Monday, 28 September 2015

Book review: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

Everyone knows who James Bond is, or at least they think they do. The James Bond I know is the James Bond of the films, particularly those featuring Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig as the man with a license to kill.

But that James Bond - suave, smooth, likeable if a little angsty and high maintenance - is not necessarily the James Bond of Ian Fleming's novels. Granted, I've never read a Fleming novel, but by all accounts Anthony Horowitz's Trigger Mortis is a pretty faithful rendition of Fleming's character, and Horowitz seems the perfect person to write a Bond novel, having created a young spy, Alex Rider, who is kind of Bond junior.

In Trigger Mortis Bond is sent to Nurburgring to prevent SMERSH from killing a British racing driver. While there he becomes suspicious of a meeting between SMERSH and a Korean millionaire, Jai Seong Sin. Bond has to team up with the clever Jeopardy Lane to stop a plot that could destroy the western world.

Horowitz's Bond isn't a pleasant person. He treats women badly (including Pussy Galore, who is living with Bond at the beginning of the novel), and while Jeopardy Lane is a feisty, independent heroine, she's still treated largely like an object by Bond. We do see Bond show some humanity once, when he hesitates before killing someone, but if anything that moment doesn't do him any favours, instead it just feels out of character, even if that character is unpleasant.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Book review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

If you go by social media, Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is either the most amazing, emotional, poignant book ever written, or it's an ill constructed, ridiculous, far too long brick, and there is no in between.

Well, I'm here to say that I'm the in between. There are moments of A Little Life I think are sheer genius, where the beauty of Yanagihara's prose can't be denied, and then there are moments where I think the book is just full of holes.

A Little Life follows four friends - Jude, Willem, JB and Malcolm - in New York after they graduate. The novel quickly focuses its beams on Jude, who is a powerful, brilliant lawyer, but who is deeply affected by an awful childhood which has left him scarred in numerous ways. As Jude grows older, he becomes more and more unable to let the demons of his past go.

Yanagihara's novel is billed as the tale of four men, but really it's not. We soon lose sight of JB and Malcolm (especially Malcolm), who then only pop up occasionally, and often to serve a particular plot point before disappearing. Willem, who is far closer to Jude, continues to play a significant part in the book and in Jude's life, but I expected to be reading a book exploring male friendship, and what I actually read was a book about one man and how he connects, or not, with the people in his life.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Book review: I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under Thirty

I call myself a feminist.

I call myself a feminist because gender equality is something we're still striving for even in 2015, because women are still judged and treated in different ways to men and those ways are often demeaning, because being compared to a woman or female characteristics is usually a way to insult someone.

I Call Myself a Feminist, edited by Victoria Pepe, Rachel Holmes, Amy Annette, Martha Mosse and Alice Stride, features essays by 25 women under the age of 30 on feminism. From writer and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge on what men can do to support feminism, to student Maysa Haque talking about her Islam and her feminism, to author Louise O'Neill writing about her journey to feminism, the book is full of different perspectives on women, their power and their struggles.

It's the different perspectives that are key. I almost cried with joy when I saw the first essay was written by Hajar Wright. Could it be that this book was willing to include a non-white perspective? And as I read further, it became clear that there was more than one non-white perspective in the book, and that there was plenty of other diversity in the book too. The battle for feminism is one that affects all women, but women from non-white backgrounds, women who are not straight, women who are not middle-class, are often battling discrimination on two fronts, or more. Student Jinan Younis captures the subject perfectly in her essay Manifesto for Female Intersectionality, but intersectionality is addressed again and again throughout the book, and it made my heart sing.

I Call Myself a Feminist is an important, powerful book that succinctly lays out why there is still a need for feminism. Its writers are brave, and its editors have curated a collection of essays that I want to press in to the hands of everyone I meet and say: "This. This is inspiring and needed and you should read it because it will help you understand the world and make it want to be a better place." We all still need to call ourselves feminists, and I Call Myself a Feminist tells you why.

I Call Myself a Feminist is released in the UK on November 5, 2015.

How I got this book: From the publisher, Virago. This did not affect my review.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Theatre review: Kinky Boots at the Adelphi

The most beautiful thing in the world... is a shoe.

Or at least, that's what the opening number of Kinky Boots tells us, and I find it difficult to disagree after seeing some of the beautiful boots in the London production, currently on at the Adelphi Theatre.

Telling the story of a young man who takes on his late father's shoe factory, the drag queen he encounters, and the plan they come up with to save the factory by manufacturing a line of shoes for drag queens, Kinky Boots is fun, fabulous and feel-good, and I say that having seen it from the nosebleed seats at the Adelphi, so it must be glorious close up.

The show features Matt Henry as Lola and Killian Donnelly as Charlie. Henry's role is louder and more in your face, but he brings a depth to Lola that makes you connect with her on a number of levels and he's able to make her quieter moments just as addictive to watch as her louder numbers. Not My Father's Son and Hold Me In Your Heart are both beautiful ballads, full of heart, and Henry sings the heck out of them.


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