Over the summer I read The Lottery, a 1948 short story in the New Yorker. First published in the New Yorker , it is a story of a mid-western town that once a year sacrifices one resident. There was something so shocking, and so diabolical about the short story I decided to read a novel by its author, Shirley Jackson.
Today I suppose she has a small following, but in the 1960s she published several novels which were bestsellers. I just finished The Haunting of Hill House. Well the language and the characters are slightly old fashioned, and of course the book is out of step with the fast and rather crude horror stories of today. Four characters become the subjects of a psychologist’s quest for the super-natural in an old house in rural New York state. Jackson, the author, deftly and strongly defines the players in what becomes a very frightening game. I won’t say more, but I just noticed the original feature film from is now available on Kanopy. If you have a public library card you can watch it.
I just finished the 2018 book Say Nothing: A True Story Of Murder and Memory In Northern Ireland Patrick Keefe. This book was loaned to me by a Hibernophile (someone who loves Ireland’s culture). My friend has some pro-IRA sympathies. Say Nothing intertwines two stories, both about women. One story is the often told story of Jean McConville, a young widow and mother of 10 children who was abducted in 1972 from her Belfast home at gunpoint. McConville was very poor woman, not a political person, and not well connected. She was accused of passing information to the British troops who occupied N. Ireland at the time. What happened to her has been the subject of many articles including here and here.
Bottom: New documentary I, Dolours on Netflix
The second story is about two sisters, who in 1973 were in their early 20s. Doulours and Marian Price came from a pro-Republican family and were members of a clandestine cell of the IRA. For crimes – that did not include murder — they were sent to prison for life in England. The book looks at them as political activists; their lives in prison, being force-fed when they went on 200 plus day hunger strike. The force-feeding (which was used against the Suffragists 100 years ago) was so vicious and painful, it caused the death of one IRA man who also refused to eat. For more on force-feeding prisoners, see A History of Force-feeding, Ch. 7, here.
“How many of us would want to live after being forcibly-fed? This is an experience much worse than rape. The emotional assault on the person can be permanently damaging. The calculated administration of an experience such as forcible-feeding to someone who just cannot, or will not, eat is, to me, infernal, whether the subject is a recalcitrant old lag in prison or a young woman held without trial. “
– The Spectator, 1974
It was after that that Jenkins, abolished force-feeding and transferred the two women to prison in Northern Ireland, as they had wished. This book is a must: it reads like a mystery and has told me more than I ever knew about the politics and the reality of life in Northern Ireland in the times of the Troubles – when the country (the Brits call it a province) was brutally occupied by the British. I highly recommend it.
Now, in this the grand finale to the gardening season, you should be read Rebecca Mead’s The Therapeutic Power of Gardening. This is a delightful look at Mead’s meagre gardening skills in her new home in London, UK. An English writer, she had lived nearly 20 years in the US, and decided to move back to England, with her family, about a year ago. This article is in the New Yorker.
Also in the New Yorker is Susan Choi’s short story, Flashlight. I listened to it here . Well crafted, unsettling yet very believable, the story is about a 10 year old girl who hates everyone around her. She barely unravels even when she’s sent to a psychologist. In fact, she gets the better of him. Excellent.
What to Watch
Now there’s a huge controversy about the Netflix series Emily in Paris. Emily, a 20-something American, goes to Paris to be an account manager at a luxury brand advertising company. She speaks not a word of French, has never been beyond her hometown of Chicago, and dresses like high school student. Emily has an up-beat, can-do attitude– yet she seems to have few skills, and little idea about business.
She frequently lectures her Parisian bosses – 20 years her senior – that the American point of view is just what the ad company needs. She lands account after account, because of her passion for baubles and banality. The series is fast moving and extremely funny – at least I think so. However the critics are scathing – Vox’s reviewer said it was a “fantasy about millennial laziness [he] couldn’t look away from.” I agree – it’s delightful.
Emily has the perfect apartment with the perfect view with the perfect boyfriend who is her downstairs neighbour. Anything can be solved with a new vivid wardrobe change, a coffee and croissant or a bunch of pink roses. The series pokes fun at the unfriendliness, or snootiness of the Parisians – and it also paints Americans abroad as uncultured, incurious and superficial. A win-win I say. The deluge of criticism is delightful!! So catch it while you can. See the promo here. Watch it last thing at night instead of the News. You’ll laugh, then even sleep—an antidote to Covid.
There is a second season of Criminal —and it’s always worth watching. These are hour long dramatic vignettes which highlight clever and dangerous criminals in a police interview room. This second series includes a brilliant police interview with a rapist, an abductor and a fantasist. Here is the trailer.
If you like Ken Loach, Britain’s most left-wing filmmaker, you’ll like his new film Sorry We Missed You. It takes place in Newcastle in Britain’s northeast. A 40-something man finally gets a job driving 14 hours a day, for a delivery service very much like Amazon. His wife is a caregiver who tends to elderly patients in their homes. Tensions inside the family boil over – due to lack of money, their teen’s rebellion, and more. Loach is always worth watching – I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. You can see Sorry We Missed You free on Kanopy. All you need is a Halifax Public Library card. Here’s the trailer.
I listened to The Guardian Long Read’s Operation Condor: the cold war conspiracy that terrorized South America. It was staggering. Things I already knew about the CIA Condor operation which toppled left governments (notably Allende’s in Chile) and put in fascist ones, like Pinochet’s. The extent of the conspiracy was shocking, it included 10 countries in South America and some countries in Europe. This half-hour documentary is excellent. The journalist interviews women who were incarcerated by Pinochet’s goons right after the coup, and who, incredibly, survived to tell their story today. It’s the European courts, notably the one in Spain, that went after Pinochet. The podcast touches on the story of Dr Sheila Cassidy, a British doctor who lived in Santiago, and was tortured by Pinochet. I’m now reading her 1977 autobiography, Audacity of Hope. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Also, I listed to the podcast series Guru: the Dark Side of Enlightenment, persented by Wondery. This is a chilling yet very believable series about a cult leader superstar named James Arthur Ray (JAR). Today, he continues to call himself a self-help businessman, and motivational speaker. JAR, a sociopath, used to operate his cabals all over the US. The series focuses on a New Jersey social worker whose 30 year old daughter spent a weekend “self-awareness” meeting with JAR and others in Arizona that turned deadly. This was not the 70s, but in 2009. There’s a Canadian connection – a used car saleswoman –look out. I highly recommend listening.
Finally, Canada’s October Crisis began almost exactly 50 years ago—I remember me and my friends wandering the alleyways of Toronto expecting to be picked up by the police in the sweep that arrested more than 300 activists, pro-separatists and general leftists in Montreal. A new CBC podcast series called Recall: How to Start a Revolution is well worth listening to. In parts it takes shots at the left; in parts, it undersells the radical nature of the times – but it is clear that we in English Canada didn’t live what they did in Quebec. The series is not friendly to Trudeau’s dad, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The excesses of the War Measures Act, the police and the military are exposed, as is the NDP’s Tommy Douglas — the only parliamentarian who steadfastly and publicly opposed it. I have to say, I used to feel more charitable toward Douglas until I read the brilliant biography of federal MP Dorise Nielsen. She represented the Labour-Progressive Party – a front for the then-illegal Communist Party– and was elected in 1940. In the 2006 book A Great Restlessness: The Life and Politics of Dorise Nielsen by Faith Johnstone, Tommy Douglas, the CCF (forerunner of the NDP) premier of Saskatchewan, ran a one man, one government crusade to destroy Nielsen because she was a Communist. Because she represented the riding of North Battleford, in Saskatchewan, Douglas could not abide her making the CCF his new social democratic government look wanting.
The Recall podcast series takes us back in time to a radical time in Canada that few can remember and fewer of us lived. In one episode, we find out that Ed Sullivan (remember him and his “big show” from New York City which featured ‘live’ entertainers in the 60s?) actually flew to Matanzas, Cuba to interview Fidel Castro, days after the successful socialist revolution in early January, 1959? Sullivan’s interview is here. He introduced Castro as a “fine young man, a smart young man” that Americans could learn a lot from. That interview and more is part of a fascinating podcast. Those were the days.
Featured Image: Ruskin and Morris (UK), furniture covering, the Arts and Crafts Movement.