change - it's mostly change - we outgrow our best friends; but even if I do leave you, I will have passed on to you something of myself; you will be a different person because of knowing me; it's inescapable..."
Girl With Green Eyes, Edna O'Brien

Writing this post has made me realise just how much I've missed the written word.

PS: prizes for anybody who knows where the title of this post comes from.