Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

By Mollie Campbell

Since getting a full time job, I have found it very difficult to find the time to even write blog posts, let alone post them. Now that I have found a good routine in terms of time management, I am hoping to start posting more regularly.

I was trying to write some lengthy, insightful article… but in the end I remembered that sometimes less is more. So for this post, I am going to do something simple. I am uploading my favourite verse from Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled up in Blue’. And when I think about it, this could well be one of my favourite verses of all time. In fact, I don’t even regard it as a verse; it is prose, a stanza in the never-ending chronicle of Bob Dylan’s stream of writing, something that has seeped its way into every pore of the world we know, even now.

 

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello, she said
You look like the silent type
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And everyone of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

 

I am going to write a deeper analysis/article soon, but for now I will leave you with these words, and hope that they move you as much as they did when I first listened to it.

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of the Bride’ – Album Review.

Album: Father of the Bride

Band: Vampire Weekend

Members: Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Chris Baio

Genre: indie-rock

Rating: 8/10

Song Highlights: Harmony Hall, This Life, Bambina, Sympathy

A new album after 6 years was always going to be a hard thing to achieve, making sure it was exactly what the band envisioned musically and artistically, whilst simultaneously maintaining their success and living up to public expectation. Not only have they finally released another record after six years, they have decided to release a double album, ‘Father of the Bride’ contains 18 songs, resulting in 58 minutes of what I can only describe as somewhat experimental. It features many different sounds, innovations, and rich lyrics.

The album begins with an unexpected folky venture in ‘Hold you now’, a collaboration with Danielle Haim.  At first it would be easy to mistake this for a positive love song, but as the song goes on we realise that the lyrics are actually quite dark. This is more of a reflection on the revelation that this couple will not stay together forever, but the immensity of their love is still intact. ‘I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now’.  The next song, ‘Harmony Hall’ which was released as a single on January 24th of this year is undoubtedly the anthem of the album. I absolutely love this song; everything about it comes together so naturally. The foundation of the song is the light-hearted and nostalgic piano, and a flamenco style guitar riff, the essence of the song. More instruments are added throughout until they all begin to clash, but in a good way, as if all the components are being drawn to each other. The lyrics are quite dark yet the song is very energetic and infectious. The song is honest, reflective and politically charged.

“Anger wants a voice, voices wanna sing, singers harmonize ’til they can’t hear anything, I thought that I was free from all that questionin’, but every time a problem ends, another one begins”.

“I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

There are a lot of different thoughts, concepts and emotions battling it out for a place within this song. Koenig’s song writing is very raw and free, it isn’t forced yet it is incredibly important. The lyrics are somewhat dark; they contrast heavily with the upbeat sound.  I think the song is profound and informative without lacking the components it needs to be played on mainstream radio.

Bambina is a 1min 42 second venture into Koenig’s mind, giving us an insight into what drives him, angers him and what kind of message he is trying to portray. The guitar riffs he produces and the way he sings feels quite classic, or timeless, yet he experiments with modern technology and sounds, adding in synthesizers frequently. ‘This Life’ is a refreshing and vintage sounding song, it is similar to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ but the lyrics are much darker.

“Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain, I just thought it didn’t rain in California”.

 “Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes, I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer”.

The lyrics are sad yet the music is hopeful, a clever juxtaposition and an enjoyable song. Next up is ‘Big Blue’, definitely not a favourite for me. I understand the intent and the inspiration behind this and I like the concept but I think it is possibly a bit too ambitious; it results in a bit of a boring drawl.

‘How Long’ really makes me think that this is a much darker album than people will realise, opening with the lyrics:

“Tough choice? Don’t make me laugh, My life’s a joke, your life’s a gas”.

The chorus is depressing, but you can’t criticise how honest his song writing is:

“How long ’til we sink to the bottom of the sea? How long, how long?”.

The next verse is like a Sgt. Pepper inspired sad memory, it is raw and disheartening:

“What’s the point of getting clean? You’ll wear the same old dirty jeans, What’s the point of being seen? Those eyes are cruel, those eyes are mean, What’s the point of human beings? A sharpie face on tangerines, Why’s it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017?”

‘Unbearably White’ is a rather melancholy journey into Koenig’s thought process and despair, whereas ‘Rich Man’ is very interesting musically, with retro, crackly sounds that really give it an aspect of authenticity.

‘Married in a Gold Rush’, another collaboration with Danielle Haim, is more of a lyrical adventure than a musical one. The sound is quite similar to the other songs on the album, but the lyrics are poetic. At this point, the album starts to feel a little stale and repetitive, which is why ‘My Mistake’ is kind of a saviour.  The lyrics are insightful, but the sound is at the forefront. The experimentation used here is quite impressive, it is hard to criticise due to the care that went into the creativity in this song. For anyone in this current, bland music industry to make that much of an effort in terms of creativity and experimentation, is a miracle, and this is the very thing that prevents Vampire Weekend from becoming boring.

‘Sympathy’ is another venture into experimentation; it is actually one of my favourite songs from the album. There are so many different sounds and vibes, I love the country infused verses and the haunted vocals surrounded by reverb, the Spanish guitars that intervene in such a clashy yet soothing way, the loud drums and an array of other sounds. This really reminds me of a modern day Sgt Pepper attempt, a bold move to bring the meaning of music back into the industry, and it has worked as this album has soared straight to the top of the charts all over the world.

‘Sunflower’ isn’t a favourite of mine but it still provides some interesting sounds and idea’s, and a lot of summery riffs, it’s the kind of song that I thought I’d never like but actually end up looking forward to it when listening to the album. ‘Flower Moon’ I find very interesting, at first it makes me want to hate it but as I carry on listening I feel more intrigued. I love the combination of sounds, the lyrics and the way in which the verses are sung. ‘2021’ is more in depth, the lyrics are bare but you can hear the message that Koenig really is touching on throughout the whole album, the passage of time and how something that felt so right years before can and will fade with time, just like the objects we see around us, everything is worn down in time, even love.

‘We Belong Together’, yet another collaboration with Danielle Haim really isn’t a highlight for me. I mean sure, it interjects some hope into this pessimistic vibe that has been carried throughout the album, but it just seems a bit out of place to me. I love ‘Stranger’ because it is simply an honest reflection of his emotion and what he is feeling at this point in his life. Things aren’t the same as they were, everything he knew has changed but the sound of the song gives me the impression that he is taking it with a pinch of salt and just sailing through life complacently. I also love the different instruments and the reverb/echoed vocals.  At this point, ‘Spring Snow’ is the narrator seriously asking himself if all of the pain is worth fighting for, he battles with this but the title makes you think that the seasons will change things for the better. But really he is saying that the seasons won’t change a thing, ultimately, the sun will come out again but it won’t do a thing to help the situation:  ‘But here comes the sun, those old toxic rays’.

‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’ is the ballad/anthem that the album has been alluding to since the opening lines of Harmony Hall. The lyrics highlight the downfall of humanity throughout points in history, a desperate question in how long humanity will be its own worst enemy. And the fact that more and more, humans are just switching off and turning their backs on important issues within society, becoming even more ignorant over time:

‘Our tongues will fall so still, Our teeth will all decay, A minute feels much longer, With nothing left to say’.

‘So let them win the battle, But don’t let them restart, That genocidal feeling, That beats in every heart’.

It is a politically pleasing and metaphorical end to a wild journey of an album, some songs are monotonous, yet some songs are so far out and experimental it makes you question how this made it into the mainstream charts. There are some faults with this album, but those little niggles are just my personal musical opinions. At the end of the day, they have created a very interesting, innovative and different album that really was worth the wait. Ezra Koenig makes song- writing seem like the simplest thing in the world, but my praise lies within the effort the band have made in terms of creativity. After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, it was thought that music would never be boring again. Fast forward fifty years and in my opinion, the mainstream world of pop has never been more boring, maybe Vampire Weekend have noticed, because this is their Sgt. Pepper.

Mid90s – Movie Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: Mid90s

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

Rating: 8/10

Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is a coming-of-age film following 13 year old Stevie as he befriends an older group of skaters. Set in Los Angeles in the 90’s, the film portrays the experimental, exciting and nonchalant journey of youth but it also shows us a harsher and much more difficult sense of childhood that forces kids to find some sort of outlet, whether it be positive or negative, just as a form of escapism.

Stevie is the son of a single mother is often working, meaning that his older brother Ian is given complete freedom to beat him up as much as he likes. The scenes in which he physically abuses his little brother are very disturbing; I think Jonah Hill did an incredible job with the sheer rawness and honesty of these scenes. There is total silence apart from the loud sounds of a child being beaten up, it is hard not to feel affected when watching something like that. But it all serves its purpose. The film was perceived to be some kind of light-hearted stoner comedy, but it actually turns into a source of education, it is very informative and involves serious issues, not to be taken lightly.

Apart from the complexity of the issues within the film, there are also some very upbeat and funny moments, it kind of feels like a classic before you have even finished watching it. Think of a hybrid between Dazed and Confused and Freaks & Geeks, throw in shades of Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady bird’, and the result is Mid90s. The most important factor in all of these movies is the classic nostalgic time machine that instantly takes us back to a time we perceive as being simpler. Mid90s provided every ounce of nostalgic fulfilment that I was expecting and more, the brands, the locations, the music, the attitude.  And if it wasn’t retro enough, it was shot in an old school style filter, so the whole time we are watching it feels as though we are just looking at our old home movies. There were definitely some moments in which the pace slows down a bit, but the whole point of the movie is merely a commentary on teen life, it shows how much things have changed in the past 20 years, and what things have stayed the same.

It is very funny and easy to watch but it also focuses heavily on the lives we are forced to fit into when we are children, if we are born into a certain life, we have no control or choice as to whether we live in it or not. This is something that many children are faced with, so the film really highlights the bad home lives of some children and how something as simple as skating can stop them from going insane. We see a kid whose family can barely afford to feed him, a boy whose little brother died, someone whose brother relentlessly beats him, and the general sense of loneliness and isolation you can feel within your teen years. The film shows us how children go through their teens, find themselves and how they grow into different versions of their childhood self, it also gives some explanations as to why some people behave in the way they do. It certainly doesn’t glorify or justify the behaviours in regard to certain people like Stevie’s brother, but it does give us an insight.

Overall, whilst it does have some clear faults, the intentions behind this film were good, and for a directorial debut, Jonah Hill has really pulled it out the bag. He mixes complexity with nonchalance, innocence with morality, and highlights the pain within the happiness. It sounds conflicting, but Hill managed to incorporate all of these emotions with ease and simplicity, resulting in a fun, fresh yet familiar tale.

Netflix’s ‘On My Block’ – Season 1 & 2 Review.

By Mollie Campbell

Network: Netflix

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming-of-age, Crime

Starring: Sierra Capri, Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Diego Tinoco

Rating: 9/10

 

Released in March 2018, On My Block is a coming of age comedy set in Los Angeles. The plot centres around four children who have grown up in a poor and crime-ridden neighbourhood, and the struggles they face whilst growing up in these surroundings. Monse, the only girl within the friendship group, is a strong-willed and opinionated girl whose Father is often away working, and whose Mother left her when she was a child. Then there is Rueben ‘Ruby’, a confident math whizz. Jamal, the ‘nerd’ of the group, and Cesar, whose brother has just been released from prison, thrusting him into gang life despite his strong ambition to do something better with his life. Having just released a second season, Netflix is really onto something with this show, it is a very important depiction of poorer neighbourhoods, gang life, and the ‘normal’ trials and tribulations of friendships and navigating your way through high school.

The storylines are often simple yet important and the bigger aspects of the plots are truthful, accurate and incredibly impactful. It is also very educational and informative and prompts people to break through the misconceptions of stereotypes. The acting is natural and very honest; we truly start to believe in these characters, we really feel for them and the type of world that they have been forced to live in. There may be a bit of a grey overcast on their lives, they are always looking over their shoulders or trying to protect Cesar, but there are some truly heart-warming and hilarious moments too, portraying normal teenage life and interactions, and the freedom they have to really find out who they are. Whilst the comedy is the main focal point, this isn’t your usual ‘comedy’; the jokes never deter us or distract us from the issue at hand in each episode, or the arc of the season. And the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters and the severity of the situations they find themselves in are never diminished or tarnished by some other contradicting narrative.

The writers clearly understand the importance of the position they are in and they don’t take this responsibility lightly. We are given an insight into this world that most of us have never been a part of, therefore we don’t truly know the ins and outs of this kind of neighbourhood. Honestly, I think there are so many misconceptions about the people who live in these suburbs, just because a gang decided to stay put in their town, doesn’t mean that they are affiliated with it in any way. This show really highlights that, without stepping too far out of the coming-of-age narrative confinements. But that’s just the thing, there are no confinements or limits with this show, the writers haven’t painted themselves into a corner, instead they have pushed the boundaries in terms of genre and storyline. They have included so many varied storyline and situations, and they have all been set up and delivered in a different context, e.g. comedy, drama, action, crime etc.

In terms of dialogue, there are so many important scenes that the writers have clearly worked hard on in order to make it as truthful and impactful as possible. But it never feels forced, the important issues are at the core of the scenes but it is never false, it feels natural, as if the characters are people we are watching from across the street. At times it can be a bit predictable but at other times it is completely unpredictable, almost volatile, the writers catch us off guard and add so many plot devices, and never for affect, simply because it is important and needs to be told. There are also times in which they could have extended the scenes into something more action packed in order to create more of a surge in ratings, or to widen their demographic, instead they keep them short and simple, never taking advantage of the positions they are in, a position in which they have the power to inform young people and create something that actually feels real, and incredibly important.

Lastly, I love the creation of these four characters, they are all so different from each other and they go through a lot together but it only brings them closer. Each character has their own quirks and traits which we as an audience have grown to love so quickly, I should also mention their classmate and almost-friend Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia), who is without a doubt the funniest character in the show. The writers have done a brilliant job with these characters, the diversity between them only ignites a stronger sense of unity within the group, which is really important.

On My Block is a brilliant show, the storylines are very important and covers some very serious issues, but it never gets too heavy, it never steps away from its light-hearted core. This is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time, and I can’t wait until season 3!

Netflix’s ‘Dead to Me’ – Season 1 Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Show: Dead to Me

Network: Netflix

Genre: Dark comedy, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Christine Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden.

Rating: 9/10

 

This show seems like such a coincidence to me, because it has been released during a time in which I am really delving into the concept of grief, its effects, the differences between how each person grieves, and public reaction etc.

I have recently written articles about grief and how the grieving process is different for everyone; I have also touched upon the weird things people say to you when you are grieving and the different situations we find ourselves in. One thing I forgot to mention in my articles, is the fact that grief, for me anyway, has given me a rather dark sense of humour. I suppose it is how I deal with the pain sometimes.  Ironically, people who haven’t grieved find this sense of humour shocking, it is only ever other people who have been through grief that really understand this viewpoint. ‘Dead to Me’ really contains a lot of this dark humour that grief forces you to have, Christina Applegate’s character uses phrases that are very dark, blunt and cynical because this is how she is coping. But they have also introduced Linda Cardellini’s character; this is one of the reasons why I think the show is brilliant. Straight away, they have introduced two different characters both grieving, but on opposite ends of the grief spectrum. Judy is very positive, open to many possibilities and is very warm and affectionate. The way they have done this instantly gives me the impression that the writers/producers truly understand grief because already they are trying to make the audience aware that no two people grieve in the same way, instantly tearing down this idea of the ‘Five stages of Grief’, something that bothers me massively.

The show perfectly balances the dialogue and genre between drama and dark comedy, it also has thriller/mystery undertones. There are some very funny moments, there are also times of uncertainty and suspense but then there are these incredibly raw, honest and accurate scenes in which the characters are seen as being in such dire pain, the overwhelming feeling that grief gives us is encapsulated very well within this show. The comedy never undermines the importance of the issues at hand, and the dialogue never feels fake.  When I saw the cast list for this show a few months ago, I didn’t really know if the Christina Applegate/Linda Cardellini combo would work, I am a fan of both of their work and whilst the genres of their filmography’s are quite similar, I just couldn’t really envision it working. But as soon as the characters are first introduced, I felt this immense chemistry between the two actresses, the show makes you cherish their friendship even more than the characters themselves.

The first section of my review is what I wrote after the first few episodes, then, the story took an unexpected turn. I won’t spoil what happens but I was a bit miffed that they decided to go with this storyline, because it seems to diminish the importance of the concept of grief. But, the twist is unfortunately what some people have discovered after their spouse has passed away, and we see how much more of a spiral Jen goes into after this, by the end of the show we really start to feel even more sorry for this character, how many more things can this poor woman take? Anyway, I soon realised that this twist didn’t make the writers instantly forget the grief storyline; it actually became even more prominent by the end, despite the other crazy events that unfold. And as someone who lost a parent as a child, I really felt like they did a good job with representing the grief of children. We watch as Jen’s two sons Charlie and Henry, navigate through the dark and messy waters of grief, it portrays how surprisingly mature children can act in times of pain, especially when they have been catapulted into it themselves, and also shows just how much a child feels that pain. As I have discussed in my previous articles, people often stereotype children and presume that they couldn’t possibly have felt the full extent of their grief as a child, when in fact, they feel it all. This show really portrays that well which is what really impressed me the most.

Overall, the writers have done a very good job, some of the twists seem farfetched and silly but it never makes you want to stop watching it. Some of the things that are revealed about Judy are ridiculous and actually very unforgivable but we still root for the Jen/Judy friendship. So whilst the show does have some faults, they have built a very strong foundation in terms of their friendship, and have created a world that instantly feels familiar, I love all of the different characters already. I should also point out that I don’t binge watch many Netflix shows, at least not in a day anyway, but I watched 9 out of the 10 episodes of Dead to Me in one day, that says a lot.

Dead to Me is gripping, dark yet humorous and infectious; I don’t even know if Netflix will renew it yet, but I am already trying to figure out how I am going to wait a whole year for another season. Let  me know what you thought of the show!

Quotes from ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ that really stood out and impacted me.

By Mollie Campbell.

It is ironic that Nine Perfect Strangers is about cleansing the body and reaching enlightenment, because at the end of this book I felt such a strong sense of clarity it was as if I had been on this transformative retreat, only without the psychotic twist and borderline torture…! Despite some faults, I think this book was written brilliantly, these are a few of the quotes that I liked:

“She got to her feet and looked at the starry sky one last time, but there were no answers up there.”

This probably speaks to me because the grief I have experienced has plagued me with a fair amount of cynicism, especially in regard to religion. It’s funny because personally, I have always felt very tranquil when gazing at the bright blurs of light sitting within the dark sky. Everything feels clearer when I look at stars, but then I get this realisation that we are so far away from them, we will never be able to fully understand them and they will never be able to help us. Maybe that explanation didn’t make sense, but to me it does.

“It was at that moment that Carmel Schneider gave herself to Masha with the same voluptuous abandon that novice nuns once surrendered themselves to God.”

I really liked this quote, whilst I support anyone who chooses to believe in a God, I am not religious and I have always found it fascinating how people are swept up into it. I also find the idea of cults interesting because it is so hard to understand how people are brainwashed so easily, Masha is like one of those cult leaders who prey on the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of the guests, in order to feed into the higher power or knowledge that they think they are conveying or successfully tapping into. This was a pivotal moment in the book for me, how quickly this character has surrendered herself to someone she barely knows.

“The anniversary was tomorrow. Napoleon sensed its dark, malignant shadow. It was irrational to feel frightened of a day. It was just a sad day, a day they were never going to forget anyway. He reminded himself that this was normal. People felt like this on anniversaries. He’d felt this same impending sense of doom last year. Almost as if it were going to happen again, as if this were a story he’d read before and he knew what lay ahead.”

I don’t even need to explain this one, Moriarty has not only described the way grief makes us question ourselves and our sanity, but she has also portrayed the overwhelming impact of anniversaries and milestones and the way they creep up on us, immediately transporting us back to such raw and inescapable pain.

‘Fan through the back’ said Yao. Napoleon fanned through the back and felt his muscles stretch and the sun warm on his face as he tasted the sea from the tears that ran heedlessly down his face. But he wasn’t broken’.

She turned to Masha. She said, ‘Have you been medicating us?’.

‘Do you know what Steve Jobs said? He said that taking LSD was one of the most important, profound experiences of his life.’

‘Oh, well then,’ said Lars, greatly amused.’ If Steve Jobs said we should all take LSD, then we really should!’.

The scenes in which they all feel the effects of the LSD is hilarious, and horrifying at the same time, the fact that they are being drugged against their will is completely insane. I would never have predicted half of the twists and turns in this book, it is thrilling, funny and honest. It is a clever commentary on people and how they see the world, but more importantly on how they see themselves, the difference between male and female body images, and the superficiality of social media.

“Maybe this was how he felt; like his mind, body and soul were shrouded in grey fog. Like there was not much point to anything at all.”

This quote is referring to Zach, Napoleon and Heather’s son who committed suicide. Napoleon is finally starting to try and understand the reason behind why his son did what he did, as opposed to how, or resulting to anger.

There are many quotes I could list here, but these are just a few that really cover some important issues that Moriarty has been brave enough to confront head on. If you haven’t read Nine Perfect Strangers, give it a go. Or if you have read it, I would love to hear some of your thoughts!

‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ – Book Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Contains Spoilers

Book: Nine Perfect Strangers

Author: Liane Moriarty

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller

Rating: 9 ½ out of 10.

 

Nine Perfect Strangers, where do I begin? As a fan of Liane Moriarty’s ‘Big Little Lies’, I was immediately attracted to this book. Whilst the blurb was short and concise, I was intrigued straight away. What I really liked about it is the fact that it is hard to really pinpoint it as one specific genre. When I bought it, I thought it would be a contemporary, sarcastic reflection of modern life and the way people live their lives. It was. But later on I thought it was turning into a bit of a murder mystery, then I thought ‘Oh God it’s going to be a soppy romance isn’t it?’ But by the end, it was a low key thriller, bordering on horror. Maybe not, but there was certainly a lot of potential for horror after that twist, that mind-blowing, terrifying, psychotic twist that I never saw coming.

The story is written in different perspectives, all of the nine ‘strangers’ have their own chapters from their point of view, including the wellness coaches at the retreat (Masha, Yao and Delilah), but protagonist Frances Welty is the primary voice in the story, with a lot of chapters being written from her perspective. Set in Australia, Nine Perfect Strangers is about a group of people who travel to an expensive health retreat in order to ‘Cleanse’ and ‘Transform’ themselves. Each character comes with their own set of reasons but the ultimate goal is to change their lifestyles and perspectives. Frances is a published author of romance novels, Tony is an ex- AFL player, Lars is a Lawyer, Carmel is a divorced mother of four, Ben and Jessica are a rich young couple hoping to save their marriage, and Heather, Napoleon and their daughter Zoe are a grieving family who are spending the anniversary of their son Zach’s death at the retreat.

Moriarty’s observations of humans are portrayed so accurately in this book, we all know someone like each of the characters, and we all live in the same internet/technology-reliant way that they do, whether we like it or not. I think she described so many important issues so accurately, from her depiction of grief, to drug addiction, to the thin line within some people’s mentality that simply cannot prevent them from having a psychotic episode, the complete opposite of what I thought I was about to read. The pace is excellent, I was hooked straight away and read it over the course of two days. The dialogue flowed so naturally, and at times it literally made me laugh out loud, which is something books rarely make me do, especially in public! I love the way the characters were created with such ease, Moriarty was able to carve out these characters in such a defined way, it felt as if I knew them all straight away. This is a very hard thing to do, especially given the fact that the origins of the characters are not fully exposed until a much later stage.

When they first arrive at the retreat, they are given blood tests, which led to a paragraph that made me realise instantly that I was going to enjoy this book;

Did this young man currently helping himself to her blood even have medical expertise? ‘Are you trained as a…?’ she was trying to say ‘do you know what the hell you’re doing?’.

‘I used to be a paramedic in a previous life’ replied Yao.

She met his eyes. Was he possibly a little mad? Did he mean he was a reincarnated paramedic? You never knew with these alternative types. ‘You don’t mean, literally, a previous life?’. Yao laughed out loud. A very normal-sounding laugh ‘It was about ten years ago now’.

Masha, the eccentric and controlling leader of the retreat is introduced in such a towering way; she is a complex character, a Rubik’s cube, layered and unpredictable. And I love the sarcasm that is present throughout: “Before we begin our first guided meditation, I have a story to share’ said Masha. ‘Ten years ago, I died’. Well, that was unexpected. Frances sat a little straighter.

As the narrative progresses, things get weirder, as a reader we start to doubt the authenticity of this retreat, at ‘Tranquilium House’. The guests bags are searched, and they are all forced to take part in a ‘noble silence’, things start to look a bit like a cult, and this idea is confirmed at the end of chapter 21, when Moriarty writes: It was at that moment that Carmel Schneider gave herself to Masha with the same voluptuous abandon that novice nuns once surrendered themselves to God. This is so sudden, and truly chilling to think that this person is becoming susceptible to brainwashing so easily.

The plot twist I wasn’t expecting is when Heather asks Masha; ‘Have you been medicating us?’ which leads into therapy sessions with all of the guests feeling the effects of LSD, which they unknowingly ingested. Whilst this is utterly shocking, the result is hilarious. But things get darker when they all get locked in a room; Masha turns psychotic and will not let them out until they somehow reach the ceiling of the room to find a hidden message. As the guests hopelessly try leaping to the ceiling, Masha, who is watching through the surveillance camera, sedates Yao and forces the guests to play a game called ‘Death Row’ in which they all have to defend each other’s lives to be freed. I mean, talk about plot twist, this is not where I thought he book was leading at all. Ben then says to Masha; ‘What happens if – according to you, our judge- we don’t successfully defend our clients?’. To which she responds: ‘Well, obviously we don’t generally execute our guests! That’s not good for business!’ She laughed gaily. I mean, this is a completely illegal, horrific, psychotic and inhumane turn of events, but somehow Moriarty still manages to make the reader laugh.

The only little fault I can think of is a slight decline after the ‘big event’, even though it is thrilling, it feels a bit anti-climactic. There is also a sense of everything being tied up at the end in a perfect happy ending, but I interpret this as the author’s nod to the protagonist Frances, who writes happy romantic endings herself. But also, it is an honest depiction of some people having ‘perfect’ lives, whether they are happy behind closed doors or not, some people will only ever put a perfect image of themselves on display. I think this book has got something in it for everyone; it is funny, witty and completely unpredictable, in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading; I enjoyed this book so much that I will be publishing another article next week, highlighting my favourite quotes and how Liane Moriarty has encapsulated grief, and many other issues like drug addiction and mental health, in such a truthful and important way.

The dangers of stereotyping Grief, and the effect it has on people who are suffering through it.

By Mollie Campbell

This article is an account of some of my experiences with grief, the way in which the world navigates through the waters surrounding grief and how it impacts us.

In the 21st century, from a young age, children are told that they can be whoever they want to be. We encourage individuality, freedom, uniqueness, a world without stereotyping, yet the second the conversation grazes over the topic of grief it is like everybody who hasn’t been through it instantly goes into a conditioned, deprecating, rehearsed spiel on how there are ‘5 stages of grief’ and ‘do this to move on’, ‘move forward’, ‘heal’…as if we are supposed to all react in the exact same, structured way, stomping all over that garbage they said before about being individualistic.

People tell you it will hit in stages, that is technically true, but ‘experts’ lead people to believe that it always works that way. Grief isn’t as structured as that, in fact grief isn’t structured at all, it is a mess. A great big sloppy mess, it’s like walking on a tightrope. You try and try with all of your might to stay on that rope, curling and tensing your toes to keep yourself from falling. Others may make it to the other side, but they still feel the soreness on their feet, they cannot escape this. Others may fall, one tiny wrong move and the balance is gone. This is the only way I can think to describe grief; it attacks you out of nowhere. You might be doing ‘ok’ and then one day, a word someone says, a song you hear, a memory that gives you goose bumps has the power to bring this immense pain back so harshly and abruptly, it feels like your body is tearing in two.

But this also just shows us that there isn’t one set way to grieve, everybody is different, there isn’t a textbook telling us exactly how to feel and what to do. So why should we all be expected to react in the same way? Another big factor is the way other people react to it, they don’t know what to say which is fair enough but sometimes it is better to be there silently than to give advice on something they don’t have experience with. When I was 7, I lost my father to Cancer. And the things people said to me over the years were just absurd, I mean, you wouldn’t even think to say this stuff to an adult, let alone a child.

‘At least you were a child’ they would say.

‘Oh but at least you don’t remember anything that traumatic, you were only 7 right?’.

And my personal favourite, a teacher who said: ‘It has been five years now Mollie, it’s time to get over it a bit’. I was 12, 12….! I often wondered if these people heard those words escaping their lips with ease, void of any sincere compassion or emotion. Preaching something they had zero knowledge on, thinking it is better to spurt out information than to accept the simple fact that I was in pain, what they didn’t realise is that it was ok to be in pain. I just felt like screaming at them that I remembered it all, all of the hospital appointments, I watched him have chemotherapy, watched his hair fall from his head, watched his eyes roll back as he was having a fit, saw him in intensive care, and I stood there and watched as he took his final breath. I was 7, but I was there for it all, and I remember every single second, in fact, I will never be able to escape those moments in my head, even if I tried.

Some people compared my father dying to their parents splitting up, I felt true empathy and understood it would be a heart-breaking thing to see your family split in two, but they could never quite grasp that I meant death. At least they would see both of their parents again; I would never see my father again. Die, that word. So short, the time it takes you to say it is the time it could possibly take for someone to die, how ridiculously fleeting is that. You’d expect it to be some sort of long intricate word at least then that would be an attempt at matching the feelings we feel when somebody dies. How can somebody that means so much to you be gone in a matter of moments?

 

The biggest impact of stereotyping grief and the way in which we do it, is people thinking that they are ‘weird’ or ‘abnormal’ for not reacting in the same way as other people. If we think we have to adhere to some unwritten rule about how to grieve, subconsciously we will think that we are somehow doing it wrong, but how could you possibly grieve incorrectly? I think because death is one of the most certain and inevitable things in life, it makes people uncomfortable knowing that they can’t avoid it, and nobody really understands what happens when we die, it is a segment of the unknown. Humanity doesn’t deal with the unknown very well, we have to see things laid out clearly in front of us, if we have a lack of understanding on the subject, we try mercilessly to come up with some systematic method of labelling it, in order to fear it less. So the stages of grief thing is a natural reaction to not understanding grief, I get it, but we shouldn’t be preaching it to people who are grieving, because it is a system created by one brain, and all of our brains are so different.

It also really prompts people to completely underestimate the sheer extent of grief…the pain doesn’t magically disappear after those 5 stages. The stages are just the beginning, grief essentially stays with us forever…I can’t speak for everyone because as I keep reiterating, everybody is different. But in my case, grief has been a part of my life since I was seven years old, and I know it will always be a part of me. And the hardest part is accepting the fact that it will never truly be gone, that is what happens when a piece of you dies with your loved one. You can stitch your heart back up again, but it will never truly fit together in the same way it did before.  Learning to live and feel in a new way, one where the love we feel isn’t being absorbed by the one we have lost, is the most difficult part of it all.

Everybody uses their own coping strategies, and everybody’s journey is different. For anybody out there who is suffering a recent loss, as cliché as it sounds, it truly does get better. It never goes away, but you will learn to live with it, things will never be the same as they were before but that initial rawness and pain will start to feel less intense, and in time you will be able to have a memory of your loved one without the beauty of it being tarnished by pain.

My favourite quotes from ‘Turning for Home’.

By Mollie Campbell.

“People tried to make out what was happening, but there was a shore they couldn’t venture beyond. So they watched from the strandline and tried to imagine how cold the water must be. Then shouted out from time to time that I really should eat, I really should lift myself up out of the sorrow I was in, and hoped I could hear them over the waves, the storm raging”.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m being punished. Or I’m going mad. It’s been a year now, but really, all that stages-of-grief nonsense, it seems to me to be absolute rubbish. I don’t think you ever get used to any of it. Because she’s gone, hasn’t she? And I just, I don’t know. It’s just very sad. And it’s infuriating. I don’t think it would even help me very much if I had the sort of faith that allowed for the possibility of a meaningful afterlife.  Because I know I sound like a spoiled child, but I don’t want her then, I don’t want to wait, I want her now”.

“Dreams, as far as I can see, are as natural and inescapable as the shadows people cast when they stand in the light. I think if I could only keep hold of them all, and fashion the dreams of my life into one long chain, perhaps I might be able to make out the route I’ve been taking, and see where I’m aiming for. It will never be possible, of course. I will have to be like everyone else, and live in the space between reality and dreaming instead, and cling to what clues I can find to the code that would decipher me, if only I could ever make it out”.

“I look at my parents now, and see how much taller than mum I’ve grown, and can’t help feeling like I’ve outgrown all those memories. I wish I could still be filled with that much hope, and feel that free of any worry, any care, and able to concentrate only on the taste of the wine, the way the light passed through the glass when I held it up, the way Aunt Laura’s laugh seemed sharp enough to crack glass”.

“Things rise up and claim you, and mark you for greatness or mark you for tragedy, and the route of your life is mapped by forces entirely beyond you”.

“All I know is that I live held fast in the empty, vast embrace of the blue sky, the bright water, the loneliness I have learned to call being alive”.

“The threads of the conversation keep fraying like that all day. It seems there’s no way of touching the sides of grief, and slowing your fall as you plummet into it. I remember a story Mum told me once of a man who tunnelled all the way from England to Australia. I suppose that’s what it’s like to lose someone. You have to pass all the way through the centre of the earth before you come out into the light again, dizzy with the emptiness of losing something you need and can’t have anymore”,

“What is needed is an amnesty, a forgetting. What might save us all is a way to put our lives behind us, and love facing into the future, not always turned back looking for the past. But the song of memory is forever calling. You can’t just wash it away. It’s everything people are made of”.

“I don’t think he understands, because he isn’t in my head. He’s never quite known how it all looks through my eyes. No one ever succeeds in learning the map of another person’s life; they only glimpse the surface”.

 

‘Turning for Home’ – Book Review.

Author: Barney Norris

Genre:  Contemporary fiction, family, loss

Rating: 7/10

“Things rise up and claim you, and mark you for greatness or mark you for tragedy, and the route of your life is mapped by forces entirely beyond you”.

Turning for Home is written in the format of two different perspectives, with each chapter belonging to either Kate or Robert (who is Kate’s grandfather), taking it in turns to essentially tell the tales of their lives. Robert talks about his life with his late wife Hattie, his past, and his links with the IRA. Kate talks about her strained relationship with her mother, the tragedies that have been thrown at her, and the personal battles she has had to endure. I was very excited to read this, and in the opening few pages I was blown away by how Norris had written this book, some of the sentences in here are things I have thought about so often, this is just the type of writing that I would create myself, so I was instantly drawn to these somewhat philosophical ways of thinking. But as I read on, I slowly realised how slow-moving the plot is, there isn’t any pace to it, and I think the way it is formatted just makes it worse. I love the idea of two separate perspectives within one book, but I don’t think it was executed in the most efficient and exciting way, it had much more potential.

Another thing that I couldn’t quite adapt to is the way he constantly breaks dialogue into separate chunks. It seems kind of sloppy and bitty, the way he makes the characters break off into entirely different points in time without any sort of structural or grammatical warning. I love surprises and twists in books, but I found this to be very irritating. On the other hand, I do like the fact that this format could be a metaphor for the complexity of the human mind and our emotions, memories are bitty and random, grief is unorganised and unstructured. The bittiness is a very accurate representation of how we as humans think and feel, particularly in times of pain. We may be in a public setting; we might even be in the middle of a conversation with someone, whilst simultaneously re-living a completely different memory in the back of our heads, trying to balance both scenarios, so that the past doesn’t accidentally slip over into the future. If this is what he intended to portray, then I think that is a very clever observation of the power of human emotion.

Although there were a few things I disliked, e.g. the whole IRA story itself, which seemed to be shoved in at the last minute to add a bit more depth to the character, I found myself becoming more enthralled as I delved deeper into the plot. The pace picks up a bit and we really start to gain an insight into these characters minds, we start to resonate with the very normal and common human emotions that they are dealing with. Grief, loss, family tension, mental health issues, the point really starts to become clear. This book doesn’t have a bulky plot, and in time it becomes clear why, this book is more about the simplicity of characters exposing their truths, their deepest emotions and how they attempt to decipher them. The book became metaphorically richer as I kept reading, each quote touched me more than the previous one as the focus finally came into play, pain…the pain we all feel,  that we can do nothing about. It is raw and honest, and the anorexia storyline is dealt with such accuracy and truth, and the way the characters react are not forced or overly dramatised, they are truthful representations.

Having experienced grief first-hand, there were a lot of things that resonated with me in this book. It provides an honest and raw analysis of the grief we feel, and how it impacts each person differently, it focuses on our individuality as human beings, how we each deal with the pain life throws at us, a profound commentary on how we live and feel, and how the things that happen to us are out of our control, as scary as that may seem. I started this book feeling kind of disappointed, and I ended up feeling moved. There wasn’t an ultimate revelation, it didn’t alter my mind, instead it simply reminded me that human emotion is the strongest thing we can feel, it reinforced the idea that everybody feels these things, it is just hard to lay it all out in the open, where we feel most vulnerable. This book is like looking in the mirror, and I believe that every person, even if they have never experienced the events that unfold in this book, can take something away from it.

If you stick with it, Turning for Home is an excellent contemporary reflection of life, constant family and societal influence, and the idea that the past is just as present and relevant to us as the future is.