March 2014 archive

One Minute Critique: The Lemon Grove, by Helen Walsh

| One Minute Critique, One Minute Critique Books

lemon-grove

This book is hot. In more ways than one. First it is everywhere. Walsh’s fourth novel has generated the kind of splash you imagine took place moments before the front cover image was snapped. Reviews are plastered throughout newspapers. It’s in all the bookshops. Everyone’s talking about it. Clearly a contender for a summer hit.

The story revolves around Jenn, whose holiday with her husband in Deià is disrupted by the arrival of her teen stepdaughter Emma, and her boyfriend Nathan. Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. The second way in which this book is hot? It is good old-fashioned steamy, dripping with desire and the promise of sex. H.O.T.

The Lemon Grove is about many things: coming of age, and aging, youth, and middle age, rebellion, desire, experience and loyalty. It is about what we give up for those we love, and what we let go in ourselves. It’s refreshing and satisfying to read about a sexually active, sexually desirable middle-aged woman. More of that please. Women don’t cease being sexual at 45. At least I bloody hope they don’t.

Walsh’s skilful prose had me longing for a summer holiday of my own. You can feel the heat, hear the waves crashing on the beach and smell the lemons. Less than halfway in and I was craving a long tall drink to cool me down. Jenn’s story is intoxicating; the reader is pulled, as if with ease across the buoyant sea, toward an ending that clings to you like a wet swimsuit. This book quenches a thirst within.

The Lemon Grove, Helen Walsh – A refreshing glass of holiday lemonade 4/5

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One Minute Critique: Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

| One Minute Critique, One Minute Critique Film

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Here we are again in Anderson’s idiosyncratic colourful and richly detailed world. Set in the fictional state of Zubrowka, the meat of The Grand Budapest Hotel focuses on the eponymous 1930s hotel’s charming, learned, but foul-mouthed concierge Gustave H, played as if he were born for the part by Ralph Fiennes. Gustave H provides excellent service, and himself, to his elderly wealthy clientele. When one dies and leaves him a valuable painting, a plot involving murder, theft and intrigue unfolds.

This film is laugh out loud funny. The cinema I enjoyed this in was filled with audible chuckles, oohs and aahs. Anderson has his (loyal) audience where he wants them.

Sugary confections reappear throughout the film, and are echoed in the distinctive colour scheme of the set and costumes. Like a fine layered patisserie cake the story unfolds: a story within a story, within a story. We dig into the delicious centre of Gustave H and his lobby boy Zero Moustafa’s tale.

But there is bitterness here as well as sweet humour and love. Encroaching from the monotone edges is war, and with it everything changes. I was unaware passports weren’t widely introduced in Europe until The Great War. The seismic shift from open borders to controlled and policed national identities left those already displaced by conflict, like Zero Moustafa, in a dangerous bureaucratic no mans land. With the deft touch of a master baker, Anderson reminds us that no matter how much sugar you enjoy in life, you can’t hide from the darkness when it bites.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: A masterpiece – I savoured every morsel. 4.5/5

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One Minute Critique: Eat My Heart Out, by Zoe Pilger

| One Minute Critique, One Minute Critique Books

 Eat-My-Heart-Out-Cover

This book was recommended too me by Isabel Costello following a hibiscus margarita and a conversation about female satirists.

Eat My Heart Out is a satire of our narcissistic, hedonistic, post-post-feminist world. It centres upon Ann-Marie an anti-heroine in her early twenties who, after suffering a mental breakdown and walking out of her finals at Cambridge, is trying to find her way in the world in London.

Ann-Marie’s voice is startling and unique. Her journey allows Pilger to lampoon a whole host of targets, including burlesque dancing, reality TV, contemporary art, academic feminism, hipsters, class, wealth, privilege and the baby boomers. Ann-Marie is misunderstood, abused, and taken advantage of by all around her. She resolutely refuses to take control of her own life, and instead favours the naive optimism of a quick fix in the form of ‘sweet love!’ Surely a hangover from popular culture’s happy ever after? The reader is left with the feeling that everyone, including themselves, want to make Ann-Marie into something else. To be the sculptor of her life. Too control her. Ann-Marie rebels kicking and screaming against all, even when she herself doesn’t know what it is that she wants.

Eat My Heart Out is a bleak, shocking, and, in places, repulsive tale, it is also very, very funny. The detached and grotesquely comic sex scenes remind me of those in Lena Dunham’s Girls. Despite occasionally reading like a lurid fantastical novel, the familiarity of the characters and situations in Eat My Heart Out leave it routed, unnervingly, in reality. A dark comedy for the cynical.

Eat My Heart Out, Zoe Pilger: A raw and meaty 4/5

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