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The current Family Book Club book is Slow Horses by Mick Herron, which introduces a set of MI:5 operatives who have all been relegated to an undesirable posting as punishment for various mistakes they’ve made. I listened to the audiobook, rather than reading a text version, which is the first time I’ve done that for book club.

I started out ripping it to pieces, thinking about the things that made no sense, criticising the laboured and pedestrian writing, and jumping on the token woman being described as ‘forgettable’. But every time I thought of something wrong with it, the next few pages subverted my expectations. There were explanations, good descriptions, and several much more complex female characters to come.

I realised after a while I was quite enjoying it. I mean, the main reason I couldn’t criticise the female characters for being stereotypes was because pretty much all the characters were stereotypes, and some of them gained some distinction as the book went on. None of them were likeable (in fact, the only character I even remotely liked disappeared halfway through, never to return), but I did find myself entertained by their antics. Plus, the author caught my notice a few times with some elegant or amusing turns of phrase.

It certainly wasn’t high literature and it started to drag a bit towards the end, but it mostly fit together quite cleverly in the end and it kept me reading overall. I won’t be continuing with the rest of the series, but this was a reasonably enjoyable experience.

Heroine Chic by James William Purcell Webster is a collection of 52 very short stories told in just over 150 pages. They cover many styles and genres, and all have prominent female characters, who mostly end up coming out on top. I liked most, though not all, and loved some. Some were mythic, others were comic, most were weird. There were a fair few very traditional gender roles portrayed, but also several that really subverted expectations. I found one or two problematical attitudes endorsed, but mostly it worked as a celebration of female characters in short fiction. And interesting collection that I enjoyed overall.

On Thursday, I went to see Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, a relatively new musical, and I loved it. It’s rare that I don’t enjoy musicals, but I don’t go to see them very often, which is something I’d like to change. This one tells the story of Jamie, an openly gay 16-year-old who harbours dreams of being a drag queen and gets in trouble for wanting to wear a dress to prom. It’s a fairly simple and pretty predictable tale of prejudice, acceptance and being true to yourself. It’s also a true story, based on a BBC documentary I also watched. The musical is a reasonably faithful telling, with some necessary and effective additional dramatisation of the story. The performances were all excellent, with some really powerful songs and an arc I really enjoyed. Mostly, though, in both the show and the documentary, I was just really impressed with Jamie’s ability to dance in ridiculous heels. I’ve been thinking about the show a lot over the last few days, and I think I’d like to go and see it again.

This week’s Cinemaball film was LA Story, which I never would have watched otherwise, as it’s a Steve Martin comedy from 1991 and I’m not really a fan of comedy. It turned out mostly to be a romance, with some very odd, fantastical elements, and I mostly enjoyed it. The power dynamics between protagonist Harris and his object of affection, Sarah, had some issues, and some of the weirder bits were a bit too out there for me, but it was worth watching for the Patrick Stewart cameo alone. I also really liked the talking freeway sign, though I didn’t approve of it helping to prevent Sarah from leaving once she’d decided she didn’t want to stay with Harris. The film skirts pretty close to the ‘stalking as romance’ trope, and Ebony and Carolyn made the excellent point on the podcast that reversing the genders would have made it Fatal Attraction rather than a fluffy comedy. But Sarah was ultimately given more agency than some love interests, and there was a sincerity to the film that mitigated some of its more problematical aspects.

February 2019

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