Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson
I picked this up when I was feeling nostalgic for last year’s trip to the Notting Hill Carnival. Needless to say this book is not about the carnival. Well, it does mention it but calls it “the dreaded carnival.”
The two day party which defines Notting Hill to millions globally is loathed without reservation by almost everyone who lives here..
I am deliberately sitting on the garden side of the house because if I sit street-side, I am forced to watch a parade of revellers saunter past my door, gobbling goat stew from tin punnets purveyed by Mr Yum Yum. Then they’ll casually toss the container into my front garden or unzip their flies and pee in my rubbish bin, All to the accompaniment of pumping reggae and soca and hip hop crashing out from three sounds system on Ladbroke Grove at the same time.
No wonder then, the property owning class either sensibly stays away in Provence… and only returns after it’s safely all over, and the streets are lined again with new cars, drivers waiting in Lexus’s… trees rather than sole traders hawking solefood to the great unwashed.
The dreaded carnival may be lovely for everyone else, but it’s hellish for us. I’d rather still be away, comfortable and quiet somewhere else, with people I have chosen to be with (plus chef and driver preferably) rather than with half a million uninvited guests with no proper toilet facilities.
Plus, it’s not hard to resent the fact that the whole character of the neighbourhood changes, if only for two days. The shops board up their fronts, and restaurants the rich treat like office canteens, like Mediterraneo and E&O unapologetically close, secure in the knowledge that they are not pissing off their regular clientele, because none of them are there anyway; and if that’s not bad enough, all this shutting up shop is followed by the arrival of half a million uninvited, marauding, drug-taking, goat-stew-eating, skanking reggae lovers who proceed to commit the cardinal sin of actually enjoying themselves without having recourse to a seven-figure income to do so. Which is unforgivable.
Pg 250 – 251 Notting Hell
No, this book is about the wealthy, privileged folk who actually live in (one of) London’s more exclusive neighbourhoods and the affairs they are having with each other - the Guardian provides an excellent run down of the plot here - pretty much all the characters are horrendously unlikable and the author, Rachel Johnson, is the sister of Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, which I think might be another reason so dislike her, and she enjoys looooooong, waffelly, run on sentences, a bit like this one. I can’t say I’m in a hurry to read anything else by her.
A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
Father Barnaby really does try hard to be a good man. And for the most part he is, but the life of a priest is hard on his wife and children, especially the life of a priest who isn’t always perfect.
I’ll make no bones of it – I love Patrick Gale. I love his characters, his descriptions and the way he jumps about with time and perspective. Mostly, I love how there is always a gay character, and none of the other characters really cares that they are gay. I just love how normal and ordinary and nice, even if overwhelmingly white and middle class, everyone in his books is.
Can you Keep a Secret? By Sophie Kinsella
This was the only Kinsella book that I hadn’t read, so when it showed up on Audible and I had a credit to use and was looking for something easy to follow while I finished a quilt, I downloaded it. Don’t judge me!
Emma Corrigan is flying back from her first proper business meeting in Scotland. Obviously, being a Kinsella character, she daydreams through the meeting then completely embarrasses herself when she finally decides to pay attention.* The plane hits turbulence and in her terror Emma finds herself “confessing” everything to the man next to her. Mostly silly, plot convenient things – like that she is a size 12 not a size 10, that her dream date would begin with champagne, when she is annoyed with her office mate she pours orange juice in the plant on her desk, blah blah blah. If I had been the (Tall, dark, handsome, RICH – this is Kinsella, after all!) stranger sat next to Emma Corrigan, I would have stopped listening right away. Girl, your “secrets” are dull as dishwater!
Of course, the Stranger ends up being her boss! OF COURSE! And he proceeds to make her promise that she won’t tell anyone he was on that plane – because being in Scotland is his secret – and then proceeds to use her secrets, which he apparently memorised, or recorded or something because he remembers them all, to basically fuck with her – making “jokes” that no-one but she and he understand in front of everyone they work with and her family. Because that’s what professional people do, especially people who have built a company worth millions! Anyway, they fall in love, he blurts out her “secrets” in a really cringe worthy speech during an interview, they fall out, they make back up.
Honestly, I’d like to say this is the end for me and Kinsella, but who am I kidding? While I have enjoyed a couple of her books, I now just love to hate them and 85% of the fun in reading them is snarking. So of course I will read whatever new trash she brings out!
* Kinsella’s women are only allowed to be good at their jobs accidently – like when Emma puts a coupon in a magazine her Granddad buys to save him money on a product and ends up increasing the sales of the product by, oh, a bajillion. In Kinsella’s world women who work hard and are good at their jobs are total bitches, like Lexi in “Remember Me?”
This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman
16 year old Jake meets a 14 year old Daisy at a party, he’s drunk and he makes out with Daisy for a while, before becoming embarrassed in front of his friends and telling her she is too young. Daisy, in an attempt to win him over, records and emails him a sexually explicit video in which she masturbates with a baseball bat – not that the author could bring herself to actually say that - which a shocked Jake sends to a couple of his friends. Of course, the video goes viral. The book follows Jakes family through the fall out.
This book has what I think of as the “Jodi Picoult” factor. The blurb supposes a scenario and then asks “What would you do?” and I can’t help it. I always respond with “Ohhh, what would I do?” In the case of Jodi Picoult the answer is almost always “I would be disappointed with the execution of this potentially interesting story.” And while I think Schulman’s characters were more realistic, I still didn’t really care about what happened to Jake, or his parents.
Daisy was the one I was interested in, and we barely saw her. Daisy is the least fleshed out of the characters – we see her attempt to seduce Jake at the party, we see the video she sends Jake, and we see her in the school hall after the video has gone viral autographing baseball bats. When she finally gets her own chapter, it is the shortest, set years later and revels that she was sent away to another school after the incident, is embarrassed when she bumps into one of the boys the video was sent to and that she thinks she was “a funny child.” That’s all we get from Daisy!
I felt like we were supposed to blame Daisy for everything that happened – as if she had given Jake the file to distribute, rather than for his private use. We are asked, repeatedly to forgive Jake for forwarding the video without thinking of the consequences – suspension, child pornography charges, his dad no longer being considered suitable for his role in developing a new school, his parent’s eventual separation, his younger sister being accidently exposed to the video – but we are never told that he feels bad for violating the trust Daisy placed in him, or her privacy.
TL;DR – Interesting premise, but slutshamey execution.
Starters by Lissa Price
I bought this book ages ago, as part of a BOGOF on YA fiction. It sat on the shelf for months and months, until I needed something to do the laundry with the other day.
The story itself is kind of gripping –Set in the future where Magic Science has extended the average life-span to 200yrs, a couple of years after a war in which biological weapons were used. The vulnerable groups – children (Starters) and the elderly (Enders) – were vaccinated, but anyone between 20 and 60 is dead. One of the only ways for “unclaimed” youngsters to make money is to rent their bodies out to elderly people who want to be young again – through sub-dermal transmitters, they literally inhabit their bodies for a period of time.
I quite liked the premise, but I just couldn’t gel with the main character, Cassie. I’ll read the sequel when it comes out later this year though .
This is pretty staggering.
(NB: This is not a compliant, as I have promised to not complain about the Olympics. It’s just that this graphic demonstrates very well what I would complain about, if I were going to.)