Tales about the City

I raced through this book in about three evenings.  I have been a fan of Armistead Maupin for years – ever since I first discovered Tales of The City in the late 1980s and fell in love with the characters, as well as San Francisco (it’s been top of my must visit list ever since).  I’ve read every book he’s written, and so getting this when it published was a no-brainer.

He calls it a memoir, rather than an autobiography, and that’s exactly what it is.  A series of reminiscences from his life – pretty much in chronological order, but interspersed with updates as necessary.

While I knew that the early books in the TotC series were based on actual events, I hadn’t realised just how autobiographical they were.  It was fascinating to see where the inspiration for some of the characters came from, and how some of the (seemingly-far fetched) plots were based on real events and places.

I also hadn’t realised how involved Armistead was in the early days of the gay rights movement. He is very honest about his past and lifestyle, both before and after coming out.  He also mentions a fair few well known figures, including Harvey Milk and Rock Hudson, but it’s not name-dropping; they are integral in the story.  It’s a really interesting, personal document of a pivotal time for gay rights in America and also a love letter to San Francisco.

After reading some of his non-TotC fiction I had wondered if he didn’t like women very much as the majority of his straight female characters are ultimately not very likeable.  However this book answers that question; the love and respect he has for his mother, grandmother and sister (as well as other members of his “logical family”) shine through.

I loved the concept of a “logical family” as well as the terminology.  Your logical family are those people you chose to be with and feel a bond with, not necessarily those you are related to or share DNA with.  Those who are familiar with my blog will know that this resonates with me.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed Tales of the City, or who is interested in recent cultural history.  It’s an easy read but will stick with you and also make you think about your own freedoms and prejudices.  Read it.  Then read Tales of the City.  I dare you not to love Mrs Madrigal.  Better still, read TotC first so you don’t get spoilt for the twists…

Month in review

January started with dating and ended with reading.  A vast improvement!  I picked three books, relatively randomly, but they all seemed to share some similar themes; aloneness, disconnection and mental health issues.

The first book I read was The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian.  This isn’t a new book, (published in 2008) but was new to me.  I came across it when I was doing a bit of research around F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.   In this book the main protagonist, Laurel, grew up near East and West Egg,  the areas where Gatsby and the Buchanans live in the novel.  The book is based on the premise that the events in The Great Gatsby were true and explores what happened to Tom and Daisy (and their family) after Gatsby was killed.

Laurel is attacked while out cycling.  After this she becomes withdrawn and focuses on her photography and volunteering at a local shelter, where she meets a homeless man who she believes is the youngest child of Tom and Daisy Buchanan.  After he dies she becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about his life.

I won’t say much more for fear of giving away the novel’s twist.  I guessed what this would be part way through, but didn’t work all of it out.  It was an interesting read, but probably not one that I will pick up again to reread.  It was the first of this author’s books I’d read and his style of writing didn’t quite gel for me.  However, if you like a thriller, or are interested in what may have happened post-Gatsby, then you might enjoy this.

The next novel was Lullaby by Leila Silmani.  She is a French author and the novel was a best seller in France.  It has now been translated into English and has had quite a lot of press coverage, mainly due to the subject matter.   The cover says  “The baby is dead.  It only took a few seconds.”  The story focuses on Myriam and her husband Paul who decide to get a nanny for their two children so Myriam can return to work as a lawyer.  They find Louise who seems perfect.  However as the reader you know that she will kill the children and it’s a matter of waiting and working out how and why this happened.

There is a lot of focus on gender and class and the story is fairly tightly plotted.  There is real sense of Parisian life and culture and how similar and different it is from ours. The end did seem quite rushed however, which was a shame.  The language was stilted in some places and I’m not sure if this was due to the translation or if this is how the original was written.  It was also unusual to read a book where none of the characters are particularly likeable.  I imagine it must be a difficult read though for parents who rely on a nanny for their children.

The last book was a debut novel from Gail Honeyman Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.  This was my favourite of the three by a mile.  It’s about a thirty-something single woman who has clearly had a traumatic childhood and has a difficult relationship with her estranged mother.  She is a creature of habit and very literal in  her understanding of the world.  She keeps herself isolated from her colleagues, until a chance encounter changes that.   Eleanor’s observations are hilarious, and the book was a real page-turner.  It is horrific in parts but written beautifully with some well-drawn, believable characters. The denouement was quite surprising but left hope for a sequel.  I would really recommend this one to anyone.

In all three the main protagonists are women who are all slightly separate from the rest of society and struggle in different ways with accepting that.   They all have mental health issues to some degree and find it hard to connect with others, feeling a need to prove something to either themselves or other people.   While they may have had experiences I have not shared, or may not all have been particularly likeable, it was interesting to see the commonalities and also understand a different perspective on life from mine.

As always, books open doors to different lives and different viewpoints.  I’ve been back to Waterstones for more, so my dating tales are likely to be interspersed with book reviews.  You have been warned!

Celebrate good times

Today is my birthday; another year ticked past in the blink of an eye.  I’m happier and healthier than last year.  I’m clearer on what I want.  Still single, but I’d rather be single and happy than with the wrong person and constrained.

I spent the weekend with some of my most favourite people and was really spoilt.  I’m so lucky!  One of my fabulous friends (the previously mentioned social media guru) bought me my own web domain.  I am now a dot com.  Get me.  The observant among you may have spotted that already.

So much is lined up for the next nine months that I can’t wait to get on with it.  A couple of jewellery making workshops; a handful of comedy gigs; a music festival in Paris; camping in Devon; two weeks in the Outer Hebrides/Western Isles; a music festival in Dorset and then a week in Nashville.   All with different groups of amazing people.  I’m not sure how i shall find the time to go to work.   Sadly I have to though to fund my extravagant year.

Maybe, in the course of doing all that, I’ll stumble over Mr Right – or at least Mr Right for Now.  Keep your fingers crossed for me blogverse.  Have a great day – and eat a cake to celebrate my special day with me, if you feel so inclined.

What’s in a name?

A couple of the six to eight people who read my blog have asked me about the titles I give my posts as they sometimes don’t appear to relate to the subject.

When I first started this they were pretty pun heavy. I love language and word play and so puns amuse me. They’ve then moved really into quotations from books, films and plays or song titles and lyrics.

Although these on occasion will be related, it’s more often that the song or film etc is in my head when I’m writing. My last title was “This is ourselves” which is from the Queen and David Bowie song Under Pressure. It had been playing in the car that afternoon and was firmly in my ear. It’s a powerful lyric. Hope that answers the question 😊

Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence but it don’t work
Keep coming up with love but it’s so slashed and torn
Why, why, why?
Insanity laughs under pressure we’re cracking
Can’t we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure

This is ourselves

I try to be honest when I write. But I’m also very conscious of people I write about or reference. Although I can count the people who read this without needing my toes, I’m careful not to make people obviously identifiable; while my “inner circle” might know who they are, the casual reader wouldn’t. I also attempt to be balanced and acknowledge that my feelings and views aren’t the only possible perspective and be sensitive to other peoples’ feelings and situations.

I’ve been particularly aware of that recently as, although I haven’t seen or heard from the boy (or “the fuckwit” as he’s now known to my friends) since our final meet, I know he’s active on Twitter (it was “our space” for a brief period) and still follows me. This blog is linked to my Twitter account so it’s possible he may read it.

He also blogs. Mainly poetry or political prose and I’ve consciously not looked at it since we ended things. However I was tipped off that there was a new post that I might want to read. I wish I hadn’t. It’s a recounting of a night out with a friend. From the headline that’s all good. Time with friends is precious and can be a much needed restorative.

Bearing in mind we parted ways because, although he allegedly cared deeply about me, he felt he needed to give his 25-year relationship one last attempt at resuscitation, even though it had apparently been dead in the water for over a decade. Imagine therefore my joy at reading about his evening of chatting up various barmaids and handing out his contact details. Yep. You got it. He clearly doesn’t have the same ethics or cares about his potential readership as I do. More fool me.

From deluded idealist to complete player in one fell swoop. I definitely got played and I’m an idiot for believing anything he said. And blokes wonder why women have trust issues! There must be one decent single bloke out there, surely. Someone prove me right, please.

It’s my party

So this week has been “interesting” as they say, with some highs and real lows both personally and professionally. However it’s now Saturday and I’ve been looking forward to tonight for weeks. Off to the Woo to spend time celebrating me with some of my closest friends. I can’t wait to be with people who genuinely care about me.

True, lasting friendship is one of life’s real joys. As soon as you work out those who are just around out of habit, only there for their own benefit, or while times are good, you can really start to identify the folk who are always there when you need them; tenacious supporters (& piss-takers at times) who always have your back and are in your corner. Clearly they must do yoga in their spare time to be that limber…

Anyway I’m seeing a lot of them tonight and so, for today at least, all is good. Love you guys.

Moving on

To give the boy his due, we did actually meet up and have a conversation about his “Dear John” text.  His suggestion.  I wasn’t entirely sure how things would go, but we met up in town and had a few drinks.  The conversation wasn’t too awkward, and it turns out it was him and not me.  Ha!  I’ve referred to him as a fuckwit and as going through some kind of midlife crisis and I’m not taking that back, but we left our evening amicably and as friends still, I think.

On the way home I booked tickets for a music festival in Paris as commiseration, and am also in the process of booking two weeks away in the Outer Hebrides, so there is good stuff happening.  Also had a few sneaky doughnuts (oops) but as I’ve just bought the Tom Kerridge healthy eating cookbooks, those are off the menu again now.  I refuse to wallow!

So back being single again.  Oh well.  Onwards and upwards – and I’m looking around all the corners.