The Mortdecai Trilogy by Kyril Bonfiglioli

trilogyTitle: The Mortdecai Trilogy: ‘Don’t Point That Thing at Me’, ‘After you with the Pistol’ and ‘Something Nasty in the Woodshed.’

Author: Kyril Bonfiglioli

Genre: Black Comedy

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Paperback: 528 pages

Publication date: (New Edition) 26th July 2001

Where to read?  The Orangery, Kew Gardens

Refreshments: Buttery crumpets or afternoon tea with brandy I suggest Calvados.

Review:

“You couldn’t smuggle under the duvet with anything more disreputable and delightful”

Charlie Mortdecai is a louche art dealer with a dependable yet thuggish man-servant called Jock, some distinctly dubious friends in the London underworld and some great connections to the British upper classes. Traversing London to America and then landing in Jersey Charles Mortdecai is a survivor of the most unexpected life situations. He features in the these three brilliant  black-comedy thrillers originally published in the 70s and collected in this volume by Penguin.

Charlie Mortdecai is a refreshing anti-hero, he’s not attractive or particularly endearing but he’s certainly entertaining. The escapades in which he finds himself are usually inadvertent and as a man with few morals and an intrinsic survival instinct he is often found playing on both sides of the law. Supporting characters are found in his brute of a man-servant Jock who is attuned to Charlie’s every whim from buttery crumpets for breakfast to knocking off a difficult individual. I am extremely jealous as I would love one such assistant for myself, not to kill, just for the crumpets. There is also Mortdecai’s unlikely and sexually vociferous and slightly terrifying wife, Johanna, who I admire for being able to silence any man with a  glance.

Kyril Bonfiglioli has a unique and sardonic wit that is refreshing and within a genre that is quickly becoming my favourite. His turn of phrase is beautifully executed and often unexpected smacking you in the face with the most unexpected and acutely hilarious style. His lack of political correctness has created in Charlie Mortdecai an unlikely hero and it’s not hugely surprising that the powers that be in Hollywood have gone to Johnny Depp to portray him in the film to be released in early 2015.

Seriously entertaining and addictive this had me smirking, laughing and gasping in shock, I have already successfully recommended to a number of people who are taken equal enjoyment from these stories. I will definitely be purchasing more of his works and buying tickets to the cinema when the film is released, I seriously hope Depp doesn’t disappoint.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Book Slam: York Hall

 

Event: Book Slam, London’s first literary nightclubBook Slam Logo

Where: York Hall, Bethnal Green, London

When: Tuesday 12th August

 

 

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Forget confusing (and hidden) entrances, strict dress codes and expensive door fees it’s time to step into the welcoming  arms of London’s first and best literary nightclub where top writers, lyrical gangsters and acid tongues join hands to entertain audiences including Authoright’s Kate Appleton. Yes it’s Book Slam. 

 

 

Review:

On a school night (Tuesday) I ventured into a historic boxing venue in the east end of London, York Hall. The line-up for that night’s sold-out Book Slam event included a veritable smorgasbord of literary talent from all walks of life, from Chicago-born gang member Bill Hillman to the indomitable Irvine Welsh author of via the honest and unforgiving words of poet Kate Tempest.

Circular table secured, close enough to offer a good view, not so close as to be in the firing line of crowd heckling, drinks bought, I was ready to be entertained. The evening was being refereed by an ex-battle rapper by the name of Doc Brown, armed with both sarcasm and quick wit he knocked out a few great punches that had the crowd warmed up and laughing, ready for the first act to enter the ring. This came in the form of Bill Hillmann, author of ‘The Old Neighbourhood,’ a gangland coming-of-age tale based on his own experiences as a one time gang member, drug dealer and convict. The extract he chose was dark, disturbing and brutal in it’s honesty, his deep Chicago accent dragged you right into the scene and stayed even after he had left the ring. however, he was followed by a really quite random piece of theatre from the Hype Dance Company which combined a sequence of sparring in the boxing ring. Scanning the room I realised I wasn’t the only one to be slightly confused, thankfully, it didn’t last that long.

After a 15minute interval and a brief cameo from Doc Brown, we were introduced to one-time punk singer  with a band called The Splits, turned author, Viv Albertine. The audience was treated to three extracts from her memoir, ‘Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys,’ and with it an extremely frank portrayal of a woman growing up and getting older. It also came across as almost a self-help book as she freely admitted that at times she was ridiculous, but that if it’s only fear that’s stopping you from changing your life then it’s time you started ‘Saying yes to nothing.’

Complementing the strong female presence at the event was poet and playwright, Kate Tempest, who will be releasing her album ‘Everybody Down’ in October. If you don’t know her already LOOK HER UP NOW! She’s brilliant, shocking, unashamed and brutally honest in her words, whose maturity bely her age, you feel like your being hit with bullets, in a good way, and it’s unrelenting. When her poetry stops she’s shy and almost shocked at the audiences positive, bring the house down, reaction which is refreshing.

Quick toilet break and we were seated and ready for the final heavy weight himself.  Weighing in from Edinburgh, Scotland, the man behind Trainspotting, Porno and now ‘The Sex lives of Siamese Twins,’ Irvine Welsh. In a word, magnificent.  He was reading from his current manuscript which was an extract dealing with a conversation between a sexual deviant taxi driver and his fare, a girl wanting to go and commit suicide. Foul-mouthed, controversial with a layer of his iconic dark humour, he was on fine form and without a hint of arrogance or ego.

After having my brain tickled I caught up with Book Slam’s main promoter man, Elliott Jack, to talk a bit more about London’s (best) literary night club and why ‘Slams’ becoming cool:

What does Book Slam aim to achieve?

Our aim is to celebrate story telling in all its forms – prose, poetry, comedy and songwriting, typically inviting underground talent to share a stage with household names.

Describe a typical Book Slam working day?

Eat, Sleep, Read, Repeat

How do you go about seeking out new talent to invite to participate in the events?

I read as much as possible. I go out as much as my body lets me and I generally keep my eyes and ears open.

How do you decide who you want to feature in the events?

I always start with the author and try and programme the event around them. Sometimes it works really well and other times I fail miserably.

I’ve been booking [primarily] music events for more than twenty years so think I’ve got a good ear for what sounds good and what will work with an author and / or poet.

Who has been the biggest surprise as a Book Slam speaker – and why?

The first time Will Self read for us was a surprise. He’s got such a powerful mind and is such a literary force churning out books at a ridiculous rate, suffice to say – I was a little intimidated and wasn’t sure what to expect [because authors are the new rock stars] but when he arrived – he was one of the coolest and relaxed authors we’ve ever hosted. A pleasure to work with.

What event made you realise the Book Slam was a success?

When we moved from the tiny Cherry Jam [80 cap] venue in Royal Oak to Neighbourhood [~400 capacity] under the Westway in Notting Hill and sold out the first night. There was and still is a hunger for what we do.

Do you see the likes of Lost Lectures and Sofar Sounds as competition or after a common cause?

The idea of a ‘literary event’ or ‘live literature’ is now commonplace (in London, at least) with all sorts of readings, talks, Q&As and the like happening on a regular basis. However, this wasn’t the case when Book Slam began a decade ago and we genuinely don’t think it too self-aggrandising to suggest that this explosion has been driven, at least in part, by our success (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say – we are, sincerely, very flattered). Nonetheless, Book Slam was always different and it remains so, precisely because of our commitment to excellence.

Who would make your dream guest line-up?

Ralph Ellison x author
Maya Angelou x poet
Richard Pryor x host
John Coltrane x music

Will we be seeing Book Slam go nation wide? – being from Yorkshire it would be nice to see it travel North!

I wish I could say yes but it’s unlikely.  We’ve branched out to Bristol and have one-offs every now and again in Manchester, Edinburgh, etc BUT it really depends on time. Book Slam’s run by a very small dedicated team and we beg, borrow and steal to make each one happen.

Book Slam is off to Wilderness Festival this year – what should festival goers expect to experience?

Book Slam rarely pops up at festivals. We tried years ago and decided against it because listening to authors and poets when you’re in a K-hole’s not fun. We’re really particular about sound and acoustics which is almost impossible to get right in a field or a vacuous tent BUT Wilderness is cool and we love what they do so are really happy to be there.

What are Ben and Patrick (the brains behind Book Slam) setting the sights on today?

Ben’s writing and playing music.

Patrick’s writing and hanging out in Zimbabwe.

Finally, can you sum up Book Slam in three words?

We run things x

If you fancy checking out a Book Slam event you can find out their literary schedule here www.bookslam.com or tweeting @bookslam

 

Rating: 9 out of 10

The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe

TitleCorona del mar: The Girls from Corona del Mar

Author: Rufi Thorpe

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Hutchinson, Penguin Random House

Hardback: 256 pages

Publication date: 14th August 2014

Where to read this book:  Istanbul, I’ve never been but desperately want to, the markets and food and bustle of the city described through the eyes of Mia are enticing to say the least. Alternatively, I popped in and made the most of Sofra’s roof garden, a delightful Turkish cafe-restaurant in the heart of Covent Garden, London.

Refreshments: I had a halloumi sandwich and fresh mint tea at Sofra’s. I love halloumi (insert cheese joke here) but it has to just have come off the grill or bbq and be hot otherwise the texture is a bit like a sponge, here’s how to make your own perfect version.

Review:

Mia and Lorrie Ann are lifelong friends: hard-hearted Mia and untouchable beautiful, kind Lorrie Ann. While Mia struggles with a mother who drinks, a pregnancy at fifteen, and younger brothers she loves but can’t quite be good to, Lorrie Ann is luminous, surrounded by her close-knit family, immune to the mistakes that mar her best friend’s life. Until a sudden loss catapults Lorrie Ann into tragedy: things fall apart, and then fall apart further – and there is nothing Mia can do to help. And as good, kind, brave Lorrie Ann stops being so good, Mia begins to question just who this woman is and what that question means about them both. A novel of love, motherhood, loyalty, and the myth of the perfect friendship leading us to question how well we know those we love, what we owe our children and who we are without our friends.

This is a unique, brave and startling debut narrated by Mia whom provides the view-point and offers us an insight into hers and Lorrie Ann’s life. The chronology of their life jumps all over the place which should have made it difficult to follow but thankfully it just added greater depth to the characters and their respective life situations. Mia’s journey between past and present makes you feel like you’re a fly on the wall in a documentary and one which at times is extremely difficult to read.

The life of Lorrie Ann begins beautifully the descriptions of her family sounds idyllic without being nauseating however, as the friends come to the end of high school bad luck and demons take hold. Mia and Lorrie Ann due to their respective circumstances become separated, Mia going to university and travelling the world experiencing adventure and excitement. Lorrie Ann on the other hand stays in Corona del Mar and starts a family one which quickly becomes blighted by tragedy and sorrow.

The central theme of friendship strikes a chord and will resonate with most readers especially the focus on the longevity of friendship and the very real need to work on staying in touch. Mia and Lorrie Ann’s friendship is not one of equals, Lorrie Ann is on a pedestal in Mia’s eyes with her unwavering feeling that she isn’t a good person. This isn’t a happy story of friendship it’s a sad and dark story which will make you sit up and take notice, it will probably also make you pick up the phone and call your best friend who you  may not have spoken to for a while.

A downside to the story is the ending especially the one of Lorrie Ann, it’s just slightly bizarre and not really linked to the rest of the plot. However, this doesn’t distract you from the fact that this is a highly addictive and unique debut from a very talented female writer.

Rating: 7 out of 10

 

 

Tasting Menu at Trinity

Where: Trinity Restaurant,396460_227512820674476_1189650815_n Clapham, London

When: Thursday 31st July (aka My Birthday!)

Cuisine: Seasonal, English

 

Ambience: A very relaxed setting aided by the lovely summer evening that we were treated to. The big windows were open allowing a nice breeze throughout the restaurant. Simple, classic interior with little fuss or faff cluttering the tables or confusing the eyes, the art on the walls was both minimal and tasteful.

Service: Unfortunately I didn’t catch the name of our waiter, so I can’t thank him personally, but his service was impeccable. We were embarking on the tasting menu with matched wines (getting fancy in my older years) and he was informative without it feeling like we were being lectured to –  I don’t need to know the life story of the meat and vegetables used in each of the dishes. He also wasn’t patronising, which is always the fear when ‘matched wines’ are involved, instead he detailed what attributes the wines had that complimented the dishes and then disappeared to let us enjoy them.

Food: 

Appetisers

Bread and butter

Before the Tasting Menu even began we were treated to some extremely light and delicate tapenade twists, coupled with seasonal radishes with a tarasmlata dip – a far cry from the lurid pink options that you find in the supermarket.

After which, we were served a fresh home-made bread roll straight from the oven with fresh butter so it melted instantly. Absolutely delicious, although we created a few butter drip stains on the starched white table cloth.

 

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First course: Chilled English Pea and Mint Soup with Fresh Curd

A bowl, with the fresh curd, fresh pea shoots, mint already nestled in the bottom, was placed in front of us into which a milk bottle full of slightly chilled bright green pea soup was presented and poured over the top. Now, it should be noted, I have long been vocal about my lack of understanding and interest in chilled soup, to my mind eat  a salad it’s basically the same. After tasting this concoction, I hang my head in shame and declare how very wrong I was. Silky smooth and only slightly chilled, the flavours were fresh and balanced  – call me converted.

Wine: Levin Sauvignon Blanc, Loire, 2010, France – crisp, sharp and a descent glass full to boot!

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Seconds: Poached Rock Oysters, Champagne Sauce, Pickled Cucumber, Ink

I’ve never had an oyster poached, only ever had them fresh with tabasco knocking them back quickly and with a salty after taste. Poaching, I discovered, rids you off the slimy texture they can often have and also enables you to cut into them, a bit like a mussel, and savour the textures and taste. The pickled cucumber produced a great balance to the richness of the sauce. The only downside was the ink pearls, like caviar, and I really can’t stand that texture.

Wine: Chablis, Domaine Gilbert Picq, 2011, Chichee – finally a version of Chardonnay I can jump on board with!

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Thirds:  Roast Cornish Plaice, Steamed Sea Vegetables, Lemon and Clams

This was my favourite course. A nice thick and firm piece of tasty plaice that flaked easily and was cooked to perfection was sat ceremoniously on top of some brightly coloured and extremely tasty cubes of sea vegetables. The lemon was almost like a thick mousse or sauce and provided a fresh, tart flavour which brought the whole dish together beautifully.

Wine: Vermentino di Gallura, Cantina di Gallura, 2012, Sardinia, Italy – a shift to Italy, bone dry slightly acidic and very drinkable. 

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Fourths: Pot Roast Quail, Celeriac, Lovage and Morello Cherries

AGH! Cherries, cannot stand anything to do with cherries so these were shepherded to my partners plate. Panic over, I sliced into the buttery soft quail, failing to be embarrassed by picking up the bone and having a gnaw so that every last morsel was eaten. Small, uniform and colourful cubes of vegetables were scattered around the bowl including, lovage (?!) which offered a flavour akin to celery. The whole dish was moist and succulent complimented by a light jus.

Wine: Arbois Trousseau, Singulier, Domaine Tissot, 2012, France – our one and only red wine of the evening was robust and rather dangerously strong but complimented the dish with aplomb.

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Chocolate Cremosa web-4308a27885Fifths (& lasts)Salt Caramel Chocolate Cremosa, Pink Grapefruit

This can only be described in layman’s terms as a dark chocolate Aero bar sat on top of chocolate mousse. The salty richness of the chocolate was sliced through by the bitterness of the delicate sliver of the grapefruit and was in a word yum. My enjoyment was only interrupted by a tiny cupcake and lit candle being served to me on a piece of slate in honour of my day of birth – a lovely touch.

Wine: Chateau Villefranche, Sauternes, 2011, France – I’m not a massive fan of dessert wines but this was wasn’t ridiculously cloying and sweet.

My dining partner had coffee, and I am assured it was a decent cup served with sugar crystals. I couldn’t face anything, as by this point I was rolling on my chair from all the food and wine – although I did manage one last morsel when a ‘surprise’ mint chic-chip macaroon came out of the kitchen.

Rating: 9 out of 10 – I wasn’t allowed to see the bill, but Tasting Menu with paired wines & service will come to approx £100 per head, which after the experience we had at Trinity was well worth every penny, just don’t put any cherries on my plate next time!