Note: This online magazine folded in 2016.
Have you ever read a book? A proper book? Like, sat down somewhere and started reading words on a page that is an even longer read than those Long Reads you read on different news and culture websites where, once you finish them, leave you in desperate need of a wee and a bit of Cat Stevens? ‘Cause I’ve read a book. It won the Man Booker Prize and all that guff. But as I found out myself, that doesn’t mean it’s worth a long read.
The Vegetarian, a novel by the Korean author Han Kang, has been lauded for its Goodness by the Reviewers, so that means it must be good, because the Reviewers are always pretty much right, because they’ve been quite mean about books in the past. Like, there was that book Katie Price wrote and they weren’t very nice about that, were they, even though Katie Price didn’t even write it, she just shouted at a mouse-haired SOAS grad for six weeks about a story she made up while she was having a couples’ bikini wax with Peter Andre. Anyway, if you’re quite harsh sometimes about movies and books and what’s on the TV, then when you do like something it must be Very Good.
I’d meant to read The Vegetarian for a while, actually, but I was busy reading decent books. I wanted to read it because I thought – right, I’ve read enough books by now that I might be able to read a dead smart book and actually get it, like I didn’t get The Grapes of Wrath (like many readers, I assume, I was expecting much more grapes or grape-related plot, so it was a disappointment from the off). I got it from a bookshop, too, so paid a ridiculous amount more than I would have paid good old tax-skirting Amazon. Therefore expected Greatness, or at least Goodness.
The premise of The Vegetarian centres on a woman who, after a strange and harrowing dream, becomes a vegetarian. This provides the catalyst for most of the book, a tale of visceral and devastating consequences of giving up meat that are at times, deeply unsettling to read and process. Told in three acts, it soon transpires that the protagonist’s concerns are less about butternut squash and more about self-annihilation. The writer takes imagery of nature and art and juxtaposes that with scenes of graphic violence and abuse.
Yet these scenes of violence are told in such a perfunctory, emotionless, matter-of-fact way that there is no literary entry to the empathy we should feel for the protagonist. The story is told from the point of view of three characters: the protagonist’s husband, her brother-in-law and finally, her sister narrates the coda. It’s true that the first-person narrative is not necessary for an empathetic response, but the first two narrations are so devoid of sympathy or regard for the protagonist that by the time the character of In-hye describes her sister’s plight, the story has advanced such that it is too late to get involved in it. The last chapter is somewhat rushed and is itself somewhat unsympathetic that one wonders the point of the novel altogether.
The novel has been translated from Korean. Around the time it was published, there was some controversy surrounding the translation, which some critics arguing that the language was stilted and “frequently in trouble with register and idiom”. The academic Charse Yun reported in Korean Expose that “10.9% of the first part of the novel was mistranslated” and “5.7% of the original text was omitted.” The translator in question, Deborah Smith, admitted herself that “there can be no such thing as a translation that is not ‘creative’”. Indeed, the criticisms stretch to the argument that these “mistranslations” on behalf of non-native speakers take away Korean writers’ rightful place on the roster of accomplished authors along with the McEwans and Smiths and Rushdies and Prices.
But I don’t know Korean, so I can’t really make a criticism on whether the translation is to blame for its lack of empathy. What I can do is question the value of a novella about a woman’s relationship with her body sans any perspective from the woman herself. I enjoy the second-person narrative as a device, but for a plot that is so deeply personal to the individual, it seems imperative to get inside their mind.
The Vegetarian has been lauded primarily for its language and style, with SuperSmart Smarties’ newspaper The Guardian calling it “sensual, provocative and violent” and sees the sexually manipulative scenes in the second act as “seductive”. The Independent describes the disturbia of the second act as “an exciting and imaginative journey into obsession, lust, art and dreams.” While its true that the scenes are imaginative, it doesn’t make them any less disturbing and uncomfortable to read. What is lacking in the reviews is acknowledgement of the sexually possessive and even abusive nature of the scenes. Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law takes advantage of her vulnerability in pursuit of his own artistic and sexual fantasies, yet this has been seen as a triumph of the evocative.
I just didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t enjoy it while I was reading it and I didn’t enjoy it when I finally finished the book and was free from the stark, emotionless and cold style that Kang felt was appropriate. I wanted to like it – I always want to like a book I’m reading. But it is hard to like a book that seems so shamelessly manipulative of its characters and its readers, to the point where you get the sense that the author would rather evoke shock than sympathy.
Maybe one day I’ll “get” the reasons behind plaudits of these novels that seem to escape me. Maybe the brilliance of David Lynch will one day descend on my cerebral cortex like a blue velvet sheet. Maybe I’ll have a beard to stroke one day. But for now, I feel no shame in describing a Smart Book for what it is: pretty damn stupid.
They say that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Ho ho ho, he he he, what a lark. The saying clearly came about before women won the right to give their opinion, because for the second sex there is of course a third certainty: creepy old men.
The creepy old man’s origins are little-known, like Ska music or lenseless glasses (both are now presumed to have risen from the embers of hell). The first image of the creepy old man was etched on tablets in Egypt at around 3100 BC. Indeed, before Anthony swept Cleopatra out of her milk bath into his arms, the creepy old man sidled up to her in a dingy pub and asked her where she got her earrings, because they really accentuated her rack.
Most women have at least one horror story about unwanted, unwarranted male attention in the form of a creep. The word “creepy” is imperative to describing this archetype. This is not an intriguing, mysterious quiet don across the bar you’re trying to telepathically compel to offer to buy you a drink. This is quite a different animal altogether. He (and make no mistake, when you’re a woman, it is always a man who creeps up) manifests himself in numerous ways. Many experiences are different. But in my own experience, the progression of creepiness is thus:
- The Sidle: For there is not a move so slimy, so sweaty, so slick with ill intent and cheap aftershave than the sidle of the Creepy Old Man. Call it survival instinct; a woman senses his approach with a chill down her spine, then a hand on the small of her back. “What’re ye drinkin’?” The entire movement is scored by Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King.
- Best Friend Charade: The Creepy Old Man is not stupid: he knows that you know what he’s doing. So he wraps his performance in a thin veneer of faux-friendship, puts his arm around you and makes out like you’re just two pals, having a laugh. His hand is too low; his breath is unbearable; you cannot understand a word he says so you just smile wanly, wishing you were anywhere else. The Creepy Old Man also puts this charade on for onlookers, possible saviours – But for some reason you have to stay – waiting for a friend, watching live music, wanting to enjoy your night. But you soon find that was a fruitless endeavour.
- Showman: He feels your patience waning, you keep telling him to leave you alone and he needs to impress. So logically, he becomes the joke of the room, pulling “hilarious” dance moves while you and everyone else pretends not to notice and looks anywhere other than his figure, desperately gyrating out of time to the music as an attempt to stir something in you.
- Sad Drunk: The end of the night, the end of your patience. You’re leaving? So soon? he slurs, as you pay your tab and grip your mobile in your pocket. He stretches out his arms, presumably for an embrace, but you’re not a colossal idiot, so you swerve past him in a series of impressive serpentine motions, towards the door, which at the moment looks like the pearly gates of heaven, that beautiful green exit sign, a path to freedom, to a beautiful emancipation.
Oftentimes, recounting the tale will result in reactions of hilarity – people will respond to the story like it’s a madcap rollercoaster tale straight out of a Carry On. Sometimes it is – sometimes the encounter makes no impression other than a two-minute interlude to your night.
But more often than not there are dark, sinister undertones to the Creepy Old Man. There is a reason why he is called the Creepy Old Man, not the Endearing Auld Scamp or the Mischievous Chancer. Sometimes he isn’t even that old; sometimes he’s the same age, but make no mistake: still just as creepy.
It’s been said before, but women have historically been raised to be polite, most especially in the face of unwanted male attention. We have been taught to react with manners, even when the man in question clearly has none. We have been told to feel flattered; as if the idea that a man should be attracted to us is some kind of great unexpected honour that we must be appropriately grateful for, no matter how inappropriate the advances are. We must treat him like a lost dog – be kind, be understanding, be careful.
There are grave issues with this idea: not only the fact that politely declining advances almost never works in swatting away this particular insect, but that it contributes to skewing a woman’s perception of her own autonomy. It suggests that women should not feel entitled to their own space. That we owe it to the Creepy Old Man to be mannerly, to be grateful. That we do not deserve to have a conversation with a friend uninterrupted. That we should deal with the situation as if it’s a compliment.
Thankfully, modern feminism has championed the power of the middle finger. Nineties feminism had its problems, but post-punk feminist bands such as Bikini Kill and Le Tigre were loud and proud about women reclaiming their space. Bikini Kill’s infamous “Girls to the Front” line pointed out the unfair treatment of women in public spaces, especially live music venues. Nowadays, women have spoken out about their experiences of sexual harassment – or even just unwanted attention – on social media, in part thanks to Laura Bates, founder of Everyday Sexism. It’s being discussed openly in a public forum. But it still persists in public places today, most likely at your local pub.
It can feel like it’s been a long battle with a hard punch still to be swung. But for now, we can swing the fist of feminism in our own life, the next time we get that chill down our spine, the next time we notice the first signs of the Creepy Old Man rearing their ugly head. In my experience, there’s only one method that’s proven 100% successful. Look him square in the eye. You’re the black panther, he’s the witless warthog. Then say it, clear-cut and unflinching, right there and then:
Some of the saddest people I know have never chopped garlic.
This is a conclusion I reached after noticing the correlation between my friends who are always stressed out or in a bad mood and those who do not know how to cook a meal from scratch. I feel the desire to reach out to these people, like a priest to his parish, like Elton John to George Michael, like Madonna to Britney circa 2008. I know what they need and I know it can be put in at 180 degrees and left to simmer.
Cooking is the therapy that is far more pleasurable (and far less expensive) than sitting on a cream chaise-lounge for an hour whining to someone with a clipped tone of voice and pinstripe trousers (yes, the only experience I have of a therapist’s office is romantic comedies). It’s no secret that cooking is therapeutic – in the case of cookery shows, studies found that more than half of 2,000 people surveyed would rather watch a cooking show than cook a meal themselves. As much as I love cookery shows (Nigella and Bake Off are both not-so-secret addictions of mine), it simply cannot compare to the psychological massage of creating a dish myself to the soundtrack of Al Green and Corinne Bailey Rae.
If you think about it, the psychology of cooking’s therapeutic advantages is rather simple to dissect. First of all, we have to purchase the ingredients – we go into a shop with a list and a purpose. This cuts down time on wandering. Second is the preparation of ingredients – chopping, slicing, squeezing, grating – it’s all so sensory. Focusing on the motions and portions distracts us from worrying about other things we might ponder while waiting for a microwave to ping. Following instructions from a recipe is straightforward and logical, like being back at school but instead of following a maths equation, you’re sautéeing red onions on a low heat.
Sometimes it involves marinating, sometimes proofing. But just as you’re at the end of your patience, it’s ready and you can smell it from here. It’s soft, it’s warm and it was you, it was all you. You might have f****d up at work the other day and forgotten to pay the rent on time, but you’ve made this delicious dish all by yourself and it tastes so much better than anything Deliveroo could’ve brought you.
So you see, this is why I am a cookery evangelist. Not in the way of health nuts or wellness gurus, telling you to use butter substitute instead of butter (for God’s sake), but because I know the feeling of making something that feeds you. It’s a symbol of your ability to survive. You can only go up from here. Get more adventurous in the kitchen and you’ll get more adventurous in work and life. Once you learn how to poach an egg properly, you’ll find that there’s very little you can’t do.
The Best Recipes to start off with:
It’s the middle of January, which means that either you a) Have given up Zenuary/Dranuary/Veganuary after a particularly crap day that required Galaxy and Merlot or b) are seriously considering throwing your spiraliser at someone you loved in December. No wonder this month has been touted as the most depressing of the year by various publications – it’s the month we set unrealistic, miserable goals for ourselves and when we fail to reach the standards we set, we crumple into a ball of self-defeat.
No more. Life is not something you just have to “get through”, it’s something to be lived as well as you possibly can, whatever your circumstances. I’ve seen homeless people in a better mood than my mate who’s given up sugar for a month. It’s time to give yourself a break.
January is hard enough without piling on hoards of expectations to make it even more difficult. So instead of goals like “lose 10 pounds” or “save £100”, think about what’s stopping you from getting fit and saving money. Personally, I haven’t been inside a gym since July 2016, so I’ve renewed my membership and planned out regular classes that work in line with my other commitments. My biggest weakness is chocolate, so I’ve made a promise to cut down – but not cut it out. I like a glass of wine in the middle of the week, but I’m not going to polish off the bottle. I waste a lot of money getting coffee on the go from the posh cafe near uni, so I’ve restricted myself to buying coffee once a week, making it at home the rest of the time. This is so that I can save money for more important things, like summer plans and a proper pair of jeans. You know the kind. The kind that don’t rip at the crotchal area nine months into the relationship, fat-shaming you into buying a new pair that will inevitably do the exact same.
I hate to get all generation-snowflake on you, but you should put self-care before the pursuit of self-improvement. If your pursuit of a fitter body makes you feel weak and causes you to feel unwell, give yourself a break and eat some carbs. It will not kill you. It will not send your body back to where it was at the beginning. Food is fuel, you need it to survive. Equally, if you break your promises to not eat that or not buy this, don’t descend into a dearth of depression. It doesn’t make anything better. Just learn from it and move on to better things.
Self-improvement is an admirable endeavour and it can teach determination and resolve as well as making us more mature and more developed individuals. Giving up smoking or alcohol can be life-changing. But this unhealthy cycle of resolution and relapse is not sustainable and is ultimately damaging to any sort of self-improvement for the future. The media doesn’t help, either, with January features centring around how to achieve a certain body shape or skin clarity, with the tone of the articles shaming rather than helping us to change.
With all this plus you’re back at work/uni plus you’ve got a cold coming on and your hair looks shite these days, January feel like a very long fog to get through. But there are ways to find the sun. I’m no life coach or wellness guru, but I know a thing or two about getting through hell in high heels (or ballet pumps, or indeed, Adidas).
- Buy an old-fashioned diary. One of those blue leather ones with gold lettering that you used to watch your mum write in. It’s more expensive than your average notebook, but consider it an investment for the rest of the year. Believe me, writing things down makes them far easier to deal with.
- Drink more water. It doesn’t matter if you’re detoxing or not this month, drinking as much water as you can will make you feel lighter and give you more energy to do the things you’ve put off.
- Do something touristy at least every fortnight. I recently went to the National Museum after living in this city for over three years and never having been. It was a revelation and a great place to get away from the Saturday hustle and bustle in the street.
- Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you’ve ever got the feeling you’ve forgotten to do something but can”t remember what, it’s usually this. Friend or family, giving someone a ring is effective in making you feel like a weight has come off your shoulders.
- Give yourself a foot massage. Or give someone else a foot massage. Or get someone else to give you a foot massage.
- Get up an hour earlier one morning and go for a walk before you start your day. Listen to a podcast or playlist or nothing at all. It will clear your head and make you feel more prepared for your day.
- Buy an electric blanket. This is another great investment that I have never looked back on. Winter is not going away anytime soon and heating is expensive, so an electric blanket will get you through many a chilly night. Alternatively, acquire a tall person for your bed, as these people can act as a cosy cage for your cold little cockles to warm up in. Usually cheaper than electric blanket, but be warned : may become attached.
If all else fails, here’s a fantastic recipe for banana bread cookies. Happy 2017!
If there’s one thing that makes people shrivel up like a raisin at the mere thought of it, it’s Des Lynam in the nude. If there’s another, it’s Christmas shopping.
Not only does it represent probably one of the nastiest features of the Pagan festival, but it can be a brain-melting, patience-sapping experience. Do you ever find yourself stuck behind a turgid, congested throng of human beings making their way though a doorway and think to yourself, “I bet there’s somebody at the front of this crowd languidly sauntering along the pathway, head in the clouds, browsing at their leisure because they have all the time in the world to window-shop and waste other people’s precious time.” You imagine this person being a self-centred sociopath with a hook-nose, a criminal record and most disturbing of all, a pram.
But for some reason, I hold these infuriating elements of the Christmas shopping experience close to my hate-filled heart. I complain about them with a kind of affection, that I only reserve for my older brother and the Royal Mail.
I like going into shops to see gifts lined out for everyone to mull over, to wonder whether Jason would like that, to think about whether it’s really Helen’s style, to wonder how in the world you finally found the perfect gift for the hardest person to buy a present for.
The cashier working in Boots is polite, but you can tell she can’t wait for her last shift so she can finally get a proper break and be able to give the people she loves the things that she thinks they will love.
The kids are off school so families are out in packs -and for some reason Christmas makes unruly toddlers and crying babies a little easier to take. After all, Jesus was a crying baby once too, so maybe we soften more to the wailing at Christmas. Baby Jesus probably woke up everyone staying at the Inn. One is only human – even the son of God probably got on the guests’ nerves.* I am not a kid person, but I can’t help cracking a smile when a young, innocent little munchkin waves at the man dressed in a Santa suit riding in the Santa bus and him waving right back. Their eyes always sparkle with wonder and excitement, emotions we have tried to suppress in adulthood, because it’s not cool and shut up Santa, we have to check Facebook.
It’s dark by four o’clock these days and the twinkling lights in the street against the backdrop of the pitch-black night cloaks the sky – it’s romantic, melancholy and nostalgic all at the same time. There’s always a Christmas busker singing carols nearby, voice nearly being drowned out by Fairytale of New York blaring from the pub around the corner and everyone is bound together by a common goal – to get to Christmas Day. There’s a sense of anticipation in the atmosphere and as you cross the street or come outside a shop, you might catch a brief whiff of vanilla or cinnamon or nutmeg or something that makes you think about a time when you were young and naive and maybe misinformed, but when Christmas was genuinely the absolute best time of the year.
Happy Christmas, everyone!
As anyone with Netflix or Amazon Prime knows all too well, choosing a movie from their plethora of cinematic possibilities is akin to choosing a seat on a plane – even when you eventually choose one, there’s always a possibility you’ll end up regretting your decision. You might end up sitting next to a family with three screaming children on the plane and coming to the end of a movie depressed and empty (thanks for the massive downer, Still Alice). Most of the time when I’m scrolling through the minefield of motion pictures, I end up closing it down and putting on an episode of Seinfeld.
So the other night, after finishing and handing in my last university assessment for this term after weeks of stress, I decided to have a chilled one with a glass of red and a good flick. Something I hadn’t seen before. After a few scrolls, a title caught my eye – Mystic Pizza. I’d always meant to watch it, hearing of its cult status as well as being known for launching the career of Notting Hill darling Julia Roberts, but it was only until now that I happened to be in the right frame of mind for something new.
This is not a movie review of Mystic Pizza. I am not going to dissect the storylines of the three women it centres around or evaluate the minutae of each scene. This is a post about the character of Daisy Arujo (Roberts) and why she is my new style icon.
This is the 1980’s glory days of big hair and big collars. It is also the decade of notoriously horrific bridesmaids dresses. This is the dress in which we first see Daisy.
The main feature here, of course, is the hair. Even scraped up in a fussy updo, it refuses to be tamed.
Then it comes down and looks in. Cred.
This girl looks good working the long hours at a pizza joint. The hair should always be down, really. That said, I worry for the customers. I can’t imagine they’d appreciate on of those auburn tendrils in their 10-inch Quattro Formaggi.
What does Daisy do once she’s finished her shift? Head to the pub to sink a pint or four, obviously.
Okay, so more specfically, she heads to the bar to shoot pool and a couple of Coors Lights. But look at what she’s wearing – a red cardigan that looks like she nicked it off her gran, teamed with a tight black mini? The 80’s, man. It was a wild time.
Of course, this is where she has some serious eye – sex with the dreamy posho she’s been lusting after for a while.
Subsequently kicking his privileged arse at pool.
Looking foxy as per.
Fast-forward to when she’s showing off her new swag to her more reserved sister, hair looking sheeny-shiny and wild. The dress is killer, obviously. I sorely long for the days when women could wear a dress with a massive white bow stretched over their cleavage and nobody would give them a weird look.
You can see vibes of Vivian Ward here. You almost wonder where Richard Gere has buggered off to, leaving his paramour to buy a gorgeous dress with her own card and having to return it afterwards, too.
Again, another aran knit she probably shares with her auntie Maude. But teamed with an unruly ponytail, theatrical gold earrings and a cold one, it looks chic AND cosy. The dream. Shoutout to her sister Jojo for setting the ’90s flannel trend before it happened. Thanks for the ugliest fashion trend that won’t go away, Jo.
Pink stonewashed oversized denim jacket. Because what else does one wear when introducing your country-club boy to yer ma?
It is an understood fact that nobody wore smart/casual in the ’80s without a Big Belt. It was like the rosary beads of ’80s fashion.
Daisy is invited to Posho’s cabin in the country, which means she’s likely to get lucky. What does Daisy wear to bring that boy to the yard? A purple-and-black striped poloneck looking like a reject from the Beetlejuice costume closet and a sheepskin-lined aviator jacket. With supersleek hair. What kind of game is this woman playing? What is her deal? Can she pull?
Can she heck.
Because God is good and true, we get another scene to appreciate that aviator jacket. Over a denim jacket.
Then we get to appreciate Daisy being a crazy badass
Pouring sewage over Posho’s car because you mistaked his sister for his bit on the side is inadvisable, but at least she’s looking damn fashionable doing it.
Making a mental note to always wear my t-shirt sleeves rolled up. Also, where can I buy this t-shirt?!
Dinner with the Posho’s family. Wearing another massive bow.
Also, approximately how much hairspray would it take to get my hair into a poofy crown like that? It’s divine.
It just occurred to me that all this may all sound like I’m being sarcastic or ironic. But I don’t think you understand my fascination with the OTT-ness of the ’80s. The bigger and brighter, the better!
How does she get that one errant tendril to fall perfectly from the poof? What kind of mystic?(sorry)
Finally, the wedding is back on and we get a better look at just how atrocious and awesome the bridesmaid dress is. Off-the-shoulder taffeta will never not cause a stir. I also love the flower crown, reminding me of an era where flower crowns weren’t ridiculously overdone and cloying, associated with Pinterest boards and hipster bridezillas.
Now do you see? Do you see how Julia Roberts single-handedly won the crown of “smalltown girl living in a lonely world” ’80s fashion icon status? The film was a pleasure but the style, oh the style, was a revolution. People will always credit Pretty Woman for Roberts’ mark on fashion history, but I think Mystic Pizza has a strong case for making it cool to wear your sister’s skirt with your granny’s cardi.
My mum has a saying for this time of year – “The nights are fair drawin’ in.” It’s basically Ulster slang for “the days are getting dark early”. You always know it’s officially the end of summer when the mornings are not as bright and the walk home in the evening gets darker.
A lot of people I know moan constantly about this phenomenon. “It’s so depressing”, they say. “End of summer, back to reality.” But I feel like they just can’t see all the beautiful parts of autumn/winter. So let me enlighten:
- Darker evenings mean more excuses: “I’ve got to get a taxi because I don’t want to walk home in the dark”; “It’s too dark to go out running now-best just run myself a bath instead”; “Look how dark it’s getting! I’d love to stay and study more but I’ve got to put on the dinner” and so on. Darkness is offering up so many excuses for you to shed your stresses. Take advantage.
- Dark, cold evenings mean less smart summer salads and more hearty, warming comfort food. Soups, stews and squash casserole recipes pervade the weekend paper, just waiting for you to try them out. These dishes come without guilt due to the fact that it’s two degrees outside and you need a big bowl of chowder to warm you up after coming in from the cold.
- Candles can be lit earlier. Does this need elaboration? Treat yourself to one of those expensive candles that smell like vanilla dessert in a forest. I love this one from Anthropologie.
- It is officially too cold not to study in your bed with the electric blanket on. All the blankets. All the time.
- Long walks in the park, wrapped up in your cosiest winterwear, walking through the piles of autumn leaves, tickling your nostalgia bone and getting brought back to when you were eight years old, searching for conkers with your best friend, still in your school uniforms.
- Dressing in as many layers as you can, not worrying about being too warm, because you know it’ll be baltic outside every day. Velvet, chenille, cashmere, Aran-wear it all, because it’s all seasonally appropriate.
- There’s a romance about the colder months that I can fully appreciate as a single woman – walking past couples wrapped around each other for warmth, the atmosphere of tall lanterns lighting up the park, gloved hands ceremoniously clasped together.
- The holidays – Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Christmas – they all bring us different memories and we all bemoan the decorations coming out too early in the shops. But we all not-so-secretly adore them.