BOOK OF 2016:
I read a lot, and of the books I’ve read that have been released this year, there are two that I felt warranted particular mention.
THE FIREMAN by JOE HILL.
I have this on audiobook and on the Kindle. Joe Hill has been a writer whose work I will always gravitate towards. He has a powerful voice, manages to combine science fiction, horror and fantasy concepts aligned to strong characterisation, a lovely tone, a wry sense of humour and an earnestness that endears me to anything he puts his name to. The Fireman was not my favourite Joe Hill, that honour probably goes to NOS4R2 but of the books in 2016, this is one that I return to, and find something different each time. In it’s lead Harper, he shows that a protagonist can have doubts and flaws, and can pursue their desire without losing their humanity or morality. The central conceit of the spore that causes spontaneous human combustion is wonderfully realised and the book moves towards a clear-eyed assessment of how people behave in a crisis, and within a group. Some of them become monstrous, whilst others show courage and hope in a situation that strains the capability to raise it. I found myself relating to John Rookwood, the fireman of the title and its a book I have returned to, throughout the year, and found new insights within it.
THE GIRLS by EMMA CLINE.
This is a deceptive book, it captures the ugliness of cult-related behaviour, the rebellion of teenage girls and the cumulative damage of history on the psyche. Ostensibly a retelling of the Charles Manson story from a peripheral perspective, it is a book that took my breath away. It seethes with a clear-eyed, raw honesty and the subtlety of Cline’s prose is that she takes you by the hand into some dark places and you go willingly, before realising that it’s a deeply uncomfortable book awash with ambiguities, and all the more powerful for how spare the prose gets, only to explode into washes of exquisite prose.
GIRLS ON FIRE by ROBIN WASSERMAN.
This serves in theme as a companion piece to THE GIRLS, although more explicit and raw than the other book. It goes deep into the tormented psyches and social rivalries of a pair of teenage girls, skipping between multiple narratives without losing track of the central themes and story. It is a charged, erotic book without feeling exploitative. It has a feral heart and was all the more beautiful for not skimping on the insights. A gut punch delivered with a kiss and certainly one that stayed with me long after I finished it.
I fell in love with the juxtaposition of the Wild West and its inherent savagery against the slightly decaying high tech amusement and corporate intrigue. The performances heightened the quality of the material, notably Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood who essayed characters of complexity and confusion. It never quite fulfilled its promise but with subsequent seasons, I hope that it develops the narrative into something complex and robust. Certainly it is beautifully shot, edited and handles nudity, sex and violence with a mature eye and a calm hand.
I’ve read several books about Pablo Escobar, and this show manages to juggle the sheer comic book scale villainy of his rise and fall with capturing the humanity of the man, much like Breaking Bad managed with a fictional protagonist. It does this through the sweaters that Pablo wears, which is a lovely visual touch. Season 1 was a touch meandering and ponderous but the second season is all pay off, and intense as anything else I have seen this year.
GAME OF THRONES
Oh do I have to? OK, it’s moved on past the books and it manages to work with the constraints of television to great effect. I won’t join in on the call for GRRM to finish the books, they’re massive pieces of work and also he’s not anyone’s bitch, as Neil Gaiman said to great acclaim. Still brilliant, and event television for me. Winter Is Coming, and it’s having a fine time getting there.
It’s had a hard fight getting to the screen but it revelled in it’s underdog status to become the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. Well, at least until M B BLISSETT: CYNICAL ROMANTIC ENGLISHMAN makes its debut, but until then, I loved this film. Breaking the fourth wall, consistently funny and made the use of its limitations to great effect. Ryan Reynolds has been absolved of Green Lantern related sins forever.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT
It’s quintessential Tarantino. Take that as you will.
A simple, claustrophobic thriller that makes the best use of darkness and a limited setting. It ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels and essays itself in a bravura performance by Stephen Lang.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
I won’t spoil it for you but it was a fantastic thriller that again makes the use of a closed setting and hammers you with it.
CHILDISH GAMBINO – AWAKEN, MY LOVE
A late and overpowering contender in 2016, it is rooted in the socially conscious, dirty soul of the 70s with swooning vocals, sensual, heady instrumentation and a boldness that grabs you by the heart and crotch at the same time. Like being stoned on heartbreak and passion, this album has demanded repeated listening.
Share your highlights in the comments below.