Patrick Gale’s ‘A Place Called Winter.’

“O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!”


Patrick Gale’s novel epitomises everything a good writer wants to do in their own writing. I began reading ‘A Place Called Winter’ a few days ago and, at first, I thought it was a slow-burner. The protagonist, Harry Cane, is discovered, at the beginning of the novel, in an institution, thrown into cold baths to aid his recovery. He has done something which cannot be named. The time is just after the first world war, the setting is Canada, and the landscape is both rugged and beautiful.

The reader knows Harry is suffering; his attendants are violent or negligent and he is stoical, hiding the secret of what he has done, what has caused him to be immured. The story pulls you in, but Gale signals the format the story will take: flashbacks to Harry’s past, building to reveal what he has done, occasionally flipping back to his treatment and recovery so that a satisfactory dénouement can take place, which will be his being discharged from the institution and returning to whatever life has left for him.

Of course, Patrick Gale is much cleverer than that, and the story which unfolds is complex and fascinating. My initial thoughts about Harry were that he is a little spoiled, weak, feckless, but this is not the case. Soon, I admire his resolve and I follow his self-discovery, finding a man I not only understand, but come to admire. I imagine writing the book did the same for Gale,enabling to understand his character’s background, history and motivation, as Harry Cane was his relative.

Gale’s writing is perfect. The first rule of writing may be to enable your reader to feel safe in the writer’s hands and then to take them on a journey they believe in and commit to. Gale writes beautifully, but he is not over-sentimental. It would be easy to create Harry as a character who we perceive to be a victim, but he is heroic, human and there is a tenderness in his dealings with other characters.

The story is fast paced; as Harry realises his sexual orientation, he lurches from one crisis to another in a way which is plausible and poignant. He is abused, rejected, committed to a life of hardship and despair but he still emerges triumphant and heroic. Gale leads his reader through vivid descriptions which are never indulgent; the novel  is historically accurate and his backdrop and characters are created with confident, detailed prose.

Harry begins his journey in England. He is, initially, comfortably rich and languorous. His banishment to Canada, to farm the land, enables immense contrast in backdrop and language, and it is against the stark hardship of his new, solitary life as he works on the land that Harry’s character develops. His character changes: he is bolder,  undaunted: his greatest triumph is to accept and love himself and to be accepted and loved by those around him in a time when social acceptance was very different. As a reader, I find myself  made sharply aware of old prejudices, which provokes a comparative analysis of our modern world views.

All the secondary characters are credible and beautifully drawn, from the revolting Troels Munck and the admirable Petra and Paul Slaymaker to the credible Ursula/Little Bear, who is a truly tragic but inspirational character.

Gale signals clearly what will happen to Harry. At first, I wondered if such clear pointers would spoil the story. As soon as he meets the strong, sympathetic Petra and her brother, with his enigmatic history, I knew what would happen, particularly once Troels was thrown into the mix. But this clear signal did not impact negatively, neither on the storytelling itself nor in my suspension of disbelief and my commitment to the characters. It makes for superb reading.

I wonder if there is something autobiographical in Gale’s writing: he and Cane both show respect and empathy with the female characters, and Cane is both isolated yet sociable, gifted with a warmth and understanding of others. Cane thrives in the hardship and beauty of the Canadian landscape and this is, in a way, a metaphor for how he survives discrimination and emerges as someone who can reclaim his sexuality and passion. The descriptions of blossoming love and an awareness of desire are beautifully written, tentative and naive at first, developing into something as forceful and naturally  resilient as the Canadian terrain.

‘A Place Called Winter’ is a beautifully well-written book. The flashbacks, the foreshadowing, the stunning use of language and the convincing and likeable characters are all perfectly contrived to keep the reader immersed and moved.

For me, ‘A Place called Winter’ is a book of exceptional artistry and aesthetic appeal, and a must-read.

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My Christmas Top Ten Countdown

Most of my blogs are fairly serious and, as it is the season of good swill, I thought I’d respond with a little lightness to the abject Scroogery which is alive and rampant and living in my house .

Bursting with festive enthusiasm, like Santa’s sack stuck in the chimney, my excitement is being squashed and tossed and abused at all opportunities. For example:

My question: ‘When can we put some Christmas lights up?’

The answer: ‘It’s a waste of electricity’ or ‘Have you seen the awful display of  bad taste lighting next door?’ or ’26th, December, like last year?’

And:

My question: ‘Shall we go to a Christmas market?’

The answer: ‘Bloody commercialised crap’ or ‘Waste of time and money’ or ‘It’s too cold’ or  ‘It’s too wet’ or just  ‘Humbug!’

And:

My question: ‘Shall I make a few mince pies?’ ‘Nut loaf?’ ‘Roast veg?’ ‘Cocktails..?’

The reply: ‘ Anything will do’ or (reaching for the chocolates )’People always eat too much at Christmas’ or ‘You cook it, I’ll eat it.’

So, to restore the balance in favour of some fun here is a countdown of ten things I love about Christmas and everyone else can shove their Festive misery where the sun never shines in Winter.

 

10. The cold. Seriously. You can wear mittens, scarves, boots, fake fur coats outside and when you get in, you can go and stand by the big log fire and warm your cheeks . And sometimes we even have snow!!!

9. Kitch music. Slade. Carols. Roy Wood’s Wizzard. Mud’s  ‘Lonely this Christmas.’ (I draw the line at ‘Mistletoe and Wine.’)

8. Lights. Twinkly ones. Reindeers that  nod and move. All of that shiny glittery stuff brings out the child in us all. Candles. Decorations.

7. Food. Humble, balanced, well cooked, inexpensive food. Not too much of it, but created with love and served with the intention of sharing. We are lucky to have it. Oh, and wine. More wine. Brandy.

6. Parties. Meeting up with people and celebrating. Whatever religion, background, culture, whatever role we play, we can share peace and be happy together. Meeting up with the nicest of people and laughing.

5. Pagan stuff. Mistletoe. Snogging. Or just a polite peck on the cheek is sometimes enough. Being nice to people. Reaching out. Hugging. And climbing up a rock at dawn to celebrate the Solstice, and burning the Yule Log and remembering and honouring  all the old traditions which existed years before we did.

4. Films on the telly. Not just the Grinch. Al the old ones, the sad ones, even the action movies. Time to chill. To think. Perchance to snooze. Always, to read. And to talk to each other.

3. Not having to work. Time off,  to be with the people you love, the people you don’t see often enough, and to chill. To dance. To sing. To play Charades. To be together or to be quiet. To party. To get up late next day.

2. Giving. Presents. Charity. Time. Thoughtfulness for others. Consideration. Inviting someone to fill that spare chair at the table.

1. Love, whether it is Christ’s love, Mother’s love, One Love, or reaching out to someone who is on their own or offering a hand of friendship for the first time. It is a time we should remember those we love, those with us now and those no longer here. There will be people we don’t know yet, with whom we may share love and friendship, people we may never meet who may benefit from something we do on their behalf. We should celebrate love and life and be happy. It is a priority, celebrating health and being mindful that life is a gift. And whoever or whatever we pray to, we should pray for peace and not ever lose hope.

So, for all the grumpy gits out there, whatever Christmas means to you, I hope you have a great one and may your 2016 be filled with blessings, good health and peace, and a sack load of that something special your heart desires. Enjoy.

Sorority in literature? Fear it, my dear sister.

I don’t have a sister and I never really wanted one. People have told me that older sisters can be bossy and younger ones sometimes behave in a tetchy and clingy way.

Of course, these stereotypes are not real and they are perhaps often fuelled by sibling rivalry. What about the older sister who fights your battles in the playground, or the younger one who is a calming influence and offers sound advice?

A sister could be really symbiotic, useful, fun, grounding: a friend who shares your history and biology.

So, having no sister of my own, and being confused by what friends who have sisters say – some love them and some don’t – I  turn to literature to find answers. Am I missing out by not having a sister? Surprisingly, there are few role models for me to use as evidence in my search to answer my question. Would I have benefited from a sister and which one would I like to have had?

My first experience of sisters were Cinderella’s two ugly ones. The moral is that you have to be either a meek and pretty subservient heroine or a bossy, unprepossessing villain. These jealous and ugly broads  bully in twos and have to cut their feet to bits to get a man!

That’s an ideal lesson for a little girl: judge women only by looks and fear all other women: they are your rivals in the dating game. I moved away from this idea before my sixth birthday.

Like many little girls, I read books like some people eat sweets or hang around in gangs. The appetite for female role models was insatiable but what could I feed it with? The Railway Children gave me no answers, nor the Famous Five, nor Katy and Clover Carr.

I didn’t want to be sister to any of those boring, predictable girls. So the March sisters beckoned: four Little Women, perfect stereotypes which could have come from a Hargreaves book: Miss Sensible, Miss Creative, Miss Prettily Vacuous and Little Miss Martyr. I have to admit, I enjoyed the book because there was precious little else around. Jo March can just about hack it as a role model when you’re nine.

At thirteen years old, I met the Bennets. I think they were solely responsible for my dislike of Austen, which has endured ever since. Don’t get me wrong; she’s a great writer and I so wish I liked her but I couldn’t care less about all those sisters whose conversation was about dancing at balls and batting eyelids at boys and marriage and money. Pride and Prejudice is a great classic, but the Bennets were never going to be my sisters.

Two years on and I found an interesting pair of Shakespeare’s sisters. Bianca the meek and Katherine the shrew, whose roles change after marriage, one newly assertive and one newly tamed. Depending on interpretation, of course; I have seen the scene where Katherine puts her hand beneath Petruchio’s foot ‘to do him ease’ done in some clever ways, suggesting a range of meanings.

However, I have no interest in subservience in any form and the moral is don’t marry the meek pretty one; she may turn into the shrew. Tame the feisty one instead? I move on.

Trust Angela Carter to give you some good girls to get your teeth into. Dora and Nora Chance, born out of wedlock, with a mad actor for a Dad. Two sisters who bond, who sing and dance through laughter and sadness, are great examples of sisters in literature. I’d have been happy having either of them in my family.

The same goes for  The Color Purple: Celie and Nettie are close, supportive sisters, although their closeness is treated with suspicion and jealousy by the patriarchal Mister and they are separated as girls and don’t meet again for over thirty years. The real soul sister act in Walker’s novel is found in Celie’s relationship with the independent and talented Shug Avery. Now there’s a role model!

Examples of brothers bounce from the pages in literature: fighting, feuding, finding out dark secrets. From the wonderful Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov to the well-intentioned but often misinterpreted stereotypes of Russell’s Blood Brothers;  Maupassant’s Pierre et Jean; Rowling’s The Tale of Three Brothers, Munro’s Monsieur Les Deux Chapeaux; Miller’s Death of a Salesman: examples of  exciting novels and plays about men’s fraternal exploits abound. It must be great to have a brother!

I believe we often select our own spiritual siblings and I know many women and men whom I consider as family, so I don’t have a strong desire to invent a secret sister any more.

To be honest, literature hasn’t helped me much in my quest to discover whether I’m missing out or not. All it has done is to offer me a range of examples of sisters, most of whom I’d probably prefer not to have had. This leads me to conclude that there is perhaps a niche in the market here for new books about women who have strong, interesting and productive relationships and who share one or more parents.

That’s started me thinking…

Of cats and women

Tom Jones sang ‘What’s new, Pussycat?’ in 1967. That was nearly fifty years ago and thank goodness attitudes to women have changed since then. He suggested his girlfriend: ‘go and powder your cute little pussycat nose.’ I’d tell him where to go!

Current attitudes suggest that  men and women play equal roles and make joint decisions in a sexual relationship, equality of responsibility being the main emphasis. Gone are the days when women were passive objects in a man’s game of sexual conquest.

It is unthinkable now, for example, that a man would have sex with an intoxicated woman and claim that she had consented because she was too drunk to decide otherwise, and to suggest that it was all her fault for being irresponsible, and not his at all for taking advantage.

It is inconceivable that an adult male would seduce a fifteen year old girl and claim he couldn’t help it as she was ‘jailbait’. Today’s modern man would not stand around in the pub, boasting about sexual conquests with his friends, feeling proud of himself, bragging about a woman he shagged and discarded the night before. No self respecting man would behave like that nowadays and expect respect,- would he?

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The detritus from  past decades where men called the shots  in relationships is surfacing now: males who were allowed to apportion the sexual blame to women after dictating the terms of their abuse are now being called to task.

Two of The Tremeloes pop group are currently denying an assault of a 15 year old girl in 1968, a year after Tom Jones suggested that his Pussycat ‘go and make up your cute little pussycat eyes!’ and of course there is some correlation between prevalent attitudes to women in those days and the sexual abuse which is coming to light now that we have clearer moral standards  about reprehensibility in place, supported by the law.

No longer can men such as the DJs and pop stars of the 60s and 70s get away with objectifying and abusing women and then claiming they had no choice about their behaviour We don’t accept now that they are somehow relieved from any blame by making women take responsibility for what men have decided they will do to women’s bodies.

However, we still live in a time when girls are groomed for sex and there are more prosecutions than ever for violence against women. Even the internet is being used to turn vulnerable women into victims. So how far have we really come?

It is this ‘blame the victim’ mentality which was the cause of so much abuse and inequality in our mothers’ generation. The ‘she asked for it’ syndrome which excused and exonerated the perpetrators of abuse and blamed the victim is still part of how some members of society view women.

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Some women don’t help. A female judge condemned rape victims who had consumed alcohol. Apparently, 50% of women are ready to blame the victims and one in ten said that if women  dress or dance ‘provocatively’, then they are ‘partly responsible’ for sexual abuse by men.

There is still a long way to go before all women achieve courtesy and consideration across all areas of society and all aspects of their lives.

The majority of men do not think or behave in this way and most women know only too well how it feels to be judged according to gender. However, as long as there are some people out there who want to victimise the victim, who are prepared to allow someone who is abused to be seen as responsible for their ill-treatment, such abuse and objectification will continue.

Misogynistic lyrics in pop songs don’t help and there are far worse offenders than Tom Jones, who at least had the good grace to sing ‘I’m so willing to care for you’, even if it was only to rhyme with ‘thrilling’. It’s not just lyrics either: there are some sexually submissive images of women in pop videos that suggest that this is how females should behave in order to proclaim their sexuality and gain male interest.

I am all for people dressing as they please, doing as they please and promoting themselves as they please, so long as it has no negative impact on anyone else. Today’s women have, arguably, more choice, more freedom and more opportunity to behave how they wish to within society than their mothers and grandmothers.

Most modern men are more sensitive and we accept now that gender roles are more fluid. There is a multitude of role models, celebrity couples who demonstrate equality, respect and responsibility as a strong part of their relationship. But there is still a long way to go before all women achieve  courtesy and consideration across all areas of society and all aspects of their lives.

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Equality and respect between both genders are vital goals for us all, and  we need to support rather than admonish the victims of abuse. Women should wear what they want and behave how they wish, within the limitations of the law, without fear of reprisal and blame and it is the best of men who celebrate them for who they are and how they wish to express themselves.

After all, as Robert A. Heinlein said: ‘Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.’

I’ve made my mind up about Jeremy Corbyn

I have always allied myself to the Labour party and I am not about to change. I must admit, I was a Millifan during the run up to the last election and I foolishly hoped that Ed would have what it would takes to become our Prime Minister.

I saw Ed speak at a Fabian Society conference and I was very impressed by the depth of his knowledge and arguments and even the warmth of his delivery. Ed is a thinker, a pragmatist and he has integrity: I also hoped he would had the the capacity to inspire trust in him and in Labour, but it was not to be.

Jeremy, on the other hand, despite the majority vote of Labour members and so-called ‘£3 supporters’ that catapulted him to a victory no-one predicted, and despite the number of Labour members who think he is doing well, does not strike me as the right man for the job.

The burning question concerns his potential electability

I do agree with him to a great extent on the subject of the war in Syria. I am against any air strikes which even run the risk of killing civilians; I am concerned about reprisals and escalation and so much can go wrong if Syria implodes.

However, Jeremy Corbyn has left his party open to ridicule by occupying a hard left position and by making so many unforced errors. These began from the first moment: his botched shadow cabinet reshuffle was followed hard upon by unwise comments about ‘Jihadi John’ and shoot-to-kill, his general disdain for relations with the media, his shadow cabinet allies waving Mao’s Little Red Book, and his attempt to hoodwink the shadow cabinet over Syria have all damaged public perception of Labour and morale amongst Labour MPs.

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Of course, you might not care what the right-wing press says about Jeremy Corbyn. It is their job to offer opinions which are antithetical to, even to parody and lambast, the Labour party. But ‘Jez’ is serving it up to them on a plate: the biggest problem I have with JC is I don’t believe he is the saviour many people are investing in. The burning question concerns his potential electability – whether he can win the next General Election in 2020.

Having joined the Labour party again after this year’s Election loss, I found choosing who to vote for to be the new Labour leader very difficult. It was easier to find candidates I didn’t want to vote for – there were, to be honest, four of them – and my criteria for selection was entirely based on which candidate could win the next election.

More important to me than adhering to my anti-war principles or finding a candidate in tune with the far leftism that I clung to as a student (imagine me in my anti-apartheid t-shirt and my CND badge) was to find a candidate who could defeat the Tories, the kind of candidate who might roll back some of the worst excesses of the last five and a half years of Tory government – the bedroom tax, the relentless chipping away at the rights of disabled people and workers, the hike in tuition fees, and so on ad nauseam. I voted for Yvette because I thought she was the closest fit.

Of course, we can’t deny Jeremy his overwhelming victory. He has a benign persona, bordering on avuncular. But for all those people who will say he is a calm man who loves to debate issues within his party, there are many more who will say he has no leadership or charisma.

So, on the subject of leadership, let’s look at his voters and, specifically, the ones who laud him as leader. I know lots of ‘Corbynites’ amongst my friends. I watched their glee and relief as Corbyn was elected and how I wish I could share their optimism.

One group of Corbyn voters includes my dear friends in the north. The city of Liverpool was bequeathed a fate of managed decline by Thatcherites and certainly there is much poverty and the Labour party are the only party who can stop austerity and bring about change. I can see why they have put their faith in JC.

My good friends in the South are passionate Labour voters who shared the hard left ideology of Tony Benn and, to them, Jeremy Corbyn is putting the party back on the proper political path, from which it strayed under Blair.

Many young people I know and respect, bright and hopeful, see Jez as a way out of the uncaring social policies of the Tories. They have, quite rightly, identified Cameron as the leader they don’t want: George Osborne, Theresa May and Boris Johnson are, God forbid, waiting in the wings as well, so it is no wonder they place their faith in Jeremy.

Sadly, I believe – and the evidence shows – he is unelectable.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is consistently behind in the polls. Even Ed, who was eventually delivered a thumping defeat by the electorate, led in the polls for most of his leadership. One recent ComRes poll put Labour 15 points behind the Tories, a result that would be real wipeout territory for Labour come 2020. The same poll showed that nearly “three in five say they don’t trust Jeremy Corbyn to keep them and their family safe”. There is, perhaps, only one more thing fundamental to the potential of a party of government than being trusted with the economy, which Labour isn’t and hasn’t been since the banking crash of 2008. That is being trusted to keep people safe. If Corbyn and his team can’t reassure voters very quickly – since political first impressions shape so much of how a leader is perceived – then he is doomed to failure. The supplementary question is just how far he drags his party down with him.

As a example of where Labour is going wrong, let’s look at the three party conferences this year. Tim Farron, promoting himself well as a good, caring, Christian man, presented his Liberal Democrat party as a plausible alternative to his two competitors. He said he intended to stake a claim on the centre ground of politics in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader. There is a worry in itself.

Labour’s conference was all about Corbyn’s potential to take his party into the next election. Suzanne Moore of the Guardian suggested that ‘his “kinder” politics feel like a slow-motion punch in the face.’ Tom Watson called the Tories the Nasty Party and the conference came across as demonstrating a kind of in-house narcissism where jubilant Labour supporters were basking in the election of a new leader, but divisions in the party had already started to manifest themselves and there was no clear plan about how exactly Mr Corbyn was going to take on the Tories.

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Then came the Tory party conference; smooth, smug and firmly united. Whereas Corbyn spoke to the room, Cameron, Osborne, Johnson and their acolytes delivered – I hate to say it – rallying speeches to the country. These speeches were on-trend, resonant, policy-crammed, and occasionally witty, already grasping the opportunity to shovel up millions of centrist voters now abandoned as Labour cements its doomed, frenzied lurch to the left. Cameron’s anti-Corbyn speech hit the country in the soft belly of their fears of terrorism, as JC was presented as a danger to public safety.

I do not agree with Cameron and their conference did not strike any chord with me. May’s anti-immigration speech made me shudder and I shuddered again when Johnson called the Labour Left ‘tankies and trots.’ But Corbyn and co. have willingly supplied the Tories with this ammunition. The loaded volley should come as no surprise.

My friends in the North and South and a huge handful of good, well-meaning, intelligent youngsters, and I, will all vote Labour as, for us, the alternative is unthinkable: another five years of Tory government from 2020 under God-knows-who, in which we hear the same old misbegotten whingeing about trying to put right the deficit created by Labour and how we’re all in it together, while all the time they continue to tear holes in the safety net and make us less prosperous and free. The scaremongering and the austerity and the huge divide between rich and poor will undoubtedly increase even further under yet another Tory government.

But, hasn’t Labour party membership doubled under Corbyn? Many of us joined again because we want greater equality and less poverty as a primary focus. My fear is that Corbyn has already divided and scarred the party, and that he does not have the policies, the hardheaded, pragmatic political nous, the charisma or – worse – even the desire to defeat the Tories. It certainly seems to me that at the heart of Corbyn’s project is a culture change within the Labour Party, not ridding the country of Tory government.

He is ploughing his hard left furrow. And it is this ditch which will ultimately divide the Labour party: it has already begun. Labour voters who are not of his persuasion, and Labour MPs whose views differ radically, are not going to hang around and hope that a stubborn leader and his self- congratulating cronies can magically pull off victory against the polished, professional and policy-led Bullingdon permanents in the Tory party.

Comedian Robert Webb has cancelled his Labour membership and many other moderates are following his example. Corbyn may be thrilling his new fans but to so much of the rest of the world he appears a garbling figure of fun who is leading a party estranged with itself, crammed with internal opposition and confusion.

The abyss is opening and the Labour Party is teetering at the edge, peering down with anxious expressions, wondering how wide and deep it can yawn before the inevitable descent of our newly-elected leader.

I hope I’m wrong. I fear I’m not.

Cumberbatch and Hardy: the action to the word, the word to the action, with special observance

Stuart: A Life Backwards: a review

We’ve all had the discussion: is the film better than the book? Is the book more meaningful than the film?  In the case of Alexander Masters’s book, ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards,’ the answer is, absolutely, that both are equally impressive.

Alexander Masters’s book is an account of his unlikely but poignant friendship with Stuart Clive Shorter. Alexander is an academic, a campaigning librarian who lives in Cambridge and Stuart is a drug and drink addict, a criminal  with a past crammed with violence. The contrast between their backgrounds, their lives and their attitudes makes for a friendship which is, at times, difficult but it is also rewarding and thought-provoking.

The film, directed by David Attwood in 2007, is a triumph of matched and complementary performances from two of the outstanding actors of our generation. Alexander, with his middle-class lifestyle and comfortable home, his ambition and his desire, is a great foil for homeless Stuart who has muscular dystrophy and is a loner, a philosopher and a genius in his own right.

The story shows us two very different lives and then, slowly, brings them together in a friendship which is bittersweet and which demands both characters to accept the other’s shortcomings in order to form a bond which goes beyond class and background.

There are scenes which entertain: Stuart invites Alexander to his temporary home and makes a chicken curry, putting the meal together in a way which would have chefs quaking in their aprons. Alexander takes Stuart to stay with his friends in the country. Initially, this looks like another recipe for disaster as Stuart describes their tea as ‘lapsang shoe pong.’

It is a story which digs deeply into the reasons for prejudice: the initial suspicion and hostility between Alexander and Stuart develop into a close and symbiotic relationship based on integrity and intelligence equally matched despite, and because of,  their difference.

There are some horrific scenes: Stuart has a tendency towards violence which is not easy to watch, violence which is quickly turned on others as well as himself. The flashback to Stuart as a child where he first throws a punch is edifying.

It would be easy to say Tom Hardy steals the show: his shuffling gait, his vocal creaks, his wounded facial expressions make for a fully brilliant performance but Benedict Cumberbatch, reflective and responsive, is his opposite and it is the chemistry between the two characters which creates  alchemy.

Master’s title is Stuart’s idea: he decides that a chronological life story of his own traumatic thirty years would be better told backwards. It is Stuart’s creative genius which allows Masters’s narrative to work best, both in the book and the film as, told backwards, the denouement and climax are most powerful and dramatic .

Stuart asks ‘How did I get to be like this? What murdered the little boy I was?’ Masters’s book and Attwood’s film provide staggering answers. ‘Stuart: A Life Backwards’ is thought-provoking, poignant and pertinent to our time. 

Read the book. Watch the film. Enjoy the actors: revel in two outstanding performances by two consummate players who can create multi-faceted characters which are simultaneously thrilling and heart-breaking. Unmissable.