Tag Archives: abuse

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

 

Movie review – High Rise

What greater honour can there be for an artist than to have a generic term attached to their life’s work? Apart from awards and royalty cheques, obviously.

Ballardian is a recognised term for the total literary output of J. G. Ballard. Born in Shanghai in 1930, he died in 2009 and achieved a huge amount in between.

Whilst at Cambridge University, he studied medicine with an intention of becoming a psychiatrist. His exposure to art, anatomy and psycho-analysis shaped his thinking, and future writing, as did a love of science fiction, read whilst training with the RAF in Canada in 1955-56.

His book High Rise, first published in 1975, is now the inspiration for a new film, written by Amy Jump and directed by Ben Wheatley.

Tom Hiddleston – the next Mr. Bond? – plays Dr. Robert Laing, a physiologist who has just moved into a 40-storey modernist apartment block. He seems to be alone, having recently lost his sister, and we see nothing of him outside his pristine apartment and work, where he graphically dissects human brains for his students.

We’re introduced to some of the other occupants of his new home. The enigmatically sexy Charlotte – surprisingly well played by Sienna Miller – is Charlotte, immediately above him. Down in the bowels of the building is the manic Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), and his abused, pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss of Mad Men fame, but with an impeccable English accent here).

The premise of the story is laid bare when Dr. Lang is whisked off to the lavish penthouse apartment to meet Anthony Royal, the architect of this brutalist building (played by a God-like Jeremy Irons). The sprawling roof-top gardens, including a beautiful white horse, are a sop to his ice-cool wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). But at a decadent party, the posh inhabitants of the upper floors humiliate Robert, and the die is cast.

As the power fails, so does the social fabric of the building. The block descends into class warfare, and the movie into an allegorical abyss.

If you like to see rape, violence, a severed ear with a dangling ear-ring, a slow-motion suicide jump and much more, you’ll lap High Rise up.

Robert tries to stay semi-detached, even as the mayhem around him escalates. But when he refuses to perform a lobotomy on Richard for the upper-floor aristos, and screws Helen, he is most definitely involved.

This movie works on many levels, but on none of them for me, I’m afraid.

Ballardian literature is hallucinogenic, apocalyptic, dystopian, bleak science-fiction. I’d prefer to remember the undoubtedly brilliant writer more for his auto-biographical Empire of the Sun, than for High Rise or Crash.

 

Movie review – Spotlight

Why do so many people cling to religion, like a Titanic passenger to an over-crowded lifeboat? Whether it’s for personal strength, gentle spiritual guidance – or just a habit – I’m afraid I really don’t get it.

Whether I believe in God, or not, is another ball-game, but time and time again, His earthly representatives let Him down, and betray the very people they exist to help.

The institution of the church – in its broader form, across religions – fails so frequently that its message has long been lost, for me and for many others, I fear.

Spotlight is the latest film to shine a dazzlingly bright light on the earthly failings of a disconcerting number of religious representatives. And I’m afraid it paints a terrible picture of the Catholic Church yet again, as so many before. PhilomenaDeliver Us From Evil, or The Boys of St. Vincent are just a few from a depressingly long list, all rooted in fact.

Spotlight is the name given to the Boston Globe’s specialist unit of investigative reporters. They choose stories to dissect in forensic detail, over a protracted period, before potential publication.

In 2001, encouraged by the newly arrived editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), the team pursue the story, initiated a few years earlier by another Globe journalist, of sexual abuse by a local Catholic priest against a child.

But what makes the story of real interest for the editor and for the Spotlight team is the potential cover up of the abuse, led by Boston’s powerful Cardinal Law (Len Cariou).

What follows is a real insight into the journalistic world, as the team dig deeper into the story, interviewing victims, priests, lawyers, police and anyone connected to the expanding web of connected horror.

They discover a systematic cover-up of child abuse by up to 90 Catholic priests in Boston alone over the previous 20-30 years. But what appals them – and us – is the devious collusion of the city’s authorities – the Archdiocese, lawyers, police – that allows confidential settlements to be made, and for the perpetrators to be moved to another parish, where they repeat the abuse.

The movie is told almost as a docudrama,  focusing as much on the mundane journalistic and editorial challenges as the underlying horror. It’s perhaps an unusual role for both Michael Keaton as Walter “Robby” Robinson, head of the Spotlight team, and Mark Ruffalo as Mike Rezendes, the most passionate and driven member of Spotlight. But they convince, with Mark Ruffalo earning a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Rachel McAdams as Sacha Pfeiffer, and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll complete the conscientious Spotlight team.

Stanley Tucci deserves a special nod. He plays Mitchell Garabedian, an Armenian “outsider” living in Boston, a lawyer who has been quietly supporting past and present abuse victims, long before the Boston Globe scoop breaks.

The movie is a tribute to what the Spotlight team achieved through their painstaking work, so thorough and shocking that it led to similar stories of abuse by priests and cover-ups by the Catholic church in dozens of other cities throughout the world.

And in a painful twist, Robby realises he had all the pieces of the jigsaw in the Globe’s possession 5 years earlier, and let the story slip, allowing even more innocent young victims to be abused.

Religion, eh….who needs it?

 

Bottom Gear

I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of Jeremy Clarkson, or Top Gear. Or bullying, arrogance or violence. Or cars, for that matter.

But I’ll try really hard – as hard as Jeremy tries not to be controversial, or racist….or blokey – to be objective about his sacking from the BBC.

Yes, I know. Technically he won’t have his rich-as-Croesus freelance contract renewed so he’s not a BBC employee, but he’s still subject to their ethics and HR policies. And that’s the issue.

It’s ironic that after years of sailing oh so close to breaking broadcasting guidelines – and sometimes tacking across them – his demise comes from contravening internal BBC bullying and harassment policies. A bit like Attila The Hun caught shoplifting.

In these morally self-righteous times, you can’t slap your own child. You hesitate to pick up someone else’s if they fall over in the road…even if they’re crying like Gazza after being shown a yellow card. You can’t do your awful impression of Dev Patel in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, shaking your head from side to side while munching a poppadom in your local Bombay Spice restaurant. And you can’t talk about women as if Emily Pankhurst were still chained to the railings.

So Jeremy got away with the abusive slope jibe about an Asian. And other casual on-air insults about Mexicans, Albanians, Germans and Romanians. And public sector workers. And Gordon Brown. And the infamous Argentinian escapade. And the off-air eeny, meeny, miney, mo episode…..

But when he physically assaulted and verbally abused a senior colleague, enough was rightly enough. The BBC had no option other than to terminate their Star With An Unreasonably Large Contract, and walk away from the cash machine.

Jeremy is a brilliant journalist and broadcaster. His star – and bank balance – will continue to rise.

The Beeb will no doubt try to motor on with Top Gear. But without Jeremy will it be like a d’Artagnan-less Three Musketeers? Or Morecambe & Wise without the bald, funny one?

Only time will tell.

But can we please now start talking about something more important?