Review: “Lullaby” by Leïla Slimani, translated by Sam Taylor

This book lays all bare from the very first paragraph:

The baby is dead. It took only a few seconds. The doctor said he didn’t suffer. The broken body, surrounded by toys, was put inside a grey bag, which they zipped shut. The little girl was still alive when the ambulance arrived. She’d fought like a wild animal. They found signs of a struggle, bits of skin under her soft fingernails. On the way to the hospital she was agitated, her body shaken by convulsions. Eyes bulging, she seemed to be gasping for air. Her throat was filled with blood. Her lungs had been punctured, her head smashed violently against the blue chest of drawers.

Having said that, it rolls on quite indifferently from a time before that occurs.

Louise is hired as nanny in a nuclear family of four where she cooks, mends clothes, and rears kids. She’s impeccable.

Naturally, there are changes that affect the impeccability, but I won’t go into that as it would beast upon this short book. Even though the book—to myself—bears some hallmarks of needing some editing, I really enjoyed its curtness, the “French” way of simply curtailing emotional stuff that’s not significant in terms of plot; reading this book was like watching Olivier Assayas’s perfect film “Summer Hours“, where a bunch of people do stuff seemingly without “meaning” in the Hollywoodesque sense of the word; even though the punchline of this book is seemingly published at its very start, it’s not: is life about goals or the journey?

There’s a lot to be said for how well written the book is at times. Simple and short sentences strengthen it:

Paul serves the wine, and the conversations soon rise high above such earthly considerations as food. They speak louder and louder. They stub out their cigarettes in their plates and the butts float in puddles of sauce. No one has noticed that Louise has withdrawn to the kitchen, which she is energetically cleaning.

The rhythm of the book is not very complex, but why should it be? It’s akin to reading Kurt Vonnegut or Amelia Grey, whose stories often rely on being quite curt, and still emotional due to being human.

This is a short, but not really memorable book; there’s a spectral and haunting undertone that seeps through the book, adding a horrific taint throughout, but I didn’t feel it to be enough. Still, I’ll definitely read more by this author.

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Movies I've watched recently:

  • Murder on the Orient Express (2017) - IMDb 3/10

    2018-02-14 21:23
    * * *

    Sadly, I remember the 1974 film better than this one, and that's saying a lot considering that I saw this version yesterday; where CGI is massively overused and a lot of good actors are underused, this film fails a bit. Here's hoping that everything falls in its right place once "Murder On The Nile" comes out.

  • The Post (2017) - IMDb 5/10

    2018-02-11 20:25
    * * * * *

    In this case, reality overwhelms and bests fiction. This is far too overblown in terms of the dramatically. In the end, its good that people know of the events.

  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri... 3/10

    2018-01-21 21:57
    * * *

    Too Hollywood-esque where morals are concerned. Good idea, but far too contrived to be remembered.

  • Best F(r)iends (2017) - IMDb 5/10

    2017-10-11 19:42
    * * * * *

    I saw an unfinished screener of this film, which divulged a work in progress that I nevertheless think will not be far from the finished product. Sestero plays the lead as a vagrant man, whose past leads him to convince a mortician, as played by Wiseau, to give him employment. Even though the plot is unclear and thin, the references to the film "The Room" and Wiseau's wonderfully weird acting brings this film some kind of life, Sestero's uncharismatic portrayal and the loose direction, the poor screenplay and some strange casting choices makes for a somewhat entertaining and funny, but ultimately forgetful film. Sestero told me the follow-up will probably be made in 2018.

  • Death Note (2017) - IMDb 2/10

    2017-08-28 08:20
    * *

    This remake of a near-perfect manga series, which has in turn spawned films, is now here and presented by Netflix. It starts out like a teen-angst emo trip, paired with death. Ryuk, a much-beloved character in the manga, is a Death God, who drops a notebook onto Earth. The book allows its owner to write the name of somebody and the person subsequently dies. However, there are loads of rules and caveats surrounding its use. This version is quite like "Hunger Games" was a version of "Battle Royale"; I can recall somebody saying that "Hunger Games" was "Battle Royale with cheese", which is an apt description for this version of "Death Note" as well. While the manga and prior films both contained elements that made the Sherlock Holmes short stories and novels successful through thinking and wondrous twists and turns, this film does not contain anything in the least good, apart from how the film makers opted to not display the character Ryuk much, other than in shadows. Lakeith Stanfield's acting is the only saving grace in this film, albeit short and boxed within its severe constraints (as it should be, I think). All in all: expect a high-school special without intelligence, and you will be alright.


Review: “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon and the Hunt for the Fugitive King of LSD” by Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis

From the start, it’s evident that the authors of this book liked Timothy Leary. One of them actually met him, but even though this book is no real hagiography but a deep dip into one part of Leary’s life—from where he was jailed, called “the most dangerous man in America” by Nixon, to his fleeing the USA, and later going back—it’s a wild 28-month-long ride based on a lot of research.

The authors never got the information they asked for from the US government, based on the Freedom of Information Act; not even Leary himself received it when asking for it in the later part of his life. Still, lots of records were found in places such as the New York Library, which the authors used to piece together an adequate picture.

As such, this is a chronological fly-on-the-wall tome which is also an easy read. Sentences glide past, written in a kind of 1970s vernacular, which feels suitable to the entire atmosphere, even when dealing with the near-psychotic Nixon, hell bent on catching Leary probably as a way of turning attention away from what he did to Vietnam and the USA at the time, Kent State, Watergate, et cetera.

It’s fun to read of how Leary’s intelligence turned Nixon’s attempts to get him upside down:

The government convicted him for failing to pay the federal marijuana tax, sentencing him to thirty years in prison. But Leary remained free on bond while he appealed, fighting all the way to the Supreme Court. In Leary v. United States, he won unanimously, defeating the Nixon Administration’s lawyers and striking down key marijuana laws. He celebrated his victory by declaring he would challenge Ronald Reagan in the California gubernatorial election. “Don’t you think I’ve had more experience than Ronnie?” Leary joked to reporters. He promised to legalize pot, selling it through officially sanctioned stores with the tax revenues going into state coffers. He said he would never live in the governor’s mansion—instead he would pitch a teepee on the front lawn and conduct the state’s business from there. His campaign slogan, Come Together, Join the Party, inspired John Lennon to write a song for him that the Beatles recorded as “Come Together.”

It’s also easy to see Leary’s charisma:

“Of the great men of the past whom I hold up as models,” he tells people, “almost every one of them has been either imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment for their spiritual beliefs: Gandhi, Jesus, Socrates, Lao-tse… I have absolutely no fear of imprisonment… I know that the only real prisons are internal.”

Then, there’s the start of The Weathermen Underground (later known as The Weather Underground):

The shadowy revolutionary organization that went underground after that deadly townhouse explosion in Greenwich Village has just issued a “Declaration of a State of War” on Richard Nixon: This is the first communication from the Weatherman Underground. All over the world, people fighting Amerikan imperialism look to Amerika’s youth to use our strategic position behind enemy lines to join forces in the destruction of the empire… We’ve known that our job is to lead white kids into armed revolution… Revolutionary violence is the only way… Guns and grass are united in the youth underground. Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks… Within the next 14 days we will attack a symbol or institution of Amerikan injustice. This Sunday, there are also news reports that in Ames, Iowa, the FBI has been called in to help figure out who detonated a massive dynamite bomb inside city hall that injured nine people and blew up portions of the adjacent police headquarters.


More bombs are erupting across the country, from New York to Chicago to Oakland. The Weathermen, the tight-knit clique of former campus leaders who have gone underground as guerrilla revolutionaries, are careening toward notoriety. They’ve taken their name from Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”—“you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”—and are led by Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers. Dohrn is a twenty-eight-year-old with a law degree from the University of Chicago. Raised in an upper-middle-class Milwaukee suburb, she was a dance student and high school cheerleader before turning to revolutionary terrorism. Her coleader, Ayers, is the twenty-five-year-old son of the president of Commonwealth Edison in Chicago. When people call him a rich radical, Ayers bristles: “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at.”


On July 26, an explosion blows apart a sculpture of a Nike Ajax missile housed inside the Presidio, the iconic army base in San Francisco. The Weathermen issue a new communiqué: “Today we attack with rocks, riots and bombs the greatest killer pig ever known to man—Amerikan imperialism.” They sneer at Nixon’s blustery attorney general, John Mitchell, who has been targeting them: “To General Mitchell we say: Don’t look for us, Dog; we’ll find you first.” A few hours later, at 3:30 a.m., a pipe bomb explodes in the front lobby of the Bank of America in the heart of Wall Street. Chunks of marble and glass from the doors rocket into the street. Twenty minutes after the bomb goes off, the New York Daily News receives a phone call: “This is a Weatherman. Listen close. I’ll only say it once. We have just bombed the Bank of America… Tell John Mitchell that no matter what he does, we cannot be stopped.”

I won’t go to deep into the innards of the book as that would be spoiling it all, but there’s also a lovely interview with the authors of this book as held by a representative of The New York Public Library:

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All in all, this is a wild ride through corruption, international getaways, Nixon, The Black Panthers, international terrorism, war, psychedelics, philosophy, adventure, love, and life in total. Firmly recommended.

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wancher Dream Pen

A few years back was the first time I contacted Taizo Okagaki at Engeika, and ended up buying this Platinum #3776 Maki-E which remains one of my most-loved fountain pens.

Now, he’s recently kicked off this Kickstarter campaign to make what is doubtedly called “Dream Pen”:

While the video really says it all, it comes down to this: eliminate “middlemen” and ads, and have artisans create a classic urushi-style fountain pen which blows your mind off. So get in.

Also, how fucking cool/geeky is Taizo? He’s a hero, that’s what.

Even though I like the idea of the maki-e version of the Wancher Dream Pen, I think this one hits everything right on the head:

I love the “Tamenuri Red”. It reminds me of the Platinum Izumo Biwatame Urushi fountain pen, even though I actually like the colour of the Dream Pen more.

Also: the above is apparently called a “pen pillow”. I have to have one. Some day.

Some times I wonder whether being deeply into fountain pens is worse than being a heroin abuser, but as I don’t think a real definition can be drawn, I’ll just settle with the thought that fucking pens can’t ruin my life completely. Cut to the part of my life where I’m alone in a shed with five-hundred pens and no love.

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.