Book of the week
Books THE BREAK MARIAN KEYES PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE, $38
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So when her second husband, Hugh, decides he needs a sixmonth break to get his life back together (he’s become numb and withdrawn after the sudden deaths of his father and best mate in quick succession), Amy goes into freefall and plunges into despair.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.)