Book of the week

Books THE BREAK MAR­IAN KEYES PEN­GUIN RAN­DOM HOUSE, $38

The Press - Your Weekend (The Press) - - Gardening -

It took a long time for Amy to trust another man. Her first hus­band ran off with a younger model, leav­ing her dev­as­tated and bruised. So when her sec­ond hus­band, Hugh, de­cides he needs a six­month break to get his life back to­gether (he’s be­come numb and with­drawn af­ter the sud­den deaths of his fa­ther and best mate in quick suc­ces­sion), Amy goes into freefall and plunges into de­spair. Ex­cept she has such a fran­tic life – work, kids, age­ing par­ents – that she some­how has to hold it to­gether for the long drawn-out months Hugh is away back­pack­ing around warm trop­i­cal par­adises in east Asia.

Neeve, Amy’s dif­fi­cult, self-cen­tred daugh­ter by her first hus­band, gains fame and a grow­ing in­come from her fash­ion vlog af­ter fea­tur­ing Amy’s mother learn­ing how to live again; younger daugh­ter Kiara (by Hugh), at 16, is re­lent­lessly pos­i­tive and cheer­ful, some­times show­ing Amy the way through the mire; and teenage Sofie, the niece who came to stay for good, re­fuses to eat un­til she can get rid of the baby she and her boyfriend don’t want to keep – some­what dif­fi­cult in Ire­land where abor­tion is il­le­gal and pun­ish­able by jail.

Mean­while, Amy’s de­mand­ing PR job takes her from Dublin to London two days a week, where she finds temp­ta­tion with an old flame, Josh. Be­cause if her hus­band Hugh is on a break, fetch­ing up on Face­book with beau­ti­ful women in Thai­land, then Amy is on a break too, right?

Grad­u­ally, we be­gin to ques­tion just who is at fault here, and shades of grey cloud what at first seemed so black and white. In be­tween on­line bingeshop­ping for clothes she doesn’t need, jug­gling the grow­ing de­mands of her fam­ily, fly­ing to London and back every week, and rein­vig­o­rat­ing her sex life, Amy learns some valu­able lessons about her­self and the power of for­give­ness and re­demp­tion.

The Break is quite a tome at just un­der 600 pages, and it would have ben­e­fit­ted from some ju­di­cious edit­ing in the first half which, un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally of Keyes, be­gan to pall. But Keyes once again brings some laugh-out-loud mo­ments to re­lieve the raw, heart-wrench­ing loss that Hugh’s self-en­forced break brings to ev­ery­one in­volved. This will be a pop­u­lar beach-read over the sum­mer break.

This psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller is cer­tainly not for the faint-hearted. Be­wil­der­ing, in­creas­ingly bizarre and at times bru­tal to watch, Mother! is con­fronting, con­fus­ing and con­founds any at­tempt to cat­e­gorise it. But that’s also what makes it great.

This is a movie that you’ll be un­pack­ing, med­i­tat­ing on and des­per­ate to dis­cuss for days. Ev­ery­one will have their own the­o­ries about what it’s re­ally about, no doubt en­com­pass­ing ev­ery­thing from re­li­gion to the en­vi­ron­ment to the end of civil­i­sa­tion.

To me, it isn’t so much a “mod­ern day hor­ror”, as a hor­ror about the times we live in. In short, you bring your own night­mares and fears to this two-hour de­scent into mad­ness.

When it first be­gins, we meet a cou­ple liv­ing on a ru­ral prop­erty. It’s his (Javier Bar­dem) an­ces­tral home and he’s moved back in the hope that it will in­spire him to write po­etry again. While he at­tempts to solve his writer’s block, his much younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence) sets about do­ing the place up, seem­ingly happy in her iso­la­tion and do­mes­tic­ity. But that’s shat­tered one night by the ar­rival of a stranger (Ed Harris), an or­thopaedic sur­geon who claims he thought their place was a bed and break­fast.

The poet does the seem­ingly honourable thing and in­vites him to stay the night, but in­stantly de­vel­ops a rap­port with the guest that trou­bles his wife. Her con­cerns are fur­ther raised with the ar­rival of the sur­geon’s wife (Michelle Pfeif­fer), who be­gins ask­ing all sorts of in­tru­sive ques­tions about their love life. How­ever, that’s only the tip of the ice­berg of trou­bles that await as her worst fears are re­alised.

Writer-di­rec­tor Aronof­sky (Re­quiem for a Dream, Black Swan) is known for his sur­real, dark tales of ob­ses­sions and fears and Mother! cer­tainly doesn’t dis­ap­point on that front. Us­ing shots that seem al­most in­va­sive, rather than sim­ply “close ups” and a sound­scape that height­ens the cen­tral house’s every creak and groan, he puts the au­di­ence on edge from the first few frames and re­fuses to re­lease us from his grasp.

It helps im­mensely that he has such a ter­rific cast, with Bar­dem (Sky­fall) at his brood­ing best and Pfeif­fer (Danger­ous Minds) and Harris (Apollo 13) charis­mat­i­cally un­set­tling. But this is Lawrence’s film and she de­liv­ers in spades, en­dur­ing all kinds of in­dig­ni­ties and pro­vid­ing the au­di­ence with a very hu­man con­nec­tion to what could have been a very alien­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Much has been made of the film’s sim­i­lar­i­ties to Rose­mary’s Baby and it’s true there are plenty of nods to that and other Polan­ski films. In re­al­ity though Mother! has more in com­mon with the works of Cro­nen­berg and Lynch, with its body hor­rors, houses that drip blood and over­all feel­ings of angst, as well as pro­vid­ing an in­ter­est­ing coun­ter­point to one of 2017’s other mem­o­rable films A Ghost Story.

Both play with the con­cept of time and its cycli­cal na­ture, al­though Mother! is very much Ghost Story’s dark malev­o­lent cousin. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Tommy Hil­figer, the globe-be­strid­ing fash­ion mogul, has in­vited me to tea at Clar­idge’s. Some­what ironic, I ob­serve, given that the 66-year-old once re­called how ”Warhol of­fered me paint­ings for less than what it costs to have tea at Clar­idge’s, but I couldn’t af­ford them”. He laughs, de­lighted. ”Oh my God!” How many Warhols does he have in his col­lec­tion now? ”Ummm. Prob­a­bly 25. Some­thing like that.”

Hil­figer hung out at The Fac­tory in the late 1970s, a for­mer boy from the ’burbs mak­ing his way in the rag trade. ”I was so en­am­oured with ev­ery­thing Warhol was do­ing. It had a pro­found ef­fect on me. He had this great tal­ent for mix­ing the four el­e­ments of fame: fash­ion, art, mu­sic, en­ter­tain­ment. He re­ally knew how to bring those worlds to­gether.”

There is no brand to­day more adept at pulling off the same con­flu­ence. In essence Hil­figer sells wear­able clothes, part preppy, part hip-hop, but they come wrapped up with so much raz­zle-daz­zle that the schmut­ter is just one part of the equa­tion. Hil­figer’s present ti­tle is – wait for it – chief prin­ci­pal de­signer and vi­sion­ary.

Just how vi­sion­ary does one have to be to de­liver frat-pack ath­leisure with a whiff of Coachella? Put it this way: if Warhol first cal­cu­lated that fame could sell art, it was Hil­figer who trans­lated that same equa­tion for fash­ion – with a lit­tle help from US hip-hop stars who picked up on his brand af­ter its launch in 1985. (Rus­sell Sim­mons, co-founder of Def Jam Record­ings, later ex­plained this seem­ingly un­likely adop­tion to Hil­figer. ”He told me, ’The rea­son all these black kids are wear­ing your clothes is be­cause they want to look rich, and your clothes are very Kennedy, very nau­ti­cal.’”)

Given that celebrity is now, more than ever, what makes the world go round, Hil­figer did the maths at ex­actly the right time. (And what a sum: global retail sales of Hil­figer brands reached US$6.6 bil­lion (Nz$9.1bn) last year.)

On Tues­day, Hil­figer brings one of his sig­na­ture ex­trav­a­gan­zas to the UK cap­i­tal for the fi­nal night of London Fash­ion Week. Where other brands present mere fash­ion shows, in re­cent sea­sons Hil­figer has put on par­ties-cum-fes­ti­vals, and not nec­es­sar­ily in the tra­di­tional fash­ion cities. ”I like the idea of tour­ing the world. Like a mu­sic tour,” says Hil­figer.

This year he went to Venice Beach in Los An­ge­les, where Gigi and pals par­tied on the board­walk, dressed head to toe in Hil­figer, natch, watched not only by an au­di­ence flown in from around the globe, but also by on­line groupies who were able to snap up a look the sec­ond it hit the run­way – see-now-buynow, as it’s called in the busi­ness. (Fif­teen looks sold out in the first 24 hours.)

”We want to be demo­cratic, to reach the con­sumer di­rectly,” is how Hil­figer de­scribes the ra­tio­nale. ”To reach the mil­len­nial you have to speak her lan­guage. It’s about bring­ing the shopping ex­pe­ri­ence to her.”

It all started with Hil­figer’s love of mu­sic. He wanted to go into the mu­sic busi­ness as a school­boy in up­state New York, but – much to his watch­maker fa­ther’s dis­ap­point­ment – he was fail­ing at his classes. (He later dis­cov­ered that he is dyslexic.)

H

The cast of Mother! is stel­lar, but the film be­longs to Jennifer Lawrence, who pro­vides the au­di­ence with a very hu­man con­nec­tion as she en­dures all sorts of in­dig­ni­ties. Bring your own night­mares and fears.

Tommy Hil­figer, is still work­ing the preppy-street look. PHOTO: SI­MON DAW­SON/BLOOMBERG/ GETTY IM­AGES

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