This month's guest edit comes courtesy of Dave or "Nihata" (Dave's Osho name and Sanskrit for lost/removed)....
There was something special about this month’s get together. Gone were the usual grime and dirt that clung to our sleeves. Here the air was pure, the cars reassuringly expensive, in the distance an audible rah. On walking in, Lara confessed to me: I feel so comfortable, so at ease, the sort of calm that washes over me after Marc has given me an expensive present. I knew what she meant and smiled knowingly. Bruce standing alongside looked very bemused, struggling to compute. How could he understand? Bless him. For this was not Kensal; we were in Chelsea. As I looked at our assembled members I noted the appreciative nods, the genteelness hanging in the air. It had taken three long years but at last, The Kensal Review had arrived! Make no mistake, this was not Fulham.
In keeping with our surroundings, our host tonight spared no expense. On arrival, red wine from France and Pino Grigio from a cold white box were immediately lavished upon us. We marvelled at something called “Guacamole”, made by nothing less than his own fair hands and served with interesting corn crisps, reputedly of Mexican origin. And then he produced this pot with chicken in it and carrots and leaks and celery and potatoes and seasoning. And we ate it. All around you could hear noisy belches and eager slurps as soup flowed down our throats and onto the floor. Bruce did an enormous fart and we knew he was happy.
The time was now ripe to open our minds and discuss our book: Dear Life by Alice Munro. Michelle kicked off: there was no characterisation; the men so ineffectual and what a grey, depressing world the author inhabits. AC continued I just can’t get into short stories; I need more time to get lost in the plot. Juliet felt similar: I was so looking for a novel, I only realised in the middle of chapter two it was another story. An inability to get into the stories was a common lament. But it wasn’t all doom. Mary enjoyed the way each story seemed to contain a life event that would have been impossible to forget, a sort of defining moment. For Ian, the stories resonated with Camus and someone else with a Greek sounding name beginning with F, but who I can’t identify.
Our intellectual juices were bubbling nicely as we plunged into “Only In England”, photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. In contrast to the book we were all agreed, this was a resounding success. The photos showed an eccentricity that was quintessentially English. You had a sense they were recording for posterity images of a disappearing world, one full of humour and social cohesion. As Mary memorably remarked: It made me wonder, where have all the real people gone?
The evening was drawing to a close; the end of another chapter. As I bade my friends good night, I reflected on my future. For me, it meant turning my back on the group and heading towards better things. I was going to Pune. To Osho, my saviour. Life has been cruel but it now all makes sense. The key is surrender, let go. First your mind and then your money. Osho is very clear on this. No surrender, no entry. I have duly transferred my entire trust fund to him and it feels wonderful. Free of bondage, I can now breathe. You don't yet know it but your lives too are empty and barren. I can help you. I will help you. But you must let go. Don't think. Listen with both ears and don’t question. I will return and when I do I will deliver you. Think of me as your shepherd and you a bunch of sheep.
Bless you, my flock.
This month touching guest edit by Ian aka Macca, aka, the dude:
To continue a theme, “we have no time to stand and stare…” pertains to my inveterate hurrying past St Paul’s Cathedral during my 25 years in London. It is said of people visiting the Louvre that they go to say they’ve seen the Mona Lisa, rather than to look at her. Many of us have seen St. Paul’s but how many have looked
Then we were all in some way astonished, having stood and stared. Brancusi said ‘architecture is inhabited sculpture’ and St. Paul’s is high art on a huge scale, with an unassailable, imperious history
. AC was moved to tears by the Henry Moore
nestled in its interior. We found St. Paul’s, considered, is a breathtaking and emotional place, while its magnificence is taken for granted and regarded with indifference by its ubiquity, like ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ or a tea-towel of the Taj Mahal.
If you could unhear music to reclaim the thrilling first hearing of a magnificent record, what a treat this would be! For my part, I wanted a time machine to take me back to Christmas Day 1711 to see St. Paul’s just completed but uncluttered by the modern London, in a flat and rickety City that amplifies its scale and splendour. I suggested a short public sculpture walk around the area, finishing in Postman’s Park
, a stone’s throw away. There could hardly be a greater contrast between the park and the cathedral, but Postman’s Park is equally capable of wringing emotion from the visitor – the plaques of everyday, ephemeral Victorian bravery and tragedy a time machine of sorts, for the imaginative.
The Kensal Review went all Fahrenheit 451 this month and banned books, so our second cultural artifact was cinematic – Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’. One of the few consolations of an unemployed life in the North in the 1980s was staying up all night watching seasons of dazzling films, shoved insolently into post-midnight BBC2 schedules. Truffaut, Welles, Wilder, Clouzot, Polanski, Godard, Fellini, Bergman, Lean, and endless other wonders were barely, indifferently announced, but now that
was an education.
Looking at ‘Wild Strawberries’ again 25 years later, it hasn’t aged at all (unlike something like, say, Dialobiques which now seems to me to belong to an ancient (although still wonderful) cinema). Smultronstället
still exuded power and intelligence, with enough subtlety that we quizzed each other about sub-plots, symbol, meaning throughout but especially at the rather touching ending. Like Dylan said, ‘Don’t Look Back’. But in this case, do. The only elements, in retrospect, that now seem naïve are the teenage hitchhikers – so lacking in cynicism or self-conscious cool in Bergman’s world. They would be unrecognizable and vulnerable among London’s collected young diaspora, congregating around St Paul’s steps today.
This has all left me quite nostalgic. These years in London have seen mutations, a metamorphosis, buildings dwarf St Paul’s, and life and death rattle along with no time to reflect as Bergman’s Professor Isak Borg does on his
journey. There are many things that remain, and many things that are lost. No time to see, no time to see, a poor life this is.
This month's guest edit, by the absolute better late than never, Milly-most-notes:
For Bruce and his mum… Leisure
WHAT is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?--
No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
It was a welcome return to Kensal Review after our summer break, friends together again and stories shared over Mary’s delicious food.
The two subjects of our September review prompted lively discussion. Most of which I failed to catch over the vociferous conversation. Game of Thrones
by George R.R. Martin has been hailed as a modern classic. All writers must read it, says Zadie Smith. Stevie Nicks has written poetry about it.
Many hadn’t strayed into the world of fantasy fiction before but rather enjoyed the visit. Hannah and Lara loved it, Ian loved it too. It reminded him of Chandler, his use of aphorism, his characterization. Hannah thought it was a real page-turner but hard to get into as the language was a hurdle but once she was in, it was tense, frightening and evocative. AC noted that the detailed descriptions suspended her disbelief; the reader inhabits the world and questions nothing. Of course there is a Wall, huge direwolves and dragon eggs.
Dave loved the telly and commented how very faithful the adaptation was. Bruce was keen to read more.
How does a writer create such a vivid, detailed world, peopled by characters that we eagerly follow across thousands of pages? We didn’t know, we marvelled at the skill. And such skill. Here’s something clever: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/interactive/2013/may/09/game-of-thrones-death-relationships
The opposite of such a construct is Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man
. This is not just theatre, this is experience: ‘Travel beyond the veil of secrecy Unlock New Experiences Contribute to a unique cause Join us on our journey…’
Much is left up to the audience on this ‘journey’; there is no character development, intricate plotting or linear story telling. It’s visceral, sensorial, anonymous, involving.
More involving for some than others. Dave had the most interactive experience of us all. Pulled into a room by one of the actors, the drowned man shared a story with Dave about a boy who went to heaven. Another actor tempted him to follow a piece of string and was rewarded by a shocking bright light shinning on the corpse of a dead horse. Even with a mask on, Dave makes an impression.
AC interacted with the props, searching for clues to tell her what the fuck this was about, so much so that she was told off by the shadows. Mary said she enjoyed the experience of chaos. Ian enjoyed the challenging performance and how it messed with theatrical convention; the fourth wall didn’t exist – there were no walls. Actually there were walls, I walked into a few it was so bloody dark.
Dave was frustrated that no storyline was completed and I have to agree. I didn’t see a storyline start either. Nor did Juliet.
Love it or loath it, Punch Drunk challenges the notion of theatre and performance art. One reviewer commented, ‘Shows like this make me proud to be a Londoner. We are a city at the forefront of originality and creativity. Leave your preconceptions at the door, don the mask, step right in and be drowned in the power and beauty of performance art.’ Game of Thrones
saturates the reader with detail. The Drowned Man
bleaches out detail with its claustrophobic darkness, white noise, dry ice and luminous masks.
Did The Drowned Man
touch us? What did we learn? I learned I don’t like having a sweaty nose and I do like good story telling; it doesn’t even have to have a beginning, middle and end. It just needs to resonate, to move me more than mere physical discomfort. I could get the same emotional experience from a tube breakdown in a tunnel. For free.
The most magical part of our evening, and perhaps our KR so far, was our final act: the new poetry spot. This really did move and connect us in joy and friendship. Self-consciousness was put aside, it was time to recite. Selected poems included: Leisure
by WH Davies Meeting at Midnight
by Robert Browning Mrs Darwin
by Carol Ann Duffy To His Coy Mistress
by Anthony Marvel [Note to editor: did I miss any??]
It’s been a tricky month for some, tragic for others. I’ll miss our next review, so I’d like to offer the poem I wanted to read here. In my dark times, it always brings a little comfort. On Change of Weather And were it for thy profit, to obtain All sunshine? No vicissitude of rain? Think'st thou that thy laborious plough requires Not winter frosts as well as summer fires? There must be both: sometimes these hearts of ours Must have the sweet, the seasonable showers Of tears; sometimes the frost of chill despair Makes our desired sunshine seem more fair; Weathers that most oppose the flesh and blood Are such as help to make our harvest good. We may not choose, great God: it is thy task; We know not what to have, nor how to ask.
Francis Quarles (1592-1644).
Kensal Review has become more than an evening of cultural chat, more than just a simple reading group because it doesn’t really matter what we review, so long as we review it together. Aren’t we lucky?
This month's guest edit comes to you from Hannah Banana:
A little over-excited by the unseasonable weather and the smells issuing from Milly’s oven, we gathered round, nibbling chorizo and olives, to discuss art and a novel. Participation in this month’s culture was poor: only AC, Mary and Ian had seen the show. And no-one had finished the book: Hannah hadn’t started and Milly got as far as the epilogue through a set of headphones.
First, to the Wellcome. “It questions the whole concept of art,” said Mary, sounding like a regular on The Culture Show. Is art meant to be seen? asked Ian. And what constitutes art? “Dedication and hard work,” we all agreed. AC seemed to have got the most out of it. “It was definitely one of the more fascinating shows of recent years,” she said. The rest of us couldn’t agree or disagree.
To Bulgakov. “There were too many names,” lamented David. “It jumped around too much,” said Ian. “I needed the context,” said Milly. “I really wanted to finish it,” added Mary. Excuses, excuses. It’s hard to discuss a novel that no-one’s read, but we did our best. Milly cut to the chase. “Why was the devil the good guy?”
Most talk centred on what the book actually meant. A commentary on Stalinism, said Ian. “But it had to be clandestine.” The trouble with clandestine is that if it’s too subtle, only a few people will actually get it. “It was making a satirical point,” said Ian, again. To sum up: we all agreed we’d like to read a book about the novel.
Talk turned to next year’s RA show, and whether we should enter as a group; 70s blockbusters; Rafa cyclewear; Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. For September, Milly sold us on Game of Thrones – “I’ve been gorging myself on it”; Ian (I think) put forward Punchdrunk; and Hannah suggested we pick a poem and read it out. Happy summers all!
This month's write-up comes to us care of hostess and writer-upperer, Juliet K
Things Fall Apart. A phrase that could occasionally apply to the planning of a Kensal Review night. Pinning down ten Londoners for the same Wednesday evening, having tasked them with reading a book and watching a TV series by this date is ambitious in the least. Add to that the fact this particular member had somewhat over-enthusiastically offered to host and cater and write up our June 2013 get-together. I’m imagining it was originally intended that these blog posts are then supposed to capture the advanced critical thinking that occurs when we’re all put together for a couple of hours, with our minds stimulated by wine and food. Apologies if this one is heavy on the autobiographical material: I basically forgot to take any notes and then let weeks pass before writing it up.
‘A badly packed kebab’ – is one intellectual morsel (as offered by Bruce to Dave, as invariably the conversation gravitated back to genitalia-related topics) I do remember. As for things falling apart… There was supposed to be a BBC TV series watched by all – Great Artists in their own Words – but sadly when it came to iPlayer, computer said no
(see how casually us Kensal Reviewers can reference great cultural works? That’s how enlightened we are after our two and a half years together).
Dinner was a huge Tom Yum soup fit for ten (I didn’t get the memo we were only five: Bruce, Lara, Anne-Celine, Mary, David) made from a recipe in a cookbook sent by Milly
; you try and find the ingredients for foo-foo stew even in NW10). And making sure everyone had enough coriander and chilli and noodles in their bowls didn’t allow for much note-taking – so in an unorthodox move I have chucked down my thoughts mostly and I emailed everyone for their tuppence worth…
Okonkwo, an Umuofian warrior, is the so-called hero of the book’s tale of life in a group of villages in Nigeria in the late 19th-century – a time when colonialism was starting to roll into West Africa. As expressed by AC, and a sentiment shared by a lot of us, it took a while to get stuck into Chinua Achebe’s novel… But then when you did, every detail was worth devouring. It seemed to me an almost English style of storytelling, yet what made it so compelling was that it is an utterly African story – sacrifices and all – from an African perspective. The narrative conveyed English colonial attitudes to Africa of that time as well as the harsh reality of clan hierarchy and the Igbo people’s belief systems (twin human babies when born being taken to the forest and left to die was one of the more shocking taboos). ‘I thought the pace sagged in a few places where the action didn’t compensate for the fairly pedestrian writing,’
said Bruce, sagely. ‘Otherwise, the insights into this village life were so enthralling I was swept along. When the book came out in the late 50s it must have been gobsmacking as so much less was known about how these rural Africans lived, and how colonialism affected them. By showing the white invasion in an “inside out” manner the reader was totally immersed in village life, then out of the blue, the white man came like an alien into our minds as well the village – we were given a vivid new perspective.’
Bruby found this ‘villager’s eye view’ of these mysterious white people quite haunting. ‘I felt that the writer, having kept his ethical views to himself throughout the book, finally let them show on the last page. Here he wonderfully and viciously laid into the white leader, describing him musing that the tale of the shenanigans involving the native hanging from the tree before him would make a wonderful chapter in his yarns from Africa, or “a paragraph at least”.’
David chipped in after the event by email: ‘Lara noted that by killing himself at the end, the protagonist had become weak like his father.’
(He also assured me that my weird fruit flan decorated by Kitty was fabulous in spite of an initial skepticism from all as we poked the stale base.)
Reading this book now was especially poignant since the Nigerian author died aged 82 in March of this year. His poetry and essays will no doubt continue to be studied in classrooms around the world, and this novel considered one of literature’s most important works*.
So where does the kebab metaphor come in? This is Kensal Review we’re dealing with. Sure we love talking about the books, the films, the art – but thrown in some booze and Things Fall Apart. Don’t even try and get me to explain on the illustration on a Post-it note I spotted on the wall the next morning… “Nice avocado,” I think Mary commented. She also said lots of smart things on the night: I apologise again for not remembering anything other than the kebab thing. *While factchecking some info, I stumbled across the back story of the journey of Achebe’s original hand-written manuscript. Allow me to quote this article from Slate.com as it’s really touching.
‘[Achebe] had shown it to an English novelist, Gilbert Phelps, while in London on scholarship. Phelps was enthusiastic and encouraging, but Achebe wanted to revise it further. So he took it home to Nigeria. Once it was ready, he went to a post office in Lagos, and mailed it to a typing agency in London that he had seen advertised in the Spectator, because he “had learned that if you really want to make a good impression, you should have your manuscript well typed.” The agency wrote back saying they had received the manuscript, and that it would cost 32 pounds for two typed copies. Achebe sent the money, and waited. And waited.
“Weeks passed, and months,” Achebe said. He began to lose weight, he was so anxious. Fortunately, he mentioned what was going on to his boss at the NBS, the Nigerian radio service where he worked. Her name was Angela Beattie, and she was, Achebe said, a “no-nonsense woman.” She was also from England, and was headed back there shortly on leave. She agreed to stop by the typing agency. When she showed up there, she demanded to know what was going on. “And when they saw a real person come out of the vague mess of the British colonies,” Achebe said, “they knew it was no longer a joke.”
Beattie demanded that they mail a typed copy to Achebe in the next week, which they did. (He never did receive the second copy he paid for.) He sent it on to the British publisher Phelps had recommended, and the publisher sought the advice of Donald Macrae, a professor in London who had just returned from a trip to West Africa. Macrae, Achebe told the Paris Review, wrote what the publisher “said was the shortest report they ever had on any novel—seven words:
“The best first novel since the war.” ’
[This month’s review is brought to you by occasional Kensal Reviewer at large, Ignatius J. Reilly]
The paucity of members at this month’s Review is symptomatic of the current malaise and cultural apathy amongst today’s chattering classes. But for the sake of morale, I set out to rescue the situation with lively small talk on puerile subjects that appeal to the salon demographic, viz., house prices, rude words and the price of cupcakes.
Some relief from the tedium was provided by Juliet when she declared herself dizzy (like we needed her to tell us) and proceeded to have one of her turns. I was hoping it would be enough to call off proceedings so that we may all slip away into the night and draw a veil over the whole embarrassing episode, but alas, La Kinsman simply flopped dramatically onto the chaise longue and the rest of us simply soldiered on, patting our wounded comrade as we trudged on by into battle.
Further welcome punctuation was provided when hostess Hannah (journalist for some lefty rag or other) produced a layered meal that was inoffensive to the pallet - unlike much of the swill we’ve forced down grimly on previous Review meetings. Just recalling Bruce’s asinine “bangers and mash” sends my valve into spasms.
When at last we tortuously got around to actually discussing anything of value, it seemed we all liked that month’s book, “The Confederacy of Dunces” - except Juliet, who found my character in the book too obnoxious to stomach. Silly girl is clearly unstable.
Hannah said she enjoyed the book (although this was probably only because of its Trotskyite themes).
Ridiculously upper class Dave, his head protruding from his roll neck jumper like an aristocratic turtle, added his usual unhelpful frippery. He seems incapable of any form of serious intercourse. I think he liked it, but the man talks in riddles.
Milly, still dragging out some illness or other, made a rare display of intelligence when she stated the book is one of her all time favourites.
Plastic hippy Bruce, who seems unsure of his sexuality at the moment, sporting as he does, shoulder-length hair that is part female flower child/ part judge’s wig, admitted (typically) that he hadn’t finished the book but enjoyed what he’d (bothered to) read. Then he started banging on and on yet again about his latest capitalist property venture.
Anne-Celine told us how the book made her laugh so hard she soiled not only herself, but also her partner in bed beside her.
Oh-so-important Ian was absent - apparently doing something else that evening that he thinks more lofty than cultural discourse - but he had the audacity to wire us page upon page of incomprehensible diatribe. It was unclear whether he disliked the book on feminist grounds or enjoyed it on post-modernist grounds.
By now my valve was throbbing painfully. Through the lens of an endoscope it would have surely resembled a puce donut.
Knowing I was on borrowed time, I had to move quickly and swiftly turned the conversation onto the other portion of culture to be reviewed: the film “In The House”, which I enjoyed despite it being made in the land of cheese-eating surrender monkeys. It showed wonderfully clearly some of the pathetic goings-on I always knew to be part and parcel of the stifling miasma of the middle-class home. No wonder half the group didn’t like it. They conveniently dismissed it as art house noodling typical of those moody onion-wielders.
By now I could bear it no more. My tortured ring-piece was about to force me to turf Juliet out of the KR sick bed. So with the strength I had left I called mother and told her to send a taxi immediately. On my return journey I fell into semi-consciousness and hallucinated giant glistening conkers crashing into one another while Rex slavered all over them. It caused me to have a small accident, but upon arrival home mother actually managed to do something useful for once, detaching herself from her glass of wine just long enough to clean the irate driver’s upholstery.
Small gatherings can bear great fruit, I believe was the motto for KR 22. It is of course always sad, when some of our most treasured members can't make it to the review to throw their beef on the table, because they are either stricken down with pneumonia, on the other side of the world or struck down in dorset, or was it Devon Lara? However, being outnumbered by men for the first time was by no means a sob story for Mary and I.
We quickly learned what a bifkin was (ask Bru, who also taught us about the pterodactyl I believe), that our beloved author Thesiger of the very endless Arabian Sands, (must we return to Salala old chap, or can we just call it a day there?) was in fact a lover, not just of full water sacks, but also of men. Our maiden minds had not considered this, but it gave the at times interminable story a lovely frisson - even if we only found out in hindsight.
Dave, who as our resident toff boy, knows the most about Eton games such as soggy biscuit, or spank the head boy, had no doubts about Thesigers love interest, when I asked, 'But WHY was he there for FIVE years?' He merely raised an eyebrow and said, 'To look at those men in peace of course.' A few of us remarked that there was no mention of the insects he was meant to be observing once he got the commission to do so, but rather a lot more focus on the dunes, and sparse vegetation. And there was of course lots of camel and fig chat.
The boys, although they found the read, a bit like walking through quick sand, knowing that you have run out of figs, were interested in persevering 'til the end. Granted, there were a few funny and interesting sections in the book, my favourite being the anecdote about the guy who died of generosity.
Mary and I meanwhile wanted to know, 'Why do we read travel books?' Not necessarily, we felt, to know exactly how a place is, but also and more importantly how the author felt there. What emotions ran through them? Thesinger, our fearless nomad, managed to write a good 300 pages without ever letting us know exactly how he was feeling. Hunger occasionally came into it but other than that, it was a bit too 'and then we climbed THAT dune' for me.
Despite the fact none of us had seen Ice Age Art we made a good go of discussing the show. I can't for the life of me remember what anyone said, but as is always the way at KR, one conversation segued beautifully into another, then another until Ian introduced us to the very much under-rated or under-exposed photographer Tony Ray-Jones, who by all accounts was an inspiration to Martin Parr. He had just purchased a print online and was enthusiastic about its arrival. What also brought much hilarity was Ian's involvement in a photo love story (black and white), just like Tony Ray-Jones's pics (you see how the themes link beautifully?), where he asks his lady friend 'Does anyone know where the disco is?' or something equally critical. Above another crucial moment from the nail-biting story. As we can see, Ian has always maintained great hair care. Unlike our chap Thesiger.
This month's write up comes to you courtesy of Soulmate's Dish of the Day Dave:
It was never going to be an easy evening. As mary explained, the “Mayan Prophesy is actually about now”; Bruce added “there’s an extraordinary amount of solar activity”; and perhaps most significantly AC moaned “her legs badly needed shaving”. We were in a desperate situation. In fact, the only person holding it all together was me: “Dish of the Day”.
So under these very trying conditions we agreed to assemble for our 6 weekly meeting at the Stephen Grosz talk, followed by supper at the Windsor Castle. I say "agreed", you should have seen the email thread that got us there. Inevitably, we didn’t last long at the restaurant and all marched out before ordering, losing poor Ian in the process.
As for Stephen Grosz’ talk, what did we think? Well, you could hardly hear him, he was so softly spoken. Still that didn’t stop three of us from asking him questions. Bruce asked if all psycho-analyists learn how to interpret dreams. AC And Hannah pondered how the author came to write the book and what the most common problems were that he encountered in his sessions; questions he spent a long time answering and clearly thought were very perceptive and thought provoking. He could tell the Kensal Review were in town.
Back at Lara’s house and tucking into some delicious but fattening Thai takeaway, we got down to the business of what we all do so well: intense, brain bending discussion. Ideas as always were spinning around faster than a brain in a moulinex. What immediately became apparent was that this group had done a lot of therapy. In fact the only person who hadn’t done any was Bruce, which we all thought was rather surprising.
In any case, drawing on our own experiences we debated the pros and cons of therapy. “The wrong therapist can actually cause you harm” argued Michelle. “In psychoanalysis all they talk about is money” remarked Mary “and child therapists tend to make awful parents”. For some however, it had been very beneficial and at least one of us couldn’t have coped without it. Lara pointed out that “the real shame is that it’s us who have to go through it and not the real culprits, our parents”. For my own part, an extreme loss of memory suggested to the others an inability to live in the present or at the very least, the first signs of early senile dementia; I’m not sure which is worse. And for the record, I really can’t remember if I did The Landmark Forum.
As to the book, The Examined Life: How we Lose and Find Ourselves by Stephen Grosz: the verdict was an all round thumbs up. Its simple prose and uncomplicated language made the world of psychoanalysis readily accessible. Above all expressed Juliet “it resonates; you read it like a detective; uncovering the meanings; deciphering the dreams”. AC remarked that the chapter on loneliness reminded her of her neighbour who believes her children are raiding his garden. And we were all touched by the little boy who spat at the therapist as a cry for help; a plea to help him get fixed. In short the book made you ponder; it made you register the little incidents or dreams in our every day lives, which belie more significant meanings.
As is our fashion, we then moved onto the film, “Zero Dark 30”, a reference to when the marines took out Bin Laden. It was unquestionably powerful and intense. But said Milly, “why did the protagonist, played by Jessica Chastain, have to cry on completing the mission? The film didn’t need the tear. No man in that situation would have cried”. That as always, especially for the men in the group, was one of the problems: it wasn’t feminist enough. In that moment, we could have done with Ian and one of his post-realist feminist nuggets. The best we could find were some Thai chicken nuggets. All were agreed there was too much torture and the film made too many concessions to the Hollywood factory: “dancing to other people’s flutes” remarked someone poetically. Overall, we disliked the film: bad characterisation and no journey. And who killed the monkey and what was the monkey? A metaphor for the subjugation of an oppressed people by American imperialism. Or was it just a dead monkey?
And then the Kensal review drew to a close. We had discussed therapy; we had examined and been examined; it was now time to go. We gathered our coats, said our goodbyes, kisses were preferred, warm hugs exchanged; a few words of support. And then we set off into the night on our own separate paths, with only our cloaks of darkness for comfort. And as we walked back home; to our own private lives, we thought of the reunion and took solace that we are not completely alone. That there are others that care for us and we for them. That these last few hours had had their own curing effect. So screw the couch; what it’s best for is screwing on, we all know that. And for some real therapy, get into the group kind: an evening with friends, laughter and wine and chicken nuggets. It’s not long to the next one, just hold on, only six weeks or is it seven? I wish I could remember.
This month's write-up comes to us, praise be once again, to Ian-speedfinger-Mac:
“A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.” John Updike.
A typically dashing statement, Johnny-boy, but most of the Kensal Review might think you’re being self-reflexive there. It was a source of mystery and consternation to me that the Kensal Review broadly scuffled and laboured with the early parts of Rabbit, Run and then discarded it prematurely after repeated attempts. It was as if the girls of the group kept throwing themselves into a lake, only to bounce off the icy surface; like frozen water’s surface, the book was impenetrable and cold. To me, it was a joyous, long, languorous Summer swim. Bruce and Mary enjoyed it thoroughly, too.
True, some of the pages looked dense and never-ending, and some of the sentences seemed to scan with errors that tripped you up and left you on your knees. But, idiosyncrasies aside, its sweeping themes, tragedies, and desperate cast of characters were perfect and engrossing.
Where I loved the retinue of flawed and unsympathetic characters, many in the group felt disengaged from and irritated by their feebleness and inadequacies. I admired Updike’s skill in creating a set of splenetic and rather loathsome people, who nevertheless could elicit sympathy at the point their bitterness was exposed as fright or confusion. But most found them irritating and irrational, and incapable of carrying the moral narrative at the heart of the book.
Ultimately, Rabbit, Run works for me as a response to On The Road – as a sort of case-study of the mess and misery caused by abandoning one’s responsibilities and searching for freedom. For Rabbit, such a liberation of the fearful and small-minded means a rather pathetic short drive to a town close-by, followed by an intermittent cycle of dithering, return, flight, and boorishness. But as Hannah and AC said, should one have to understand the point of it up front, to enjoy it? This is a theme we’ve considered before; should art require an explanation, or should its meaning be self-evident? For me, at least, it changed my perception and increased my enjoyment of the book, knowing up front that Updike’s intention had been to explore the consequences of a cack-handed grasp for freedom.
Then again, what do I know? Bruce read it much more as a straight comedy. The cowardly Rabbit was a bawdy clown, the sniping parents were fecklessly funny, the Lutheran minister Kruppenbach was a booming ball of anger. Reading from the book is not something generally we do…perhaps it’s too pretentious, or perhaps it’s because silence and undivided attention are not that readily to hand in our wine-fuelled reviews. But the cacophony died down for Bruce to read a little of a memorable passage where Eccles goes to visit Kruppenbach:
‘The house shudders to the master’s step. Kruppenbach comes up the stairs into his den, angry at being taken from his lawnmowing. He wears old black pants and an undershirt soaked with sweat. His shoulders are coated with wiry gray wool.
“Hello, Chack,” he says at pulpit volume, with no intonation of greeting. His German accent makes his words seem stones, set angrily one on top of another. “What is it?”
Eccles, not daring “Fritz” with the older man, laughs and blurts “Hello!”
Kruppenbach grimaces. He has a massive square head, crewcut. He is a man of brick; as if he was born as a baby literally of clay and decades of exposure have baked him to the color and hardness of brick. He repeats, “What?”'
Everyone was forced to concede this was brilliant; clever, articulate, and with momentum, menace, and character. AC also said, if only Bruce would have read her the whole book, she thinks she would have enjoyed it.
Our second target this month was ‘Light From the Middle East: New Photography’ at the V&A. One delicious curry down, a few glasses of wine in, and wanting to explore Lara’s sumptuous new house, discussions on this (and possibly my ability to remember them) became a bit fragmented. The overwhelming feelings were we loved the show and had wanted more and more of it. Without sounding too precious, we felt a bit humbled, ignorant of a vast and vivid body of work being produced in another part of the world. London is so cosmopolitan and rich in art and exhibitions, yet we couldn’t help feeling a little bit left out and left behind when we saw the variety and potency of the photography on display. I also thought it was another show that was brilliantly curated – the 3 sections (Recording, Reframing, Resisting) were terrific. It made us thirsty for more information, more knowledge of the art and the artists. For me, it did that trick of making me realize everyone is pretty much the same, the world over. Some photographers were straight documentary, some used social commentary, some used heavily art driven concepts to make their various points. It was, just like London photography – it is, after all, human beings expressing themselves through photography.
Absent friends were toasted, news was related by those who’ve missed previous reviews. Catch-up was done. Lara has a beautiful baby, Bruce has a poorly father, Mary has an impending birthday bash, Hannah did a Hogmanay stomp up Scottish mountains. I told stories of bad dreams of zombies, and Mary told me nightmares are everywhere. It’s the electromagnetic solar storms, apparently. We’re all going to hell in a handbasket – NASA says so – and may be the Mayans were right all along. Of those who couldn’t come, it was Milly’s birthday (Happy Birthday Milly!), Juliet was stuck in an airport on her way back from New York City. And apparently, Dave is wooing an air-stewardess. Keen to know if she’s a keeper, Hannah said, typically cutting to the chase and want to size-up the cut of the lady’s jib: “Which airline?”
This month's guest edit comes to you thanks to Mary:
Despite being thrown in at the deep end, Tim Lott, or The Lott
as he has come to be regarded, settled in like a long lost member when he joined us at Kensal Review last Wednesday. Tim had logically assumed that we would be discussing his latest work of fiction, Under The Same Stars
, but instead we’d opted to review his deeply personally autobiographical tale, A Scent of Dried Roses. Bruce quickly distracted him with a trough of the finest melt in the mouth slow cooked chilli con carne while AC reassured him that “we tend to mostly talk about sex” and so another great Kensal Review began.
We managed to slip in a quick discussion about penis size at the start of dinner, but soon found ourselves way off-piste. The honesty of Lott’s writing is unnerving at times; the close examination of his own mental health and that of his mothers is both educational and emotional. When he arrived at Bruce’s dining table I think we all felt like we already knew him. Tim asked if any of us had ever suffered from depression and as we started to share our own experiences, he also talked candidly about his own. While we could all relate to the destructive power of depression, the possibility that it could also provide an opportunity for resurrection or redemption made his story satisfyingly life-affirming.
Forgiveness, faith, honesty, kindness and optimism are all present in his novel despite there being much sadness and pain. Bruce and Ian both felt a familiarity to the honest and optimistic world of Jean and Jack and their uncomplicated, traditional relationship. It reminded Michelle and AC, both unfamiliar with suburban England, of Grayson Perry where Lott’s tapestry is woven with unique descriptions of suburban Southall. Through vivid description we become strangely involved in Jean’s claustrophobic yet lonely world. Every detail is examined to try to understand why she had committed suicide.
Our evening with Tim did feel a bit like our post-Didion group therapy session (KR I). We all had a personal connection to suicide or some form of mental illness. I personally found the book particularly cathartic. My father’s death in 1994 was described as a ‘possible suicide’ because of his mental health issues. Over time I came to except that I would always have questions that would remain unanswered. And so, as the evening progressed, we found ourselves discussing the limits of scientific reductionism, the meaning of existentialism and the practise of Zen Buddhism. Who knows where we would have ended up if Tim had stayed longer? But sadly our time with him was over all to quickly.
After deciding to review a comedy show, but not quite managing to arrange a group outing, we ended up reviewing Jacques Audiard’s, De Rouille et D’os (Rust and Bone). Set in Antibes in France, this is a bleak love story between Stephanie (Marion Cottilard), an amputee and Ali (Mathias Schoenaerts), a bare-knuckle fighter who has a five-year-old son Sam. Matthias Schoenaerts plays a uniquely unemotional male lead and Marion Cottiliard was, AC decided, even hotter than usual teetering around on her shiny prosthetics with her baggy rolled up tracksuit bottoms.
When people mention Rust and Bone they instantly refer to the amputee sex and the violent fistfights. Michelle found the violence too brutal but no one had a problem with the sex. It was just regular sex except she had no legs, no biggie. Because Ali was so void of emotion, to me the sex and fighting felt empty not even animalistic, just flat. My feelings resided with Stephanie. I found it difficult to understand why she was attracted to Ali in the first place. But it was this dichotomy that possibly held all the disparate aspects of the story together. Stephanie’s emotional honesty shone through like a beacon of truth amidst the harshness of both of their lives.
In comparison to the rawness of A Prophet (Audiard’s first feature), some have referred to Rust and Bone as the French Free Willy. For me personally, the killer whale back-story was an essential part of the film. The sea-life centre provided a surreal location and the mysterious accident left us unsure if her legs had actually been bitten off. The killer whale and Stephanie (post-amputation) were both being held captive. The moments when she finally swam in the sea for the first time marked the start of her own recovery. And finally without the killer whales there would have been no Katy Perry Fireworks sequence. Say no more…
Ali was destined for some sort of breakdown to bring him back from the void. Cue cute five year-old son falling into a hole on an icy lake. This scene was one of those intense cinematic moments that stays with you long after the film ends. It also provided the classic sentimental Hollywood ending where father nearly loses son as a route to finding his own hidden feelings. This is clearly Oscar winning stuff. And just when you thought it was safe to put away your tissues Bon Iver’s, The Wolves begins. We all found the final scene a bit corny but with that soundtrack playing it hardly mattered.