‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

Novel, 1873 A heavy critique the Second Empire which was established in mid-nineteenth century France, through the fictionalised struggle and treatment of an aspiring ‘thin man’ revolutionary. Florent is pitched against the vast and stultifying displays of greed and wealth of Les Halles and the food around it, with particularly effective scenes and displays established in and around Florent’s brother’s charcuterie. The gluttony of those … Continue reading ‘The Belly of Paris,’ by Emile Zola

‘Don’t Look Up,’ directed by Adam McKay

Movie, 2021 A dystopia set in contemporary America, in which the scientific discovery of a comet heading for collision course with Earth is snatched as a political, media and hugely divisive event. A bold film for the star-studded cast to hook into, and while there’s a didactic tone, the look of the film, including the intercutting of images in montage, make it feel relevant and … Continue reading ‘Don’t Look Up,’ directed by Adam McKay

‘The Sellout,’ by Paul Beatty

Novel, 2015 Terrific, fast-paced novel, in which black identities, cultures and essences are examined and explored with and through old minstrel actors, vanishing city names in Los Angeles ghettos and various intellectuals and bus drivers, fighting questions of who they are and how they should behave. A real gritty and trippy ride, with some great angles and attitudes along the way; the questions of other … Continue reading ‘The Sellout,’ by Paul Beatty

“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” directed by Luis Buñuel

Movie, 1972 Surreal satire addressing many societal aspects, most notably inequality and class. The various scattered elements – terrorism, martial law, diplomacy, etc – are played out against the backdrop of three couples trying to get together and share a meal. A film which feels of its time and still, somehow, fresh – the army manoeuvres and theatre scenes recall Monty Python, though the latter, … Continue reading “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” directed by Luis Buñuel

“Sorry to Bother You,” directed by Boots Riley

Movie, 2018 Satirical comedy with horror and sci-fi elements, charting the meteoric rise of a call centre operative. There are times when the film feels as if it’s going to capsize under the sense of its own significance, with power, race, workers’ rights, success and exploitation all crammed into the first few scenes, but it pulls through and delivers a prickly, full-on entertainment, which just … Continue reading “Sorry to Bother You,” directed by Boots Riley

“Play It As It Lays,” by Joan Didion

Novel, 1970 Savage novel about an actress whose career and life both appear to be on the skids and which offers little in the way of either relief or comfort. This is a book of alienation and the surface glitz of a shiny, showbiz world, overlaid with real tragedy, abuse and the horror of a life deteriorating. A beautifully written piece as well; Didion’s choppy … Continue reading “Play It As It Lays,” by Joan Didion

"Erewhon", by Samuel Butler

Novel, 1872 A curious Victorian muddle of fiction, narrative and philosophy, detailing the topsy-turvey practices in Erewhon, where some counter-intuitive institutions and beliefs are lightly satirised, set within a slight travel and escape story. This is pretty dense stuff for the most part and fairly tricky to get through, with the narrative ploughing on, not giving any real relief to the contemporary reader looking for … Continue reading "Erewhon", by Samuel Butler

"Modern Times", directed Charlie Chaplin

Movie, 1936 Satirical situations and a hard time for Chaplin’s tramp in a hostile, exploitative industrial environment, before salvation is suggested through a ‘gamin’ (street urchin). The physical comedy and repeatedly unlucky antics of the well-meaning duo point to the uncaring, greedy society, best illustrated at the beginning of the film, before the the gamin’s emergence, and through the casual dictatorial style used by the … Continue reading "Modern Times", directed Charlie Chaplin

"R.I.P." by Nigel Williams

Novel, 2015 Exploration of the unsightly behaviours and undignified actions following the death of the main protagonist. Through George, a retired bank manager’s eyes, a story slowly – sometimes too slowly, especially at the beginning – evolves, exposing a good deal of suburban middle-class rot, which ends up, almost, as a ‘whodunnit’. That the book isn’t a whodunnit, nor magical realism or more straightforward social … Continue reading "R.I.P." by Nigel Williams

"Symposium", by Muriel Spark

Novel, 1990 Wonderful satire offering flashbacks of a group of largely unlikable acquaintances trying to work through burglaries, prejudices, wills and weddings. This slim book starts at a cracking pace, landing the reader right into the story, but manages to build with a horror and focus sharpening towards a clever conclusion. This is a book containing a wonderfully eccentric collection of nuns, mad uncles and … Continue reading "Symposium", by Muriel Spark