Category Archives: Writing

Audio Version of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, Available from BBC Radio 4 for a Limited Time Only

For the past few weeks, BBC Radio 4 has been running a full-cast reading of an abridged version of The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The project is now complete, and, if you move fast, you can listen to all 15 episodes.

Each episode is only available for 30 days after its original broadcast. That means that the opening episode, first run on 16 September 2019, will be unavailable after 15 October 2019. Since each episode is only 14 minutes long, though, binging shouldn’t be a problem.

The Testaments is set fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. The monstrous Republic of Gilead still exists, but seems to be crumbling from within. Aunt Lydia, however…

Well, just listen to the program. You can start here

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Knives Out — First Trailers

I think I must share a common sensibility with Rian Johnson, the writer/director of the upcoming movie Knives Out, because the film so perfectly matches my idea of what a purely entertaining movie should be. It’s a murder mystery set in a posh but isolated location, peopled by diverse and glamourous characters who are all hiding secrets.

The plot to my dream movie should be reminiscent of an M. C. Escher print. One big switch isn’t enough—there should be switches-on-switches.  And switches-on-switches-on-switches.

And the location matters. A snowbound English country house is an ideal setting, but a snowbound train works as well. Even a luxurious boat will do if it’s in a suitably exotic part of the world, just as long as there’s a room large enough to assemble all the suspects and expose the killer(s) in the closing moments of the film.

Let’s think. Who’s famous for that sort of thing? (Hint: Her initials are “A. C.”, and she’s not Al Capone.)

Knives Out has Agatha Christie’s bloody fingerprints are all over it, and Rian Johnson happily acknowledges his debt to the best-selling fiction writer of all time, with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare and the authors of the New Testament. Johnson has improved on his inspiration by adding a dash of wit to the mix; Christie’s works are conspicuously devoid of humour.

He’s also assembled the kind of All-Star cast that brings in an audience for those remakes of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile that earn nice profits every decade or so, even though everyone in that audience found out whodunit years ago.

And what a cast it is! The film has Chris Evans,  Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette(!), Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer. Best of all, there’s James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, playing a detective with the intriguing surname of “Blanc”.  I can only hope he introduces himself as “Blanc. Benoit Blanc.” For reasons yet to be explained, Craig plays the part with a Southern accent.

Here’s the latest trailer for Knives Out:

And here’s the original one:


http://www.mynewplaidpants.com/2019/09/so-sharp-these-knives.html

Knives Out opens on 27 November 2019, the night before (US) Thanksgiving Day. Can’t wait for this one.


Professor Plum, in the Library, with the Candlestick

Toni Collette

Toni Collette

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis

Visiting F. Scott and Zelda

Tuesday, the 24th of September, was the 123rd anniversary of the birth of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and as I do every few years, I took Metro up to Rockville, MD, to visit his grave. He and Zelda are buried in the little cemetery next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

I’m sure Fitzgerald would have made short work of those plastic flowers, but he’d probably have enjoyed the bottle of Hendrick’s Gin that had been left by an earlier visitor.

I thought back to the time, years ago, when two more-than-just-friends and I made a highly chemically enhanced 2 AM visit to the Fitzgeralds’ grave. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

“Boats against the current….”

I didn’t stay long this time. I sat on the grass for a while, read the last few pages of Gatsby, and headed back to the city.

An Extract from Margaret Atwood’s Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

The Guardian has posted a lengthy extract from The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Set more than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s Booker Prize-shortlisted sequel revisits her dystopian republic Gilead”

You can read it here.

The official release date for The Testaments is 10 September 2019, but Amazon “accidentally” broke the embargo by shipping 800 copies of the book early. Indy bookstore owners were not amused, and The Guardian has that story as well.

Scott and Zelda and Gerald and Sara

On the left, Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, sometime in the 1920s. On the right, Gerald and Sara Murphy at Cap d’Antibes beach in 1923.


Last week I made a passing reference to Gerald and Sara Murphy, the wealthy American couple who played a huge part in the literary and artistic communities in Paris during the 1920s, when Paris was the center of the literary and artistic world. “Paris was where the twentieth century was,” wrote Gertrude Stein.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the central characters in F. Scott Fitgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, are based partly on the Murphys and partly on Scott and Zelda Fitgerald themselves.

Fitzgerald thought the book was his best work. It was the last novel he completed.

I mentioned that I planned to re-read Calvin Tomkins’ 1962 New Yorker article about the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, and posted a link. I’ve just finished it, and it’s even more impressive than I remembered it being.  It’s a beautifully written piece about some extraordinary people.

Here once again is a link for “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, along with my highest recommendation.


New Tales of the City

“When I first got off the bus years ago, I had the strangest feeling that I’d come home.”
—Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City

Oh, yes, Mary Ann, in this you are not unique. The first time I was in San Francisco, I had exactly the same feeling.*

And now, thanks to Netflix, we’re going home again.

“inspired by the books of Armistead Maupin, the new Netflix Limited Series Tales of the City begins a new chapter in the beloved story. Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to present-day San Francisco and is reunited with her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross), twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture-perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann is quickly drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), her chosen family and a new generation of queer young residents living at 28 Barbary Lane.”

Tales of the City had its start as a three-times-a-week serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Author Armistead Maupin mixed real and (mainly) fictional characters to capture the essence of San Francisco in the 1970s.  Maupin succeeded in doing for The City what Tom Wolfe failed to do for New York in Bonfire of the Vanities, probably the most overrated novel of the late 20th century. The column became must-read material, and a cult was born.

The first novelization of the serial was published in 1978, followed by five more volumes published at two-year intervals, with three more books released after a 20-year gap.

In 1993, Channel 4 (UK) turned the first book into a superb miniseries, which was shown on PBS in the US in early 1994. Here’s the trailer:

Good news! That original series is currently streaming on Acorn.

The new series will be released on Netflix on 7  June  2019.


Bonus Track

The great Laura Linney makes an uncredited appearance in this video for the also-great Aimee Mann. Watch closely, and see if you can spot her.


* Granted, I also had exactly the same feeling the first time I was in London, and the first time I was in Paris. Never had it in my own hometown,  though, for some reason….

Florence + the Machine — “Jenny of Oldstones”

Here’s Florence + the Machine’s full-length version of “Jenny of Oldstones”, the song that played during the end credits of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”, Sunday night’s somber episode of Game of Thrones. The opening lyrics are by George R. R. Martin.

Spoilers, if you haven’t yet seen S08 E02. But of course you have, by now.

Brienne of Tarth

Brienne of Tarth