The Sex Corner: Ding ding ding, round two!

Tuesday 26 September, 2017

Sticks of card with the titles of the books written on them in black ink arranged artistically against purple and green patterned wallpapered walls. The two titles seen clearly say Under the knife and The Ben Hope Series the card obscured at the back only shows the word The

Thought I couldn’t possibly find more fault in the big land of literature? Well, you would be wrong. My reading was down over the last year because University got in the way of reading for pleasure, but when I did read for pleasure I noted down which books were good, which books were bad, and which books deserved a special mention on this here blog.

So without further ado, here we are, round two of The Sex Corner:

It’s not easy being asexual in a sexual world, and it’s even harder trying to avoid something that is always considered a selling point. (Although it isn’t really, but that’s a post for another day). Luckily there will always be more books for me to get my head into. Well, for as long as my kindle works and libraries exist, anyway.

And that is where of which I procured the new editions to the The Sex Corner from. (Holy awkward sentence, batman!).

The first is an early piece by Tess Gerritsen. You might recognise her name, she is the prolific author of the Rizzoli and Isles series, but before them, there was a Under The Knife. It start’s with a female doctor, called Kate Chesne, being accused of malpractice which leads to the uncovering a murder plot. And that sounded brilliant, I was all for that! Murder? Hospital related? So my cup of tea it was practically a family sized teapot full of Tetley Decaf.

Until the lawyer came into it.

At first he was looking into the case, and then suddenly it turned into a whirl wind romance that left me wondering the legalities of the situation. Would a prominent lawyer take such a risk by dating his client? He wasn’t only risking the case, he was risking both his and Doctor Chesne’s reputation and their respective licences to practice, if she was to be found guilty. She could have been branded as the murdering doctor who slept with her lawyer so he’d guarantee she’d be found innocent. He could have been branded as the lawyer who had sex with a murdering doctor, not caring about the evil deeds she’d done, bringing his firm into disrepute. What does that say for either of them, in character and ability to act reasonable?

It says nothing other than this is book is full of ridiculous people who can’t do their jobs. I can’t possibly understand these characters, and I certainly can’t empathise with them. I don’t know if other people can or do. All I know was that I was in it for the crime and the court case, and I left at the door by badly written, convoluted romance and unfathomable scenes of a sexual nature.

So, in the sex corner it went!

And it was followed very quickly by Shadow of the wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Initially this is a story about a lonely lad, Daniel, who, grieving after the death of his mother, is shown a library of forgotten books. The Cemetary of forgotten books.

Remembering what someone once said to him about your first book always staying with you, Daniel carefully chooses a book called The Shadow of The Wind. And he becomes enthralled by it. After he reads it, he wants to know everything he can about the author. He wants to be an author! This book has picked up this lonely lad and gave him a purpose beyond his own existence. It was beautiful and it was brilliant! I was all for that.

And then it derailed.

Daniel, the lonely boy, develops a crush on an older girl called Clara, whose father is a rare book connoisseur. And it turns out this book is as rare as you can get. Not wanting to be turned away so soon after he refuses to sell his book, which was an amazing, once in a lift time gift from the very secret library of forgotten books, he offers to return regularly to admire Clara from an up close and personal distance. Oh sorry, no, I mean, so he can read to her because it just so happens that she’s blind.

And that still isn’t where my problem was with this story. Developing crushes is fine. I remember the older lad I used to have a crush on! But one part I had a problem with is that Daniel seemed to think that Clara owed him something just because he liked her. And she wanted to see him less and less, probably because she was 6 years older than him and he was just an opportunistic child. And he gave her the book to keep. Yes, the very rare book he at one point would not let out of his sight.  He just gave it away.

There is such a mystery surrounding The Shadow of the Wind. All the other copies of this book was burnt by the author himself. Why? That’s part of the mystery. One night, fearing for Clara’s safety and the safety of the book, he sneaks in to her flat to take reposession of the book, hears, uh, noises, goes to check the, uh, noises out, finds Clara is, erm… quite happy where she is, erm, shall we say? And then he promptly gets beaten up by Clara’s boyfriend. He flees with the book, and then makes acquaintances with an eccentric homeless man called Fermin Romero de Torres.

My biggest problem with his reaction after finding out Clara’s got a boyfriend and that they seem quite happy together, is that he seems to think that she was using him. From my point of view, he was foisting his attentions on to her and imagined a whole Will They/Won’t They scenario in his mind, like a delusional fantasist, whilst she probably didn’t even think about him at all, especially considering his age. Like, in her mind, he was probably like that young next door neighbour you used to play out with when you’re both in the bracket of “under 16”, and then you’re over 16 and you go off and do your A Levels, but the next door neighbour’s just gone into year 10. Except this book is set in just after the Spanish Civil War, so, you know. No A Levels, or year 10. But ignoring the speciifcs, generally speaking, that’s life, it happens, and everybody moves on and makes friends with people their own age.

Everyone bar Daniel.

But the scenes of a sexual nature don’t go away just because Clara is no longer in his life, nooooOOoooOoooo. First you have Fermin Romero de Torres, who is never too far away from talking sexually, and then you have the very graphic sex scenes.

I was less than a third into the book but I was out. I’d powered through the Clara thing in the hopes the mystery of the book and Daniel’s plan to be an author would remain in the foreground. It didn’t. Once again, I paid the price for powering through.

Just when I thought I was learning!!

So, last but not least is a series of books I think I got into under false pretences. My friend recommended this book to me (the same one who recommended the Languidoc series. I need to stop listening to this friend’s suggestions). She said it was like Dan Brown’s books, but better written, with better plots. And I thought, well you can’t get worse than Dan Brown, surely? So why not give it a go? Hah. Why not, indeed!

The series was the Ben Hope series, by Scott Mariani. I started in the order Mariani recommends on his website, with the prequels first. The first one, Passenger 13, was flawless, filled with violent action, mystery and a little bit of back story. I couldn’t fault it. The second one, Bring Him Back, similar on the violent action but the mystery involved a child with “special” telepathic powers. I could see the Dan Brown comparison. And yes, it was still very well written. Then I read his real first published Ben Hope book (if we talk chronologically by published date), The Alchemist Secret, and I didn’t think it was as good as the prequels. Mariani seemed to be suffering from a case of “Plot strong, writing weak” itis. I figured, that’s understandable. My writing wasn’t as good in my first chapters than it was in my 10th chapters of a multi-chaptered story I’m writing, I can forgive tired tropes and poor narrative in the early days of his career. I can’t forgive the James Bond-esque poor treatment of female characters, though, making them look bad so men look good. I had a watchful eye out but ultimately, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Then there was The Mozart Conspiracy, which again had a decent story but the narrative style really started rubbing me the wrong way. Some chunks of purple prose here and there, and the romantic elements on the up, and then as usual with male writers, using female character’s suffering to drive a male character’s story onwards. This is irritating and insulting to the point where I thought I’d draw the line there and then. None of the bad elements were what I was reading this series for!

But then I got an email from my local Library. The next book in the series was available. So I thought, I’d give it one more chance with The Doomsday Prophecy and if it’s the same, I’d give up. It was the same, and a little bit worse. In this story, he starts off so torn up about his dead wife that he plans to finish up his theology degree from years before, and reconsiders going into the priest hood. We get one woman chatting him up and he turns her down, though it seems more begrudgingly because of appearances of propriety and the prospect of a job rather than earnestly out of mourning. And then he spends the rest of the book having a sort of “will they, won’t they” type romance with the next woman he meets. I’m not saying he should have been donning mourning suits for the next three years, but the timeline in the book means it’s only about 4 months since the apparent love of his life is dead before all of this happens.

Some of the dialogue meant to be enriched with romantic tension is so convoluted I felt like I was reading bad fanfiction.

I ummed and arr’d over reading the next lot. I thought, “this isn’t as bad a decline as the Oz books, and I’ve not faced anything overly sexually graphic, just the romance really pulls the stories down” and planned to go on. Then I was hit by a snag. The library didn’t have the next two books on audiobook and had no plans to stock them. I couldn’t afford to buy them, especially if I didn’t like them, so I just waited it out and put Ben Hope to the back of my mind. Probably for the best, considering.

Then I found out something unrelated to this which has made the decision once and for all about whether I should continue reading or not. There was a promotional campaign for the latest Ben Hope novel in The Sun. And then I found out that HarperCollins is related to The Sun. I did not know that before then.

So now I will have to pick my books carefully because there is no way I’m supporting anything in relation to The Sun.

But, all in all, that doesn’t change the fact that these books will be going in The Sex Corner. And then after that, I might throw all Ben Hope novels in Mount Doom.

I may be slow to update, but as long as there’s good books ruined by unnecessary romance plot lines and sex scenes, there will be The Sex Corner, so watch this space!

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A Failed Journalist Reviews: Flare Path

Tuesday 12 September, 2017

Almost 2 years ago to the day, I did something that I haven’t done since before my operation in 2010.
I went to see a show, all by myself, probably to the downright horror of the theatre’s health and safety officer. But hey, that’s what a limited care package gets you.

Anyway, I’ll spare you the back story and get right down to business.

I broke out of my new normal to go see Flarepath, which was on at The Playhouse in Liverpool. Many things could have gone wrong during this play: I could have suffered an asthma attack, my back could have locked up, my heart murmur could have picked up and left me short of breath and dizzy. I could have thrown up randomly, I could have found myself in an altercation with a disgruntled fellow theatre-goer. I could have found myself needing the toilet and not being able to get back out again  – It has happened before. (Misadventure 1: McDonalds, Liverpool Town Centre, heavy door vs No manoeuvre room, Misadventure 2: Broadgreen Hospital, Orthopeadic Clinic, Very Heavy Door.)

I risked all of that, and possibly more! To see two people i’ve wanted to see act in a theatre* near me for years: Olivia Hallinan and Philip Franks! Both being in the same play, it killed the proverbial birds with one stone.

So, for those of you haven’t read Flarepath, and don’t worry, I am amongst you, the play is about a group of people who are staying in the same hotel, near the aerodrome in Lincolnshire, during World War 2. But it’s not just about any old people, no! We have an actor, called Peter Kyle, who checks in to the hotel seemingly under the guise of business, then we have resident Countess Doris Skriczevinsky. She’s married to Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky and recognises Actor Peter Kyle straight away. She’s a fan! Fellow hotel guest is Patricia “Pat” Graham (played by Hallinan) who is also an actor. Yet, for reasons not yet disclosed at this point, Peter Kyle is rather cagey about whether he knows her or not. Despite having worked on a film together. See? Very cagey.

Then we have Pat’s Pilot husband Teddy, Air Gunner Dusty, who is married to poor Maudie, who is the most normal guest at the hotel. She lost everything when a bomb hit her house, and she’s very pragmatic about it. I loved her and Dusty so much that I would like them to have a play where they’re the main characters instead. Well, as well as, rather than instead. This was a good play!

Count “Johnny” Skriczevinsky, I’ve mentioned him already, he’s Polish and could be considered the comic relief. He could be, but I didn’t. There’s something poignant about a man fighting for a country he can barely speak the native language of. I know, Allies and all of that, it was common. But, no, this man was fighting for Britain, and his wife and their future together. And whilst he did provide brilliant comic relief, I do not want how well rounded and loving this character is, to be overshadowed by that comic relief.

Then there’s Teddy, who I’ve also already mentioned. He’s Pat’s husband, he’s a bomber pilot, and him and Pat have been married for 9 months. Then there’s the amazing Squadron Leader Swanson (Played by Philip Franks) who is all heart and no bite. Somehow, despite rankings and severe punishment for dissension in the ranks, Teddy gets away with calling him Gloria. Admittedly, I didn’t get the joke whilst I was watching it, but when I got back home and mentioned it, the response was “Oh, after the singer!” and I googled it.

Last but not least is the hotel owner, Mrs Oakes. Provider of the full English breakfast, and questionable sausages.

So, what’s the story about, with all these interesting characters? They’re all meant to have the night off, time to be with their loved ones, or in the case of Peter Kyle, seemingly sleep until he leaves the next morning. But far too soon,  Squadron Leader Swanson bursts through the door with bad news: They’re needed for a raid.

Let me break into the retelling of the play to talk about the effects and the set. They were minimal, but affective. The set was laid out like a lounge at the hotel, desk to the right, couch in the centre. The backdrop was just a general outside with a window in front. In the night scenes, before they drew the curtains, it was a dark blue night scene, in the day it was a brighter blue with a bit of a visible garden. The absolute star of the stage, outshining even the great Philip Franks! Was the realistic fire at the forefront of the stage. I wish I had a photograph of it because it was indescribably beautiful.

There was nothing technologically advanced to portray living near an airstrip, and yet! Yet! Some strip of lighting to represent the Flarepath (Yeah, that’s when I twigged about the meaning of the play’s name too) through the window, and some very close, loud, sound effects, and a synchronised reaction as if fighter plane’s were passing by right over head (it’s called acting, Dahling!) makes you duck out of the way. Genius!

I’ll be sending the stage managers the bill for my new heart.

Back to the plot, and this is where I should say there’ll be spoilers, obviously: Whilst the RAF members were away, the crux of the play unravelled. Pat, to the shock of myself, had been in a relationship with Peter Kyle. She had left him to marry Teddy, despite still being in love with Peter Kyle, and, further revelation! After 9 months of being married to Teddy, wasn’t sure she loved him! Teddy, that is. How awful! And Peter Kyle wanted her back! And she wanted to go back! And, urged on by the very site of Peter Kyle, whose presence originally seemed to annoy her, she decided she was going to tell Teddy as soon as he got back. Teddy had no clue that they’d been in a relationship, the poor clueless sod! Was this going to end with her running away with Peter Kyle!?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: She realised how despondent she’d been towards Teddy. She married him on a whim, it was a war time romance, they barely knew each other and she’d never bothered to try. I weeped internally at the struggle. So after a brief bout of ill health on Teddy’s behalf (Like, very brief. All of 15 minutes in real time), she decided she did love him after all, and could love him even more, and stayed.

Poor Peter Kyle, you might say. I thought the same, until he tried to emotionally blackmail her and manhandled her about the place.

To change the pace a bit, there was a hell of a crash over at the aerodrome. And then only Teddy and Dusty arrived back – it wasn’t looking too good for Johnny. They waited all morning for him, but Squad Leader Swanson returned – after having stayed a while over night with the women to keep them company (see, all heart, that man!) – to tell them that, whilst they don’t want to give up hope, they all knew the chance of Johnny returning decreased the longer it took to find him.

In a random twist of fate, with Peter Kyle out for revenge, to ruin Pat and Teddy’s marriage, Doris, who knows Peter Kyle can speak french, asks him to read out a letter The Count had left for her in the event of him never returning. It was heartbreaking. The letter said how much The Count loved her and how he was sorry he never got to show her his homeland of Poland. I’m not doing it justice, but trust me, I weeped externally and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

Realising how much of an arsehole he was being, he decided to keep his affair with Pat a secret and subsequently left quietly.

I’m very glad to say that whilst the foreground of the set was very busy, my attention to things that move in the background allowed me to notice a mysterious figure in a big hat come through the door, unnoticed by the other characters.

Could it be?
…Was it?

Be still by murmurring heart! Yes it was! It was Johnny! Wonderful! My heart swelled. Metaphorically speaking.

After a repeated, hilarious retelling of how he survived (I won’t quote it because I won’t be able to do it justice, but, it’s brilliant), they celebrated their reunion with a good, lung beltering rendition of “We don’t want to join the air force”, and, proving that life sometimes changes within a second, a bright light came up and a loud noise hit, and the stage went black. And that was the end.

Wow. I mean, WOW. The acting all around was almost perfect in my books. I was a bit distracted with trying to think who *Peter Kyle* reminded me of and, alright, maybe Philip Franks didn’t get enough stage time for my liking. But for what it was, it was great. I really don’t know why there’s so many negative reviews. Not just for the Liverpool showing, but for the play over all. Boring? Pretentious? Patronising? What play where They watching!? Uncultured swines, the lot of them.

I don’t know how much of the original written play they stuck with, I don’t know if Rattigan evolved it during his time, or, like a few other plays, a new version emerged at some point and theatre producers have been putting that version on instead since it’s incarnation. All I know, is that this play features a variety of characters, and some are flawed, and some you don’t get to know enough of, but there is enough there to relate to them in some way. Or, in my case with Peter Kyle, to know you absolutely dislike them 100%, and that’s okay because it means the actor has done their job.

I do have one criticism: There was a change in cast which saw the character of Percy played by Holly Smith yet one of Dusty’s lines was “Percy, my lad”. And on one hand, I understand audiences are also meant to have a bit of imagination about things, on the other hand, it was jarring and it could have been adjusted with changing the line. It could be because the line continued on to threaten to physically discipline Percy for not minding their own business, and maybe that would have come across wrong with the character being played by a woman. But that also could have been adjusted. I’m sure, as theatre directors should know, not every line has to be exactly the same all the time.

The ending might be too abrupt for some people, as well. At first I was confused, unsure whether I liked the sudden ending, and then it dawned on me, hours later to be honest with you, what it (probably) signified. Ouch, talk about mood whiplash. Talk about delayed mood whiplash!

Anyway. Would I recommend this play? Yes. Especially if Philip Franks ever returns to the cast.

I would also recommend film makers pull a History Boys with this and make a film with the 2015 cast. I have no other cast to compare it to, but, trust me on this. It’s Hallinan and Franks or bust!

10/10


A Failed Book Review: Handle With Care

Tuesday 12 January, 2016

Content Warning: This review mentions and in some cases goes into depth about eating disorders, self harm and rape. If these topics are upsetting or triggering to you, please stop here and either navigate to another post by the links on the right hand side, or exit the blog via your back button. A new post will be up in 2 week’s time and will replace this post as being the first to read should you wish to return.

Thank you very much and apologies for any inconvenience. If you’d like to contact me for any reason, please use the comments on this page to do so.

 

Handle With Care.

Handle with Care was published in 2009 and was written by the famous My Sister’s Keeper Author, Jodi Picoult. This novel, Handle with Care, is hard to describe and it’s only today that I realised why. This novel is meant to be about the difficult life of a young girl, called Willow, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 (Brittle Bones Disease), and how her parents are coping with having a disabled daughter (her sister: a disabled, younger sister). What this story is, like what any other story is when it concerns a disabled person, is more about how everyone around this disabled character deals with the disabled person’s existence (in this case Willow), and how their existence impacts on their own lives. This book is not so much about Willow, but those characters in the peripheral of Willow’s life. She is, arguably, both the main character and the most minor character in the book.

The main character, I would say, is her Mother, Charlotte, who tries to show that she cares the most about Willow, by suing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth.

And here’s some context as to why I read this book:

I hadn’t read Jodi Picoult before and I didn’t know all that much about My Sister’s Keeper. I knew the film was “a weepy”, and I tend to avoid those, so I didn’t know it was a book nor did I know the author’s name. But this book, Handle with Care, was recommended to me by my the mum of my friend, Laura.

My friend Laura, for those who don’t know, had Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3. Actually, according to her specialist, she had one of the most severest cases of it he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, after a serious bout of sickness related to her condition, she passed away back in October 2005, aged 20. It was with personal interest in mind that her Mum read the book, and then recommended it to me some years later. In her words, “Just so much of it’s like Laura”.

So, with high expectations but the understanding that any knowledge I had of OI, and the treatment of it, was second hand and might very well be outdated by now, I started reading. And for a good two thirds of it, I couldn’t put it down.
The story itself is pretty easy to follow, despite story switching POV between multiple characters, and random recipes and misplaced narrative throughout the book. Charlotte had her first daughter Amelia, then she married Sean O’Keefe and had her second daughter, Willow. Charlotte was best friends with Ob/Gyn Piper Reese, who became her and Sean’s go to doctor when they had trouble conceiving, and when their friendship somehow survived through all of that awkwardness and then some, she took on the natal care of Charlotte.

By the time Willow is five, which is when the novel really starts, where the real introduction to Willow happens, the O’keefe’s have mounting medical bills, money problems, a frustrated pre-teen daughter, and a super intelligent, intuitive younger disabled daughter who is being held back by her mobility problems and America’s general lack of understanding of severe disability.

I’m going to take this moment to say that I didn’t realise wheelchair services were so bad in America. Unless Picoult has used some artistic licence, I didn’t know that children had to wait so long between fittings for a suitable wheelchair. We’re not much better in the UK, especially now in the age of the post code lottery, but at least the wheelchairs are free, they tend to try and get things right, they’ve always provided children with chairs you can sort of adjust around their growth, and charities do always help where they can. Leaving a child of five to sit uncomfortable in a chair they got fitted in when they were a toddler, especially if it can be dangerous to their health and safety, would have been unheard of (until about 2010, when the wheelchair services all had their fundings cut. But that’s a post for another day!)

Back to the Book. This is when it starts to get a bit complicated, but I’m going to try and simplify it as much as possible. The O’keefe’s go to Disneyworld and Willow suffers from a bad fall (as is the unfortunate nature of Brittle Bones Disease) and both her thigh bones end up broken. The doctors at the local hospital check it over, but because the medical letter that explains Willow’s condition was accidentally left at home, they mis-read all of Willow’s breaks as abuse, and both Sean and Charlotte end up being arrested. Amelia ends up in guardian home for the night, under child protective custody, and poor Willow ends up in hospital, alone, in a spica cast.

Curiosity drove me forward in reading, but even at this early stage I was sitting there wondering how realistic this would be.

Knowledgewise, I was questioning whether it would be really possible for a child with OI type 3 to be put in a spica cast. I was put in a Spica cast following corrective surgeries on my legs when I was five, they’re not the easiest things to live with; And Laura couldn’t have any casts of any type put on her, ever, because they were more of a danger to her than helpful. They were so heavy, they would have caused breaks either side of the cast. And, a Spica cast can go almost all the way up to the chest, just one bump or wrong turn could have meant the spica cast digging the wrong way into a rib. I was left wondering if maybe things had progressed so much that this wasn’t actually a fatal risk anymore. I welcome comments to inform me either way!

Similarly, besides the bouts in her wheelchair, Willow could walk. If medical treatment and medication has come on leaps and bounds since Laura was a child, I’m happy to hear it, but you hardly ever heard of someone with OI Type 3 walking, even into the late 90s. I’m aware a friend of Laura’s could walk with crutchers, but he was a lot bigger than she was so I don’t think he had type 3. What many people with OI decide to do, is to have steel rods inserted into their long bones, so that their legs can bare weight. That was never an option for Laura, her bones wouldn’t have accepted the rods.

And talking of size… It has happened that the less severe forms of OI has been misdiagnosed as severe abuse, and probably does continue to happen. Because you’re looking at someone just a bit outside of the averages of height, weight, proportions and mobility. But with OI type 3, the person is very small. They have certain, unmistakable attributes to their physical appearance. I can understand these factors being overlooked twenty-five years ago, especially in a very young child up to toddler age, but it wouldn’t have taken them more than two seconds to see Willow’s body differed from that of an average child: Her body being a certain shape, the length of legs and arms not being in proportion to her torso or head, the whites of her eyes possibly being a blue-tinted colour, and a voice at a higher pitch than normal you’d find even on an able bodied child. With some conditions, you might not know what it is you’re being faced with, but you certainly know that, skeletally speaking, you’re looking at someone atypical. A child, yes, but an atypical child in physical appearance. Abuse wouldn’t explain low levels bone density or unusual calcium markers in the blood, and I would expect doctors, especially within the last decade, to check into these things before throwing the A word around.

It was one of many occurrences I found that Picoult depended on the sheer ignorance characters and readers alike to carry the plot along. (But hey, how else would the story drive forwards?)

Anyway, in the plot, once everything is sorted out and everyone’s released and free to go home, that leads to the O’keefes trying to sue  everyone involved in the events that lead to the mistreatment of the family. The lawyer says that’s a no go, but they should consider sueing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth. That is to say, sue the doctor overseeing Charlotte’s pregnancy for not figuring out that Willow had OI in time to give Charlotte the option to abort.

In other more specific words, blame and sue Piper for not giving her the option to abort Willow. Despite the fact that they’re catholics, abortion was never going to be an option as agreed by both Sean and Charlotte, and a late term abortion was in fact offered to and subsequently turned down by Charlotte.

Amelia develops bulimia, the sisterly relationship between the two daughters breaks even further, and eventually Charlotte’s drive to carry through with her plan causes a rift in her and Sean’s marriage.

 

It’s a very full on story, and the further long I read, the less sympathy I had for Charlotte. She didn’t see what she was doing to her family. Or she did, but she didn’t care. There was one bit where, because Piper’s husband is the small town Dentist, Amelia misses her appointments, because Charlotte refuses to take her, even though she was due to have her braces removed. That’s just cruel.

Willow was intelligent enough to pick up on what was going on, and there’s just no nice way to say “if I’d have aborted you, we wouldn’t be in so much debt” to a young child. There’s also no nice way to say “I do love you, but I didn’t ask for this and someone has to take the blame for that.”

Then there was the convention. Charlotte is confronted by a bunch of mothers who read about the court case in the news. Charlotte is actually angry for being confronted. Charlotte really doesn’t understand how lucky she has it, in comparison to other people. Meanwhile, Amelia’s wandering around the hotel the convention’s held in, pretending to have a lesser form of OI, and she picks up a boyfriend along the way.

Those are the parts I’d say that were written well, even if on the surface I didn’t particularly enjoy the plot. However, intermixed with these parts were really poor writing and plot devices that made me think Picoult’s editor had set a holiday response for their email saying “Whatever you’ve written, I’m sure it’s perfect! We’ll publish it in when I’m back!”

We’ve got the part where, following the removal of Spica Cast, Willow needs to exercise. How does an over protective mother encourage her reception aged daughter, who has a condition where just one fall can kill her, to exercise? She makes her to walk the end of the driveway, by herself, to collect the post (admittedly something she likes doing but still…) where any dubious adult could just come along, sweep her up and run off with her. The route to the mail box at the end of the driveway involves going past a pond that Willow has an attachment to, and not the adult logic of risk assessment. Between any of these points, she could fall and die, if not be abducted by the aforementioned dubious adult.

Holy Brain Fart, Batman!

(I later realised this was a Chekov’s Gun situation, but I’ll get back to that later.)

At one point Sean and Charlotte talk about Willow’s future, and I cringed at the ignorance. It’s very realistic for parents to suddenly realise what the future holds for a disabled offspring, but it’s very undermining to the plot when you have a character (in this case Sean) who are portraying themselves as masters of their daughter’s care, victims in the eyes of the law, prepared to do all that is needed to make sure their daughter’s life is lived as equally as possible… being disparaging about any aids she may need in the future. If it’s meant to add depth to the character, it doesn’t. It wreaks of short sightedness and narrowmindedness.

Then we’ve got the “let’s throw this in/blink if you miss it” rape. Yeah. Rape. Sean and Charlotte have a break in their relationship, and then from the point of view of Sean, they have awful sex that Charlotte didn’t want, where Sean’s main goal is making her hurt as much as her actions have hurt him. Deliberate hurtful sex without enthusiastic consent? That sounds like rape to me.

Then there’s the part where Willow selfs harms because she’s seen Amelia do it to herself. I’d say that this was the point where it felt like Picoult was dragging it passed the point where she should have ended the book. This didn’t just feel like a red herring, it felt tired. It felt like a way to allow the author to point to the book and say “No, see! It really IS about Willow!”, instead of having Willow be this sort of phantom main character that the story is meant to be about, but really isn’t.

There is also a conversation after Willow is hospitalised for self harming between Piper and Sean, because Piper is the only reasonable person in this book. She (rightfully) suspects that Amelia is self harming and suffering from bulimia, and thinks (knows) that’s where Willow “learnt” how to hurt herself. What does Charlotte do when Sean mentions that his information come from Piper? She has a go at him for talking to Piper, talking to the “enemy”. She’s got one daughter in the hospital, and another daughter suffering from serious emotional distress that has manifested into self harm and an eating disorder. But all she cares about is the case.

There’s the whole side plot involving the lawyer, Marin, who doesn’t like the case, because she was an unwanted child herself. I’m not sure what she really added to the story, but things got very contrived when one of the jurors turned out to be her birth mother. What are the actual chances?!

And then, the main big problem I had with the book. The ending.

Willow, once again, is a child who could die from a sneeze (No exaggeration, sneezes can break ribs, ribs can pierce lungs), and yet she is allowed to go outside, by herself, to look for Amelia. It’s cold, slippery winter weather. There’s that pond that she can’t resist going near, which her mother knows. And Yet! The over protective parent allows her to go, by herself, despite ALL of these dangers. Despite the long arsed court case that she’d just won, by saying how much she looks after her severely disabled daughter.

And what happens? Willow goes to the pond, the ice breaks suddenly, and she falls through into the freezing cold water and dies.

The epilogue involves a brief update on everyone. Sean and Charlotte are back together, Amelia’s in therapy, Charlotte placed the cheque she got from winning the case in the coffin with Willow, and Piper moves away and is never heard of again.

I was left so disappointed by the whole ending. Not because of the understandable “After all that!?” feeling I was left with, but because… I suppose, because there were more realistic ways for a person with OI to die, and Picoult chose that one!?

I went from wondering whether a child with OI Type 3 these days could actually walk, to wondering what sort of brain fart do you have to have to let your child, who could fall and die by slipping on ice (as any child could, but this is more so), go out by herself in icy weather?! You can only consider it in character because of the same brain fart earlier on, (Chekov’s brain fart alert!) and although it must have been planned out due to the previous incident of letting Willow out to the end of the drive and going missing by the pond, it just reads as a quick solution to bring about the end of the story.

There are natural complications with OI that a person can die of.

There are the usual risks anyone has in daily life where the risk of dying is increased due to the nature of the condition. For example, one day, Laura, aged 4 or abouts, was spinning happily around in a circle, in her wheelchair, and Almost cracked her head on the edge of a piano. She didn’t, luckily, but the point is, it could have happened and the outcome would have been devastating. An able-bodied child would probably just give themselves a concussion.

It feels, for the lack of a better word, disrespectful.

And then Piper… Piper just moves away!? I think that was another point of contention for me. It was written in a half unbiased, half sympathetic style directed at Charlotte, as if we should all see it her way. It was all very pragmatic towards Piper, a sort of “Well, what can you do? Someone has to answer for this child being disabled” attitude about it. There wasn’t much sympathy at all for a woman who not only did not cause Willow’s disability, by action or inaction, but also did everything right by the whole family, and still had her career ruined for it.

I’ve missed a lot of out, half because I can’t remember it, and half because I couldn’t be bothered going into those bits. There is so much to this story, from so many different points of views, it’s just difficult to go over.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due (although again, I wonder if this was from lack of research on Picoult’s part and not really through a deep understanding of disability), there was one good thing that came through over all. Many people don’t understand that disability can be a spectrum, and that mobility can and does change from day to day for many people. Sometimes there is a conscious choice involved over what “part” of your disability you have to consider most important, and allow the rest of yourself to suffer the fall out. For example, having to walk because a problem with your upper body doesn’t allow you to self propel, and then dealing with the pain in your legs from walking, which is the lesser of two evils in this scenario.

In this book, there is an understanding that when Willow’s health is best, she can walk and only needs her wheelchair for safety and speed. She also has a walker and other aids for bad days and an array of things for the worst days. Many people think that if you’re a wheelchair user, that’s it, you can’t walk. Nobody says to Willow’s parents, “Well, she could walk yesterday”, nobody asks why she doesn’t use walking aids all the time. It’s just understood she uses whatever she needs, whenever she needs to. That’s so unaccepted in today’s society that people have actually become afraid to stand up, lest they get abuse for it.

People who deal with fluctuating conditions are at least experienced in preparing for the worst but knowing that’s not always the case so do what they can on their good days. There needs to be more of that shown across all medias.

Although, preferably with accuracy and research, and not a research fail, which is what I suspect is the case here.

The remaining issue is: Was Willow like Laura?

Well, yes and no. Laura was a lot like Willow when she was that age. But, a lot of disabled children are, just like a lot of able boded children are similar. There’s just this amazing phenomenon where physically disabled children develop brilliant personalities that differ from their able bodied peers, and some are quick witted. In the book, it’s explained that children who can’t learn through physical play find solace in books and television, and they become intelligent because there’s this thirst to do everything and know everything, and if all they can do is read and watch television instead of, I dunno, play football and poke things, then they will quench that thirst with good interesting books and documentaries. And Laura did have a high reading age for her age and was interested in a lot of things. But Laura also did accessible sports, so, you know, same outcome, different processes.

Mostly, they just shared experiences. I may have been the one with the Spica cast, but Laura was the one going to hospital every few months and spending three days tied to an IV pump of pomedrominate (before they switched to tablets for Laura). Laura did have to go on holiday with letters from doctors, to prove she was fit to fly, to prove that her Mum knew what she was doing. Laura had fun getting fitted for a wheelchair in a way that the O’keefe’s were only aware of. She was mistaken more than once for a baby. Even at the age of 18, she had people mistaking her for a toddler, and sometimes her and her mum couldn’t tell if people were speaking down to her because they’d mistaken her for a child, or because of a terrible attitude towards disabled people (again, different process, same outcome). There’s only so many ways you can react to these life situations, and maybe that’s what feels so familiar.

But that stops, the characters all become their own beings… and it stops being an enjoyable read.

I gave this book a 2.5/5


The Sex Corner Or: How One Asexual Has Got Fed Up With The Usual Romantic Tropes and Sex Scenes In Books

Tuesday 20 October, 2015

Well, this is a post that goes well with Asexual Awareness Week!

I’m thinking of calling one corner of my room “The Sex Corner”.

No no no! Not like that! I’m not going all 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse Grey on everyone!

No. It’s one corner of my room where, in theory, I would throw, fling, chuck and lob books for containing Sex Scenes in otherwise interesting novels. Of course, I say “books”, but I can’t actually read physical books anymore, so I split my reading between my kindle and Audiobooks these days, and I can’t do anything to them because they’re expensive. And I doubt the insurance for the former includes “Damage by Asexual Rage”, and the latter belong to the library. And you should Never do anything to harm items from the library. (If you believe in such a place, there’s a special level of hell for people who damage items from the library, and it’s worse than the level reserved for people who talk at the theatre)

So anyway, instead, when applicable, I’ll write the titles down and then throw the them in the corner.

Why?

Because that’s where bad things belong, in the Naughty Corner. (You can groan if you life, it is a very tedious build up to a pun)

The first to go in there will be Solar by Ian McEwan, whose regular bouts of Sex scenes are jarring and off-putting. I get it, despite the main character (Michael Beard) not having much to offer, the man’s a womaniser and he had women eating out of his  hand, and everyone loves him. And how else was the author to prove that but with graphic descriptions!?

But, despite any contrived exposition that lead to these scenes happening, I don’t really get why the Sex scenes themselves are needed for the reader. Was it so the reader could believe these things happened to the character? A sort of “pics or it didn’t happen” thing, but in literary form? The first few felt like they were thrown in there for the Shallow Shock Value. Here’s an ageing man still having Sex. La gasp shock!! Surely a sum up line confirming that fact could have done the same job, if it was really, really needed. What I’m saying is, this went in to the Nth degree… and I’m not quite sure why.

Michael Beard is a scientist failing at his job, which is what caught my attention in the first place, so I’d have much rather it focused on that aspect. But, Oh no! We need a one hundred word description of what he looks like naked and, not to put too fine a point on it, failing to go? Really? Repeatedly through the book…? Okay then…

I know. I know what you’re thinking. I should have pitched the title across the room when I first ran into problems. I would have saved myself from having to hear the graphic description of indigestional distress, and then much later, sitting puzzled after the rushed epilogue-styled ending, if I had.

I just don’t get what McEwan thought it added to the story. I skipped as much as I could (a feat that deserves a medal when you’re dealing with audiobooks), and it made no difference to what I felt was the essence of the plot development. I still saw and understood how Michael Beard was a failure of a husband, father, scientist, lover, and an all around human being. And if, despite taking out the over-tired scenes of a sexual nature, those things remained obvious, then having them in, in the first place, obviously added nothing.

Right? So, belatedly in the Corner it goes!

###

The second to be thrown in the Sex Corner is Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Like Solar, there is a Sex Scene early on in the story. I compelled myself to skip on by and carry on. This book was recommended to me by a friend, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Wrong! From there, there was then the poor writing and narrative, and a pretty ridiculous romance. I should have given up whilst I was ahead!

The ridiculous romance went like this: Female Character (Alice) meets Male Character (Will). They’d met once before and  spent four hours or so in each others company working on a mutual project. Later in the evening of the day they meet again, danger hits. Alice tries to ask if they’re safe, once it looks like the danger has passed. What does Will do? He doesn’t actually answer the question, be just strokes her face. And then the danger returns.

A similar thing happens later on in the book, too. What does Handsy McRomeo do that time? Oh he just kisses her whilst she’s mid-question.

Yeah, Juliet, sod your safety concerns. His need to kiss you comes first. Sorry love. I’m sure you don’t mind!

Bonus? He spends days after those four hours being knocked out, waking up pining over her, and then getting knocked out again. What a guy! What a Romance!

Then there’s the sex scenes. Were they necessary? I mean, were they really necessary? I know i’m biased here, but considering there’s other parts of the story were the author just skimmed over a summary when more detail would have been appreciated, I really don’t see why a sum up of an extra marital affair couldn’t have done the same job.  It’s not just that her writing was all over the place, the decisions she made on what was kept in and what was skimmed over made no sense.

So, belatedly in the Corner that goes too.

###

Thirdly, a book I actually gave up on, lest I repeat the same mistake a third time.

Dead Air by Ian M Banks. Different Ian, virtually the same protagonist. Or antagonist, really, seeing as the main character describes himself as Professional Contraryman. This is the story of a “Shock Jockey” who gets paid to go out of his way to offend everyone. I attempted to skip through four Sex Scenes, but I got fed up of playing “Guess The Plot Beyond the Minefield” , and imagined myself pitching the CD Case across the room.

And that’s what I’m going to do from now on. You know, people say to people like me “Don’t like, don’t read”, and I don’t think people appreciate how much we would remove from our everyday life if we sex-repulsed asexuals intentionally went out of our way to avoid or removed all things Sex related.

Well, to show just part of it:

TSC1

I don’t like, so I’m not going to read anymore.

Watch this space for more Sex Corner Updates.

AFJ: Arranging titles artistically so that you don’t have to.

 


A Failed Journalist’s Anniversary Review of Wimbledon

Thursday 30 July, 2015

For this entry, I’d really recommend you go to this post here and read that first, for this to post to make sense.

But because I believe in the freedom of choice, I’ll also give you a summary.

Four years ago, to the day, I wrote an entry about Paul Bettany. It was the post that started the Paul Bettany back cataloguing (film watching with intent, basically). In the post, I explained how I had a friend in school who fancied him, and she’d talk about a film called Wimbledon and really wanted me to watch it, because she thought the main actor in it (Bettany) was gorgeous, but I was never interested in watching it, because it was a romcom, and I’m not one for romcoms. I also mentioned how I love(d) a film called Gangster No. 1, and recommended my friend watch it, but she wasn’t into bloody, gorey gangster films, so she never did, despite my description of the main character being Really, Really blonde and she seemed to like that look. I never knew the name of the main actor in it, and neither me or my friend realised we were recommending films to each other starring the same man.

I know. Hilarious, right?

Well. Just the other weekend, I had a film marathon. It’s a long story how I ended up with such a hodge podge of films that I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, but amongst them was the film Wimbledon. I’ve had this collection of DVDs in my possession for about five months, but I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch them.

And because of emotional sentimentality, a penchant for nostalgic blues, and the sheer fact that it’s a romcom, I wasn’t all that keen to watch Wimbledon anyway. I felt as though, even if I did find out I enjoyed the film, it’ll always be tinged with the sadness of the yesteryear. (I know. Pathetic, right?)

But it was there, and I was watching the others, so I took the plunge.

And I almost hate myself for this, but I actually… sort of… liked it??? I mean, it wasn’t that bad. I watched better films during the movie marathon (Stardust) and I’d watched worse during the movie marathon (Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence) and this fell just above the line between “good” and “uninteresting”.

It’s down to Paul Bettany. All Hail the Acting God that is Paul Bettany! It’s his dry delivery and tone of voice that makes it worth watching, I think. I didn’t really think much of the romance, i’m getting fed up of the leading male roles being played by men that are 10+ years older than the leading female roles, and normally I can’t stand watching anything to do with Tennis. When the real Wimbledon’s on, I will go to great lengths to avoid it as much as possible.

But I was kept interested by the dialogue and Paul Bettany’s delivery of it, in this film.

If I could have changed anything about this film, besides the age gap between the actors and the fact that it’s another A B C Heterosexual Romance RomCom, it would be that I would have wanted Peter Colt (Bettany’s character) to lose. You know, throw some reality to these things. He is old for a tennis player, which is highlighted in the film, he was struggling to keep ahead for most of his matches up to that point, and he hurt his back. That’s a big career destroyer for a lot of athletes. At some point, these films should be telling people you can’t have everything you want in life.

So, in conclusion, I’ll give the film a 5/10.
Next Paul Bettany Catalogue review will be Blood.


Classic Movie Quest: Empire of the Sun

Sunday 23 February, 2014

I know this probably sounds like a broken record, but this was another film on my Must See Classic Film list. It is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, by a man called J.G Ballard.

Not having read the book, I can’t compare how closely the film follows it. But to me, it would be strange to take something which is based on experiences, but dramatised to make it fiction, to be further dramatised and fictionalised for the sake of a film…

But anyway, about the film. It stars Christian Bale and John Malkovich. In fact, this was the film that apparently boosted Christian Bale’s career. From what I saw, because this was another film that didn’t make it past the 40 minute mark, it’s based in the times of the Pacific war in the 1930s, and is about a child, Jamie Graham, who becomes an orphan after being separated from his parents during a mass evacuation in Shanghai.

Here’s my first problem with… well, it’s not so much the film, it’s the character’s actions which brought about the film’s rolling plot point. I simply can’t stand a character who ignores instructions and falls victim to their own mistakes.

First he sees a boat in the harbour, opposite his bedroom window, flashing it’s light in a form of communication (light Morse code?), and flashes back with his own torch! He’s not that young of a child to not have any form of common sense. He should have known that that was not a good idea.

And then there’s an explosion. I’m not sure whether that’s coincidental or whether his light flashing back created a signal for the boat to fire at them, but either way, it was not a smart move and could have ended up with him being killed. He was lucky he moved away from the window when he did.

And then there’s the mass evacuation. There’s people everywhere, the crowd crush just by itself is dangerous, but these are desperate people just on the edge of rioting. Jamie and his parents have to leave their car and escape on foot. He’s meant to keep tight hold of his mother’s hand… but then he loses his toy aeroplane, and let’s go of his mother’s hand.

There’s a war going on, there’s mass panic, there’s a real danger they all could be killed just by being on the street, and he thinks his toy plane is important enough to risk not only his life, but the life of his mother’s as well!?

He doesn’t listen to his parents and he doesn’t do what he’s told. I know, that doesn’t mean he deserves to lose his parents or end up in a prisoner of war camp, and there was no way of knowing what exactly the outcome of his actions would be, but surely even a child of his age should have known that doing what he’s told = good and clever, and not doing what he’s told = unknown but definitely negative consequences for him and all else involved!?
Pretty much straight off the mark, I wasn’t liking this child and his precocious ways, but this plunged me even further to not like this character. And it makes it hard to concentrate on the bigger picture of the film when you have so much trouble even sympathising with the main character.

At least he had the common sense to listen to his mother when she told him to wait for her back at their house. But unfortunately all damage was done by then. The house was in disarray, especially his parent’s bedroom. All signs pointed to his mother being there but being taken, and to add to everything, the servants were looting the furniture.

He stayed in the house for some time, surviving on whatever was left to eat and drink, but eventually he ran out and had to flee onto the streets to find the Japanese had taken over.

I think his aim was to be taken prisoner by the Japanese, going by his exclamations of surrendering. But not even they wanted him.

I gave up shortly after John Malkovich’s character came into it and tried to sell off Jamie’s teeth.

I think, whilst part of my dislike of this film is obvious, I also find it very hard to sit down and enjoy films that you can’t really say you enjoy at the end of it. I know I say I can dislike a film for some reason, but appreciate how good the film is anyway, but a film like this… where I can’t appreciate how good the film is anyway, because of it’s focal point, and I dislike it for the same reason… It’s almost pointless in me trying to stick with it.

Because I’m not going to be able to get to the end of the film and say “Well, as much as such and such annoyed me, it was really enjoyable! It had a great message!”.

Because I can’t see past the barriers of this child’s lack of common sense. It would have been a very different story if he’d have acted a different way in the first place, and on the downside, that could have made for an even more sad story. But at least it might have been a story I could say “Well, I didn’t like the topic, but what a film!” about it, like I could with Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse, Now!

And it’s a shame, and I know it says more about me than it does about this film, because this was based on a novel, which was loosely based on a man’s life. And you can’t really critique a film’s depiction of actions which could have really happened. You just end up critiquing the person’s actions.

So, for that reason, I say if you’re more of a sympathetic type of person who likes to see a character grow and learn during difficult times, this film might be worth giving a go. It is, after all, considered a classic.

But for me…
I give it a 1/10. And that’s just for the acting.


Classic Movie Quest: Doctor Zhivago

Monday 10 February, 2014

Before I begin properly, let me just say that getting a comprehensible review out of this film was, for me, more difficult than the clichés of getting blood out of a stone and pulling teeth combined.

Which is why this review will be so short! You could either have comprehensible or short, or unintelligible but long. I went with the former and trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

And now without further ado:

Doctor Zhivago is one of those films that almost everyone considers to be one of the most bittersweet romantic films of all time, along with Casablanca and Gone With The Wind. It stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alex Guiness and Tom Courtenay, and it’s set during the times of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Here’s what I got from the first watch, before I gave up in a fit of mass confusion:

A young woman by the name of Tonya is meant to be Yuri’s daughter, even though they’re of similar ages. Her Aunt Lara/Larissa is having an affair with the same man her mother is having an affair with, all the while Billy Liar (Aka, Tom Courtenay, but I couldn’t remember his name at the time of the first watch) is starting the Russian Revolution.

You can see where I got horribly mixed up. At least, I sort of did on a second watch. Unfortunately whilst a second watch did help with what I’d got confused over, it didn’t change the film from being boring and still difficult to follow for me.

So, what I got from the second watch was this: Yuri Zhivago’s half brother is searching for his niece, who may or may not have the same name as the girl Yuri Zhivago grew up with, after he became an orphan.

Yuri Zhivago grows up to be the eponymous Doctor Zhivago. Tonya returns from Paris, and her and Yuri Zhivago get married.

Tom Courtenay’s character takes part in a protest that turns violent after involvement from the Coassacks, and he get’s stabbed for his troubles. He goes to the woman he’s in love with, Lara, to be looked after, and also to hide his gun.

Unfortunately for Tom Courtenay, Lara’s having an affair with her mother’s “friend”, who on second watch I’m still unsure whether she’s also having an affair with him or not. She get’s found out, the mother attempts suicide, Doctor Zhivago comes to the rescue.

To make matters worse for Lara, and I don’t mean that lightly, when Lara realises she wants out of the affair, the mother’s friend attacks and rapes her. There’s a whole avenue of a sexist, patriarchal society rant that I could go down from this part alone. But I won’t, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. That man thought he had the right to do that, and he didn’t, and times haven’t changed even today.

I think that’s about where I stopped, both times. You can see how just one small detail made the difference for those fourty minutes, the story of who was who to whoever was a bit clearer.

But it is a very involved sort of film. It’s not one you can watch lightly. From what I saw, I’m not even sure how people could even call it romantic, especially seeing as if the scene with Alec Guiness is to be believed, Doctor Zhivago went and had an affair whilst he was married. Is it that affair that’s meant to be romantic? That’s not very nice for the other parties involved.

So yes, a very heavy film. Maybe the acting and the directing is what got it put onto The List, but I’m a bit lost on the story, in more than one ways. And I say that as someone who knows that sometimes, these films are just on the list because, despite the convoluted plots that can be their ruin, or the hit and miss dialogue which make them difficult to stick through, they’re a golden well for media analysis. The fun of analysing can come from the very things than can make films unwatchable.

This film isn’t one of them. Or at least, not for me.

2/10.