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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Meg Mason

On my radar: Meg Mason’s cultural highlights

Meg Mason.
Meg Mason. Photograph: Grant Sparkes-Carroll

Author Meg Mason, 44, began her writing career as a journalist for the Financial Times, Vogue and the New Yorker. Her first book, a memoir of motherhood called Say It Again in a Nice Voice, was published in 2012. She wrote her first novel, You Be Mother, in 2017. Her latest – Sorrow and Bliss, a dark yet comic story about lifelong mental illness – recently won the British book award for fiction book of the year and has been shortlisted for this year’s Women’s prize, to be announced on 15 June. Mason was born in New Zealand, moved to Australia as a teenager and then to the UK straight after university. She is now settled in Sydney with her husband and children.

The cover of Practicalities.

1. Book

Practicalities by Marguerite Duras

Because I became a mother at 25, which is to say, quite a lot younger than present culture might show as average, I’ve never seen my particular experience in contemporary writing. And I didn’t think of it as a particular lack, there being so much incredible fiction and nonfiction about the universal aspects of motherhood. But recently, via Deborah Levy’s biographical trilogy, I came to what is not quite an essay collection, more just a set of reflections on life including motherhood, by the French novelist Marguerite Duras, and realised how necessary it is to see even a part of your own story on a page. In my case, youthful ambition versus the reality of raising children.

2. Film

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (dir Michael Showalter)

Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker.
Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy

Like Tonya Harding and Monica Lewinsky, Tammy Faye Bakker belongs to that league of famous women whose downfall after a scandal they supposedly caused became a popular joke at the time, and has lingered that way in the collective memory. In the same way that I, Tonya completely recast Harding, Bakker gets her due, shown to be a victim according to what we know now of the system then. One Oscar doesn’t seem enough for Jessica Chastain’s performance.

Hosts of Best Friend Therapy, Elizabeth Day and Emma Reed Turrell.

3. Podcast

Best Friend Therapy

Fans of Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail would have listened to her new podcast and loved it anyway. It is just a bonus that this series of candid conversations between Day and her best friend, the therapist Emma Reed Turrell, on topics such as impostor syndrome, boundaries, and competitiveness is fascinating and research-based but also practical. I plan to make listening to the episode about special occasions, and why they can be so challenging, a Christmas tradition.

4. Shop

Couverture & the Garbstore, London

Couverture & The Garbstore

It turns out that two-and-a-half years’ not travelling is long enough to erase all practical knowledge of packing. So when I arrived in London from Sydney a few weeks ago, I found myself equipped for any situation requiring Band-Aids, a scented candle and chargers, but without any actual clothing. Although the pleasure of browsing this beautiful independent boutique was marred slightly by the sordid aeroplane outfit I was wearing, I justified the cost of what I came out with – which, if I were still a fashion journalist, I would describe as “elevated basics” – on the grounds of this being an emergency.

5. Song

Free by Florence + the Machine

Watch the video for Free by Florence + the Machine.

I can’t remember who said that trying to write about music is like dancing about architecture – maybe Leonard Cohen – but it is true anyway. I really don’t have words to describe any Florence Welch song, but especially not this. Here is the best I can do: euphoric, devastating, angrily beautiful, a deeply releasing new track, from Dance Fever, which I have listened to at least 7,000 times so far today. I wish I could just text the link, as I have been to my friends, with the black heart and the hammer emoji, which is a much better description of what it feels like to listen.

6. TV

Slow Horses, Apple TV

Gary Oldman, starring in the new espionage series Slow Horses.
Gary Oldman, starring in the new espionage series Slow Horses. Photograph: Apple TV+/PA

I used to love male narratives on screen as much as the next female viewer who had no choice, because that’s all there was, and to a degree still is, especially in the espionage and war dramas. But one film, I think it was Dunkirk, sent me over the edge, and now I can’t bear to watch anything that doesn’t pass the Bechdel test – does it feature at least two women, do they talk to each other, about something other than a man? Slow Horses is brilliant – and for so many more reasons than its scoring three out of three. Imagine a sort of Le Carré redux, gripping but also funny, about two competing factions inside M15 – the crème de la crème captained by Kristin Scott Thomas, versus the absolute C-team, led by a nicotine-yellow Gary Oldman.

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