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Rocks, 2019 - ★★★★

Great, moving film about a teenaged girl whose mother leaves — it’s never stated why, but most likely because of mental health problems — who tries to keep life going normally for herself and her little brother. Inevitably there are problems, with school, with social workers. 

It’s set and filmed in and around Hackney, so I feel like these could be people I see on the streets, people my kids went to school with. 

Refreshingly, many clichés are avoided: the problems are not about drugs or gangs, or even race. 

A top piece of work.

See in Letterboxd

I got a reply to the Twitter version of my last post which pointed me to something called the Badger Seal. It’s a DIY attachment you can make that’s meant to hold masks on better. Not just at the top for the glasses issue, but all around, for overall better filtration.

Because let’s face it, when we breathe out with a mask on, a lot of that breath is not going through the mask, but round the sides.

It looks like it might be pretty effective, but making it looks like a hassle — or at least, getting the components. It needs something called ‘foam wire,’ which I’ve never heard of, and I don’t know if you can even get it in this country (a quick search at B&Q’s site suggests not). But if you can, it’s likely to be in a big roll, when all you want is 30cm or so per mask.

Not to put a downer on good ideas, I mean. That site sells them too, but they’re heavily back ordered, and who knows how long they’ll take to get here from the US.

There are other, similar, things out there, but I can’t so far find anything sourced in the UK.

I’ll stick with micropore for now.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo (Books 2021, 2)

It took me quite a long while to read this. I enjoyed it whenever I read a section, and I read it in large chunks at a time; but between times I wasn’t particularly drawn back to it. I think that’s probably because it doesn’t have any significant plot.

Instead it’s a series of character explorations, looking at a series of Black women (and a few men) over several decades of the twentieth century and the first two of the twenty-first.

Each story is compelling and enjoyable, and they’re all interlinked — almost too interlinked at times, you might say, because there’s an element of coincidence. But that doesn’t matter: coincidences happen, after all.

Perhaps the major downside is that you get interested and invested in a character, and their chapter ends and we move on to another one. So it’s like you’re always starting fresh. Or fresh-ish. That’s probably also part of why I had the experience I described at the start, of not being drawn back to it.

Because of my course, I’ve been thinking a lot about the choices writers make. So I was particularly aware of Evaristo’s unconventional choices regarding punctuation and capitalisation. Specifically, she capitalises proper nouns, but no other words. So sentences all start with lower-case letters. And she eschews almost all punctuation. Only the comma, the apostrophe, the question mark, and an occasional exclamation mark, are used.1

No full stops means — and I only consciously realised this when looking it over to write this — that every sentence starts a new paragraph, and comprises the whole of the paragraph. Even when a sentence does end with a question mark or exclamation mark, she has it end the paragraph.

All of which is fine. I found it noticeable, but not distracting. I just wonder what the intended effect is. Some people say they find things like quotes to delineate speech intrusive, and I’ve heard it said that leaving capitals off the start of sentences feels more informal. But I feel generally that most established conventions have good reasons for existing, and that the best approach is to keep to them, unless you have a very good reason for not doing so. I don’t think this novel would in any way be lessened if it were capitalised and punctuated conventionally.

And then I would be talking more about the content, not the form.

  1. There may be the odd colon or semicolon, but I couldn’t find any on looking it over just now. And there are probably a couple of dashes and brackets. 

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (Books 2021, 1)

It looks as if I haven’t read anything yet this year. That’s far from true, of course, but this is the first book-length work I’ve finished. Though that ‘book-length’ is extremely deceptive, as it’s very short.

I read it for my course — specifically the Creative Nonfiction module that I’m doing this term. It’s a powerful statement about the position of Black people in America in the early 60s, when it was written. Things have sadly not changed much.

In terms of presentation, it’s a little odd. It’s titled as two letters: one to his nephew, and another ‘from a region in my mind.’ The first is short, and does read as if it were a letter. The second, not so much.

It’s more of a personal essay, combining memoir and political analysis. It shows a great deal of empathy, both for Black people and the white majority in his country. And it ends with a note of hope, that America can still become the country it claimed to be. I wonder what he’d think of things now.

Both parts are available at those links, so you don’t even have to buy it if you want to check it out, which you should.