Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Diana Fake News Crown

The Crown season four doesn’t do subtle…

It’s hard to blog about Netflix shows like Stranger Things or The Crown. They’re period pieces, with sky-high production values. They’re well-acted and entertaining. What else is there to say about soothing nostalgia?

Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith, the first two seasons of The Crown were glamorous hits. Instead of stopping there, it relentlessly continued with older actors (including a royally miscast Olivia Colman) in 2019.

Now it’s back, with season four. Colman still reigns, and there’s a new ingénue in town, wearing cute 80’s outfits and answering to the name Diana (Emma Corrin).

Perhaps anticipating an influx of viewers who waited out the last 30 episodes for her debut, the dialogue has become unbearably on-the-nose. Characters spell out themes, and establish basic facts about their official roles and family relationships.

Courtier: You’re the Queen, ma’am.

TQ:  Am I?

Courtier: Yes Ma’am. And please note it’s Ma’am as in jam, not farm.

TQ: How lovely!

Three years ago, one of the UK’s top Tudor experts, John Guy, said that history applicants to Cambridge University would cite having read Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels as evidence of their knowledge.

People apparently think The Crown is a history lesson, prompting insiders like Lady Glenconner to back calls for Netflix to broadcast a disclaimer warning that while its flagship show features historical milestones like engagements and assassinations, it also takes…significant creative licence.

Anything set in royal drawing rooms – and royal bedrooms – is fiction. Timelines are conflated, and much is entirely invented, including a ‘get your shit together’ letter to Charles from his uncle Tywin Mountbatten, right before he gets blown up by the IRA.

Where we were seduced by the spellbinding power of Hilary Mantel’s writing, The Crown lulls you with its lavish production and accomplished acting – or it did, when it kept a stately distance from its subjects.

The royals are like the in-laws from Ready or Not. A scene where they all hunt Diana as part of a wedding night ritual for Satan wouldn’t feel out of place. Corrin – more poised and delicate than the real teenage Diana – was clearly taking inspiration from Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby.

Her cartoonishly evil husband continues a flagrant betrayal with a bitchily evil Camilla, while the princess suffers (graphically depicted) bulimia. Luckily some clever writing goes to Corrin, saving the character from one-dimensional victim status. Instead, we get a damaged, shallow girl with a thirst for stardom.

Corrin has been the breakout, while the respected Gillian Anderson has been a little more divisive with her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher, the so-called Iron Lady loved by those she made wealthier, and loathed by the left and much of the working class.

Of course, working class people talk like this: “Oiright there Oim workin’ class milord.” It all says so more about the minds behind this show, than it does about the crown.

Jane Fallon Queen Bee Book

Jane Fallon’s Queen Bee & a fuzzy relatable heroine

Single mum Laura is recently divorced. Faced with the reality of London house-hunting, she’s renting a granny flat as a stop gap. Her new, temporary digs happen to be in The Close, an exclusive development of £10 million mansions.

Laura runs a small cleaning company, while her lawyer landlady Gail is the only other woman on the street with a job. The rest are all interchangeable trophy wives forming a little clique around the haughty ‘Queen Bee’ Stella, who is naturally suspicious of female newcomers.

When Stella’s smarmy music mogul fiancé Al co-opts Laura into a lie to cover up his slimy affairs, it creates a lot of tension on The Close.

As it happens, Laura’s business cleans Al’s offices. A bee in her bonnet, she implicates her employee Angie in some rather unprofessional snooping. They learn that Al is up to no good, and that the pampered Stella is about to have her world destroyed.  

“No one deserves to have their life changed by someone who hasn’t given them the chance to grow a shell to protect themselves,” reasons Laura, as she shoves the evidence in Stella’s Botoxed face.

They go from hating each other, to Laura acting as a crisis coach for Stella – who, under her perfect facade – is a wily, surprisingly endearing character. It’s a shame the book doesn’t offer her viewpoint too (or instead), or for the women to learn more from each other.

Dowdy-and-proud Laura feels superior ‘cos she kicks back in sparkly cat pyjamas, next to Stella’s off-duty uniform of skinny jeans and heels. Perhaps she could have realised that it’s alright to take care of your appearance, and to not be so judgmental about women who prefer a high-maintenance look.

Laura’s “Ooh, I’m so normal, me” routine (while reaching for her ever-present bottle of wine) is laid on supremely thick. She’s had a nasty knock, sure, yet she’s also a capable, successful woman, with a company, a mortgage and a well-adjusted child.

Author Jane Fallon is hilarious on Twitter, where she’s dedicated to animal advocacy. Like her earlier bestsellers, Queen Bee is witty, escapist fun – even if it’s a little busy, with a possible proof-reading error regarding the “only child” ex-husband having a brother and sister-in-law.

Speaking of her ex, it turns out that Laura used to swipe through his phone. It seems her problems respecting boundaries are deep-rooted, maybe linked to her father walking out – an unexplored edge to a flighty book.

When she rifles through the bedroom of her neighbour’s nanny, you care less about justice for Stella, and more about Laura finding the right therapist. A little bit of rule-breaking is entertaining, but her compulsive peeping fails the common sense test.

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sadie novel on tablet

Courtney Summers’ Sadie raises vital questions

Following the murder of her 13-year-old sister Mattie, Sadie Hunter, 19, vanishes from their Colorado trailer park. Although radio star West McCray questions whether there’s a story in yet another runaway, he’s persuaded to follow the missing girl’s trail by her surrogate grandmother, May Beth.

But as West investigates, he realizes that he must find Sadie – before it’s too late.

The chapters switch from transcripts of West’s True Crime-style podcasts, to Sadie’s own narration. With their mother consumed by drug addiction, it fell to her to care for Mattie. In her younger sister, she found a place to pour her love; Mattie’s death drives her to take a lonely, dangerous path to revenge.

Courtney Summers has a knack for writing complex, ‘unlikeable’ (British spelling!) female protagonists. On one hand her heroine is easy to root for; on the other, she’s reckless, stubborn and doesn’t make ‘likeable’ choices, rushing headfirst into confrontations with male adversaries.

May Beth urged her to see her mother’s addiction as an illness, but this only triggers feelings of guilt for resenting the mother who neglected her.

The book questions how we respond to girls on the fringes of society; people demand niceness, politeness, even as they struggle profoundly. It’s not enough that Sadie suffers from a profound stutter, is an abuse victim, or is merely a “secondary player” in her own life – she should remember her manners!

It’s also a commentary on our tendency to see violence against girls as entertainment, akin to soaps or reality TV. Although it owes much to the true crime genre, it asks readers to question this fascination.

The identity of the killer is never a mystery. It’s not merely a hunch for Sadie – she just knows. It almost feels like we’re being set up for a revelation, or twist, that doesn’t come.

Summers has written a hard-hitting young adult novel with heavy themes. If readers can stomach that, they may yet feel cheated by the ending. Whether or not it’s designed to reflect the lack of closure of too many missing person cases, it worsens the punch to the gut that the book delivers.

Please drop a comment below with your recommendations for this genre.