Two books about rotten, sexist and cruel families in two different genres, and two different countries. I highly recommend The End of Eddy. Eddy was born in 1992, and grew up in a small town in northwest France. It’s an autobiography, but some think it’s a novel. Eddy was born 3rd of five children. Factory work was all his father could do yet by time Eddy was ten years old, his father had become alcoholic and too injured from his job to work anymore. Eddy realized early that he was gay, but in his village in northern France he quickly knew that he had to be straight to survive. The violence in the book is shocking and much of it is at the hands of the boozed up dad, the angry older brother – and a mother who at once tries to please the dad and at the same time tells Eddy she is shielding him. What happened at his school is also more than a textbook case of bullying, ongoing humiliation and teachers who barely look at him twice, let alone help him.
The book is intersectional in that social class and identity politics meet – and create an explosion you won’t easily forget.
The “sister” book, though totally unrelated, is by my new favourite author, Tana French. I’ve reviewed several of her books here and here. What’s great about Faithful Place is that is also about the 3rd child of five, in a very poor working class family in Dublin. Ostensibly the book is a double murder mystery. But what you learn about violence, alcoholism and neglect from the main character’s childhood in the 1980s to conditions and even his family today are shocking. The main character also figures in her other books… Frank is a clever 40 year old who manages despite his family’s low-class address (Faithful Place), and only a high school leaving certificate, to become a Dublin detective. But he is a twisted and compromised human being. Only by staying far from his family, spurning any deep relationship, can he function. In his relationship with his upper middle class, ex-wife (who is a crown prosecutor), and with his 9 year old daughter, Frank veers from threatening, ridiculing and harassing them, to an ultra-protective smothering. He also infantilises both of them. As in all of French’s mysteries, I don’t recommend you pay much attention to who kills whom. The bullying, the neighbours’ creepiness, the relentless jockeying for position, for respect and for duty is well done. And totally believable.
In this book too, social class, and sexual politics intersect in a way that is intense and fearsome. It is well worth reading.
On a less edgy note, I read Late in the Day, a recent novel by the excellent English novelist Tessa Hadley. One critic on the book jacket recommends the book because of its tremendous psychological honesty and insight. Late in the Day is about two couples in London who have known each other since university days. One man is an exciting and wealthy art gallery owner. His wife is interested in money, fame and hiding behind him. The other man is a primary school teacher desperate to keep his job; his wife is an artist. The book revolves around a tragic incident that happens right at the start of the book. I advise: read the first 50 pages and the last 50 pages. The middle 200 can be a bit twee, and a bit repetitive. Still Hadley’s a good writer. I think the book and all the characters (there are children, mothers, a step-son) will stay with me for a few months… If you want to get your feet wet with Hadley’s work, I recommend reading her short stories which are frequently in the New Yorker magazine. Here’s one, and you can listen to her read it –on the same page https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/10/28/the-bunty-club
Lately I’ve been watching the Polish series called 1983 on Netflix. I like it but I’m a sucker for anything from Eastern Europe. If you can forget the anti-Communist theme that erupts from time to time, the series takes place in an alternate period of time, when the Communist Party has been replaced (to a degree) with a much more pro-capitalist one. The show is a thriller, a work of crime fiction about a young and ambitious law student who was orphaned as a young boy. As far as he knows, his parents were killed in a terrorist bombing in Warsaw in 1983. Part of the lure of the series is the role of Vietnamese-Poles who were considered ‘good’ immigrants because just as Poland fought the Russians, the Vietnamese fought the Chinese (something tells me they fought the Americans). The film has recreated a little-Saigon (years after the fall of the real Saigon to the Ho Chi Minh and the National Liberation Front(NLF) in 1975) in Warsaw. The acting is good; the script is fast moving. You have to like subtitles. And you have to like the work of the famous female Polish director Agnieszka Holland who also made Europa, Europa among other excellent films.
In podcasts: Satanic Panic (CBC podcast)
is worth listening to. I was living in Saskatoon in the early 90s when the whole Martensville fiasco and the false memories about satanic abuse at a local daycare erupted. I didn’t especially care for the first three episodes, but the last three were excellent. Really. More about Martensville in an upcoming blog.
Cool Mules is a new podcast series created by some of the crew at Canadaland. I also recommend Canadaland podcast; it’s about the politics of the media and more and it’s biweekly! Cool Mules fascinating and I hear that it’s the number one podcast anywhere this week and last. A music editor/writer at Vice magazine in Toronto, Slava Pasticoff convinced five other Canadian young people to become drug mules. He arranged for them to take suitcases of drugs to Australia for $20,000 a trip. Now he lives in his mother’s suburban Toronto basement; he has been convicted of serious drug crimes and now faces a very long prison sentence. This is a well made, fast-paced podcast which helps explains why Toronto media writers who were job-insecure and impoverished became drug mules. I highly recommend it.