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Super-funny column in the FT on Saturday, dated 22 March 2013, by Robert Shrimsley: The unbearable sadness of reading. Do click through and read the entire piece. I was chuckling aloud at:

‘I have had an epiphany: I do not need to sit through things that will make me miserable‘

‘I no longer spend my moments of relaxation sitting in some nice spot thinking: “This is lovely. Now if only I had a harrowing novel about child murder to round off the day.”’

‘Frankly I’m OK with the idea of not truly comprehending the crushing grief that accompanies the loss of a partner or child. In fact, I consider not fully understanding it something of a life’s ambition.’

‘Am I condemning myself to a life of musicals, puerile comedy and vampire novels?’

Oh, yes. I've been Fantasy, Vampire - hell, para-normal - mad since I became ill. When the horror of your own life ramps up, you just need the happy and if it comes with lashings of pseudo-violence, sex and a HEA (Happy Ever After - keep up) all the better, no?

It’s the literary equivalent of computer games for teenagers: it lets you blow off steam, fury and anger at life vicariously and with little damage to your loved ones … other than a greater-than-expected knowledge of American urban slang. As a shameless lover of J R Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I was ‘my bad’-ing furiously, years before the mainstream picked it up. With every new book of hers, EaZyD is at me with, ‘What the …?’, as I slip some new jargon gleaned into our conversations.

I do feel some shame at the slipping of my literary standards, a topic Robert Shrimsley mentions too, but all I would say is that really horrible personal illness, spanning years, generates a fervent desire for escapism that, hand on heart, I just didn’t have before I got ill. And, I confess, it’s not just literature.

My heart, once thrilled, now sinks when I read of film, theatre, exhibitions … pretty much anything really, that involves grim, sad, tragedy and, especially, disability. The ‘ought’ factor has impelled me to watch some of the current rash of disability focussed films that have been released lately. I try to do it alone so I can shout at the screen without companion discussion! I blame Daniel Day Lewis and that Christy Brown Oscar.

Rust and Bone - hated it. Ludicrous film. Intouchables - ditto. Butterfly In a Bell Jar - oh, give me a break. No-one finds that level of dependence uplifting. Always with the positive spin so the AB’s (Able-Bodied) can go home happy and admiring of the ‘poor thing’ whilst swearing, ‘I’d kill myself if that happened to me.’ Aagh! NO. You probably wouldn’t. Really. It’s easy to say, very hard to do.

Today, I watched, Michael Haneke’s Amour. I’m sure you know it was one of the ‘must-see’ arty films of 2012. Won an Oscar recently for Best Foreign film. It’s all about getting old, ill and dying. And, it’s two and half hours long. Enticing?

Gotta say, I wasn’t rushing to it despite being generally a fan of Haneke’s films. Starz TV take on Spartacus is much more my thing … it even has great character development, honest. However, this diabolical cold weather that's back with us drove me, frozen feet and fingers huddled under a cashmere throw, to my backlog of films-I-really-should-watch.

So, to Amour and … I thought it was maybe better than okay.

Sparse in style, some great dialogue between parent and sibling, moving interplay of the two lead actors: Haneke didn’t flinch from showing the both the unbearable sadness and inevitability of ageing. Maybe the ending was a bit of a cop-out as, in my opinion, it reflected what people think they’d like to do without the nuances of reality crashing down upon them. As with the 'kill myself if ..' stance, most of us who face the reality of such life choices are far more aware of the uncertainties that constrain action than those AB’s who, with no other perspective, understandably believe their currently held intellectual certainties to be an absolute predicate of future action. But, that aside, it was a powerful, thoughtful film. Worth seeing.

However if, like me, you’ve exceeded your misery quota for this month, there’s a new J R Ward, Lover At Last, out now. Amour, Vampires - works for me.

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Arts - March 2013
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