Archive | August, 2011

Rules of Civility: the review

31 Aug

A few weeks / months back I gave avid blog readers a heads-up about Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, a sparky coming-of-age tale set in Jazz Age NY. Here’s an edited version of my review which appeared in Stylist magazine – enjoy, and let me know what you thought of the book! x

Ok, so I know judging a book by its cover is bad, but this time I fully encourage you to indulge your superficial side – because this beauty of a book is just as mesmerising as its jacket.

Set in New York in 1938, it’s the story of Katey Kontent, a young woman who arrives in the city with little more than big dreams and a razor-sharp wit. Knocking back martinis in a jazz bar with her best friend Eve, the girls strike up a friendship with charming banker Tinker Grey. The chance encounter sparks a complicated love triangle and will go on to change each of their lives…

An effervescent coming-of-age tale, Rules Of Civility is about how the casual decisions and unexpected events of our 20s (the jobs we take on, the friends we socialise with and the places we go) can go on to define so much about us in later life. Reminiscent of The Great Gatsby, it explores the themes of wealth and social status and how they can be simultaneously liberating and restrictive. But forget Gatsby’s Daisy – with her ambition and independence, Katey is miles ahead of her generation, working her way up the ranks in the publishing world, living on her own and going out with whoever she likes. Rules is packed with strong female characters – stand by to be surprised by gutsy businesswoman Anne Grandin. With her impeccable style and strangely alluring demeanour she outcharms the male characters hands down.

Set against a soundtrack of clinking glasses and sultry saxophones, Rules of Civility is a love letter to Jazz Age America, so confidently written that you’re instantly plunged into the electrifying atmosphere of Thirties New York. Taking his cue from F Scott Fitzgerald, Towles creates a narrative that sparkles with sentences so beautiful you’ll stop and re-read them. A delicious and memorable novel that will leave you feeling wistful – and desperate for a martini.

By the by, if you’re into your vintage-inspired entertainment, you might like this.

One Day hits the big screen…but is the film any good?

26 Aug

Books are always better than their film adaptations. Let’s just get that sentence out of the way before I go any further. Never have I seen a ‘major motion picture’ version of a novel and wondered why I wasted 5 or so hours of my life trawling through 300 pages of text when a 90 minute visual extravaganza did it better. The reason people get so emotionally attached to novels isn’t just because they’re a great story, it’s also because our experiences of the story are filtered through our own imaginations. Thus we read about David Nicholls’ loveable rogue Dexter, and we’ve instantly got a picture of him in our heads. He’s like that guy we sort of got with once. We know exactly what he looks like, how he makes us feel, probably even how he smells (…just me?!). And whilst films can bring books to life in a way that is more creative (and definitely more expensive) than our own imaginations, it’s never quite the same experience. As my cousin said, “I don’t want to see the film. I prefer the version in my head.”

That said, the film adaptation of One Day is really pretty good. For the few who have yet to tear through a bright orange edition of David Nicholls’ humongous bestseller, let me do a whizz through of the plot. A couple of students get together on their graduation day, 15th July 1988 – he’s rich, charming and a bit of a smooth-talking lothario, she’s a smart but insecure northerner with big plans to change the world. They remain friends and we catch up with them on the 15th of July for the next twenty years. It’s a brilliant story because everyone can relate to it: it shows how lives evolve and how people change, via characters who are flawed but realistic. It’s fantastically romantic in that quirky sort of way that Brits do so well. I haven’t known a book to have such a passionate following of adult readers since The Time Traveller’s Wife.

Ah, but what about the film, you ask? Well, it keeps the episodic structure of the book and with the exception of a couple of events it doesn’t stray far from the plot at all. My fellow cinema-goers hadn’t read the book (heathens!) and they felt that the year-jumping structure moved a little too fast at the beginning, and I had to admit I felt the same. Without the book’s narrative giving a little more background to the first four years, the plot and characters felt a little hollow. That said, the treatment of each chapter seemed to improve as the years progress.

But what about the accents, I hear you cry. Doesn’t that American woman ruin everything?! Yes, Anne Hathway’s accent is terrible. It slides from straight up American to slightly southern British to an Emmerdale extra. A columnist in the Evening Standard slated the press for giving Hathway a hard time, adding that the notion of using a lesser-known British star “takes no account of the need to have a truly bankable star to attract investment and entice an international audience.” I understand his argument, but if it was ok to go for a relatively little known actor as Dexter (Jim Sturgess), why couldn’t they have followed suit with Emma? Would it really have been so wrong to cast a Brit actress who could do Emma justice? I think Hathaway is a great actress and her performance is otherwise strong. Her portrayal would be pretty faithful to my idea of Emma if it wasn’t for the constant vocal yo-yoing. The girls next to me in the cinema kept collapsing into giggles every time she attempted a sentence that sounded like it originated from anywhere vaguely north of the M25. The schizophrenic accent shifts detract you from the character, and as a result I didn’t get the closeness to Emma that I felt in the book.

That said, Jim Sturgess was perfect as Dexter. Sexy in a foppish, dandy kind of way, I can kind of understand how French ELLE dubbed him ‘le nouveau Hugh Grant’. But don’t let that put you off – Sturgess can do charming, vile, vacuous, and intense at the drop of a hat. His take on Dexter’s drug-addled TV years and his relationship with his parents was particularly impressive. You will love him and hate him and love him again, I guarantee it. Chemistry-wise, it’s pretty believable, even if a few of the lingering glances in the early years are a little comedic and there’s a slightly cringy sex scene that wouldn’t be missed.

Nicholls has spoke about the difficult of casting actors that could be students and middle-aged, but I think it was done pretty well. No extravagant wrinkles, just a touch of salt and pepper for Dex and a couple of laughter lines (and a way better wardrobe) for Emma. A special mention also has to go to Emma’s boyfriend Ian, played by suitably awkward comedian Rafe Spall. Cringy, endearing and slightly repulsive simultaneously, he nailed it.

Final verdict? Loved it. Just the right balance of gut-wrenching emotion and swoon-inducing romance. Go see it, bitch about the accent, get over it, and cry….

WIN A FLIPBACK COPY OF ONE DAY: Fancy getting your hands on one of these amazing teeny copies of One Day? They’re smaller than an iPhone, perfect for popping in your handbag. Leave a comment and tell me why you should win, and I’ll pick a winner soon! (UK only)