Mid-read Reviews: April 2020

One of my resolutions going into the New Year was to read a lot more which I think I am definitely doing; although I don’t have many books to show for it since I seem to, unfortunately, read at a snail’s pace. Of course, I try not to get bogged down in hitting arbitrary goals because that does tend to suck the fun out of leisurely activities like reading.

I thought I would talk a bit about the books I am reading and my thoughts on them – although they are yet to be completed (so no spoilers, please.)

So my current reads are:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Blurb: racial tensions rise in a small community when Atticus – the father of the To_Kill_a_Mockingbird.jpgprotagonist Scout- takes on a rape case, defending Tom Robinson – the black man falsely accused of the crime.

I started to read this a few years ago but never completed it because the copy wasn’t mine and I had to give it back. This read is, therefore, technically my chance at redemption. The part I am currently at is the trial; which I believe the whole book is technically meant to build up towards. It goes without saying that this book is considered a classic, although I am probably reading it more critically and with higher expectations because of that.

It’s hard not to view the protagonist Scout really fondly; I love her curiosity and brave spirit. She also seems to be amazingly intelligent for her age and in many scenes holds her own in conversations with her adult counterparts. Part of me does suspect this is due to the fact she is looking back on childhood events using language natural to her as an adult, as opposed to how she truly spoke as a child.

It would have been interesting to read this at a younger age and compare it to what I know now. Lots of people I speak to about the book mention fondly that they studied it at school; so it appears I must have attended schools that were statistical anomalies in that regard.

One profound part I recently read involves Scout’s friend Dill who runs out crying after witnessing how Tom is questioned on the stand. As Jean consoles him one of the adults observes them and says Dill shouldn’t worry – he may cry now but when he gets older he won’t get as emotional when he witnesses any racial injustice. That scene really does make you realise how desnsitised we easily become overtime to the struggles of others. Most of the time it’s a protection mechanism but it’s rather the fact it happens without us noticing which makes it more insidious.

My Dark Vanessa cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

Blurb: The book centres on Vanessa who at 15 years old was abused by her English teacher Jacob Strane. Vanessa, – adamant Jacob was her first love – now in her 30s struggles to come to term with past events in the light of the #Metoo movement.

This book is a recent release from HarperCollins but even before then, it has been making the rounds on social media; for some good reasons, and some less so. I was no doubt excited to delve in – the cover alone looks fantastic. From the blurb it goes without saying that this is not an easy or light read; it also does mean I have to take it small doses.

One thing it does make you realise is that victims of trauma come on a spectrum and the road to recognition and peace is not an easy one. Vanessa was ultimately deprived of normal teenage years – instead of giggling with friends at corner shops or gossiping about crushes – she was weighed down with the responsibility of keeping her ‘relationship’ with Jacob a secret. He’s honestly a despicable character; frequently using emotional blackmail to maintain the secrecy of the abuse. The book switches between past and present quite seamlessly; so we are able to witness how the abuse started and its present effects on Vanessa as an adult.

Vanessa as a protagonist isn’t the most likable of people but I don’t think that’s the important thing about this book.  As pointed out skillfully in this article; a lot of well known narratives on abuse revolve around the  perpetrator –  most notably, Lolita; which is referred to often in this novel. Narratives like these then are about women taking ownership of the narrative and finally having the space to share their story.

So there you go – a nice mix of modern and class I like to think.

If you’re looking for more detailed thoughts/ exploration of themes of My Dark Vanessa I would recommend this fantastic round table discussion on The Book Slut – a site I also write for.

Please do feel free to comment & share any thoughts you have about either book!

An Honest Review: The Trials of Gabriel Fernandez

 

Trials of Gabriel Fernandez poster

TW: References to child abuse, neglect, physical abuse and domestic violence

I write this review with a heavy heart. In all honesty, I haven’t even finished this docu-series – I started today and am on episode 5 out of 6 – but I feel so strongly about the content that I will write a review of my thoughts so far anyway.

I myself wasn’t aware of the case of Gabriel Fernandez before this series. However, the UK is not a stranger to such cases, with the case being reminiscent of the ‘Baby P’ case in London that received heavy media coverage and exposed numerous flaws in our social system services which helped to enable the abuse. In summary, Gabriel died at 8 years old in 2018 after several months of abuse at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. The case covers the trial of the perpetrators but also looks more widely at systematic flaws that prevented the abuse from being stopped. The series covers so many themes I could not possibly do it justice or unveil all my thoughts; however – I will try and do my best!

One thing that was different about the reaction to this case was that the District Attorney of LA decided to prosecute the social workers who were aware of or working on the case. Initially, when I heard about this I applauded in my head – the logic behind it seemed straight forward; they were made aware of the chain of incidences which clearly indicated removing Gabriel from his home was necessary but yet they failed to act accordingly. However, as the series progresses it seems that prosecuting the social workers seem insufficient in comparison to the size of the problem. One of the colleagues of the tried co-workers states she thinks they are scapegoats in this case and I suspect she might be right. After all, several members from the sheriff’s department also visited Gabriel’s house – the site of the abuse – and failed to intervene or detect such abuse was happening. So why weren’t the visiting police officers arrested? If you’re going to use that same logic to arrest certain parties then use it consistently and arrest them ALL. It does indeed seem suspicious that law enforcement received such immunity.

It is also quite annoying that systematic issues within large organisations are highlighted but never dealt with. By arresting and firing different staff within bureaucracies the problem doesn’t automatically disappear. If the system is inherently flawed then those staff will be replaced by people that will only continue to enforce the flawed system. Authorities need to put it in the leg work into changing work cultures, changing legislation and conducting appropriate reviews on their operations. Systematic change won’t happen overnight but if the failures aren’t properly addressed another tragedy could strike until it happens.

Something that struck me throughout was that not a single person – his teacher aside – thought to speak or interview the victim himself, Gabriel. If the police or members from social services wanted confirmation of details or verification of Gabriel’s welfare or state of mind – they asked the parents. This fact frustrated me because Gabriel was eight. Of course in some cases the children are too young to adequately express themselves but that wasn’t the case here. If Gabriel had just been given the chance to speak confidentially to someone things may have been different. Abuse typically thrives on secrecy. If the parents themselves are the perpetrators then, of course, they would say whatever’s necessary to ward people off the scent of their crimes. And that’s just what they did. The failure to consult Gabriel or actually listen to his cries – he was actually quite vocal about his abuse -indicates a wider problem. Where in the midst of everything the children are ironically forgotten; or the adults around them make the decisions affecting them but they themselves are never consulted. In this case, prioritising Gabriel’s mums right to custody of her child over Gabriel’s safety/welfare and right to live ultimately cost him his life. If predominately dealing with children such services need to adopt models with children and their rights at the centre.

Although I would recommend this docu-series, I would definitely warn that this is by no means an easy watch. It will make you feel uneasy, angry and frustrated. On the plus side, it does dig deep into the wider issues that Gabriel’s case highlighted. They also interview a wider range of experts and people involved or affected by the case – from a journalist that broke the story to one of Gabriel’s classmates who continues to mourn for him. Not many stones are left unturned and this is helped by the fact it a docuseries. If you feel it may be intense, simply take it one episode at a time but definitely do give it a watch.

The trailer for the Netflix docu-series can be found here.

 

An Honest Review: American Son

Hey Guys,

I decided to mix it up a bit and write a film review today.

American Son poster
Image source: https://uk.newonnetflix.info/info/81024100

Quick Synopsis: At the start of the film we meet a concerned mother (Kerry Washington, best known from the show Scandal) who is waiting at the police station to enquire about her child. Later on, the father (Steven Pasquale) joins the picture and together they wait to find out the mystery of where their child is. It’s worth noting before I start my review that race matters in this film. Kerry’s character is a black psychology lecturer married to a white FBI officer, and together they have a mixed-race child.

My Thoughts:

A lot of ground is covered- but beautifully so in this film. It’s easy at first to think of it as a 3D case study of police brutality. But more lurks beneath the surface; through the husband and wife interactions more is explored regarding the intricacies of interracial relationships, being mixed race/ black in America, discrimination and parenthood.

What makes this film quite unique is that it doesn’t have a big cast (only around 4 actors) and the location is the same throughout. So from a distance, it would be easy to assume not much is going on. However, we learn an awful lot about the characters as time goes on and it’s those revelations that shape the film and (fairly slow-moving) plotline. Ultimately, whilst distracting us from the hanging question ‘what happened to the son?!’.

I was in awe of the acting, you could feel Kerry’s character’s pain which helped to amplify the tension. It might sound dramatic but your heart does hurt several times throughout the film for her. Also, the push- and pull nature displayed between the spouses throughout the film, made an intriguing watch.

Overall, I would give this film an 8.5/10. A tense watch (not sure I would handle seeing it on the big screen) so perfect for Netflix, which it is available to watch on.

 

 

La La Land-an honest review

la-la-land

This film swept the floor at the Critic’s Choice Movie Awards, Golden Globes AND the Academy Awards (Oscars). Naturally, I therefore had high expectations. For those yet to see it, I’ve decided to do an honest breakdown of what I thought.

La La Land stars Ryan Gosling (Sebastian) and Emma Stone (Mia), who have in the past starred together in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid Love. The banter between these two characters made me smile throughout. Although, I’ve only really seen Gosling play reserved characters, Stone seemed in her zone with her character Mia who is goofy, passionate and dreamy. The scene where she is dancing to the music Gosling’s jazz ensemble is playing, was a great highlight.

Of course, this is a musical so it wouldn’t make sense for me to review it w/o mentioning how I felt about the vocals and soundtrack. Emma and Ryan don’t have the most exceptional voices in the world but I felt this made it sincere and translated the emotion much better. For soundtracks buffs I would recommend ‘City of Stars’ by Gosling and Stone and ‘The Fools who dream’ by Stone.

Throughout the film bright vivid colours flood the senses, mixed with nice American scenery. This gives a fantasy element to it all- a feeling sealed by the repeated scene of the two main characters dancing along a star studded background. This is certainly a film built for aesthetics and that ‘feel good’ factor- there (to me) isn’t any hidden or embedded meaning we should be looking for. I state this specifically because before watching the film I did read a review talking about the White erasure of Jazz’s black history. Watching it now, I disagree simply because I take La La Land to be a surface level film. It wasn’t trying to enact history and therefore does not need to carry the burden of historical accuracy.

Personally, I saw the film as a fight between reality and dreams, with Mia and Sebastian’s relationship on the border of the two. Mia tries throughout the film to reconcile her dreams with reality in terms of her relationship with Sebastian and her theatrical dreams. In contrast, Sebastian puts his dreams on hold when reality calls.

Overall, this film certainly makes an enjoyable watch; I would say 4.8/5. My only criticism would be that there could have been a clearer direction for the film in terms of plot. I can’t even say the plot’s quality is sacrificed for character development because I didn’t see huge character transformation (of even Mia or Seb) within the film. I mean, yes, their circumstances definitely do change by the end but whether they themselves do is not really known. Nevertheless, despite the deliberate uncertainty at the end you can leave the cinema feeling satisfied; which is all that matters in the end, right?

*Picture from: http://www.empirecinemas.co.uk/synopsis/la_la_land/f5293 *

Book Review: ‘With Malice’ by Eileen Cook

The blurb describes this book as a ‘chilling psychological thriller’ and to be honest, that was enough for me to grab it off the shelf. I’m assuming the title ‘With Malice’ is almost an antithesis of the term ‘With Love’. Although it could refer to the legal concept of malicious intent too; both of which would be very relevant to the novel’s plot.with-malice-book-cover

The narrator and protagonist is Jill Charron an 18-year old student who describes herself as being quite shy but very intelligent and academic-focused. Upon first impressions she is pretty likable and honest. I personally, find her relatable too since she is very academic and intellectually curious. An example of her honesty shining through is when Jill moves in to a treatment centre and assumes her room mate Anna Lopez goes to a school with metal detectors. Thus, indicating to the reader these assumptions are likely due to Anna’s implied Hispanic background.

Cook puts us in an interesting position where we follow Jill’s train of thought as she gradually pieces together details of the accident that caused her injuries. In each chapter along with Jill’s narrative we gain access to police interview transcripts, applications etc.  This is clever, allowing the reader to play detective but also avoiding the issue of the reader being forced to trust an ‘unreliable narrator’ by giving us a second source of information to compare to Jill’s version events. In  addition to this, each chapter ends with something important Jill learns within the chapter; and as cliche as it sounds, it really does make you want to read on!

Nevertheless, despite these positive points, I found that by the time I had nearly reached the end of the book Jill STILL hadn’t remembered much about the accident. I understand the author was maybe trying to be realistic since I’m sure it takes ages for patients in real-life to recover from amnesia. However, this is a book and we don’t have ages. Even the way the recollection of events (when it finally happened) was done was quite annoying because after waiting for so long we don’t even know for sure if its a true memory, a dream or a ‘fake memory’. Suspense is good but by the end of this book I didn’t really feel like it was effective, I was just annoyed and wanted answers. This alone dropped my rating from a 5 to a 3.5/5.

 

Review: The Suicide @ The National Theatre

Hey guys!

So on Saturday, I went to watch a play currently showing at The National Theatre called ‘The Suicide’. I’ve decided to share some of my thoughts on its content and execution.

Without giving too much away, the play deals with Sam Desai- who after losing his benefits and consequently facing relationship difficulties becomes suicidal. Throughout the play, various characters are introduced who encourage him to go forward with the suicide –  each having their own agenda. The play wasn’t afraid to throw humour at such a dark theme which in turn made the audience feel more comfortable.

The play does (perhaps indirectly) raise some interesting points. Firstly there’s the opportunism that seems to come with death. Most people around Sam saw a beneficial opportunity in the event of his death. A good real-life example of such opportunism would be of Nicole Brown Simpson’s death in which the famous OJ trial stemmed from. Her supposed ‘friend’, Faye Resnick, went on to write a tell-all book about Nicole less than a year after her death. In fact, several of the parties involved with the trial had related book deals. It seems like the dead are never truly dead- they are continuously exploited by the living for self-beneficial reasons. With each death whether it be of a celebrity or a sensationalised murder comes the numerous press, tell-all documentaries, and book deals. And let’s not forget the crappy Lifetime movie. It really never stops!

In a scene after the opening of the play, Sam is about to jump from a rooftop and some teenagers on the estate eagerly spur him on from below. There have been many real life incidents like this where people about to jump off bridges and have actually been cheered on or heckled by people below. This weird commercialisation of death (if you like) is highlighted in the eccentric character of the documentary filmmaker who is keen on filming Sam’s last days (including the suicide.) He fails to realise (as the media does on many occasions) that this is a real life he’s filming. Instead, it’s just fodder he hopes to feed to the world for recognition and to ultimately establish name.

Final Verdict: 3/5. I found it very amusing and it covered very relevant themes. However, the ending wasn’t completely cathartic and as satisfying as I expected it to be.

The play is running until June 25, 2016 at The National Theatre in Southbank, South London.