So the last couple of days I’ve brought you some fun and goofy fare, but today we’re getting a little more serene, a little more toward the heart of the holiday — which has its roots in religious celebration. (And I’ll leave you to argue, if you must, over which religion or religions I’m talking about.)
Although I was raised a devout Catholic, that didn’t end up being my true path. But spirituality is very important to me as a feature of the Human Condition and as something which matters deeply in my own life. And so while I don’t necessarily share the same beliefs or faith of some Christmas carols, I can certainly appreciate them, either in a function of nostalgia or simply because they are beautiful. One of my favorite religious songs is “O Come, Emmanuel.” Some might accuse me of loving any song in a minor key, and that might be true. This particular song is one I used to sing regularly when I was a child, and it always made me feel peaceful, calm, centered. This version of it by ThePianoGuys is lovely, and the setting of the video is quite pretty, even if some could suggest the video feels mildly bombastic in tone.
When today’s song came out in the 1980s, I was nonplussed. I was a fan of the band who sang it, but I didn’t love them as much as I loved Duran Duran. And this song was…okay. But it has persisted. And in very recent years, several covers of it have been recorded which just are not very good. They’re faithful enough to the original not to be clever or interesting in themselves, and they don’t have the unabashed panache and chutzpah of the original, either. But these milquetoast covers have accomplished one surprising thing: they’ve made the original better by comparison.
So today I bring you “Last Christmas” by Wham! Even though I grew up watching MTV in the 80’s, somehow I’d missed this little cinematic gem, and I just saw it for the first time last week. It celebrates everything you’d expect from an 80’s-era pop music video: ambiguous storyline, big hair and bigger shoulder pads, extravagant socializing, late-night ennui, melodrama. Good times, good times. Enjoy.
Yes, it’s that time of year again. “Houston’s Official Christmas Music Station” — which has been broadcasting Christmas and winter-themed songs since the Friday night before Thanksgiving — has once more conformed to the belief that they must play the same dozen tired crap songs over and over again, with only an occasional good one thrown into the mix.
Thank goodness for my iPod.
Since this series on my blog was such a hit last year (click here to see the first post and then follow the “next post” links to see the rest), I’m doing it again! And while I’ll be sharing a lot of different stuff with you this time around, I’m going to kick things off with what is still one of my all-time favorites, “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses. Perhaps there will come a time when my life isn’t insanely busy, and then I won’t be able to relate to this song as well or enjoy it as much, but honestly, I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen.
This week’s review comes to us from Terri Nixon, who has chosen to respond to Saskia Sarginson’s novel The Twins.
Terri’s bio and more information about the Women Writers Wednesday series can be found at the end of this post.
I won a copy of this book in a Twitter contest. I had no knowledge of the writer or her work, so went into the story with no expectations whatsoever, and emerged some considerable time later blinking and, it’s fair to say, a little bit not-of-this-world, for a while.
It’s hard to describe, or to pare down, what it was about The Twins that had such an impact on me, especially without giving away any spoilers. The writing itself is first-class, so we can dispense with that question, and I was reading it, as I tend to do these days, as a writer rather than as a reader, so I was being annoyingly picky – still couldn’t fault it.
We know these girls share a terrible secret from their childhood, and all the way through it seems to point one way … until it suddenly doesn’t. It’s either a master-class in misdirection, or I just went right up to the wrong tree and started barking. Either way, it’s not in any way predictable; it’s pacy, complex, dark and satisfying.
I think what really struck me in the beginning was the depth of detail. I’ve recently read some reviews for this book on Amazon, and I was astonished by the number of people who not only didn’t enjoy it, but also found the level of detail an irritant rather than an anchor to the story and the characters. For me it was these touches that brought my own childhood so vividly back to life; these girls, brought up in almost feral conditions by their flighty but well-meaning mother, running wild in the countryside during the 1970s and ’80s, taking their enjoyment where they found it. I grew up at the same time, in the same era, and spent an awful lot of time running around the moors in Cornwall, doing exactly the same kind of things (to a point!). I usually have little patience and tend to skip paragraphs that are description-heavy, but there was something about the way it was done in this book that kept me there. It was probably the senses that Sarginson uses to describe: some of it visual, but more to do with smell and touch. It awakens the memories of youth and connects you to the girls in a way nothing else could do.
The characters themselves are introduced in the present day; problems and conflicts are hinted at, their two vastly different lives highlighted, and then we are taken back to find the sources of those conflicts. We meet their mother; we quickly come to understand that she is not a bad person, she just lives her life in a kind of haze, still happily locked into the Hippie era, where she herself had flourished, and wanting the same for her daughters. It would have been easy to paint the mother as the villain, and the twins as victims, but that is not the case here; none of the characters can be labelled as wholly good or wholly wicked.
The girls are not unloved or mis-treated, but as they’re left to their own devices we see them begin to take on the personalities we’ve seen hinted at from the present-day segments. The storyline starts to smooth out, and we learn the secret that they have kept and begin to understand why they dealt with it in different ways.
As far as the ending goes, it seems to be quite a divisive topic, but I come down firmly on the ‘perfect’ side. I don’t want to give anything away, but having raced, breathless, through the final pages, I was left thinking, “Well, that was the only way it could have ended.” Many readers were left unsatisfied, but I closed the book with a real sense of inevitability realised.
This is a book I would recommend without hesitation, and I would recommend the paperback version as there do seem (from the reviews) to be some formatting errors in the Kindle edition. Not the author’s fault, and not in her control to correct, but it does seem that some of the lower-starred reviews have taken these errors into consideration, which is a shame.
Terri Nixon was born in Plymouth in 1965. At the age of nine she moved with her family to Cornwall, to a small village on the edge of Bodmin Moor, where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. She also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones, but no-one’s ever offered to pay her for doing those.
To see more kinds of reviews like the ones in this series, check out these blogs by Melanie Page and Lynn Kanter. And of course go to the Sappho’s Torque Books page here to see other reviews by me and by other contributors to the Women Writers Wednesday series.
The Women Writers Wednesday series seeks to highlight the contributions of women in literature by featuring excellent literature written by women authors via reviews/responses written by other women authors. If you’d like to be a contributor, wonderful! Leave a comment below or send me an email, tweet, or Facebook message with your idea.
Yes, I know it’s not Wednesday anymore, but some wretched flu has been trying all week to lay waste to my household, so I’m a bit behind schedule.
This week’s review by a female author of a book written by a different female author is Marie Marshall’s response to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
I was first turned on to Rebecca by my agent, Paul at Bookseeker Agency, who enthused about it, discussed it with me, and gave me some of the insights into it that I’m about to describe. Rebecca is one of those remarkable books that has always been a modest seller but has never been out of print. Probably more of the potential contemporary Continue reading “Women Writers Wednesday 12/3/14”→
While you’re browsing around, feel free (if you’ve already read Finis.) to leave a review. I love hearing from my readers!
And just to whet your appetite, here’s an excerpt from the story, the first chapter:
ELSA’S PARENTS and sister have become meaner than usual, and her cat, Jonas, resents her. She has a nagging concern he wants to eat her.
“He bit me again this morning — I woke up to find half the toes on my left foot in his mouth! I kicked him away but he just came back, all fangs and hissing, till I locked him in the coat closet.”
But that’s only the beginning, Elsa tries to explain to her cousin Gerard. She has to speak in short bursts: he’s conducting his water exercises, his head bobbing in and out of the water in orderly arcs. She knew she’d be interrupting his routine, but this morning’s episode has brought things to a head. On her way to work, anxiety commandeered her every thought and movement. Before she could catch her breath, she found herself tearing through Gerard’s garden gate and rushing to his salt-water pool.
“Oh, Elsa,” he says, his feet spiraling around a large stalk of kelp just below the water’s surface. He runs a watery hand across his spiky brown hair, and brine curls down his back. “What are you going to do?”
“What’s even worse, my landlord left another threat-of-eviction notice today.” She sets her briefcase down near a baby potted corpse flower and ventures closer to the pool. “I’ve done nothing wrong. My rent is always on time. I’m a quiet, orderly tenant. I thought getting a cat would mollify the building association, but unless I become a cat, I don’t think it’ll help.”
Gerard dunks, flips neatly into a ball, and spins back up; he swims to where she stands at the edge of the pool and rises. “Have you had any hints of your self?” He looks at her carefully, scrutinizing, and she wants to shrink into the empty void of mediocrity. Still, his voice is tender. “Anything at all?”
“No,” she murmurs, mesmerized by the ripples his body makes, the way the water slaps against the side of the pool and then laps backward over itself, folding the brine under to dissolve in a never-ending cycle of thrash and renewal.
“I’m not sure I approve of where you’re living, anyway. Those nasty gangs — I read about them in the newspaper. Packs attacking Plain Ones right and left, even children.”
“I saw that, too. They usually go for adults, though — people who ought to have blossomed by now.” Her shame for the disgrace she’s caused her family burns on her face.
Gerard smiles. “Come in for a swim. You’ll feel better.” He shoots backward through the water, darkened spiny ridges flashing on his skin.
She almost wants to but imagines how painful it would be. “I can’t,” she says, then makes an excuse. “Work.”
“Of course. The monster.”
“I’ve never been a swimmer, anyway.” Even standing for too long in the shower makes her skin feel prickly and sore; she usually just soaps up before turning the water on and then washes her hair in the sink. “I think I’m allergic to water.”
He laughs. “Off you go, then. See you later –” His words bubble as he dives backward.
Elsa trudges out the gate, hardly even waving back at the friendly centaur trimming his hedges next door.