Welcome to this month’s wrap of everything I’ve been watching and listening to lately.
I have to say – there are some absolute crackers in this lot.
There is a contender for my favourite book of the year and two of the most riveting podcasts series I’ve listened to in quite some time.
Don’t forget to tell me what you’ve been watching, reading and listening to lately below. We’d love to hear!
Australian crime writing is going from strength to strength, and Christian White’s very readable debut, The Nowhere Child, is a welcome addition to the genre.
It begins with an intriguing premise – an American man approaches a woman in Melbourne to tell her he thinks she was abducted from her American home when she was two years old, an event the woman has no memory of. Is it true? Why did this happen? This page turning novel keeps us guessing and intrigued as the story unfolds.
The writing may not be the most eloquent or polished, but in terms of the story, it’s well plotted and not easy to put down. I read it in just two days, a major feat considering the end of term and everything else going on around here.
If you’re going on holidays, this is the perfect page turning beach read.
I’d heard and read a lot of positive reviews which prompted me to finally read Lincoln in the Bardo, the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. I’m glad I had a bit of an idea of what to expect though, as it doesn’t read like your typical novel.
The story begins with the illness and subsequent death of Abraham Lincoln’s eleven year old son Willie. What follows is George Saunders’ creative, tender and original tale, told in three interchangeable and different ways – a traditional narrative; a script whereby the various characters in the “bardo” interact with each other and the dead Willie; and citations from contemporaneous “sources”. If you’re looking for a straightforward, linear narrative, this is not for you, but if you’re open to be taken on a different sort of journey though, I think you’ll find plenty to love about Lincoln in the Bardo.
Personally, I found it hard to work out what was going on for the first few chapters, but George Saunders’ beautiful writing kept me in the game and turning those pages. I’m glad I finished the book as it all came together nicely in the end.
Full disclosure: young Irish writer Sally Rooney is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and her follow up to the brilliant Conversations With Friends – Normal People – was every bit as good, if not better than her first stunning offering.
At the centre of Normal People are two characters whose lives become interwoven with each other: the aloof, wealthy and socially isolated Marianne and the popular, clever and less well off Condell. The story begins when they are at high school together, and moving in different social circles, they only come in to close contact when Condell’s mother is employed as a housekeeper for Marianne’s family in their small Irish town. Their impact on each other is immediate and long term.
As with Conversations With Friends, the central characters in Normal People are young, brilliant intellectuals who love clever banter but struggle emotionally and in their sense of self and their place in the world. They’re also very concerned with wealth and socio economic status, local and international politics, and closer to home, their sense of self worth, anxieties, shame, love and sex. It’s fascinating, compelling stuff. The characters just feel so real.
Sally Rooney’s skill is the way in which she creates fully realised characters – the details, nuances, neuroses and dialogue of her characters all having the ring of truth about them in every respect. Condell in particular is a fascinating character. Through him Sally Rooney really examines the complexities of modern masculinity. Condell’s mother Lorraine has to be one of my favourite characters in recent times.
I loved this novel and while it is no doubt brilliant, it’s also super easy to read – I read it in two days. It’s readability is not at the expense of the quality of the writing – which is excellent – or complexity of the issues and feelings though.
In the same vein as Jane Harper’s The Dry, Australian journalist Chris Hammer’s debut novel Scrublands takes a drought ridden rural town and plants a bewildering massacre in the middle of it.
While this is a well written novel, the plot is a particularly complex and multi layered one which takes nearly 500 pages to resolve. I was committed to the end, as I’d already invested a reasonable amount of time, but in the end, I wondered whether the author had perhaps been a bit ambitious and included too many plot layers and events.
That said, this is an easy to read, page turning book, but be prepared that it will take you a while to tie up all the loose ends and they might be a little on the fantastic/far fetched side.
Before I launch in to TV series, I have to give a shout out to Australian Story on ABC. This has to be one of the most outstanding shows on TV. I watch this show every week and highly recommend it. I also love You Can’t Ask That and Anh’s Brush With Fame – shows which also tell stories of ordinary Australians with extraordinary tales to tell. In the light relief department, Gogglebox is an absolute ripper and I confess I’m also rather taken with the Honey Badger and have watched with disbelief the bad behaviour on The Badgelor.
In terms of series, I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t watched Grey’s Anatomy but maybe I will now as I’m LOVING Sandra Oh in Killing Eve on ABC iView. She is the bomb dot com. This is a classic cat and mouse plot, with M15 agent Sandra Oh in hot pursuit of a young, psychopathic French assassin. I can’t say I love the deaths – some are especially gruesome – but the dynamic and mutual obsession between Sandra Oh and the assassin definitely makes for interesting viewing.
I’m also currently watching the new series The Lawyer on SBS on Demand. From the brilliant creator of The Bridge and other stand out Scandi series, this is a thrilling series with yet another fabulous dysfunctional duo at the centre – this time a brother (the lawyer) and sister (the cop) pair, whose parents are murdered in front of them in a bomb blast when they were young. It’s a tightly plotted, clever story that spans Malmo and Copenhagen and throws up all sorts of moral and ethical dilemmas for it’s flawed central characters. The tension reminds me of The Fall or Ozark, where each episode finds the characters in possible peril. This series builds and builds and while I’m only up to episode 5, I can already see a thousand ways for things to go wrong … or right. I don’t love the characters as much as I’ve loved some (Holder anyone?) but it’s still well worth watching.
I’m also loving Season 2 of Anne with an ‘E’ on Netflix which I’m watching with my twelve year old. This series is so perfect in every way – beautifully acted, stunning scenery and wonderful dialogue. I don’t want it to end so I’m not binge watching, just savouring it one episode at a time.
Next on my list is Season 2 of Ozark. I just need some light relief in between. Any suggestions?
I’ve watched a couple of movies this past month, The Bookclub and Crazy Rich Asians. For my detailed review, head here.
I’ve been absolutely obsessed with podcast series lately. The two stand outs for me have been Doctor Death and Slow Burn.
Doctor Death is the horrifying and recent allegedly true story of an American neurosurgeon – nicknamed Doctor Death – told over 6 episodes (the final episode drops this week). This is not the series you want to listen to if you are having surgery any time soon, but for the rest of us, it’s utterly compelling, unbelievable and frankly terrifying stuff. I won’t say more, but hold on to your hats people!
I’ve also been LOVING Slow Burn. I started by listening to the current season 2 which is all about the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinksy scandal and the effect it had on his presidency. It also asks the question – following the rise of the #MeToo movement, would we view these events – and in particular Monica Lewinsky’s role in them – in the same way today? It’s fascinating, thought provoking stuff.
The series begins with Monica Lewinsky sitting in the food court after the gym, waiting for her friend and Pentagon colleague Linda Tripp, who turns up with FBI agents. It’s then revealed that Linda has been secretly recording conversations with Monica for some time, and has handed them to Federal prosecutors. Can you even? Anyway, I am totally hooked and am hanging for the final episode which drops this week.
Season 1 of Slow Burn – which details the Watergate scandal and Richard Nixon’s impeachment – is awesome too. I love the way this series picks out lesser known players in major world events and revisits and explores what happened with fresh perspectives and insights. It also seems to be saying that the current political shenanigans in the U.S. – understatement – are nothing new. Scandal, lies, high level corruption and impeachment are recent realities in American political history.
In between times, I’ve just started Season 3 of Serial and US crime series Framed in between my usual faves Conversations, No Filter and Case File.
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So over to you – what have you been reading, watching and listening to this month?