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Book Review: Dorian

7 Mar

Book cover: picture of Dorian Grey - a painting of a male, nude torsoDorian by Will Self

I Liked this Better Than the Original

A literary re-write is a difficult thing to do well, but Will Self does it. I think Self works better within the restraints of this form, (versus his bloated books The Butt or The Book of Dave) and the new twists Self adds to the tale work wonders.

There is no one picture – there is a modern art installation of multiple videos of Dorian – and he has to track down and hide each and every one – adding to the drama which was missing in the original. The debauched, druggy Lords and Ladies work brilliantly in a mid-80s setting, as does the masterstroke of using the HIV epidemic to hasten the aging process for all other characters. This also adds to the suspicion around Dorian’s miraculous escape from such a fate.

In retrospect – I realise a little more about what was implied in the original The Picture of Dorian Gray – why Dorian’s implied sleeping about was just so dangerous and evil (syphilis epidemic, anyone?) but, through no fault of Wilde’s, he couldn’t state those things emphatically, Continue reading


Book Review: Picture of Dorian Gray

7 Mar

Penguin Classics book cover of picture of dorian Gray featuring a young attractive-ish man with a high neck victorian collarPicture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Luscious and Badly Paced

Beautiful descriptions, beautiful quips, next to no editing going on here. Two whole pages dedicated to lists of the pretty things Dorian buys himself is definitely self-indulgent – but then what else could we expect of the great Oscar Wilde?

I loved this novel for its concept and for its myriad witticisms, though I didn’t find it had much going for it in suspense or horror. I haven’t read enough else from around this era to know if it’s just of its time, or if it’s just not Wilde’s strong point. Either way, it is a shame. Also, I think Wilde missed a trick in neither making Gray that scary a character (amoral, of course, but never really that menacing to the audience), nor showing more of the world from Gray’s point of view – which could have been fun.

The character of the theatre owner is where Wilde really lets himself down as a narrator. All Wilde can do to convey how unpleasant this man is, is talk about how revolting and Jewish he is. Reading this as a Jewish person Continue reading

Book Review: An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein

7 Mar

Book cover An Adult Evening with Shel Silverstein. It is a plain pink cover with black text.An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein

A Forgotten Classic

I am forever grateful to my university’s drama society for putting on An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, and opening my eyes to the wonder of Uncle Shelby’s adult stuff.

Quick word of warning: this is a lot closer to Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball than The Giving Tree.

It’s a series of dramatic shorts, each one riffing around two or three characters interacting in a dark, twisted, well observed, and often hilarious situation. Yes, it’s a script, and I don’t normally read scripts in my spare time, but this is what writing should be, Continue reading

Beginner’s Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe

7 Aug

This article originally appeared in Bad Reputation – a feminist pop-culture adventure on 07 August 2012.

The Edinburgh Fringe has begun! I’m not there yet – I’ll get there next Saturday – but the Twitter updates from friends there are already making me jealous and nostalgic in almost equal measure. This year will be my fourth Fringe – so here’s a beginner’s guide from – if not an old hand – someone who’s been ’round the Edinburgh block a few times.

Welcome to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival! Wave goodbye to your money, sobriety and any semblance of a normal sleep pattern. Say hello to the weird, the wonderful, and hysterical, dry-heaving laughter of a kind that won’t quite translate to the outside world.

Get ready to start spotting your idols just walking down the street, get ready to say ‘no thanks’ to flyers roughly every 30 seconds, and wind up taking them anyway because the person handing you them was funny/charming/in a funny costume/worryingly eager. Primarily: be prepared to be completely overwhelmed for choice.

Image of flyering on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

No poster stays up for long before someone posts another over it

The very first time I went to the Fringe, I just dipped in for a day when I happened to be in Scotland. My travelling companion and I almost had panic attacks when we started leafing through the Fringe Brochure (about 1/3 the size of a Yellow Pages directory and stuffed full of tempting offers). In the end, we managed three shows in one day, literally ran from one venue to another to make it in time and managed a pretty full Fringe experience: Debbie Does Dallas: the Musical, the wonderful Aussie musical comedy guys Tripod, and Phil Jupitas Reads Dickens – which turned out to be just Phill Jupitas reading some of Dickens’ lesser-known short stories and – on that day – he was in a foul mood. Also: the day cost us £45 each in tickets alone. This was before I knew about the Free Fringe (more on that in a moment). Continue reading

Kickass Princesses, Part 2

30 Jun

This article originally appeared in Bad Reputation – a feminist pop-culture adventure on 18 June 2012.

When I think about everything about womanhood that hamstrung me with fear when I was thirteen it all came down, really, to princesses. I didn’t think I had to work hard to be a woman (which is scary but obviously eventually achievable). I thought I had to somehow magically – through superhuman psychic effort – transform into a princess instead. That’s how I’d get fallen in love with. That’s how I’d get along. That’s how the world would welcome me.

– Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman

Welcome to part two of Kickass Princesses – a look at some subversive female protagonists in children’s literature. You can read Part 1 here.

The more children’s books I read and the more princesses I come to know, the more I realise that ‘kickass’ probably wasn’t the best term to use. Some of these characters do kick ass, but the main feature is turning out to be simply that they make unconventional princesses.

As the archetype of a fairytale princess is so ingrained, it takes looking at a wide variety of ‘unprincessy’ examples to unpick exactly what some of our starting assumptions are. A closer look at the ‘unconventional’ princesses here, and in my previous post, reveals that these women and girls have agency, interests, and are more than just a beautiful, delicate, unsullied physical appearance. Sometimes they aren’t even beautiful at all. What they are – what, we realise, makes them ‘unprincessy’ – is often simply the fact that they are two-dimensional characters.

Ouch. This stereotype needs subverting roughly forever ago. On with the show…

The Ordinary Princess

The Ordinary Princess book cover Continue reading

Kickass Princesses, Part 1

19 Apr

This article originally appeared in Bad Reputation – a feminist pop-culture adventure on 28 March 2012.

Fairy tales! We all like fairy tales, right? They have both an air of comfort and adventure about them, and – as they’re something we first came into contact with as young children – there’s also an almost familial fondness for some of them. As they come from the oral tradition, folk/fairy tales have adapted slightly with each retelling to suit the world around them – but as Treasury Islands recently pointed out, the writing–down stage of most tales we know (i.e. when they became a little more set in stone) happened in deeply misogynistic times – and this carries through in even our most beloved fairy tales.

In the world of children’s books there’s a double-whammy of bad female role models and massive under-representation. There’s only one female character to every 1.6 male characters. One of the few regular traditional roles for girls in children’s literature is that of the princess, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that the traditional princess trope doesn’t give girls many positive or useful goals to aim for: look pretty, be born into or marry into hereditary privilege and… uh… that’s it. Happily ever after. Forever. Are you bored yet? I am.

Picture of a children's toy tiara covered in glitterYet plenty of little girls are still obsessed with princesses and being a princess. It might not appeal much to the grown-ups, but the trope remains strong – as does the lure of pretty things. (Personally, I still have to suppress a twinge of jealousy when I see a kid going by in a really good princess dress – with the layers of skirt and the faux-stays bodice and WHERE WERE THEY WHEN I WAS SMALL, HUH? – but it’s fine. I’m not jealous. I’m writing this wearing a £3 Claire’s Accessories tiara so it’s all OK.) Continue reading

Book Review: The Satanic Witch

1 Apr

Tired Pervy Unenlightened 1960s Cliches

The Satanic Witch by Anton LaVey

Book cover of The Satanic Witch by Anton LaVeyI read this shortly after finishing The Satanic Bible because I was a teenage prat and still wanted to shock the people sat opposite me on public transport. For these purposes this book doesn’t work as well as The Satanic Bible. Though it still has the inverted pentacle on the cover, the friendly pink colour lowers the impact.

As for contents: Ha! Holy shit it’s terrible. The ‘magic’ referred to is all about seduction – this whole book is basically an egotistical straight man’s ideas for what women should do to pick up guys. It’s The Game but written for women in the less-slick 1960’s.

Its advice goes from the neanderthal: ‘don’t wash – pheromones are your body’s natural magic’ to atrocious deception based on cod-psychology. Apparently all men and women have a ‘demon’ self which is the opposite of their outer self, and it’s the ‘demon’ self you have to pitch yourself to. So if he’s macho on the outside he’s whimpering on the inside, and so as to not scare off the whimpering ‘demon self’ you’ve decided he has, you should make yourself as soft and gentle as possible, even perhaps giving yourself a softer, gentler-sounding name. If he seems really straight-laced perhaps affect an exotic accent to appeal to the opposite him.

Genius. What could go wrong? (Except for that little awkward patch when he realises you’re not Sabrina from Paris but Gertrude from Scunthorpe and he thinks you’re a derranged ’cause you’ve been lying about everything…)

The whole book is basically advice for a woman on how to get a one night stand. If she wants anything more she’s a bit screwed once all the deception comes out, surely?

(Also: if you’re a straight woman who wants some no-strings sex – correct me if I’m wrong – but isn’t that the kind of thing it’s incredibly easy to get? Try saying to a dude in a bar “would you like to have some no-strings sex?”)

As well as recommending lying wherever possible to get laid, LaVey is also apparently a big fan of gender binaries. He advises women should be as curvy and distinctively feminised as possible – don’t go for any of this unsexy jeans rubbish – and men should be butch. In this way each gender plays up their own ‘natural magic’ as much as possible.

So: be smelly, lie a lot, put on pantomime shows of gendered behaviours…You know, even reading this as an inept and slightly confused virgin – I still knew this was a load of bull.