Tuesday, 7 July 2009


There are some plans to start a life-writing circle. I quickly listed some books I had in mind, when answering to the question what kind of biographies have inspired me. I am such a junkie of novels that I actually read only a couple of biographies a year. Over the past decade, these titles have talked to me:

Anna Kortelainen: Virginie! (in Finnish)
Mark Simpson: Saint Morrissey
Vikram Seth: Two Lives
Paul Theroux: Sir Vidya’s Shadow
Anna Makkonen: Sinulle (Finnish)
Carol Shields: Jane Austen
Hannah Arendt: Rahel Varnhagen: The Life of a Jewess
Irma Sulkunen: Liisa Eerikintytär (Finnish)
Hanif Kureishi: My Ear at His Heart
Sara Suleri Goodyear: Boys Will Be Boys
Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking
Carolyn Steedman: Landscape for a Good Woman
Mustafa Can: Tätt intill dagarna (Swedish)
Natalie Zemon Davis: Kolme naista, kolme elämää 1600-luvulla. (transl.)
Hélène Cixous: Rootprints
Amos Oz: A Tale of Love and Darkness

If I had to pick one title from this list as the ultimate classic, today I'd pick Carolyn Steedman's Landscape for a Good Woman.
Steedman is one of my gurus in the search for alternative research writing. Landscape can be read by anyone, anywhere; one doesn't have to be an academic to appreciate it. At the same time, it is historically precise and gives the reader tools to start doing similar analyses of his or her own life.

Lola Rose and Cookie

Further book blurb on two Jacqueline Wilson books. I seem to have a slight addiction, meaning I read them before my daughter gets hold of them, and she is too old anyways, if we think of proper age slots. I don't belong to any slot, which means I can freely read them anywhere, anytime, also in public places without feeling embarrassed.

Lola Rose is a Jacqueline Wilson classic. Having read four-five of her novels, I'd recommend Lola Rose for the beginner. That and the earlier reviewed The Illustrated Mum rob my points for originality - in the storylines of both novels, there is something spectacular. Play with contingence, class analysis, positionality.

In Lola Rose, the mother gets to leave an abusive partner by winning a prize in a lottery. It consists of hard core social commentary on schools, the desired addresses, and the less undesirable ones in British everyday life. Lola Rose is registered to a London school where the principal gladly shares a ciggie with the girl's mother. It is the only school in the neighbourhood that accepts new students in the middle of the school year. Lola Rose lives in temporary council housing, which the mother-daughter couple tries to revamp as home. There is a younger boyfriend, whose feelings turn cold after the mother is diagnosed of breast cancer.

I wonder if Jacqueline Wilson's mission is to prepare the youngsters to cope with the realities of everyday life. I have liked her robust narratives, but after reading a few, I start expecting a thematic graduation (which so far doesn't seem to have happened).

The latest novel, Cookie, is a variation on the theme of Lola Rose. In both books, women and children are on the run from abusive men, never to return. And both display portraits of late capitalist consumerism, taken to the extremes. In Cookie,, there is a deeply insecure builder father, who tries to buy friends to the plain-looking daughter by hiring caterers and limos to her birthday party.

Wilson's boys and girls, men and women, are to a great extent cartoon characters, who bring the coarse point home about the ills of society, but after reading some of her books, I start expecting deviations from the bestseller scheme of things. Are the power relations in families really so polarized as Wilson likes to show us? And what about multicultural families, queer families, single parent families in which the parent is not interested in new girl- or boyfriends?

I am expecting from Wilson in the coming novels a widening of themes. The kids cannot forever be reading Thelma and Louise type of runaway dramas. She is a realistic writer and needs to study further the complexity of today's families. Many couples don't split up because of the other's abusive narcissism, or infidelity. She offers us a study of families on the move, but the study doesn't extend far enough. I would also like to read about polite, nice families breaking up.

People eating tofu, drinking soya milk and contemplating treks in the Himalayas do it, too.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Slumdog millionaire, months late

The whole world's been buzzing about Danny Boyle's film Slumdog Millionaire, and I came to Anil Kapoor fandom long before the film's European release. The love affair started by seeing the film Taal, in which Kapoor plays the role of an opportunist mogul of Mumbai music business. He is extremely cynical and entertaining in the cynicism. I have not come across any other Indian actor or actress with similar scope for the ironic. He speaks straight to me without any cultural translations. I would love to find the female equivalent of AK, someone ruthlessly bitchy, who at the same time loves the people she's with (although she would never admit it).

Curiously enough, I didn't rush to see Slumdog during its Finnish première, but waited until early July. The whole event just seemed overcrowded. Didn't feel any pressure to be there. Funnily enough, the kids insisted. It seemed to belong to their repertoire of films to see, not mine. I succumbed.

I have seen too many films with AK as the crook, or the competing older groom, or the streetwise Indian professional - it would be difficult to imagine him in another kind of role. He is Indian secular urbanity embodied, I would find it difficult to view him in the role of a village patriarch, or a spiritual authority. He is the sleek urbanite with vicious manners, who often has to go through a fierce moral battle before coming to terms with the surrounding humanity.

I smuggled an underaged child to see the film. Nobody stopped us at the gates, though he was 5 years too young. I was first afraid it might be too rough for the kids to see, but it wasn't. So good it was I got myself a copy of the DVD at Heathrow during a conference trip, with a set of fan postcards included. Now I only miss the T-shirt, and I assume it also can be easily arranged. India is not lagging behind terribly in the commodification of film stars. I plan to travel there later this year. How many kgs of Bollywood materials will I bring along?

It was curious to see a film about Indian slum children that did not automatically envoke soppiness in the corner of the eye of a middle-aged European female (I almost always cry); the economy of emotions was more complex, and the film did also appeal to the spectator's analytical skills.

That kind of alienating effect is unusual when viewing Hollywood/Bollywood films of today. I expect to actually learn something from the film after a couple of rounds of more careful screening.