Book review: ‘The Book of Mirrors’ by E.O Chirovici

photo185740924938208028

How would you piece together a murder?

Do you trust other people’s memories?
Do you trust your own?
Should you?

Princeton, 1987: renowned psychologist Professor Joseph Weider is brutally murdered.

New York, twenty-five years later: literary agent Peter Katz receives a manuscript. Or is it a confession?

Today: unearth the secrets of The Book of Mirrors and discover why your memory is the most dangerous weapon of all.

Memories, those fragments from our past which can create happiness, pain and nostalgia, form the basis of Chirovici’s complex new thriller The Book of Mirrors. It’s a fascinating plot tracing the memories of Richard Flynn, who retells his version of the events which lead to the death of Professor Weider 25 years prior. One half of Flynn’s manuscript lands with an intrigued literary agent Peter Katz, who sets out to retrieve its other half with the help of reporter John Keller. Using his investigative journalism skills to piece together the events, Keller becomes embroiled in finding answers. Lastly, it’s retired cop Roy Freeman who is also on the hunt for the truth surrounding Weider’s death, and carries out his own investigation in the hopes of resolving one of his unsolved cases. Every character wishes to know who killed Professor Weider for their own reasons, and the book is thus split into parts that follow what each character deduces from their individual investigations.

Interestingly, Flynn’s memories and manuscript frame the novel and create a multilayered story within a story – Chirovic makes it clear that the ‘mirrors’ the title refers to reveals harsh truths for each character, but also creates a jarring, distorted world that flits between reality and make-believe. The idea that our memories can fade, mutate, tell us false truths or even be 100% accurate is brought to life in the novel, and adds to the uncertainty of the plot.

The Book of Mirrors does not rely as much as on aesthetic description as it does in revealing its characters’ inner monologues. As the story unfolds, it brings to mind distorted mirrors found in a fairground, where one can face many different versions of one truth, but which feels nightmarish too. The Book of Mirrors is very much a psychological conundrum, but I appreciated that Chirovic sticks closely to the narrative, and carefully ties any loose threads together by the end.

The Book of Mirrors is a fascinating read that shatters the bubble each character is living in. Intelligently written, the novel offers a good insight into the depth of our memories, and the stories that shape our lives.

Rating: 7/10

Inspired by false memories from his childhood and written in the author’s second language, remarkably The Book of Mirrors nearly wasn’t published at all.

Having been rejected in the US, E. O. Chirovici took the novel to a small UK publisher who advised him to try just one more time to get it to a wider readership. He did, and The Book of Mirrors was immediately signed by a literary agent, sparking a UK auction and world-wide rights sales.

E. O. Chirovici now lives in Brussels with his wife. He has had a prestigious and varied career in the Romanian media and has also published novels and short stories in his native language. The Book of Mirrors is his first novel in English and is being published in January.

Follow E.O Chirovici on Twitter: @EugenOChirovici

The Book of Mirrors will be published on 26th January 2017. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.

 

Advertisements

Book review: ‘What Alice Knew’ by T.A Cotterell

photo185740924938207792.jpg

Alice has a perfect life – a cool job, great kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; the phone rings and then goes dead; things don’t quite add up.

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

As far as thrillers go, it feels like many authors are striving towards reaching Gone Girl perfection. But with T.A Cotterell’s debut thriller What Alice Knew, it feels as though we’ve arrived in a newer, fresher territory from the first chapter. It’s a welcome change for readers, and one that sets it apart almost instantly.

What Alice Knew centres around Alice, a portrait artist with a relatively normal life, her husband Ed, a life-saving obstetrician, and her two kids. The picture perfect family is built up with the intention that it will eventually crumble, and crumble it does. Alice’s world is rocked when she discovers a truth that affects her day-to-day life forever. Unable to cope, she slowly finds herself swallowed by an unavoidable truth – one that Alice wishes she’d never pursued. The shattering of her world is felt acutely by the reader as we discover Alice’s innermost thoughts and begin to get a very real sense of the suffocation she is feeling throughout. Cotterell seems at his best when describing the increasing guilt Alice feels throughout the story, and in fact, her decisions become more and more questionable as the story continues. Ultimately, What Alice Knew begs the question: just how innocent and moral is everyone?

Cotterell’s strength also lies in presenting relationships that have been put to the test, and fractures steadily appear. Alice’s love for Ed is thrown into the spotlight, her past comes back to haunt her in the form of an old friend, and a visit home to her mother further throws her world into disarray. This novel is very much a pressure cooker in which Alice is bubbling away, finding relief in very little places. It is clichéd to label What Alice Knew a ‘voyage of self-discovery’, but by the end, Alice’s character develops vastly and creates the most unexpected of twists. It was a twist that had me scream ‘oh my God!’, slam the book shut and ponder, just for a few minutes, about what had just happened.

What Alice Knew is a fantastically dark thriller from Cotterell, bringing together tension and intrigue into a neatly packaged debut.

Rating: 8/10

T. A. Cotterell read History of Art at Cambridge University. He worked in the City before resigning to become a freelance writer. He is now a writer and editor at the research house Redburn. He is married with three children and lives in Bristol.

Follow T.A Cotterell on Twitter: @TACotterell1

The e-book version of What Alice Knew will be published December 2016, and its paperback in April 2017. Pre-order What Alice Knew on Amazon here.

 

We need to let movies like ‘Udta Punjab’ fly

Photo credit: DNA India

Its been a long time since I watched a movie that broke my heart. Bollywood movies in particular often fail to make me emotional because of their formulaic story lines, stock characters and their inability to depict a world that one can truly relate to. Hindi cinema rarely moves away from the norm: romantic or flawed heroes saving the day, titillating dance or ‘item’ numbers,  the glamorisation of violence and much too often, typical stereotypes in abundance.

But ‘Udta Punjab’, a film about drug abuse in Punjab, is very different. Directed by Abhishek Chaubey, it finally released on June 17th when Indians went up in arms and demanded freedom of expression. This came after the Indian Central Board of Film Certification was set to make a whopping 89 cuts to the film. Despite the Bombay High Court clearing the movie for release with just one cut, the war on drugs was not over when the movie suffered yet more controversy. Two days before its release, copies of ‘Udta Punjab’ were leaked online, free for all to watch. Many claimed it was intentionally leaked by the Indian censor board. If any movie has had difficulty reaching its audience, it has been ‘Udta Punjab.’

The movie’s brilliance however lies in its stellar script and cast. ‘Udta Punjab’ is proof that a good story and impeccable acting can move people out of the comfort of their homes and into the cinema.”Speak the truth even if your voice shakes” is a quote I associate with its release. And the movie sure does speak many truths.

We follow the lives of four people directly affected by the immeasurable drug problem plaguing Punjab, which has now become the well-established drugs capital of India. It focuses on Sartaj, an officer working for the Punjab police, Preet, a doctor dealing with the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts in her hospital, Kumari, a woman working in the fields who come across a mysterious package and finally, Tommy Singh, a Punjabi singer addicted to cocaine and facing a downward spiral because of it. ‘Udta Punjab’ reveals how these previously unconnected lives come together because of drugs, and its subsequent impact on their lives.

Udta Punjab, Udta Punjab leaked, Udta Punjab piarted links, Udta Punjab downnload links, Udta Punjab leak, Udta Punjab leak online, Udta Punjab download, Udta Punjab movie leaked, Udta Punjab online leaked, Udta Punjab download print, Udta Punjab leak print, Udta Punjab censor print, Udta Punjab pirated copy, Udta Punjab piracy, Udta Punjab leak print
Kareena Kapoor as doctor Preet and Diljit Dosanjh as police officer Sartaj in a still from ‘Udta Punjab.’ (Photo credit: Indian Express)

But why is a movie like ‘Udta Punjab’ so important? For me, the story really hit a nerve. Somewhere deep within me, I was waiting for the Bollywood film industry to make a movie focusing on my hometown, Punjab. And I didn’t want it to appear on screen all frills and beauty, with generic fields of lush green, funny-sounding horns blaring down the GT road, repetitive dialogue about delectable Punjabi cuisine or shots of colourfully-clothed women singing jaunty songs and celebrating Indian festivals. That’s the kind of Punjab the rest of India and the world dreams about, but it is far removed from what Punjab is really like. I’m glad to say this surpassed my expectations.

As someone who is Punjabi and spent less time in England and more in India, any issue that affects my hometown of Punjab is always one that affects me. Drugs has been one of them for a long time. Back home in India, I have family members addicted to drugs, and have heard many stories of the lengths they’ve gone to in order to obtain illegal substances. I know relatives who have overdosed and nearly died, addicts locked up inside their homes with families seeking help from false representatives of God, people who have hidden little sachets containing smack in their pockets for all their life, and even those who have been high and driven my family and I on 8-hour journeys from Delhi to Jalandhar – just because they can. So when it comes to drug abuse in Punjab, you can say it’s a pretty sensitive subject.

What ‘Udta Punjab’ has done for cinema goers like me is simply astounding. I walked away deeply emotional and affected by what I’d seen. The direction was impeccable and the story line brutally honest. At its heart, the movie showed the destruction brought about by the presence of drugs, and the rapid breakdown of Punjab, a state which is in absolute turmoil. The police force are represented as corrupt, calculating and ready to take their cut of 10,000 rupees at the expense of those dying for just one more hit. Helpless and lost are the young boys on the streets spending money either stolen or forcefully taken from their parents in order to shoot up. Women are sex slaves reduced to objects and abused by sadistic drug lords. Politicians mimic reality and offer drugs in exchange for crucial votes that will keep them in power – a power that will continue to allow illegal drugs into the state and which will ultimately kill thousands of people involved in the trade.

Shahid Kapoor as the drug-fuelled Punjabi star Tommy Singh. (Photo credit: India Today)

Throughout ‘Udta Punjab’ there is a sense of dwindling hope, where trusted members of society become monsters in front of our very eyes. What some would think of as a dystopian nightmare is what Punjab has definitively become. I can see exactly why the Indian censor board was so eager to make cuts to the movie. It doesn’t beat around the bush. Politicians are shown as leading and fuelling the drug abuse in the state, while the police are allies in protecting and assisting criminals in drug trafficking. Women are injected with drugs and gang-raped, blame is deflected and placed on celebrities themselves corrupted by drugs and the youth are demonic, possessed and inconsolable without their daily – if not hourly – fix.

This is how ‘Udta Punjab’ shows my hometown, and I cannot pretend this portrayal is wrong. Some scenes in the movie are so awful that I turned my face away and avoided watching. Beside me, my best friend sat in tears as we came face-to-face with a reality that is still so hard to digest. Hard-hitting. Gut-wrenching. Upsetting. Real. These are just some of the words that come to mind. But most of all, I am embarrassed and ashamed that a place I call home is living with such a crisis, and that nobody is doing anything to stop it. Drug addiction is everywhere, but not more so than in Punjab. The heights the abuse and greed has reached is spiralling out of control. Those who should be helping India to thrive are happily poisoning its name for money and power. Can it ever really end?

‘Udta Punjab’ is bleak and depressing, but for all the right reasons. While hope does come, it almost feels like it’s too late.

Alia Bhatt steals the show with her heartbreaking depiction of Kumari. (Photo credit: IBN Live)

 

Book review: ‘The Swimming Pool’ by Louise Candlish

FullSizeRender

‘I can’t take my eyes off the water. Can you?’

It’s summer when Elm Hill lido opens, having stood empty for years. For Natalie Steele – wife, mother, teacher – it offers freedom from the tightly controlled routines of work and family. Especially when it leads her to Lara Channing, a charismatic former actress with a lavish bohemian lifestyle, who seems all too happy to invite Natalie into her elite circle.

Soon Natalie is spending long days at the pool, socializing with new friends and basking in a popularity she didn’t know she’d been missing. Real life, and the person she used to be, begins to feel very far away.

But is such a change in fortunes too good to be true? Why are dark memories of a summer long ago now threatening to surface? And, without realizing, could Natalie have been swept dangerously out of her depth?

Now more than ever, it feels as though we’re living in the golden age of female writers – especially amongst those authors writing about women in bolder and daring ways.

Last year, I was captivated by Helen Walsh’s The Lemon Grove, and since then I’ve been searching for books focusing on the experience of older women breaking norms. The Swimming Pool is a gripping read which centres on the start of primary school teacher Natalie’s summer break, and her fascination with the opening of a new lido in her village. More than the lido however, it is the allure of Lara Channing that has Natalie fascinated beyond measure.

A novel set in the summer like The Swimming Pool would not be complete without overflowing tension. The way in which the narrative circles around the lido creates a sultry and titillating atmosphere, and one that complements the growing tension between every character in the novel. Natalie’s family begins to drift further apart as a result of Lara’s arrival, and her relationships become far more strained as the story moves on.

Writers can often become carried away in providing too much detail and losing their readers throughout the novel, but Candlish’s writing is perfectly paced. The shifts between past and present give much to think about for the reader, particularly as Natalie’s character is not as perfect as one would expect. Just as the water in the novel drags everyone towards it, so does the past. A particularly good facet of the novel is the mystery surrounding the Channing family, and the insight into Natalie’s psyche as she attempts to understand how her age impacts her outlook on life:

“I must be experiencing the terrible midlife realization they say awaits us all, that the departure of youth is not some temporary wheeze, like when you have flu and look a decade older in the bathroom mirror, but is permanent, gone and never coming back.”

Natalie’s character carries the novel seamlessly from start to finish, and she is fascinating when revealing her induction into a glamorous new social scene. The most important relationship born from the novel is that between Natalie and Lara, with its sexual undertones and intensity. In fact, Lara reminded me very much of the allure that Daisy in The Great Gatsby represents, and her grip on Natalie increases constantly. Natalie’s fixation on Lara becomes the focus of the novel, and the lido adds to the confusion and ambiguity of the characters’ lives. Candlish is an expert at psychological exploration, and regularly blurs the lines between sexual promise and adoration:

“As she [Lara] began to circle me in that smooth way of hers that hardly rippled the surface, I grew freshly aware of our bare skin under the water. If our feet or hands or knees or elbows made contact, would it be different knowing the rest of us was naked?”

As the Channings begin to weave their magic around Natalie and envelope her own family into their lives, the novel begins to take an interesting turn and addresses the various ways in which friendships form and break down, how age and motherhood can affect one’s self-esteem and confidence and inevitably, the intriguing way in which middle-aged women’s lives often become derailed. Throughout the book there is a constant sense of danger and of death, which keeps readers on edge.

The Swimming Pool is dark and unpredictable – a seductive thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the very end, and proof that all that glitters is not gold…

Rating: 9/10

Louise Candlish studied English at University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before writing fiction. Though her stories are are about people facing dramatic dilemmas, she tries to live an uncomplicated life in London with her husband and daughter.

Follow Louise Candlish on Twitter: @louise_candlish

The Swimming Pool will be published on 28th July. It can be purchased here.

 

 

Putting Sri Lanka on the map: Asian Provocateur

Romesh Ranganathan goes back to his Sri Lankan roots in Asian Provocateur (Photo credit: BBC)
Romesh Ranganathan goes back to his Sri Lankan roots in BBC Three documentary Asian Provocateur (Photo credit: BBC)

He’s the straight-faced comedian who has quickly amassed a large number of fans, becoming one of the most popular faces on TV and in the comedy circuit. For the last few weeks, Romesh Ranganathan has been entertaining us in his new BBC Three documentary Asian Provocateur, which has seen him exploring his Sri Lankan heritage and reconnecting with his familial roots.

Romesh has experienced a chicken being rubbed on his head, participated in Sri Lankan martial arts, had weight-loss medicine inserted through his rear-end and given a frankly phenomenal performance in a Sri Lankan MC battle. With his fresh gags and witty comments in stow, viewers have been following his quest to learn more about his ethnic background with the added help of mum Shanthi, who has masterfully planned activities for Romesh’s unconventional voyage of self-discovery.

As well as the show offering Romesh’s trademark sarcasm and angst, it has also alerted audiences to problems that children with immigrant parent’s face when growing up in modern Britain. “I know absolutely nothing about the culture of where my family are from. I know more about Horsham. That’s sad isn’t it?”, says Romesh in the opening episode. The series is not only hilarious and often bonkers, it also manages to explore Romesh’s disconnect from a family and heritage left waiting on the sidelines – but without this becoming the focus of the show. It is also fittingly representative of the way in which second-generation children of immigrant parents can become confused and conflicted when negotiating their identity and juggling two cultures.

Tuk tuks and displays of dramatic black magic aside, the show has given positive exposure to Sri Lanka and its wonderous ways, while expressing how definitions of ‘British-Asian’ can be problematic for those who are very loosely tied to their Asian roots. Far from being an Eat, Pray, Love-style figure, Romesh is interesting since he represents a British-Asian figure who is very simply unsure about his cultural background and how to approach it, which makes the series all the more funnier. Having successfully soared as an ethnic minority figure in the heavily underrepresented Arts sector in Britain, Asian Provocateur shows that issues of ethnicity and identity are still commercially valuable, and definitely worth making a 6-part series about.

Watch the first 4 episodes of Asian Provocateur here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06fq3x4

Romesh goes fishing, Sri Lankan style. (Photo credit: Radio Times)
Romesh goes fishing, Sri Lankan style. (Photo credit: Radio Times)

Stage review: hang at the Royal Court Theatre

Shane Zaza (left), Claire Rushbook (centre) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (right) in debbie tucker green's 'hang'. (Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey).
Shane Zaza (left), Claire Rushbook (centre) and Marianne Jean-Baptiste (right) in debbie tucker green’s ‘hang’. (Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey).

hang offers little relief, tying a noose around the neck of a questionable justice system and tugging ever so slightly at its glaringly obvious limitations. ★★★★★

How do we mete out justice in society today? And what does ‘justice’ even mean for the shattered, traumatised victim of a crime? debbie tucker green returns to the stage with new play ‘hang’, starring Marianne Jean-Baptiste (well-known for playing bitter, hard as nails defense lawyer Sharon Bishop in ITV’s ‘Broadchurch’), Shane Zaza and Claire Rushbrook.

In a world where some judicial systems continue to make use of the death penalty, and more recently, news stories tell of lethal injections killing criminals in a more ‘humane’ way, hang explores the aftermath of a shattering crime and its impact on the victim. This victim is Jean-Baptiste, who is fraught, anxious, on edge and very, very jittery. It is much too clear that something disastrous has happened to her character, and that every movement, word and feeling is painstakingly difficult to express. Confined to disturbing black walls, oddly angled chairs and a water cooler in the corner of the room, the victim and two representatives of the criminal justice system discuss her impending decision in relation to the perpetrator who has destroyed her family.

What works so well with the play is its phenomenal script. This piece of theatre is extraordinary because of the strength and impact of its dialogue, alongside its ability to so poignantly convey the anger, disorder and pain of those on the receiving end of a haunting crime. Amidst the glitz and glamour of sensationalised crime stories in the media, the fascination often lies with who has caused the crime rather than who is on the receiving end of it. green refocuses our attention on the victim and makes this the governing impetus of her play, confronting audiences with the unbearable reality of those forgotten victims trying to ‘move on’.

At the heart of the play’s discussion lies the inability of the justice system to adequately deal with these victims, producing the depiction of their often insensitive and irritating behaviours. Zaza is particularly vital and generates a much-needed humour throughout, allowing the play to release an often unbearable pressure. When painting the slip ups and scripted nature of a ‘professional’ in matters such as the death penalty, Zaza’s character frequently torments the victim through his goofball dialogue, and at one point very mechanically lists the various ways in which criminal executions take place; discussing the method of shooting a criminal, his character humorously reassures the victim that “they don’t run around or anything” and that they are indeed strapped down before they are sentenced to death. It is exactly the humour and stupidity of this character that suggests tucker is implicitly scrutinising the way in which justice is viewed and talked about today, and the manner in which victims of crime are treated – and even mistreated – in society.

Jean-Baptiste performs her dialogue with precision and to carefully considered effect. As she makes her decision about the fate of the criminal, the play becomes increasingly unsettling and very obviously questions the morality and ethics of the situation: is this really justice or is it revenge? Whatever it is, is it right? And it is the victim’s decision upon which the entire play quite literally hangs. If green leaves audiences questioning anything, then it questions who had the power all along: the victim or criminal?

‘hang’ runs at The Royal Court Theatre, London, from 11th June – 18th July. Book tickets here.

(Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey)

(Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey)

A glimpse into Britain’s changing consumer market: The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising – Notting Hill, London

Photo credit: logogeek.co.uk
Photo credit: logogeek.co.uk

Housing around 12,000 items relating to Britain’s ever-changing consumer market, Notting Hill’s Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is a glorious tunnel into design, commercial art and consumer history, revealing the way British people have experienced life and sustained themselves since the Victorian era.

Located just around the corner from Portobello Road, the museum is host to a selection of intriguing products including foodstuffs such as chocolates, breakfast cereals, sauces and tinned food. It also showcases the evolution of TVs and radios, and has cabinets displaying how even medicinal packaging and washing-up liquid has changed over time. There are valentines cards that signal the start of a new era in the brilliantly constructed tunnel-like route, and haunting reminders of war-time Britain, the fear of Hitler and an incessant need to ration food.

Here are a few pictures of my favourite displays from the museum:

image

Gather around everyone, it’s time to watch a little TV…

image

image

 Everyone loves chocolate, and to see my most adored brands in their more earlier packaging was just astounding. We pick up so many items and never pause to think about the creativity and thought that has gone into making sure it appeals to us. We also don’t realise that we become attached to these brands and products, forming relationships with them. What the difference in chocolate packaging taught me was consumer demand for chocolate to appear more and more luxurious. Just look at the Galaxy bar above and the kind of royal feel it attempts to create now. It’s an upheaval to say the least.

image

 This, purely because I have a phobia of those who sneeze loudly around me. We won’t dwell on that too much.

image

 This took me right back to the 1920s and reminded me of classy women dancing the Charleston and attending lavish Great Gatsby-esque parties. Beautiful.

image

 I loved seeing these packets of crisps, considering I’ve spent much of my life eating them…

image

 But this was a  sorrowful reminder of Hitler’s threat to Britain and a war that no one can ever forget.

 If you’re interested in seeing your favourite brands and the history attached to them, head over to this museum for a delightful and infomative trip down memory lane.