book haul, books, currently reading, Man Booker, Netflix, race, recently watched

I’ve had a busy day today so I’ve been super late with all of my postings. I’ve got a genuine excuse for my distraction… honest. No seriously, this isn’t like those other times when I’ve just laid in bed and not had the energy to get to my keyboard. I’ve been working and doing stuff. So I’m here, late on a Sunday night before a Monday early shift and I’m madly trying to remember what I’ve done this week, It’s been a weirdly quiet one. After being on a bit of a spending spree recently I promised myself I wasn’t going to buy more books and I nearly got through a week without it. Of course, being me, I didn’t make it a whole 7 days. Damn this obsessive book love. It’ll be the death of me… or at least my bank balance.

Currently Reading
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

So a week ago I was praising this for improving my desire to read and celebrating how quickly I was getting through it. Unfortunately, I keep being put on shifts with some great people so it’s harder to abandon them in favour of solitary reading. Still, I’m getting there. I still love it but recent developments have distracted me even more from reading. Once things have calmed down I’ll be back on it. I promise.

Recently Purchased

  • The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Shukla (ed.)
I was really smug about getting through the week without giving in to my weaknesses and buying a book. Then I saw this on Instagram and knew I had to have it. It is a collection of 21 pieces by Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people who describe their experiences in Britain today. It sounds fucking awesome and exactly the kind of thing I should be reading. The kind of thing we should all be reading.

Recently Watched
  • Netflix repeats
In the last few weeks I’ve rewatched I’m Alan Partridge, Fawlty TowersThat Mitchell and Webb Look and The Mighty Boosh as I get ready in the morning. I’m the kind of person that needs something on in the morning to keep me focused. I know it sounds strange but it works for me. So I put on stuff I’ve already seen. It means when I’m looking for the odd episode of an evening, though, it means I carry on with the series. Basically, I’m just killing time until Luke Cage is released on Friday. Now that looks fucking awesome. 

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso

books, marriage, race, review, women

The Woman Next Door5_star_rating_system_4_stars1 Thanks to the bible, we are constantly being asked to “love thy neighbour” but in some cases it’s super hard. I, for one, have the pleasure of living next door to a family who make it incredibly tricky to like them. Their constant and loud arguments, weirdly obsessive gardening habits and super barky dog are just a handful of the reasons why they’re firmly situated in my general acquaintances column. In her novel The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotoso deals with two next door neighbours who can’t stand each other. The pair spend their days bickering and attempting to antagonise each other. They disagree on subjects just for the sake of it and look down on the other for their perceptions of the other’s character. It is a rivalry that goes back years and, thanks to an unexpected turn of events, it is something they will have to face head on.

Though the two women in their 80s seemingly have a lot in common, Hortensia James and Marion Agostino couldn’t be more different. Hortensia is a textile designer who came to live in Cape Town by way of Barbados and London. Marion is an ex-architect and has spent most of her life in South Africa. Marion, a white lady, has difficulty fitting into a post-apartheid society whilst Hortensia finds herself the only black homeowner in a distinctly white district. Marion is a widow who spent her days raising more children than she knew how to love while Hortensia’s husband is dying and she mourns the children she was unable to have. Hortensia made a great name and a tidy nest-egg for herself while Marion’s husband left her with nothing more than a pile of debts. So, it’s safe to say that there is plenty for each of the women to envy about the other.

However, as the novel moves on, we learn that their coldness runs deeper than it seems and the pair are both hiding painful histories. They have become hard because life has left them in that position. Hortensia has been forced to put on a front thanks to other people’s preconceptions of her; ideas that have followed her throughout her life. For her part, Marion was never able to get over the fact she sacrificed her professional dream for her family. Both women have settled into lives that are unfufilling in their own way. It is only after Hortensia’s husband dies and an accident brings the pair under the same roof that they begin to be honest with each other.

Omotoso’s story deals with many huge topics over its relatively small number of pages. Most prominent, of course, is race and the political history of South Africa. The racial tensions that still reside after apartheid are obvious for all to see even if people refuse to acknowledge it. Marion is a throwback to a different time and can’t understand why her children despair of her. Still, when Hortensia refers to her as a racist Marion is quick to correct her. As her relationship with Hortensia changes, Marion is forced to come face-to-face with the realities of prejudice that has plagued South Africa for too long. Omotoso deftly handles the socio-political themes by camouflaging them within the women’s personal journey. As the two women slowly reconcile it highlights the broader idea of racial reconciliation.

Although, the issue of race is only one small part of the novel and Omotoso shows in-depth understanding of marriage, family and human psychology. While giving time to the issue of black and white in terms of race, she assures us that human beings are rarely that binary. The women at the heart of this novel have their negatives and their positives. They are neither wholly good nor bad. The image we portray is rarely the real one and everyone, no matter their background, is hiding all sorts of secrets. Marion and Hortensia are not the easiest characters to love but, by the novel’s end, you will have fallen for their charms… even if they are deeply hidden away.

The Woman Next Door is a delight to read for so many reasons. In her second novel Yewande Omotoso shows great skill to combine difficult and important topics and proves to have insight into people. Her characters feel real and their actions are always understandable. Her narrative rarely falters and flows incredibly well despite the constant flashbacks and time jumps. It never stumbles under the weight the historical significance of its setting but manages to co-exist with this tough issue. I know it took me a fucking age to finish but I can’t recommend this novel enough. It’s the most satisfied I’ve felt in literary terms for a long time.

Hermione Granger: The Next Racebender

books, Harry Potter, J K Rowling, race

I was all set to write a review of The Lobster today. I watched it yesterday and really enjoyed it. Then something happened and parts of the internet went crazy… supposedly. It was announced today that the actress playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter play, The Cursed Child is Swaziland-born actress Noma Dumezweni. Now I’m pretty pissed with myself for talking about this because the whole idea of doing an eighth installment as a stage show is fucking stupid. Not just because it’s going against all those times Rowling said she was done with Potter but because it also means so many fans will miss out. However, the story has blown up on new sites with many journalists defending the decision to the naysayers. That, my friends, is the reason I’ve decided to break my silence. Not the defence itself: I couldn’t care less who plays Hermione Granger because, in my opinion, nobody can be more annoying than Emma fucking Watson. No, I’m annoyed because is there really any need to defend it?

The media tend to sensationalise things and there is nothing that gets them more riled up than matters of race. Now I agree that there is a definite whitewashing taking place in film and television at the moment that needs to be addressed. However, we can’t let every little thing turn into a platform to debate when there is no debate. I’ve read a fair few of these “Why shouldn’t Hermione be black?” posts today and have seen no real evidence of any of these naysayers. I’m not saying there won’t be. The world is full of small-minded idiots that can’t handle things like this. However, the overriding feeling seems to be that Harry Potter fans are in favour of this.

In fact the Harry Potter fandom at large probably has less of a problem playing with the race of their beloved characters than any other fandom out there. Just browse Tumblr for a moment and you’ll see racebent illustrations of the main trio all over the fucking place. Especially when it comes to Hermione. There is a great sense of mirroring when you imagine that she suffers prejudice in the muggle world only to be taken out of it and into a world where she is again viewed negatively by many. It makes the already strong and intelligent female an even greater character. Imagine Hermione as a girl who has spent her whole life being judged for something she cannot help whilst she still upholds her beliefs and her sense of self. Fucking brilliant.

There is no doubt that Emma Watson is, in many ways, the epitome of Hermione’s character. She is clever, articulate, strong and has a unflinching moral stance. She is everything JK Rowling wanted Hermione to be. Well, with the exception of her face. Rowling has stated often that Emma Watson didn’t have the right look to play Hermione. In fact, it was only after talking to Watson on the phone that the author decided she was destined to play the schoolgirl. Emma Watson is a beautiful girl which helps Hollywood execs but doesn’t quite fit in with the books.

So what do we know about Hermione Granger’s physical appearance? Well, other than her bushy brown hair, brown eyes and large front teeth, not very much. Hermione isn’t a character that is defined by the way she looks but rather by the kind of person she is. In fact, for the most part JK Rowling didn’t seem to give a shit about the physical appearance of most of her characters. It’s all about who they are not what they look like. Which of course begs the question, why does it matter that the new Hermione Granger is black?

There is the obvious answer of bigotry and the idea that race-swap is political correctness gone mad. However, I’d say the most obvious answer is the films. The hardcore Tumblr fans clearly don’t have much of a problem with the new actress playing Hermione and Rowling herself has come out in favour of the casting. It’s the fans of the films that don’t seem to be able to handle it. The fact is, we have gone from having a very beautiful, young Emma Watson looking Hermione to a very non-Emma Watson looking Hermione.

Nobody likes change and when you become so familiar with a character looking a certain way it’s an adjustment when they change. This isn’t about race per se, but about our unwillingness to move on. The Harry Potter films are such a big part of people’s past that changing it could feel like you’re whole worldview has been skewed. Fans relate to books and films in such a strong and emotional way that seemingly tampering with them in any way feels like a betrayal. I mean we’ve been witnessing the fragile emotional state of Star Wars fans since 1999. When something becomes set in a fans head it can be difficult to rewrite it.  We don’t have to immediately start to imply people are just bigots.

I’m not saying the media are wrong to discuss race in relation to this announcement. I think there will always be a platform to bring up issues of race in theatre, film and television. However, was it necessary to have the sheer volume of articles announcing that it’s okay to have Hermione played by Dumezweni? Doesn’t this only strengthen the idea that society’s major feeling is that it isn’t? The more you have to disagree with something the more you’re suggesting that viewpoint is the norm. How are we supposed to move past the idea that a hero is automatically white until stated otherwise if the media continue to treat ever announcement in this way? It’s not like someone’s just discovered Nessie for fuck’s sake. An actress of colour has taken a role originally played by a white teenager. Why can’t we all just see it for what it is? Absolutely fine.