So, how are things?

Things? They are pretty good actually! A solid eight out of ten. Possibly higher!

I’ve been very quiet on this blog for a while as I was doing the arduous and not-terribly-quick-but-in-the-grand-scheme-of-things-not-that-slow process of getting my post-degree life together. This was comprised of what in my head was a pretty simple formula:

Better Job + Moving Out = Massive feeling of contentment!

Everything feels simpler when you break it down into a formula. But in real life this formula included other, less simplistic stuff such as post-university malaise, massive dissatisfaction at my retail job, ongoing mental health nonsense and a crushing need for forward momentum. Just a real instinct that I had to do something to drastically improve my life and situation. Dream job or bust!

So if I haven’t already mentioned on this blog, I undertook a Masters in Creative Writing which even the a very optimistic person would say, is not quite the most vocational course in the world. Sounds good fun though!

It is. In some ways. But in other ways, for a rabid academic overachiever and perfectionist, University can end up being a cycle of stress, self-doubt and anger. Grades are one of the areas for me in which I have extremely black and white thinking. If it isn’t the highest grade band, it’s a failure (which I should point out, is a standard I only apply to myself – I am always very proud and encouraging of my friends, whichever grades they are getting).

Couple the full-time study with the full-time work I was doing and honestly, you get the perfect recipe for a low-level breakdown. I tried to do too much, tried to please too many people and really began to disregard my own physical health and state of mind. It happens, right?

Judging from the grades I’ve received back however, I think I can be optimistic about achieving a First from this degree. It may be neither here nor there though, as even with my ever-so nonvocational course I seem to have somehow landed a copywriting job – e.g. the very industry I was hoping to get into!

Well, maybe it wasn’t quite as accidental as I’m making it sound. My work situation at the time became so completely intolerable (retail workers – you know what I mean) that I began campaigning to get myself a Career-job and not just a Bring-home-a-paycheck-and-hate-waking-up-most-days-job. It took a lot of applications, a lot of not hearing back and a lot of straight-up rejection before I found the place for me. It was close by, although I had been prepared to move away, the people I work with from my boss to my colleagues are all wonderful people and key point: I am writing for a living. That impossibility? That thing they said wouldn’t happen doing a doss course like mine? Turns out it was an option after all.

So I had the job but unfortunately, this came with a 50-minute commute. EACH WAY.

I’m not about that life. No sir. I knew I could utilise what was amounting to almost 9 hours a week so much better than singing along to a Pop-punk Christmas Spotify playlist and sitting in traffic. So I moved into a share house, ten minutes away from work.

I think the only strangeness is that I’ve made myself the newbie of two different groups within the same month – my housemates and my workmates. In some ways that was very scary and stressful and put a lot of pressure on my non-social self. But really, once you get the introductions and unpacking and not daring to go into the kitchen out of the way, it feels like a fresh start.

I have a nicely-sized room and an en-suite with a comically small sink. I’m very pleased with it!

A very small sink with a regular-sized toothbrush holder
My tiny sink – toothbrush cup for scale.

 

I guess I can say that everything’s coming up Lois, for the first time in a while. Or maybe things were just building up and even though it can feel like such a slow disheartening process, if you keep on slogging you can sometimes surprisingly find yourself where you wanted to be.

It feels really crap and cliché to say that it’s like climbing a mountain, but I haven’t arrived at my destination by any means. I have a long way to go and a lot of things I want to accomplish. I want to travel to Peru in the next couple of years, get proficient at Spanish and finish my novel. But sometimes it’s nice to look behind you and see how many miles you’ve walked. I think it’s okay to be proud of it, especially if the path’s been particularly tough of late.

This was a very rambling post. I think it always will be if I’m writing about my life because it often feels so big and baffling and complicated. I know how small I am in the grand scheme of things, but even my tiny wee world can feel enormous sometimes.

If you’ve read down this far, thank you so much. ‘How are things?’ can be such an impossible question, but this is my best attempt at a genuine, almost comprehensive answer. Things are very, very good.

Happy travels!

~ Lois

P.S. I just need to give some credits for the artwork in my featured image. That’s a photo of a cork-board I made using an antique picture frame. The photos are of my rabbits Sandy and Soot (both sadly deceased but very, very cute), the black and white picture is a signed postcard from the actor Tommy Wiseau (an underrated genius) and the incredible mermaid and Sailor Moon artwork I received in an order from Sugarbones, an artist who creates badges, pins and other magical accessories! She’s amazing – definitely check her out.

The celestial Sailor Moon picture is a birthday card I was given, but I don’t have the artist’s details. If anybody knows who drew it or could link me to them, I’d be extremely grateful!

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Review: How Not to Be a Boy – Robert Webb

I think the only books I read that could be conflated with the genre of ‘Celebrity Memoir’ are autobiographies written by comedians. This isn’t purely down to literary snobbery – I think they tend to be funnier, more insightful, more honest, self-critical and the biggest bonus of all, are rarely ghost-written. I went to a reading by Robert Webb

Robert Webbof How Not to be a Boy, hosted by the Off the Shelf festival in Sheffield and my interest was piqued by the extracts Webb shared with his familiar brand of deadpan sarcasm. It is one thing to enjoy an autobiography being read to you by somebody whose work you enjoy, but often another to read it yourself. The worry is that a piece of the comedian’s personality and more importantly, their sense of delivery can sometimes be lost in translation.

So my marker for success where books like this are concerned is: has the author managed to integrate their vocal or physical comedy into word form to a successful degree?

In Webb’s case, this is done to perfection. The brand of humour popularised by his and David Mitchell’s sketch shows, sitcom and TV appearances is almost pungent and I had the happy experience of actually reading the entire book (not just certain snippets where the author’s voice really came through) entirely in the voice of Robert Webb. The book is a wonderful balance of comedy and self-reflection, guiding the reader through passages which are occasionally quite dark or tragic. Webb’s world is viewed through a lens of a person questioning their own relationship to traditional masculinity and who at times, by his own admission has been fairly ‘pampered’, ‘spoiled’ and a little on the sexist side himself. Webb examines issues such as death, grief and relationship breakdowns, but the most encouraging and touching part of the book by far are his later reflections on fatherhood. His approach to parenting his two daughters is clearly very compassionate and considered, and he makes no bones about mentioning his poor past behaviour in his journey to become a supportive partner as well.

As a criticism of masculinity or examination of 21st Century feminism, the book is not particularly advanced (though does include helpful resources and citations) but at the same time, it makes no pretensions to be. I found it to be in a similar vein to Caitlin Moran’s best-selling book How to be a Woman – not exactly a fierce critique of masculinity or examination of feminist theory, but compelling precisely because it is not academic. It is experience-based, self-exploratory and above all very, very funny. It got me thinking that perhaps it’s time to take issues of sex and gender out of the hands of elevated Academic figures and University officials and start examining them in other spheres where they still matter – starting with the home.

The personal is political after all, and How Not to be a Boy shows an acute awareness of that.

In the book, Webb recounts moments throughout his childhood and teenage years, including his difficult climb past exams and mental health problems to Cambridge and national renown with writing partner David Mitchell. There is a sense of intimacy to the work as well when he describes and discloses his bisexuality. You can say that ‘coming out’ shouldn’t be a big deal any more but I think for people in the public eye and to those who look up to them, it still can be. Any attempts to demystify and legitimise bisexuality in Literature or the media in general, are always welcome and the honesty at all turns of the book really endeared the author to me.

So, final verdict – How Not to be a Boy may not be a call to revolution, but is well-researched, considered and offers much food for thought on contemporary masculinity and suggestions for how all people (not only men, though they are understandably the focus) can be better partners. As a memoir it is as open and funny as you could wish and so enjoyable that I found it hard to put down most nights. I would recommend it very widely to any fans of Robert Webb’s work for the insight it gives into his past and the fact that his comedic writing style certainly shines through.

You can’t harass an Ugly Girl

I thought long and hard before joining the worldwide call of solidarity that the hashtag #metoo has come to symbolise in the past couple of weeks. Regular women and men sharing stories detailing abuse of power, manipulation, exploitation and personal vulnerability. There was something familiar about it and in many ways, for the internet-savvy generation it was nothing new. Women have been sharing their experiences of sexual harassment and inequality for a long time through sites such as EverdaySexism, Twitter hastags like #womeninstem and so forth. What for so long was something private and shameful was being spoken about in the public sphere, but possibly never on such a scale as it was following the Weinstein scandal.

I haven’t posted a #metoo status for reasons which remain my own but like many, I do have a story to tell.

I have more than a couple to choose from, drawn from a fairly common well of scenarios that most women in their mid-Twenties have had to put up with. I’ve been beeped at on a public street, received a dirty phone-call at my place of work (from someone presumably too old to know that there are specific numbers you can call for that) and one comic incident when I was 18 in which my tights got caught on the belt of the stranger grinding on me without permission. Have you ever seen the expression of sheer panic on a cat’s face as it tries to escape a filled bath? Yeah. That was me.

But this all post-puberty stuff. After skinniness and painful awkwardness gave way to being attractively slim and having an ironic sense of humour (not just piss-poor social skills – No Siree). I grew into my nose and thick, dark eyebrows had somehow become fashionable overnight. I had what the kids are calling a ‘Glo-up’ but at Secondary School, things were pretty different.

To give you an overview, I wore Harry Potter BRANDED glasses, oversized everything to give that early-00’s goth vibe of being oddly shapeless and had hair so long and in my face that I was known to a lot of people simply as ‘Samara’. A real winner, basically and wildly uncomfortable with the idea that I would ever start the arduous task of turning into an actual, functioning adult woman. With HIPS, who had PERIODS and a different bra for each day of the week! It was an impossibility to me at that time.

I used to tell people that I had been an ‘Ugly Teenager’, but having recently seen a handful of old photos I realise I was being unkind. I really wasn’t as bad as I remembered. A little unkempt maybe. I wore my hair long and loose like a 70’s Stadium guitarist and was too determined to hide behind that, or my clothes, or my studiedly weird sense of humour. I wasn’t horrible-looking by a long stretch, but found myself to be utterly repulsive and whether by some strange kind of psychic projection or not, people around me seemed to as well.

So how does all this sad, self-hating adolescent shite relate to the #metoo hashtag and the issue of sexual harassment as a whole? I’m so pleased you asked.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of experiences like the ones from my Twenties, where sexual harassment came in the form of unwanted advances, the unchecked sex drive of an individual or an intimate situation being exploited. What I haven’t seen a lot of, and which I believe carries a sense of humiliation and shame that is all it’s own, is the experience of being sexually harassed as a joke.

Oh, yes. There it is. I said it. And I had it – multiple times at Secondary School when I was in my severely antisocial, REO Speedwagon phase. An ex-friend of my brother’s who viciously squeezed my arse at the bus stop to the great mirth of his friends, a Y8 boy in my PE class who lifted my top almost clean off when word got around that I didn’t wear a bra and finally, a classmate in my Y10 Art lesson who hugged me from behind and then ran back to his friends crowing “I can’t believe I just touched Lois!”. If there’s one thing that will make a person with a shitty self-image want to cringe up into a ball and disintegrate, it’s a continuous mix of the above.

And the punchline to all of this was: It’s funny because she’s UGLY.  Because she’s unattractive and the idea of somebody actually wanting to touch her is so absurd, that it doesn’t count as harassment. Because who would ever WANT to harass her? 

Who indeed. And you’ve probably heard variations of this attitude when stories like these are shared. It ranges from disbelief (“I don’t think he really touched her. Who would ever?”) to remorselessness (“Yeah, so what? It’s not like I got anything out of it. It doesn’t count if she’s minging.”).

It’s a similar defence used by gay guys who grope straight women without permission. Because there is no desire or sexual intent behind the action, the harassment doesn’t matter. No slight has been committed because the perpetrator ‘doesn’t get any enjoyment out of it’. Harassment is seen as a kind of exchange and if no pleasure is derived on the side of the harasser, it’s no harm no foul – right? You can’t divide by zero. Can’t be accused of sexual harassment if the ‘sex’ part isn’t there. You can’t harass an ugly girl.

Bullshit. I can attest to the fact that a touch made without sexual intent is still very much an ‘unwanted advance’. The humiliation and distress I felt was still there if somebody was groping me for personal gain or just to make their friends laugh. In fact, I’d argue that it comes with an added layer of shittiness because not only are you harassing somebody, you make a mockery of them and their body at the same time. Not only are you objectifying them, but you’re enforcing the idea that they aren’t worth any sexual attention whether it is unwanted or not. That they are repulsive. That possibly that secret, scary fear that can never be spoken aloud is true: nobody will ever love them and the very idea that they would be loved or accepted romantically is laughable.

And that is what somebody’s saying when they make the choice to target another person in this way. To bring that unwanted attention and unwanted contact into their lives and though it may sound dramatic to say about some fairly run-of-the-mill Secondary School teasing, the consequences can be far-reaching.

It took a while for me to get over the idea that I was ugly. At college and beyond, that accusation seemed to totally disappear and I began dating and forming romantic connections with people in earnest, however there was always a lurking worry that I could never shake off. The nagging thought that if I was being asked out, it was as a joke. The aversion to being touched. Towards the end of Secondary School I developed severe body dysmorphia and couldn’t bring myself to look in a mirror for longer than it took to brush my hair. I remember vividly another Art lesson where an assignment to produce a self-portrait (of course, using mirrors) had me fighting back tears at the shifting, red-faced monster I could see so plainly.

Kids are cruel. And dramatic and don’t get me wrong – I know that I have been guilty of one as much as the other in my life. I suppose I just wanted to give this as a bit of a seldom-seen perspective and include my own amateurish, experience-honed view into sex and body politics. Just because a person doesn’t get some sensual thrill by invading another’s space, it doesn’t absolve them or make the experience of the person they target any less horrible.

I actually really identified with the character of Oscar in the American Office, during the episode ‘Gay Witch Hunt’ and in an excruciating scene where Michael Scott tries to prove how super not homophobic he is by forcing physical contact with him.

OSCAR

Oscar’s response is explosive and brilliant and really stuck with me.

“NO! I don’t want to touch you. Ever think of that?”

I was awestruck. It was put so simply but by God, the feeling of it was so right.

So if you are the type that forces contact with people, invades their space or likes to grope them for a joke – that might well be something to think about. THEY don’t want to touch YOU. Ask yourself why you feel the need to touch them and how they are going to feel about themselves if you do. If a couple more people on the planet had let this cross their minds, maybe we’d have less need for hashtags like #metoo and less stomach-turning media accounts of abuse of power.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for sticking with me and this mental mucking out of things which happened and have long stopped hurting. I suppose my worry comes from the fact that this is all undoubtedly still happening to somebody out there and if talking and contributing my fairly benign story makes any impact, even as only one part of a huge collective outpouring then it was worth doing and I’ll be honest, speaking it out loud for the first time and realising how little it hurts these days felt fairly good.

Bedrest

(NB: Hey all! This is my award-losing story for the Sheffield Authors Short Story competition which was a part of Off the Shelf festival 2017 here in South Yorkshire. The brief was to write something inspired by Sheffield so here is my submission with hopefully a very Northern flavour!)

“Jesus H. Christ!”

I let out a blast of hot breath and try again to push myself up off the bed.

I’m trying to be polite because my Nan’s here and she was raised Catholic. I hope she’s lapsed enough not to mind the blasphemy.

All around me are expectant faces, wearing gleeful smiles like they’re watching me break the world power-lifting record – not trying to haul my sorry, broken body out of bed. Mum, Dad, Uncle Perry, Uncle Daz, Aunt Mags (Aunt by Marriage), Aunt Bridget (Not really my aunt at all), my best mate Marco and my ex-girlfriend Nina who unfortunately, is also my attending nurse. I’m not sure she’s meant to be looking after me if we know each other but for whatever reason, she hasn’t told. Maybe she just likes changing my catheter that much.

“Go on, son!” Marco leans out over my Dad’s shoulder, so excited that he seems ready to bear down on me and yank me to my feet himself. Dad narrows his eyes and looks at him sideways but Marco, as per, is blissfully unaware and keeps invading his personal bubble. My Dad’s never liked Marco much. Said he was going to end up in trouble one day. Funny thing is, it’s not Marco’s bed we’re all clustered around, is it?

The hospital sheets are so white, crisp and starched that it’s like sleeping between the pages of a book and I can’t seem to get a good hold on them. My hands slip, my cracked ribs scream and I drop myself back against the stack of pillows that was meant to act as a brace.

“You know what, you might as well all head home now. I can’t do it.”

“Come on, don’t talk soft!” Uncle Perry sits on the bed and leans in, letting his stale smoker’s breath wash over me. “You’re a Blackwell man, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, but funnily enough that doesn’t imbue me with superhuman powers of healing.”

“There’s nothing that wrong with you.” Nina cuts in, arms crossed and staring down at me with a very disdainful brand of bedside manner. “I’ve had people in worse shape than you climb out of that bed a couple of hours after being admitted.”

“Listen to Nina, love.” Mum says. She was madly in love with the idea of having Nina for a daughter-in-law and maybe she thought if she was super cooperative and deferred to her on all things, then that might still be on the cards. “She’s a doctor.”

“Trainee Nurse.” She corrected, but Mum didn’t seem to hear her.

“What even happened to him? Darren wouldn’t say.” Aunt Bridget chimes in, darting a glance at my Dad who’s looking more like he might blow his top with every passing minute.

“He was out playing silly buggers on the University roundabout and got himself knocked over, didn’t he? And now I’ve got a taxi driver phoning me up at work trying to get a payout for his bloody bent bumper.”

To hear him, you’d think I threw myself on the bonnet on purpose. Of course. There’s nothing I like better than guilt and hospital food – even if the Royal Hallamshire does do a decent mushroom stroganoff.

“Best place to get knocked over really, when you think about it. At least it’s walking distance.”

“Yeah, those were my thoughts exactly Uncle Perry.”

“‘Ey – Don’t be rude to your Uncle when he’s come all the way down here to support you!”

“I dunno about supporting me. He’s sat on my leg.”

“Oops! Sorry, lad.” He gets back up and goes to stand by Nina, who still looks premier-league unimpressed. She checks the funny little watch hanging from the pocket of her scrubs.

“Come on, Matt. We need this bed.”

“I’m trying to get out, aren’t I? Can everyone just, I don’t know -”

Is it too harsh to say leave?

“Come on now folks, he’s right. Move back a bit. Give the boy room.”

They all retreat maybe a grand total of three inches. Between them.

Sweet Jesus.I brace myself again, propping up my elbows and start straining to move without causing any more damage to myself. I’m trying to keep my back straight so my chest doesn’t crumple and give me any more of those stabbing pains. I’ve seen my body beneath this pyjama top – as brown and bruised as an overripe banana. Whatever Nina reckons, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“Yes! Oh, beautiful form! The boy’s got guts, I tell you that!” Marco’s putting on his crap Snooker Commentator voice, just to add a little more agony to this situation.

“I think you need to leverage yourself more, Matty. You’ll get nowhere like that.”

“Try rolling off, that’d be much easier!”

“You want him to roll off a bed with broken ribs? Are you a bloody sadist, Bridget?”

“Well I don’t know!”

I have this curious feeling of being the focus of everybody in the room, but being discussed as though I’m not even there. An idea. A philosophical concept. That old anger being around my family for too long gives me is raising it’s head as well as the feeling that I just want to bloody well get out of here.

With one final spurt of nauseating pain, I lift my upper body clean off the mattress, swing off my legs which are mostly fine and take a great stride into the unknown – outrunning my body for only a minute. Once I’m on my feet, dizzy from two days of being horizontal, I make a stride for the open doorway and away from this mad clan known as the Blackwells.

The vicious tug and feeling of being bitten below my waist stops me dead and I look back with watering eyes to the bag of yellow water still hooked to the end of my bed.

“Oh,” Nina mumbles, stepping forward and looking embarrassed. “Forgot to dislodge his catheter.”

Review: All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Every so often you get a contemporary book that unexpectedly punches you in the face whilst doing a little dance on your heart-strings – this is exactly what ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ did for me. It’s maybe not a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, but certainly a rare find and gives a great deal of insight into the lives of the people both in occupied France and in the emergent Nazi state of Germany before and during the 1940’s.

All the LightIt will have you consider points of view you would never have imagined, uncomfortable truths that come to light but left me feeling optimistic about the existence of goodness in even the darkest of circumstances.

The novel begins fittingly with two quotes: one by Philip Beck, lovingly describing the city of Saint-Malo and a second, more sinister by Joseph Goebbels describing the importance of radio technology to the rise of the Nazi regime. At the beginning, it is hard to imagine these two quotes prefacing the same narrative, but they do and as the reader continues, the gravity of these two quotes become more and more important.

The novel follows a split, third-person narrative offering close character studies of two young people – Werner, a young orphan boy in Nazi Germany who through his understanding of radio technology is taken under the wing of the Third Reich and Marie-Laure, a blind girl living in Paris who flees to a seaside town during the German invasion. Both struggle with the nuances of their situation – Werner, with the veilied atrocities his country commits and his sense of duty and debt to the Reich and Marie-Laure with the occupation of her country and the danger of resistance.

The weaving of the two narratives is skilful, beginning on different countries and a strong sense of anticipation as the plot brings these two characters together. This is emblematic of the novel as a whole, which diligently weaves several separate threads and sub-plots together to a crashing conclusion. Nothing is wasted and nothing in the book is meaningless, which allows the plot to be tight and driven whilst still being filled with rich nuance and complexity. Look out for the tragic story of Werner’s childhood friend Frederick, the fierce presence of Marie-Laure’s Saint-Malo rebel housekeeper and the ever-encroaching presence of Von Rumpel, a sickly German Officer hunting Marie-Laure and her family.

Doerr’s characterisation is incredible, particularly in his handling of Marie-Laure’s blindness and the way in which she interacts with the world through touch, smell and sound. The tactile descriptions and sometimes her helplessness and vulnerability in the face of the outside forces of war, render her character as sympathetic, likeable but still in my opinion, giving a positive representation of a character with sight loss. Marie-Laure’s life is rich, happy and she is shown as active and self-sufficient, even so far as being a vital role in the local resistance efforts in the town.

Werner too, is complex and is likely to raise some difficult questions in the reader. An orphan boy with few prospects, the Hitler Youth and specialist schools give him the opportunity of a life he could never have dreamed of before. He tastes small luxuries and promises of the future and as a young child, is intoxicated with visions of a better future though always maintains an innate level of discomfort at some of the things he sees and is exposed to. His narrative gives a disquieting, intimate view of the inner workings of the Nazi propaganda machine and the exploitation of Germany’s people – particularly its children. The atrocities Werner goes on to commit will leave the reader questioning; can there ever be redemption for the horrors committed by individuals at war, and to what extent can a soldier be held accountable for the actions of a regime when the choice is to support it or die?

Unlike many other fictional works based in WW2 such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief, ‘All the Light’ focuses more on the international invasions perpetrated by the Nazi regime as opposed to the genocide in their own and surrounding countries. The book does not ignore this to any degree, but the invasion of France was something I had read very little on before and as a British person, gave me pause for thought. It left me with the realisation that probably one of the only things preventing a similar successful campaign in Britain, was the happenstance of the North Sea being between England and Germany and making it more difficult.

In any case, All the Light We Cannot See is compulsive reading and touching, without making the misstep into sentimentality. Doerr devised two main protagonists who were fully-realised and that we as readers couldn’t help but pray for. In my opinion, the only thing preventing this from being a perfect read was the sheer length of the ending. I had the regretful feeling that once the important plot points had been tied up – very satisfactorily at that – there were several pages of rambling revisiting of characters which seemed to serve no real point and din’t go anywhere or add to the story. This hindered my enjoyment only a little, but for me left an amazing, well-paced book with a meandering ending that could have been much tighter. I still recommend it very highly, but it’s a shame the final part was not cut down a little in editing.

Graceful Exit

I’d been working hard to keep the mind-numbed look from my face but two hours into the party, I finally allowed myself to remove the mauve party hat. Now Ruth had left, it felt unnecessary to keep wearing it.

If I’m honest, I felt the little paper and elastic dunce hats to be too twee for words. In fact, the whole party was too twee and pastel and pretty-pretty. The flat had been got up in what felt like the entire Lakeland catalogue, which I’m sure would be listed as ‘vintage’ and ‘shabby-chic’. It was like the Great British Bake Off had chosen this as an appropriate place to throw up.

I kid you not. We’d all been asked to bring a teapot, which were now dotted around and filled with quantities of classic cocktails. Mojitos, Tom Collinses and Gimlets in the wedding china of our respective dead or decrepit grandparents. But this was Ruth’s ‘aesthetic’ so since it was her birthday, it was ever so important that we all adopt it and as usual, I seemed to have missed the mark.

I wasn’t Ruth’s oldest friend, or even her closest. We just worked the same shift at the old picturehouse sometimes and I think she wanted to make up the numbers a little. I’d annoyed her from the very moment I arrived – seen it in her face when she opened the door to me and her peach-lipstick pout began to shrink inwards, like it was slipping down a drain.

‘This isn’t the kind of thing I meant.’

I shrugged. If you’re going to demand fancy-dress, I think you at least have to allow some creative licence when it comes to the theme. The official dictum had been ‘50’s Retro’ so I had slicked back my hair into a perfect D.A., donned a leather jacket and come as a bona-fide rebel without a cause.

It was still on-theme, so she couldn’t chuck me out but she did snatch the cigarette from my lips and throw it down on the wet stoop.

“This is a no-smoking house, as you well know.’ Her eyes bored into me behind her horn-rimmed glasses. They had rhinestones twinkling in the corners, which even I thought was quite cool looking.

‘It wasn’t even lit.’ I said, but she was already retreating down the hall. I supposed that was all the interaction I’d probably have with her this evening. Which I thought was funny, later on as I sat alone with a teapot of Cuba Libre, drinking from the spout. I was the only one who seemed to notice when she disappeared.

Looking around the room, it struck me that without any apparent prior arrangement, almost all the women had opted for knee-length, polka-dot swing dresses (excepting the one lady who wore a gut-bustingly tight pencil skirt and looked like a secretarial school dropout) and all the men, their usual formal clothes with the addition of a waistcoat or suit jacket. The invitation had asked for all attendees to integrate purple accents into their clothing, and this was where the creativity seemed to shine. No matter what effort they seemed to have applied to their evening-wear, every outfit had at least one shock of violet, lavender or lilac.

Perhaps this was where I had gone wrong. There were posies threaded through buttonholes, chiffon scarves wrapped around ladies’ necks or in their hair and even some rather elegant-looking cravats. People had really togged up to the extreme for Ruth, but it hadn’t stopped her from sneaking out of her own party.

I hadn’t seen her do it but I felt sure that was what happened. Because I felt like doing the same thing myself.

Review: The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

TGOST CoverA rich performance in magic-realism, suspenseful from the start and with a lyrical cadence to the language which is unlike anything I have previously read, The God of Small Things manages to weave tragedy, comedy and suspense into one compelling narrative and is at turns beautiful and cruel.

I particularly enjoyed the visual rendering of the book’s setting in the South Indian state of Kerala and Roy bravely deals with issues of caste, political strife and family by aligning the narrative with a pair of young twins, Estha and Rahel; a move which is reminiscent of titles such as To Kill a Mockingbird but still culturally and stylistically distinct. She is sometimes a little heavy on the metaphors, with a very slow-burning plot but if you surrender yourself to the unfolding tale and Roy’s off-beat use of language, the novel is extremely enjoyable.

The novel is non-linear, following the twins Estha and Rahel both as children and in early adulthood, detailing their early lives in Kerala and then a tumultuous ‘Return’ as adults to a place of memories – not all of them good. One of Roy’s key strengths is in her characterisation and rich cast of supporting characters, each as skilfully developed as her protagonists – for instance the sinister “orangedrink lemondrink” man, the conniving Communist, Comrade Pillai and the twins’ genial, scholarly Uncle Chacko.

My positive response is mainly down to the enjoyment and compulsion I felt to finish the book, however I did find the ending a little unsatisfying and almost sudden after following such a rich and detailed story. I would recommend this if you are interested in South Indian culture, magic realism or have previously enjoyed the works of Rushdie or Woolf.