Another round of film reviews

Posted on February 20, 2019 under Reviews

With the Oscars around the corner, here’s another batch of reviews of some films I’ve seen recently in my quest to be a knowledgeable Oscar viewer for once. The films I’ve seen in 2019 have generally been a lot more enjoyable than the ones I watched in the fall, though I have criticisms of most of them!

Mary Queen of Scots, dir. Josie Rourke

This film was a mess. It could have been far more enjoyable if it had leaned into its messiness, but instead it was a strange, hollow narrative with some great performances from Saoirse Ronan (with a slightly-questionable Scottish accent) and Margot Robbie (who did a valiant job of pretending she was ugly). The political drama at the centre of the film was not particularly well-realized. There were hints of a camp consciousness that I really wished the film had explored further, particularly in Robbie’s Elizabeth. There was so much promise in her increasingly bizarre appearance coupled with the scene in which she makes paper crafts while drinking wine as her nemesis has a baby. However, the film as a whole never lived up to that potential. It was still kind of enjoyable in its messiness, particularly in the absurdity of Ronan’s Mary being cast as a gay ally. Also the part where Elizabeth snatches her own wig. I saw this one with my coworker and her roommate, and when it was over we sat in silence for a moment before saying, “I don’t know what just happened.” It was simultaneously insane and boring. (Really, it was mostly boring with some insane moments.)

If Beale Street Could Talk, dir. Barry Jenkins

This was my Oscar pick until it was snubbed quite thoroughly, but I will not dwell on that! (Though it really is terrible.) Screen adaptations are always a tricky beast, and I imagine the pressure of adapting James Baldwin’s work must be immense. I probably would have side-eyed this project had it been done by anyone but Barry Jenkins, who managed to capture the tenderness of the novel while staying faithful to the particular advantages of film. (The cinematography was absolutely beautiful, and the use of colour symbolism was a gorgeous touch. The costume design was just wonderful! Oh, and the score – so lush and evocative.) The love story at the heart of the film is as touching and fully-realized as in the novel, but Jenkins engages with the political aspects of the story a bit more overtly. In particular, the film mixes in archival photographs of police brutality and Black prisoners over Tish’s narration in order to situate the story of Fonny’s unjust incarceration within the climate of systemic racism. It’s hard not to speculate that this political message (and exclusive focus on complex Black characters, of course) might have prevented this wonderful film from reaching the mainstream success one would expect of a project directed by a man who just won the Oscar for Best Picture two years ago… Anyway, please go see this one. It’s just beautiful.

Vice, dir. Adam McKay

While Vice definitely verges on self-impressed at times, the outstanding performances by Christian Bale and Amy Adams make it hard not to enjoy. Bale is obviously transformative, literally unrecognizable in this role. Amy Adams’ performance is subtle and nuanced; she plays Lynne Cheney as a sweet, agreeable woman with a venomous hunger for power lurking just below the surface. Some of the other performances, while enjoyable, are a bit broad (Sam Rockwell’s George W. Bush in particular, though the resemblance is uncanny). I won’t spoil it, but the reveal of the narrator’s identity feels forced for the sake of cleverness. (Indeed, this is a fictional invention on McKay’s part.) The scope of the film is ambitious, which leads to an erratic feeling. There’s Cheney’s personal life (especially the friction between his political ambitions and the fact that his daughter Mary is a lesbian), there’s his ascent to power, there’s the wider historical context. It’s trying to do so much that it fails to fully realize any of its aspirations. The ultimate political message of the film, delivered in a direct address monologue, is that if Dick Cheney abused his power while in office, the American people wanted it. It’s a tempting idea: that decades of democratically-elected politicians chipping away at civil liberties with the full knowledge of the people have delivered us to this point in history. But the reality of the Bush-Cheney White House, as well as the current administration (which the film certainly wants us to draw parallels to), is not so cut and dry. The blame for the political climate cannot be placed squarely on the shoulders of the American people. What about the imperialism that created America in the first place, the capitalism at the heart of the political system? It’s a film that plays around with form and that asks a lot of big questions, but ultimately I found it ambivalent in making any truly interesting points. That said, it’s still enjoyable – if you can get past its smugness.

The Favourite, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos

This is the over-the-top period drama I wanted Mary Queen of Scots to be. The performances are uniformly wonderful. Olivia Colman as Queen Anne is bubbling with overblown emotion while displaying more subtle affect; Rachel Weisz’s brusque Lady Marlborough is simply brimming with ambition, and her fall from grace is rendered brilliantly. (Emma Stone is great, too, but since she’s nominated in the same category as Weisz I’d have to take her out of the running.) The cinematography is inspired, with fisheye shots suggesting emotional isolation. (I’ve discussed this before when writing about Alias Grace, but I love when historical films draw attention to the fact that they are films through their cinematography, suggesting anachronism in the use of technology.) You could get lost in the extravagant mise-en-scène. I loved the costume design: the delightful anachronisms (the prints! the denim dresses! redbottoms!), the colour symbolism (Abigail and Sarah switch colour palettes as their power dynamics shift), the naturalism of the women’s appearances contrasted with the extravagance of the male characters. We can really see the facial expressions of the women, whereas the men’s emotional depth is precluded by the layers of makeup and enormous wigs. Speaking of the male characters, none of them are particularly important narratively; Masham functions only as a way for Abigail to get closer to the Queen, which is a delightful inversion of the usual power dynamics. The men posture and preen with no real potency. In the world of this film, men are basically irrelevant – they aren’t even needed sexually. The Favourite is hilarious, richly textured, and completely enjoyable. I’d love to watch it again – there’s just so much going on visually and thematically, I think it invites a repeat viewing.

(ALSO Rachel Weisz in breeches is everything. We are so lucky.)

Roma, dir. Alfonso Cuarón

I went into Roma knowing the following things: 1) It’s a co-production between Mexico and the US (and it’s in Spanish); 2) It’s a Netflix original (though it was also released in select theatres I assume to make it Oscar-eligible); 3) It is highly favoured to win Best Picture; 4) It’s in black and white. 1) and 2) combined to make the prospect of 3) appealing; the Oscars are so blatantly stuck in the past that I’m excited by the possibility of a foreign-language streaming service original winning the top prize, though one could argue that the Academy’s historic ambivalence towards both foreign films and non-traditionally-distributed content points to its increasing obsolescence in today’s media landscape. Anyway, I was ready to end up thinking 4) was a cheap signifier of artistic merit, which is how I viewed the artsy shots in Beautiful Boy.

It very quickly became evident to me that Roma is a deliberate nod to Italian neorealism of the 1940s: its focus on the everyday life of the working class, its heavy use of children, the non-professional actors. (Speaking of which, Yalitza Aparicio was so phenomenally expressive in the leading role of Cleo.) The black and white is then excusable, but I’ve talked to a few people who aren’t familiar with Italian cinematic history who still find the choice strange. It’s a clever nod (and the film is certainly a stellar modern take on the genre), but to fully work it requires specialized knowledge. That’s nothing new for the Academy, which has for decades generally gone for arty films over popular offerings. (See this year’s controversy over the proposed Best Popular Picture category…) Not every film has to be accessible, but I can’t really blame people who aren’t film buffs for not quite getting some of the artistic choices here.

That said, if we can get past the black and white issue, this is a stirring, stunningly-shot film that is at its core about women’s resilience in the face of men’s betrayal. The class difference between live-in housekeeper/nanny Cleo and her mistress Sofía is blatant both visually and behaviourally; their dynamic is fascinating because Sofía does genuinely love the vulnerable and emotional Cleo while never quite treating her like a family member. (At the beginning of the film, Cleo has just settled in to watch TV with the family when Sofía asks her to get her husband a cup of tea.) Yet there is a bond and solidarity between them that transcends these boundaries. Sofía is incredibly supportive of Cleo’s pregnancy, even when the father wants nothing to do with her or the baby, and thanks to Cleo’s loving care of Sofía’s four children, they remain basically carefree even when their father leaves his family for another woman. Sofía tells Cleo that women are always alone, but this is not true, and the film knows it: women have one another.

In my cynicism I think the Academy will probably prove the betting people right and give Roma best picture, partially because it’s a beautiful, well-constructed film, but partially because they’re going to have to acknowledge Netflix sooner or later or risk irrelevance, and it’s relatively on brand to reward a film that makes slightly esoteric nods to film history written and directed by a guy who’s already won an Oscar. I’m not saying Roma doesn’t deserve the award, but the Oscars are entirely political and I’d wager there’s a lot going on behind the scenes when it comes to a foreign-language Netflix original being so heavily favoured to win the most coveted prize in the film industry.

Anyway, my pick out of all the Best Picture nominees has to be The Favourite, but I’d be happy if Roma won. Best Supporting Actress is an incredibly stacked category and realistically anyone could deservedly win, but I’m hoping for either Regina King (to make up for If Beale Street Could Talk being snubbed!!) or Amy Adams (because SHE DESERVES AN OSCAR!!!). Glenn Close is a shoe-in for Best Actress, but The Favourite‘s recent success at the BAFTAs makes me hope for an Olivia Colman upset. The Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor categories are pretty bad, so I’m just hoping A Star Is Born/Bradley Cooper win as little as possible. Yes, I am petty and bitter. What else is new?

Trying Glossier: Lash Slick Mascara and Lidstar in Fawn

Posted on February 06, 2019 under Reviews

While my aesthetic isn’t quite as minimalistic as Glossier’s, I think my own personal approach to makeup is more in line with the brand than with mid-2010s Instagram looks. And though Glossier has been shipping to Canada for a year and a half now, I’ve been reluctant to dip my toes into the water. I’ve learned from various ill-fated ColourPop orders that it’s best not to buy makeup sight unseen, and Glossier’s marketing has always felt a bit self-congratulatory to me even if the products themselves appeal. All this to explain why I’m embarrassingly late on this bandwagon. Although my usual strategy is to be behind the curve so other people can do the hard work of trying things out and telling me what’s good, in which case a) this is par for the course, and b) I’m not sure why I have a beauty blog.

Now, I won a stick of Haloscope in Quartz from a giveaway on Renee’s blog back in 2016, so I was already aware that there was at least one Glossier product that I love an ungodly amount. (I still use Haloscope basically every day.) So I guess this was a slightly lower-risk enterprise than my numerous ColourPop hauls. Anyway, I picked up the much-hyped Lash Slick mascara on the recommendation of the entire internet but specifically Alison and Auxiliary Beauty, as well as the Lidstar in Fawn thanks to reviews from the same people. I’ve been trying them both out for about a month now, so I can give a proper review in case you really needed my opinion on two products that have been out for like forty-six years.

Glossier Lash Slick Mascara

As always, my biggest mascara-related issues are that everything seems to smudge on my lower eyelid and that nothing holds a curl. Except waterproof mascara. But waterproof mascara is hard to take off and it still smudges, which seems like a very garbage combination of qualities. There has to be a better way! I was promised (promised, I tell you) by multiple bloggers that Lash Slick does not smudge. I was also promised by Glossier (a less trustworthy source, I understand) that it “curls and sculpts as it lengthens, enhancing the look of your natural lashes instead of clumping them together”. I tend to get on pretty well with fibre mascaras, so this seemed promising.

My actual stance on Lash Slick is that it’s okay. Here’s what I like about it: first, it absolutely does not smudge. I have heard of it smudging on other people, but it does not smudge on me, which I’m sure you’ll agree is what actually matters here. It’s not the least bit clumpy, which is definitely great, although that does mean that it gives a subtler overall look. Ideally my eyelashes would look very long and defined without being thick and clumpy, and Lash Slick does fall short of that, although that’s to be expected from Glossier and the actual subtler look is certainly nice.

My biggest issue is that this mascara doesn’t hold a curl on me despite Glossier’s promise, which is a huge bummer. It’s like, what’s the point of my eyelashes looking nice if they’re pointing downwards and nobody can see they look nice? If lashes look nice in a forest but nobody sees them, is a $20 mascara really worth it?

I think this a good mascara and it would be ideally-suited for someone who doesn’t struggle with downward-pointing, curl-resistant lashes and who likes a more natural look. Honestly, even though it’s a bit more subtle than I usually go for, I could be convinced to keep buying it for the smudge-resistant factor alone if only it held a damn curl. But that’s always a dealbreaker.

Anyway, here’s the plastic brush on Lash Slick, which is usually not my favourite type of applicator but does a fine job in this case:

And here’s how my lashes look without and with a few coats of Lash Slick:

I’m sure you can agree that things would be a lot better for all of us if my lashes were curled more than a millimetre. Also if I hadn’t smudged mascara on my eyelid, but that’s real life around these parts.

Glossier Lidstar in Fawn

I’ve been dabbling in the world of liquid eyeshadows for about two years now; between the various Stila offerings and the never-talked-about Urban Decay Liquid Moondust eyeshadows, I’ve been pretty satisfied. But why not try another formula, especially when Glossier makes Fawn, an irresistible cool taupe? Ugh, I can’t say no to a true taupe, and my collection actually lacks this type of colour in powder or liquid form.

The elephant in the room is obviously that the packaging of the Lidstars, which cost $22, looks like cheap shit. I’ve heard the caps are prone to cracking, as well, which I have not yet experienced but which I will eagerly anticipate. Anyway, packaging notwithstanding, I really like this product.

I have not felt any desire to do complex eyeshadow looks for months now, and this is the perfect lazy day eyeshadow. I can dot a bit onto each lid and blend it out with my finger and be done with things. This is undoubtedly a sheer, thin formula, although it can be built up without any disaster. (I’ve tried some liquid eyeshadows that feel gummy and crease horribly when layered too much.) I find it sets fairly quickly, so quick response time is necessary when blending it out. It’s smooth as butter to blend, though. Departing slightly from the glowing reviews I’ve read of the Lidstars, I do find the most minimal creasing at the end of a full day of wear. (This doesn’t bother me, but I thought I’d point it out for the sake of thoroughness.)

Here’s how two layers, blended out, looks on my eyes:

I told you that I always smudge mascara on my eyelid!!!

Obviously, this is by no means an impactful visual statement, but that absolutely has a place in my life.

Here’s what the doefoot applicator looks like:

It’s quite small, which I appreciate greatly as I do not have large swaths of eyelid space.

And here’s a comparison to some other liquid eyeshadows:

L-R: Glossier Lidstar in Fawn blended out; Fawn built up and unblended; Stila Shimmer and Glow Liquid Eyeshadow in Jezebel; Urban Decay Liquid Moondust in Solstice

Stila is the most opaque and metallic; UD is semi-sheer but still more opaque than Glossier, and it has more densely-packed glitter particles. I always think of liquid eyeshadows as high-impact and high-shine, but Glossier has blessed us with a formula that’s super quick and easy to apply and that makes for a subtle but still gorgeous look.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the Lidstar in Fawn and a little more lukewarm on Lash Slick. Lash Slick is a bummer because it was so close to being incredible, but I’m glad it fulfils that niche for other people. And, you know, at least I have my still unbroken tube of Lidstar (and my Haloscope).

Books read: January 2019

Posted on January 30, 2019 under Books

I’m going to experiment with doing these posts monthly, since I’ve read quite a bit this month and my book posts can get long quickly. This month I read 8 books – with my goal of 50 this year, I’m obviously really happy with this number.

Hunger: A Memoir of My Body by Roxane Gay

While this is certainly a book about what it means to be fat, it’s so much more than that. Running through the heart of the memoir is Roxane Gay’s childhood rape, and how that violation of her body is inextricably tied up in the way she treats her body in adulthood. Gay’s writing is accessible yet clearly intelligent, her insight sharp: most enlightening to me were her descriptions of how basic infrastructure does not accommodate her body. The title refers most obviously to an appetite for food, but Gay hungers for so much more: love, (self-)acceptance, resolution. Most profoundly moving about this book is the futility of longing for closure, the idea that working through trauma is a lifelong process that reflects in the mind, the body, and life as a whole.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

Indigenous journalist Tanya Talaga tells the story of seven northern Indigenous high school students who died in Thunder Bay, Ontario between 2000 and 2011. All seven students were from remote communities and moved to Thunder Bay without their families for their high school educations. Of course, this story is not just about the lives and deaths of these teenagers but also about the legacy of the residential school system and the thriving culture of racism and neocolonialism that persists to this day. The indifference of the police in pursuing these cases is chilling; even after an eight-month inquest many of the deaths are of “inconclusive” cause due to sloppy police work which can never be remedied. I struggle to believe that five able-bodied teenagers who all happened to be from northern Indigenous communities accidentally drowned in the river over the span of a decade. The current Canadian government likes to talk a big game about reconciliation, but their promises are clearly hollow. (Just ask the water defenders at Unist’ot’en Camp how much support Justin Trudeau is giving their cause…) Talaga’s writing is searing and urgent: Canada has purposefully failed Indigenous people, a series of broken systems doing nothing to mitigate the serious harm neocolonialism continues to reproduce.

The Break by Katherena Vermette

Four generations of Indigenous women living in Winnipeg’s North End come together in the face of a brutal assault on one of their own. Each character struggles with letting their pasts go, but the love this matriarchal family has for each other is powerful. They display such resilience and strength. An overarching theme that I loved was women believing other women’s experiences of sexual assault and harassment, never diminishing, never questioning. My biggest issue with this novel was that one of the POV characters was a Métis police officer, whose perspective I just didn’t think added anything to the text. He was supposed to show the near-irreconcilability of Indigenous identity and law enforcement, but ultimately his storyline took away from what was otherwise a stirring narrative of bonds between women.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Stunning cover design, if nothing else.

This is a novel about the necessity of trees in sustaining life on planet Earth and about how all living things are delicately interconnected. There was a lot that I liked about it: multiple narratives and magical realism are fast-track tickets straight to my heart. Powers skilfully enshrouded nonfictional information into a work of fiction. Even before the characters are drawn together, there are connections between them, most notably in their traumas and losses that cause them to disconnect from humanity and seek solace in something larger. One loner character becomes a dendrologist; one becomes a wealthy video game designer; another is a reclusive artist. The descriptive passages are extremely well-rendered and lovely to read.

So, here’s the thing. It is time to stop putting up with bullshit from male authors who cannot help but sexualize a young female manic pixie dream girl character to the point that her much-older boyfriend gets turned on by watching her pee. I mean, no. It’s 2019, we are not doing this anymore.

That isn’t my only issue with this novel, but I must be very clear: sometimes female characters are so blatantly written by men that it is a substantial enough problem to knock off two stars from a rating. My other substantial problem with The Overstory is how poorly-integrated the political content was. Look, this is a polemical novel, and it’s not trying not to be. Obviously, Richard Powers is an environmentalist, and that is fine, and probably why he wrote this novel. But his opinions are put into the mouths of his characters in the form of monologues, and that just lacks finesse. We don’t need to be hit over the head with the message. These characters are radical environmental activists, for God’s sake. There’s no need to write literal pages of a speech telling us how amazing trees are. By the time we’ve made it four hundred pages into this book, we are all very aware. There’s just not a lot of subtlety or subtext here, though the book is so beautifully-written that you could be fooled into thinking there is.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: despite its apparent dark subject matter, this is a fluffy novel. Moriarty’s characters are charming and well-conceived; everyone is fleshed-out and likeable despite their flaws. I went into this knowing absolutely nothing about the plot, but given the hype both the book and HBO series have engendered I expected a bit more. It was juicy and dramatic, but I think I was expecting it to be more artistically-complex given HBO’s highbrow inclinations. And I expected more twists! I enjoy a thriller here and there, and most of the joy in one is seeing how all the pieces that you missed come together. I never quite felt that with Big Little Lies; there was a lack of intricacy to the plot. (And I did figure out who died!) While the domestic abuse plot was handled sensitively in isolation, I do feel a bit iffy about the overall tone of the book (funny, juicy, generally lighthearted) with that particular theme. I’ve since watched the HBO adaptation, and that’s more in line with what I was expecting of the book, though I still didn’t love it. However, I’d say it’s worth a watch just for Nicole Kidman’s outstanding performance. This would be the perfect book to read on vacation, but it’s not exactly a masterpiece.

(By the way, I just want to say that Liane Moriarty’s younger sister Jaclyn wrote some of the best young adult novels of all time and I genuinely think I have read The Year of Secret Assignments more than any other book on this planet. I can actually see similarities in both authors’ senses of humour, too.)

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

The plot summary for this book does it no justice. Ostensibly, it’s about a Philippines-born translator hired by a white American filmmaker writing a screenplay about a massacre that happened in the Philippines at the turn of the century. The filmmaker’s father made his own war film in the Philippines in the 70s (think Apocalypse Now) before dying under slightly mysterious circumstances; his daughter Chiara struggles to move on, personally and artistically, from the shadow his work, life, and death have cast on her. Magsalin, the translator, struggles with Chiara’s privilege and the cultural imperialism inherent in her project, and decides to rewrite her screenplay. We see the tense interactions between the two women as well as their respective stories – though, interestingly, they are presented as novelistic prose, not as screenplays.

This is a really fascinating premise, but the book itself is structured unusually. Its chapters are numbered out of order, and there’s a lot of metafiction happening. (For instance, it is suggested that Chiara is actually just the protagonist of a mystery novel that Magsalin is writing.) Obviously, the exploration of film as an artistic discipline and cultural force was interesting to my personal interests, and I really enjoyed the way film terminology was woven into the text.

There is so much going on here: explorations of semiotics and the poetics of photography and film; the idea of history as a colonial construction, with blurred lines between history and art suggesting that history is subjective and adaptable; a fascination with appropriation and alternate readings of Western celebrity; a meditation on filmic mediation of the past. The prose is dense and quite academic at points, so it is a lot to digest and certainly begs a second reading. It’s clear that Gina Apostol is an extremely intelligent woman, and while there are passages that can be difficult to digest, the ambition and scope of the novel are admirable.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

Sara de Vos is a little-known (fictional) painter from the Dutch Golden Age, whose only known surviving painting has been passed down through the de Groot family for centuries. In the late 1950s, wealthy New Yorker Marty de Groot finds that the painting has been stolen from his home and replaced with a convincing forgery. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is told from three perspectives: those of Sara, Marty, and the art history PhD student and forger extraordinaire Ellie Shipley. Over forty years later, Ellie is curating a show in her native Australia and discovers that both the original painting and the forgery are on their way, threatening to unravel her successful career. I’m a big fan of novels about art heists (I’m one of the only people I know who actually liked The Goldfinch…), and Smith’s prose is very strong. As someone with a graduate degree in film I’m very aware of the difficulties of trying to describe one medium using another, but Smith’s descriptions of de Vos’s paintings are vivid and rich. The forgery plot and interpersonal relationships are interesting and well-explored.

However, I didn’t feel that the historical context of the Netherlands in the 1630s was as developed as it could have been. I read Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist last year, and its 17th century Netherlands was much more richly-described. While Sara’s story was engaging, it felt like it was part of another novel. In Burton’s second novel, The Muse, the provenance of the painting at the centre of the mystery is integral to the plot, so the flashbacks illuminate the main story. In this novel, however, Sara’s life has little bearing on the forgery plot. It’s not that it isn’t nice to plump up the story with some historical context, but I wish that Smith’s imagining of this era had been a little more robust. If you’re going to go there, go there, you know? This was still an interesting, well-written book with a compelling plot, and I’d recommend it to people who share my interest in art-related intrigue in fiction.

The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

The marketing of this book is actually bewildering; based on the summary on the back I was wondering why I’d added it to my to read shelf on Goodreads a year ago. Apparently, it’s about a recent university graduate who goes to live with a rich conservative MP in Thatcherite Britain. Except Nick, our protagonist, is gay, and this is essential to the text. (That’s where my interest comes from, obviously…) Having grown up in a working class family, Nick finds himself on the fringes of high society – invited to fancy parties and dinners with politicians, he is always an outsider, a fact underscored by his gayness. It is something that he believes his hosts “tolerate”, although they never talk about his sexuality or relationships despite the fact that he is out. Nick’s isolation and loneliness are partially because he’s pathologically pretentious, with esoteric interests and a condescending manner, but he also struggles to relate to his straight friends, and that particular form of isolation is believable and familiar. There are a lot of 80s tropes here: adulation of Margaret Thatcher; AIDS; lots of cocaine. It all feels fitting and inevitable, though. It’s like, you can’t have high society British people in the 80s without Thatcher. You can’t have a young gay man in the 80s without some mention of AIDS. (Well, there’s more than just a mention, and I like this handling of the topic, which I can be quite picky about being depicted properly.) And you just can’t have parties in the 80s without coke.

There’s not much plot to this novel (though it does get juicy at the end), and it’s longer than it strictly needs to be in a fairly self-indulgent way. But I guess I couldn’t be the one to be too disparaging about a self-indulgent, verbose gay writer, and anyway the prose was enjoyable enough that I didn’t mind. (I feel the same way about Donna Tartt, and though this book is nowhere near as long as The Goldfinch I think if you struggled to tolerate that you might not love this one.) It’s more of an extended character study and a rather searing interrogation into the hypocrisy and false superiority of the British upper class. Nick is not an easy character: his loneliness and desire for love make him sympathetic, but he’s so hedonistic and, despite his complicated doctoral work, rather shallow. There’s an emptiness to him that’s not the result of poor character development but of his own relentless pursuit of pleasure. The ending is incredibly satisfying in the way it wraps up every element of Nick’s character and relationships with others. I really enjoyed this one and I’d heartily recommend it, but you certainly have to be comfortable with a long-ish novel that’s not in the least bit plot-driven.

Overall a pretty good batch of books this month! Both non-fiction books were standouts; in terms of fiction, my favourites were Insurrecto and The Line of Beauty. I currently have a hefty stack of 11 books to get through, plus a few on my Kindle, so I should be good through March if I stay on this pace.