The Rainbow

The RainbowThe Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence’s investigation of how ‘the relations between women and men’ had become ‘the problem of today’ required him to go backwards over 60 years and summon up all his powers as a poet to describe a state of nature where the sexes existed in harmony. It’s a powerful evocation, even if it isn’t very convincing. What’s striking about the Tom Brangwen love story is how little communication there is between the couple. Whereas Ursula three generations later feels entitled to question her lover’s politics and life choices. Ursula escapes the wild but mute passion that her grandparents shared (symbolised I think by the horses that block her way in the final chapter). She is stubborn and articulate and seeks wider horizons, for which the rainbow is an ill-fitting metaphor. Lawrence’s achievement is in successfully realising these very different modes of romance and family life, even if he doesn’t quite explain them. But he is a poet, not a sociologist – and the language the story is told in (with all its old-fashioned euphemisms in the love scenes) is wonderful.

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Coventry: Essays

Coventry: EssaysCoventry: Essays by Rachel Cusk
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This essay collection kicks off in the worst possible way – with a long complaint about driving which feels like the most boring dinner party conversation ever. The other personal pieces – on parenting, homemaking, marriage – I found more engaging, perhaps because I don’t drive but do have kids, although even then there is little that is novel or striking in them. The real value in the book is in the back half, where Cusk shares her perspectives on authors that have informed her writing. There are a few bizarre claims (“nothing is lost or destroyed or interrogated by comedy” apparently), but generally the values and perspectives Cusk holds dear are well argued for. One of the best essays is a spirited defence of creative writing lessons, which gives an empathetic portrait of what people get out of them. The other is on the knotty paradoxical problems of ‘women’s writing’ and whether greater equality has led to writing about domestic concerns being perceived as less prestigious. Cusk’s own (deserved) success and acclaim somewhat disproves that argument.

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My year in lists 2022

The end of the year is about making lists, so here's everything I've watched, read and played in 2022. The below is ordered roughly by preference, and the links go to my jottings on here, Goodreads and Letterboxd.


I was living away from my wife and kids for a few months this year and filled out the evenings by watching films. A lot of films. The Truffaut deep dive didn't bring up many pearls, but the top half of the list below are definite favourites. Only one trip to the cinema to see something new this year, and I'm happy it was Everything Everywhere All At Once.

Daniels - Everything Everywhere All At Once [link]

Paolo Sorrentino - The Great Beauty [link]
Jane Campion - In The Cut [link]
Wong Kar-wai - 2046 [link]
Steven Soderbergh - Out of Sight [link]
Yoshihiro Nakamura - Fish Story [link]
Mike Nichols - Primary Colours
Clive Barker - Hellraiser [link]
Sion Sono - Love Exposure
Gregor Jordan - Buffalo Soldiers
Norifumi Suzuki - Sex and Fury
Rian Johnson - Knives Out [link]
Susan Seidelman - Desperately Seeking Susan [link]
Jon Watts - Spider-Man: No Way Home [link]
Spike Jonze - Being John Malkovich [link]
Alfred Hitchcock - North by Northwest
Jane Campion - Holy Smoke [link]
Lana Wachowski - The Matrix Resurrections [link]
François Truffaut - The Soft Skin [link]
François Truffaut - Anne and Muriel (Two English Girls) [link]
François Truffaut - Shoot the Piano Player [link]
François Truffaut - Jules and Jim [link]
Christopher McQuarrie - Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Francis Lawrence - Constantine
Mark Cousins - The Story of Film: A New Generation [link]
Lorene Scafaria - Hustlers [link]
Nagisa Oshima - Violence at Noon [link]
Shohei Imamura - Warm Water Under A Red Bridge [link]
Masayuki Miyano - Lala Pipo: A Lot of People [link]


I've started cross-posting my Goodreads reviews on here and it really looks like I mostly write about books now. Harold Bloom never fails to encourage you to up your reading game. After devouring his Bright Book of Life I tried a bit of Virginia Woolf (not for me) and Leo Tolstoy (a bit better), and am planning on finally tackling a Dostoevsky next year. Three weeks in Japan meant some Japan-focused reading (Ian Buruma's short history, Kawabata, Mishima, Empire of the Sun). Took a conscious break from science fiction (Rachel Cusk, Donna Tartt, Alan Hollinghurst) but I think I'm going to go back to it with a vengence in 2023. This year I strayed out of my comfort zone, next year I'll marinade in it.

Stephen King - On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft [link]
Harold Bloom - The Bright Book of Life: Fifty-Two Novels to Read and Re-Read Before You Vanish [link]
Duncan Weldon - Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back Again [link]
Ian Buruma - Inventing Japan 1853-1964 [link]
Ernest Gellner - Nations And Nationalism [link]
Gene Wolfe - Castle of the Otter / Castle of Days [link]
Joshua Clover - The Matrix (BFI Film Classics) [link]
Jordan Ferguson - Donuts (33 1⁄3 series) [link]
Scott Plagenhoef - If You're Feeling Sinister (33 1⁄3 series) [link]
Anne Billson - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BFI TV Classics) [link]
Liara Roux - Whore of New York: A Confession [link]

J.G. Ballard - Empire of the Sun [link]
John M. Ford - The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History [link]
Leo Tolstoy - Anna Karenina [link]
Donna Tartt - The Secret History [link]
Alan Hollinghurst - The Line Of Beauty [link]
Florence Dugas - Sad Sister [link]
Rachel Cusk - Outline [link]
Gene Wolfe - Gene Wolfe's Book of Days [link]
Virginia Woolf - Mrs Dalloway [link]
Angela Carter - The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman [link]
Yasunari Kawabata - The Sound of the Mountain [link]
Yukio Mishima - Thirst for Love [link]
Samuel R. Delany - Equinox (Tides of Lust) [link]

Adrian Tomine - The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist [link]
Inio Asano - Downfall [link]
Warren Ellis / Chris Weston - Ministry of Space [link]
Peter Milligan / C.P. Smith - The Programme
James Tynion IV / Martin Simmonds et al. - The Department of Truth, Vol 1: The End of the World [link]
Junji Ito - No Longer Human [link]
Tom of Finland - The Complete Kake Comics
Doug Petrie / Ryan Sook - Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ring of Fire [link]
Brian Wood / Rebekah Isaacs et al. - DV8: Gods and Monsters [link]
Peter Milligan / Esad Ribić - Sub-Mariner: The Depths [link]
Warren Ellis / Jacen Burrows - Bad World [link]


I beat Disco Elysium and Dark Souls this year and honestly feel like I can retire from gaming. It's not going to get better than that, is it? Dragonfall was very good prestige TV, and given I don't watch TV there might be room to do a few more RPGs like it. Otherwise I've been enjoying narrative-light systems-heavy games on mobile, which are convenient snacks and a bit easier to digest. Probably will be some more of that in 2023.

ZA/UM - Disco Elysium: The Final Cut [link]
FromSoftware - Dark Souls Remastered [link]
Harebrained Schemes - Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director's Cut [link]
Mega Crit Games - Slay the Spire
Subset Games - Into the Breach


Out of Sight

Out of Sight is rightly lauded for its sharp editing, but it’s just as much a demonstration of the importance of editing in writing. Every action and exchange of dialogue cracks like a whip in this film. And it's all to a purpose – either building character or advancing the plot.

There’s some intriguing symbolism at play as well. Karen gets the unusual present of a gun from her dad, a token of familial love that Jack Foley takes away from her. But as Karen and Jack’s relationship deepens, he gives the gun back as a way of showing his own affection for her. Jack has never actually shot anyone while Karen has – so within that gesture (and the gun’s obvious phallic connotations) is a subversion of stereotypical violent masculinity. The gift giving is repeated at the end when Karen allows Jack to play with his lighter for the duration of his trip to jail. Jack fiddles with it throughout the film but he doesn’t smoke – he plays with fire but tries not to get burned. He talks his way in and out of situations instead.

There is a lot of talk in the film. It’s known for the sizzling on screen chemistry between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, but that’s based less on sultry looks (I mean, there’s an awkward wave…) but on conversation. The climactic moment when they get together is purposefully overlaid with dialogue. These two just can’t stop talking to each other. And it’s not really flirting either – as demonstrated by the pick-up lines Karen has to fend off at the bar. It’s an attraction built on an appreciation of manner, bearing, charm and wit as much as their undeniable good looks.

And perhaps there’s also a mutual recognition that these qualities are not recognised by the world around them. Karen is condescended to by the men in her professional life. Jack’s talents are not valued in the real economy – they’d just get him a job as a security guard. The two find solace in each others appreciation for how good they are at what they do. It’s a bit like Heat except if Pacino and De Niro get to sleep together before their big showdown.


Favourite music of 2022

Releases that made an impression:

SZA - SOS (highlight: 'Special')

Not as good as Ctrl but then again what is? This record is long and vibey and somehow not as hooky as the debut, which is a bit of a problem. But on the other hand, SZA's writing and cadence remain as singular and brilliant as ever, so while there is a bit of drift you're never far from being confronted with another surprising turn of phrase or complex emotional situation. It's one to live in and soak up even if it doesn't contain absolute devastators like 'Prom' or 'Love Galore'.

Anxious - Little Green House (highlight: 'In April')

2021 favourites Arm’s Length didn’t quite follow through on their debut album this year, but thankfully the boys from Anxious came in with a perfectly fine pop-punk record – very catchy and making the most of contrasting sweet harmonies with hardcore roars. Lyrically threadbare, and doesn’t particularly have standout songs (the left turn into gentle indie rock on the final track is nice but nothing memorable). But as background energiser music little can beat it.

Rachika Nayar - Heaven Come Crashing (highlight: 'Heaven Comes Crashing' feat. maria bc)

Ambient noise midwest emo anime soundtrack epic – with those kind of descriptors thrown about in the end of year list write-ups I was going to have to check this out, wasn’t I? The album is basically all of those things, and yes the bit where the drum n bass comes in is obviously the best.

feeble little horse - Heyday (highlight: 'Chores')

This is cheating because the album actually came out in October 2021, but it was reissued, hyped up and reviewed on Pitchfork this year, and anyway it’s my list and I make the rules. Noisy guitar pop that keeps glitching in weird ways (hyperpop is an influence), and therefore never gets boring. Case in point: the majestic single ‘Chores’, which punctuates its very catchy hook with a vocal outtake that injects surprise, humour and self-deprecation amidst its temper tantrum about inconsiderate housemates.

Nia Archives - Forbidden Feelingz (highlight: '18 & Over')

Basically does for me what last year's PinkPantheress did, which is to refresh a beloved but decades-old genre and apply some feminine pressure to it. As her moniker might suggest, Nia Archives treats the material with a certain reverence, but the addition of her own vocals turns the choons into actual songs, inflected by her own personal history and perspective.

Whatever The Weather - Whatever The Weather (highlight: '17°C')

This is just very nice. Loraine James was a teenage emo kid who went through Death Cab to The Postal Service to Dntel, and this release for Ghostly International goes back to those roots, shaving off IDM's abrasiveness and leaving something supremely pleasant to waft around while you're answering your emails as the rain patters outside. Once again the drum n bass section is the highlight because it always is.

Yr Poetry - Ruin Music (highlight: 'Songs that Mention Radio are Cheating')

Tiding me over while I wait for the next Johnny Foreigner release. This side project burrows deep into inscrutable personal history, obscure scene psychogeography and reflections on being in a band following other bands and the cities and spaces they work in. It’s Johnny Foreigner but even more so – indulgent for sure, but I’m happy to indulge them. Case in point: Alexei channeling Craig Finn and yelling (ironically) about kids in bands being no good these days. He also does some spoken word bits that are actually good. I could listen to him all day. There’s maybe 1,000 people on this earth that are in the pocket for this sort of thing and I’m one of them.

Real Lies - Lad Ash (highlight: 'Boss Trick')

One long reverie about nights out in London. Admittedly not a lifestyle I've indulged in a huge amount, although even I recognise the sense of romance and mystery it could entail. Real Lies convey it masterfully, and suffuse it with an abiding sense of melancholy. It's basically Burial but with half-sung, half-whispered accounts of late night trysts and regrets from the perspective of someone who is too old to do this sort of thing anymore. This is what I imagined Junior Boys sounded like before I listened to them, and Real Lies do it much better. Oh it's such bliss to reminisce!

Pool Kids - Pool Kids (highlight: 'Arm's Length')

I thought this was the consensus pick for emo album of the year so was rather surprised it didn't appear a bit higher on lists. Perhaps the rather odd sequencing, which relegated the standout single to the very back, didn't hook people in enough. For me this is a straight-up pop album – it's just the knotty, mathy elements make it hard to realise at first. There's a lot of studio ingenuity going on in the background to accentuate its riffs and hooks (check out this deep dive on the use of vocoder in one of the standout songs). And it's all packaged together by Christine Goodwyne's accounts of being trod on by friends, lovers, managers, internet trolls and the world as a whole and powering through despite it all. We all need a bit of that motivation in our lives.

Releases from loved acts that disappointed:

Skullcrusher - Quiet The Room
Arm's Length - Never Before Seen, Never Again Found
The Beths - Expert in a Dying Field
Purity Ring - graves
Hatchie - Giving the World Away


Anna Karenina

Anna KareninaAnna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truth be told Anna Karenina is quite an annoying person and her book gets a lot more chill and charming whenever it switches to Levin and his weird hang-ups. The novel is structured around drawing comparisons and contrasts between the two main plot strands and couples, but it ultimately doesn’t lead to a summation at the end. The climax of Anna’s story is expertly built up but then ends abruptly, and it’s up to the reader to draw their own judgements about her tragic life. Tolstoy wraps up his novel with a strange left turn, which readers of a non-religious persuasion might find unsatisfying. The joy of the book is in its well-realised characters and moments, but it does not resolve neatly – it’s autobiographical elements destabilise the novelistic urge towards an orderly narrative.

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Sad Sister

Sad SisterSad Sister by Florence Dugas
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dugas cannot help but associate the extreme sexual proclivities of her characters with buried trauma and a barely-disguised death-drive. That adds a disturbing and frightening edge to her erotic scenarios, where the prospect of tipping over the edge into murder becomes part of the thrill. Almost inevitably, masochism becomes associated with a kind of negative religious martyrdom. The narrator is born again as a result of the sacrifice of her counterpart, and continues her dalliance with her somewhat distant dom. There's very little here that's playful or caring – the glimpses of aftercare and affection are consigned to the margins as Dugas races to get to the next shocking scene.

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Mrs. Dalloway

The Annotated Mrs. DallowayThe Annotated Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This didn't really work for me – the connection made between Clarissa and Septimus at the end felt extremely forced and artificial, and the associated idea that suicide can be life-affirming felt crass. There are interesting moments and metaphors – the skywriting a meta commentary on interpretation (of people and novels) is a powerful climax in the middle of the book. Septimus's struggles with mental health, and Clarissa's queer sexuality, are sympathetically drawn. But ultimately the narrative voice drawing together the bits and pieces in the novel felt like it was overiding the characters rather than revealing them.

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Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back Again

Two Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back AgainTwo Hundred Years of Muddling Through: The Surprising Story of Britain’s Economy from Boom to Bust and Back Again by Duncan Weldon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very good particularly for idiots like me who struggle to get their heads around economics. Wheldon's narrative loses the thematic thread a little bit. The idea that introduces the book is 'path dependency' – prior decisions binding the hands of decisionmakers, and it could have been brought out a bit more in the subsequent story Wheldon tells. This is nonetheless a very clear, readable and wide-ranging history and leaves you better informed about the challenges facing Britain's economy.

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