Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Message to the Planet” #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


Well, well well – I was worried about getting to this one as it’s traditionally been ‘the one I don’t really like’ but you could knock me down with a feather this time round (the third time of reading at very least; I can’t remember when I read them all before the time before last, unfortunately) as it wasn’t horrible! It was terribly Murdochian, full of themes and little echoes of the other books, and really not bad at all. OK, it’s never going to be my favourite, but I’m glad I ignored the friends who said, “If you don’t want to read it, don’t read it” and persisted with my Challenge!

A note on the edition: I’ve got the hardback and paperback first editions (Chatto & Windus and then Penguin) and I feel this is the only other one, a Vintage Classics one but one of the ones they didn’t do with a red spine, and with no additional introduction. It’s even the same print on the pages. Not great value and I sort of wish I hadn’t bothered. They certainly aren’t going to do this in their fancy new-new edition. Mind you, from now on it’s a first and a Penguin for all of us, as Vintage don’t appear to have ever published the final two novels.

If you’re doing the readalong or even selected books along with me, or of course some time afterwards, do share how you’re getting on and which have been your favourites so far.

Iris Murdoch – “The Message to the Planet”

(28 December 2018)

As in “The Book and the Brotherhood”, we have another loose group of friends and their friends who met at university (or art college), only this time one of them is apparently dying, believing himself cursed by Marcus Vallar, a sort of Crimond-in-overdrive who turned his hand to maths and painting then vanished. But one of the friends has tracked him down and wants to bring him to the house where Jack, successful painter and trying to introduce his latest mistress into his house, is waited on by the ever-patient Franca, the worm who will never turn. Will Marcus return and un-curse Patrick? Is he a visionary or a madman? Set between London and a very posh psychiatric hospital and the village it’s near, the book examines truth and madness, Jewishness and faith, marriage and adultery.

In themes, we have hair, with Franca’s great big complicated bun coming down at moments of stress and Marcus’ red-gold hair, cropped savagely but still shining, as does Alison’s, growing out from one of those Murdoch pixie cuts. Water is always present, sheets of it front of grand houses and and characters talk by the Thames when in London. Marcus swims in the pool while Franca and Maisie indulge in some wild swimming in the river. Stones, of course, the Axle Stone the main one and lots of stones given as gifts or picked up and chinking together in Ludens’ pocket. As usual, people give each other stones, too. Maisie loves stones and collects them at her house: a good person, if not a saint. There are no animals until the dog at the end which signals and makes real Irina’s new situation – a really beautifully drawn dog, though!

There are lots of echoes – Franca burns papers when she moves in the house, Marcus and Irina when they move from the Red Cottage. Franca and then Alison proposition Ludens. Ludens and Patrick are doubled up as servants and devotees of Marcus (although Ludens does all the work afterwards). Ludens is given two stones, and there are two great houses with ponds in front of them. Ludens thinks of Marcus as his father, so he has two fathers (both true) as well as two mothers (one dead, true, one stepmother, false).

The book has the usual foreshadowings and doominess. We are told that Ludens’ last encounter with Marcus was somehow horrific and never spoken about (and find out what it was) and this extends to Ludens’ lodger writing to him with something to tell (which does eventually come out), and Ludens feels as if he is waiting for something to happen.

Marcus is clearly the enchanter figure here. He’s introduced as such from the beginning:

‘He damaged you,’ said Jack. ‘He was a bit of a cold fish. But he didn’t harm Ludens, and he positively helped me, he set me up!’ (p2)

He is described as having “stunned admirers” (p. 8) and we continue to see him from lots of different viewpoints, stressing the effect he has had on people, with his “air of superiority” (p. 9) although it’s noteworthy that women tend to find him “awful” (IM’s emphasis). He bewitches Fanny and then of course there’s the sort of collective hysteria of the Stone People and village folk (although the woman from the pub remains unconvinced and Ludens says it’s making him in to a charlatan). Jack even calls him “That old enchanter” (p. 348)

Who is the saint? I rather think it is Franca. Surely the fact that she is described as “concentrat[ing] her attention” on what Marcus is doing when he’s reanimating Patrick is significant, given IM’s insistence on attention as a virtue. Patrick has described Franca as a saint to Alison and Alison is infuriated by Franca’s “genuine – genuine goddamn unselfishness!” (p. 447). (However, this selfishness does win out in the end). Alison later, in her letter leaving Jack, refers to her “humble, I suppose saintly is the word, courage which enables her to stay in place” (p. 525). At the end, Franca has fought the battle “and been perfectly defeated” and has not a triumphant but a “relieved exhausted defeated smile” (p. 539) and perhaps this is what gives her her sainthood. However, it is Ludens who says “We just live in bottomless chaos and have to help each other, that’s all” (p. 166) which is a good portrayal of IM writing on how to be good. Wanting to be a saint, maybe, Marcus talks about the need to be “empty yet attentive” (p. 353) but I’m not sure he achieves this. Marzillian describes Marcus in terms of what “great saints and mystics” experience, but I don’t think he can be a saint, however much he’s worked miracles, as he doesn’t absorb pain and other people’s experiences but seems to upset and control people instead. Then, what about Gildas, defrocked priest, on the edges taking in things and not passing them on, and ending up evicted and poor but planning to

try out life at the bottom and see if it is possible to help other people, a thing incidentally which he never tried to do. (p. 560)

I very much liked Marcus’ amazement at what people saw in his paintings: he “could ‘see nothing’ of the so-called ‘meanings’, some of which shocked him very much” (p. 11) which echoes IM’s own comments on the reader seeing what they want to see in her novels (cf my work on Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader).  This flash of humour is an admittedly rare one in the book. The threatening figure of Marcus’ Japanese teacher, always looming around in his last flat, does raise a smile, but there’s little other outright humour that I could find (though some farce with letters, a mess made of moving Franca’s divan and some savage irony with leavings and settings-up-with). Maybe Franca is a bit amusing in a horrible way with her dead grey faces in the waves and image of dead babies while she watches Alison eating cake, and Ludens’ struggle with his trousers when preparing to go to bed with Irina is also funny for a few paragraphs. Ludens again gives us a smile as he approaches the fringes of madness:

When he had an image of the two stones fighting in his pocket Ludens decided to close down this line of thought unless he wished to become one of Marzillian’s patients. (p. 370)

IM’s feminist comments, long denied by me now seen everywhere rotate mainly around Franca and her situation. What seems almost natural in their Bohemian world is criticised strongly by the rather wonderful Maisie Tether, who also gets Franca painting again. Franca’s own art was lost when she married, and she’s seen as having lost the ability to stop all this mistresses by not putting her foot down at the beginning, although why she did not is plausibly explained: “Oh the lies women believe, and will to believe and want to believe!” (p. 171) or “too tired and too silly to realise you are able to go away” (p. 268). She has had her mother’s example, too, of course: “Her mother’s miserable docile life with that cruel man” (p. 406). The strongest words indeed are put in Maisie’s mouth:

I know about husbands, I know their little ways, I’ve watched them at work, thank God I never had one. He loves you and cherishes you but two painters in the family won’t do. You got married and decided you weren’t much good! That’s our history in a nutshell! Now isn’t it time for you to fight back? (p. 248)

So you prefer a permanent unfaithfulness to an occasional one, you collude in a situation which demeans you, and exposes him as a rotter! And if the girl enjoys it she must be a vulgar hussy! Are you living in a dream world? I find this disgusting, I pity you! (p. 250)

She even has something to say about education:

I can’t see the point of co-education, it’s always the girls who suffer, they have enough trouble with men without positively asking for it. (p. 266)

and I do like her complaint about nuns in short skirts! Alison takes to drink when she discovers “what a swindle it all was” (p. 448)

In links to other books, once again poor old Franca finds that Jack likes to see her “sewing or cooking or doing anything quiet and rhythmical in the house” (p. 22-3): I’m not sure when this sewing thing starts but it’s come up again and again in the more recent slew of the books. Patrick’s song about the silver spoon echoes the dying Guy’s song in “Nuns and Soldiers”. We have several instances of looking in and out of windows – Ludens looking in at Marcus, then Irina seen on the lawn with a bicycle. Then Ludens actually follows Irina through the twilight, and runs after the white figure of Fanny at the stone, so we’re back to flitting figures and their chasers, then Irina sees Fanny standing on the grass and later still Ludens follows Marcus through the dewy grass. There is talk by Marcus of metamorphosis – a big challenge –  and Ludens wonders if he’s having to go through an ordeal (cf every main character since about “Nuns and Soldiers”) and at the end is back in London, his quest over. Marcus describes his mind as being “like fishes in a net”, harking back to the first novel, perhaps (p. 167). Jack has a bronze dancing shiva and isn’t that mentioned in “The Book and the Brotherhood” or is it just on the front of the paperback? The large grey stone on a plinth echoes the Lingam Stone in “The Good Apprentice”. We have another saintly father in Maisie Tether’s and I wonder if this is another nod to IM’s beloved father. A paragraph setting everyone in their place (p. 282) echoes a set of similar ones in “The Book and the Brotherhood”. Maisie is a lapsed Quaker, a nice link to “The Philosopher’s Pupil” where I think our last Quakers were.  Another link to “The Philosopher’s Pupil” comes when Marzilian says that something like this, connected to the Axle Stone, has happened before, “something less extreme” (p. 333). Part Six, made up almost entirely of letters, recalls epistolatory chapters in other books and reminds us of IM’s art again, each voice distinct and preserved in a letter. Almost at the end we have one of IM’s prosaic explanations for mysterious thoughts or phenomena (like the bent knees of the skiiers in whichever novel that was in) – the booming Ludens hears is military manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain, Fanny tells him.

Feelings on re-reading this. I noticed and admired Franca a lot more. Once again, although their ages weren’t given, I feel I was the same age or older than the main characters. I hadn’t really noticed before that we see almost all of the action through Franca’s and Ludens’ eyes and experience their inner lives, without either being a first-person narrator, something the mature novelist IM is has the ability to carry off: I was impressed this time when we appeared to be in Ludens’ head on meeting Marzillian only for him to say with no warning that he might be Armenian. I really liked Daniel Most, the rabbi, too, someone I had hardly noticed before, although I’d remembered his name. Irina seems silly and the Stone People a bit facile, too. This has always reminded me of the last book in “A Dance to the Music of Time”, which features a guru, followers, stones and the 1980s, and it still does. Little details reminded me it is set in the 1980s – they discuss whether Patrick has Aids or “an obscure African virus” (which made me think of Bruce Chatwin and his obscure virus).

Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Essay Review – Virginia Woolf – “On Being Ill” #1930Club


When Karen and Simon started off their new reading “club”, encouraging people to read books published in 1930 this time, I had a good old trawl through my TBR, hoping I’d find something. 1929, yes, but I drew a blank for 1930. Oh well, I thought, never mind, you can’t do everything. Then Karen reviewed Virginia Woolf’s “On Being Ill” and mentioned she’d got hold of an electronic copy. I had bus journeys into and back from town coming up and I had a look and found an electronic copy of the essay for 50p, downloaded it and happily read it on those journeys!

I’m not going to include this in my journal of books read, as it really is one essay, albeit a VW essay, which is always going to be A Good Thing, but I was very pleased to be able to join lots of illustrious readers and bloggers in the week!

Virginia Woolf – “On Being Ill”

(ebook, 15 October 2019)

Now, the first thing that Woolf says is that being ill isn’t written about properly in literature. That’s the basis of the whole essay, really, although she does go off on extended riffs about all sorts of things. I found this a bit peculiar, though, as I recalled Beth’s decline in “Little Women”, Katy’s long illness after her fall in “What Katy Did” and Colin’s dreary unwellness in “A Secret Garden”. But maybe illness doesn’t figure that much realistically in adult fiction.

I loved Woolf’s cry that

The merest schoolgirl, when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to a doctor and language at once runs dry. There is nothing ready made for him. He is forced to coin words himself.

She does acknowledge that the Americans are better at changing the language than us, so might be able to help. This was so funny and wry and classic Woolf. I’m not sure that I, as she claims, could really fancy Shakespeare to read if I was very poorly, though.

A good read, very Woolfian and an essay of hers which I’d not read before! Result. And I get to Join In. Thank you for the inspiration, Karen!

I’m currently reading “The Gender Agenda” by James Millar and Ros Ball, which was the oldest NetGalley book on my Kindle and so got opened when I was feeling I ought to be virtuous. I thought it was going to be a dry academic tome, but no, it’s their diary on raising their two children while making themselves aware of their, the kids’ and other people’s comments and assumptions about gender, feeding off Marianne Grabrucker’s “There’s A Good Girl” which is her diary with her daughter, which I have loved and read multiple times. So I’m racing through that and cursing my past self who left it until now!

Book review – Alice O’Keefe – “On the Up” #NetGalley @HodderBooks @HodderPublicity


Alice O'Keefe - On the Up coverAnother NetGalley read, this one courtesy of Hodder Books – thank you for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review.

Sylvia and Obe live in a small flat on a council estate with their toddler and baby. Sylv feels she’s doing all the emotional – and physical – labour and her body and mind are starting to unravel, while Obe thinks constantly of poetry. As Sylv enters the battle to get back her job after maternity leave, is Obe’s own job as a playworker enough for her? The estate is populated by a beautiful mix of people, and I particularly liked the sensitive Orthodox Jewish man with his interest in wildlife.

Meanwhile, Sylv’s sister is living in a squat with an equal but different sense of community, and her best friend Frankie seems to have the perfect, well-off life. Even mum has a new boyfriend at last. Sylvia writes notes in a book for the council’s noise department and uses her contact there as a therapist, but it’s only when she notices more than just noise (noise that Obe just can’t seem to hear but which takes the last remaining scraps of sleep from Sylvia) coming from the flat upstairs that things begin to change. And then more changes: when the flats are threatened with fancy regeneration, will the community crumble or pull together?

It’s a beautifully observed book with a good theme of things not being as they first seem. As well as the rich community, I liked the fact that Sylvia and Obe’s different races aren’t the thing that matters at all when their marriage starts to come apart (this is really well-observed, if uncomfortable, but I did like the emphasis on politeness as a healer!) and are inconsequential, only really arising when Obe reminds Sylvia to check her white privilege when she blithely ticks a box saying she’d be willing to be arrested during a protest – he, of course, has been stopped and searched at least once a month since he was a teenager. It’s right that that moment of reality is put in.

The ending is a little fairytale, but this is a novel and we need to feel good about something! The communities pulling together and the pull of family, even when it’s not that traditional, is lovely. This would appeal to fans of “The Lido”, I think.

“On the Up” is published on 14 November.

Sedate lady running 07-13 Oct 2019 #amrunning #running


Not many photos this week but a daily update as I have decided to try to get in 10,000 steps a day (and yes, I know there’s recent evidence that 3 x 10 minute bursts of very active walking is better for you – I do try to get as many of my steps as possible that aren’t running in the form of brisk walking!).

Monday – A lovely run and catch-up with Claire which ended with her trying to negotiate whether to go under or over a replacement fibreoptic cable for the old copper pair telephone wires that was being fixed up. Oh, the laughs! I went a bit further than planned and was quite tired from running 9.6 miles the day before.  Got home to a bulky parcel – I’d failed to get into the London Marathon, both in the first ballot and in the ballot you get into if you donate your fee to their charity. Another London Marathon fail top!

5.5 miles, 12:48 mins per mile. Steps: 11,708

Tuesday – Normally a very sedentary day in front of the computer working, so I made myself walk to the park the long way, march around it and do some complicated looking for drinking glasses shopping up and down the high street. Then walked to meet Matthew off the bus.

Steps: 11,048

Wednesday – Went into town to meet a lovely client, handily right across town at a gallery, so a good walk there and back. Then I went charity shop book shopping with my friend Sian in the afternoon (results here) and went out for dinner locally with Matthew in the evening, so got my steps in naturally (and a bit of work done!).

Steps: 12,508

Thursday – Took in an early evening run with Caroline – really nice to, again, catch up, though I must get the battery in my head torch replaced as it was a bit feeble.  I wore my London Marathon Fail Top and it was nice but I got a bit warm as it’s brushed cotton inside!

Liz in London Marathon top

London Marathon Fail Top 2020 race edition

5.1 miles, 12:34 mins per mile. Steps: 12,608

Friday – Went to yoga then did some walking including up to the park to meet Tara and pass her some books. Ended up walking VERY fast to meet Matthew off the bus to get my steps in. But this was the other day when I did steps I wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Steps: 10,597

Saturday – Moved my long run to today. I went up to the post box to send some cards and carried on running around as it was quite cold and I was early. This then saved rather than restarted, hence the two-part run. Started off with Jenny and Mary Ellen and did the 4-mile canal route by the boatyard. Said goodbye to Jenny then Mary Ellen and I continued in a big loop that took in much of my old 5-mile route. We ran into Cannon Hill Park to use the toilets, then Mary Ellen suggested we run through the more traily part of Holders Woods. There was a big Alzheimer’s Charity walk going on and, hoping we wouldn’t suddenly encounter millions of walkers coming towards us, we nipped through the forest. So pretty!

Pool in a wood

Holders Wood – pool

Although we were both a bit tired it was a nice run.

0.75 miles, 12:18 mins per mile / 10.2 miles, 13:25 mins per mile. Steps: 27,390

Sunday – It was the Birmingham Half-Marathon today and running club had a cheering station as usual. Mary Ellen, Trudie and I walked down and we ended up with everyone on the Pershore Road, which meant we got to see all the runners going both out and back. Sadly, a suspicious van parked near the park and cricket ground meant the race had to be diverted and shortened, which was terribly upsetting, but had to be done.

Mary Ellen captured a great pic of me handing out jelly babies (I wore my waterproof over trousers so that it didn’t rain hard – that never fails!):

Liz handing out jelly babies

Sugar high for the runners!

and I was delighted to see loads of people I know, including Barinderjit Singh Cheema – aka Usingh Bolt – just back from doing a trip to Malawi to see the charities he’s been raising money for and looking fit and healthy after suffering badly during a John O’Groats to Land’s End attempt.

barinderjit singh cheema running the half-marathon

I saw him and he saw me seeing him and all was good!

I then walked home with Mary Ellen and went out for coffee with Gill then went to my friend Clare’s birthday celebration – she’s a Bournville Harrier so I saw a lot of BVH friends there and had a nice chat. Walked home (Gill had given me a lift there) as there were no buses for ages. A good running day with no running!

Steps: 17,429

Weekly total 21.5 miles. Total this year 801 (I need 833.33 at the end of this month to be on track for my 1,000 miles in a year total, and I’m now down just 14 miles on this time last year).

Edited to add: Mary Ellen has started blogging about running, too! See her first post here.

weekly-run-down-final-300x300The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.


Book review – Jo Brand – “Born Lippy” and really too many book acquisitions #amreading


This was one of the books that I read on the way home from Cornwall last weekend: I finished “Unicorn” (reviewed yesterday, so I’m sort of catching up) and didn’t want to go for another Kindle book immediately, so had popped this one in my bag as a good read for a train journey. Of course, I then ended up trying not to laugh out loud on the train … oops.

More oops after the review. I appear to  have acquired even more books, and having put them on my TBR shelf, it’s all looking a bit perilous. I’d better get reading …

Jo Brand – “Born Lippy”

(29 September 2019, charity shop, Penzance)

Subtitled “How to do female”, this funny and useful book gives us a bit of memoir as well, which works well to protect Brand’s privacy (well, she lays a lot of stuff bare, but it’s not sold AS a memoir really) in addition to life advice aimed at, I think, teenagers and young women, covering family, relationships, drugs, health, friendship. There’s quite a lot on friendship, which is refreshing, including how not to behave to your friends when you get a partner, and how to keep friends.

She’s as no-nonsense and uncompromising as you’d hope and expect: for example, she has this to say in the clothes section:

My charming editor has suggested here that I talk about some of my favourite pieces of clothing. Hahahaha! I can barely remember the clothes I wore last week, so here are some weird clothes-related stories that stand out. (p. 41)

Also included are some great comebacks for when a sexist line is shouted at you, and good advice on work, family and relationship issues, all given in her exact voice: you can imagine her saying it all to you. A great travel read, too.

So as well as the journals I received in the week, I seem to have acquired even more books from shops and in the post!

On Wednesday I went into town to meet one of my lovely clients for a coffee, and when I arrived back on the high street, I realised my husband would be on his way to the dentist, so I stalked him and found him in The Works, where I spotted Simon Jenkins’ “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations” with lots of nice details and pictures, so he bought it for me from Bank of Matthew, which is a fund added to at Christmas and birthday and used to buy nice things. I did suggest he kept it back for Christmas but that apparently didn’t work.

Then later on I went out with my friend Sian to trawl the charity shops specifically for her to buy books from a couple of people’s wishlists to take to this weekend’s BookCrossing Unconvention. That’s for HER to buy BOOKs to GIVE AWAY. Second shop we went into and I was buying a CD shelf unit to use as a bookshelf and we were dragging it back to my house (at least the shop was on my road).

Then we spotted two books from Sian’s wishlist so I snapped them up for her Christmas present, some more Birmingham authors’ books which I will use for the Librarything Virago Not So Secret Santa (and two of these I managed to buy with two full Oxfam Books stampy cards, one of which Sian gave to me originally … it does get complicated!).

I found a book I’d been keeping an eye out for a while, “The Nakano Thrift Shop” by Hiromi Kawakami, so bought that for myself. And a lovely pristine copy of Paul Magrs’ “Exchange”, which I will be using for a giveaway next year (hint, hint).

And then we went back to The Works in case one of the books for Sian’s friends could be found in there – it could! hooray! – and I found Annie Darling’s “A Winter Kiss”, which is Book 4 in her Rochester Mews series (I’ve read “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” and “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” (the latter from NetGalley) and I have now ordered “Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” which had been sitting in my “Saved for later” bit of my Amazon basket for a while, so I get the order right (of course!).

Then, I came home from a walk on Friday and discovered two parcels almost stopping me from opening the front door. I won Phillipa Ashley‘s “A Perfect Cornish Christmas” on NetGalley the other day and guessed it might be part of another trilogy (you will recall I read her “Cornish Cafe” series on holiday) and bought “A Perfect Cornish Summer” second-hand (annoyingly I’ve also spotted it new in The Works since) so I got the order right (of course).

Then I’d somewhat complicatedly paid the author direct and had a copy sent that was left over from the Iris Murdoch Society conference for Christopher Boddington’s “Iris Murdoch’s People A-Z” and there it was! It’s a substantial volume and far more rich and detailed than I’d expected – not just a concordance of names appearing in the novels, it goes right into places, real and fictional, books fictional characters have written, books they mention … how marvellous! I will use it for looking-up purposes but will probably actually want to read through it, perhaps in December at the end of my Iris Murdoch Readalong project.

And THEN (oh, it’s some kind of disease, isn’t it), I was shopping for a good friend’s birthday gifts and I spotted Simon Barnes’ “Rewild Yourself” which is about getting back in touch with nature. It was on a very special offer, and although I’ve not yet read his book on returning a bit of Norfolk to its natural state, as I only bought that on holiday (see top image), it felt like the right thing to do to buy it. So I did.

As I said, the TBR shelf is now really at over-capacity. I just have to finish “The Message to the Planet” (which is proving more enjoyable than I’d expected, as my less-favourite Iris Murdoch) and read and review a lovely book on photography and I’ll have to get a good move on. Fat books or thinner quick wins: which will it be?

Book review – Amrou Al-Kadhi – “Unicorn” #amreading #NetGalley @4thestatebooks @Glamrou


I finished this book on the way back from our holiday in Penzance last Saturday, but I’ve had a spot of Review Lag as I threw myself straight back into a heavy work week (and book acquisition week: oops. More of that tomorrow). I won this book on NetGalley back in July and thank 4th Estate books for approving me for a copy in return for an honest review. If I’m trying to read more intersectionally, this one hits the spot, being about a non-gender-binary Arabic British Muslim drag queen – but I didn’t finish it to tick boxes, but because it’s enjoyable and taught me a few things.

The book opens memorably with Glamrou, the author’s drag persona, performing on stage in drag at a show, doing something that brings them closer to their mother, their roots, their religion even (there’s an interesting discussion of Sufism and the way the Qu’ran can be read to be inclusive) and is full of joy, allowing them to be their authentic self, when they spot a row of hijabi Muslim women sitting in the front row, and, what’s worse, they’re muttering about God in Arabic. Oddly enough, things start to fall apart. But there’s an explanation, don’t worry!

Via a very good explanation of intersectionality:

‘Intersectionality’ refers to the fact that we cannot study the issues surrounding one oppressed social group without understanding its intersections with many others; for instance, it is superficial to have a feminism that dismantles systems of misogyny without also understanding how this intersects with structures of racism. And, though mine is an extreme example of this, every person’s identity contains multiple facets that intersect with each other internally, and which are represented by intersecting political and social arguments in the outside world. Sometimes these intersections coexist peacefully; sometimes they are in conflict, and tear us into pieces.

we learn about Amrou’s life, their early happy years close to their mum, their desperate attempts to hide their true self from their parents once they realised it was not acceptable within the family, a journey through identity and bullying to the discovery of drag and finally an awed acceptance that Mother will always out-drag-queen any drag queen, hands down.

Amrou shares a lot of their experience of being femme (non-masculine acting) and the discrimination that exists in a gay world that seems obsessed instead with the hyper-masculine, and it was really good to gain more understanding of this issue and these divisions (however sad and distressing they are). They are aware of their learning experience through their life, including internalising prejudice to such an extent that they pretend to be both straight and completely British, and still get found out and then abused and bullied. Some of the abusive behaviour was hard to read about but absolutely needed to be included.

I enjoyed finding out more about the power of drag and the drag family to enhance and support people’s lives, and the mutual care and support in that world. I also liked the careful construction of the journey Amrou went on, from pretending to be straight and British to doing drag a bit to fully embracing doing Muslim-themed and Middle-Eastern appearing drag.

This bit’s a bit complicated, and forgive me if I put this badly. I appreciated the careful distinction that Amrou made when saying that the drag queens are parodying the constructions of femininity rather than reinforcing them or parodying femininity itself. As a straight, cis-gender woman who uses female pronouns but doesn’t particularly perform femininity, I have felt a bit threatened by these hyper-feminine displays at times, or more unnerved by them. It would be useful to read on this more widely to check if it’s a universal (I’m all for anyone dressing and behaving how they want, but it feels odd to watch someone of a different gender perform my gender way better than I do, if that makes sense).

This is a warm and self-aware book, a funny read, though maybe a little risque for a quiet carriage in a long-distance train. There was even a word I didn’t know (!) and the read was only marred by the incident with the neglected fish tank, which upset me as an ex-fish-keeper, however much it was necessary to the story to show Amrou’s mental state at the time.

Recommended if you want to learn more about the drag world, intersectionality and identity.

Book review – Simon Armstrong – “Street Art” plus exciting new incomings @ShinyNewBooks @ThamesAndHudson


Street Art Simon ArmstrongI was lucky enough to get to read “Street Art” by Simon Armstrong, one of Thames & Hudson’s “Art Essentials” series, from their autumn catalogue for Shiny New Books. I cheekily took it on holiday and read and reviewed it there, but it was a good and entertaining read and didn’t feel like ‘work’! It takes the reader through the whole history of art painted directly on walls from cave painting through the first tagging to increasingly elaborate works and now works of art that are never intended to live outside on buildings and are sold in galleries.

I’m grateful to the publisher for the chance to read the books I have this year (and hopefully going forward) in return for honest reviews. Have a look at my review on Shiny, especially if you’re considering purchasing the book, as my lovely editors have included some marvellous double-page spreads from the book, too! Read more here.

And more books arrive …

I have been following CeeJayKayFit‘s blog for some time now and was excited to read about her plans to publish a health and well-being journal and particularly a strength training / gym journal. As I’ve been looking to get back into doing the 30 day challenge (stretching and looking after yourself) and also my normal strength training, I told her I was planning to buy a copy of the latter after reading about it. She then very kindly got in touch and offered to send me a copy – and in fact copies of BOTH journals arrived yesterday!

Wellness diet fitness goals achievements journal

Goals and achievements journal and Gym log

The Journal has lots of places for recording whatever you want to record – it’s all up to you but there’s spaces for lots, from water drunk to food consumed and exercise taken. Although I wasn’t going to get a copy of this, I have decided after being a lot more active on holiday that I’d like to get 10,000 steps in every day, not just running days, and I want to make sure I keep up nutritious and five-a-day eating, so I am going to give both of them a go. Some images from inside (taken by me):

Inside the Journal

Inside the gym log

They look pretty easy to use but of course I don’t want to start them half-way through a week, so Monday here we come. Thank you to Corinna for sending them to me in return for an honest review once I’ve had a few weeks using them. Find Corinna on Instagram and Twitter at @CeeJayFITT or links to the blog as above.

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