Category Archives: Writing

Book Review: The White Book by Han Kang


the white book


Books are a vice for me. They do take up space, so I try not to buy too many. I have yet to define what having too many means.

‘The White Book’ by Han Kang was an indulgence: I wouldn’t normally buy a book like this on a whim. I picked it up, read the blurb and I just knew. To look at the world and write about only white things fascinated me.

Books are a vice for me, because my soul seeks to connect to the world, observe it, understand it, and feel as if it is a part of it. Books are one way in which I do this.

I have heard of ‘The Vegetarian’ by the same author, and I am now drawn to want to read more by her for a simple reason. ‘The White Book’ spoke to my soul.

Books are a vice for me: a way to connect to another observer’s viewpoint. This book is an observation on life and death. Of fragile fleeting moments most people wouldn’t notice happening. I feel sometimes as if I wander around and see things other don’t notice.

Are people not mindful? Are they selfishly wrapped up in themselves? Or most horribly of all, don’t they care? Don’t they care about a white handkerchief fluttering out of a window; about why two Yulan trees have been planted in remembrance; about the inner torments of the people who are ‘laughing whitely’?

Books are a vice for me. Unlike most vices that leave you wanting more, this book was satisfying. It is simply genius, if harrowing, but life is full of sadness. Sometimes inexplicable and sometimes obvious. It is sentimental, but then without sentiment and yearning for beautiful things, like minerals that glimmer, or seeing the Milky Way wielding overhead, connecting to the every day world is just that bit more mundane.

And that is why I would recommend this book; it comes from the idea of simply observing the mundane, picking out a detail (the colour ‘white’), and showing people how wondrous the world can be, even in moments of tragedy.

Books are a vice for me, because I write them too. It isn’t often I get a sort of envy that envelops me as a writer, which whispers in the back of my thoughts: ‘I wish I had written this book.’




Film Review – Loving Vincent



Firstly I have to thank the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle for putting on a couple of screenings of this film; you have no idea how much I appreciate it.

This film has been on my radar for a long time because Vincent Van Gogh is one of my favourite artists. For once I was interested in seeing a film not because of plot or characters, which is what normally attracts me. It was something else, something that I’m not normally interested by, and something I usually scoff at if the story/character development or similar isn’t the selling point of a film.

I wanted to see this film because of the techniques employed to make it. In other words the special effects. Except unlike with supposedly ground-breaking films like Avatar (shudders), this film had something very special going for it.

That is because ‘Loving Vincent’ is the first ever full-length hand-painted animation to be made. Each frame is an oil painting. Even more wonderfully the filmmakers used Van Gogh’s paintings as initial references for putting together the story board, and then the 125 artists involved (who specialise in oil painting) used his aesthetic style to create the 65,000 frames of the film, which you can see here in the trailer.

And the result is one of the most unique and beautiful films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. Admittedly, I am bias due to my partiality for his work, however, anyone who appreciates how beautiful oil paintings are can appreciate this film. And if you don’t have that appreciation yet this film will show you why oil is such an enduring medium.

If you only know Van Gogh’s oil paintings via prints or digital images, and being able to see original Van Gogh’s in person isn’t possible (though if you can get to Amsterdam a visit to the Van Gogh Museum is a must), then I highly recommend you check out this film.

What you will be able to see then is the rich texture of his work. His paintings aren’t flat, they have a lovely flowing texture and using his style of painting for animating a story demonstrates the gentle grace and movement of the world he captured in his work. The wheat fields ripple; the crows flap hard as they fly up; the expressions of the characters are very natural and are more three dimensional than any 3D film I’ve seen.

If you know his work well, every now and then one of his paintings will leap out at you off the screen, but equally it doesn’t matter if you don’t either. The vividness of the colour employed is stunning, and contrasts very well indeed with all of the black and white flashbacks.

I was surprised at the use of black and white because Van Gogh’s later works are so colourful, but it made perfect sense to do so. It suited the narrative, which is an exploration into the death of the artist. The sombre palette complements the subject matter; depression and suicide.

However, the use of colour for the living world, the present moment, is a strong contrast to the past. The vividness of life is celebrated using the vivid bright palette Van Gogh is famous for using in his latter years.

While I have read in other reviews and I heard in the cinema from others there that the narrative could have been developed more, I don’t agree. Fine, while not much happens everything that needs to be said is said, and the narrative written is hardly simple. The mystery of his death is explored fully by the protagonist Roulin; I don’t see how adding anymore would have been needed.

I found the film to be very respectful of both the artist’s life, his death and the legacy he left behind. And more than that, as well as bringing movement to his landscapes, the film has brought the people he painted to life as well.

I highly recommend the film, and that you check out the film’s official website so you can learn more about this true masterpiece of technical achievement.

Book Review – Breakfast at Tiffanys by Truman Capote


I have wanted to read Breakfast at Tiffany’s for a while now, so when I came across a copy that was a reasonable price I picked it up, and because I’m still easing myself into reading, and it is a novella, it was ideal.

I’m not going to lie, the vast majority of what I know about the story comes from cultural references to the film, rather than the novella. I’m rather partial to Deep Blue Something’s song of the same name, and I’ve seen a couple of clips of the film, including the opening scene, but I didn’t learn any of the plot. Other than that I knew absolutely nothing about the either the film or the book.

Except one thing, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to like it.

And I wasn’t entirely wrong, as I realised when I tweeted the above feeling rather lost. I read it with an open mind, and I certainly liked the protagonist more than I had expected, and I loved Capote’s writing style.

But I cannot stand Holly Golightly.

I have nothing against dreamers, I am one, but I don’t like people who take offence really easily, because you have to be on eggshells around them. I don’t mind that she is direct, but this beloved character, is just a horrible person. I don’t get why everyone is so fascinated by her. If you do understand please do comment below because I would love to know more.

The only thing I can assume is that at the time it was written, and when the film was set, women just mustn’t have acted like this; she must have seemed intriguing because she was different, whereas now women being direct and independent is commonplace.

The thing is, as much as I don’t like the character, I do like the novella. I can see why it is a classic, because it is short, easy to read, and it lingers with you for a while afterwards as well. I’m not going to rush out and get more Capote, but I’m don’t regret trying it.

Short Stories

I can’t really justify having read the book and not talk about the short stories that come with the novella. I’m getting the impression the three I’ve read are the ones that are normally printed alongside Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but just in case there ever is any variety I read ‘House of Flowers’, ‘The Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’.

Now House of Flowers I really didn’t like, for a similar reason to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I just didn’t like the protagonist, and I didn’t think she was that nice a person. I just also wasn’t that fussed by the story.

I nearly gave up on reading the short stories after I read that one, but I am really glad I didn’t because I absolutely love ‘The Diamond Guitar’ and ‘A Christmas Memory’. The former of those two is a really good, atmospheric, sort of love story, and it the perfect short story. You have in depth characters, a contained plot, and a bit of a twist.

‘A Christmas Memory’ though, oh my god it is so beautiful. It is about what Christmas means to me; it is about being generous with your time and with what you are able to give, while being with your loved ones. It is a charming story of two best friends, going through their rituals of Christmas together and being utterly delightful at the same time. I’m not a big fan of Christmas but I love this story, because it is not about excessive wealth, just wholesome good fun.

Film Review – Murder on the Orient Express


I really didn’t want to bother seeing this film, because the trailer put me off for a reason I will allude to in a moment, but my husband really wanted to, so I went. And ugh!

Note to modern day filmmakers, Hercule Poirot is not an action hero. He doesn’t chase down suspects. He manoeuvres other people to do that bit. He is all about ‘the little grey cells’.

Admittedly, I am coming from a very bias position. I adore David Suchet’s ‘Poirot’, and Joan Hickson’s ‘Miss Marple’, because they are adaptations of Agatha Christie’s book that are very respectful of the source material.

I can’t stand Alfred Molina’s film version of Murder on the Orient Express, because Poirot does not need to google the Armstrongs, he already knew about it all. I dislike Geraldine McEwan’s Miss Marple, because the producers felt it necessary to modernise the characters and stories in order to apparently appease modern viewers.

You don’t.

Agatha Christie’s creations are about brain power, using logic, using knowledge, using experience of human life. Their deductions aren’t as inaccessible as some of the leaps Sherlock Holmes makes to reach his conclusions. They don’t run – they sit and think, while they drink tisane or knit. They don’t run along a rickety bridge (which was the bit in the trailer that put me off), or stick a cane in the Wailing Wall (which made me actually physically shudder).

However, I come from a bias position, if it being slightly more action oriented doesn’t bother you, then in all fairness, Kenneth Brannagh has made a really good film, and apart from saying you should try the Suchet version, I would recommend it.

The all-star cast do a brilliant turn, the source material is respected, and the gathering at the end is certainly set very well in the mouth of a tunnel in the depths of winter. Very atmospheric, if a bit chilly, and it certainly set the tone of the raw emotions felt by certain characters. A few of the characters that are more prominent in the book get a bit lost along the way, especially the Count and Countess, but that is bound to happen with such a large ensemble.

Book Review: Black Butterfly – by Mark Gatiss


black butterfly

This is a long overdue review of this book. Re-reading what I wrote about ‘The Vesuvius Club’ and ‘The Devil in Amber’ it is obvious to me now that I discovered Mark Gatiss’ novels right at the beginning of when my mental health was bad and getting worse. They certainly helped me feel better when I needed anything that would help.

It was harder reading the last one, and one of the reasons for the delay in reviewing the book is because I had put off reading it; I didn’t want to be disappointed; I didn’t want the series to end; and I read it at about the same time that I just had to set aside superfluous tasks and try to get better.

I have been left with the lingering impression that when I read the book, I hadn’t enjoyed it, except I know that isn’t true, I know I enjoyed it, I just didn’t have a healthy mind set. Thinking about it more objectively, reading the book was a joy.

And I know this because I absolutely love the books. While ‘The Devil in Amber’ is my favourite of the three, it isn’t because the third doesn’t live up to expectations, the second one just happens to be my favourite story.

Black Butterfly is slower in pace than the first two, and like with the second book, Gatiss has masterfully toned the book to reflect that the protagonist is older. He’s created a plot that is more reflective on the past than the previous two, but he has lost none of the fun and while Lucifer Box’ body might not young any more his mind and delightful wit is still as sharp as a tack.

It is a fine ending to the trilogy, though if another one or two Box stories could be added, then I wouldn’t say no. I’d be screaming yes, please.

Film Review – Thor Ragnarok


thor ragnarok

Marvel needs to wrap it up; I’ve thought this for a while, and unfortunately Thor Ragnarok hasn’t changed my mind. They need to end the franchise while it is still just about good enough for most people.

I wasn’t excited about this film, even with the edgy soundtrack and the promise of Tom Hiddleston (and I won’t lie the lovely Tom was the main reason I could be persuaded to go to the cinema without much argument – unlike Spiderman Homecoming which I just point blankly refused to go and see.)

I wasn’t that thrilled while I was watching it either. I was bored and annoyed that Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo was annoyingly pointless. Was he just there for Marvel to prove they have him at their beck and call? I also felt a great deal of pity for Cate Blanchett who had so much potential to be a fabulous villain, and she wasn’t given a proper plot.

She is such a good actor, and Hela had so much potential for being as good a villain as Loki, and she was essentially left on Asgard where nothing was happening (apart from some heroics by Heimdall) and essentially just plodded around with Karl Urban, talking about how great she had been in the past and killing anyone who doesn’t want to immediately listen to her.

And what is really annoying is that the plot had a great deal of potential too. The unveiling of Asgard’s hidden past could have been a great matter of conflict for Thor and even Loki to have to deal with, and instead Thor moped about his hammer, and had some tension with a Valkyrie, though what sort of tension I haven’t managed to figure out yet.

And then there’s Loki, well I’m not sure what the point of his inclusion in the film was, apart from being there for continuity because he didn’t die at the end Thor-Dark World. He was certainly getting up to some mischief, but it mainly seemed to be in order to help the plot along a bit, rather than because he was really acting as an antagonist.

And that was the biggest problem with the film; there wasn’t an antagonist. The Grandmaster (and god I love Jeff Goldblum as much as Tom Hiddleston so I hate to say this) was mainly just annoying rather than really in the way. Hela’s potential wasn’t realised, and Loki’s inclusion in the film bordering on meaningless because I was left with the impression they didn’t really know what to do with him.

The Hulk/Bruce Banner was the only character that I could say had an arc, of sorts, because Bruce has to make an actual decision to act in order to help, that did cause internal conflict for the character, because he has to make a sacrifice. I guess Thor’s powers evolving a bit could be classed as an arc too, but only because for once Odin didn’t open his mouth and mention something important; your hammer was to help you channel your powers, it isn’t the source of your power.

Yep, Odin that might have been useful to mention. *eyeroll*

Apart from the occasional funny quip from Taika Waititi and I will admit ‘Get Help’ was amusing, there wasn’t much going for this film other than as a stepping stone for Marvel to position Thor, Loki and the Hulk for their part in Infinity War.

Book Review – Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman


call me by your name book

Having fallen in love with the film adapted from Andre Aciman’s book, I just knew I had to give the book a go. I had some trepidation as sometimes when a book is adapted the film isn’t as good, or even vice versus if you happen to have seen the film first. I’ve found this before with Joanne Harris’ Chocolat. I liked the film better.

However, in Call Me By Your Name’s case, I love the book just as much as the film.

It isn’t often an adaption of a film translates so well, but for me the book and the film are almost one. The book gives insight into the mind of Elio and the agony he endures silently during the film. While the film gives you the silence of those moments when Elio is in agony, and the perspective of those without insight into Elio’s thoughts and what they perceive to be going on.

But I have already talked about the film (and I’ll try not to talk too much more about it). This is the book’s review, and I can happily say it is gorgeous.

I thought at first the long (sometimes very long) sentences were going to annoy me, but like with any writing style I adapted quickly enough because the style suited the tone.The agony of the sort of love Elio feels, full of doubt, pain, confusion, hope, passion and anticipation, and then sorrow suits the long trailing sentences.

The slightly distorted timeline reflects that this story is something being remembered and portrays how wonderfully love can sometimes make memory distorted. You can remember everything, but you don’t necessarily remember it in the right order.

Aciman has written Elio and Olivier’s relationship so that it feels like an endless love affair: a long, hot summer in Northern Italy shared by two men as they discover the happiness total intimacy can bring them, while Elio also grows and begins to figure out who he is as a person.

Having seen the film a couple of times and having now read the book, Aciman’s story is timeless. As Elio remembers Olivier, it is as if that summer lasted forever and I quite believe for Elio it did, because he became himself that summer.

And there is certainly quite a few things that the book does better than the film. There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding their affair, and themes of shame come across better in the book. I’m not really in a position to comment on being ashamed of being in love as the attractions I predominately feel aren’t something that society judges.

For those out there though that do or ever have felt shamed by society, what I hope you can find in either the book or the film (or both) is a love story you can enjoy, because the only barriers to resisting their feelings, in either Elio or Olivier’s case, don’t come from external forces.

No-one judges them for what they feel between them, though there are certainly hints that for Olivier he would face judgement from others. The only barriers that makes them resist or hesitate are the ones they form themselves, and I think that is what I love the most about this story.

They are the only ones judging them, no-one else does, and honestly it is no-one else’s place to do so; their journey towards their intimacy was truly their own. The only antagonistic force against them was themselves.

‘Call me by your name’ by Andre Aciman will be a book I shall return again and again, because it is just as simple as two people falling in love, and sometimes a love story is all you want, even if the idea behind calling each other by their own name is a bittersweet touch.