Flo la vita

Social commentary and think pieces


Unnatural Causes - Dr Richard Shepherd    5/5

In Unnatural Causes, Forensic Pathologist Dr Richard Shepherd re-lives the top cases of his high-flying career, in which he has performed over 23,000 autopsies.
Examining bodies in pursuit of the truth, Shepherd has faced the aftermath of all kinds of deaths, from those due to natural causes to the works of serial killers. In this fascinating book he tells the tales of what he has seen on the front line of some of the worlds worst disasters and killings - 9/11, Princess Diana, Hungerford, Clapham Junction, and much more.

The only book I've read before which I would think to compare it to is Adam Kay's This Is Going To Hurt, which details his time working as an NHS doctor in the form of diary entries. I found it both hilarious and fascinating in equal measure, but Unnatural Causes was without a doubt much better. It was hooking, though incredibly shocking at at times grotesque. If you don't mind reading the details of the deaths, descriptions of post-mortems, I would recommend. Unlike Adam Kay in This Is Going To Hurt, Dr Richard Shepherd goes into far greater detail of the impact his work has had on his mentality, living a life so steeped with death. It was immensely detailed, which made it all the more fascinating, whilst the talk of his personal life made it all the more hard hitting. Evidently, Dr Richard Shepherd is an incredibly intelligent man, who prioritises the truth above anything else. It was a fascinating book, which I would highly recommend. It was unputdownably good.

She Said - Jodi Kantor, Meghan Twohey    3/5

She Said documents the #metoo movement from start - the publication of Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor's 2017 New York Times article on Harvey Weinstein's questionable behaviour towards women  - to present. Co-written by both Kantor and Twohey, the book details in full exactly how the two Journalists encouraged not only top actresses - Gwenyth Paltrow, Ashley Judd, Zelda Perkins - but also Weinstein's own employees, past and present, to speak up and stand together against Weinstein, and uncountable other high-profile men who abuse their power. The New York Times' initial piece ignited a fierce conversation about sexual harassment in all industries, though especially in Hollywood, and She Said relays the momentous impact that article would go on to have on American History, and the world as a whole, encouraging more and more women to come forwards with allegations not only against Weinstein but Trump, and many other prominent male figures in American politics and beyond.

It wasn't an easy read. The story - as expected - is complex and brim full of various different characters, who it can be difficult to keep up with. There are numerous different lawyers, attorneys and various other legal people, which was confusing to say the least, though I would not complain as they are entirely beneficial to the re-telling of the story. Weinstein harassed and assaulted a lot of people and the small portion of them who are included in the book - that is assuming that not all of his victims have come forwards, especially as he notoriously silences women through settlements - each have very similar stories, making it at times difficult to distinguish between each of them - though this does nothing but speak volumes of the extent of his misogynistic behaviour. Despite this, I would recommend the book. It wasn't an easy read and requires intense concentration. I found it really interesting, if not for the actual movement then for the detailed processes of the journalistic investigation. I didn't know much about the #metoo movement before reading this, only really knowing it as a hashtag to band around on social media, but the depth of the movement and the work that has gone to ignite it is really interesting and written about so insightfully in the book. I would recommend it.

Expectation - Anna Hope    4/5

Expectation follows the lives and friendships of three women - Hannah, Cate and Lissa - as they grow up and find their way through the world around them.
I suppose the sole premise of the book is that life never turns out how you expect it to. When you're young, the promise of a happy future, stable career, long-lasting marriage, family and children almost seems a given. But, as some may know better than others, this is rarely the case.
In Expectation, Anna Hope explores this harsh reality, writing characters who each have their own personal battles and sense of lacking - a dream career that never seems to take-off, inability to conceive, an unhappy marriage, depression, the feeling that you're failing as a mother, as a wife and even as a woman. But, each woman seems to crave what the other has, not realising the extent of the pain which each of them co-exists with, because to present that pain to others is a rarity.
There's a guilt in their unhappiness, a sense that their pain must be measured against each others in order to determine its worth. No pain will ever beat the pain of infertility. But, Anna Hope makes the point that you feel what you feel, and though that pain may not be as painful as another's, its still pain and so it should be felt, guilt free.
Whilst one woman may appear to have conceived with great ease, her marriage is not that of a happy one. Whilst one aspect of their lives may appear satisfactory, other aspects may be lacking, because we can't have it all. Often our expectations of how our lives will turn out to be are unrealistic and a reality we cannot ever hope to live up to. And this, at times, causes Hannah, Cate and Lissa great pain, as each of them compare their lives to one and others. At times this drives the women apart, altering the dynamic of their friendship. But, once they accept that they will never live the life they had naively expected to in their younger years - because that expectation was unrealistic - they get over their competitvity and learn to appreciate that they do have, and everything falls into place. Their lives never will be perfect but they have learnt to be happy.

It was an easy read. Its 320 pages but could easily be less, given its relatively large font size. Don't let the size of the book fool you.
Linguistically it was relatively basic and understandable. However, there's a subtlety to the emotions that populate the book, which I think may be harder to grasp for younger readers. I am aware myself that with age the subject matter will ringer far truer to me and I will get so much more out of it as I get older. But, it did make me think a lot. The subject matter and emotion involved is really moving, whilst also incredibly thought provoking.
Its also largely set in North London, which I loved as this is where I have grown up. There's something really nice about reading stories set in places you know so well. Being able to visualise exactly where a character is at certain points in the story, recognising place references - which Expectation is full of - and even knowing the social groups the writer describes, is oddly comforting, having seen it all first hand.
The book was brilliant. I would highly recommend reading it. Grazia says "If you wished Normal People tackled female friendship, try Expectation." 

Educated - Tara Westover      5/5

In Tara Westover's memoir Educated, she writes eloquently of her experience growing up in her radical Mormon family. They don't believe in modern medicine or state education and so Tara had never set foot in a hospital or classroom. Instead she is homeschooled by her Mother and any injuries - no matter how severe - are treated at home, using her Mother's herbal blends. She hasn't been registered for a birth certificate so, according to the government, she doesn't exist.

As she grows older she begins to question her family's radical beliefs more and more. Her father becomes far more radical and her brother far more violent and so, at sixteen, she leaves home, in search of an Education. A grievous sin, as far as her family are concerned.
Her decision to seek state education causes a rift between her and her family and she begins to feel herself drifting further and further away from the daughter her father raised; the person she used to be.
In Educated, Tara Westover writes of discovering who she really is, as an individual rather than a member of her radical mormon family. She begins to realise that she cannot exist within both her family's reality and the reality which she has created for herself; a reality her family believe to be plagued by socialists ready to brainwash the innocent. And so Westover writes of her decision to exist  on her own, cutting ties from her family, and the price she must pay to do so.
Signs in a pharmacy window, Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
NHS poster, Finsbury Park bus station - 18.5.20
Corona Virus signs in a window, North London - 18.5.20
Signs at Finsbury Park bus station - 18.5.20
NHS sticker on a phone box, Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
Shops that closed their doors, Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
Man wearing a mask, Finsbury Park bus station - 18.5.20
2 meter apart lines for Tesco, Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
Sign for key workers, Crouch Hill - 18.5.20
Signs for key workers, Crouch Hill - 18.5.20
Sign in support of key workers, Finsbury Park - 18.5.20
A green grocers on Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
Corona virus signs, Finsbury Park - 18.5.20
Sign outside a supermarket, Finsbury Park - 18.5.20
2 meter apart lines for Tesco, Stroud Green Road - 18.5.20
An abandoned face mask, Hampstead Heath - 4.5.20
Car washers in Finsbury Park - 18.5.20
A sign by the Parkland Walk, Crouch Hill - 18.5.20
Signs in support of the NHS, North London - 18.5.20

Notes To Self - Emilie Pine   5/5

Notes To Self is a collection of essays by Irish academic Emilie Pine. In six essays she lays bare the most difficult periods of her life - caring for her alcoholic father, the childhood pain of her parents separation, her unbounded teenage years, infertility and sexual violence - allowing her, ultimately, to let go.
She looks back on these moments of her life with a perspective that one can only access retrospectively, making the essays all the more reflective, thoughtful and honest. Pine manages to balance the complex feelings with accessible writing, allowing the reader to relate and take reassurance from her perspective. It was honest and fiercely feminist, and undoubtedly one of the best essay books I have ever read.

"Men got promoted ahead of women because they, of course, were bold, daring, uncompromising ; all those coded ways of saying men didn't need to bother about being likeable because they were too busy being powerful." - This Is Not On The Exam

"I can try to have a baby and I can fail every month and be unhappy. Or I can not try to have a baby and not fail every month. The number of children I have had remains the same, a big fat zero." - From the baby years.

Exposure - Oliva Sudjic   3/5

Exposure is an essay on "the anxiety epidemic, auto fiction and internet feminism."
Sudjic writes of the dangers female artists face when exposing themselves, drawing on her own experiences as well as the experiences of others such as Rachel Cusk and Elena Ferrante. During which she writes of the danger that comes from society's tendency to dismiss the female narrative, considering it far less "universal" than that of the male narrative - "Male readers, however, often seem to baulk at the prospect of entering the mind of a female protagonist... women, by contrast, are conditioned to accept a male narrator at the controls and to accept the male intrusion and colonisation of their minds."

She also writes with eloquence on the harsh realities of Anxiety - "anxiety makes me feel as if I have two selves, the real me and the anxious one" - whilst not failing to to critique social media and the impact it has on the anxiety epidemic, writing of the dangers of celebrity endorsement when it comes to mental health.

Talking To Strangers - Malcom Gladwell   4/5

In Talking To Strangers, Malcom Gladwell challenges the human default to truth - the assumption that people are being truthful until they have enough doubts to believe otherwise.
Gladwell asks why we so often get people wrong, and through a series of fascinating historical events and infamous legal cases (Amanda Knox, Emily Doe, etc), he makes the reader painfully aware of the detrimental impacts human psychology can have on us, especially those who don't conform to societal norms.
Why do we assume someone is deceiving us if they are behaving abnormally? Why do we so often ignore red flags, and warning signs, favouring what we want to believe; that what we are told is the truth? Gladwell speaks of the dangers of defaulting to truth whilst exploring the darker side of human nature and the impacts our hardwired psychology can have.

I would highly recommend this. Its fascinating and one of the best books I think I've ever read.

Salvador - Joan Didion    3/5

In Salvador, Joan Didion trains a merciless eye on the terror she witnesses in El Salvador, 1982, at the height of a terrible civil war. Didion reports on what she sees, from battlefields to body dumps, from interviews with corrupt government officials and puppet presidents, all the while learning the truly Salvadorian meaning of the verb 'to disappear.'
Salvador has no records. How many people are living or dead,  they don't know, and who those people are they're even less aware. In Salvador, Didion looks at why this is and learns the danger of simply living in the midst of this war.
In an unflinchingly honest account of her experiences. Didion never sways from the truth - despite the Salvadorian governments desperation to shape her approach to telling such a tale. No matter how gruesome, her words are honest, making it all the more hard-hitting in fact. Its fascinating. I would recommend it.

"Its quite impossible to deny the artistic brilliance of her reportage. Didion brings El Salvador to life so that it ends up invading our flesh." - The New York Times.

When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman    5/5

When God Was A Rabbit is a difficult book to describe. Its hard to give much away without spoiling the plot. In all, its incredibly ordinary, which subsequently is what makes it such a heart-warming story.
The book follows Eleanor; a kooky and inquisitive girl with a pet rabbit called God, from her birth to her late twenties, documenting her life in England in the 1960s and 70's, and New York in the aftermath of 9/11. Most importantly, though, it documents her intense and loving relationship with her older brother, Joe, and her fascination and love for her best friend, Jenny Penny.
The characters are kooky and entirely likeable in a way I've never seen before in a novel. Eleanor's inquisitive nature is endearing and her basic philosophical yet entirely complex questions - "why do good things happen to bad people?" - and the imaginary voice she uses for her pet rabbit, God, will make you fall in love with her and her family. Its the most beautiful novel I have ever read. Its essential that you read it.

Sweet Sorrow - David Nicholls     5/5

Sweet Sorrow follows Charlie Lewis, a sixteen year old boy who's just finished his GCSE's and is looking at a long, empty summer stretching out ahead of him. He feels lost and unsure of what he wants from his future, especially as problems at home have resulted in him failing most of his exams.
Then he meets Fran Fisher; a bubbly, kind and confident girl who allows Charlie to feel hopeful about life beyond school again. But, in order to see Fran, Charlie must join a theatre company in its production of Romeo and Juliet, where Fran plays the leading role. Its not Charlie's scene at all and he feels shy and out of depth but persists in order to see Fran, and ultimately gets a lot out of the experience.
Sweet Sorrow is written from Charlie's perspective, as he looks back on that life changing summer and coming of age love, in his adult years.

Last summer I read One Day, also by David Nicholls, and it quickly became my favourite book of all time. So, when reading Sweet Sorrow I was constantly asking myself; is it as good as One Day?
I don't think it is. It was a brilliant book, I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it, but it lacked the same magic that One Day had, which surprised me as I expected to find the subject matter in Sweet Sorrow far more relatable than that of One Day.
The last chapter - Curtain Call - was my favourite. It had a reflective nature and managed to put the entirety of the story into perspective, through hindsight, finishing the story with a true sense of completion. It acknowledged that first love doesn't last. There was no sugar coating of that reality, which was refreshing. That chapter, I think, was on parr with One Day. The rest of the book wasn't as good. Though I would still highly recommend you read it. Its a beautiful story.

In 2019 the James Bond filmmakers announced that in their twenty-fifth instalment of the James Bond franchise, No Time To Die, the next 007 would be played by female actress Lashana Lynch. Unsurprisingly, there was an uproar, as you could only expect there to be when a narrative which so many know so well is changed. People simply didn't want to see a female 007. But why?

Against the notion of a female 007 is the argument that you cannot simply change the gender of a character who was written to be male. James Bond was written a male and so male he should remain. Its a perspective I understand but don't agree with. The original James Bond films starred Sean Connery so, on this basis, it is arguable that you shouldn't be able to change the actor portraying Bond to Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig or any of the other Bond actors; because they didn't star in the original. Gender does delve deeper than merely appearance, but what is most crucial to remember is that 007 is not James Bond. In the new film, No Time To Die, Daniel Craig continues to play Bond. However, he has left Mi6 and is working against a new villain in Jamaica. In his absence, there is a new 007 agent, played by Lashana Lynch. James Bond is still very much present in the film and is still male, so is the real problem that society can't accept a female in a stereotypically male role?

Many have also tried to argue against this change by asking "how would women feel if we changed Wonder Woman to Wonder Man?" In saying this, so many have entirely missed the point of why Phoebe Waller-Bridge - who was involved in writing No Time To Die and is credited with the introduction of a female 007 - pushed for a female in that role; because women so often lack representation in such genres. Wonder Woman is one of few female superheroes among uncountable men. Women's voices are scarcely heard in films of these genres, particularly in James Bond where women are, quite often, objectified and seen as something to "win" and posses, so isn't it about time we saw some women being fairly represented in these roles?

This uproar merely exhibits how, as a society, we are both unimaginative and misogynistic. We seem to be forgetting that Bond is a fictional character, born from the imagination of Ian Fleming. The fact that we have the capacity to imagine a fictional character living that of James Bond's wildly unrealistic lifestyle - leaping from building to building, killing the bad guys and driving off into the sunset with a girl he's just "won", you can imagine him winking at the camera as he passes, like a bad perfume ad - but cannot fathom the idea of a female in that role is both astonishing and reflective of how truly misogynistic we are to be so unaccepting of the female narrative.
And its not just James Bond. Dr Who's thirteenth doctor Jodie Whittaker has faced discrimination too, simply for being a woman and existing in a role considered to be traditionally male, despite Dr being a genderless term. Since Whittaker took on the role of Doctor, ratings have gone down. The season finale starring Whittaker attracted 4.69 million viewers, compared to previous Dr Peter Capaldi's 6.48 million. Considering Dr Who's predominantly male audience, this speaks volumes of the lack of acceptance of the female narrative. Put simply, 1.79 million people lost interest when the female narrative was introduced.

Furthermore, in 2013, HBO conducted an experiment on their TV viewing public. They aired two new programmes back to back, both buddy dramas and both alike in the quality of their production. Both programmes belonged to one genre but were hybrid to many others  and both ended with the reasserting of the platonic bonds of friendship. The only thing differing them was the gender of the two leading protagonists. These programmes were True Detective and Doll and Em.
The way in which both were critically received differed drastically. True Detective was analysed to the point of parody, whereas Doll and Em was brushed aside, inaccurately labelled "satire" and forgotten. The male programme got far too much credit and the female programme far to little, despite them being deliberately compatible. But, what drives us to be so dismissive of the female narrative?

In her essay, Exposure, Olivia Sudjic writes "Male readers seem to baulk at the prospect of entering the mind of a female protagonist... Women, by contrast, are conditioned to accept a male narrator at the controls, and to accept male intrusion and colonisation of their minds." Considering the predominantly male audience of both James Bond and Dr Who, Sudjic's words are powerful in reflecting the mentality of fans of the Bond and Who franchises and why so many seem to be against the idea of a female lead.
Its why male-led films and books are considered more universal than those led by women; because the male experience is so often considered more universal. Its why films starring women are classed "strong female leads" and why female-centred comedies and categorised "chick-flicks." Its why we dismiss the art behind the female narrative, labelling femininity a genre, and not taking it in all of its seriousness. Its blatant misogyny. But, we aren't born misogynistic, so where does it come from?

In a 2018 article for GQ magazine on the psychology of misogyny, George Chesterton wrote "Masculinity, then, appears on a sliding scale, usually depending on the boy's childhood environment and trauma. All children experience negativity, with indifference or neglect at one end and physical or sexual abuse at the other, and the more painful childhood is, the more likely a boy is to emerge as 'hyper-masculine'. Meanwhile, the more masculine a boy is, the more he represses his feelings about women, so the more misogynistic and abusive he is likely to be. This also works in reverse, with the hyper-masculine men also more likely to be emotionally vulnerable, even helpless." Put simply, Chesterton says that the more hyper-masculine a man is, the less accepting he will be of the female narrative.

As well as psychological factors, conditioning has a lot to answer for with the extreme presence of misogyny within our society.
For the most part, misogyny - internalised or otherwise - is firmly ingrained in us all. It comes from decades worth of conditioning by the media and general societal attitudes towards gender that have fooled so many of us into believing - wether we realise it or not - that men are simply above women and that the male narrative is simply of more value than that of the female. Its not surprising that so many of us are even slightly misogynistic. How can we expect not to be when we live in a world where masculinity is in crisis, men are criticised for showing any form of vulnerability and women are marginalised and put down as "pussy's" for showing emotion? Misogyny effects us all, but our refusal to entertain the female narrative goes to show how women are criticised to a far greater degree than men.

In an article for the Guardian, Lili Loofbourow says "Anefarious impulse strikes when we look at faces. Its a result of advertising combined with energies of male-dominated image-making. Perhaps you have noticed; when you look at a face you have been told is female, you critique it at a much higher resolution than you would if it had been labelled male. Women's skin should be smoother. We detect wrinkles, discolourations and pores and subtract them from the women's beauty in ways we don't if that face is presented to us as masculine."
This is true. As a society we are undoubtedly more critical of women than we are of men, and its due to decades worth of media conditioning which has resulted in a society of misogynists. We are all misogynists to an extent.

As for misogyny within the representation of women in stereotypically male roles, I don't think we always shun the female narrative in such genres.
Consider the success of Killing Eve, in which Jodie Comer stars as - female - assassin Villanelle. Its wildly popular, though it appeals far more to women.
Admittedly, I don't think I would be such a fan of Killing Eve if the two lead roles weren't female and if Villanelle were a male assassin. Part of the appeal of Killing Eve is that its refreshing to see a women in a stereotypically male role, possessing the stereotypically male trait of cruelty, and doing so so unapologetically. However, despite its mass appeal - to both men and women - it hasn't reached the same level of global success as either James Bond or Dr Who, both highly successful franchises.
Many factors contribute towards this - Killing Eve has only been on air since 2018, whereas Dr Who first aired in 1963, just one year after the first Bond film was released. It takes time to develop a fanbase and form a franchise and so its not surprising that both James Bond and Dr Who have outdone Killing Eve in terms of audience size. Especially when you consider that the male narrative is, like I said, far more "universal" than the female narrative.
However, there's also the fact that Killing Eve doesn't solely focus on action or science-fi genres. What likely makes it such a successful TV programme is that it delves far deeper than the surface genres - action and crime - immersing itself in the psychology of the mutual fascination between Eve and Villanelle, who are continuously drawn to each other, despite the detrimental impact it has on their lives. Killing Eve abandoned James Bond's materialistic focus on wealth and the objectification of women, instead giving far more focus to the complexities of the characters who are never simply one thing or the other.
But, I do think that a largely female audience being able to fathom the idea of a female assassin where a male audience, in regards to James Bond and Dr Who, so often can't speaks volumes about our attitudes towards female narrative and how accepting we are of it depending on gender. But, for the most part, I think we just don't like change.

We are far more accepting of a female assassin in Killing Eve than we are of a female spy in James Bond because that's how it was written. Villanelle was written as a female assassin and wasn't originally a male character . But, James Bond was and so maybe the fact that we can't accept a woman "replacing" a man in a typically male role reflects a male fear of being "bettered" by women? Maybe we are just so used to stereotypes that we struggle to accept change.
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