Originally posted on strange news from another star:
The aptly named ‘Revelations’ is a difficult episode. In any piece of science-fiction media, the idea of bring in a Christo-Juedo God is perhaps daunting, and often disastrous. Certainly the introduction of Scully’s otherwise largely side-lined faith sits in some ways uncomfortably with the rest of the series mythology – for Mulder and Scully to inhabit in a world in which there is a god would arguably undermine the very nature of their, and certainly Mulder’s, work. However, what is perhaps most unsettling about the nature of this episode, especially for the viewers who’d seen all the episode up until 3/11, is the oft-commented on role-reversal within the Mulder/Scully dynamic; Fox ‘I want to believe’ Mulder becomes the scoffing sceptic, whilst Scully becomes a Believer in the most largely understood sense of the word. This of course brings with the revealing of an apparent contradiction in the latter’s personality –…
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WOLF ALICE REVIEW YE
I went to see Manic Street Preachers the other night. Such a statement can be made alarmingly often in my life, but right now I’m not going to talk about those Welsh Weirdos who have eaten up an frankly disgusting amount of my money, time and adolescence in general; I’m going to talk about Wolf Alice.
Wolf Alice, a quick wikipedia search tells me, are a band from North London, who also happened to be supporting MSP at their concert at De Montfort Hall in Leicester last night. My feelings about support bands are normally quite contradictory, wavering between dismissive (at worst) and condescendingly congratulatory (at the very best). Of course, I respect a touring band’s decision to have support acts – and from a band like the Manics, who’ve made their admirable and genuine support of up-and-coming musicians somewhat part of their manifesto, I would expect nothing else… and yet, I still can’t help but pity support acts, whoever they are. Playing to bored and resentful crowd, who are focusing more on the impending arrival of the main act than the unknown-music being dutifully played for their pleasure? I can’t think of anything worse. And honestly, considering some of the treatment I’ve witnessed support bands being subjected to at other gigs, there are times when it wouldn’t surprise me to see them stalking from the stage in disgust. Such a problem is exacerbated tenfold when said support act is simply…not… that…good. And this happens depressingly often.
However, to make a gross generalisation, musicians, (good ones) especially ones trying to break into the mainstream seem blessed with a sort of ambition and tenacity that is bewilderingly alien to me; they suck it up, they persevere and I admire them for that.
But Wolf Alice? No such strained, thankless perseverance seemed necessary. For something strange happened. Something that made me question the very fabric of the universe. They were actually, kinda, sorta well-received. At least from me. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say that from my bubble at the barrier (in the middle, praise heavens, there is a god) there was no moaning, no sarcastic whispering, no bored eyeballs and tapping of fingernails on the railings, but a genuine appreciation for a band that was actually… really bloody interesting.
The name grabbed me first. I hoped with pathetic lit-enthusiastic eagerness that it was a reference to the neo-gothic genius of Angela Carter (I was right). In a world of the XXs and Tame Impalas, one is forced to consider the possibility that pop music has been around for so long that there simply are no good names left. As such, such an unapologetic intellectuality and quasi-pretentious nods to literary powerhouses is a breath of fresh air, and not dissimilar to the arrogant intellectual exuberance of the Manics in their youth.
Wolf Alice’s music is a whirring alt-rock cacophony (one that complimented and virtually anticipated the showcasing of the staggering and aggressive new tracks of the Manics newest album ‘Futurology’) that is in equal parts nauseating, unapologetic and genuinely exciting. And not to mention a thousand times better (and more fitting to the Manic’s demographic, in my humble opinion) than the bizarre dystopian bleeping of two nerds under the name of Public Service Broadcasting I was subjected to last Manics tour.
How Wolf Alice structured their gig, whether it was intended or not, worked spectacularly well, and the arrival of mournful lamentations on (probably) doomed relationships et al, after more upbeat jingly-jangly offerings hit like a punch in the gut. I’m not exactly renowned for my emotional stoicism, but I don’t think it should be overlooked that I was nearly moved to tears at one song.
They were fascinating to look at as well. The frontwoman (Ellie Rowsell, apparently) had a haunting, understated charisma to match an impressive voice and guitar skills, and even as she stood deadpan, staring across the crowd in a way that in other contexts might have been considered nervous, it somehow worked. The juxtaposition of the cool nonchalance of Ms. Rowsell and the energy of her band mates equally carried a certain charm (I’m going to give a hats off to the drummer here, because his enthusiasm was adorable and infectious), with she an ethereal presence in the centre of the stage as the remaining two members of the band ricocheted about her.
This was the first time I’d seen them – even heard of them, I’m ashamed to admit – but I hope it won’t be the last. There was something there that is disappointingly absent from many a support band – not simply the ambiguously-defined ‘glimmer of potential’ so often cited, but a raw, established bona-fide talent. Here’s to hoping other people (one with connections and major record deals, etc) see it. In the meantime, bear in mind Ellie Rowsell, impassive and foreboding, stock still amongst her bandmates like the eye of the hurricane, and just as unsettling, just as dangerous.
For an art form so ancient, so illuminating and so universally pervasive, it seems strange that the significance of textile design is sometimes lost in the eyes of contemporary consumers. Whilst there probably isn’t enough data about to say whether more people are practicing the art form or not, thanks to the internet, those who do practice are able to reach a wider audience with their work. And yet still textile art still suffers from a drab association, a veritable stigma surrounding it’s name- and that arguably comes from the inextricable link it has with femininity.
This is a problem we not only see in art, but in vastly every other media that shares that unforgivable characteristic- be it women’s literature patronisingly stamped with the ‘chick-lit’ diminutive, or how the non-threatening androgynous pop music catered towards young girls is routinely dismissed- or rather, it’s followers are- as vacant and insipid. Nothing taints a piece of art more so than an association with women, and once this is considered, it’s easy to see why textile art, one of the perversely and unashamedly, historically ‘female’ art forms out there, is sometimes not taken as seriously as it’s male-dominated fine art counterpart. Did you know that
Women may still hold the fort in regards to numerical representation within the textile sector, but that’s exactly why it’s deemed a fort not worth conquering. The representation issue is not within the numbers, but in how the wider community perceives the practitioners.
To talk to people about ‘art’ and to talk to people about ‘craft’ is to receive two very different types of response, and textile art has always somehow stood uneasily in both camps of these definitions. ‘Craft’ has belittling, hobbyist connotations, and draws to mind nothing of the skill and discipline often associated with fine art, or, as I have heard it called so many times, ‘real’ art. But what gives fine art this ‘realness’, this respectability, when compared with textile art. Unfortunately there’s a clear pattern.
What do Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, Picasso and countless others, all the ‘great masters’ have in common? They’re men. Historically speaking, when considering countless millennia of female repression, the fact that it’s only male talent that is remembered and exalted seems only natural; after all, if women had had the same opportunities men did in those times, then surely they would be held in similar high regard? Sadly, these hypothetical scenarios are irrelevant to the problem of how women are represented in art today. Thanks to these hundreds of years of women and their contributions being wholeheartedly dismissed by the rest of society, there is a still a permeating institutionalised belief that things are only valid and legitimate if men do them. And just because, historically, men have done most things deemed valid and legitimate, largely because women were not able to. Therefore, it’s not difficult to see why the typically more male-centric and dominated art form of fine art is in many ways hugely more respected than the silly, insipid womanly pastimes of such frivolities as knitting and embroidery. Knitting pershaps is a very obvious example of the ‘drab association’ I talk about earlier. To those the word brings to mind ideas of 50s housewives and Granny-knitting-by-the fire have obviously never met the guerrilla yarn-bombers we have present today.
As part of my research, I asked various people who were the first ten fine artists to spring to mind- they came from all different periods, all different schools, all different styles… but pretty much invariably- I came name only a few exceptions, Frida Kahlo, and Tracey Emin being notable examples- they were men. In some cases, only men were named. Moreover, there was positive correlation found between men dominating the fine-artists section and a belief that fine art is a more ‘legitimate’ (I term I allowed the participants to define as they pleased) than it’s counterparts such as textile design, fashion, sculpture and even architecture. Of course, it’s harder to determine whether we as society find fine art inherently superior, and thus men succeed more in simply for being men, or if it’s because men historically having the means, time and will to pursue the fine arts, and subsequently dominated the area, that we tend to have a higher opinion of it, but the correlation is unignorable.
But, this isn’t an inequality in practise, but an error in judgement. As we tend to find in all walks of history, while the achievements of the ruling elite- be it men, the rich, white people, the able-bodied or non-queer people- take precedence in memory, the cogs of history are kept steadily turning by a silent, forgotten army of the underrepresented, whose contribution to world change, in this case, in regard to the arts, is no less monumental just because it’s often not recognised. Like today, where we have hundreds of thousands of women working in the textiles sector globally- whether it be an arts graduate selling bespoke work at craft fairs or a factory worker undergoing 26 hour days for minimal pay making throwaway fashion items for the shops in the West-, women, and this uniquely female art form, have made countless contributions the vast and varied international ‘art’ scene, just are grossly unrecognised for them.
The Bayeaux Tapestry is one of the most significant- and certainly one of the most well-known – historical documents of the Middle Ages. It depicts men,- only 3 women appear throughout the entire tapestry- it was, in all likelihood commissioned by a man, and yet it was hundreds of female hands that set about the creation of this majestic piece of textile art. Hundreds of women- probably noble and English-Saxon, some of the most skilled embroiders in the land, living in nunneries and convents- were part of an extraordinary task, the veritable creation of a historical source, and whilst it’s perhaps understandable that’s it’s Harold Godwinson’s losing an eye in the field of battle that gets more reception- after all, it is the subject of the piece. But it doesn’t suppress my frustration that it is the creators of the tapestry that are lost in the mists of time, whether it be because they’re women, or because it’s textiles, or maybe a mixture of the two- when the ‘greats’, the artists who have permeated the public’s consciousness are mainly men.
Similar stories are found all the over the globe; ancient and undeniably feminine forms of art dismissed and forgotten. India, for example, and the Middle East have a rich and varied past in regards to textile art, dating back as far as 3000 B.C and whilst perhaps it’s more down to the inherent racism and remnants of colonialism present in our society than the fact it’s a women’s art form, that many people know next to nothing about it- I speak culturally relatively. Even still, it’s a sad comment on the state of representation in our society that, to use one example it’s hardly common knowledge that the mass-produced Pashmina scarfs sold all over the country, can trace their roots back to the shawls woven by hundreds of thousands of women in Kashmir as early as the 1500s.
However, I think the most relevant and hard to ignore example of this apparently universal discarding of the importance of textile art is societies, and also the arts community’s- relationship with fashion. Fashion is arguably the most democratic and all-permeating art-form of them all. Even if you actively spurn the idea of fashion- and it would have to be actively- the way in which people creatively express themselves through their clothing and style is completely unavoidable. Fashion is the most immediate way a person has in communicating something about themselves, and sometimes this is taken a step further, whether it be in Vivienne Westwood raising awareness about climate change in her collections, or the spray-painted political polemic on the t-shirts of bands like the Manic Street Preachers. And despite all this, fashion is continually derided as vacuous, vain and most scathingly a women’s domain. We’re confronted, of course, by a chicken-and-egg scenario here; is it because fashion is inherently vacuous and vain that women, in their infinite weakness, are attracted to it? Or is it because women have largely chosen to express themselves through fashion and image, more so than men – (and who can blame them, when as a rough average, 8/10 artists exhibited in art galleries will be male… I don’t think there’s any shame in trying to forge a niche of one’s own), that it must therefore must be subject to ridicule, because anything to do with women must be taken less seriously than if a man were to carry it out?
One thing that rubs salt in the wound even more is that, despite all the ‘womanly’ sphere fashion primarily influences, men still hold a very powerful place within the fashion industry. Similarly to the questions I posed regarding fine art, when I asked who were the first ten designers to spring to mind, the gender distribution, predictably, was a lot less skewed than it had been with fine art- Vivienne Westwood, Coco Chanel and Donna Karen all got mentions. Yet at the same time, fashion was consistently viewed as one of the least worthwhile of all the art forms listed- reasons cited including ‘requires less skill [than fine art]’ ‘superficial’ ‘has more of a negative effect on the rest of society than fine art etc’. Furthermore, just because we had more women appreciated in this category than with fine art, yet again the majority of artists- in this case, designers- listed were men. Gianni Versace, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs… and even when people talk of Prada, you have to confirm whether they mean Mario, the founder, or Miuccia, the now- owner of the fashion line, who, according to Forbes.com “turned the [family owned business] into a fashion powerhouse.”, who has a PHD in political science and yet remains relatively unknown.
Equally, some of the most witty and intelligent female minds in contemporary journalism and blogging are found within fashion writing, for example, the journalist, photographer, stylist, model and blogger Hanneli Mustaparta, Leandra Medine of Man Repeller, who has been quoted as saying “good fashion is about pleasing women, not men” But why do we as a society so often condemn these people for ‘wasting their talents’ on something as evidently insipid and worthless as fashion, rather than respect fashion as a legitimate art form in its own right?
Even beyond the remit of fashion, the success of well known female artists is always a dubious matter. To use Tracey Emin as an example, irrespective of the arguable merits or otherwise of her work, continually finds her efforts patronised despite the notoriety she enjoys. Arguably this comes from the fact that her work is undeniably, sometimes intrusively, feminine, and despite her apparent longing to go down in history as a “kooky” and “edgy” character in modern art, it’s her –perhaps inadvertent- embracing of the feminine stereotype, hyper-emotionality, shameless self-disclosure- that has allowed her to permeate into the general consciousness. Because she embodies the stereotypical hysterical trivialities of the female condition, she is no threat; she fits the mould set out by society; she is, despite all her best efforts, what we expect.
If women in the textiles art sector were underrepresented numerically, I’d have a much easier, more straightforward argument. But predictably, sexism in all walks of life, permeates in the most insidious fashion possible, and in the textiles sector, we are faced with no exception. I can name a number of exceptionally talented local textiles artists, including Sue Barry, Shevonne Hutchins, Joanna of ‘ChicThrows’, but how many of these could ever ‘make it’, assuming that they wanted to? How many times have textiles artists had their work dismissed as ‘a bit of a hobby’, the patronising diminutive of ‘craft’ and had it sneered at as somehow inherently inferior to its fine-art cousin? For an art form with such significance both historically and contemporarily, one that requires as much discipline and skill as oil painting or sculpture, there is still a drastic problem with how it is externally perceived. And, over 7000 years later after potentially the first ever Persian carpet was ever woven, I think it’s high time that both the women and the men practising in the textiles art sector take the opportunity to truly make sure that textile design, in whatever form it takes, gets the respect and due reverence it deserves.
Søren Sveistrup’s Danish 1987 TV drama “The Killing” (Danish: Forbrydelsen) has been heralded and applauded, and quite rightly, for a great number of things. I finished Season 1 yesterday, and other than it leaving a massive void in my chest where my heart should be, it also left me pondering. The intricacy of the storyline, the jolting unexpectedness of the plot-twists, if my life will ever feel complete without Yan Meyer in it, the superb acting and distressingly brilliant use of music. God. The Killing was something else. I’m a loser who has spent way too many nights slumped in four-day-old clothing in front of the telly, hopelessly shovelling week-old twiglets into my mouth, wondering how and when my life fell apart; as consequence I have the dubious talent of being a veritable aficionado of the drama series. I can smell plot-twists from a mile off, and sniff contemptuously when they arrive. No holey storyline escapes my discerning scornful gaze, and I normally yawn boredly in a “told-ya-so” sort of way when they reveal the perpetrator- like we didn’t see that one coming. The Killing though, was different. I spent a good twenty hours glued to the screen, and only not in one go due to necessity. It made my skin crawl and my spine tingle and on more then one occasion I wanted to scream out loud with frustration, shock, confusion or a combination of all three. I could write a dissertation on how good The Killing is, but I will stick with the one aspect that left me most ponderous of all. And that’s Sarah Lund. Played by Sofie Gråbøl, very few fictional characters, have made as much of a startling impact on me as she.
Popular culture, I lament, even in our discrimination-free, progressive, post-feminist universe, still lacks, well…women. We, as a populace, are presented with a dismal, flat, one-dimensional mockery of reality; women and femininity, on the most part, reduced down to nothing more than depressing tropes. The sexually empowered white straight woman, probably running a business and otherwise wearing her costume of powerful masculinity in a grim masquerade of liberation. The warrior princess with just enough cleavage on show to quell the disgusted calls of “dyke!” from the sofas of houses all over the nation. Maybe they’ll be a caring maternal figure thrown in for good measure, because, remember girls, you can be whatever you want to be- as long as you’re cute, of course. ‘Empowerment’, or what they can afford to show of it, in modern television culture seems to be synonymous, with, yeah, you guessed it, sex appeal. And that’s what brings me onto one of the many many things I love about Sarah Lund: she is completely un-sexualised.
Popular culture has always kind of stretched the boundaries of realism when it comes to providing sexy-women-folk for the viewer (I mean, how long do you expect us to believe that she could remain on a desert island without those strategically ripped clothes getting seriously in the way or at least allowing for some pretty nasty sunburn). The Killing does not. Sarah, presumably with all her bags packed ready for her new life in Sweden, spends the whole series walking purposefully around Copenhagen in the same two jumpers, with her hair hurriedly tidied into a ponytail, her face belligerently bare of make-up. Alright, this might not seem revolutionary when put like that, (I’m sure there are girls reading this now who are thinking “phhhhf, if she wants that, she only needs to see me at 3 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, still staggering around in my pyjamas”) but I’m sure you’ll agree, in popular culture an Un-sexualised Woman is a Very Big Deal. I spent much of the first few episodes gritting my teeth in stoic anticipation of Sarah inevitably taking her top off as part of some ‘necessary’ subplot (maybe to blot some blood off the floor or something) whilst Jan Meyer looks on appreciatively over a cigarette or a hamburger. But, my friends, it never happened! And I can’t tell you how relieved I was. To find a drama series where the female protagonist is intelligent, discerning, multi-faceted…. human, for Christ’s sake… well, it’s a rare find indeed. There is a big difference of course between ‘sexy’ and ‘sexualised’, and just because Sarah wasn’t playing a cop who fights in a bra and suspenders before going off to her radical hot empowered night-job as a pole dancer, it doesn’t mean she’s not attractive. To me, that matters very little, but it’s so refreshing to have a character who’s attractive in a non-contrived way, (see: most male characters- their sex appeal isn’t based off the fact they walk in on every other scene topless with their six-pack oiled up, it comes as a side. Sex appeal isn’t the main plot for a man, yet for women, you take it away, and apparently you’re left with a hollow shell of a person). It’s fantastic to have a female character who isn’t sexy because that’s how she’s written, because that’s how she HAS to be, but is likeable and relatable and appealing on levels that transcend a vacuous sexiness- ‘attractiveness’ as a by-product of her wonderful humanity, warts and all.
Said humanity being another reason as to why Sarah Lund is a bit feminist icon of our time. Alongside, you know, tirelessly pandering to the male gaze, female characters tend to be fairly… under-developed. You chip away the varnish on the top and there’s nothing underneath. As always, I speak in general terms, but it’s certainly a lot harder to find a complex, multi-dimensional female character than it is to find a male one. And this includes flaws. No one is human without flaws, yet women, if we are grudgingly allowed to consider the radical notion that women are also people, are often forced into one of two categories. 1) flawless heroine- maybe a bit of a shady past, but nothing too socially unacceptable, but is on the whole Good and does everything a woman should; she is sexy and caring and morally righteous and she never makes errors of judgement like her fumbling male counterparts, because she is A Strong Woman. Sadly, this trope has sometimes been misinterpreted as ‘feminist’ simple because it’s not some stepford wife morosely ironing her husbands shirts, but in actuality, a woman that is not allowed to be human, with all the problems this brings, is just as dehumanized as any 50s housewife, any giggling submissive bit-part in a Bond film. The other category is of course the Unforgivable She-Devil a trope so tired and boring I can’t even consider going into any detail. Sarah Lund though, shockingly, wondrously, doesn’t fall into either of these reductive moulds. She is brilliant, granted, but she is also has her weaknesses, and rather that this being perceived as evidence of the ‘inescapably a victim’ part of the feminine identity, it should be seen as The Killing’s revolutionary embracing of the shocking idea that women are people too.
Sarah is single-minded and quick-tempered and mistrustful, and worst of all she commits the most heinous of female crimes; she isn’t the devoted mother figure we all know women are meant to be. But this doesn’t deduct from her brilliance-it enhances it. She is one of the most human female characters I’ve seen on television for a long time, perhaps with the exception of Carrie Mathison, with whom I think Lund bears stark resemblance, and not even just with what I call the Carrie-Complex (intelligent female considered crazy by men around her But We Know She’s Right). She is as imperfect as the rest of us, and for that reason she’s far more relevant than most other post-feminist Strong Woman icon in popular culture, whose creators are so concerned with depicting perceived feminine perfection that they forget that real-life women are as reckless and tarnished and riddled with issues as their male reflections.
Of course, these are but two reasons in one character as to why The Killing is an amazing TV series, and I’ve completely neglected its brilliance as a crime drama in its own right, feminist discourse completely aside. However, great television is…whilst perhaps not ten-a-penny, certainly less precious than a female protagonist as shockingly well-written as Sarah Lund. I could write reviews on excellent television series every other month if I wanted to, but an opportunity to gush over someone like Sarah happens, sadly, only so often. That’s something in dire need of change, but I remain optimistic, and when the time comes when we’re presented with female characters depicted in ways that finally give credit to the wonderful complexity of female existence, I shall remember Sarah Lund as a trailblazer, as a beacon of hope, her proudly over-worn, oversized white jumper a glimmer of salvation in the darkness of the Copenhagen night.
In a story inextricably interwoven with sadness and intrigue, the most overriding tragedy of Anne wasn’t in fact her untimely death, but in the way history has subsequently judged her. How it ridiculed her and demonised her, tried to destroy her legacy and downplay her triumphs. Throughout the years we’ve reduced the many facets personality down to merely her family’s puppet, a victim of circumstance or most often, “the great whore”, the “concubine”. Yet, nearly 500 years after her execution, we remain fascinated by the endlessly complexity of her rise and fall from grace, the political change she both co-ordinated and inspired, and of course, Anne as an individual. And perhaps that’s because her’s is a story in many ways still relevant today.
Centuries before the suffragettes were chaining themselves to fences, even before Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ and way, waaay before the 60’s boom of second-wavers and the birth of post-nineties third-wavers, Anne Boleyn embodied so much of, at least in my opinion as a feminist, the ‘strong woman’ archetype held in in equal amounts of reverence and disdain. And hell, did she pay for it. I mean, what else could happen to a woman who was so intellectually, politically and creatively astute, she won the heart of the King of England almost to the point of obsession, virtually masterminded the break from Rome and helped bring about evangelical reform to Britain, all within the space of a decade, other than be completely and utterly vilified by the populace, history, and eventually even her supporters and the man she married and have her head lopped off?? All this, we must bear in mind, in a world where women where largely completely cut off from power and even if they did have some semblance of authority, they were born with it, in which sense Anne is again an anomaly again ahead of her time- a self-made woman; something that was completely unheard of.
And perhaps that always was the key to Anne’s downfall, and they key to why her find such a figure of admiration and inspiration… the circumstances surrounding her arrest and execution are dubious at the very best and (realistically) utterly contrived at the worst, and simply put, Cromwell, or the King, or both, needed her dead because she was simply too much to handle. To clever, too pious, too confident, too ambitious, too loving, too jealous, too hot-headed, too human… because, after all, that’s something women were, and to some extent, are, not allowed to be.
It’s another matter entirely how all her achievements, as a woman, have been written off; the part she played in shaping the spiritual and political landscape of England post-reformation, as a woman, have been written off; how she was decried as a whore and a slut and the devil-incarnate, simply because she was a powerful person, that was, you know, female. All of that is easy to write of as symptomatic of the society in which she existed in, but it begs the question; only recently have revisionist historians really come to grasps with what an influential figure she was, so how much has really changed? How hard it is nowadays for a woman to claw her way to positions of power, how easy is it for the men around them to manipulate them for their own purposes? How often are women dismissed as dangerous, disgusting, perverse and unnatural for having ambition and belief and self-confidence? How common is that a woman’s intelligence is undermined and belittled? How often are women forced to play the card of the sexuality in order to be recognised for anything, then immediately ridiculed and demonised for doing so?
These are all issues Anne faced. And they are ones alive and thriving today. There’s an universal relevance to her story, and that’s why I think Anne is such an important figure, not only in a historical context, but as an hugely inspirational figure on a personal level, to women, and people on the whole, alive today. Of all the women in history, Anne is one of the most real, the most nuanced and complex, the most fascinating and ambiguous, and above all the most human. And whilst we can look up to her intelligence and creativity, her wit and her dignity, many of of us can also identify with her bad-temper, her impatience, her selfishness and her ruthlessness. Anne Boleyn wasn’t a one sided caricature of a woman, these single-faceted quasi-human representations of femininity we are still bombarded with today (the sexy one, the geeky one, the weak one, the strong one), she embodied primarily a staunch and unflinching humanity, and a personality that still reverberates through the ages despite every effort to quell and dirty and devalue her name. It’s credit to her strength, wisdom and terrible, destructive brilliance that we still talk of her today, and I think, if we cannot take inspiration from that, and stand with her today in solidarity against the forces not only working against women, but many unsung people on the whole, then history has not served it’s purpose. ANNA REGINA 5EVA xx
So, Celebrity Big Brother 2013 has launched, the only show on television that somehow – despite the tackiness, the shamelessness and the hordes of blood-sucking egomaniac z-listers it inevitably attracts year in year out – remains one of the freshest, entertaining and hopelessly addictive shows in the terrifying swirling vortex British reality television. And this year promises no less of a spectacle than ever.
Brian Dowling (the show’s reincarnation onto channel 5 boasts the ex-winner in replacement of Davina Mccall) remains as charismatic a presenter as ever, but the main point of interest to this series is the complex- and therefore, sadistically entertaining- psychosocial interactions the set-up of the Big Brother house will provoke in the contestants.
Reminiscent of series 3 ‘rich-side/poor-side’ divide, this year the contestants are segregated between the luxury of the Big Brother house we all know and love, and a newly introduced ‘Big Brother Basement’, a dingy underground hovel that Dowling repeatedly insists is icy, damp, rat-infested hell-hole, complete with no running water or bedding, and food is found my digging desperately through chewed-up scraps of rotting meat tossed in there presumably by the chortling gentry. In all honesty, it’s doubtful conditions could be that bad without breaking some sort of human right, and upon closer inspection the BBB, as from hereafter it shall be known, appears more like your average, clean, dry underground bunker, albeit painted an optimistically desolate shade of grey. It’s a shame really- in 2013, you’d think we were one step closer to reality TV becoming more like the Hunger Games, but we can live in hope that things will get desperate; maybe if the food rations down there are that drastic the contestants might resort to cannibalism. The bafflingly named ‘Razor’ could be a likely candidate, perhaps.
However, the sentiment still stands; from the word go there is a) a major social divide between the two halves of the house, in terms of standards of living and b) six contestants either affably “being understanding”, or loathing the guts of the contestants who sent them to their fate (more on that later). This is where it gets juicy, deliciously so. The way people react in alien environments and social situations is one of the main attractions of BB, and the immediate imposing of a social hierarchy, and the instant turning of contestants against on another will make very interesting viewing indeed.
Big Brother, and reality of shows of its ilk are often criticised for their mindlessness (criticisms that tend to occur in, well, somewhat of a mindless fashion, often with very little exposure the shows themselves), but one feature of the basement couldn’t escape notice, and probably not without reason. Across one wall is scrawled “WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER”. Ring any bells? Only a few months ago was David Cameron spewing such rhetoric in a desperate, and ultimately transparent attempt, to conceal the widening gap and pronounced inequalities his austerity measures were bringing in. And in a room meant to represent the poverty-stricken underclass of a show meant to be (to some extent at least) a microcosm of reality- a coincidence? Or a cutting social comment? Well done Big Brother, you’ve done us proud again.
The contestants themselves are predictably the sorts of “celebrities” only a very select few have ever heard off. Frankie Detorri, a widely gesticulating jockey, and Rylan Clark of X-Factor fame are the first two to be introduced, and are given the task of dividing the housemates between the grandeur of the actual house and the Squalid Basement of Doom and Despair. With Rylan and Frankie perched together upon the diary room chair where they are forced to make their agonising decisions, the effect is hilarious. Rylan is a six-foot-five model and Frankie is, well, a jockey. He looks like Rylan’s marionette.
The housemates arrive in twos, like animals boarding Noah’s Ark, with similar amounts of anxiety and bewilderment, and a hell of a lot more nauseating self-promotion. Third housemate to arrive was former model Paula Hamilton, whose introductory video did her no favours, (obviously she was playing tacticaly when boasting about her “extremely glamorous and very privileged lifestyle”) getting her the first boos of the night and earning her a stay in the basement from Frankie and Rylan, picked as potentially more annoying over a bejewelled but likeably bubbly Tricia Penrose.
Actor Ryan Maloney was next up (Big Brother Basement) followed swiftly by former EastEnder actress Gillian Taylforth (Big Brother House). Next, Sam Robertson of Beaver Falls dubious stardom, was to join those lurking in the grime below decks, whereas page 3 model “”””Lacey Banghard”””” a name, considering her profession that sounds suspiciously as though she wasn’t given it at birth, joins the gaggle of women inhabiting the Big Brother House. Again, she received more than her fair share of boos, and she seems the sought of girl that people will initially hate on reflex for the fact she takes her top off for a living (rather than criticise a system where such a presentation of women is widespread and acceptable, although that’s another story) and her already evident (and probably over-exaggerated- for a culture that’s quick to objectify a woman is equally quick to vilify, taunt and stereotype the same woman for fulfilling the desires of male sexual gratification it demands of her) idiocy, then slowly her dim-wittedness and innocent charm make her a fun, endearing victim and subsequent a housemate favourite.
Claire Richards, former star of Steps and woman seemingly so sweet it probably gave half the viewers toothache through the screen came next, and was promptly joined by ex-footballer Neil “Razor” Ruddock, describing himself a “living legend” a “lad’s lad” and boasting about his performance in the bedroom instantly won the hearts of the nation, although mystifyingly not Frankie and Rylan, who sent him to join the rest of the serfs in the BBB.
The last contestant, as for some reason they apparently lack the intellectual or emotional capacity to act as autonomous human beings in their own right, was a conjunction of Heidi Montag and the fitting named Spencer Pratt, who for some reason decided upon entering a reality in show where you spend literally 24/7 around other people with nothing to distract you, when he by his own admittance “doesn’t really like other people”. Go figure. In act of heart-warming selfless (it was obviously to protect the girls from already profoundly irritating couple), Rylan and Frankie decided in fact that they themselves would be joining Claire, Lacey, Tricia and Gillian in the luxury of the house, whilst Heidi and Spencer would have to suffer the torments of the BBB.
Six upstairs, and six down. Already simmering resentment building between the classes. An intriguing social divide that adds another dimension to what has always been a thought-provoking programme in terms of social psychology in the first place. Glamour models, top models, actors, drama queens. Vacuous, vain, vapid and self-obsessed? Of course. But uninteresting it ain’t. Plus, it’s only day one.
First aired on the 18th November, The Secret of Crickley Hall is a well-executed, disquieting television adaptation of James Herbert’s novel of the same name. Ground-breaking, eye-opening, barrier smashing; Crickley Hall is… er, none of these things, actually. So why is still such an entertaining television show?
Ghosts, vampires, frenziedly butchering axe-men and anything in between are still big news- and quite often, big money- in the film and television industry, and it would be safe to say that the Horror market (such a ridiculously vague umbrella term for a whole plethora of sub-genres) is alive and thriving, even if some of its characters are not. But sometimes you have to ask… why? People flock to the cinemas for midnight viewings of the latest exorcism film, the Paranormal Activity franchise has reached its 4th instalment (films admirable for their relentless, desperate effort if nothing else) and as you’re reading this, chances are someone is slipping their copy of The Grudge into their DVD player for the sixth-hundredth time, even though they know the story backwards… and what for? Even the most ardent, passionate horror film fans (and whilst fanatical probably isn’t the correct term to use, this author counts herself amongst the genre’s many admirers) would be the first to admit that, well… it’s all a bit the same. A bit predictable. The ‘twists and turns’ the adverts shriek and rave about are more like languid meanders along well-worn, tired plots. But we still watch it. We still love it, we lap it up, every stale morsel. And Crickley Hall is no exception.
Looking earnestly sad in mandatory graveyard.
The Horror genre, like any other genre, is of course defined by its conventions. It’s only a personal opinion that Horror-conforming pieces of media- be it films, TV series or even video games- seem to get far more bogged down in what constitutes ‘horror’ than its action, romance or comedy counterparts. Crickley Hall is another example; every horror convention you could dream of is there (they even go so far as to self-consciously reference The Shining). Spooky old house? Check. Unsolved mystery of the cute missing child? Of course. Creepy old man who wanders round graveyards looking a bit forlorn? You got it. Eerily giggling ghosts of wartime orphans? Yeah, put it in. There’s even a Ring-esque well situated in the cellar (yes) of the aforementioned Spooky Old House- the Crickley Hall of the title, where our present-day family Eve (Suranne Jones), Gabe (Tom Ellis) and their two remaining kids Loren and Cally are spending a few months in a conveniently gothic ex-orphanage, so as to simultaneously avoid the anniversary of their son’s disappearance and allow Tom Ellis’ character to engage in the short-term contract he got in the area. On top of this, the series follows as parallel narrative (one that, in some ways surprisingly (considering the awful clunky way such a format is sometimes exploited) tends to work quite well and smoothly, and often succeeds in the tension build-up so necessary in this sort of drama) of Crickley Hall back in the second world war era, when it was an orphanage, run under the tyrannical regime of a cane-wielding, disproportionately bad-tempered Augustus Cribben (Douglas Henshall) and his irritating sister Magda (Sarah Smart). It’s within this narrative we meet the endearingly outraged Nancy (Olivia Cooke) and her sweetheart Percy Judd (Iain de Caestecker) who appears looking sorrowful and hopeless in the modern-day plot too.
From talks of an enigmatic, fatal flooding, to the unavoidable occurrence of the “creepy scratching sound emanating from cupboard #2”, and the ghost of an abusive authoritarian stalking the house at night indiscriminately smacking those in his path with a cane as though corporal punishment hadn’t been outlawed years ago- the audacity!- all hinted at inevitable unrest- The Secret of Crickley Hall was never going to be A Super Happy Fun Slide, it was immediately apparent. It couldn’t have screamed “THIS IS A VERY SCARY SERIES VERY SCARY WE PROMISE GUARANTEED BLADDER DISCOMFORT OR YOUR MONEY BACK” if had had a banshee wailing such a statement over the opening credits.
So why, I hear you lament, why is Crickley Hall worth watching, if it’s such a predictable, stagnant pool of recycled, washed out clichés? Why, if it’s so past it’s sell-by-date, if we’ve seen it all before, if it’s so terribly, gut-wrenchingly dull, should we watch it? Why is it even on air, in fact?! Take it off immediately, it’s an embarrassment even to the comforting mediocrity of the BBC drama!
Why? Because horror is safe, that’s why. There’s an undeniable peacefulness with the predictability. If you think that you can’t imagine anything more stupid than seeking comfort in the arms of a crumbling Victorian manor or a moonlit graveyard, then you’re just not watching enough horror. I promise, after a while, you’ll see what I mean. They’re all the same. And that’s what’s great about them. We want to be scared, of course we do, but we want to have our fears reconciled. We want it to be all alright, as it so often isn’t in real life. We want our imaginary ghosties and ghoulies as fantasy replacements for the all-top-real threats of the day to day mundane. We want someone to have it worse than us. We want the creaking door, the last girl, the momentary relief before the shocking climaxbecause it’s what we’re used to. If Crickley Hall didn’t follow these conventions, was “fresh” and “ground-breaking” and all these other wonderful words that if you applied them to a horror piece of media would render it an immediate flop- it wouldn’t be Horror. It needs the dilapidated old house, wind whistling through the cracks in the roof of the attic dormitory, the mournful old man, the whispering children, otherwise it wouldn’t have half the appeal it does now, even if we’ve seen it all before. What the horror genre’s fault-finders use as the greatest criticism is also it’s greatest virtue.
Yes, of course it gets a bit irritating. Why is it always the spookiest house on within miles that the car breaks down in front of? And why does she, ohmygodWHY, does she continue down the hall at 3am after hearing the wailings of some lost soul, when we all know the sanest thing is to pull the covers over your head and pray that you’re just having a mild breakdown? It’s obvious, it’s annoying, and it makes you want to bite your hand off at the utter stupidity of the characters- but that’s what makes a horror. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t deny it. It’s one of the most solid, unchangeable genres, one that has stood the test of time like no other, one that refuses to change because, damn it, it knows it’s perfect the way it is.
Crickley Hall isn’t faultless, and it certainly won’t go down in history. But so what? It’s entertaining, convincing, with some great acting, and it’s wonderfully, genuinely spooky. A joyous collaboration of every ghost-story convention so far known to mankind, and it’s that very tranquil transparency of plot that makes it such great viewing. And okay, we might all have a good idea of how it ends, but guess what? That doesn’t matter. And I’m still going to be cowering behind cushions come the finale, and I suggest you do the same.
Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours” (2002) is a fearless exploration of alienation, mental anguish and the complex web of interconnectivity between ourselves and others- in this case three women; Virginia Woolf (played by Nicole Kidman), writing her novel Mrs Dalloway, Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) a frustrated ‘50s American housewife on the verge of collapse and working her way through the aforementioned novel, and Meryl Streep’s character Clarissa Vaughan, who, living in 2001 NYC, is planning a party for her friend, who alongside being a celebrated writer, is suffering from AIDS. All three women, directly or indirectly are affected by depression, suicide and the affect it has on those around the sufferer, in the duration of the film.
It becomes immediately apparent, not only the relationships each character holds with the people surrounding them, but the way each of the three women are connected to each other as well. Filmicly, it’s illustrated subtly yet intentionally, the parallel narratives and the plethora of similarities between all three characters and/or their situations are undeniable, whether it be a shared experience with the novel Mrs Dalloway itself, each of the writers committing suicide, even down to such minute details as Clarissa’s name being shared with the protagonist of Woolf’s novel. Each character, however, has their own way of dealing with what goes around them, and dealing with the people that surround them too- perhaps it’s the investigation of the alienating affects of mental illnesses such as depression, and subsequently how that affects those close to the afflicted that is the most commendable feat of the film.
Depression, not unlike a whole array of other mental illnesses, is one whose understanding is clouded by the stigma of public perception- something that “The Hours” goes some way to investigate. Those afflicted by the condition are often met with, rather than sympathy, bewilderment that someone who has it “so good” could feel that depth of despair; certainly, when Virginia’s husband comments that “if I could walk midmorning, I’d be a happy man”, we can’t help but see the implications, the questioning of why Virginia herself is unhappy, if she can have such privileges. Likewise, when Laura Brown’s visitor exclaims “I don’t understand why you find it so difficult” we as an audience can only assume that she wasn’t just talking about the cake, and the comment was loaded with deeper significance. It highlights the confusion a lot of friends and families feel when a loved one is struck ill with depression, the misunderstanding, and the despair of why they just can’t “get on with it”.
Equally, it seems to illustrate the symptoms of depression and behaviours exhibited by the depressed with relative clarity. Laura Brown’s repressed emotional agony is perhaps our most recognised manifestation of the illness, a private torment rather than an outward exhibitionism. Virginia’s cold exterior might be in part true to her real-life mythology, but perhaps here we encounter yet another face of the illness- in the three case we’re provided with in the film, Virginia, Laura and Richard (Clarissa’s writer friend), all faces should be- when we consider the reality of their condition- seen as brave.
Perhaps what is most interesting and relevant about the film, is the way that it portrays the effect depression has on not only those it affects, but those who surround them. One thing often discussed when talking of depression is the paradox of the sick persons temperament. By it’s nature, depression is an isolating illness, but there is always a part of the person that wants to recover, wants to survive and will reach out to do so, even if they cannot articulate the pain they are in or the help that they need. “The Hours” illustrates this perfectly. The desperation behind Virginia’s kissing of her sister couldn’t fail to move anyone, her frantic clutching at a lifeline, a bridge into the outside world, of a normality free of terrifying swings in mood she was forced to experience. She herself attests that “even crazy people like to be asked” out, and perhaps that is the most striking thing about Virginia’s story in the film; not only is she isolated and imprisoned by her illness, but her illness and made her incapable, under doctors orders, of experiencing the freedom she so desires, leaving her trapped in a vicious cycle.
Simultaneously, the exploration of Virginia’s condition in particular also highlights the frustration many depressives encounter when confronted about “expert opinion” on their illness. To under go such private, hellish torment is bad enough, and then to be told that you no longer know what’s best for you on top of that must make the whole thing next to unendurable. Depressives are often met with gentle patronising when discussing their issues, indeed Leonard Woolf rather condescendingly declares- considering the immense intellectual and creative power Virginia held as an individual, not to mention the often ignored self-discipline she must have possessed in order to still create work of such beauty even when in the clutches of a crippling mental disorder- “it’s not your voice” when Virginia was trying to explain to him they way she was feeling. To have decision making, especially about your own life, removed from your power because you’re deemed “too ill” to make your own decisions would be hard for anyone, but for someone of Virginia’s intelligence, it would’ve been in itself maddening. She explodes; “only I can understand my own condition”, a feeling echoed by many depressives, not to mention people affected by innumerable other mental disorders, and perhaps rightly so, when they’re dealing with such a personal torture.
The “selfishness” of depression in particular is something often quoted by those affected indirectly by it- even if they don’t necessarily mean that the inflicted themselves are intrinsically selfish people, they still manage to imply the disorder itself is selfish, or the sufferers are at least made selfish by the disorder. “The Hours” tackles this with surprising sensitivity. Virginia insists, to Leonard that she “wish[es] that I could be happy for you”, and, instead of decrying her as an abhorrent anti-mother, when it’s revealed that Laura Brown, after he decided against committing suicide for the first time, disappeared and abandoned her two children, it’s addressed with understanding and emotion, sympathy for what Laura went through. One grave misunderstanding about depressives and the tragic suicides that sometimes accompany them is the idea that the act of taking one’s own life, or abandoning the life you were leading, is a selfish action. Indeed, it might adversely affect those around you, and you might be doing it simply to make yourself feel better again, or at least to make the bad go away- but, as the now-aged Laura Brown asserts, it’s not through decision-making in the purest, most stable form it comes in- depressive act the way they do because they, quite simply, feel they have “no choice” in the matter. Laura Brown, if she wanted to save herself, realised it was the only thing she could do. They are slaves to the emotions they are burdened with, and rather than decry the suicidally depressed as self-involved and uncaring, we should take into account the depth or misery the must be feeling in order to have such thoughts in the first place- certainly, it’s a place the vast majority of people should be incredibly grateful they never have to visit.
However, the affect suicides do have on those surrounding the deceased wasn’t completely brushed over. When Richard finally flings himself from his apartment building, Clarissa’s didn’t meet it with understanding, and quite rightly too. The agony those who witness a suicide, especially of a close friend, having to deal with the assortment of thoughts of guilt and self-blame that come with it, can only be second, presumably, to the pain of the suicidal person themselves. Clarissa tries to convince him to stay, telling him “people stay alive for each other”; that to kill himself would not only destroy him, but destroy her with it. Sadly, as is the case with many suicides around the world, Richard couldn’t see it from her perspective. Any human desire for self-preservation, or thought for those around him was consumed, in the all-encompassing way of depression, and Richard knew that if he were unable to live with the terrible emotions he was burdened with, and if they only way to get rid of them was by getting rid of himself in the process, so be it. Perhaps it’s a sombre note for the film to virtually close with, but a harsh reality of an often fatal illness.
Despite this, no-one can say “The Hours” is a film without optimism- Laura Brown does recover, despite both Virginia’s and Richard’s suicides, and despite, or even perhaps because of the way the other characters were affected by those around them who took their own lives, they carried on with their lives- as Virginia Woolf said “people need to die in order for other’s to appreciate life”. Regardless, for all it’s artistic merit, emotional power and cinematic prowess, “The Hours” is still a sobering reminder of what terror the prospect of oncoming time strikes in the heart of those depressed, those whose life is a constant battle with oneself, those who fear those dreaded hours that gave the film it’s name, with an all-consuming intensity, terror and crushing anxiety many can’t hypothetically fathom, much less contend with.
Despite the elegant prose and style, the intriguing characters and innumerable layers of deeper meaning, perhaps it’s surprising that Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin ever did in fact find the success, both critically and commercially, it merited.
In the context of our contemporary world, writing such a book could arguably have been a risk. As if talk of disenfranchised, psychopathic youth and school-yard massacres aren’t taboo enough, this is also a day and age where admitting to maternal apathy is less acceptable than throwing a party celebrating your conversion to neo-Nazism, where realising you don’t want a- or, even more unforgivably, you do not like your- child is enough to send a woman into such a turmoil of-what-am-I-doing-wrong, what-sort-woman-am-I? that such a scenario is barely even spoken of. Being a Reluctant Mother is the most unspeakable sort of hate crime, and is subsequently swept under the carpet. In other words, we live in a place where the anti-mother is the new anti-Christ.
Yet, those are the themes, possibly more than the tragedy of school massacres, or the unmentionable what-ifs that must swirl round parents minds when they look at their children (after all, no parent wants to admit that their child would turn out a monster, nor does anyone want to come to terms with the fact that even monsters have mothers.) that Kevin tackles. In this novel, themes are not touched upon, but shaken ferociously by the shoulders, until the reader is left with swimming vision and ringing ears. Kevin is not a light novel, but a novel a dense, impenetrable and though-provoking, a novel that asks more questions than it answers, not just about the multi-layered, difficult characters, or the overbearing whys of Thursday and the ‘Thursdays’ that have happened all over America, but ultimately about the reader themselves, about where the reader would stand in the context of the story, and where the reader stands in their own reality. And that’s what makes it such a brilliant, foreboding piece of literature.
We Need To Talk About Kevin, told through the first person narrative of witty, successful travel writer Eva Katchadourian, tells a retrospective story; of her relationship with Franklin (her presumably estranged husband to whom the book- presented in a series of letters- is written to) and of the birth, and subsequent life up until her present, of their first son Kevin. It details her ambivalence to becoming a mother, her “shocking” dispassion at his birth and recounts many a tale of torment from the son she never really wanted. We are aware from the start of what Kevin did, what “Thursday” means, and thus, our perception of Kevin is tainted from the off, but of course, we are not alone in that. Eva is the quintessential unreliable narrator- is she writing a truthful, unbiased account of her experience with her son, or has a memory been tarnished with the benefit of hindsight? This, and many other questions are left tantalising unanswered in the novel; ultimately the reader has to decide own their own, whether it was Eva’s “fault”, if Kevin was inherently evil, or if it were a combination of the two. Complete with a spectacular twist, it’s hard to give too much of the plot away with spoiling the novel completely.
Lionel Shriver is not a mother. Many were unsurprised. Perhaps it isn’t a shock, considering that nature of the novel and the nature of Eva Khatchadourian’s relationship with her son, Kevin. Lionel Shriver doesn’t even have a girl’s name, a rejection of the ideal of society’s “femininity” echoed by Eva’s arguable rejection of her ultimate-feminine role- a mother. Would the novel have been different if a parent had written it? Or even, would the novel have even been written at all? Maybe it’s the freedom that comes from being “barren”- the cruel sobriquet branded on childless women as if they are indeed lacking something- the thing that finally makes somebody a True Female- that gave the author the free rein in which to tackle the rarely-spoken-of potential emotions that could come with motherhood- ones far, far from the realm of gooey, unconditional adoration and all the other glossy, rose-tinted ideals we’re taught to expect. Shriver, with her self-professed “hostility” towards the idea of motherhood, would certainly have given this novel the skew it maintains, one, many argue, that wouldn’t have been apparent if the author had been a mother. But how many mothers have secretly felt the way Eva Khatchadourian did? Arguably, that’s one reason for it’s enormous popularity. Through Eva, Shriver articulated motherhood’s unspoken, unspeakable fears and doubts, and whilst surely the novel reads differently to everyone, but particularly those who have children and those who don’t, it certainly captivated both parties.
Written in 2003, We Need To Talk About Kevin, found it’s conception at the hands of an American writer, in the USA- the same country that, four years earlier, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had walked into their school one April morning and murdered 13 people. Since then “Doing a Columbine” has been synonymous with all- and there have been many- crimes of it’s type- a fact that the fictional Kevin meets with scathing derision, presumably from annoyance that his own killing spree didn’t get coined in the same manner.
Kevin is, undoubtedly a very American novel, from the nature of the crimes carried out by Kevin and referenced throughout the novel (such crimes occurring almost exclusively within American), not to mention Eva’s distaste for the country and what it represents, and the juxtaposition of Franklin’s (almost comical blind patriotism. It could be said Franklin is representative of stereotypical “Americanism”- with his perpetual optimism (what Eva calls his “rounding-up”); his naivety that borders on stupidity many a time through the novel, especially in regards to his blindness to Kevin’s obviously borderline psychopathic personality traits, and Eva imagines at the end that Franklin would never have thought anything like Thursday would ever have happened to them because “This was America. And you had done everything right. Ergo, this could not be happening.” Eva, on the other hand, is face to a more cynical, “cosmopolitan” outlook on life, a complete contrast to Franklin’s, and that, and her suspicions towards her son, leading her to, in Franklin’s eyes, ruin the idyllic image he hold of white-middle-class suburban American family life, culminating in him asking for a separation. More importantly in many ways, as the contrasts between Eva and Franklin become more noticeable, so do they similarities between Eva and Kevin, a fact that sits uncomfortably on Eva’s shoulders.
The context of both the author and the time that the novel was both written and based in is of the utmost importance. This is a story, very specific, and balanced delicately on the knifes edge of the time-place continuum. Of course, similar could be argued about most novels, but certainly, in regards to Kevin it is very much doubtful that the novel would have such tremendous impact if it had been written at another time or about another place. Such incidents as Thursday are still relatively commonplace; in the timeline of the novel, Thursday takes place a mere few days before the infamous Columbine massacre and the idea of feeling anything but love towards ones own child sends many a modern stomach churning with disgust.
One thing remarkable about Kevin is the complexity of the characters we are presented with, most notably Eva who is, of course, the narrator with which the reader empathises with most. The confidential tone of the letters is refreshing, and presumably honest, and we sympathise with her, despite that from the off she concedes to having never really wanted Kevin. Even with the growing apparentness of her coldness towards her son and her aloof character, and despite our wariness of it, the reader is regardless struck by how humble, charming and most importantly human Eva is. And for that reason, we trust her. Despite this, she is perhaps difficult to love, although in truth, all the best characters are aren’t they? Franklin’s blindness to his sons misgivings gets tiresome quickly, but initially we are left wondering if Eva does in fact pick faults with “perfectly normal” son behaviour, simply because of her buried resentment of his existence in the first place. She can be “harsh”, as Kevin concedes on their day out playing mini-gold, before questioning why Eva is surprised Kevin would be any different.
Whilst on the most part her immediate jumping to the worst conclusions in regards to her sons behaviour, there are times when she is proved wrong. Certainly, this is Eva telling the story; Shriver herself remains curiously absent throughout. We are never wholly sure whether we should fully trust Eva; as a writer herself, why wouldn’t she fictionalise accounts- she certainly imagines Thursday with the same clarity present throughout the rest of the novel, despite her not being present herself. Bottom line is, can we trust what she says? Are her years spent virtually tormented by her son a mere figment of her imagination, conjured up with the dubious benefit of retrospect? Or was Kevin always out to get her from the moment he opened his eyes?
Either is unlikely, considering the events detailed, but Kevin himself is nor more a blank, one-dimensional character than his mother is, but, despite finding his name in the title, the novel is perhaps more an exploration of his mother than the boy himself- a fact he’d probably feel slightly bereft about.
Kevin Khatchadourian remains an enigma throughout the novel, as much to the reader as to Eva herself- although an uncomfortably charismatic one. The love- if that’s the right word- he holds for his mother seems dubious, as does the love Eva holds for Kevin himself, although by the end of the novel the fog does clear a little, in a few pretty heart-breaking scenes. Kevin is, in many respects, a completely hideous person, and yet, when Eva admits to her plans for the future- one that perhaps perplexingly to many, involves him, we can understand. Throughout the novel, Eva is continually committing the unforgivable crime of becoming the much-loathed anti-mother; as much a figure of distrust in contemporary reality as in the parallel world of literature- yet, by the end of the novel, she is more a maternal figure than many readers could imagine themselves, if they were crashed into the same situation, as she virtually forgives her son.
There’s no denying that Kevin is a complex, fascinating and genuinely great novel. However, no piece of literature is without drawbacks. Many of the more minor characters seem to be mere caricatures of humanity- even if Franklin’s chummy-American-dad-republican-naivety was a creation of the character himself, it does get frustrating that he lacks the depth of Eva- although maybe that’s just the way life works. It’s certainly more apparent with the minor characters- Laura Woolford couldn’t have been more contrived if Shriver has tried. An achingly dim anoretic beauty-queen? Certainly, you could argue it’s Eva’s own prejudices and cold demeanour that leads her to dismiss her hospitalisation as down to her own “stupidity”, but it does seem doubtful. Shriver, having presumably never suffered from an eating disorder herself, successfully joined the irritating horde of authors who represent such illness in the most infuriatingly ignorant light possible. But perhaps it’s pedantic to pick fault with that- after all, Shriver is an author not a psychiatrist. Regardless, it would a refreshing change to see minor characters to not seemingly but cut out of cardboard left over from our societies own ignorance.
Similarly, you could probably find faults in the brooding, alienated teenager archetype of Kevin, and the simpering sweetness of the younger sister Celia, but perhaps this novel simply wouldn’t have worked without these stereotypes at it’s foundations- after all, the reader needs to be able to base it in a reality, even if it’s a reality of their own prejudice. Moreover, Kevin is perhaps, in many ways too easy to like, especially for it to form a convincing story. Whilst the idolisation of real-life Kevin’s (see the numerous sites dedicated to the Columbine due, Klebold and Harris) is by no-means unheard of, for many readers it’s simply wrong to like Kevin as much as you do whilst reading. Of course, your interpretation of and sympathy for the character will differ depending on who is reading, but with Kevin’s easily identifiable melancholy, frustration, apathy. pent-up anger, nihilism, distaste for his classmates and his insecurity about where he will find his niche in the world is so easily identifiable by many teenagers, if Shriver was trying to paint a terrifying picture of a psychopathic murderer with zero morals, then it’s arguable she failed. Chances are however, considering the nature of Kevin’s overall character that’s not the case, but it still could well alienate many a reader who in many ways would be rightly appalled by the atrocities Kevin carries out.
However, We Need To Talk About Kevin was undoubtedly one of the most relevant and well-written novels of the last decade, touching on subjects sure to resonate for years to come. Outstanding yet unsettling, it has a morbid beauty, both in content and prose, draws the reader into caring about the characters possibly even more fiercely than they care about each other, and whilst the discomfort of the stories nature is at many times bitter and palpable, it’s not a feeling you should try and escape. Kevin is a novel with undeniable impact; the ripples it leaves in your mind never fully settle, and the questions it demands answered never fully quieten, and it’s haunting importance on infinite levels and will linger long after you’ve turned the last page.