Friday, November 30, 2012

Iraq War novel wins first book prize

It comes as no great surprise that US Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers has won the Guardian first book award for The Yellow Birds.  The cynical view is that it was always going to win because harrowing accounts of an unpopular (some would say unjust) war are sexy with the media pack.  The more contemplative among us might counter by saying this is what young authors should be writing about.  I say, well done Kevin Powers.  I'll certainly be buying your book.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Secret State

I am really enjoying Channel 4's political conspiracy thriller on Wednesday nights.  All the pre-publicity insisted it was a remake of the C4's legendary 1980s version of Chris Mullin's novel A Very British Coup but it has nothing whatever to do with it - Chris himself says as much - and by inferring it's somehow second hand or recycled they have sorely undersold Robert Jones's wholly original take. Officially, the take is that it's 'inspired by' the Mullins.  It is equally inspired by Edge of Darkness (TV original, not the awful movie) and Tony Scott's Enemy of the State.

Coup was a comedy, an insider's satire with deliberately exaggerated characters.  State is distinctly short on laughs, beginning with a cataclysmic explosion at what I take to be a Teesside petro-chemical works.


There can surely be no doubt who the PM is meant to be, especially when you meet his predecessor, and neither of them were even MPs when Coup was published in 1982.  This makes it great fun wondering who everyone else in the divided cabinet is meant to be.  That said, Charles Dance's Chief Whip is wholly fictitious - we've never had a Chief Whip that effective.  The cast is great, top to bottom.  Gabriel Byrne is genius casting, I would forgive Gina McKee more or less anything after her splendid turn in Hebburn (and there is nothing to forgive here), Rupert Graves, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Nicholas Farrell and Lia Williams, who I haven't seen for a while, magnificent as the Head of MI5.

What would Channel 4 do, they asked, without thousands of hours of Big Brother to stuff the schedules?  This is what they do!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Alvaro Laura

I was to pointed to the website for this fabulous graphic artist from Spain.

The above is my current favourite - look how he's done the reflections - but his imagery for Alfa Romeo is just as stunning, and as for his series inspired by the film of Quadrophenia...

Sunday, November 11, 2012


I have been hugely enjoying Jason Cook's BBC2 sitcom Hebburn but it fell prey to a mid-series slump with episode 4 this week.  Predictable plot, no twist worth speaking of, dominated by the grotesques.  The only gem this episode was a cameo from Arthur Bostrum, the 'gid moaning' policeman from 'Allo 'Allo.

The problem might be the incestuous premise.  Jason Cook comes from Hebburn and plays feckless loser Ramsey, named after his bessy mate and fellow stand-up Chris Ramsey who plays protagonist Jack, who was originally called Jason.  Another problem is that Ramsey, albeit entirely credible, is neither particularly likeable in the role or sufficiently victim to his character foibles.

On the other hand, the stroke of casting genius which overrides all other shortcomings is shown above - Vic Reeves, appearing under his real name of Jim Moir, and Gina McKee as Jack's parents.  Who knew McKee had such a beautiful comic gift?  Who could have dreamt that Jim/Vic turns out to be the best straight man since the young, pre-BBC Ernie Wise?

Here's hoping Hebburn recovers next week.  The omens are good.  It's Jack's (second) stag night and his dad has been warned off the booze.

Meanwhile, over on Channel 4, season two of Homeland has recovered from an over-elaborate start.  It was tough going to episode 5 but boy did that come alive with English actor Rupert Friend's turn as the best 'bad cop' interrogator since Russell Crowe dangled the lawyer out of the skyscraper window in LA Confidential.

Now we have the series paradigm back.  In series one it was 'Is he or isn't he a terrorist?'  For series 2 the question is, 'Is he or isn't he a double agent?'  Can't wait for episode 6 tonight!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Guardian first book award shortlist

Feisty selection for this year's award.

First up and very likely winner is Kevin Powers' novel The Yellow Birds, suggested by his military service in Iraq.  A second American contender is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, sadly not an imaginative take on the world of magistrate and author Henry Fielding but yet another baseball novel of little interest to non-fans.  Kerry Hudson, from Scotland, is the third listed novelist with her splendidly-titled Tony Hogan Brought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.

Two non-fiction books complete the shortlist: Sandstorm, an account of the Libyan revolution by Lindsey Hilsum, and Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a firsthand study of life in a Mumbai slum by Katherine Boo.

I fancy it's a bloodless contest between Iraq and Libya.  We'll find out on November 29.