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Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

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(Audiobook – narrated by Mandy Weston and Rupert Farley)

The Joy of the title is Joy Stevens, a brilliant and beautiful newly made partner at a prestigious law firm. The story opens a short time after she has fallen – or jumped – from a high balcony at said law firm. The story of what led her to the moment of falling is explored throughout the book.

The chapters alternate from Joy’s point of view (albeit told in the third person) where the day that she fell is narrated bit by bit, while Joy’s history, marriage and the tragedy in her past is also exploited; and the point of view of various people in Joy’s life – Dennis, her husband; Samir, who works in the gym at the law firm; Barbara, her irascible PA; and Peter, husband of Joy’s friend and also Joy’s on-off lover. Their chapters are told in one-sided conversation with a counsellor who has obviously been brought in to help them deal with the shock of seeing their work colleague plummet from the balcony and the fact that she now lies in hospital, clinging to life by the thinnest of threads.

Audiobooks are never my favourite medium for consuming a book but I did enjoy this one in the most part, mainly because of the two narrators. It’s a rare book where none of the characters are likeable, but this book comes quite close to the mark. Although I could empathise to an extent with Joy’s sorrow, I still found her self-centred and in many ways unkind. However, she herself recognised these qualities in herself and at least felt some regret for them. Dennis and Peter were pretty unbearable, but that’s okay because I’m sure they were meant to be. Dennis was one of those crushing bores who nobody wants to get stuck with at a party – full of his own self-importance and in love with the sound of his own voice. Peter was an egotistical chauvinist, who treated his wife and most other people like rubbish. Possibly the most sympathetic character was the obsessive compulsive Samir.

The story unfolded fairly slowly after a somewhat eye-popping start. It’s a drama for sure, if not altogether exactly dramatic. The truth behind Joy’s fall is drip-fed and the ending of the book takes a more surprising turn altogether.

Overall despite disliking all of the characters, I did enjoy the book and found it an interesting read. It did leave me on something of a downer though, and a craving for something light-hearted and upbeat to follow up!

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On New Years Eve, four people meet up on the top of Toppers House – a block of flats in London, which is notorious for suicidal people throwing themselves off the roof.  Martin is a disgraced television presenter, whose marriage and career are in tatters after he slept with a 15 year old girl; Maureen is a single mother with a severely disabled son, and looking after him has left her with no time for a life of her own; Jess has family problems, and has also just been dumped by her first boyfriend; and JJ’s band has broken up and his girlfriend has left him.  These four very different people have all decided to kill themselves, but when they all turn up at Toppers House at the same time, they decide to take the long way down (i.e., they walk down) instead. (No spoilers, don’t worry, this all happens in the first few pages.)  The book then focuses on the next few months in their lives, as they try and help each other – or cause problems for each other.

I have read and enjoyed Nick Hornby’s books before, and had been meaning to read this one for, literally, years.  It wasn’t what I expected – for some reason I cannot remember, I expected the whole book to take place in one night, on top of the building.   The book is narrated by each of the four characters in turn, so we see certain events from multiple points of view.  It’s a format that I usually like, and I think it worked well in one sense.  All of the characters were very different, so it seems logical to give them all their own distinct voice.  However, I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole.

I think the main issue I have is that it all seems too implausible.  The premise is certainly interesting, but certain events which followed just didn’t seem very likely at all, and so I was never really able to invest in the story.  Jess was such a dislikable character, that even though she really did have some major issues to deal with, I could not feel any empathy or sympathy for her whatsoever.  She was completely and utterly cruel for no other reason than for the sake of being cruel.  I don’t think it’s necessary to like every character, but surely they should make you feel something for them?!

On the plus side, it was an undemanding read, which sounds an odd thing to say about a book featuring four suicidal main characters, and there were some amusing moments.  I liked JJ, and I felt sorry for Maureen.

Overall though, I would say this is my least favourite book out of those I have read by Nick Hornby, and something of a mixed bag.  Not brilliant, not terrible, just….so-so.

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Leila is a lonely woman in her early 20s.  She is smart and resourceful, but when it comes to social skills, or any kind of a social life, she is sorely lacking.  Her mother has recently died due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis, and it is clear that she and Leila had a close, almost suffocating relationship.  Leila finds solace in an internet site called Red Pill – a forum for philosophical debate and discussion, run by Adrian Dervish.  Leila is flattered when Adrian contacts her directly and asks for her help in an unusual project.  He has a friend called Tess, who is desperate to commit suicide, but wants to spare her family and friends the pain of dealing with it, so the idea is that Leila will learn all about Tess’s life, history and relationships, and after Tess “checks out,” Leila will maintain an online presence as Tess (updating her Facebook, answering her emails etc.) to keep the truth of Tess’s death from those who know her.

The story is told in flashback, with Leila narrating.  Some time has passed since Project Tess (as Leila refers to it), and Leila is now at a commune in Spain, trying to work out what happened to Tess.  However, the main bulk of the story revolves around Project Tess, and I don’t want to say too much about the specifics, for fear of revealing spoilers.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was really drawn into the story.  Naturally the idea behind Project Tess seemed ludicrous – how on earth was it going to work long-term?  Surely her family would want or expect to see Tess at some point?  However, as the story is told from Leila’s point of view, her own solutions for dealing with such problems are explained.

Leila was very well drawn, and I alternated from feeling sympathetic towards her, to being frustrated, and at times incredulous – not at the storyline, but at Leila herself.  She is a mass of contradictions – being so naive in some ways, but in other ways perfectly describing situations and people with cringe-inducing bluntness.  And she did make me wince, literally so in one particular scene in a bar in Shoreditch, in which I felt totally embarrassed for her.

The book does obviously touch on the subject of someone’s right to die, but is more detailed in its exploration of how people behave online.  Near the beginning of the story, Leila talks about how people she went to school with behave on Facebook, and many of things she notes are amusingly familiar.  The question of whether it is right to assist, either directly or indirectly, someone who wants to kill themselves, is an obvious theme, although Leila does not question herself with regard to her own beliefs.

I thought the book was beautifully written, and flowed easily.  As well as Leila, Tess was also a very believable character, and was brought to life (no pun intended) by both the author, and Leila, posing as Tess.  If you like psychological dramas, and don’t mind reading about a cast of largely unlikeable people, then I would definitely recommend this book.  It gets five stars from me for sheer enjoyment, and as this is Lottie Moggach’s debut novel, I look forward to reading more by her in future.

 

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Famous for being the film upon which Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, You’ve Got Mail (1998) was based on (and also the film upon which the Judy Garland/Van Johnson musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949) was based on), The Shop Around the Corner was itself adapted from a play called Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo.

The film is set in Budapest, and tells the story of two employees at the same store, who do not get on with each other, but who, unbeknownst to them, are each other’s anonymous penpal.  Through their letters, the two correspondents fall in love with each other, but will love win through when their real identities are revealed?

James Stewart plays Alfred Kralick (presumably meant to be Hungarian, but uses his instantly recognisable American accent throughout!) and Maureen Sullavan is Klara Novak (also with an American accent!)  Actually, my mention of the accents is in no way intended as a criticism – I do believe that you have to suspend disbelief in certain circumstances, and in actual fact, this is a delightful and thoroughly charming film.

It is a romantic comedy, but make no mistake – there are themes of loneliness, adultery, suicide and betrayal running through the story, which somehow balance perfectly with the funnier and sweeter moments.  James Stewart is perfect in roles like this – sometimes Alfred can be irascible, and sometimes he can be insensitive, but he also conveys vulnerability and honesty.  Sullavan was also very endearing as Klara, the young lady falling in love with a man she has never met (or at least, who she believes she has never met), and who has high hopes for their future.  However, what really elevates this film above others of the genre is the excellent supporting cast.  Frank Morgan as Hugo Matuschek – the owner of the store – is by turns funny and sad.  His performance has real pathos, and heart.  Also terrific is Felix Bressart, as Alfred’s friend and co-worker Pirovitch, and William Tracy as errand big Pepi Katona.

The ending is lovely, if somewhat predictable, but what does it matter if we know all along how things are going to turn out.  In a film like this, the joy is not in reaching the destination, but the journey we take to get there.  And it’s a lovely journey, filled with great moments.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Miklos Laszlo (play ‘Parfumerie’), Samson Raphaelson, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Maureen Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Joseph Schildkraut, Inez Courtney, Sara Haden

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This film from 1946 has rightly become classic Christmas viewing.  It was James Stewart’s favourite of his own films, and it’s easy to see why.  He plays George Bailey, a kind hearted businessman who has looked after others and sacrificed his own dreams to help his own family, but now he finds himself contemplating suicide as his business looks set to fail, and he faces jail for a mistake that he didn’t even make.  An angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) is dispatched to earth to help George (Clarence hopes that if he can help George, he might finally earn his wings), and shows George what life would be like in his town, if George had never existed.

This is just such a lovely film.  It certainly isn’t particularly light-hearted or funny (it touches on themes of poverty, lost dreams and suicide), but it is still a film that makes you feel happier for having watched it.  James Stewart had such a likeable manner about him, and nowhere is it put to better use than here.  He plays George as a thoroughly decent and generous man, but he is not without flaws.  Indeed his sense of generosity makes him a less than brilliant businessman, and he keeps employing his hapless uncle -a decision that may lead to George’s downfall.  Donna Reed is luminous and beautiful as George’s wife Mary, and is certainly not just a token wife.  She is a strong and kind woman, who dearly wants to see her husband happy.  Henry Travers is adorable as Clarence the angel – he might not be a very intellectual angel, but he has buckets of compassion.  The villain of the piece is Lionel Barrymore as Henry Potter – a rich businessman who threatens to get rid of George and his business – and make many of the citizens of the village poor and trapped in unhappy lives.  Barrymore is excellent in this type of role!

The ending is perfect, and yes I was sitting there with tears rolling down my face!  It’s a perfect film to watch at any time of year (but especially at Christmas), and really reminds us of how all of us can make a difference to others.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Writers: Philip Van Doren Stern (short story),  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson

Main cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Toff Karns

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This is less a novel, and not even really a collection of short stories.  Mainly narrated by a character named Roy, at different stages in his life, it is really a series of snapshots about Roy’s father’s suicide when Roy was a young boy, the events that led up to his father taking his own life, and the lasting effects it had on Roy,  Sandwiched in the middle is a longer story (about 165 pages) about an ill fated plan for Roy and his father to spend a year living on a very remote Alaskan island.  About two thirds of the way through this story is a twist that was so surprising that I had to re-read it to make sure I had seen the words correctly.  This twist didn’t fit in with the other stories at all, and actually confused me until I realised what the author was doing.

On the positive side, some of the writing in the book is eloquent and almost beautiful.  Other reviewers have likened it to the writing of Cormac McCarthy and I can see the comparison, although I certainly prefer McCarthy’s work.  However, as good as the writing is, I just felt that I could not connect with this book on any level, and actually looked forward to when I could finish it and put it down.  While I can certainly see how the longer story set on the remote island could pack a punch for some readers, I felt that maybe I was missing the point, and actually almost gave up on reading it (it was the only the fact that I hate not finishing any book once I’ve started that made me press on).

I hope that writing the book may have been cathartic for the author, whose own father committed suicide when David Vann was a young boy.  But for me, something just didn’t click, and all I was left with after finishing the book was relief that it was finished, and a general feeling of malaise.  It’s clear from other reviews I’ve read that some readers felt very moved by this story and it had a profound effect on some people.  Unfortunately, that certainly is not the case with me.  I’d probably hesitate to recommend this to anyone, but if someone did want to read it, I’d suggest that they have something lighthearted on hand to read afterwards.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

 

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After his relationship breaks down, Zia (Patrick Fugit) commits suicide, and finds himself in a bizarre purgatory especially for people who have killed themselves.  This particular afterlife is very much like ‘normal’ life, except that everything is just a bit worse!  Zia finds a friend in Eugene (Shea Whigham) – a Russian rock singer whose whole family have committed suicide and all live together in the afterlife.  Nothing much happens for Zia until he discovers that his ex-girlfriend Desiree killed herself a month after he did, and he sets off on a strange road trip, accompanied by Eugene, to find her.  Along the way, they meet Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who has recently arrived in the afterlife and believes that she should not really be there, and Kneller (fabulously played by Tom Waits), a curious man who seems to have found some sort of peace in this strange world.

Despite the name of this film, it is not a depressing watch.  While I wouldn’t agree with some of the critics who described it as hilarious, it did have some moments of wry humour.  Patrick Fugit is great as the somewhat bewildered Zia, who begins to realise that happiness can be found wherever you are.  Shea Whigham almost steals every scene he is in, and provides most of the laughs, and Tom Waits possesses an amazing charisma, and is perfect for his role.

Most of the film takes place in the afterlife and is given a washed out effect, contrasting it sharply with the few scenes which are set in the real world (mainly flashbacks of Zia’s life before his relationship went wrong).

Year of release: 2006

Director: Gorn Dukic

Writer: Etgar Keret (book), Gorn Dukic

Main cast: Patrick Fugit, Shannyn Sossamon, Tom Waits, Shea Whigham

I was in two minds whether to watch this or not, as I felt it might be disturbing, but I am glad I chose to watch, and it actually left me with a smile on my face.

(A warning for anyone who is considering watching – it is presumably obvious from the title, but there is a strong suicide theme in this film, and while I did not find the movie itself disturbing, an early scene might prove upsetting to some).

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