Book review – My Absolute Darling

The word “masterpiece” has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but My Absolute Darling absolutely is one.’

This fulsome praise is wrapped around the cover of Gabriel Tallent‘s debut novel, and comes from the mouth of no less a literary giant than Stephen King. I’m not sure I can be quite as unequivocal, but there can be no doubt that My Absolute Darling is a dazzling work of fiction, bleak, shocking and portraying a depth of character that is both rare and unsettling.

Turtle Alveston is just 14, friendless and almost feral, living in woods on the wild northern California coast with her abusive father Martin. The house is filled with guns, mould, insects and latent violence. Turtle is regularly raped by Martin, but their unhealthy relationship is nevertheless rooted in a twisted form of love.

The story may be a hard one to read but the poetic lyricism of Tallent’s narrative is spellbinding:

He lays her down, fingertips dimpling her thighs, her ribs opening and closing, each swale shadowed, each ridge immaculate white. She thinks do it, I want you to do it. She lies expecting it at any moment, looking out the window at the small, green, new-forming alder cones and thinking, this is me, her thoughts gelled and bloody marrow within the piping of her hollow thighbones and the coupled, gently curved bones of her forearms. He crouches over her and in husky tones of awe, he says. “Goddamn, kibble, goddamn.”

The unholy equilibrium of their relationship is unbalanced by Turtle happening across a couple of boys from school – Jacob and Brett – and by Martin returning home with an even younger lost soul, Cayenne, whom Martin collected in dubious circumstances at a gas station.

There is a child on the porch, face in her hands, black hair in tangles, matchstick arms tiger-striped with bruises. The girl is nine or ten, maybe seventy pounds. When Martin gets out the truck, the girl looks up and runs to him. He picks her up by the armpits and swings her round, laughing. Then, with his arm around her shoulders, he walks her back to Turtle. 

Kibble,” he says, “this is Cayenne.”

The inevitably violent denouement is dripping with irony. Turtle’s affinity with nature, mental strength and familiarity with guns are inherited from Martin, but they might just ensure her survival.

I hope Hollywood is brave enough to transfer this challenging story to the big screen, in these sexually sensitive times, and I can’t wait to see what Gabriel Tallent chooses to write about in his second novel.

Image courtesy of The Times

 

Crowdfunding – a success story

I first dipped my tentative unpensioned toe in the murky shark-infested waters of crowdfunding a couple of years ago.

I wrote then that I was under no illusions about the inherent risks in this relatively new investment mechanism, technology enabling investors to support early-stage businesses and potentially earn greater returns than elsewhere, in the new low-interest and low-return environment.

I subsequently wrote about the need for the crowdfunding platforms to make sure sufficient due diligence was being undertaken on businesses and entrepreneurs, before being listed as investment opportunities. And how they should be more transparent about the performance of each business after the crowd had invested.

Rob Murray Brown posts far more incisively and frequently than I do about the failures of the crowdfunding platforms – particularly CrowdCube, one of the largest – on his hard-hitting blog The Truth About Equity Crowdfunding.

One of my own investments through CrowdCube two years ago was in a bond – so a debt instrument, rather than equity – to help finance the growth of Daisy Green cafes across London. For my support, I would receive 11% interest pa (paid twice a year), with a repayment date of 2019. Other benefits included free coffee for a while, and invitations to launch parties at new cafes.

In a surprise email last week, the founder said that the business had made such good progress that they had refinanced the bondholder debt with ‘a leading UK bank.‘ This significant new debt facility ‘will allow us to continue to expand Daisy Green throughout London.’

My latest interest payment and original bond investment are to be repaid in full immediately.

Rob Murray Brown takes a somewhat jaundiced view that bondholders should somehow feel disappointed:.

I don’t. I say hoorah for Daisy Green. I have received 11% on my money for 2 years. I’m going to get my investment back in full. I’ve enjoyed some outstanding coffee. I was a lender, and not an equity investor.

There were early repayment terms – without penalty – in the documentation. Perhaps they could have been more transparent, but I applaud Daisy Green for their progress and if they can refinance at less than 11%, and accelerate growth, they would be crazy not to.

The founder indicates that there may be the opportunity for bondholders to ‘get involved‘ in the next stage of Daisy Green’s story. We shall see what form that might take. But in the meantime, let’s celebrate this success for a hard-working entrepreneur and her team, and for crowdfunding.

Image courtesy of Business Funding Show

Theatre review – White Christmas

White Christmas  – review for  Essential Surrey website.

Review: White Christmas by the Runnymede Drama Group

White Christmas is being performed by the Runnymede Drama Group at the Rhoda McGaw Theatre in Woking until December 9

White Christmas - RDG (Dec17).JPG

White Christmas is a wonderfully festive feel-good musical, up there with movies It’s a Wonderful Life and Love Actually to guarantee sending you home with an elfy spring in the step, and a song in even the most Scrooge-like heart.

Irving Berlin wrote the iconic song in 1940, and Bing Crosby’s recording of it in 1941 has since sold over 100 million copies. But it was the 1942 film Holiday Inn, starring Bing and Fred Astaire, which has probably done most to immortalise the music, within a heart-warming story.

This production of the musical version of White Christmas is performed by the Runnymede Drama Group, an amateur company but with a rich thespian heritage and renowned as one of the best am-dram groups in the country.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1944. American soldiers from the 151st Division are putting on a Christmas show, to rally the troops on the Western Front. Captain Bob Wallace and Private Phil Davis are natural performers, and close friends. The Division’s commanding officer, General Henry Waverley, is a stickler for discipline but with a heart, and a leg injury that is forcing him to return home. In his Christmas message, he prays for peace and wonders what life will be like in 10 years time…

Fast forward to 1954….Bob and Phil are stars of stage and screen, even appearing on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. Phil fraternises with the showgirls, but Bob is more traditional and is drawn to Betty Haynes, one of the dancing and singing Haynes Sisters, when Phil engineers a visit to a club where the girls are performing.

The action migrates to Vermont – although Bob thinks he’s going to Florida for the Christmas holidays – where they are all staying at a struggling Inn owned by their old General, and where there is an unseasonal heat wave.

Each episode of the story is brought to animated life by song and dance, every member of the cast throwing themselves into the joyous spirit of the occasion. Count Your Blessings (instead of sheep!) is the advice given by Bob to Susan, the General’s grand-daughter; Let me Sing and I’m Happy is belted out beautifully by Martha, the Inn’s concierge and self-confessed busybody; Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me is the plaintive cry from Betty, back in New York and performing solo after she misjudges Bob.

But the real show-stopper is I Love A Piano, Phil and Betty’s sister Judy opening the second half in a blaze of tap-dancing glory with the rest of the troupe, piano keys on their lapels and fire in their shoes.

Leave your cynicism at the door and embrace this joyous tale of optimism and festive cheer. Come the final curtain, all the loose ends are neatly tied up with a large red Christmas bow and – spoiler alert – it even starts snowing on Christmas Eve, by which time the audience is singing along with the cast and good old Bing.

It would be wrong to call out any single member of this talented group. The whole production – from cast, dancers, set designers, the entire production team and to the excellent 11-strong band, whimsically visible in a retro-style recording booth – exudes professionalism and passion.

Congratulations and thanks to the Runnymede Drama Group for banishing any bah humbug thoughts. Let the festive period begin…

Theatre review – Nocturne – The Romantic Life of Frederic Chopin

What an original concept. Lucy Parham has scripted this engaging performance, fusing music and words as deftly as Rick Stein marries food and travel.

Lucy provides the magical music, some of the favourite piano concertos of Frédéric Chopin , as a dazzling soundtrack to the story of the composer’s romantic life.

Image courtesy of Classic FM

Esteemed thespians Alex Jennings and Patricia Hodge speak the words, the core of which is the outwardly surprising love affair between the delicate genius of young Chopin, newly arrived in Paris from Warsaw in 1831, and George Sand, the slightly older and sexually voracious literary sensation.

Through letters to each other, and occasionally from friends, we follow the lovers from Paris to a disastrous winter in Majorca, where Frédéric is plagued by a consumptive cough, on to Barcelona and back to France, where they at their happiest in Nantes.

But the affair is fated to end in disaster.

Frédéric dies in Paris, in relative poverty and at the tender age of 39, his short life dominated by ill health and melancholy, reflected in many of the pieces played so beautifully by Ms Parham.

This was a charming – and innovative – performance, but I must confess that I found myself more engaged by the words than by the music. And by Alex Jennings’ sensitive acting of his script more than by Patricia Hodge’s sometimes stuttering recital of hers.

Image courtesy of Alisa Connan

But in a nice personal squaring of the circle, this all gave some touching context to my stumbling across the charming hidden Musée de la Vie Romantique a few years ago, the home of Dutch artist Ary Scheffer in a cobbled back street of Montmartre, where the lovers would meet at his Friday salon.

Two of his most regular visitors were George Sand and her lover Frédéric Chopin. Somewhat bizarrely, you can see a plaster cast of her right arm – and the musician’s left hand – in one of the 8 small rooms forming this understated museum.