Tag Archives: julian fellowes

Downton Abbey, season Four

downton-abbey-season-4-cast-photo

Before I even begin to talk about this season, which just ended in the UK and premieres on PBS this January, I have to say that if you have not seen this season, do not read any further.  To say there are spoilers would be an understatement.  I do not want to ruin all the pain you’re going to experience, particularly at mid-season.

You have been warned! Past here there be dragons spoilers!

There’s one even that is of premiere importance in this season, but I’m going to start with some other thoughts that occurred to me as I watched this season.

1-This season, and this season alone, changed my mind about some of the male characters.  For one thing, Lord Grantham is a big ole pain in the ass. He got on my bad list in the very first episode. In a callback to season 1, once again Mary’s place as an heir to Downton is in doubt.  And, despite all that she’s been through, and her undeniable abilities, Lord Grantham doesn’t think she’s capable–or just does not want to share power with anyone.  I know this is the 1920s, and women had just gained suffrage in the UK and in the US.  But Julian Fellowes has portrayed Lord Grantham, not as a sexist, but as someone who just doesn’t want other people interfering in what he views as his own responsibilities.  And he tries to do it once again, planning to skip Mary as a partner in the estate and only turn over his ‘powers’ to her son when he comes of age.  I think I find it all the more insulting and annoying that he either can’t see or doesn’t care that Mary a-needs this and b-is completely capable of excelling at it. I found my affection for Mary growing by just as much as my dislike for Lord Grantham.

And Bates?  I’ve heard chatter before that he and Anna don’t belong together, because she is young and wonderful, and he is old and a killjoy. I never understood it before, because I quite liked their story.  But now, I totally get it.  In mid-season, before the …event… Anna was having a good time, having some fun! What did Bates do?  Sulk and be angry and not join in.  And what did Julian Fellowes do?  Punish Anna, obviously.  More on that later. But after the event? I felt some sympathy for Bates–he doesn’t know what’s wrong, he’s done nothing but his wife is just gone from him.  But when he finds out? Instead of doing what Anna needs (supporting her, helping her to move on), he focuses on what he needs: revenge.  And he gets it.  I suppose there are people who think he didn’t do it, but I’m not one of them.  I was never entirely certain he didn’t kill his wife, and now this?  We know he’s violent, we know he’s single-minded.  Anna, you deserve better.

2-The one character I disliked for the entire season was Rose.

Lilly-James-as-Lady-Rose-in-Downton-Abbey-set-to-star-as-CinderellaI get that they needed to inject some youth and optimism into the cast, because they killed off lovely, wonderful Sybil, and turned Mary into a widow.  Edith never was cheerful.  But didn’t Julian Fellowes learn anything from Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch? No one likes the new kid.  Rose is no Sybil. Rose is vapid and willfully naive, with the emotional maturity of a 13-year-old.  Sybil was kind and thoughtful, rebellious when she believed in something, but not rebellious for the sake of rebellion.  Rose only wants to shock; it’s a desperate cry for attention from her disinterested parents, and it is boring. Get rid of her.

To be fair, she didn’t annoy me too much at the beginning of the season.  But by the end I was rolling my eyes, and truly a bit disturbed by her desire to marry someone out of a combination of youthful infatuation and to anger her mother.

3-Can we talk about Mary’s suitors?  First, there’s Lord Gillingham

198200-lord-gillinghamHe didn’t seem too bad, at first.  I don’t think he’s a villain, at least.  But you can’t go from saying ‘Oh, Mary, I only want you’, then immediately become engaged to someone else, but still hang around frequently hoping Mary will change her mind.  That has me very suspicious. At best, he’s wishy-washy and lacks courage.  At worst, he cares very little for the feelings of either woman in question.

Then there’s Mr. Napier

-Evelyn_napierHis character is too bland and flimsy to ever have a remote chance with Mary, but unfortunately he doesn’t seem to know that. His chief function in this season (despite boring me to death) is to introduce his friend, Mr. Blake, to Mary.  Mr. Blake is the obvious choice for Mary’s next beau.  Of course, they claim to dislike each other passionately at first. Mr. Blake is very cynical about the upper classes, and thinks they don’t deserve their wealth.  Mary is (understandably) offended by this, and dislikes having him around.  Remember season 1, when Matthew and Mary got off on the wrong fit along similar topics?  Matthew’s middle class background, his insistence upon working, his reluctance to have a valet…it’s all echoed in Mr. Blake.  downton-abbey-series-4-charles-blake

And, like clockwork, the two begin to feel differently about one another.  Mary earns Blake’s respect when she proves that she is willing to change and adapt in order to keep Downton financially successful.  Her active role in the estate, along with Tom’s guidance, bring Downton into the 20th century (against Lord Grantham’s wishes).  It’s easy to see reasons why Blake and Mary will continue to be thrown together, and that’s who I’ve got my money on.

4-Edith.  I didn’t mind her this season!  I am really confused about why her beau just went missing at random, apparently as soon as he arrived in Germany!  Germany wasn’t a particularly good place to go at this time, I think, but I find it hard to believe he disappeared without a trace.  Edith kept mentioning that private detectives and the police were searching for him, but we never seemed to see any proof of that–correspondence with them, or with his office in London.  It was just sort of an undercurrent to the latter half of the show, without ever being brought to the forefront.  I found that very strange, and am very curious.  One assumes that he’ll turn up at Christmas, but then I expected him to turn up at the last episode of the series, so that proves my instincts are generally wrong.  Either way, her story line made me extremely grateful to live in a time with birth control.

Well, there’s nothing else to discuss except the big thing this season.  No deaths, no war, no Spanish flu or miscarriages.  But what Julian Fellowes did to Anna seems worse than all of them.  I (and a lot of people who watch the show) felt that it was like a slap in the face. So, let’s talk about why it does and does not make sense for rape to be a feature of this show.

For one thing, it absolutely did happen, and it was covered up.  When you have a society that prizes secrecy as fervently as the Victorians & Edwardians did, you are never going to even be able to estimate how prevalent a problem it was.  And when you have girls in positions of submission, as maids in houses owned by powerful men, they don’t feel capable of speaking out.  Even if the crime wasn’t perpetrated by one of the family, a maid would probably lose her position if she admitted what had happened. The family wouldn’t want any shame brought on them.  So…we can be sure it happened, and we can be sure it happened far more than we could ever prove.  The majority of the time, the perpetrators probably faced no consequences.  Is that an important topic to cover in a history of the period? Sure.

On the other side of the coin, this is not a nonfiction.  This is a primetime soap opera. In the past, it has shown no remorse in exploiting tragedy and death to garner ratings and accolades. But it’s also an idealized version of past reality.  Shows and their show-runners have a pact with their audience.  An agreement among the two parties.  The show-runners provide titillation and excitement, depression and happiness.  They are allowed to play with our emotions, because we like it.  We enjoy a cathartic cry over the deaths, and we smile at our television sets when the hero and heroine finally get together.  We get enjoyment for watching, but we are giving a bit of ourselves to the show, being vulnerable to whatever happens next.  The same pact exists between writers and readers.  As I said, we expect to be tossed and turned a certain amount; that’s what we want.  But it’s a delicate balance, and when the powers-that-be go too far, we feel hard done by, used and abused. I can’t adequately describe how furious I was when I read Atonement.

Julian Fellowes has done a good job, up to this season, creating a safe but believable world. A world where bad things do happen, but usually because of huge ineffable forces like war or disease.

And has Julian Fellowes broken our contract this season?  I think he has.  I feel cheaply thrown about with no real purpose or reason.  Other times, he has stretched believability to create a safe and acceptable version of actual history. The most obvious examples are the ways the family dealt with Thomas’ homosexuality, or the black bandleader, Jack.  We like watching Downton Abbey because the 1920s seem more polite, more elegant, less harsh and grating.  Undoubtedly they were, if you were a rich, white man.  In truth, very few people would have been accepting of gay people in their homes, or black Jazz musicians performing for them. It’s the sad and terrible truth of it.  We overlook it when Julian Fellowes fibs to us, because it makes it easier to enjoy the world he’s created for us.  But, as is often the case, a lie that placates us is twice as acceptable as a truth that hurts us.

He punished Anna, the best of the lot of them, and destroyed all her happiness.  And there is something truly disturbing about a man, with his own share of power, writing a rape scene for a young girl.  And then a real woman has to act out that horrible scene.  It’s almost like a mirror of the attack itself. It reminds me of tales of Alfred Hitchcock, who tortured some of his actresses (notably Tippi Hedron) with horrible scenes and multiple takes in the Birds, who wanted to tear her down and used his scripts and his direction to do it. I’m not saying Julian Fellowes is a vile pervy old man, but when I think about the scene in this light it is even more difficult to accept.

I wouldn’t blame anyone who felt this was too much to deal with from what has been a safe space.  In reality, though, if you kept watching past that episode, you’ll keep watching the rest of the season.  And on to the Christmas special! I think it would have been a better season without the rape, but it was still good enough that I kept tuning in and wanting to watch.

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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’m normally not much into cold war era stuff; between the bleakness of the whole Soviet situation and the incredibly bad fashion choices, I’m just not interested.  I am not someone who thinks the idea of espionage is cool or glamorous.  Okay, I enjoyed the first Bourne movie, but that’s about it. I loathe James Bond. I find any of the spy movies that treats it as fun or fabulous or anything other than dreadful to be totally moronic.  And I only liked the first Bourne movie, since the girl snuffs it about 10 minutes into the second.

This movie though, is not a regular spy movie. It does not treat espionage as glamorous, it does not trade in heart-throbs drinking martinis.  It is a lot closer to what I imagine MI-6 or even the CIA would have been like in the sixties and seventies. Which is not to say that I really enjoyed spending time in the world of the film.  But it does allow me to take the movie seriously, which I usually can’t do with anything relating to spies.

This was a movie I had to see from the first moment I heard about it, despite my reluctance to see spy films.  There would never be a movie with this cast that I wouldn’t go see.  It stars Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, John Hurt (aka Mr. Ollivander), Benedict Cumberbatch, and also has Tom Hardy and Toby Jones (most recently he appeared in Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries. He was the little bloke with the mean Irish wife.)

So you know the acting is going to be good. The film is about a semi-retired intelligence officer (Oldman) who has to conduct a secret investigation to find the mole within MI-6.  It’s a classic, trust-no-one, sort of movie where you spend half your time wondering if you are being tricked and Oldman is the mole.

The film is very interesting in its pace and its slow unraveling of realization and of facts.  It takes a long time to figure out what’s going on, and it can take some patience to remain focused throughout.  In that way, it sort of mirrors a real investigation–there are moments of insight and action, and moments of tedium and lack of progress.  Also, the filmmakers have chosen to portray a ’60s-’70s Britain that is just as dull visually as you can expect it to have been in real life.  This is not the bright colors and ludicrous outfits of Mad Men.  This is bleak old furniture from the ’50s, the sort of government-sponsored buildings that all look like elementary schools or hospitals, and the tedious environment of gray file cabinets and early electronics yellowed with cigarette smoke.  The very un-visually appealing nature of the movie is sort of visually appealing in its own way.  It adds verisimilitude, I guess. Or maybe I’m projecting my own values onto it.  I think that espionage, that living a life of lies and ambiguity would be necessarily bleak and awful, so I see the bleakness of the film as reflecting that truth.

At any rate, it’s a quiet, subtle film and in that way the exact opposite of Bond’s bright colors, invisible cars, jumping out of planes, etc.  There are no combat scenes.  The violence is realistic and horrifying.  We mostly see the aftermath.

The overwhelming impression (I got) of the film is one where this is not a life you would particularly want.  There are a few characters who come out of the action unscathed, but the majority of them are seriously fucked over by their time doing intelligence work. And, not to provide any concrete spoilers, a few died by the end.

It wasn’t a film I particularly enjoyed being inside of, as I said.  But I think the subject it covered was covered really well, accurately, believably. It didn’t glorify or glamorize any of the dirty business of espionage, but it also gave me a sort of thrill to be able to figure things out along the way.  Because of the way it’s structured, you can discover little clues and figure things out from bits of information dropped in your lap casually 40 minutes earlier.  Like a scavenger hunt. There was some sort of accompanying pleasure to do with picking up the pieces. But, overall, it wasn’t a pleasant film to watch.

The acting was brilliant, though quite understated and no one was given enough time or lines to really and truly shine. The only characters with a lot of screen time were Benedict Cumberbatch’s and Gary Oldman’s.  Gary was playing a truly seasoned spy, and as such I think he downplayed his emotions quite a bit.  His character doesn’t reveal much of anything, doesn’t react to much of anything.  The sense I got from him was just of one big brain processing all possible information coming his way. Always thinking. Benedict’s character is younger (obviously) and less experienced, so I think it’s right that his character is a bit more ruffled by everything that’s going on.  He does a really great job, though I must say he is a terribly ugly crier!  Everyone else was only on film for moments here and there, so it was hard to really see them.  I wonder if maybe they were in the movie longer than I think they were, and this just isn’t the sort of movie that lends itself to much emotion.  Not to be stereotypical, but there are basically no women in it. Either way, there wasn’t much there.  The only exception was Mark Strong, which wasn’t a name I recognized.  He did a brilliant job with his part, though there was a part with a bird that I really disliked.

All in all, I think it’s worth watching, but don’t expect an action movie, don’t watch it if you’re tired, or if you like to think of the spy life as something out of Alias.  It’s the sort of movie you have to be in the mood for.

Julian Fellowes’ Titanic miniseries

This miniseries aired last weekend, on Saturday and Sunday nights on ABC. For some reason, ABC chose to air three of the four episodes on Saturday night, and only one on Sunday night.  I am not sure if that was a great idea, as each episode was structured to start before the ship sailed and end as the ship went down. So watching three in a row was like taking 3 steps forward and then 2 back, again and again.

So, my thought on this miniseries, are sadly more in line with Gosford Park than with Downton Abbey. From the depths of my heart, there is a resounding sentiment of ‘meh’.

For one thing, it took way too long to comprehend who people were, and by the end I still had a hard time remembering who was who.  In typical Fellowes’ fashion, we are confronted with 20 or so characters with a quick and perfunctory introduction to each. It works in Downton Abbey because a-he went a bit slower introducing everyone and b-there is more time to learn about people. But for a big ensemble cast, 4 hours just wasn’t enough time to go slowly or to let characters evolve and develop.  We, as the audience, didn’t have enough time to bother to care about most of the people.

The other problem I had, and this is a problem I really have with a lot of Fellowes’ work, is the women.  The men are smarter, more compassionate, and more capable than the women.  All of the women are sheltered, moronic, incredibly catty and prejudiced, and not very fun to watch.  I don’t understand why Fellowes does this, or what particularly makes him do this.  The women in Downton Abbey aren’t like this–even O’Brien, who is the true bitch of the piece, has had a redemption of sorts and is, from that point on, very empathetic.  But his novel that I read had a really skewed set of women as its stars.  So I’m really not sure what to say, except Downton Abbey is his one-trick pony, at this point.  All of the rest of his stuff seems to just be a disappointment to me.

I will say that there were a few parts that I enjoyed: Gli Italiani (Paulo and Mario) and Annie the cabin steward were cute and sad.  Also, I got to use my deteriorating Italian language skills, which is always a plus.  I also liked the Wideners, or their son at least.  But the real key moment for me was when John Jacob Astor (IV) freed the dogs from the bottom of the ship.  That made me love the man so much! I would have a-never taken a trip where my dog had to be in steerage in a cage for days on end, and b-punched anyone in the face if they tried to keep me from saving him. If I’d ended up in the water, I would have been holding my dog above my head to keep him dry.  But those are just my priorities.  So, needless to say, JJA is my new hero.

Since that was a short and unsatisfactory review of an unsatisfactory miniseries, I am going to share some great news I discovered today.  Apparently this was announced months ago and I am just very slow to hear about it.  But, I’m thrilled regardless.  Ricky Gervais’ next project, instead of a third series of An Idiot Abroad, is something called The Short Way Round.  This is, essentially, a spoof of The Long Way Round, which was an awesome documentary that followed Ewan MacGregor and his friend Charley Boorman as they rode motorcycles from London to New York, going East. So, this show of Ricky’s will feature Warwick Davis and Karl Pilkington riding a moped around the world.  According to Ricky, the plan is to have Warwick ride in a basket on the front, but I’m hoping this is a joke.  I don’t think they’ve started any filming yet, since I heard about this from a tweet Warwick …tweeted about getting preparatory inoculations. IMDB has air dates for this in December, but I’m not certain if that will be in the US or just the UK. Still, it’s something to look forward to.  Unlike Julian Fellowes, Ricky Gervais has never put out a show that I didn’t like.

The DVD Shelves: Gosford Park

This is hardly a new movie, in fact it’s over 10 years old, but I had never seen it and it stars just about everyone in the British film industry.  It got 7 Academy Award nominations, so that put it at the top of my Netflix queue. And, as I seem to be making my way through the entire Julian Fellowes oeuvre, this was next on the list.

It’s commonly referred to as a mystery-comedy drama.  Whatever that is.  It seems to put its feet into every genre and not become a part of any of them.  I don’t think I knew what to make of it, not having heard much about it before hand.  It starts out like your typical upstairs-downstairs drama, in true Downton Abbey style, with the introduction of about 20 people upstairs and 20 downstairs, and alternates between the two worlds.  And of course it is remnicsent of a typical Agatha Christie work, with the murder mystery element.  But it isn’t quite either of these things.

Whatever can be said about its not being committed to a genre, the cast is spectacular.  Maggie Smith, Clive Owen, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Ryan Phillipe, Kristin Scott Thomas, the list goes on. Gambon (aka Dumbledore 2.0) stars as Sir William McCordle, who is murdered (not once, but twice!) after a dinner party. Stephen Fry also makes an appearance, as a completely idiotic detective.

The most bothersome part of the movie was how confusing it was at the beginning. I could not, for the life of me, keep track of the character’s names, or who was married to whom.  I had to look up the Wiki page to try to keep track of all the marriages, because after initial introductions there was a good hour of gossip back and forth between other characters.

I wanted to like it, and on the surface it has all the elements I like in a movie/story.  British? check.  Historical? check. At least two Harry Potter actors? check!  But for some reason it didn’t particularly resonate with me.  There was too much mystery for me to focus on the class system politics, and too much social commentary to focus on the mystery.  For me, it lacked focus.

That being said, there were a lot of fun/interesting moments, Clive Owen was delightful, and Maggie Smith was spectacular as always.  She was born to play an upper class lady from the first half of the 20th century, yes?

I found it particularly interesting that Stephen Fry’s Inspector Thomson declares (obviously I’m paraphrasing) that they won’t need to question the servants (about who murdered Sir McCordle), only to people who really new him.  This is such a ridiculous notion, given the intimate details that servants were privy to in such a household.  It actually reminded me of a short story called “A Jury of Her Peers” by Susan Glaspell, where a man is found dead in his bed, and the police investigate while their wives wait downstairs in the kitchen and sitting room.  The men are examining the crime scene, while the women downstairs find all the evidence of the husband’s cruelty and the wife’s probable guilt in the murder.  The men don’t find any evidence where they look, and the women hide what they find.  The point of the story (or one of them) is that men (or those in power) often lack a true understanding of the world because of their elevated place in it, whereas the lower people on the social ladder can see the truth of the world in its entirety.  Similarly in Gosford Park, the servants are able to discern who and why the master of the house was murdered, and similarly the matter is hushed up by them on the basis of his whole-heartedly deserving it.

Just announced, Julian Fellowes’ Titanic Miniseries

As creeped out as I now am by Julian Fellowes, I can still enjoy his TV shows, so long as he doesn’t start casting himself.  I was excited when I heard about him doing a version of the Titanic story, because it’s the same time period as Downton Abbey, and he obviously does that well. Also, I am interested in the Titanic, partially because it sunk on my birthday, but also just because it’s an interesting story, and god knows nothing in the entire world can be worse than the James Cameron version, if only because of the Celine Dion associations. His miniseries will air in April to mark the 100th anniversary of the disaster, and it will be on ABC here in the States (yay).

In watching the trailer, I can’t help but notice all the similar visuals to the James Cameron movie, which I suppose is inevitable.  It is at least comforting to hear Fellowes explain that there will be big differences between his version and Cameron’s.  He explains that the movie was “a love story set against the [background of] the sinking of the Titanic”, and that he plans to tell the story of all the classes on board.  It’s already being called, only slightly ironically, Downton at Sea. Fellowes is sticking with the multi-story arc that works so well in Downton, and I can’t blame him for that.  I’m hoping it turns out well, and I can watch it without getting My Heart Will Go On stuck in my head.

Here’s the trailer, for those who are interested.

From the Book Section: Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

  I picked up this book at the grocery store of all places, and bought it on the sole basis of recognizing Julian Fellowes’ name as the writer/producer of Downton Abbey. This is his second novel, and according to the jacket copy the book combines “a masterful story of suspense and redemption with his unparalleled wit and insight into high society and human foibles.”  I can’t say I agree, unfortunately.

The story is one of a man in his early 50s and a friend he knew in his teens, Damian Baxter, with whom he had a falling out. He hasn’t spoken to him since the early ’70s, but gets an unexpected note one day.  Baxter is incredibly rich and successful, but he is dying. He has a letter from a woman that makes him believe he has a child in the world, which is suddenly very important to him because he never had one with his (now ex-) wife.  This could only have happened during the ’60s, when he was running around with the narrator and the upper classes in what was left of the Season (debutante balls and all that antiquated nonsense). Because the narrator (who I’m not certain has a name, now that I think back on it) knew the women and was part of the society, Baxter enlists him to find out which of the women has given him a child.  He wants to leave all his money to the child, but more importantly he wants to know that he has a legacy in this world.

The novel starts with a section describing his meeting up with Baxter again, a man he hates, and with apparently good reason. Many allusions are made to ‘that night in Portugal’ where they had a falling out and never saw each other again, but no explanations are offered. This must be the suspense referred to on the jacket. Damian gives the narrator a list of women he slept with that year that had children soon enough after to be contenders, a credit card to cover his expenses, and not much in the way of gratitude or politeness.

The rest of the book is divided into sections, one for each woman. Naturally, the narrator has to confront his own past as he politely and masterfully interrogates his old friends about some very personal issues.  He finds as he goes along that he didn’t really understand much about the people he went around with in his youth, and he says repeatedly how he would have liked them much better if he had truly known them back then. In the end, he does eventually solve the mystery, though not in an expected way.

There were some things I liked about it.  It was an interesting look inside upper class society in a period where it was more or less disintegrating.  The 1960s aren’t a time that people think about when they think about the Season or the trappings of upper class society. I certainly have never read or seen anything about it before.  And Fellowes would know what he’s talking about. He is about the same age as the narrator would have been, went to Cambridge just like the narrator, and I confess I had a hard time not seeing this as semi-autobiographical.  He is a peer, or part of the British nobility, and his title is the Barron Fellowes of West Stafford. He undoubtedly knows what he is talking about, and he does talk a lot about how the characteristics of the British upper-classes, from the 60s through today.  I feel I learned some about how they operate, though I can’t say it was worth the 400 pages it took to gain this knowledge.

What grated on me:

repetition, repetition, repetition.  This novel could have been about half as long, I think.  Maybe 2/3.  Fellowes has a  habit of giving his narrator these powerful insights into the people he is meeting, and he will explain clearly and easily what makes them tick, why they are unhappy or happy in their lot.  Then he will have another character explain the same thing in nearly the same words.  It is unnecessary, and it happens with almost every old friend he encounters.  I can’t imagine what he means by doing it.  Giving his narrator the ability to understand people would make sense, except a lot of what happens in the novel proves that he is a complete idiot. And if the people he is meeting are going to explain everything to him, why have him explain it to the reader just before? It just takes up space on the page.

Another ridiculous thing that happens again and again: He meets with these women and gets them to open up about the paternity of their children–and they all do, with very little hesitation.  This is believable, only if the narrator is particularly apt at dealing with people, which he doesn’t appear to be.  But putting aside this slightly unbelievable fact, there is something he continues to explain to the reader. When he acts really personal, slightly impertinent questions of people he hasn’t seen in 30 years, he says “It is hard to explain why, but this was not as intrusive a question at the time as it seems on the page.” Not that exact phrase every time, but every time an apology for what seems intrusive and explaining that it is not.  I would have found it much easier to deal with if he just explained that he was having one of those moments with these people, where the politeness and falsity of life wear off briefly, and you’re able to be truthful with one another.

lack of suspense.  The big mystery in the story is what exactly happened in Portugal that led to Damian and the narrator never speaking to each other again, but also to neither of them ever interacting with that crowd again. Only, by the end of the book, I really didn’t care.  And by the time the incident is recounted, it doesn’t seem so bad.  It’s anticlimactic.

the women.  All of the women portrayed in this book, with the exception of one, are treated as sort of ineffable, mysterious, and inherently good.  There are two that are represented as more or less Greek goddesses, whose only flaws involve not having a life worthy of their divinity.  The other women, even though the narrator doesn’t find them attractive, are saints trapped in terrible lives.  I do wonder, is it coincidence that the only truly unpleasant woman in the book is an American? Also, the men in the book are all terrible, dreadful, boring or abusive. Perhaps some people, perhaps even the writer, might think that this portrayal of men and women is flattering to women.  To me it implies something truly nefarious about the narrator.  And possibly the writer. People who idolize or deify women don’t see them as people, only as saints or deities.  That creeps me out.

the narrator. After spending 420 pages with this guy, I can’t say I know much about him at all.  He was a complete moron when he was living out most of the events he is now reliving, that much can be said for sure.  He had no idea what was going on with his supposed friends, and seems to have been completely unaware of their true selves. He absolutely loves one of the girls from his youth, and always has. But see above on why I find it creepy. He is described, albeit by someone who dislikes him, as a hanger-on, a grubbing non-entity, and I’m sorry to say the more I read the more I agreed.  And Julian Fellowes’ face plastered on the back jacket made me deeply disturbed.  This face is pretty much the face of a non-entity.  Maybe because it so so colorless and round.

At any rate, disliking the narrator so intently meant that I could not very well appreciate the book.  So I give it a big thumbs down.

I do want to say though that I was reminded quite strongly of The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  There’s the same recollection of the 1960s, the same falling out between friends and death as a way to bring them back together as old men, even the same paternity mystery.  There is also the repeated and almost identical insistence that despite the action taking place in the 1960s, it wasn’t a wild and crazy time in the UK.  I think both books say the same thing, that for most of the people living, what is popularly thought of as the ’60s didn’t happen to most of them until well into the ’70s.

The books are similar, but I can’t express well enough how much better the Barnes’ version of a similar story is.  I loved that book, whereas this one gives me an unpleasant creepy crawly feeling.