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Saturday, January 28, 2017


Eileen by Ottesa Moshfegh has sentences and passages that are quite simply breathtaking in their perfection. One after the other her words tantalise and tease. She never says too much, nor too little, they are just perfect. Poisonous, cutting, funny, odious, grotesque, dangerous, plain, scary - her writing is marvellous. In just a few sentences in the books’ opening paragraph we know Eileen

You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special. It’s easy for me to imagine this girl, a strange, young and mousy version of me, carrying an anonymous leather purse or eating from a small package of peanuts, rolling each one between her gloved figures, sucking in her cheeks, staring anxiously out the window. The sunlight in the morning illuminated the thin down on my face, which I tried to cover with pressed powder, a shade too pink for my wan complexion. I was thin, my figure was jagged, my movements pointy and hesitant, my posture stiff. The terrain of my face was heavy with soft, rumbling acne scars blurring whatever delight or madness lay beneath that cold and deadly New England exterior. If I’d worn glasses I could have passed for smart, but I was too impatient to be truly smart. …. I deplored silence. I deplored stillness. I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time. I tried to control myself, and that only made me more awkward, unhappier, and angrier. I was like Joan of Arc, or Hamlet, but born into the wrong life - the life of a nobody, a waif, invisible. There’s no better way to say it: I was not myself back then. I was someone else. I was Eileen. 

Eileen is like no other heroine or hero. She lives with her mentally unstable, alcoholic father, a retired policeman, in a filthy house that neither clean. She eats little of anything, biscuits or sweets mainly, and embraces her thinness. She is obsessed with her bowels and avoids washing. She is twenty four, a virgin, and works as a clerk in a correctional facility for teenage boys. She is plain, small-breasted and hates her body which she hides under layers of clothes. 

This is Eileen until she meets Rebecca who changes everything. Rebecca, who Eileen felt on meeting, must, like Doris Day - live in a charmed world of fluffy pillows and golden sunshine - and instantly hated her.  Yet within minutes of actually talking to Rebecca Eileen discovers her soul mate, or, as Rebecca puts it, her partner in crime, and the books unexpected twist begins.

Eileen is so perfect a novel that it was an almost emotional disappointment when Moshfegh’s ending fails to ring true. Here was Eileen and Rebecca, not as a darker and perverse take on Thelma and Louise or as a sapphic romance like Carol mashed with Bound, but as ineptitude. It is almost as if having brought the reader brilliantly up to this point that there was pressure to bring the story to an end or to find a twist that sashayed nicely into Eileen’s conclusion.  

Everything so far has been flawless, with Eileen’s thoughts on life and its banalities leading us inextricably to her meeting with Rebecca and from there we anticipated, deliciously, trouble ahead. So it was doubly disappointing that when that ‘trouble’ arrives it is caused not be wickedness but by uncharacteristic silliness on the part of our heroines.  As a result Eileen, whilst not unravelling, is now imperfect and flawed. as if, like her creations, Moshfegh had messed up, not a lot, but enough.

Eileen is still an extraordinarily, and at times, beautifully revolting story, that seeps into your consciousness like a strong whisky, nulling and stimulating, while sowing the seeds of corruption. Yet it could and should have been a truly brilliant novel and the fact that it falls short lies in part with Rebecca, who, like her creator, steps out of line in a way that disappoints rather than excites - leaving the reader feeling flat when we should have been bubbling with anticipation and excitement. So much so that even Eileen cannot hide her disappointment at the turn of events.

I could have told her she was crazy, that I wanted nothing to do with her, that she ought to be committed, but I was so hurt, so dismayed by her scheme to seduce me into being some sort of accomplice that I failed to muster any cutting words or phrases, “Good luck.” might have been enough, I suppose. 

A remarkable, brilliant, but flawed masterpiece.  

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh is published by Viking Books

260 pages  £14.99

Saturday, January 14, 2017


The Power by Naomi Alderman is part science fiction, part thriller and part feminism reborn as a morality tale in which all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts most of all no matter the gender of those that wield it. In this instance, teenage girls, and, eventually through them, all women, - the ‘power’ being electricity generated by a skein of knotted muscle and veins that grow under the skin and across the collar bones of girls and becomes the source through which, girls, all girls, can learn to discharge electrical power from their hands and fingertips. A power that, handled correctly, can hurt a man, wound a man, kill a man - from that beginning women begin to take the societal power away from men changing society, religion and male / female relationships, forever.

Told through the lives of three women and a man whose stories, like the skeins from which their power derives, are intertwined and seemingly damned by their newly acquired strength. This is particularly so in the case of Tunde, a young man and aspiring photo-journalist from Nigeria whose Youtube video of a girl taking down a man who was pestering her in a supermarket and reducing him to a gibbering wreck bleeding from his eyes and mouth after she has touched him, sets the worlds’ media ablaze and ushers in what will become known as the Day of the Girls…

From here on Alderman’s impressive cast of characters, Roxy the daughter of a London gangster, Allie (or Mother Eve as she becomes) who morphs from abused teenage orphan to the leader of a new, feminised take on christianity, to Margot an American senator whose troubled daughter Jocelyn lacks the ability to use her power, to Tunde, who documents the world’s rapid shift, which, like an electrical Arab Spring, moves from patriarchy to matriarchy in a series of tumultuous set pieces, not least the collapse of male controlled countries like Saudi Arabia.

The Power is also savagely violent in places and as the world shifts from male control, with its inherent, endemic violence, to female control, which unleashes its own, equally brutal, female take on revenge. Now, hundreds of years of being an abused and subservient sex, of being prostituted and beaten, is crystallised into an almost bestial discharge aimed straight at the heart of the male id, which, at its most basic, means his cock. 

Here, in this world, men are raped by women who use their electrical powers to induce an erection in the unwilling male victim and then, when satiated, are shown killing the man in scenes that only mimic mans' savage raping of women in wars through the centuries. Elsewhere men are tortured, limbs and organs are fried or severed, eyes burnt out. Men, in their turn, plant bombs and resort to terrorism and war in a futile effort to return the world to the old order. Alderman hammers this home in scenes that are as disturbing as they brutal:

“The woman on top cups his balls and dick in her palm. She says something. Laughs. The others laugh, too. She tickles him there with the tip of a finger, making a little crooning sound, as if she wants him to enjoy it. He can’t speak; his throat is bulging. They might have broken his windpipe already. She puts her head to one side, makes a sad face at him. She might as well have said in any language in the world. ‘What’s the matter? Can’t get it up?’ He tries to kick his heels to get away from her, but it’s too late for that”

In this world, as the initial shock of women’s new power and status sinks in, so men try to fight back, underground groups form, the Saudi King funds rebellion to take back his kingdom and the military tries to hardness and control women’s power to use it as a weapon. Yet the dynamic between men and women has flipped and no banging of fists by the old patriarchy can change that. 

“He sees the dark eyes of the women watching him from the factory. He knows something then. A simple fact that should have been obvious from the first, had he not been pushing the knowledge from him. The women are not glad to see what he has done, or that he could do it. The fucking bitches are just starring at him: their mouths as closed as the earth, their eyes as blank as the sea. They walk down the stairs inside the factory in orderly file and march towards him as one. Darrell lets out a sound, a hunted cry, and he runs. And the women are after him.”

Yet, despite the violence, this is a serious and highly readable novel that moves at a cracking pace. Its ideas and the societies that it imagines, believable, real and, at times, frightening. The shift of emphasis from the male Jesus to the female Mother Mary and Eve, the first woman, not just apt, but in the circumstances described, absolutely right. 

In some ways The Power reminded me of books like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale, Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, of John Wyndham’s The Trouble with Lichen and Edmund Cooper’s almost forgotten novel of the early seventies, Who Needs Men or Gender Genocide as it was titled for its US release - a dark tale of a future societies extermination of men by women. That said, The Power is totally its own book, and a shockingly good one at that! One that not only provokes, but whose story and characters stay with you long after the last page has been read and the book finished, and I cannot recommended it highly enough. Fabulous!

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

The Power  by Naomi Alderman is published by Viking Books

342 pages  £12.99

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Enemies of the People…

The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.
Joseph Stalin

When is european democracy not a democracy? When the citizens of its nation states go against the beliefs of the left-leaning, liberal establishment which controls most of the countries that make-up the european union would be the answer. Or, as is the case in the UK, where 52% of the population voted for Brexit against the wishes of the establishment and the metropolitan elite, the establishment, supported by a Kabal of rich lawyers, celebrities and leftist sections of the UK’s intelligentsia, seek to neuter, delay and castigate its troublesome discontents with a mixture of legalese, small print and politically correct name calling. Smoke and mirrors in other words. 

The essential effect in all cases being that if the people follow the rules, obey the law and cast their vote at the ballot box, if what they want goes against the established liberal orthodoxy then their vote and their views will be rubbished and sneeringly dismissed as ‘populism’. Or the result itself will be queried as having been engineered by a combination of fake news stories and post-truth lies. If that fails then the establishment will claim that those who voted against the orthodox view, were, in fact, too stupid to know what they doing. The net result being that the established liberal order and ruling elites will do everything in their power to ignore the wishes of the people and to crush, mute and censor anyone who says otherwise.

In the United States where Donald Trump’s surprise victory sent the left into a bizarre mixture of denial, grief, apocalyptic rage and whining on an epic scale there have been Herculean attempts to overturn, discredit and refute the result; with everything from recounts and Russian hacking being used or cited as a way of overturning or undermining the result. 

Yet, as this wave or rightwing ‘populism’ grows, so the liberal left, which has effectively held sway over the West’s cultural, social and political output for the last 50 or so years, is feeling its grip on the levers of power, both political and cultural, loosening, and it doesn’t like it. Not only does the liberal establishment not like this rising rightwing insurgency, it will have none of it and will fight tooth and nail to stop it.

Indeed now that the initial shock of the Brexit win and Donald Trump’s election victory are wearing off, so the crying, stamping of feet and gnashing of teeth has given way to a whole plethora of tactics designed not only to stop Brexit and tame Trump but to vilify and fraught the resurgent right everywhere. Already charges of hate crime, hate speech, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, sexism, antisemitism and Islamophobia are being hurled around like verbal confetti at everyone from Steve Bannon, the ebullient founder of the Breibart news site, and soon to be President-elect Trump’s chief strategist and senior counsellor, to anyone on social media who dares to post an opinion critical of the liberal orthodoxy.

Right wing heretics are now being sought out by a kind of liberal left Inquisition who are scouring Twitter and Facebook in search of unbelievers to haul before their appointed judges, the ‘enemies of the people’, as some UK newspapers called them. Thought crimes are being merged with actual crimes, as in the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox and the alleged people who stupidly tweeted their support or joy at her death, actions that are now being used to further the catch-all nature of 'hate speech' as a crime. Hate speech or thought crime, that is speech or ideas critical of the establishment, or the voicing of ideas which are opposed to those of the liberal intelligentsia, will soon ensure that free speech is effectively legislated out of existence, along with as many rightwing political groups and parties as the liberal Inquisition can concoct a case against. 

Only the right it seems can do or say evil. Left wing activists can mock and spew vile hatred at the death of Margaret Thatcher, scream ‘scum’ and spit at Conservative supporters attending their annual party conference or beat up and violently assault those they accuse of being rightwing or fascist, seemingly with impunity. Universities and student groups now ban anyone whose views are even vaguely rightwing or just deemed controversial, UKip and Brexit supporters are shouted down as racists or dismissed as neothandrals, too thick to warrant being heard.

Multimillionaire hedge fund owners, like the Guyana born Gina Miller and her husband, Alan Miller, joint owners of the wealth management company SCM Private, can use their money to thwart the will of the english people and usurp the UK’s democracy with impunity. In turn these two unaccountable millionaires are cheered on by their leftwing liberal supporters who would seemingly stoop to any hypocrisy in order to stop Brexit. 

Yet the delicious irony is that soon, events in Italy, Holland, and France, may herald the implosion and collapse of the european union regardless of whether the UK stays or leaves or the actions of the Remainer’s nefarious millionaires. In which case there would be no european club left to belong to.

Indeed as the working class, the disenfranchised and the untermensch of Europe and the US fight back against the liberal elites we can expect to see the establishment become ever more vicious and draconian as they try to hold back and reverse the demands of a resurgent populous. Expect to see more censorship, more arrests, more legislation, and more euphemisms created as liberal lawyers invent and twist words to create new crimes and misdemeanours as a way of protecting cultural Marxism’s place in the world, and silencing those that challenge it. 

© Nigel Wingrove 2017

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Petite Meller lands on Planet Gong!

If bands could musically beget children then those children would, like their flesh and blood counterparts in the real world, display not just some of the musical characteristics of their 
parents but probably some of their inherent eccentricities as well. In which case the YouTube-proclaimed ‘Aryan pedo nightmare’ that is the French phenomenon Petite Meller would be the 
love-child of the hippy-dippy band Gong circa 1970.

Meller is 22 with an MA in philosophy, a fabulously distinctive and accented gallic vocal sound, which, when coupled with her Lady Gaga style theatrics and personal raison d’être to turn ‘libidinal unconscious dreams’ into reality while flirting with terrorism, race and Lolitaesque sex, make her hard to ignore. 

This anarchic approach to life, which The Guardian newspaper dismissed as pop with a ‘creepy aesthetic’, comes alive in Meller’s videos, where, usually scantily clad, cheeks rouged in pink blusher
and brandishing a variety of inappropriate props, she cavorts and her dances her way through a series of improbable landscapes that have included; a Kenyan village where she danced with the local school children and kissed a giraffe for Baby Love, New York City for Backpack, a geriatric rest home in Florida for Barbaric, and, most recently, she played with reindeers and the local tribesmen in the grassy plains of Mongolia for her single, The Flute. The Flute also sees Meller wearing a grass skirt and a pointy hat that, has, metaphorically at least, Gong written all over it.

While this global dancing has upset some who see it as ‘cultural appropriation’ and worry that Meller’s white flesh denotes a hidden racism when displayed next to her black co-dancers in videos like Baby Love, Meller undoubtably has a unique visual style that is rapidly becoming her own signature look and the only hidden message it really displays is a true celebration of being alive.

Now, having spent the last twelve or so releasing one infectiously dancey pop single after another, Meller has released Lil Empire, an equally quirky and contagious album. Almost every track is filled with a delirious pop sound; Milk Bath (cute and bonkers), America (like Baby Love, only more so), Argentina (softer, with the merest hint of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita), Geez (fab, play it to death), as well as all of her previously released singles. This is an album brimming with joie de vivre and a fabulous, almost gospelish pop sound that demands to be played loudly, again and again. Pointy hats optional. 

@ Nigel Wingrove 2016

The Flute -
Baby Love -
Barbaric -

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Life, Love and Keeling Over

Hiromi Kawakami’s first English language book was called Strange Weather in Tokyo and published in 2014, (in Japan it was titled The Teacher’s Briefcase) and was a gentle, touching, almost surreal and dreamlike story of a thirty something woman slowly falling in love with an unassuming retired school teacher in his seventies who she sees in a café where she eats regularly. The Nakano Thrift Shop treads a similar path. only more so.

In The Nakano Thrift Shop, Hiromi’s narrator is again a young woman, this time one who kind of, hesitantly, tentatively, possibly, falls in love with the twenty something Takeo, her co-worker at Mr Nakano’s thrift shop. Called Hitomi, our heroine and narrator, drifts, not so much through life but rather life drifts through her, as Kawakami’s small cast of characters; Mr Nakano, the roguish womanising thrift shop owner, Masayo, his artistic, doll-making, older sister, Sakiko, Mr Nakano’s sensual and beautiful lover, and the awkwardly shy Takeo, all gently impinge on Hitomi’s consciousness.

Kawakami has an extraordinarily way of drawing you into her etherial world, where, although nothing really happens, when they do, little transgressions or events cause ripples that spread seamlessly throughout the whole book and stay with you long after the story has finished. In Strange Weather in Tokyo it was the descriptions of food and the cherry blossom that heralds the arrival of spring that permeated, whereas in The Nakano Thrift Shop it is the inconsequential bric-a-brac and the minutiae of life that you eventually cherish. Until, as Mr Nakano’s sister says, we keel over;

Masayo wrapped up by saying, ’That’s why, when I haven’t heard from someone 
for a while, the first thing that occurs to me is that they might have just keeled over.’

Keeled over. I repeated Masayo’s phrase, in the same tone she had used.

‘You know?’ Masayo suppressed a chuckle as she peered into my face.

I-I don’t think he’s dead, I replied, shrinking into my seat.

Beautifully written and faultlessly translated by Allison Markin Powell, both Strange Weather in Tokyo and The Nakano Thrift Shop are a poignant, funny and effortless reminder of the pleasures to be found even in the banalities of modern life. 

The covers to both books are by the Japanese photographer Natsumi Hayashi who specialises in taking slightly spooky and etherial pictures of Japanese girls levitating and floating and whose imagery seems the perfect visualisation of Hiromi Kawakami’s novels. See more of her work here:

© Nigel Wingrove 2016

The Nakano Thrift Shop
Hiromi Kawakami

260 pages, Paperback
Portobello Books

Strange Weather in Toyko
Hiromi Kawakami

176 pages, Paperback
Portobello Books

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tears in the Day, Screams in the Night

Chris Petit’s The Butchers of Berlin, is a brutal and disquieting take on a city and a people inured by years of terror, violence and vicious anti-semitism, who find survival in indifference, and sustenance in betrayal. 

Set in the death throes of the Third Reich during 1943, in an increasingly dangerous, demoralised
and bombed-out Berlin. Here, food and basic necessities are in short supply and the cities infrastructure is run less and less by German men and more and more by slave labour brought in from conquered nations. Slaves who would like nothing more than to hurt their German hosts and who provide a potential mass of suspects to the grisly murders at the books core. 

Centred on a detective and an SS judge assigned to investigate a series of extreme murders; the bodies had been frayed, butchered, and their skulls smashed to a pulp, the Butchers of Berlin, soon expands its remit to take in the regime’s round-ups and deportations of Berlin’s remaining Jews and the desperate attempts by some to evade capture and stay hidden from the authorities. Alongside the skinless bodies and vanished Jews, a German warden is also murdered, a police informer is found castrated, there is corruption in the Gestapo, and a counterfeiting racket is threatening chaos. 

It is though the inclusion of two young Jewish women, Sybil and Lore, in the story that truly evokes our sympathy after they find themselves at the mercy of the Gestapo and its local commander, the sadistic Gersten, who is happy to use torture and threats to cajole them into becoming ‘catchers’; Jews who seek out and betray other Jews that have become ‘U-boats’, that is Jews hiding as non-Jews. In particular, Petit brings in the real-life ‘catcher', the beautiful blonde Stella Kübler as a character. In reality Kübler's striking good looks and vivacious nature helped her ensnare and betray some 3000 of her fellow Jews to the Gestapo, who in turn nicknamed her ‘Blonde Poison’. 

It is in this mashing of real characters like Kübler, along with Goebbels, Himmler, and the agricultural minister and man behind the Blood and Soil (Blut und Boden) movement, Walter Darré, who all feature walk-on parts, with actual events and evocative depictions of wartime Berlin that jar with the books over-the-top emphasis on gross-out descriptions of butchery and slaughter. These forays into Grand Guignol territory tend to move the book away from a world war two crime thriller into straight horror territory. A pairing that weakens and detracts from the books strengths.

Chris Petit is unusual in that he combines writing with directing, particularly TV movies and short documentaries, and the first two thirds of The Butchers of Berlin reads like a well-paced thriller script, its short, punchy chapters making for concise scenes that in turn make for an exciting, gripping, story. Real, edge-of-your-seat stuff, or in this case, a page-turner. Then, a bit like a film that runs out steam, Petit spends the final third part of the story laboriously tying up all the strands while totally over-egging the blood and gore to an almost cartoonish level in the buildup to the books, or perhaps that should be, films, climatic ending. 

Petit is perhaps best known for the Northern Ireland based thriller, The Psalm Killer (1997), which, like The Butchers of Berlin, had at its core almost bestial descriptions of violence, though involving a biblically inspired killer operating during the Troubles rather than crazed Nazis. Yet the violence of 
the The Psalm Killer seemed, despite its graphic nature, to fit within the context of the story, yet in the Butchers of Berlin, where in reality the most appalling slaughter the world has ever seen was being carried out in the background, Petit’s horror seems not just crass but disrespectful of the real events and that is a shame because with a little, less is more, this could have been a great thriller instead of one that ran out of oomph!

© Nigel Wingrove 2016

The Butchers of Berlin
Chris Petit

496 pages,
Published by Simon & Schuster, UK 2016

Monday, August 29, 2016

They are your children...

These children that come at you with knives, they are your children - Charles Manson

In 2019 it will be, amazingly, fifty years since Charles Manson’s band of hippy-dippy losers set about viciously murdering white residents living the American dream in the Californian sunshine, including the actress Sharon Tate who was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant at the time she was killed, in order, they hoped, to spark a race war. 

Yet all these years later the horror of these murders still resonates and has recently been the inspiration for a number of Manson inspired projects including the TV series Aquarius and, most successfully, the novel, The Girls by Emma Cline. It is now the source for another book, American
Girls, by Alison Umminger.

Both debut novels, The Girls and American Girls (titled My Favourite Manson Girl in the UK) are by young female writers and both eschew Manson in favour of the teenage girls that hung around him like wide-eyed groupies and who would, ultimately, act as his surrogate assassins dispensing death as brutally as any man. 

In The Girls, Manson’s female followers were a kind of cipher for Evie the books young
anti-heroine whereas in American Girls, Anna, the books fifteen year-old narrator, is every
teenage girl and, as such, every American girl is a potential Manson girl.

Less haunting and etherial than The Girls, Umminger’s novel centres on the trials and tribulations
of Anna who steals money off her mother’s girlfriends’ credit card in order to fly from her home
in Atlanta to Los Angeles so that she can stay with Delia, her glamorous, struggling actress older sister. From here Anna progresses through the usual teenage angst and love hate relationships with her mother, always a text or email away, and her sister whose complicated love-life with aspiring filmmaker boyfriends and low budget horror producers provide an entertaining and, at times, very funny backdrop to the Manson theme that pervades the book.

Umminger also manages in a few words to clarify the awfulness of what ‘the girls’ actually did all those years ago, as when Anna is unknowingly confronted with the graves of Sharon Tate and her unborn son, Paul Richard Polanski.

The gravestone marked four bodies. The top read “In Loving Memory” and the left side continued with “Our loving daughter and beloved wife of Roman, Sharon Tate Polanski”. The dates she lived were separated by the thin slivers of a cross, 1943 - 1969. Beside that were the dates for her mother and, at the bottom, her sister. But as haunting as it was, the name that knocked me down was just below Sharon’s, “Paul Richard Polanski”, followed by “their baby,” and no dates beneath the name. No dates below this tiny person who both was and wasn’t, but who had a name.

On Sharon Tate after watching her in Valley of the Dolls she brutally and effectively says:

She went from being a body on the screen to a body in a bag

And on Manson girl Susan Atkins who years later claimed that she didn't kill Sharon Tate, or anyone else, that she had, in fact, just pretended to have killed them so that she could be the centre of attention. So that she would fit in with the rest of the girls...

If you crossed 'Mean Girls' with the 'Lord of the Flies' and weaponised all of them, then you pretty much had the Manson girls. 

Umminger, like Cline, has, by making the Manson girls so everyday, managed to make them both more accessible and more monstrous, so that ultimately they really are potentially just, not so much American girls, as any girl.

American Girls 
Alison Umminger

304 pages

US edition - Flatiron Books $17.99
UK edition, as My Favourite Manson Girl - Atom Books - £12.99

© Nigel Wingrove 2016