I didn’t realise how menacing The Natashas would be until I was about half way through, engrossed in the split narratives, and very much committed to seeing it through. I tend to save reading reviews for after I’ve read books, so as to avoid spoilers and form my own opinions about what I read. As such, I went by the synopsis and thought I was signing up for a bit of Murakami style surrealism mixed in with the parallel, real world narratives of Béatrice, a French jazz singer, and Céser, a Mexican bit part actor in Paris. I thought it’d be odd, maybe a little bit dark in the style of David Lynch – but not quite as horror filled as it is.
The Natashas is written like a play which both suits and sets the mood for the novel, and I really enjoyed Yelena Moskovich’s writing style and approach to storytelling. As a filmmaker, the detailed scenes really appealed to me. I wasn’t expecting it to be as violent or as graphic as it is though, or for it to be such a deep dive into the dark worlds of sex trafficking, exploitation and objectification. It’s a very good book, just very dark, and not quite what I was expecting. I’ve got Moskovich’s ‘Virtuoso’ on my TBR list, so I look forward to reading that when the mood strikes me.
One small issue I have is that the publisher and/or editor has chosen to refer to ‘Ukraine’ as ‘the Ukraine’ throughout the book. I find this curious given that the author was born in Soviet Ukraine and so I would have thought she and/or the publisher would have strong views on the use of the definitive article given Russia’s views on Ukraine and Ukrainian independence. At one point in the novel a character explores how women from Eastern Europe are all seen as the same, no matter which country they come from. To Americans, they’re all called ‘Natasha’ and they’re all Russian. The use of the definitive article to describe Ukraine is jarring when the novel itself offers up such a damning critique of objectification, and the loss of individual agency and identity.
The streets are dusty and yellow, the first leaves fallen from the linden trees providing crunch under foot on my evening walk. The air feels thick and heavy with fumes again, as people choose to drive everywhere rather than risk the bus or train. On Elvetham, my favourite neighbourhood cat conducts a spot bath on the warm bonnet of her human’s car, left foot stretched out into the last of the day’s sunshine, toes splayed, oblivious to the comings and goings around her.
In the co-op, I wait for another customer to make his selections before entering the aisle myself, behaviour which feels positively retro by July’s standards. For the time being, the requirement for spaced queues outside supermarkets has been set aside, and personal space in shops has shrunk, too. Facemasks make people bolder and more willing to cast aside the 2m rule, a thin strip of cloth encouraging them to feel invincible. I wear my mask, but keep my distance too.
At the moment life feels much calmer, but I can’t help but sense that it’s a pause, not the end, and that ‘normal’ is still a long way off. These heady days of summer feel like a brief reprieve before we head indoors when the weather cools and the infection rate climbs again in the autumn. I hope I’m just being a pessimist.
Sutton Park is one of my favourite places in Birmingham. Yesterday evening Ed and I went for a walk around the Bracebridge lakes. It’s my favourite part of the park because of the horses, and we got lucky because we saw them. If you want to see the Sutton Park ponies but find them a little bit illusive, the best time of day to go seems to be early evening, around 6pm or so. The Sutton Park horses keep to themselves in the woodland when it’s very busy, but tend to graze on the open heathland to the north of Little Bracebridge Pool when it’s quiet. If you arrive and can’t see them, search the treeline across the heather because sometimes they’ll be in twos and threes and are a little harder to spot.
I have decided to take some time away from Instagram while I try to sort out my thoughts about the platform. In particular, I’m concerned about the role that parent company Facebook plays in shaping dialogue in our increasingly polarised world.
I don’t use Facebook itself. I deleted my Facebook account in March 2012 and I’ve explored my reasons for that here. In brief, I decided to stop using the platform as it kept me artificially connected with ‘friends’ who were really just acquaintances, because I was fed up with the hollow performance of it all, and because of concerns I held about the direction the network was moving in as an advertising platform. 2012 feels like a long time ago now, in the life of the internet. Technology and society have changed so much over the course of the past decade or so, taking us further and further away from what the internet, in my opinion, should be: open and accessible to all, a tool that helps us to connect, to share information, and to solve problems by removing the barriers that stand in the way of communication and collaboration without sacrificing privacy, safety or democracy.
Minou turned seventeen on Sunday. She put in a request for sunshine and a tub of coconut yoghurt to help her celebrate, and both her birthday wishes came true. I put cushions out for her in her favourite sunny spots on the balcony, and made sure that there were steps – carefully positioned chairs and an upturned flower pot – for her to use as she’s not got much strength in her back legs these days. She whiled the afternoon away on the bench, enjoying a couple of teaspoons of coconut yoghurt as the sun moved around. A good birthday, I think.