by Gwyneth Jones
Honorable Mention to Weekend: the simple story of two young men, picking each other up at a club in Nottingham and spending the weekend together while accidentally, truly, falling in love. Refreshingly, no fuss is made of the sex scenes, and they are frank as they would be for a heterosexual version, without any apology. Unusually, for the British Midlands Realist school of filmmaking, Weekend is not aggressive, distressing, miserable or violent, and nor is it sugar-coated. A gentle gem.
The line between right and wrong is not drawn between the sexes, especially not in Eighteenth Century Denmark, but the pathologies of the traditional sex roles are harshly spotlit in Marsha Marcia May Marlene. Child soldiers, sexual slaves, utterly corrupted, corrupting in their turn... I thought of that feral patriarch, and his awful, sinister, coaxing, assistant wives, when my library-book reading lead me to Aminatta Forna’s beautiful, lyrical novel The Memory of Love, and Elsa Osorio’s dry, docufiction style My Name Is Light (read in translation, nb). Respectively, an unravelling of the terrible recent past that the people of Sierra Leone have to live with (and mostly prefer not to think about), and a forensic examination of what happened to the children, in the tragedy of Argentina’s “disappeared” generation, these are two gripping modern history books, and I think they’re better for being fictionalised. Fiction, ironically, can tell more of the truth and leaves the most awkward questions fewer places to hide.
Finally, I’ve spent most of this year on short stories and on the project of getting my backlist into eprint. For the last few months —far longer than I intended!— I’ve been obsessed with the remastering of Divine Endurance (1984) and Flowerdust (1993), “companion novels” set in a far future South East Asia. I’ve got the single narrative, single volume edition up on Kindle now, but on the way to this happy conclusion I was lucky enough to spot The Garden Of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng, on the Booker short list, and surfaced for long enough to snag a copy. Set in the Cameron Highlands of the Malaysian Peninsula, this is partly the summing up of a Malaysian-Chinese judge’s life, at a time when she knows her mind is on the brink of dissolution, and partly a reconstruction of yet another savage, largely forgotten “low intensity” war; the Communist Insurgency in Malaya in the fifties. Very beautiful, absorbing, and evocative. I didn’t get the tattooing strand, but I really loved the rest.
Best Theatre, The Heresy of Love (a new play by Helen Edmonton based on the life of Mexica poet and thinker, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) at Stratford.
Best visual arts show: Bronze at the Royal Academy, by a mile. On a much smaller scale, Lindsey Seers' immersive, disorienting, and gender-bending Entanglement at the Turner, Margate, in July.
And if by any chance you think Modernism isn’t too weird... Or only for old hippies... Brighton’s Music Of Our Time strand, in the Brighton Festival, in May, “The Musician’s Body’ made a huge impression on us. A highlight was virtuoso of the seventies, Frederick Rzewski, playing his epic masterpiece The People United Will Never Be Defeated (variations on a Chilean revolutionary chant), but MOOT goes from strength to strength. Jonathan Powell came to Brighton to play Messiaen's Vingt regards sur l'enfant Jesus in October, which was just fabulous.
This week, but too late for this deadline, I’ll be going to MOOT’S Christmas with the Schoenbergs (more Modernism) and getting harrowed and torn apart by Hanecke’s Amour. It’s for my own good.
Oh, I see I missed out non-fiction reading. And TV. Never mind. Enough is enough.
Gwyneth Jones is the critically acclaimed author of numerous novels, short stories, and essays. She has been honored with the Philip K. Dick, World Fantasy, Clarke, and Tiptree Awards for her fiction, and the Pilgrim Award for her criticism. Her most recent books are Universe of Things, Imagination/Space: Essays and Talks on Fiction, Feminism, Technology, and Politics and Spirit, a novel. She lives in Brighton, England.