Monday, January 7, 2013


"Motherland," William Nicholson

(If you have spoiler-y, giddy things to say about "Downton Abbey," this is your comment thread, because we briefly reference Downton and WHY NOT? Matthew is such a stodgy stodge, and he lost his jawline again this season.)

FIRST WEEK OF DUTIFUL PHYSICAL BOOK READING DONE. And, really, quite a pleasant start, I must say. I made a gin and tonic and handed the baby my iPhone and read the whole thing without looking on Wikipedia once. (You should not give your baby your iPhone all the time, but if you make it a major treat once a month, you can absolutely buy yourself five minutes to make a gin and tonic and drink it.)

It did not totally add up to the promise of the first hundred pages, but, seriously, nothing ever does, right? It's about the nature of the universe, what can you do?

Anyway, here are some things about this nice book.

1. EMOTION. Swelling emotion! He wrote the screenplay for "Gladiator," so just imagine how you felt when there was all that waving wheat or grass or whatever and Russell Crowe was thinking about his dead family. It's like that. I cried a lot. There's some beautiful writing about love, and also about trying to talk about mental illness, I think, before there was any real cultural understanding or even vocabulary for it. "I have a great sadness," etc. I think the press materials cocked that up a bit, too. The book is being presented as "two men love one woman, one is hot and a hero, the other is just a maaaaan, but heroes are not the best husbands!" and that is some nonsense. The book is way more interesting, because it is about GOOD PEOPLE DOING THEIR BEST. Sometimes people are drowning.

2. Really, really great war writing about Dieppe and Mountbatten. You may not know a lot about Dieppe, unless you are Canadian, because Dieppe was this epic shitshow in which a bunch of Canadians essentially did a dry-run of D-Day two years early, except it was terribly planned by the British ("oh, we have all these Canadians who haven't had anything to do yet, let's take them for a spin") and everyone was just mercilessly gunned down on the beach in broad daylight and died cursing whatever idiots thought it was a good plan. But, um, they learned a lot from that, and then there was eventually Normandy. You are welcome. No trouble at all.

3. Okay, though, there is a character who is a total Austerity Britain Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it's okay, because it's really kind of funny. Her name is Nell. You'll be into it.

4. The men are so well done. I think? I'm not a man. For all I know, they're all secretly reptilians using us for our eggs and this is just more propaganda designed to hide that from the women of the world. LEON? IS IT TRUE? Kitty, our heroine, is less so, but, honestly, I think Nicholson really tried, so, thanks. Really! I mean it. I think he makes a genuine effort to make her a person. He definitely screwed up with Geraldine, though. There are about six characters who are EXACTLY FROM DOWNTON ABBEY, and Geraldine is totally a Lavinia. Louisa is Edith. George is Sir Anthony. And so on.

5. It does, ultimately, become super Brideshead-y. It does. Or Graham Greene-y. And the ending is a little tidy and aggravating. I'm on the fence about the framing device. But it was a great ride, and I anticipate it will be a Major Motion Picture.

You can buy it here, eventually. Or fly to the United Kingdom now, whatever. I understand they are no longer rationing butter.

67 Comments / Post A Comment



Jesus, I disliked Lavinia's character and I dislike her even more now that she's dead because it makes Matthew a sad sad sad emo sadface sadderpants. TAKE. THE. MONEY.

And Shirley McClaine is da best.

Nicole Cliffe

@DullHypothesis RIGHT? Okay, it's not like it's going to Lavinia's brother, or anything, they are literally tracking down basically unrelated strangers in the jungle to give the money to. ALSO, jeez, guy, if there's one thing we know about Lavinia, it's that she was a total sap who wanted you to be happy and to have extra kitchen-maids.


@Nicole Cliffe YUP. & real talk about his jawline. RIP.



(I didn't notice, too busy waiting for that hair to set itself free)

RK Fire

I thought Dan Stevens was always chinless? I just did a quick google search to see if I could find a picture comparison and ended up with a tumblr page that simply said "i feel like benedict cumberbatch stole all of dan stevens chins" [sic].

There's some secret wisdom in that statement, I swear.


Well read! Thanks so much! @m

raised amongst catalogs

Carson proudly taking in the sight of Lady Mary in her wedding finery = tears.

Nicole Cliffe

I was all misty and then my husband said "I think he thinks she's a ghost bride," and then all I could see was a ghost.

raised amongst catalogs

@Nicole Cliffe Oh, how awful. "I doooo-oooo-ooooo!" (What a ghost bride says.)


The dinners (upstairs and downstairs) where they couldn't find a single thing to talk about that didn't make someone extremely mad - distills everything I love about this show. Extremely pleased with the third season, after all the soap opera nonsense of the second. Amnesia, srsly?

Is anyone else pretty unfulfilled by the ending though? No real cliffhanger, but only resolving some of the storylines, so you feel like they could end the show there, but not quite, and also too much slow motion?

Nicole Cliffe


Oh, I'm sorry, has Sybil not abased herself enough for you, and your refusal to dress appropriately for social occasions? You can drive a car, awesome. So can Edith.

raised amongst catalogs

@Nicole Cliffe Ugh, yes. It took me out of my show-coma for a while after he said it.


@Nicole Cliffe Yes but... is it just me or did he get like, significantly hotter this season? I think the non slicked back hair really does wonders. <3 Branson.

Nicole Cliffe

The hair is definitely, definitely better.


@Nicole Cliffe Man is that the worst marriage of the entire series.


@SlightlyOverboard Is there a good marriage on this show?

I wish I had stopped watching Downton before I switched over into hate-watching mode.

Tyler Brewington@facebook

@Nicole Cliffe At one point in the episode it occurred to me that Branson looks the tiniest bit like Cynthia Nixon & now I will never, ever unsee it. Lord Miranda forever. (This all may have something to do with the fact that I consider Bates/Anna scenes to be wine breaks.)


@Lucienne "Good" is of course an objective term but: Anna and Bates? I've also always been a fan of Lord and Lady Grantham but they're VERY open to debate.


@Nicole Cliffe THANK YOU. I feel like I'm the only person not on the Sybil/Branson train sometimes but UGH, THAT LINE REMINDED ME WHY I'M NOT. UGH.


Even if men are reptilians Leon is gonna put it so nicely we'll be all Oh, yeah, that sounds okay, wow, there are nice lizards out there!!!

Nicole Cliffe

That lizard is gonna treat you right.


oh jeez are you all just starting the third season?! streaming video is a wonderful thing! (I just want to talk about the CHRISTMAS SPECIAL OMG.)

barefoot cuntessa

@kickupdust We cannot talk about the CHRISTMAS SPECIAL! That would collectively ruin everyone's lives.

(Though, I streamed season 3 as it was airing and just watched the Christmas special and OMG!)



I'm afraid my rage will have abated by the time the CHRISTMAS SPECIAL airs in the US. Though certain actors will still be dead to me. I'll have to settle for domestic rage instead of international.


@SlightlyOverboard I encourage all of you to *REFRAIN* from Googling any member of the Downton cast until you're quite ready to know all that happens in S3, as British publications mention characters' fates in their HEADLINES. I totally found out what happens in the Christmas Special by The Daily Mail online yesterday and wouldn't wish spoilers on anyone!

Valley Girl

@all My brethren in impatience and rage <3

Hot Doom

@kickupdust But I waaaaaaaaaant to talk about it with sooommmmmmmmmeone aaaaaaggggghhhhhh. These damn people. I am in full hate-watching mode now.


@Hot Doom I know! I really really want to talk to someone about it! although, I am not really unhappy about the you-know-what-event of the CHRISTMAS SPECIAL.

Hot Doom

@kickupdust Yes! To be honest, there was some viewing schadenfreude on my part. So...I kinda liked it.

happy go lucky scamp

@Hot Doom where is there a safe space to talk about the christmas special? there was yelling...

Valley Girl

@Hot Doom @kickupdust You guyyyyyssss! Hearts of steel, you've got. I predicted it and then got spoiled outright but I was and still am mighty upset. Pretty sure it kicked me into future hate-watching mode, though.

Hot Doom

@happy go lucky scamp I don't know! I might have to watch it over again so maybe I can care a little more because my mother in law talked through 65% of it. But I need to scream about it!

@Valley Girl: I know! I knoooow and POSSIBLE SPOILER? : The thing that happened in Season 3 (YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN) made me waaay more upset that this newest mess, but maybe my heart of darkness will lighten a bit next season. But I have theories about whom will get with whom and it's weirding me out.


@Hot Doom Yeah, I loved the character to which Things Happen in the regular Season 3 more than I loved the Christmas Special character, so maybe it'll all be all right.


I'm just gonna leave this right here


Edith is in serious need of a Sassy Gay Friend to help her reign in the desperation. All that back and forth about Strallan, ugh. I wanted more wedding!

Nicole Cliffe

I kind of love that old dude, I'm going to level with you.


@elenachicago How has there NOT been a Sassy Gay Friend about this!?


@elenachicago Relatedly, who else misses O'Brien and Thomas being awful together? They used to be a TEAM. Why did that stop?


@Lucienne Aw yes I miss that too! Now it's just Thomas being awful by himself, which is significantly less fun to watch.


@Nicole Cliffe I do, too, mostly because when he talks his mouth moves like the Nutcracker.


You had me at Brideshead-y. Also, my mother's two standard lines about Great Britain in the war: "When I got there in 1950 they were still rationing butter." And, "The war just bled them white."


There are few things I love more than love triangles set during WWII and it's not coming out until April! Goddamnit.

Nicole Cliffe

It really is a great read.


Anyone else squawk loudly when chinless Matthew basically nudge-nudged his new wife's father about having sex for the first time?


@greatkate Yes! Yes yes! I thought I'd misunderstood what he said because Mr Badelia had zero reaction so THANK YOU for justifying my bird noise when he said that!


@AmeliaBadelia SO WEIRD that he's morally opposed to taking money from Lavinia's dead father to save his family from financial ruin but totally cool winking at his father in law about boning Mary.


@greatkate Yeah and Lord Grantham is all "iknowrite?" about it. GROSS. That's your daughter! And psssst.... she's done that before!

RK Fire

@greatkate I think I missed this because I was too busy joking with my husband about Mary's death snatch. My husband is convinced that everyone on the show would be better off if they had more sex, premarital or otherwise, and drank a bit less.


@AmeliaBadelia Well, we're still not sure at what point the Turk expired in her bed, so it might've been her first time too! Or at least her first time completing the act, as it were.

Nicole Cliffe

I think he promised to keep her hymen intact. But, then, we really don't know how trustworthy he was. STRANGER DANGER.

Valley Girl

@Nicole Cliffe According to the script book or something, they cut a line about implying she'd just lie on her wedding night. They didn't expect everyone to imagine creative alternatives to keep her virginity intact but obviously we all did.

Jane Err

I am so behind on Downton Abbey! I can't read any of these comments, because I just (JUST) downloaded the SECOND SEASON. So behind. And I'm stuck watching the X-Files right now, so it's lucky that I don't have a job, because if I did, I'd have to quit because of my prior commitments (tv).

lavender gooms

Can we talk about books in general? I read "Marooned in Real Time" by Vernor Vinge this summer not realizing it was actually the sequel to "The Peace War." And I read Marooend in Real Time again last week because I loved it so much and finally decided to read The Peace War. And... I didn't like the Peace War? Even though I looved Marooned in Real Time. It was hard to follow and focused on the least interesting parts of every scene.

So, if you do decide to read some Vernor Vinge, just read Marooned in Real Time and pretend it's a stand alone. It's better that way.


Definitely just spent like half an hour in a Wikipedia World War wormhole. Those horrifying pictures of the dead soldiers buried in mud at Dieppe? You can walk through a life-size diorama of basically the same scene in the Passchendaele exhibit at the Canadian War Musuem. Nightmares guaranteed!

Evidence-based decision-making

@chnellociraptor I so love the War Museum. Freaks out my kids though.


Downton Abbey series 4 (spoilers): Downton Abbey at last attains sentience, devours all within.


Aw man. I get a lot of postcolonial guilt about being British, now I have Canada/the whole Dieppe thing to add to the list? I already live in Ireland for gawds sakes. I'm sorry for the shitty things my country has done to pretty much everyone.

HOWEVER if anyone else ever watched The Hour, were you slightly excited to find out that the newspaper crossword thing was based on truefax?! I was.


Hmm, he wrote Gladiator, huh? That gives me pause about reading this book - that movie was less than all that. Add all Roman tropes to blender, mix on high. And Russell Crowe was a dough boy.

(Sorry, guys, my husband's high school orchestra is playing the Gladiator theme this spring and we've listened to it 80 jillion times already this year and the music is so derivative and it makes me a cranky-pants.)


Mostly pointless comment to say that I know about Dieppe! (Because I live a few miles away from the ferry port in Sussex that connects to Dieppe. Family holidays always involved the ferry to Dieppe, and so I learned a bit about its history (also, we had lots of Canadian soldiers stationed here). It is pretty terrible.)


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