Holiday Books and Films


Wednesday, Thursday, and the Slow Death of the Present Tense

I have always felt that the most powerful guiding force of my life is irony. No surprises, then, that this holiday, the first in years when I have not felt exhausted and have been looking forward to pottering about on my own, it is simply too roasting hot to do anything. Aha, you may say, this is why we bring large crates of books on holiday with us, is it not? Not to mention ambitious plans for getting lots of writing done.

Well, I had pretty much done all I could with Henry by Wednesday morning. I’m not someone who fiddles endlessly with my prose; I do know when I’ve reached the point where it just has to sit for a while before I can assess it again. When I know there’s editing to be done, however, I’m like a woman possessed. Hunger, thirst, neither of these is a patch on the potent impulse to rewrite the same sentence five different ways.

On Monday evening towards 11 o’clock I had reluctantly begun shutting the word program down, not least because I couldn’t see through my contact lenses any more. ‘Darling,’ I said to the laptop, as you do, ‘I hate to leave you, but I promise I will be back first thing tomorrow morning to get you all nice and fixed.’ Imagine my surprise, then, when the laptop answered me back. ‘Mummy, why are you abandoning me?’ it said. ‘Why not stay and fix me right now?’ I turned around to see my dear husband grinning at me. That rascally Mr Litlove! Way to mess with your wife’s head!

Anyway, back to books. I’d finished the John Dunning (not good) and The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (interesting – review to come) and so I pick up the next two books on my list. These are The Mirador, the ‘imagined’ memoir of Irène Némirovsky written by her daughter, and Bill Bryson’s Notes From A Small Island (for my book club).

Our sheltered terrace

Our sheltered terrace

The Mirador begins well. It is written as if by Némirovsky, a first person account from her youngest childhood days and the description of Russia at the start of the 20th century is amazing, so lush and rich. Each chapter break is accompanied by no more than a paragraph in italics, telling the third person account of the moment in WW2 when Némirovsky was deported and her two daughters left to make a desperate escape from the Nazis. It should be good, as it’s well written and a fascinating concept. But there is no dialogue, nothing to break the rhythm of those long, intricate sentences, and in no time at all I find myself waking up from an impromptu nap. I see it’s going to be one of those books – a more reliable soporific than valium.

Notes From A Small Island seems a much better bet for keeping me conscious and entertained. It begins hilariously, with a young Bryson pitching up at a snooty B & B in 1970s Dover where the landlady reels off an impossibly long series of rules and regulations, all destined to preserve her furnishings in a way that makes it almost impossible actually to use them. And it follows this up with excellent anecdotes about his time as a carer in a mental hospital in Virginia Waters (where he met his wife) and his early days in journalism in London. Bryson, it turns out, has decided to move back to the States and is taking a valedictory tour of the UK before he goes. I annoy Mr Litlove by laughing immoderately. But then Bryson runs out of personal reminiscences and starts complaining about architecture. Not that his complaints aren’t valid but they’re not particularly funny. The book goes off the boil.

The view from the terrace

The view from the terrace

I am then saved by the owner of our cottage (who lives next door). I had commented on a thriller she’d been reading the previous day and she now drops it round in case I’d like to read it. Ah, delightful trash! The novel is called Criminal by Karin Slaughter and whilst it’s pretty good trash, it’s also quite the most disturbing book I think I’ve ever read. I plough on womanfully, determined to finish it before the end of the holiday.

We also watch a lot of films this holiday, which is strange for me because I watch them so rarely. Initially we don’t have a lot of luck there, either. A Dangerous Method, about Jung’s alleged affair with his patient, Sabina Spielrein, which Mr Litlove had optimistically been calling ‘the spanking movie’ turns out to be oddly dry and dull. When I first heard about it, I’d been intrigued by the premise – I’m always interested in anything to do with psychoanalysis – but feared a vulgar Hollywood-ising of the material. I can honestly say this is not the case! We sat through it politely waiting for the end. Then we watched Houseboat, a Cary Grant comedy. Generally I love Cary Grant, but this one has a storyline of such implausibility that even I could not suspend disbelief. And what had they done to Sophia Loren? I’ve never seen her such a strange colour.

Next we tried our luck with The Lady Vanishes, classic Hitchcock. It started okay, but was another film that got more and more bizarre as it went along. I was beginning to wonder whether it was us, so we watched two movies we’d seen before – the excellent Crimes and Misdemeanours from Woody Allen’s best years, and the first of the new Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Junior. Nothing whatsoever to do with Sherlock Holmes, of course, but a fun adventure movie, and Jude Law is wonderful as Dr Watson. If only Jude Law stayed out of the celebrity magazines and just acted! And then finally on our last night we watched something new to us and good: The Artist. I’d already read two novels with similar plots this year, so clearly that old Hollywood thing is enjoying a commercial heyday, but it was charming, and really nice to see a film that made the most of its actors.

And then we went home. Where I was reunited with my full book collection and the indescribable bliss of my own bed. Going away is nice, but nothing is nicer than coming home.


45 thoughts on “Holiday Books and Films

  1. your view looks magnificent.
    Just watched Imagine’s two parter on Woody Allen. Really worth finding on your own time if you didn’t record it. Then re watched Vicky Christina Barcelona which I love and Mr C slept through.
    Perhaps it is a woman’s movie but you can only have so much Batman can’t you?

    • Aha! A new debate opens … What’s a “woman’s movie” and what makes you think women don’t watch Batman? Given Victoria’s new (or rediscovered) love of watching films we can have a re-run of our discussions about gendering (if that is a word) :-))

      • Heh, Dark Puss, we should indeed chat about the (im)possibility of gendering movies! I have indeed seen Batman, in fact, several variations on it and, at the other end of the scale, my PhD student a while back gave several papers on the films because one of his authors, Victor Hugo, created the original Joker (I think? I’m not sure now which character it was). After all of that, I confess I do prefer Woody Allen. But then I like Hitchcock too. I am no fan of gore and violence on screen, so that inevitably leads me towards more ‘feminised’ films….

    • Oh I couldn’t agree more about Batman – though Mr Litlove did like Vicky Christina Barcelona. He is not often a bridge brain, so this must be one of those exceptions that proves the rule, etc, etc. I am definitely going to track down that two parter on Woody Allen – would love to see it and thank you for the heads up.

  2. In spite of the heat, some not so great books and movies, it seems you still had a nice holiday. And what a view! So glad you liked The Artist. I thought it a really well done movie. And how did Mr. Litlove’s chair-making go?

    • We did have a lovely holiday – the books and movies made for interesting talking points! Mr Litlove’s chair was coming along very nicely indeed when we left – I will undoubtedly post pictures when he has finished it! I was just glad that it had not reached the stage of being fully assembled – or else I fear it would have been given the prime seat next to Mr Litlove in the car, and I would have been strapped to the roof rack! 🙂

    • As ever you say it so right, dear Jenny. It was a book that did indeed have many things about it, and having reviewed it now, I’m not sure I did justice to all the things. But it was very interesting!

  3. Spot on! I totally agree with everything you’ve said about the films… the ones I’ve seen. A Dangerous Method “dry and dull”, and a bit overacting on Keira Knightly’s part. Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock is fun, and The Artist is a great revival of old time filmmaking. Woody Allen’s C & M is very good and thought-provoking, the alternatives to Dostoevsky’s C & P. So leaving Houseboat and The Lady Vanishes that I need to catch up on. Reading your book reviews is always refreshing, but sure love your movie talks.

    And nothing is more true with this statement: “Going away is nice, but nothing is nicer than coming home.”

    • Hurray! I love your film reviews, Arti, so I’m delighted that our views coincide. The Lady Vanishes is one I ought to watch again. I wonder whether my viewing of it was too influenced by having watched a couple of odd movies – they may have made it feel odder than it was.

      It’s well known that cats can be roamers 😉 but I’m distinctly a homebody!

  4. So surprised you didn’t like The Lady Vanishes. (I wonder which version you saw?)

    I have loved reading your holiday diary which is so funny and brings to mind the Diary of a Provincial Lady in its gentle but clever observations of people and place.

    • Sue, I was really surprised I didn’t get on with it too! I saw the old original version with Margaret Lockwood. I really wonder whether it was just the wrong film at the wrong time and think maybe I should watch it again. I couldn’t be happier, though, with your kind comment. I adore the Provincial Lady, and it’s one of my favourite comfort reads! So thank you!

  5. Unless I have my Brysons mixed up this is the one that contains the amazingly funny observations on the futile life of pigeons. Your right though, he can go off the boil sometimes. Lucky you to be in Yorkshire when the sun is out.

    • I know, who’d a thunk I’d return from a holiday in Yorkshire complaining I’d been too hot?? Do you know, I can’t recall the pigeons at this moment in time – oh how I miss my memory! But that sounds like a typical Bryson anecdote. He can be so very funny at times.

    • Ahh, what an interesting link, thank you, Dark Puss! I recently bought a cheap copy of Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and that definitely suffered from the same sort of thing, only all the colours were wrong. In Houseboat it’s only poor old Sophia who looks like she needs a good scrub. It’s not often that any actor out-perma-tans Cary Grant in a film!

  6. I once started listening to Notes from a Small Island on audio book. I remember some of the funny parts that you mention, but I quickly found that the book doesn’t necessarily translate well to audio. He likes long lists (such as of funny English town names) and this is something that works way better in print than spoken aloud. Anyway, so glad you enjoyed The Artist. I’ve seen it a couple of times and find it delightful.

    • Oh you are so right about the lists – there are a lot of them, and I can quite imagine they are better read. I actually wondered whether this would be a book to listen to (as I imagine Bill Bryson having one of those treacly smooth American voices), so I’m glad to have your opinion on that. And yes, I’d certainly watch The Artist again – it was a delight.

  7. I liked A Dangerous Method. It didn’t think Keira Knigthley had it in her to be that good. And I’m very fond of both male actors.
    I like Karin Slaughter very much. Not sure why you call it trash. Her series was well done. Not literary but not bd at all.
    I started Claire Messud but was disappointed. I expected another voice but I’ve only read 22 pages then I switched to Siri Hustvedt.
    It’s awfully hot here. We have 36° inside at the moment. One of the cats is even sleeping in a freshly watered plant pot.

    • I’ll tell you what I did like about A Dangerous Method: Michael Fassbinder’s voice. It was amazing – I could have listened to it for hours (actually makes me wonder whether he has read audio books!). Karin Slaughter is definitely higher up the food chain than a lot of thriller writers, though I agree she isn’t literature – I use the term ‘trash’ here with great fondness. And oh 36 degrees is unbearable! My heart goes out to you, and I love the description of your cat. Who’d want to be wearing a fur coat in that weather?

  8. I heard Bill Bryson give a reading from one of his books before he was Bill Bryson, if you see what I mean. In person he was, well personable, but try as I might I have never been able to repeat the experience through his books. As you say, they start off all right and then……

    • Ahh, you find that too? It was a book for my book club, and when we met we all agreed that the first half was great and the second really not so great. One of our members said that BB’s books were all like that, unless they’d been newspaper columns he’d sewn together. How interesting to see him in his early days – I like the photos of him. He’s just a beard with a smiling set of teeth!

  9. I just got back from a holiday where I managed to read nothing but enjoyed perfect weather. We had a heat wave just before the holiday and last summer the heat waves never ended so my sympathies! I finished reading The Woman Upstairs right before the hol, so I’m eager to read your review!

    • Ooh would love to know what you make of The Woman Upstairs too! I’m so glad to know you had perfect weather; how lovely, and sometimes a break from words can be very refreshing (in whatever form they take).

  10. The view looks marvelous. You sound like you had a wonderful holiday, even if books and movies were a little bit off.

    I’ve read some of Notes from a Small Island, and I believe i stalled when he began complaining about it rather than being funny. Anxiously awaiting your review of The Woman Upstairs (I’m debating requesting it from the library), and I have Criminal on my shelves! yaaay! One I can go pick up – I am stalled on Sylvia Plath’s biography, which I am really enjoying, but can’t renew and it’s due back tomorrow 😦 Mad Girl’s Love Song, which I just won’t get read in time. It’s very good so far. I haven’t dared read Tropic of Cancer yet, I’m not sure why, I’m old enough now!! lol

    • We did have a lovely holiday, and the good thing about books and movies is that there’s an endless supply, so you know you’ll get something good in the end! I would like to read that Sylvia Plath biography (but will probably wait until I can pick up a cheap paperback copy) and am very grateful for the solidarity over Bill Bryson. The beginning was very good! And Criminal was an excellent thriller – I was particularly impressed with the way the early days of women on the police force in America were described. That part was incredibly vivid and well done. As for Tropic of Cancer, lol! Nothing as bad happens to women in Miller’s book as in Criminal, so you can always try the thriller first and test the water! 🙂

  11. Very keen to hear your response to The Woman Upstairs! And what taste you have in films, since you love Crimes and Misdemeanours!! So brilliant, must watch it again soon. And thanks for your recommendation of The Artist.
    Returning home to one’s own bed is a special delight.

    • Ah! Another Crimes and Misdemeanours fan! Hello there, friend. I love that period of his filmmaking – Bullets Over Broadway is one of my all-time favourite movies too. And oh the loveliness of one’s own bed. Does make you wonder why we ever leave it!

  12. What a great view you had! I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, but I did see The Lady Vanishes (the 1938 version) and I liked it and Houseboat, which I did not particularly care for. I wish you had watched Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation, which I think you would have liked…especially since you were on a vacation yourself. Did Mr. L have good luck with his chair?

    • Ooh, I haven’t heard of Mr Hobbs Takes A Vacation, so I will go and check it out forthwith. I feel I did The Lady Vanishes an injustice, and will have to watch it again some time. As for Mr Litlove’s chair, it was coming along very well indeed by the time we left. He still has work on it to do but he found the week a really good learning experience – and was shattered by the end of it! But that’s how you know you’ve learned a lot…. I’ll post pictures as soon as it’s done!

  13. Lovely views! You weren’t joking when you mentioned the steep hill. Wouldn’t like to be cycling that in the middle of a heatwave! I’ve never seen The Artist but clearly I would really enjoy it. And as for A Dangerous Method, I appreciated parts of it but like you I also found it odd and rather dry. I liked the portrayal of Freud and appreciated the insights into Jung and Sabina Spielrein but it’s not the sort of movie I would want to watch again. I started writing a review of it a while back but then didn’t follow through.

  14. Okay lady, I’m calling your British, wet-weather bluff: exactly how hot is “simply too roasting hot to do anything?”

    • Lol! This comment keeps making me laugh! Well, the temperature in Yorkshire was about 30 degrees for the last few days, and down here in Cambridge last Thursday it was an unbearable (to me) 32. And I was driving my son around in a car whose air conditioning involves winding down the window. Don’t tell me! 30 degrees is what you wake up to at dawn… 😉

      • For the love of Saint Pete woman, 30 DEGREES? What, are you part polar bear?! We can do an easy 38.6 in our dog days of summer.

        This year has been incredibly cool though. Made for a beautiful summer. I don’t know what’s going on with our weather lately, but I’m not going to complain.

  15. Vacations Do make you appreciate your own bed very much, don’t they? Sounds like you had a productive and entertaining holiday–hopefully it was as enjoyable as it sounded! 🙂 What did Mr Litlove make and did he get to bring it home with him? And maybe we traded weather (and I am only too happy to let you keep ours). It has been sunny and pleasant here. Normally it is sunny, disgustingly hot and humid. I am sure we will pay later, but I am enjoying it immensely. Why can’t it always be like this–I could actually Like summer then!

    • I am SO glad your summer is behaving itself, because after a month of sweltering weather you have no idea how much sympathy I have for you, when you have to put up with this all the time! Mr Litlove did really well with the chair he was making, though he didn’t finish it. This was just as well, as I don’t know how we could have got it in the car with our luggage and his bike. I think it may have been given my seat, and I’d have been strapped to the roofrack! I’ll post pictures of it once it’s done. 🙂

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