Francesca Steele

Wistful thinking: Mr Wilder & Me, by Jonathan Coe, reviewed

Mr Wilder & Me is not in any way a state- of-the-nation novel — and thank goodness. Brilliant as Jonathan Coe’s last work, Middle England, was, I’m not sure I could stomach a fictional barometer of pandemic Britain. Coe’s new book is instead a comfortingly nostalgic coming-of-age novel, or rather, a coming-of-old-age novel, probing the

Primal longing: Blue Ticket, by Sophie Macintosh, reviewed

Sophie Macintosh’s Blue Ticket is not classic feminist dystopia. Yes, it is concerned with legislated fertility, a world where women’s bodies are monitored like science projects by condescending medics.But the horror here is not impregnation but unwanted childlessness. Blue tickets, dispensed (randomly? It’s not clear) by a machine on a girl’s first bleed, decree a

What is driving the rise in extreme cinema?

Why do we watch films like The Painted Bird? The movie tracks a young Jewish boy, an unclaimed innocent, wandering Eastern Europe as the second world war rages around him, drifting from village to village, encountering rape, paedophilia, mass murder and one spectacularly grisly scene where a miller gouges out his love rival’s eyes with

Jan Morris, at 93, meditates on what it means to be old

‘I’m getting rather tired of me,’ begins Jan Morris in one of the diary entries in Thinking Again, almost certainly the writer and journalist’s last book. She is only half kidding. This collection of essays and whimsical daily musings — a sequel to 2018’s In My Mind’s Eye — is both a deep dive into

Two wide-ranging collections of short stories by and about women

Zadie Smith’s first collection of short stories shows that she can pack all the astute social commentary of her novels just as deftly into the short form. A case in point is ‘Sentimental Education’, a comic homage to Flaubert featuring a decidedly unsentimental protagonist, Monica. Middle-aged (‘Next stop menopause and no more denim’) and feeling

Way out west | 15 August 2019

Téa Obreht’s second novel is an expansive and ambitious subversion of Western tropes, set in fin de siècle America. We have the outlaw, the detached hero, the fainting woman. Yet our outlaw is a camel-rider, our desperado a mother defending her homestead. Everything save the relentlessly harsh Arizona desert — a ‘godforsaken place’ of ‘baking

The death of cosy Christie

This is not Midsomer Murders. The new film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is thick with violence and sexual innuendo. It elevates Hercule Poirot, the diminutive, fastidious Belgian detective, with his egg-shaped head and pot belly, to part-time action figure, a man who chases bad guys down dizzying descents in exotic

The Allen way

Woody Allen has made a film nearly every year in the four decades since the release of the award-winning Annie Hall. Every one is hailed as a potential return to form, and of course some definitely are. Blue Jasmine, say. Possibly Midnight in Paris. How do the late-era Allens compare with the earlier ones? It’s

Good clean fun

I once forced some pals on a skiing holiday to spend an afternoon off the slopes watching Chalet Girl. Suffice it to say, I have a high tolerance for lowbrow ski films. So if saccharine tales about plucky Alpine underdogs really aren’t your thing you might want to give my views a miss — as

Fashion faux pas

‘I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good-looking,’ said a pouty Derek Zoolander back in 2001. Well, apparently not. Because Zoolander 2, the long-awaited sequel to Ben Stiller’s cult hit undercutting the male-model industry, is a good-looking bore, a fashion faux pas where hot celebrities such as Kate

High and mighty

‘Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side,’ sang Miley Cyrus. ‘It’s the climb.’ She’s not usually a musician to be turned to for profound insight but in this case pop’s wild child has captured the absolute crux of this year’s Gravity wannabe, the visually spectacular 3D Everest, which kicked off the Venice Film Festival

The Falling reviewed: a film of beauty and magic

Long live the glockenspiel, that typically dull percussion stalwart usually relegated to primary school memories, along with humdrum gym classes and endless repetitions of Kumbaya. Here the glock is like a new instrument altogether. Its eery, metallic tones haunt the early scenes of Carol Morley’s The Falling, filling them with an unexpectedly ethereal quality that