A Rant for the New Year

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you who have been kind enough to visit my blog in 2018!

Having said that, I now propose to somewhat spoil the festive mood by having a huge moan.

Is it just me? Does everyone have moments when their view of a text – novel, play, film, whatever – is totally at odds with the waves of enthusiasm it has elicited by critics both professional and amateur? I have just finished Sally Rooney’s incredibly successful first novel ‘Conversations with Friends’ which had been much recommended to me, but which left me dispirited and, to be honest, a bit angry. I spent most of the time I was reading it wondering if I was missing the point. Was it, I pondered, meant to be some kind of parody? Were we supposed to see the characters and their empty, pointless lives as symptomatic of a great malaise tainting British (and Irish) society in 2018. These four young people (‘captivating’ according to the Irish Times, whose critic must have been reading an entirely different book) who are obsessed with themselves, who never really seem to do a day’s work and whose whole approach, even to each other, is so nasty most of the time? They are clearly meant to be ‘clever’ and creative and we treated to all sorts of detailed descriptions of their menu choices and lifestyles. Throughout it I was often reminded of Mike Leigh’s ghastly film ‘Happy Go Lucky’, not because the characters in Rooney’s novel were anything like the wholly unlikely, simpering, heap of empathy played by Sally Hawkins in Leigh’s movie but because, half way through it, my friend V, who was similarly horrified, said ‘Never mind. Maybe one of the characters will turn out to be a serial killer…’ Sadly that did not happen in either the novel or the film.

But really, folks, do people like Frances, Nick, Bobbi and…the other one…oh, Melissa…do they actually exist – the narrator, for example, a bisexual Communist poet… and if so, why on earth would we care so much about them that we would plough our way through a novel about them? (I also just finished ‘Middlemarch’ which at 903 pages, seemed shorter). It neither moved me nor if it is a ‘darkly funny comment’ (Sunday Telegraph) did I find it ever funny. Funny? Good grief.

Indeed it annoyed me almost as much as ‘Call Me By Your Name’.

About six months ago I went to visit my friend Glenn who runs the Colours Gallery in Dundas Street. On entering there he was seated at his desk and an American gentleman was, more or less, shouting at him – ‘It was the worst film I saw this year..’ Glenn said hello and introduced me to this chap, who turned out to be his cousin from the US, resident in Edinburgh, with whom he often went to the cinema.

‘I have to ask,’ I said, ‘what is the film?’

‘What film would you like it to be?’ the American gentleman responded.

‘Well, I would like it to be ‘Call Me By Your Name’?’

And indeed it was. What a joyous ten minutes decimating it we had!

A brief summary of why:

  • OK – it’s lovely to look at, and I doubt that more or less anybody attracted to men wouldn’t fancy one or other or both of Arnie Hammer or that Chalamet boy. Both of whom are very good actors, I think – I liked young Tim in ‘Ladybird’, for example. So as a piece of softish gay porn , about two minutes of it would be entertaining as well as all the shots of shorts – it was a good advert for shorts.


  • However, some people seem to have seen it as some kind of crusading breakthrough for gay people. This is odd, I think, since neither of the characters is gay – we see TC having vigorous, if not particularly happy, sex with his lovely girlfriend (altogether a much nicer character than Mr Hammer’s) and at the end of the film we discover the older character’s getting married!  Of course, I don’t have anything against bisexuality, though I don’t know very many actual bisexual people, but the film is not about gay people. Gay men, in general, don’t have sex with women.
  • So – a very attractive older guy comes to work for Timmy’s dad and stays in the house with the family. Eventually, by dint of endless conversational interaction, mainly wearing shorts, in the sunshine and around the piano, they have a wee bit of sex together, some of it involving the creative use of fruit – easy seeing they have a maid to change the sheets. Now TC is above the age of consent so what he does is his business but some people, like say the GTCS, might find it a bit dodgy.
  • But most astonishing is the much praised scene at the end of the film where Timmy’s dad goes on (and on) about the wonderfulness of the relationship, which has lasted a matter of weeks, and how this is something he himself has missed out on. Poor chap. It was, at best, a summer romance, set in a lovely place but to think that that could be the high point of poor Timmy’s emotional (or, indeed, sexual) life doesn’t bear thinking about. Poor kid.

Anyway, sorry to rant. I’m sure many of you liked one or other of these texts. Or, heaven forfend, both. I am heading towards 62 remember….



  1. Sadly, this feeling does afflict all of us as we get older. For example, I will never get back the hours I spent reading ‘cult classic’ bestselling novel, One Day. The high point of this tripe was the frisson I got from the hero’s student flat in Edinburgh being in the same street as my then dentist (Rankeillor Street, since you ask). It was downhill from then.


  2. I’m loving your rants and couldn’t agree more with your comments on ‘Conversations with Friends’ but I differ on ‘Call Me by Your Name’.
    It didn’t impress me on first viewing; I really couldn’t see what the fuss was about, even with the addition of a much loved anthem of my youth – The Psychelic Furs ‘Love my Way’.
    Then a strange thing happened. I was encouraged to watch it again and second time around I found I loved it! I agree that it’s definitely not some kind of gay crusade breakthrough film. I enjoyed it as a languid Bildungsroman with Elio trying on his sexuality for size (ahem). I think the last scene by the fire is poignant as Elio gives up his obsession with his first love and realises that he was Oliver’s last.


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